Oral Language Development for BeginnersBy: Colorín Colorado (2007)When students first start school, they need to know key phrases and expressions that they can use to communicate with teachers and classmates during the school day. Being able to communicate effectively with others is key for learning to take place. Through meaningful and fun interactions, students can develop the type of everyday communication skills that facilitate learning. Teachers can use a strategy called Total Physical Response to help students in these early stages of language development.
Learning key phrases through Total Physical ResponseTotal Physical Response (TPR) activities greatly multiply the language input and output that can be handled by beginning English language learners (ELLs). TPR activities elicit whole-body responses when new words or phrases are introduced. Teachers can develop quick scripts that provide ELLs and other students with the vocabulary and/or classroom behaviors related to everyday situations. For example, "Take out your math book. Put it on your desk. Put it on your head. Put it under the chair. Hold it in your left hand."
Students become ready to talk sooner when they are learning by doing. TPR activities help students adjust to school and understand the behaviors required and the instructions they will hear. This will help them in mainstream classrooms, in the halls, during lunchtime, during fire drills, on field trips, and in everyday life activities.
TPR strategies are good teaching strategies for all students, not just ELLs. Classroom strategies: How to use Total Physical ResponseThere are seven steps for the TPR instructional process: 1. IntroductionThe teacher introduces a situation in which students follow a set of commands using actions. Usually props such as pictures or real objects accompany the actions. Some actions may be real while others are pretend. 2. DemonstrationThe teacher demonstrates or asks a student to demonstrate this series of actions. The other students are expected to pay careful attention. At first, students are not expected to talk or repeat the commands. But soon they will want to join in because the commands are easy to follow and the language is clear and comprehensible. For example, the teacher gives a command such as "Take out a piece of bread" and the students say the sentence and do the action. "Now, spread peanut butter on it", and so on until a make-believe sandwich is made and eaten. 3. Group actionNext, the class acts out the series while the teacher gives the commands. Usually, this step is repeated several times so that students internalize the series thoroughly before they will be asked to produce it. 4. Written copyWrite the series on the chalkboard or chart paper so that students can make connections between oral and written words while they read and copy (or even substitute ingredients of their choice). 5. Oral repetitions and questionsAfter students have made a written copy, they repeat each line after the teacher, taking care with difficult words. They ask questions for clarification, and the teacher points out grammatical features such as "Yesterday we ate half a sandwich. Today we will eat a whole sandwich. Did you notice the difference between ate and eat? Yesterday we spread grape jelly, today we will spread orange jelly. Did you notice that the verb spread didn't change? Let's say the words soap and soup. Let's say the words cheap and sheep." 6. Student demonstrationStudents can also take turns playing the roles of the reader of the series and the performer of the actions. Meanwhile, the teacher can check on individual students for comprehension and oral production. 7. Partner activitiesFinally, students work in pairs or teams of four to tell or read the series. In teams of four, two students give commands and two respond physically. Meanwhile, the teacher monitors each team and suggests ways to elaborate on the vocabulary by adding new words.
Here is one example of the process:
Let's go to the zoo. Open the door and get in your car.
Turn on the engine in your car.
Drive to the zoo.
Park the car.
Get out of the car.
Buy your ticket with a $5.00 dollar bill.
Hold out your hand for your change.
Walk to the entrance.
Give your ticket to the person at the gate.
Open the gate and go in.
Wave at the giraffes.
Walk like a giraffe.
Wave at the monkeys.
Laugh like a monkey.
Wave at the elephants.
Wave your trunk like the elephants.
Other ideasBefore reading a children's story, select some action words and ask the students to perform these actions as you encounter them in the pages. List them on the chalkboard.
After reading the story, ask children to summarize the story by acting out the words you have demonstrated. After reading the story, ask the children to select some words or phrases that they would like to turn into actions.
Comprehension Instruction: What WorksBy: Michael Pressley Without a strong background in basic skills like decoding and vocabulary-building, reading comprehension is impossible. This article offers research-based strategies for building on these and other skills to increase student understanding of what is read.
Reading is often thought of as a hierarchy of skills, from processing of individual letters and their associated sounds to word recognition to text-processing competencies. Skilled comprehension requires fluid articulation of all these processes, beginning with the sounding out and recognition of individual words to the understanding of sentences in paragraphs as part of much longer texts. There is instruction at all of these levels that can be carried out so as to increase student understanding of what is read.
Based on research, a strong case can be made for doing the following in order to improve reading comprehension in students:
Word knowledge Encourage students to build world knowledge through reading and to relate what they know to what they read (e.g., by asking "Why?" questions about factual knowledge in text).
Active comprehension strategies Teach students to use a repertoire of active comprehension strategies, including prediction, analyzing stories with respect to story grammar elements, question asking, image construction, and summarizing.
Monitoring Encourage students to monitor their comprehension, noting explicitly whether decoded words make sense and whether the text itself makes sense. When problems are detected, students should know that they need to reprocess (e.g., by attempting to sound out problematic words again or rereading).
Such instruction must be long term, for there is much to teach and much for young readers to practice. Even so, there is little doubt that instruction that develops these interrelated skills should improve comprehension.
DecodingPerhaps it is a truism, but students cannot understand texts if they cannot read the words. Before they can read the words, they have to be aware of the letters and the sounds represented by letters so that sounding out and blending of sounds can occur to pronounce words (see, e.g., Nicholson, 1991). Once pronounced, the good reader notices whether the word as recognized makes sense in the sentence and the text context being read and, if it does not, takes another look at the word to check if it might have been misread (e.g., Gough, 1983, 1984). Of course, reading educators have paid enormous attention to the development of children's word-recognition skills because they recognize that such skills are critical to the development of skilled comprehenders.
As part of such work, LaBerge and Samuels (1974) made a fundamental discovery. Being able to sound out a word does not guarantee that the word will be understood as the child reads. When children are first learning to sound out words, it requires real mental effort. The more effort required, the less consciousness left over for other cognitive operations, including comprehension of the words being sounded out. Thus, LaBerge and Samuels' analyses made clear that it was critical for children to develop fluency in word recognition. Fluent (i.e., automatic) word recognition consumes little cognitive capacity, freeing up the child's cognitive capacity for understanding what is read. Anyone who has ever taught elementary children and witnessed round-robin reading can recall students who could sound out a story with great effort but at the end had no idea of what had been read.
Tan and Nicholson (1997) carried out a study that emphasized the importance of word-recognition instruction to the point of fluency. In their study, struggling primary-level readers were taught 10 new words, with instruction either emphasizing word recognition to the point of fluency (they practiced reading the individual words until they could recognize them automatically) or understanding of the words (instruction involving mostly student-teacher discussions about word meanings). Following the instruction, the students read a passage containing the words and answered comprehension questions about it. The students who had learned to recognize the words to the point of automaticity answered more comprehension questions than did students who experienced instruction emphasizing individual word meanings. Consistent with other analyses (e.g., Breznitz, 1997a, 1997b), Tan and Nicholson's outcome made obvious that development of fluent word-recognition skills can make an important difference in students' understanding of what they read.
Thus, a first recommendation to educators who want to improve students' comprehension skills is to teach them to decode well. Explicit instruction in sounding out words, which has been so well validated as helping many children to recognize words more certainly (e.g., Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998, online document), is a start in developing good comprehenders – but it is just a start. Word-recognition skills must be developed to the point of fluency if comprehension benefits are to be maximized.
Vocabulary It is well established that good comprehenders tend to have good vocabularies (Anderson & Freebody, 1991; Nagy, Anderson, & Herman, 1987). This correlation, however, does not mean that teaching vocabulary will increase readers' comprehension, for that is a causal conclusion. As it turns out, however, when reading educators conducted experiments in which vocabulary was either taught to students or not, comprehension improved as a function of vocabulary instruction. Perhaps the most widely cited experiment of this type was carried out by Isabel Beck and her associates, who taught Grade 4 children a corpus of 104 words over a 5-month period (Beck, Perfetti, & McKeown, 1982). The children who received instruction outperformed noninstructed children on subsequent comprehension tests. When all of the work of Beck's group and others is considered (see, e.g., Beck & McKeown, 1991; Durso & Coggins, 1991), a good case can be made that when students are taught vocabulary in a thorough fashion, their comprehension of what they read improves.
One counterargument to this advice to teach vocabulary is that children learn vocabulary incidentally – that is, they learn the meanings of many words by experiencing those words in the actual world and in text worlds, without explicit instruction (Stanovich, 1986; Sternberg, 1987). Even so, such incidental learning is filled with potential pitfalls, for the meanings learned range from richly contextualized and more than adequate to incomplete to wrong (Miller & Gildea, 1987). Just the other morning, I sat in a reading class as a teacher asked students to guess the meanings of new words encountered in a story, based on text and picture clues. Many of the definitions offered by the children were way off. Anyone who has ever taught young children knows that they benefit from explicit teaching of vocabulary.
That children do develop knowledge of vocabulary through incidental contact with new words they read is one of the many reasons to encourage students to read extensively. Whenever researchers have looked, they have found vocabulary increases as a function of children's reading of text rich in new words (e.g., Dickinson & Smith, 1994; Elley, 1989; Morrow, Pressley, Smith, & Smith, 1997; Pelligrini, Galda, Perlmutter, & Jones, 1994; Robbins & Ehri, 1994; Rosenhouse, Feitelson, Kita, & Goldstein, 1997).
World knowledge Reading comprehension can be affected by world knowledge, with many demonstrations that readers who possess rich prior knowledge about the topic of a reading often understand the reading better than classmates with low prior knowledge (Anderson & Pearson, 1984). That said, readers do not always relate their world knowledge to the content of a text, even when they possess knowledge relevant to the information it presents. Often, they do not make inferences based on prior knowledge unless the inferences are absolutely demanded to make sense of the text (McKoon & Ratcliff, 1992).
The received wisdom in recent decades, largely based on the work of Richard C. Anderson, P. David Pearson, and their colleagues at the Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois in the 1970s, 1980s, and into the early 1990s, was that reading comprehension can be enhanced by developing reader's prior knowledge. One way to accomplish this is to encourage extensive reading of high-quality, information-rich texts by young readers (e.g., Stanovich & Cunningham, 1993).
Typically, however, when readers process text containing new factual information, they do not automatically relate that information to their prior knowledge, even if they have a wealth of knowledge that could be related. In many cases, more is needed for prior knowledge to be beneficial in reading comprehension. A large number of experiments conducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s demonstrated the power of "Why?" questions, or "elaborative interrogation," to encourage readers to orient to their prior knowledge as they read (Pressley, Wood, Woloshyn, Martin, King, & Menke, 1992). In these studies, readers were encouraged to ask themselves why the facts being presented in text made sense. This encouragement consistently produced a huge effect on memory of the texts, with the most compelling explanation emerging from analytical experiments being that the interrogation oriented readers to prior knowledge that could explain the facts being encountered (see especially Martin & Pressley, 1991). The lesson that emerged from these studies is that readers should be encouraged to relate what they know to information-rich texts they are reading, with a potent mechanism for doing this being elaborative interrogation.
Active comprehension strategiesGood readers are extremely active as they read, as is apparent whenever excellent adult readers are asked to think aloud as they go through text (Pressley & Afflerbach, 1995). Good readers are aware of why they are reading a text, gain an overview of the text before reading, make predictions about the upcoming text, read selectively based on their overview, associate ideas in text to what they already know, note whether their predictions and expectations about text content are being met, revise their prior knowledge when compelling new ideas conflicting with prior knowledge are encountered, figure out the meanings of unfamiliar vocabulary based on context clues, underline and reread and make notes and paraphrase to remember important points, interpret the text, evaluate its quality, review important points as they conclude reading, and think about how ideas encountered in the text might be used in the future. Young and less skilled readers, in contrast, exhibit a lack of such activity (e.g., Cordón & Day, 1996).
Reading researchers have developed approaches to stimulating active reading by teaching readers to use comprehension strategies. Of the many possible strategies, the following often produce improved memory and comprehension of text in children: generating questions about ideas in text while reading; constructing mental images representing ideas in text; summarizing; and analyzing stories read into story grammar components of setting, characters, problems encountered by characters, attempts at solution, successful solution, and ending (Pearson & Dole, 1987; Pearson & Fielding, 1991; Pressley, Johnson, Symons, McGoldrick, & Kurita, 1989). Of course, excellent readers do not use such strategies one at a time, nor do they use them simply when under strong instructional control – which was the situation in virtually all investigations of individual strategies. Hence, researchers moved on to teaching students to use the individual strategies together, articulating them in a self-regulated fashion (i.e., using them on their own, rather than only on cue from the teacher). In general, such packages proved teachable, beginning with reciprocal teaching, the first such intervention (Palincsar & Brown, 1984), and continuing through more flexible approaches that began with extensive teacher explanation and modeling of strategies, followed by teacher-scaffolded use of the strategies, and culminating in student self-regulated use of the strategies during regular reading (e.g., Anderson, 1992; Brown, Pressley, Van Meter, & Schuder, 1996; Duffy et al., 1987). The more recent, more flexible form of this instruction came to be known as transactional strategies instruction (Pressley et al., 1992), with the body of research on this approach recently cited by the National Reading Panel (2000) as exemplary work in comprehension instruction. When such instruction has been successful, it has always been long term, occurring over a semester or school year at minimum, with consistent and striking benefits.
The case is very strong that teaching elementary, middle school, and high school students to use a repertoire of comprehension strategies increases their comprehension of text. Teachers should model and explain comprehension strategies, have their students practice using such strategies with teacher support, and let students know they are expected to continue using the strategies when reading on their own. Such teaching should occur across every school day, for as long as required to get all readers using the strategies independently – which means including it in reading instruction for years.
Monitoring Good readers know when they need to exert more effort to make sense of a text. For example, they know when to expend more decoding effort – they are aware when they have sounded out a word but that word does not really make sense in the context (Isakson & Miller, 1976). When good readers have that feeling, they try rereading the word in question. It makes sense to teach young readers to monitor their reading of words in this way (Baker & Brown, 1984). Contemporary approaches to word-recognition instruction also include a monitoring approach, with readers taught to pay attention to whether the decoding makes sense and to try decoding again when the word as decoded is not in synchrony with other ideas in the text and pictures (e.g., Iversen & Tunmer, 1993). Good readers are also aware of the occasions when they are confused, when text does not make sense (Baker & Brown, 1984). A key component in transactional strategies instruction is monitoring. Even the first such package, reciprocal teaching (Palincsar & Brown, 1984), included the clarification strategy: When readers did not understand a text, they were taught to seek clarification, often through rereading. To improve children's reading and comprehension, it makes very good sense to teach them to monitor as they read, to ask themselves consistently, "Is what I am reading making sense?" Children also need to be taught that they can do something about it when text seems not to make sense: At a minimum, they can try sounding out a puzzling word again or rereading the part of a text that seems confusing.
This technique is recommended by researchReading comprehension instruction has been recommended as a practice with solid research evidence of effectiveness for individuals with learning disabilities by the Council for Exceptional Children — the Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) and the Division for Research (DR). To learn more, please read A Focus on Reading Comprehension Strategy Instruction.
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