There's a saying that language skills are like muscles: you have to exercise them for them to grow. Teachers need to focus on stretching the limits of language comprehension through oral language development and knowledge building. Emphasizing broadening vocabulary and applying it effectively in context-rich situations is where the magic happens.
If you have students who struggle with reading comprehension, they may have a language comprehension deficit.
Recently, I shared the importance language comprehension has related to being a successful reader. If you recall, the Simple View of Reading suggests that word recognition AND language comprehension make for better reading comprehension.
With new Science of Reading mandates, you should pair phonics instruction with hands-on learning and phonemic awareness. If you feel your phonics curriculum is solid, think about how students build background knowledge, develop a more robust vocabulary, and the amount of content-area instruction happening in your classroom.
To keep it simple, the best thing to do with your instruction in any subject area is to create student-driven environments. Think about the classes you've taken over the years that stick out in your mind. More than likely, the most memorable courses are the ones in which you create, do projects, and have some choice in your learning.
Suppose student-driven learning sounds impressive but not sure where to start. Let's break down six simple strategies to help you build language comprehension that you can implement immediately!
Language Comprehension and the Interactive Read-Aloud
Reading aloud begins the learning process. Students need to hear complex language and vocabulary. Kids are fascinated with the read-aloud experience. Choose books that are rich in language and have complex text structures. For younger readers, select texts with language such as rhythm, rhyme, and repetition.
It's also a great idea to read different versions of the same story to help students make comparisons. Teaching folktales is a great time to use this strategy.
For older students, consider reading books about significant issues appropriate for their age group–peer pressure, friendship, families, honesty, racism, competition, and cultural diversity. These issues make for a great discussion that is necessary for building language comprehension.
My morning meeting lessons are packed with a weekly read-aloud and activities to help students comprehend the text and deal with social-emotional-related (SEL) topics.
One of my favorite ways to build language comprehension is through storytelling. There are so many incredible ways to do this that I should add this topic to its blog post. But for now, here are a few ideas I think will spark your curiosity:
- Podcasting for Kids (coming soon)
- Retelling stories using props
- Digital Storytelling using Scratch, Jr.
- Share Time
- Curiosity Time
All of these activities are student-driven and develop students' oral language and vocabulary.
Purposeful Use of Complex Vocabulary
The way we have been taught vocabulary has made it challenging to teach. Rote learning of words is not the way to build vocabulary. One of the best ways to learn vocabulary is something I use called the CUE Strategy. Here is how it works:
If you have a list of words, allow students to choose the words they need to know. They can sort the words into groups of known words, unfamiliar words, and somewhat familiar.
Next, have students write down the meaning (without a dictionary) of the words they know and somewhat know. This activity gives you an idea of whether or not they know the words.
Last, have students experience the words through playing games, experimenting, drawing pictures, writing, speaking, and much more.
Opportunities for Experiential Learning
I love experimenting! Whether it be science, crafts, or recipes, making things in the classroom is the best. However, these things take time. And we know time is hard to come by as a teacher. But I would argue that you don't have time NOT to do these activities because the benefits outweigh the time factor.
If you made a running tab of the standards taught, the vocabulary learned, and the background knowledge gained when spending time in experiential learning, you would prioritize it in your classroom. And remember, all of the things I mentioned above helps build language comprehension, which improves reading comprehension.
Intentional Content Area Instruction
We have to spend more time teaching science and social studies in elementary school. In my opinion, they are the most important subjects to teach, primarily since content builds background knowledge, which leads to better language comprehension.
You can integrate the content areas into your literacy block if you struggle to find time to teach them. That's how I would do it anyway, even if you departmentalize. The more you can connect the subjects, the more your students will understand them.
Make Space for Meaningful Conversation
Here are some of my favorite ways to create a space for meaningful conversations:
- Share time
- Reflecting on work and projects
- Curiosity Time
- Genius Hour
If you'd like to learn more about Curiosity Time, grab my free guide to get started.
If you are looking for more simple strategies for all things technology integration, innovation, and student-driven learning, come hang out with us in our Facebook group. Keep innovating, friends.