Strategy Guide

Supporting Comprehension Strategies for English Language Learners

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Strategy Guide Series
Differentiating Instruction

About this Strategy Guide

It turns out that reading comprehension strategies are as effective in one's second language as they are in one's first language.  For ELLs, the development of and access to useful background knowledge is crucial for their comprehension of texts in their second language.  What follows is a Strategy Guide for developing comprehension that incorporates the gradual release of responsibility model.

Research Basis

We know that effective readers monitor their comprehension by activating background knowledge prior to reading and questioning, clarifying, predicting, and evaluating during their reading (Paris, Wasik, and Turner (1991) in Fisher, Rothenberg, and Frey. (2007) )  For English language learners, deep comprehension is often dependent on background knowledge.  Malik (1990) conducted a study of Iranian students proficient in English.  He provided students with articles in English: one on Iran and the other on Japan.  He found that the Iranian students were able to deeply comprehend the article on Iran because of their background knowledge, while their comprehension of the text on Japan was more surface-level. Given that background knowledge is so crucial for ELLs, the gradual release of responsibility model, which asks that teachers build background knowledge through model focus lessons, have students practice strategies in collaborative learning groups, and gradually release students to apply their learning in independent reading and writing, is quite effective for teaching comprehension strategies to ELLS. (Fisher et. al.)

Strategy in Practice

Modeling, think-alouds, and teaching comprehension strategies and literary analysis help support ELLs.

  • Model (with graphic organizers/overhead copies of text) or use think-aloud protocols to teach research-supported comprehension strategies such as predicting/clarifying predictions, summarizing, evaluating, inferencing, connecting, and understanding Question-Answer Relationships (QAR). (Fisher, Rothenberg, Fry 2007 p.106) Consider using visual text first to teach these strategies. For example, use short films found on iTunes such as "Lifted,"(2007) "Grace," (2009) "The Little Matchgirl," (2006) "The Mantis Parable,"(2006), or "Presto" (2008) to teach strategies, build background knowledge, and for students to use for practice. These are complex but short films (5-15 minutes) with no dialogue and, therefore, no language burden. Next, use comprehensible texts, including short stories, excerpts from larger works, and adolescent novels. Give students time to apply comprehension strategies while in collaborative learning groups. Finally, use complex texts such as novels, non-fiction, and academic exposition. The goal is for students independently to choose and use strategies for different purposes, and to be able to critically analyze, in writing or in speech, the texts they read strategically.

  • Model (with graphic organizers/overhead copies of text) or use think-aloud protocols to teach the processes of literary and stylistic analysis.  While ELL's may have exposure to basic narrative elements (plot, character development, and setting), they need access to more complex components of writing such as tone, symbol, theme, author's attitude, and word-choice.  Consider teaching the terms directly, and then applying them through teacher-modeling and student practice using visual text, comprehensible texts, and complex texts.  Focus on how these stylistic choices affect the text and create meaning.  Follow modeling/think aloud protocols with plenty of practice in groups and independently.  Provide opportunities to synthesize and evaluate learning through presentations, written literary/stylistic analyses, reciprocal teaching, Socratic seminars or other complex tasks.



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