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Expert Q&A

Many of the ELLs in my class are able to decode English text, but continue to struggle with reading comprehension. How can I help them develop comprehension skills?

It is important to remember that comprehension instruction does not just occur after reading is completed. Assigning “comprehension questions” for students to answer after they have read a passage may test comprehension, but this is not a strategy that teaches comprehension. In order to be effective, comprehension instruction must include activities that occur before, during, and after reading.

The goals of “before reading” activities are to activate prior knowledge and to provide a purpose for reading. Research suggests that the brain stores information in a series of schemata, or mental frameworks. The more we know about a particular subject, the more complex our schema for that subject becomes. For example, an adult would probably have a very well-developed schema for the topic “income taxes” while a third grader would probably have a very limited schema for that topic. Effective “before reading” activities help access and expand students’ schemata for the topic being studied. Anticipation Guides, ABC Brainstorming, and Carousel Brainstorming are three excellent strategies for before reading (See links below).

“During reading” activities teach students to monitor their comprehension as they read and help them to focus their attention on important ideas, themes, and vocabulary. English language learners who are having difficulty with English comprehension, like most struggling readers, often do not self-monitor. Instead, they continue to make their way through the words of a passage, even when they don’t understand what they are reading. Activities that cause students to stop and make sure they understand what the passage is saying can be extremely helpful to these students. Some excellent examples are the Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DRTA) and journaling.

“After reading” activities encourage students to synthesize and reflect upon what they have read and to organize the information they have gathered in a logical and meaningful way. There are a number of graphic organizers that can be used effectively as after reading activities. Class discussion and writing activities are especially effective after reading strategies.

Here are some useful links on comprehension strategies:

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