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All About 2nd Grade Reading Comprehension

Comprehension, Literacy

Written by: Krys Warstillo

Reading is a big deal in K-2. Yes, there’s math, science, social studies, art, and music but reading instruction looms over all other subjects. It makes sense, it ties into all the other topics. Between Kindergarten and 2nd grade, students’ reading abilities drastically change. For 2nd grade teachers, this means helping students make the tricky transition from sounding out words to fluently reading grade-level text. Once fluency enters the picture students have the cognitive space to begin comprehending what they read. Fluency is like the soil that 2nd grade reading comprehension can bloom in.

In this post, we’ll go through the big reading comprehension skills 2nd graders should have, what each looks like, and how to teach them. Be sure to grab your set of 16 free 2nd grade reading passages too!

What Reading Comprehension Skills Should a 2nd Grader Have?

In 2nd grade, reading comprehension instruction is all about developing the base skills that they’ll lean on as they progress into the world of “read to learn.” This means we’re teaching students how to analyze and think deeper about the text. We’re teaching them the structure of narratives and how to make connections.

Reading standards are going to vary from state to state but the heavy hitters of 2nd grade reading comprehension are:

Click on the comprehension skill below to jump to our tips on how to teach it in a 2nd grade classroom.

  1. Narrative Story Structure
  2. Main idea and Author’s Purpose
  3. Nonfiction Text Features
  4. Compare & Contrast
  5. Using Text Evidence
  6. Expanding Vocabulary
  7. Free 2nd Grade Reading Comprehension Passages

There are a ton of other standards in the mix. Your state standards may include poetry or folktales among others but those 6 are going to be where you and your students spend a lot of your time.

What Does Reading Comprehension Look Like in 2nd Grade?

So, what do these skills LOOK like when a 2nd grader does them. Alright, let’s dive into what each skill is and what you might notice in your class when your students have mastered that skill.

1. Story Structure

In 2nd grade, students need to know that narrative stories have a general structure. Stories have characters, a setting, and a plot. The plot has a clear beginning, middle, and end. There’s a problem and there’s a solution. In some states, students are introduced to the rising/falling action, climax, and conclusion.

In a student, you would notice their ability to name and describe characters. They would know where the story takes place. If you ask them, “what happens in the story?” they would be able to tell you how it starts, map out some points along the way, and how it ends. Students who have really mastered story structure can extend their knowledge to create their own narratives with the necessary elements.

story elements anchor chart

How Do I Teach Story Structure?

2. Main Idea & Author’s Purpose

The main idea and author’s purpose are not the same things but I lumped them together because they can easily be connected. I’ve found that if students are having a hard time finding one then pointing out the other can be helpful. In 2nd grade, students need to be able to identify if a text is persuasive, informational, or entertaining. They also need to be able to figure out what the main idea of the text is. Simply put, why did the author write this, and what’s it mostly about?

In 2nd grade, this means that a student can watch a YouTube ad and know that it was made to persuade and get you to buy another Hot Wheels track (extending their learning to a different media!). Or it can be a student reading the lunch menu on the wall and knowing it’s there to inform them. Or reading their newest I Survived book and knowing the main idea is “living through a hurricane is difficult.”

Author's Purpose reading strategy poster with PIE acronym

How Do I Teach Main Idea & Author’s Purpose?

3. Nonfiction Text Features & 2nd Grade Reading Comprehension

How Do I Teach Text Features?

4. Compare & Contrast

A 2nd grader should be able to take two pieces of text and tell you what is the same and what is different. These pieces of text can be fiction, nonfiction, and even two versions of the exact same story. The important thing is that they’re comparing and contrasting the elements of each. Often this will be done in Venn diagrams to give students some structure in which to organize their observations.

In your class, this will look like students who can pick up 2 different Who Would Win? books and can tell you what is different and the same about them both. They might point out that both books end with a winner and they both list the physical traits of two different animals but one book is about insects and the other has mammals. This can also be students who finish listening to the book James & The Giant Peach and start telling you about the lack of a cloud city portion in the movie.

walrus versus elephant seal compare and contrast venn diagram

How Do I Teach Compare & Contrast?

5. Text Evidence in 2nd Grade Reading Comprehension

How Do I Teach Text Evidence?

Fiction Text Evidence & 5Ws

Nonfiction Text Evidence

Text evidence

6. Vocabulary & Language

Second grade is a whole new world of exciting words. Reading Rockets puts it fantastically, “vocabulary plays a fundamental role in the reading process and is critical to reading comprehension.” Students in 2nd grade will need frequent exposure to tier 2 and tier 3 words. Additionally, it’s important to spend time explicitly teaching figurative language. This is especially important if you have English language learners because idioms do not translate and can cause all kinds of confusion.

In practice, this might look like your student opening a Fly Guy book and learning the word mandible or all the hilarious conversations that Dave Pilkey books bring to the table. I’ll never forget teaching my entire class what the word “hurl” meant. Imagine a room of 8-year-olds pretending to puke on everything then one of them excitedly yelling, “VOCABULARY IS REALLY FUN!” (Yes, I did get Dojo messages from parents about that spontaneous mini-lesson.)

vocabulary chart using new words from the the mentor text Pop!

How Do I Teach Vocabulary & Language?

Vocabulary & Context Clues

Genre & Figurative Language

Figurative Language

Asking Questions

Keep in mind that a lot of comprehension instruction is just asking a lot of questions and teaching students to ask questions. Metacognition is important. You have to teach your students to think about their thinking.

In the classroom, this can look like students asking one another questions about a text during think-pair-share. It can be KWL charts that you all create together.

good readers ask and answer questions anchor chart with question stems for the 5 W questions

How Do I Teach Question Asking?

Asking & Answering Questions

Free 2nd Grade Reading Comprehension Passages

Closer looks at some of the reading comprehension passages are sprinkled above. They’re pretty cool and cover all the skills 2nd graders need. To check out the whole bundle visit the 2nd Grade Reading Comprehension Passages post. If you want to try them out with your student grab the FREE reading comprehension passages here.


  1. Misty Hamlin

    Hey, do you have a curriculum map you follow for how and when you do your reading curriculum?

    • Jess Dalrymple

      Hey Misty, We have a scope and sequence! You can download that free HERE. Thanks!


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