SQ3R Method: Improve Reading Comprehension

Most of the time, students read texts from beginning all the way to the end without pausing to comprehend what they’re reading. However, this requires readers to go over a challenging text again and again to really understand it. But there isanother, more effective way to read for comprehension and meaning making: the SQ3R method.

Read on to learn more about:

  • what the SQ3R method of reading is
  • how to teach it in the classroom
  • why this strategy works for elementary schoolers
  • an SQ3R method example using an elementary level text

With a more active reading approach like this one, students can collect information much faster, and retain it for much longer – all while reducing the number of times they need to reread a text.

Related: This reading comprehension strategy cultivates critical thinking skills. Learn more about how to teach critical thinking to elementary students.

What is the SQ3R method for elementary schoolers?

Text: SQ3R method, what does it stand for? Graphics of magnifying glass, pencil and paper, quotes, and question mark.

SQ3R is a five-step reading comprehension strategy that helps students construct meaning out of what they’re reading while they are reading it.

The strategy includes the following:


Students review the elements of a text, such as the title, illustrations, graphs, and bolded texts, to gain initial meaning. At this stage, students can learn what the text will be about, what kinds of key terms/vocabulary words are important for reading comprehension, and (depending on the text) what kind of data is important to the text.

You will need to show younger students what kinds of details and text features clue them into what a text is about and why they are reading it.

This high-level overview allows students to establish a context, intention, and expectations for reading this particular text.

Related: Reading for structure and craft is also a part of close reading, a crucial reading strategy for students. This is how close reading works and how to use it with your students.


Students create questions about the text based on their initial survey.

They might:

  • turn the title, headings, and/or subheadings of a text into questions
  • generate questions from diagrams, pictures, tables of data, or other text features
  • write down unfamiliar vocabulary terms and define them prior to reading (unless the reading is to learn how to define words using context clues)
  • include questions about what information they would like to or expect to get from the text

For elementary schoolers, you will probably need to model this step by assigning them relevant questions until they learn effective questioning strategies.

It may help students if you create a worksheet with space for questions and answers.

Related: Learn more about what text features are and engaging ways to teach them.

Read Actively

The SQ3R reading method requires students to be active readers.

Students can read independently, in pairs, or in small groups.

As they read, they should be searching for the answers to the questions they have (or have been given.)

Students can pause and write down answers to these questions on a worksheet, or simply a separate sheet of paper with the questions already listed on them.


Studies have shown that students are more likely to retain information when they actively speak answers and hear themselves saying the words.

This is a key aspect of the “Recite” step of the SQ3R reading method.

Students may read their answers out loud to themselves, or discuss their answers in pairs. If possible, it’s helpful for students to look away from what they have written down, and look away from the text, to explain their answers in their own words.

Depending on grade level, students may also take notes about what others have shared and about their own answers to look at later.


At this stage, students should review their answers to make sure all questions have been answered using evidence from the text.

Instructors may address any lingering questions and assist those who are struggling by rereading the material with them.

Students may also synthesize information by drawing flow charts, writing summaries, participating in group discussion, or studying for reading comprehension tests.

Related: Using evidence from the text is a critical skills to master all  four levels of reading comprehension.

Benefits of Teaching the SQ3R Method in Elementary School

This reading and information retention strategy was first developed for college level students to quickly condense extensive information from textbooks into exam study material.

But, it has been adapted for students in all grade levels.

Elementary schoolers in particular benefit from the SQ3R method because:

  • this process gets them used to doing several things while reading to comprehend a piece of text
  • it is an effective study strategy that will benefit them when they start reading longer, more information-dense materials
  • students collect information in several ways: from reading, writing, and listening to themselves and others
  • it offers students a chance to collaborate with each other
  • the method encourages students to slow down and really process what they’re reading, rather than just speeding through it
  • students read intentionally, with a purpose, which may cut down on the number of times they need to reread material for comprehension and finding information

Effective readers process information faster – and this will be so useful when your students go on to read much larger, more challenging texts.

SQ3R Method Example: Algorithm Art

SQ3R method example: Algorithm Art cover image from TIME for Kids.
Image courtesy of TIME for Kids.

Algorithm Art is a Time for Kids article, which you can find here. It is a scientific nonfiction text with a title, three headings, and four images illustrating the concepts discussed in each section.

In this SQ3R method example, students survey the article for structure, content, and purpose.

You may guide them by asking them:

  • what they think the article will be about
  • what they expect to learn from the article
  • clues the headings might give about each section
  • why the images were included, and what kind of information might be stored in them
  • if they notice any words they don’t know after a quick scan of the article (e.g. “algorithm” is probably not a word most elementary schoolers know yet)

After, they may create or look over questions you have assigned.

Questions for this SQ3R method example might be about:

  • what algorithm art is
  • how you can combine science and art to create something new
  • what each section is about (by turning section headers into questions, a common practice with the SQ3R method)

After that, student read the article independently, with pairs, or in small groups.

Depending on the setup, they may pause and write down answers to questions while they are reading. You may also have students pause after each section and analyze the text for answers to any questions they have. Students might also discuss their reading and answers in small groups as they read, stopping at the end of each section to look over the text.

Students should spend more time on the more challenging parts of a text. But they should not spend so long on one part that they do not move on to another.

It’s important, then, to make sure students are pacing themselves while reading.

After they answer all questions, or as many as possible, students should recite the answers quietly to themselves, or out loud to partners or within small groups.

Finally, students review their answers, making sure that:

  • all questions were answered using evidence from the text
  • their answers make sense and answer every part of a question
  • they understand, and can paraphrase, their responses
  • they complete any synthesizing work assigned (i.e. summary writing, flow charts, etc.)

Instructors clear up any confusion about question formats, answers, and any other lingering confusion about a text.

You will have to model this strategy several times.

Students often read straight through a text, and then go back to answering questions about it.

So the SQ3R method might not be intuitive for them.

Make sure to slowly explain each step, create documents to guide them through the process, and then transition into them using the strategy independently.

Once they get the hang of it, though, they will be able to synthesize and retain information much more efficiently.

It’s worth the prep work – yours and your students’.