Susan Riley | November 2012

Reading Comprehension Strategies Using the Arts

How many times have you read a paragraph and then realized you really weren’t paying attention and would not be able to tell someone what you just read?  This happens to students all the time.  One way to help with that is to give students a clear purpose for reading.  For those students who struggle with decoding, comprehension becomes a great challenge.  As educators, we are always trying to find ways to give students a purpose in their reading and to have students interact with text and make meaning.

Here are a few ways to use concepts from the arts to help aid in comprehension.  These can be done individually, in partners or small groups, or as a whole class.  All of these approaches would need to be modeled as a whole class before students can be expected to try them on their own but you already knew that! Let’s take a closer look at these reading comprehension strategies that use the arts.


  • Read through the story.  Choose one character.  Write down all the movement words of that character.  Describe or classify each movement based on one or more dance elements (time, space, energy or classified as axial vs. locomotor).  If there are not many movement words explicitly stated, infer what movements the character would be doing.  What do the different ways the character moves tell you about that character or what is happening to that character in the story?
  • Re-read pages __.  What kind of energy would that character be moving with in that part of the story?  Why?  Have the students demonstrate the movements they recorded.


  • Read through the story with a partner.  Find the things the characters said (skim for dialogue).  How are the characters feeling as they speak?  How would their feelings affect how they deliver their dialogue?  Would they speak with a loud voice, a quiet voice, or a medium voice?  Why do you think that?  Practice reading the dialogue with your partner showing how the characters are feeling as they speak.  Use facial expression, posture, and gesture to help show the feelings.
  • Find “x” number of important events from your reading.  Create “x” number of tableaux to show each event (alone or with a partner).  Why did you choose those events (or that event) as being important?


  • Look at the picture on page ___.  Read the text on that page (or opposing page).  Find one thing the picture tells you about the story that the text does not.
  • Before reading the story, “read” the pictures and predict what the story is about.  Share your predictions with a partner.  Now read the story.  How did your ideas change if at all?  Why? If they didn’t change, explain how the illustrations told the story without the text.


  • Read through the story with a partner.  Re-read pages __.  What kind of music would be playing for that part of the story (sad, happy, loud, soft, slow, fast, etc.) and why?  What instruments do you think should play that music?  Why?
  • Find “x” number of important events from your reading.  Listen to the musical selections (as a class, or individually/in partners on iPods, computer, etc. with each selection lasting roughly 15 seconds).  Choose one music selection for each event.  Why did you choose that music for that event?  If you collect several pieces that each have a different mood, you could re-use those selections for any story.  Instrumental pieces are best for evoking emotion and conveying mood without distracting the listener with lyrics.

Happy Reading!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.