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Deep-Level Comprehension of Science Texts: The Role of the Reader and the Text

Best, Rachel M. PhD; Rowe, Michael MS; Ozuru, Yasuhiro PhD; McNamara, Danielle S. PhD


Many students from elementary school through college encounter difficulty understanding their science textbooks, regardless of whether they have language disorders. This article discusses some of the particular difficulties associated with science text comprehension and possible remedies for facilitating and enhancing comprehension of challenging expository text materials. Specifically, we focus on the difficulties associated with generating inferences needed to comprehend science texts. The successful generation of inferences is affected by factors such as students' prior knowledge and reading strategies, and the manner in which science texts are written. Many students lack the necessary prior knowledge and reading strategies to generate inferences and thus comprehend science texts only poorly. Further, science texts are typically “low-cohesion” texts, which means that they require readers to generate many inferences and fill in conceptual gaps. Remedies for overcoming comprehension difficulties include matching texts to students' knowledge level and providing explicit instruction aimed at teaching students to use reading comprehension strategies for comprehension monitoring, paraphrasing, and elaborations. The computer-supported tool iSTART (Interactive Strategy Training for Active Reading and Thinking) is introduced as a technological support to assist students and teachers in the teaching/learning enterprise.

From the University of Memphis, Memphis, Tenn.

Corresponding author: Rachel M. Best, PhD, or Danielle S. McNamara, PhD, Department of Psychology, 202 Psychology Bldg, The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152 (e-mail: or

We express our thanks to Nickola Nelson and three anonymous reviewers regarding their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article. This material is based on work supported by grants from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES R3056020018-02) and the National Science Foundation (NSF: IERI 0241144) awarded to the fourth author, Danielle S. McNamara. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IES or NSF.

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins