Cognitive Processes and Reading Comprehension

by | May 16, 2023


What are the Building Blocks of Literacy?

Reading is an essential skill that opens the door to lifelong learning and personal growth. However, reading is more than just decoding words on a page. It involves a complex set of cognitive processes that work together to enable us to comprehend and make meaning from text.


In this article, we’ll explore the cognitive processes involved in reading comprehension and how they contribute to building strong literacy skills.


The Building Blocks of Reading Comprehension: Reading comprehension is a multi-dimensional process that involves a range of cognitive skills. These skills can be grouped into three main categories: decoding, language processing, and higher-order thinking. Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories.


Decoding: Decoding is the ability to sound out words and recognize them accurately and quickly. It is a foundational skill that enables us to read fluently and comprehend what we read. Decoding involves several cognitive processes, including:


  1. Phonological Awareness: This is the ability to identify and manipulate the sounds in spoken language. Phonological awareness includes skills such as recognizing rhyming words, segmenting words into syllables, and blending sounds to form words.


  1. Phonics: This is the ability to connect sounds with written letters and letter combinations. It involves recognizing the sounds that letters represent and blending those sounds to read words.


Language Processing: Language processing involves understanding the meaning of words and how they are used in sentences and paragraphs. It is a complex set of skills that includes:


  1. Vocabulary: This is the knowledge of words and their meanings. A strong vocabulary enables us to understand what we read and express ourselves effectively.


  1. Syntax: This is the set of rules that govern how words are combined into phrases and sentences. Understanding syntax enables us to comprehend the structure of sentences and understand how ideas are related to each other.


Higher-Order Thinking: Higher-order thinking involves using critical thinking skills to analyze and evaluate text. It includes:


  1. Comprehension Strategies: These are techniques that readers use to understand what they read. Examples include making predictions, asking questions, making connections to prior knowledge, and summarizing.


  1. Inference: This is the ability to read between the lines and make educated guesses about the meaning of the text. Inference involves using contextual clues, prior knowledge, and critical thinking skills.


Instructional Strategies for Developing Reading Comprehension: Effective instruction can help students develop the cognitive skills they need to become successful readers. Here are some strategies that teachers can use to support reading comprehension:


  1. Explicit Instruction: Teachers should provide direct instruction in decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension skills. This can include phonics instruction, vocabulary development activities, and modeling comprehension strategies.


  1. Collaborative Learning: Students can work in pairs or small groups to discuss what they’ve read and share their thinking. Collaborative learning helps students develop critical thinking skills and build comprehension strategies.


  1. Close Reading: Close reading involves a detailed analysis of a text to gain a deep understanding of its meaning. Teachers can guide students through the process of close reading, helping them identify key ideas, make connections, and infer meaning.


The Cognitive Processes Involved in Reading Comprehension: Reading comprehension is a multi-dimensional process that involves a range of cognitive skills. These include decoding, vocabulary, working memory, attention, and inference. Here is a breakdown of what this looks like by grade level:



In kindergarten, students are learning to decode words and develop their vocabulary. Teachers can support reading comprehension by using instructional strategies such as read-alouds, shared reading, and phonics instruction. These strategies help build students’ vocabulary, decoding skills, and background knowledge.


First Grade

In 1st grade, students are continuing to develop their decoding skills and expanding their vocabulary. Teachers can support reading comprehension by incorporating guided reading and explicit instruction in comprehension strategies such as making connections and predicting. These strategies help students connect their prior knowledge to new information and build comprehension skills.


Second Grade

In 2nd grade, students are building on their decoding and comprehension skills. Teachers can support reading comprehension by using instructional strategies such as reciprocal teaching, where students take turns leading discussions about the text, and graphic organizers, which help students visualize the relationships between ideas.


Third Grade

In 3rd grade, students are expected to read and understand increasingly complex texts. Teachers can support reading comprehension by using instructional strategies such as close reading, where students analyze the text for meaning and author’s purpose, and summarizing, where students identify the main ideas and supporting details.


Reading comprehension is a complex process that requires a range of cognitive skills to master. By using instructional strategies that support decoding, vocabulary development, working memory, attention, and inference, teachers can help students in grades K-3 build strong reading comprehension skills.


When educators understand these building blocks of literacy, they can design effective instructional strategies to help students develop strong reading skills.


Through explicit instruction, collaborative learning, and close reading, students can become successful readers who are equipped with the skills they need to navigate the world of text.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *