5.  Comprehension

In order to read English with understanding, ELLs must have developed phonemic awareness, phonics skills, word recognition skills, vocabulary knowledge, and the ability to read somewhat fluently.

It is easier for students to comprehend their reading when they can personally relate to the reading materials. Reading selections that have familiar topics, settings, concepts, references, and cultural contexts are easier for ELLs to understand. When selecting readings, effective teachers consider the types of prior knowledge that ELLs may or may not possess. In pre-reading discussions, teachers draw out students' relevant knowledge and help students make explicit connections to the text. When students choose their own reading materials to pursue their personal interests and goals, they are more likely to persist in trying to make sense of difficult texts.

Most readers find it a challenge to read materials containing new concepts and new information to be learned. This is especially true for ELLs. Comprehension is even more difficult when the style of English in a reading selection is very different from the English spoken in the ELL's daily life. Some excellent ways to prepare ELLs to comprehend unfamiliar material include experiential activities (e.g., science experiments, nature studies, or examination of historic photographs); accompanied by rich talk using key vocabulary from the reading material. Other ways to boost reading comprehension are anticipation guides, focus questions, graphic organizers, and conversations about readings.

Effective elementary literacy instruction develops students' thinking skills by integrating reading, writing, speaking, and listening into daily classroom activities. As you explore the five sections of this spotlight, consider which combination of practices is most appropriate for your students. In addition, review each section for specific insights and strategies pertaining to all students, including English language learners.