Reading comprehension involves three levels of understanding: literal meaning, inferential meaning, and evaluative meaning. This lesson will differentiate and define these three levels.

Reading for Comprehension

Imagine a boy named Billy. He is sitting alone in a corner and building a tower out of blocks. He places one block on top of another as his tower becomes higher and higher. The more blocks he adds, the more intricate his design becomes.

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We can compare Billy’s intricate tower design to the process of reading comprehension. Reading comprehension is the ability to process information that we have read and to understand its meaning. This is a complex process where skills are built upon one another like the blocks used to make Billy’s tower. There are three levels of understanding in reading comprehension: literal meaning, inferential meaning, and evaluative meaning.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these different meanings.

Literal Meaning

Literal meaning is simply what the text says. It is what actually happens in the story. This is a very important level of understanding because it provides the foundation for more advanced comprehension. Without understanding the material on this level, you could not go any farther.

Let’s use our story about Billy to provide an example. The literal meaning of the story was that Billy built a tower out of blocks. The answers to questions based on literal meaning will always be found in the text. For example: Who was building the tower? The answer is Billy.

Here are examples of the type of information that could be identified as literal meaning:

  • The main idea
  • Stated facts
  • The sequence of events
  • Characters in the story

Inferential Meaning

Inferential meaning involves determining what the text means. You start with the stated information. This information is then used to determine deeper meaning that is not explicitly stated. Determining inferential meaning requires you to think about the text and draw a conclusion.

Getting back to Billy again, what inferential meaning could we get from our story? We could infer that Billy is good at building towers! A question about inferential meaning will typically make you provide examples from the text that back up your thinking. For example: Why could you assume that Billy is good at building towers? You assume this is true because the story says that Billy’s tower got higher and higher, and the design became more intricate with each block.

Examples of the type of information that could be identified as inferential meaning include:

  • Generalizations
  • Cause and effect relationships
  • Future predictions
  • An unstated main idea

Evaluative Meaning

Evaluative meaning is what the text is telling us about the world outside the story. Readers must analyze what they have read. Then, they must form an opinion based on the information.

What evaluative meaning can be found in our story about Billy? We might come to the conclusion that it can be fun to play alone. Questions designed to determine what evaluative meaning was gained from a story will typically elicit an opinion and ask you to elaborate on it. For example: How do you think someone would feel about playing alone like Billy? Your answer might be that people like being alone sometimes, especially if they are trying to accomplish something on their own.

Here are examples of the type of information that could be identified as evaluative meaning:

  • The author’s purpose for writing the story
  • Comparing the text to a real-life situation
  • What the text is saying about human characteristics
  • Determining if you agree with the author’s conclusion

Lesson Summary

Reading comprehension is the ability to process information that we have read and understand its meaning. This is a complex process with three levels of understanding: literal meaning, inferential meaning, and evaluative meaning.

Literal meaning is what the text describes as happening in the story. This level of understanding provides the foundation for more advanced comprehension. Inferential meaning involves taking the information provided in the text and using it to determine what the text means but doesn’t directly state. Evaluative meaning is what the text tells us about the world outside the story.

Reading Comprehension Vocabulary

reading
  • Reading comprehension: The ability to process information that we have read and to understand its meaning
  • Literal meaning: In the simplest terms, it is exactly what the text says.
  • Inferential meaning: It is what is determined that the text means, but isn’t directly stated in that text.
  • Evaluative meaning: It is what the text says about the world outside of the story.

Learning Outcomes

As you complete the lesson, you should be able to:

  • Explain what reading comprehension is
  • Understand the importance of reading comprehension
  • Describe the kinds of information you get from literal, inferential and evaluative meaning