Greetings, teachers! I’ve been talking to parents for a while, and miss talking to you! So let’s talk.
I am constantly surprised to find students who can read reasonably well for their age… but who cannot understand what they read! What troubles me is that these children are not low-performing students. They are average kids!
In an assessment exercise recently, I found my one of my students reading a comprehension passage on an actor’s rising career. He hardly missed a word as he read through the passage, except for some mispronunciations.
However, I was already certain before he finished reading, that he had no idea what he was reading. This set me thinking a long time on reading comprehension, and how I might boost my students’ reading comprehension skills. As I read an article the other night, the suspicions and thoughts niggling at the back of my brain were confirmed. Here are the facts in a nutshell.
There are basics to reading comprehension skills. Reading comprehension is just the topmost block. Unless you build a firm layer beneath, your student will not succeed. Let’s just talk about the comprehension part today.
Take a look at this diagram. Your goal is the green block on the top: reading comprehension. Beneath that, you have your first prerequisite:
Language comprehension refers to your student’s understanding of spoken language, in our case, English. Your students will have different levels of language comprehension, depending on their background in the language. Some will have a greater ability to appreciate symbolic language and figures of speech better than others. Those with a higher level of language comprehension will often be more adept at making accurate inferences from what they hear. For instance, you may say, “The sky looks grey today. We’ll just have to settle for handcrafts during games time.” The child with better developed language comprehension would be able to make the unexpressed link: It’s going to rain -> we can’t play outside -> we’ll do indoor activities.
How language comprehension contributes to reading comprehension
The link is not difficult to follow. If a child does not adequately understand spoken language, he will have greater difficulty understanding written text. Familiarity with the spoken language naturally translates into familiarity with the written language. Understanding what he is reading will not be a big problem once he has adequately developed language comprehension.
How you can boost his language comprehension
Nothing beats exposure! Incorporate higher level language (figures of speech, metaphors, allusions) into your lessons. Be sure to explain the meanings adequately when you use them. Talk over why the phrase is used and what it actually means. If applicable, discuss the history of the phrase as well. I like to throw a new phrase at them all unawares, such as “once in a blue moon.” The looks they give me are precious! :) Their curiosity then gives me the perfect opportunity to explain the figure of speech in context.
You can also incorporate story-reading (or use tapes if you prefer not to read aloud) once your students catch on. One series that is particularly suitable for language comprehension development is the Berenstain Bears series. It is a fantastic series to use (except, do explain the animation to the children, that real bears don’t actually talk and wear clothes and live in houses! :) ) because the books incorporate rhyme, use scenarios children can relate to and introduce higher language usage. They also teach morals and encourage good habits, and have wonderful illustrations to boot!
Recently, I read The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Money with my student. I was surprised and thrilled to find three figures of speech used and cleverly explained in the story.
You should be able to find these books in local bookstores like MPH (at least, they were on the shelves when I last looked for them in MPH). I know for sure that you can find them in local libraries. Refer to this search.
Well, be creative, have a good time and remember to make your lessons fun! All the best as you work on helping your students’ reading comprehension!