Adult Education

Reading Comprehension for Adults



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It can be very frustrating for an adult to relearn how to read for an academic or work-related requirement.  Many older adults who return to school often are placed in remedial English and Reading courses in order to prepare for advanced reading and writing.  Adults, regardless of education level, can use basic strategies to help build vocabulary and to understand more complex reading.

First, it is very important for people to build a vocabulary that is appropriate for the level of education or employment one is to achieve.  Building a broader vocabulary isn’t nearly the difficult task many people make it out to be.  Rather than spending hours trying to memorize the GRE word list, a person can keep a notebook for new words in which he or she encounters.  Don’t begin by automatically trying to read brand new material with more than half of the words unfamiliar.  Instead, read the local newspaper and highlight the words that aren’t as familiar.  Use either the internet or a dictionary to look up the correct meaning, and make sure to note the correct part of speech for the definition.  Write down the correct definition in the notebook and write down a sentence using the word.  Don’t try to sound scholarly, use normal language with the new word.  Set aside ten or fifteen minutes a day to study the new vocabulary, and pretty soon, the words won’t be new anymore.

Second, a person can build a stronger vocabulary once he or she memorizes prefixes, suffixes, and root words.  It is easier to break down a word and understand part of it, than to read over it and not understand any part of it.  Prefixes come before the root of the word.  They are mini words such as re, pre, de, pro, and ex.  Root words carry the main meaning of a word, and are the most basic forms of a word.  For example, the word art means “skill”.  The word artifact implies an object made with skill, and the word artisan refers to a person with a particular skill.  The root word creates the meaning of the word, while the prefix and suffix create different meanings for the word.  A suffix comes at the end of a root word.  The suffix –ish means “resembles”.  For instance, the word foolish is usually defined as someone who resembles a fool.  The word Spanish refers to all things that are Spanish in origin or resemble the Spanish language or culture.   Once a person can take words a part, he or she can better guess at the meaning of the word with more accuracy.

Third, it is crucial that a person wanting to gain stronger reading comprehension skills to practice such exercises.  Many Developmental Reading textbooks come with websites to provide exercises for students wanting further practice with reading comprehension.  These websites offer interactive exercises that focus on vocabulary building and on comprehension.  However, just because a person is not a student or doesn’t have a Developmental textbook, doesn’t mean he or she cannot complete online comprehension practices.  Check the end of this article for a link that leads to a free interactive reading comprehension website.

Fourth, it is imperative for a person to learn the basic parts of speech.  It may seem a bit out-dated, but all of those nouns and pronouns and such can help understand the meaning of a word.  There are eight parts of speech in the English language: noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb, conjunction, verb, preposition, and interjection.  Each of these unique categories gives a separate meaning to each word.  For example, the word “dramatize” is a verb because it shows action (or being).  The word “dramatize” does not have a prefix, but it does have a suffix –ize.  The word drama is the root of the word.  It means pertaining to the stage, or pertaining to acting. The suffix –ize refers to “making” or “presenting”.  One might conclude that the word dramatize means “to make a drama of”.  It helps to know that the word is a verb because it shows action; however, the word would not show action if it didn’t have the suffix.  The word “drama” itself can be used as a noun or an adjective.  Certain words can be guessed at simply by knowing the part of speech and using it in the context of a sentence.

Fifth, it is very important a person learn to read by the organization style of what he or she is reading.  The topic sentence, which is usually the first sentence in a paragraph, informs the reader of what the entire paragraph is about.  This can help an adult reader stay focused on one topic at a time and also can help the reader notice when the topic or subject matter has changed.  Also, the reader can look for transition words, or words that show change and movement in order to follow the piece.  For example, words like first, second, and third, as I have used in this article are transition words.  Other transition words include, also, however, nevertheless, consequently, and moreover.  These words signal different patterns of organization such as compare and contrast, chronological order, and cause and effect.  It is much easier to understand the material once it is understood how it correlates or connects to other parts of the writing.

Finally, in order to improve reading comprehension, a person must read on a daily basis, and read a variety of writing.  Fifteen or twenty minutes of reading each day will greatly benefit anyone wanting to enhance their reading comprehension.  Keep the vocabulary notebook up-to-date and study it often.  There are many genres of writing that people can choose from in order to boost comprehension levels; therefore, the more types of material a person reads, the more types of material he or she will understand.  One doesn’t have to pick up a Victorian novel or a Shakespearean play to seek out new words because there are many unfamiliar words involved in most daily reading.  Be creative, and use the resources below for help along the way. 

Additional Resources

http://www.readingmatrix.com/directory/pages/

http://www.betterendings.org/homeschool/Words/Root%20Words.htm

More about this author: Sarah Bostock

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