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How to develop your child’s comprehension monitoring skills for secondary school

What is comprehension monitoring?

A face looking confused

Some children find it difficult to understand language, and what people are saying to them. This might include instructions and stories.

These children often also need support to be aware of times when they don’t understand information or instructions, for example, in the classroom the child may not realise that they haven’t understood the instructions around homework. Having an awareness of when you don’t understand is called ‘comprehension monitoring’.

Three question marksAs adults we all use strategies to support our comprehension monitoring skills including asking for clarification and repeating back things as we have understood them. To check their understanding at secondary school, your child will need some comprehension monitoring strategies of their own.

A face looking sad with a cross in thought bubble to show they do not understand somethingBelow are some activities to support your child’s comprehension monitoring skills, and their ability to ask for help when they don’t understand.

How do I encourage my child’s comprehension monitoring skills?

This can be done at school with teaching staff or at home with parents.

1 -Encourage your child to realise when they don’t understand

A person with an empty speech bubble to show someone telling or explainingThis could take place in structured or artificial activities (such as when telling them what is happening during the day, baking, cleaning) or during everyday conversations.

Try delivering an instruction too quickly, with words you know your child doesn’t understand, or with too much information. You will notice that we usually recommend the opposite of this in speech and language therapy – here it is useful to develop the comprehension monitoring skills.

Two people with speech bubbles to show a conversationCheck in with them by asking questions such as:

  • ‘What do you have to do?’
  • ‘What do you need to do first, what do you need to do next?’
  • ‘How are you going to do the task?’

Encourage them to identify when they didn’t understand, for example,

A person running with a flash behind them to show something is fastA face looking confused with a question mark beside themToo many balls to fit into an overflowing bowl

  • you said it too fast
  • you used words I didn’t understand
  • you told me too many things at once

This feedback from your child may also help you to understand how to modify your language at home to support their understanding.

2 – Encourage your child to ask for help when they don’t understand

If they are able to identify what they found difficult, you could give them examples of the following questions:

A person asking someone a questionA tortoise on a road sign to show the idea of slowOne person writing something down for another person Someone pointing to a board of coloured images

      • ‘What do I have to do?’
      • ‘Can you say it again?’
      • ‘Can you say it more slowly?’
      • ‘What does that word mean?’
      • ‘Can you show me?’
      • ‘Can you write it down?’

You may need to model using the question a number of times such as ‘if you have not understood, remember to ask…’ or ‘which one of our questions could you ask to help you to understand?’

3 – Use visual support

Some children benefit from being given visual supports for example symbols or checklists, to help them monitor whether or not they have understood.

Two boxes, Green happy face or red sad face. They say I do understand or I don't understandFor example, they can turn over the card to show a tick when they have understood, and a cross when they haven’t.

We have provided some further visual support resources to support comprehension monitoring at the bottom of this page. Your child would benefit from using this at home and at school.

4 – Positive encouragement

A smiling person with a thought bubble of thumbs upHelp your child to feel positive about recognising when they don’t understand, and that asking for help is a positive thing to do. You could use phrases such as:

      • ‘It was good when you said you didn’t understand’
      • ‘Asking for help meant you could complete this task really well’
      • ‘Thank you for telling me what to change to help you to understand’

Top tips

  • Keep repeating and practising – new skills can take a long time to develop, particularly if your child needs additional support with understanding and using language.
  • Use these ideas alongside any other activities that your child enjoys for example Lego models, learning to play a new game, and baking.

Visual support resources to support comprehension monitoring

To download the image to your computer, right click or long press on a tablet or mobile to choose Save Image.

Additional resources and information

This resource explains how to use help cards : What to do if…Help cards

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

Is something missing from this resource that you think should be included? Please let us know

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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