Has reading become tricky for your child in upper primary school? Language comprehension may be the reason. 

Hello, Tess here. Since starting at Cooee I have had client journey planning sessions with parents of children in grades 3, 4 and 5 who really want to support their children’s reading, but don’t know where to start. 

For some children, the journey of learning to read before reading to learn can be challenging. In this blog post, we will explore how language comprehension plays a crucial role in learning to read, and reading to learn.


Understanding the Reading Process – Scarborough’s Reading Rope (2001) 

To comprehend written text, students need to acquire specific skills and knowledge. Scarborough’s Reading Rope provides a useful framework for understanding the various aspects needed for skilled, fluent reading. The rope consists of different strands, representing the different components of reading.

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Word Recognition: The Blue and Green Strands

The blue and green strands of the Reading Rope represent word recognition skills. These encompass the abilities we typically associate with “learning to read.” Children begin learning these skills in Prep and continue through primary school with skills getting more complex each year. These skills underpin the “learning to read” phase. The goal of teaching these skills is to make them automatic, which enhances reading fluency (reading quickly and accurately). 


Word recognition skills include 

  • Phonological awareness – an understanding of how language can be broken down into smaller parts. For example – Sentences, words, syllables and sounds. 
  • Letter sound correspondence – recognizing letters and the sounds they make. For example, the letter s says ”sss”, the letters “o w” can make different sounds in different words like blow and cow
  • Recognising sight words – words that cannot be decoded using knowledge of letter sound correspondence. For example, the, was and what 
  • Recognising High-frequency words – words that are used frequently in sentences, learning these words by sight increases reading fluency. For example, it, then, and. 



Difficulties with the word recognition component of reading can look like:

  • Your child may struggle to remember sight words, for example sounding out what as w-h-a-t (like hat). 
  • Your child may sound out words with the wrong sounds, for example when reading the word cat may say “s-e-t” 
  • Your child may face challenges in blending sounds together to form words, saying the correct sounds in a word but the wrong word, for example reading cat as “c   a    t” but blending it to “cap” 

Word Decoding Alone Isn’t Enough

While having skills in word decoding is essential, it is not sufficient for skilled reading. If students only possess decoding skills, they may be able to accurately pronounce words on a page but struggle to understand the meaning of what they read.


To highlight the distinction between word recognition and language comprehension, let’s consider a sentence that contains both sight words and nonsense words: 

“The plob was zet so he koided with the vop.” 

While a child in year 2 might have the skills to decode this sentence, it holds no meaning. Thus, the question arises, what is the point of reading it? 


Language Comprehension: The Red and Orange Strands 

To read and understand text effectively, students need skills represented by the red and orange strands of Scarborough’s Reading Rope. Language comprehension involves utilising language knowledge and strategies to enhance reading comprehension. Language comprehension skills required in reading are equally important for understanding what we hear in conversations, stories, instructions, and play.


If we replace the nonsense words in the sentence above with real words: 

“The cat was sad so he played with the dog” 

We have a sentence that can be understood using language comprehension strategies and knowledge. 


The goal of improving and building language comprehension skills is to support children to become increasingly strategic in their use of knowledge and strategies. The elements of language comprehension include:


  • Background Knowledge – A reader’s own knowledge and experience with the topic. For example, knowledge of what might make a cat sad and the relationships between cats and dogs. This prior knowledge helps readers make connections and predictions while comprehending the text.
  • Vocabulary – Understanding the meanings of words and how they can be used in sentences. For example, knowing that “cat” is a fluffy animal that people have as a pet and “sad” is a feeling. A robust vocabulary enables students to understand and apply what they are reading. 
  • Language Structure – The rules of a language, also known as grammar, For example “the cat played with the dog” is a grammatically correct sentence but “the cat playing with the dog” is not. 
  • Verbal Reasoning – The ability to think about and connect ideas using language. For example hearing the sentence about the cat and forming ideas about why the cat is sad. 
  • Literacy knowledge – The knowledge of different types of texts, their purposes and features. For example a recipe has ingredients and steps, persuasive articles have arguments to convince and story books are written to entertain. 


Difficulties with the language comprehension component of reading can look like:

  • Difficulties understanding how word endings (suffixes) change the meaning of a word. For example adding -ed to play (played), means the play happened in the past, while adding -er to play (player), means a person who plays. 
  • Difficulties answering questions about what they have read. 
  • Misinterpreting what they have read based on vocabulary errors when reading. For example reading “The cat was sad so he played with the dog” as “the cat was sad so he pleased with the dog” which changes the meaning. 


Reading comprehension is a complex skill that requires a combination of word recognition and language comprehension abilities. While word decoding skills are important, students must have language knowledge, vocabulary, and background understanding to truly grasp the meaning of what they read. 

Reading and the Curriculum 


In the early years of schooling (Prep, Grade 1 and Grade 2), a key aim of the Australian curriculum is to teach children the foundational skills for reading. These skills include recognising letters and the sounds they can make, learning sight words and learning about sentence structure and types of texts. 


As children reach the middle primary years (Grade 3 and Grade 4) the focus moves away from learning how to read and moves toward reading for learning (reading to access curriculum content and knowledge). Children in these grades are expected to use their foundational reading skills to understand and learn from what they are reading. 


As students progress into upper primary (Grade 5 and Grade 6) and high school, they are expected to read increasingly complex texts, as well as comprehend and think critically about what they have read.


If your child has recently moved from early to middle primary school or middle to upper primary and is finding reading more challenging, they may benefit from support to develop their language comprehension skills. 


If you have further questions about your child’s language and literacy development or believe your child could benefit from extra support to develop their reading skills please contact us on 3265 4495, email [email protected] or book a clinical journey planning session with one of our Speech Pathologists.









Tess Marson

Speech Pathologist