How Does Critical Thinking Relate to the Process of Reading Comprehension?

Critical thinking is essential to a meaningful level of reading comprehension.
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You really can’t fully understand something you have read until you take the time to think about it. That’s the difference between reading comprehension and just reciting the words. All reading comprehension requires some degree of critical thinking, a term that refers to a systematic and deliberately thoughtful approach to analyzing a topic. Critical thinking in reading comprehension can range from understanding what the text says to evaluating the accuracy of its content.

1 Literal Comprehension

Literal comprehension is the most basic form of reading comprehension, and it uses the most simple forms of critical thinking. Readers identify explicitly stated facts and information from a text and recall that information later. A competent reader has to be able to find details that are directly stated in the text, like the name of a character or the setting of a story. The reader should even be able to restate abstract ideas that are defined in the text. For example, if a textbook chapter defines freedom, the reader should be able to repeat that definition and any explanation or examples that come with it.

2 Interpretation

The struggle readers often face with more sophisticated literature is deciphering the figurative language. Analyzing complex rhetoric requires readers to use higher level thinking skills than they would use to decode more conventional text. Understanding Shakespeare, for example, calls for negotiating passages constructed around allusions to Greek and Roman mythology and tracing the purpose of extended metaphors. To interpret similes and metaphors readers have to stretch their thinking to see how two otherwise dissimilar items can be alike. When they come across idioms, readers need to recognize that expression isn’t meant to be taken literally. Readers need to make inferences by distinguishing the tone of the piece and applying background to figure out the idiom.

3 Inferences and Conclusions

Writers don’t always directly state important ideas in ways that are obvious to the reader. Instead, they depend on the reader’s ability to think critically and follow a trail of clues and evidence in the text to make inferences and draw conclusions. For example, a writer might reveal traits about a character through the description, actions and dialogue. The reader has to gather the clues the writer has scattered throughout text and make inferences to understand the characterization. To comprehend more challenging pieces, readers have to apply critical thinking skills to build meaning based on written evidence.

4 Evaluation

A reader is not expected to accept every detail a writer includes in a work as truth. Readers should approach some types of texts with a healthy degree of skepticism, especially nonfiction pieces on controversial issues. When reading an editorial, for example, readers should look for flaws in the writer’s logic and errors in how the writer uses evidence. At this level of critical thinking, readers learn to examine the slants and biases that may exist even in informational texts like a feature story in a magazine or on a web page. As readers attempt to comprehend any text, they should also read critically, probing the strengths and weaknesses of the writer’s claims and supporting arguments.

David Raudenbush has more than 20 years of experience as a literacy teacher, staff developer and literacy coach. He has written for newspapers, magazines and online publications, and served as the editor of "Golfstyles New Jersey Magazine." Raudenbush holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in education.