Perspectives on Reading Comprehension and Retelling

As an ELL Instructional Coach, I am called in to provide perspectives on English Language Learning when there is a question or concern about a student.As students work through the arduous task of acquiring language in order to access academic content in the classroom, a common concern among educators is how to help students comprehend what they are reading.

When a conversation begins about a student with, “They can’t comprehend.” My first question is, “Are you sure?” There are a variety of variables that affect reading comprehension. For English Language Learners, the variables become more complex as they strive to take a new language, translate it into something familiar and then make connections to translate it back into English again.  Consider your students and think about the texts that you are asking them to read.

  • Do they have prior knowledge to access the text or do they need opportunities for building background in order to create meaning?
  • What is the content vocabulary and the academic vocabulary required in order for students to comprehend the text?
  • What are the language structures of the text and does the student use them in their oral language or will it require explicit teaching in order for them to have access to the content?

One final perspective to consider is the purpose for comprehension. Every time you ask a student to apply a specific comprehension skill or strategy, it changes the way students not only look at a text but also talk about a text to show you what they know. Think about finding the main idea and key details in a text. Would it look and sound the same as visualizing to create meaning? What I will often ask teachers to do is to slow things down in order to speed things up. If you are finding that you have English Language Learners in your classroom who are struggling with comprehension, have them do a quick retelling! Are they really not comprehending or are they just not comprehending they way we are asking them to?

There are many supports available to help students with retelling a story. To see an example of a story retelling rubric that could be made into both a formative assessment and a student self assessment, click here.

If you would like copies of story retelling cards that students can use to articulate a cohesive retelling to show you what they know, click here.

You can also go to Reading Rockets, and read the article entitled Promoting Reading Comprehension. You may find some helpful strategies to amplify language and help students to show you what they know.

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Molly Williams

About Molly Williams

Molly Williams works for Lincoln Public Schools as an ELL instructional coach. She currently partners with teaching and learning communities at Hartley, Meadow Lane, Belmont, Elliott, Pyrtle, Kahoa, Huntington, Riley, Norwood Park, Morley, Pershing, Eastridge, Prescott and Randolph Elementary Schools.

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