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Metacognition and reading

Written By: Driver Youth Trust
2 min read
What's the idea?

The purpose of reading is to understand text – to construct meaning from the written word. Metacognition is a well-evidenced, key component in enabling pupils to do this effectively (Baker and Beall, 2009; Zabrucky et al., 2015).

What does it mean?

Metacognition is comprised of two main elements:

Metacognitive knowledge:

  • knowing about your cognitive abilities, e.g. I don’t understand these geographical terms.
  • knowing about particular tasks, e.g. This science report needs to follow a specific structure
  • knowing about what strategies are available and when to use them, e.g. I need to check the meaning of some of these words or I could misunderstand the whole task.

Metacognitive regulation: 

  • involves cognitive activities such as planning, monitoring, evaluating and revising strategies, and reflecting.
  • is concerned with what learners do about their learning, how they monitor and act on what they know. For example, through monitoring you realise you’re not understanding aspects of what you’re reading. You take action by re-reading a specific section.


Good readers use metacognitive strategies before, during and after reading to think about their reading and control their understanding. However, the process of using metacognitive strategies is complex. It is influenced by the knowledge and experience of the reader, the content and features of the text and the reading context. For example, we might quickly scan an advert, though carefully read instructions to book a flight. When reading a topic of interest, we might persevere with our understanding, but give up on something less motivating.


Action points for teachers

As with any area of learning, it’s important to know where students are in their own development for strategies to be effective.

  • The first step is to create the right climate; a classroom environment that promotes metacognition skills and where it’s okay to make mistakes.
  • Model each element of metacognitive skills: planning, evaluating, monitoring – make your own mistakes, model your thinking around text comprehension and work through examples together.
  • Promote and facilitate metacognitive talk within the classroom. Encourage students to question and allow time for discussion: Which strategies could we use? What did we do last time? How is this task different? What do we need to consider?
  • Explicitly teach pupils strategies, including consideration of what they’re aiming to get out of reading, how to monitor their comprehension, how to evaluate their understanding of text, how to summarise their understanding and how to ask questions about the text.
  • Consider the effectiveness of teaching strategies – research has shown effective practices include direct explanation, collaborative discussions, modelling, and the scaffolding of practice via feedback.
  • Allow time for reflection.
  • For students who are struggling, explicit teaching and key strategies are important, though should be scaffolded from current levels to ensure learning. Furthermore, these pupils will often need a combination of strategies to support reading comprehension, of which metacognitive skills are just one element (Dollaghan and Kaston, 1986).

Time given to building metacognition into reading comprehension activities is time well spent. Done consistently, it teaches pupils how to build their capacity for in-depth understanding.


The Driver Youth Trust is a charity committed to improving the outcomes of young people who struggle with literacy.

Want to know more?

The following web resources might be helpful:

Getting started with metacognition

Metacognition and self-regulation: Evidence summaries

Metacognition and self-regulation: Summary of recommendations 

  • Baker L and Beall LC (2009) Metacognitive processes and reading comprehension. In Israel SE and Duffy GG (eds.) Handbook of Research on Reading Comprehension New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 373–388.
  • Dollaghan C and Kaston N (1986) A comprehension monitoring program for language-impaired children. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders 51(3): 264–271.
  • Zabrucky KM, Moore D, Agler LL et al. (2015) Students’ metacomprehension knowledge: Components that predict comprehension performance. Reading Psychology 36: 627–642.
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