How to Develop Comprehension

Although English learners can learn letter-sound relationships and can become good decoders of text, they often tend to struggle with reading comprehension because they lack the vocabulary and background knowledge needed to make sense of the text. It is important to keep in mind that in most cases when English learners struggle with the task of reading in English, it is because they have not had the same years of experience with English as native English speakers have. The native speaker of English has five years of English language development prior to starting school, which is a considerable head start on English learners. Moreover, native English speakers continue to expand their vocabulary and language skills every year. Thus, as Cummins points out, English learners “must catch up with a moving target” (1994, p.14). Thegood news is that there are many proven instructional strategies teachers can use to effectively teach vocabulary to English learners. Furthermore, extensive reading has the largest impact on children’s vocabulary growth (Tompkins, 2006). For Evelyn, who grew up in a Spanishspeaking home, becoming an avid reader in elementary school provided her with knowledge of new English words on a regular basis. The critical task for teachers, then, is not only to provide English learners with direct instruction in vocabulary but also to motivate them to read often and independently. Instilling a love for reading is possibly the single greatest contribution that you can make to your English learners’ success in school. Here are some suggested strategies for supporting English learners’ comprehension skills:
that are key to understanding it. Aim for no more than eight or ten. Use pictures, gestures, concrete
objects, and actions to convey the meaning of this vocabulary to prepare students to understand these
in the story. Dramatizing the meaning of words can be particularly effective with English Learners
because the physical action can help them to remember the words.
As students advance in their English, more difficult words can be explained and discussed.
However, it is still important to provide multiple opportunities for vocabulary development. Gunning (2003) suggests that teachers:
present words within the context of the story
provide an understandable definition
have students compose sentences to relate the
new words to their lives
review words regularly and encourage students to use them

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