Excellent Reading Comprehension: Developing the 3 Core Cognitive Skills

Posted by Erica Warren on

Every teacher would love to ignite a love for reading and nurture voracious readers, but simply teaching your students how to read and asking them to read each night isn't necessarily going to help them comprehend the text that they are scanning.

The key to helping your students get lost in the pages depends on whether they have developed 3 foundational cognitive skills. 

Happy student reading

What are The 3 Cognitive Skills?

Automatized Naming (RAN):

RAN or rapid naming is the ability to quickly verbalize a series of familiar items including letters, numbers, colors or objects. Research suggests that RAN is much like executive functioning in that it is a control center. RAN is a complex set of cognitive processing areas - verbal, visual and motor systems - that work together thus defining one’s reading fluency capabilities.


Most students are taught in the traditional classroom how to decode. Decoding is the ability to recognize and analyze printed words and to connect it to spoken words. These skills include the ability to recognize the basic sounds and blends that make up words, grasp what words mean, recognize words in context and know whether words are used correctly in sentences.


Research has investigated the effects of visualization on reading capabilities. Studies have shown a direct link between poor comprehension skills and the inability to visualize text. Research also substantiates that students who picture what they are reading, have better comprehension scores and find greater enjoyment in the reading process. What’s more, studies suggest that training in mental imagery helps students generate their own mental images, make inferences and form accurate predictions. Finally, the research shows that visualization improves deep connections that aid in memory recall and reading comprehension.

boy using visualization skills

Developing these Skills to Automaticity

Because reading requires multitasking the three core skills in unison, developing these skills to automaticity is a must. Automaticity is the ability to do things without occupying the mind - allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. Automaticity is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice. 

Executive Functioning Coaching

3 key cognitive skills


How Can I help Students Develop These Skills?

RAN: Games are a motivating option for exercising RAN to automaticity. There are many games that require word retrieval and place time constraints on players. Several rapid naming/word retrieval games are listed below. Also, don’t be afraid to create your own games!

Decoding: Some students don’t fully pick up decoding when they are exposed to the traditional ways of teaching. Instead, they may require a more systematic, multisensory approach such as the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach to reading. There are many successful OG programs on the market today. The Dyslexia Reading Well offers a comprehensive list.

Visualization: I have found that the best way to teach visualization is through games and mindful discussions. Here are a few options:

  • Stare board game
  • The Visualization Game is a downloadable (PDF) workbook that offers hilarious visualization activities.
  • Mindful Visualization is a downloadable document (PDF) that provides a review of the research, assessment tools, over twenty game-like activities and lesson suggestions in all the subject areas.
  • Teaching Visualization PowerPoint downloads review the 10 core skills that need to be developed to optimize visualization abilities.

mindful vizualization

Cheers, Erica

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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