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Literal Comprehension Overview

Direct Locate

Literal comprehension is seen as the first level of comprehension. It is the simplest form of locating information in texts because the information is stated directly in the text. Questions assessing literal comprehension skills examine how well students can identify and understand information that is directly stated in a text.

According to Carnine, Silbert and Kameenui (1997), literal questioning can vary in difficulty depending on:

  • the length of the text
  • the order in which the questions are asked and how they match to the order of the text
  • the use of pronouns, because the pronoun reference needs to be identified before finding the information in the text.

Connecting Literal Information

If no interpretation is required to locate or connect the information, students are employing literal comprehension skills. Using key words, skim reading and scanning will help students to locate information efficiently.

Key words

Key words are the content words that carry the most meaning in a text. Students can underline or highlight the key words.


Skimming is reading quickly through a text to get the gist or main idea. Students can skim read by looking at headings and sub–headings, pictures, diagrams, captions, any italicised or bold words, and the first and last paragraphs of the text.


Scanning is reading to locate particular elements or specific details in a text, such as key concepts, names, dates or certain information in answer to a question. Students can scan by looking through the text to locate key words to find the specific information quickly.