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Reading Comprehension Materials: An Overview for Elementary School Special Education

Updated on August 28, 2015
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Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.

I've mentioned in other articles that I would delve into comprehension materials at some point. I'm starting with a general overview of the materials that I use in my classroom. I don't think that I need to elaborate on the fact that comprehension is a huge component of the reading curriculum. In order to address the academic levels of my special education students who ranged from kindergarteners to fourth grade, I worked with a wide variety of materials, including many that I created myself. I adapted many of my materials with Velcro because a number of my students with autism prefer it. Due to the shear volume of comprehension materials that I created, I wasn't been able to adapt all of them with Velcro. However, I still adapted many of the non-Velcro materials with visuals. These visuals are also a perfect adaptation for students who are low or non-readers.

It's up to you to determine which materials are the most appropriate for your students. I have so many different resources here because my students often needed extra reinforcement with skills. Thus, I used multiple materials at the same level in my reading curriculum for a single group of students. Hopefully this wealth of resources will allow you to hand pick the best options for your classroom.

I will devote a little of this hub to the area of alternate assessment and how I incorporate those stands into my reading curriculum as naturally as possible. This is a topic that I will discuss more fully in future hubs. If you would like more information before I have it published, let me know. I'm happy to help you in any way that I can. You can also click on the alternate assessment link above to read the hub that I wrote about collecting and organizing alternate assessment materials.

Please don't feel overwhelmed by the volume of materials that I discuss in this hub. Create what you need as you need it. You will not need every possible material for every skill set. Laminate all of your Velcro materials and safely store all modified materials in organized manila folders so that you'll be able to re-use materials in the future. The initial planning and creation process is time consuming, but it is well worth it.

I used Microsoft Word and Mayer-Johnson's Boardmaker to create the materials that I cover in this hub. Any of the pictures that I used for my materials that are not from Boardmaker are pictures that I obtained through online image searches. I used these pictures solely for these educational materials, which I have only used in my own classroom and have not sold or marketed in any way. I buy my card stock and contact paper in bulk from Office Depot. I buy my Velcro dots in bulk from

All photographs in this hub are copyrighted by me, Rose Clearfield. Please contact me if you would like permission to use any of them. Thank you!

Stand Alone - Who, What, Where, When, Why Questions

The comprehension skill that I worked on the most with my students is wh questions: who, what, when, where, and why. In order to address this at a very basic level, I created several "stand alone" Velcro comprehension books. You really don't need any background context or other materials to use these books with your students.

Each page has a 1-2 sentence story, followed by 1-4 wh questions. The first photo on the right is of the first book that I made, which only has one question for each prompt. You can learn from my mistakes here and 1) include boxes for the correct answer choices and 2) Velcro the answer choices on the bottom of the pages. (As you can see in the second photo, I corrected both mistakes in later books.)

The additional books that I made have 3-4 questions for each prompt. Both the questions and answer choices have Velcro so you can rearrange them as often as you like, preventing students from simply memorizing the question and/or answer choice order.

If you have students who participate in alternate assessment, this is a wonderful material for working on the wh question reading standards.

If you need more information about how to create and assemble these books, let me know. The creation process for these books is fairly time intensive. I completed most of them during the summers or with significant help from a couple of my aides. However, you can use them over and over again, which will save you a lot of time in the future. For me, they were well worth the effort. I used them with students of a wide variety of ages and academic levels.

Modified General Education Comprehension Skill Work

My last school district used the Harcourt Trophies reading series. I modified a lot of their comprehension skill work for my students with visuals. I also modified a small handful of this work with Velcro.

I did not create any "stand alone" materials for any of these skill sets because I felt that what I had from the general education curriculum was sufficient. You can create additional materials if you need to for your students.

This material includes, but is not limited to, the following skill sets: characters, setting, similarities/differences of characters, main idea/details, making inferences, author's purpose, narrative elements, sequencing, and cause and effect.

General Education Reading Texts (Modified or Not) With Modified Materials

I sometimes modified the texts for my students who are low or non-readers. You can determine whether this modification is appropriate or not for your students. I used the Boardmaker writing tool to modify the texts. I then cut and pasted this text with pictures copied from the text.

For one student who preferred to use a Go Talk 9+ for various academic tasks and other school activities (i.e. calendar time), I created Go Talk overlays for his stories, which he used to "read" them. Boardmaker has Go Talk overlays so you will not have to create a template for this.

I developed or modified materials to accompany these texts that included, but was not limited to, the following skills: wh questions, characters, character relationships, punctuation, setting, similarities/differences of characters, initial letter sounds, and sequencing. All of these are skills that are included in the Iowa Alternate Assessment reading standards. When the general education materials only had a few wh questions for a text, I often wrote more of my own questions.

As I mentioned previously, I am planning to write a future hub about creating these alternate assessment materials. Eventually I would like to write hubs about materials for specific texts, too. For now, I hope that this is enough to get you started. If you have specific questions, let me know.

Creating Questions for Supplemental Materials and General Education Readers

I liked to use the Starfall readers and general education readers with my students. Both sets of readers are designed around skill sets (i.e. a reader for the long E word families) and do not include comprehension questions. I modified a number of these readers with visuals and wrote comprehension questions for most of them. Typically I alternated each week with the general education texts and one of these two sets of readers for my kindergarten through second grade students.


Additional Resources

For my third and fourth grade students, I alternated general education text and Developing Reading Power stories from Essential Learning Products. My students enjoy these stories, and the variety of materials boosted their interest level.

I also supplemented my reading curriculum with the Teacher Created Resources comprehension books (see link below).

There are two web sites that I used for reading comprehension probes. The first one is Super Teacher Worksheets. The links for reading comprehension are on the left hand side of the page. The second one is Have Fun Teaching. I only used these probes with fluent readers and thus did not modified them. You can modify them if you need to.


It's really important to organize all of your comprehension materials so that you're able to find what you need in the future. Do not stress if you do not find the time organize everything right away. Take a deep breath and read my survival tips hub. It took me a long time to develop and implement a regular organization routine for my materials. Even with that in place, the system still broke down sometimes.

I used plastic magazine racks for storing my Velcro comprehension books. I created a manila folder for every text. I put all modified materials related to this text, including skill set work, in this folder. I organized my folders by grade level. Sometimes I needed an additional folder for the Velcro materials for the text. I filed these folders right in with the other ones so all of the materials stay together. I also had folders for my Starfall and general education readers and for my comprehension probes.

Anything else you'd like to see here? Let me know!


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      4 years ago

      I saw that you said you don't sell any of your products. Is there anyway I can buy that first reading comprehension packet with the Mayer Johnson symbols. This would be perfect for my classroom!!!!!

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      Carrie Irby 

      4 years ago

      I love this! Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image 

      4 years ago

      This is awesome - thanks !!


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