Use TV to Improve Reading Comprehension

In a world where media is so pervasive, is it even possible to use TV to improve reading comprehension?

Studies have shown that American children average an adult-sized work week (40 hours) in front of TV, video, computer, or cell phone screens. By the time a typical student finishes high school, s/he has spent more hours (15,000) with media than with classroom teachers (11,000).

In a monumental study Walberg and others analyzed 277 studies, concluding that there was a small, positive correlation between TV viewing and scholastic achievement for 1-10 hours/week, correspondingly negative from 11-35 hours/week. The more TV watching after 10 hours, the worse the scholastic achievement became.

Let’s focus on those first 10 hours for a minute. Could it be that some video is actually good for children?  Relaxing? Informative? Amusing? Thoughtful?

It is possible!

With discriminating viewing habits and parental guidance, TV can actually help children broaden their interests, experiences, and vocabulary. TV can help children learn about people, places and things they might never see or understand, through a vivid and vicarious vision.

It is even possible that TV can improve reading comprehension!!!

First, however, there are some rules that parents should follow:

  1. Be sure that the program encourages worthwhile values, your values. If not, switch stations.
  2. Be sure that the program’s social issues, humor and content are age-appropriate for your child. If not, TURN IT OFF.
  3. Be sure the program presents age, gender, and racial issues in a positive manner.  If not, read a book with that time. See our Pinterest Board: Encouraging Lifelong Readers.
  4. Be sure that the program stimulates constructive child’s play and/or discussion content. If not, play a game with your child instead.
  5. Be sure you set limits on the amount of time allowed.  If you can’t do this, you are relinquishing your parental duty.

Notice that these ideas involve active commitment on the part of parents. TV AS BABYSITTER is not a way to improve your child’s over all mental and emotional growth.  Nothing about TV viewing will improve his or her physical development.

In days gone by, human beings who wanted to enjoy a good story had to read or listen to one. Storytelling is an ancient art form. While shadows danced on the wall of caves, primitive families had their imaginations stimulated by stories told around the campfire and by conversations about them.

TV is our modern version. It is not, in and of itself, antithetical to education.  The reason why so many American children cannot read well has more to do with the amount of actual time TV, video, and cell phone take from the practice of reading. Teachers are still teaching as well or better than their predecessors. But… the time spent actually reading has greatly declined.  Want to be a good golfer?  Practice.  Want to be a good knitter?  Practice.  Want to be a good reader…

Because television is a communication medium, just as reading is, there are a number of ways that TV can be used to teach many of the thinking skills associated with reading. Here are a few of them.

  1. Make predictions during commercials and/or at the end of the show—Ask why a certain person did something. What does your child think of this action?
  2. Recognize problems and solutions—Ask your child to tell you what problem the main character faced in the show tonight. Ask him or her to describe how the problem was solved. Can (s)he think of a different way to solve  it?
  3. Sequence—Help your child to retell the important points of the story in time order. There are two important comprehension skills here—sequence and distinguishing important details.
  4. Identify cause and effect—Ask what happened because a certain person took a specific action.
  5. Draw conclusions—Discuss why a certain character acted the way (s)he did.  Ask what motivated him or her. Can your child think of an alternate action or ending?
  6. Form opinions—Ask your child to evaluate an event or character’s action in the show.  Be a good listener. Give him or her your opinion and ask what (s)he thinks of it.
  7. Book report—Help your child tell you the setting, main characters, plot and favorite part, just as a teacher would do in a book report.  This is great practice, and makes a school book report much more familiar and easier for the child.
  8. Discuss propaganda techniques used by advertisers—Explain exaggeration, product placement, appeals to fears of being left out, celebrity endorsements, attractive settings and models. Discuss why they are effective, and why they may or may not be a good way to actually judge the worthiness of a product.
  9. Charts—Graph or chart your family’s viewing habits for a week based on the TV Guide. Make a schedule for your family which includes homework, exercise, reading, chores.  Put your family on a TV diet if too much video, computer, or TV appears on the schedule.

Research indicates that good readers are motivated, knowledgeable, strategic, and socially interactive.  Many of these qualities can be enriched by parents who, when watching TV with their children, engage the viewer in many of these identical skills the reading teacher is demanding when teaching reading comprehension.


Be sure that you are a good model to your children. Be selective in your own TV viewing habits, and be sure that books for yourself and your children are equally available in your home.


Check out reading Spotlight’s Blog Post: Are Your Kids Using Too Much Media?


Or inspire them to improve comprehension with this free ALL Sports Caption Matching Activity. It can be used with any sport, and it is especially useful for the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, Olympics, etc.


© Reading Spotlight 2021