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K–12 teaching and learning · from the UNC School of Education

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Reading comprehension and English language learners
Teaching reading comprehension and helping English language learners are the responsibility of every teacher, but they are also within the abilities of every teacher. These articles provide strategies for building content-area reading comprehension before, during, and after reading that can help English language learners — and all learners.
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Once students have finished reading the assigned material, it is important to check their comprehension. Don’t rely on a nod from them in response to "Did you understand?" Don’t even rely on a perfect oral reading of a passage as proof of their understanding. ELLs often cannot verbalize what they don’t understand and may not even realize that they don’t understand it. Sometimes they can read a passage fluently, yet not have a clue what the text meant. To get them involved in demonstrating their understanding, use some of the following tools.

Flow charts

A flow chart is a wonderful graphic organizer that can let a student demonstrate understanding of the sequence of events in a story. A flow chart can be as simple as a series of squares connected by lines with arrows indicating the sequence. In each square the student writes one part of the story, summarized into a sentence or two. Even a student who is just beginning to learn English can draw a picture in each square (and can get a buddy or the teacher to help write a sentence to match). You might want to limit the number of squares students can use and model for them how to select only the important events of the story. For lower grades, give them only three squares, and ask them to show something from the beginning, middle, and end of the story.

flow chart

Often students can remember parts of a story but have difficulty getting events in the right sequence. Give these students note cards to create their flow chart. They write something they remember from the story onto a note card, one idea per card, and when finished, they arrange the note cards into the correct sequence. This is an activity that can be done as a whole-group exercise or in pairs with partners helping each other with the sequence. In addition to arranging the cards in a flowchart, students can put them into columns: labeled beginning, middle, and end.

Beginning Middle End
Trojans steal Helen
  • Greeks sail to Troy
  • Long, long seige
Greeks build Trojan horse and win the battle against the Trojans

The visual nature of the flow chart helps the English learner better grasp and remember the sequence of events.

Additional strategies

Find other suggestions for ways to evaluate reading comprehension in these lesson plans available on the LEARN NC website:

For more lesson plans, search the lesson plan collection for "reading comprehension."

With these techniques, students can increase their comprehension and enjoyment of assigned readings. By applying these strategies they take charge of their own learning, which will help them as they go into the higher grades and beyond.