Building Vocabulary and Comprehension

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by dayzeemae
Last updated 6 years ago

Language Arts
Reading Comprehension

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Building Vocabulary and Comprehension

Constructing Meaning

Increasing Students' Vocabulary It is critical that teachers provide students with multiple opportunities to engage in early and continual language experiences. By doing so, students will greatly increase their vocabulary and gain meaning from unfamiliar words. It is also important that students have meaningful experiences and talk about new words. As Gunning (2010) put it, “The first and most effective step that a teacher can take to build vocabulary is to provide students with a variety of rich experiences” (p. 261). Hands-on activities, experiments, projects, and taking children places helps build a vast background of experience. When students talk about the experiences and discuss them with others, their vocabulary will increase. In addition to rich experiences, students greatly increase their vocabulary from incidental learning. According to Mixan (2014), “Much vocabulary growth occurs from incidental learning--when children listen to others talking or when they are reading” (p. 66). Providing students with opportunities to engage in play with others and free read can be very effective ways for students to build their vocabulary. Additionally, reading aloud to students will help develop their vocabulary further. When teachers read aloud to students, especially material that students enjoy or can relate to, retention of the ideas and words is more likely to happen (Mixan, 2014, p. 67). Reading aloud gives children the opportunity to absorb the words they are hearing and find significance in them. Although children learn an amazing amount of words incidentally, a planned program of vocabulary development should also be used. Gunning (2010) suggested that a balanced blend of planned and incidental learning capitalizes on the students’ immediate need to know words and it “gives the program spontaneity and vitality” (p. 285). In this approach, there is vocabulary instruction and important words and techniques for learning words are taught systematically and in depth. To gain meaning from unfamiliar words, modeling and explicitly teaching students special features for words and how to learn words on their own is needed. Many words in the English language have special characteristics that must be learned in order to fully understand them. Gunning (2010) explained that homophones, homographs, figurative language, and multiple meanings need to be explicitly taught so students can increase their vocabulary (p. 286). Additionally, students must be taught to learn words on their own. The three major skills for learning meanings of unknown words are morphemic analysis, contextual clues, and dictionary usage (Gunning, 2010, p. 287). Explicitly teaching students prefixes, suffixes, root words, context clues, and how to use a dictionary will allow students to learn unfamiliar words on their own and build their vocabulary. It is clear that students need to be provided with opportunities to engage in continual language experiences to increase their vocabulary and gain meaning from unfamiliar words. This can be achieved multiple ways inside and outside of the classroom and it happens incidentally, through modeling, and by being explicitly taught. To be proficient readers, students must build their vocabularies and learn strategies for understanding new words.

Building Vocabulary and Comprehension

Continual Language Experiences

How to Facilitate Listening Comprehension Not only do students have to comprehend what they read, they also need to gain meaning from stories that are read to them. Teachers can facilitate listening comprehension by planning activities that involve listening to stories. For example, read-aloud, shared reading, listening to a taped book or a story on the computer would be activities that facilitate listening comprehension. Reading to students is a great source of building comprehension though listening. With read-aloud books, teachers can discuss words that the students may not know. Gunning (2010) pointed out that if words are needed for an understanding of a selection, the teacher can be briefly explain them as the story is being read (p. 278). That allows the students to immediately use their knowledge of the new words and comprehend what is being read. Furthermore, listening to stories allows children to comprehend the oral message by identifying the speaker’s feelings and ideas. Being able to listen to the words, process the information, and gain meaning from what is being read is critical for listening comprehension.

Increasing Students' Comprehension Truly understanding what one reads is a complex endeavor, so efforts to improve and build comprehension must be made in a variety of ways. One way to improve comprehension is to explicitly teach students strategies. But it is not only important to teach the strategies to students, it is also important to teach them how to use the strategies and when. As Mahdavi & Tensfeldt (2013) have indicated, “Providing explicit instruction to students about how and when to use comprehension strategies increases students’ ability to understand what they read” (p. 78). Knowing the strategies is good—but understanding how and when to use them is critical. Comprehension strategies be categorized as preparational, organizational, elaboration, rehearsal, and monitoring. Gunning (2010) notes that preparational strategies are processes that readers use to prepare themselves to construct meaning and organizational strategies help readers construct relationships among ideas in the text. Elaborating involves building associations between information being read and prior knowledge, rehearsal involves taking basic steps to remember material, and monitoring consists of being aware of one’s comprehension and regulating it (p. 312). Additionally, strategy instruction needs to be explicit and no matter what strategy is being taught, there are six key steps: introducing the strategy, demonstrating and modeling the strategy, guided practice, independent practice and application, assessment and reteaching, and ongoing reinforcement and implementation (Gunning, 2010, p. 312). As strategies are taught, it is important to keep in mind that the goal is to improve and build comprehension. Mahdavi & Tensfeldt (2013) emphasized that for reading comprehension to be achieved, “words need to be recognized and their meanings accessed, relevant background knowledge needs to be activated and inferences must be generated as information is integrated during the course of reading” (p. 77). Directly and explicitly taught strategies are vital for readers to make sense of the text. Furthermore, teachers must make the effort to seek out and teach the strategies that will most benefit their students--and when this happens, the sky’s the limit!

Provide Opportunities for Students to Engage in Early and Continual Language Experiences

How Proficient Readers Read When it comes to reading text, there are those who read and there are those who read proficiently. Proficient readers understand the purposes of reading, apply prior knowledge, process the structures of print, self-monitor, apply strategies, and read meaningful text. When proficient readers read, they actively engage in building relationships between text information, their own prior knowledge, and among the different parts of the text. Gunning (2010) pointed out that as they transact with the text, "proficient, active readers are constantly relating what they are reading to other experiences that they have had, other information in the text they have read, and texts previously read” (p. 309). Proficient readers clearly engage in constructing relationships with text information and they use relevant prior knowledge before, during, and after reading the text. Besides building relationships and using prior knowledge, proficient readers ask questions about themselves, the author, and the text. According to Gunning (2010), proficient readers ask themselves “why” questions about processes because they want to know why an event happened or why the author included certain information in the text (p. 309). By asking questions, proficient readers clarify and focus their reading, and they make causal connections to bring the information together. Proficient readers also draw inferences from the text. They use their prior knowledge and textual information to draw conclusions, make judgements, and form their interpretations from the text. Furthermore, these inferences may be in the form of conclusions, predictions, or new ideas about the topic. Gunning (2010) explained that reasoning interacts with background knowledge and proficient readers can infer character traits, judge solutions, analyze situations, draw conclusions, form concepts, apply principles, and evaluate the credibility of information (p. 309). When proficient readers read, they use reasoning and specific strategies to construct an understanding and bring meaning to the text.

Reading & Listening

Modeling and Teaching Strategies

Processing Information

Gaining Understanding

Facilitate Listening Comprehension

Increase Students' Comprehenision by Modeling and Explicitly Teaching a Variety of Strategies

Facilitate and Develop Students' Listening Comprehension and Comprehension of Print Material



Comprehension of Print Material

Comprehension Strategies Video

How to Develop Students' Comprehension of Print Material Comprehension involves more than readers building background and activating schemata for ideas and events; readers also have to interact with the structure of the text. So for readers to gain full meaning, they need to develop another schema for organizational patterns. Knowledge of structure, as Gunning (2010) has pointed out, “provides a blueprint for constructing a situation model of a story or informational piece” (p. 357). By understanding the structure and organization of the material, readers can figure out the main idea and supporting details and they are more apt to understand and remember the information. When it comes to developing comprehension and awareness of text structure, a technique that teachers can use is retelling. Retelling requires organization of information and engaging in retelling focuses the reader’s attention on restructuring the text in a holistic fashion (Gambrell & Koskinen, 1991, p. 356). When teachers use retelling in the classroom, students begin to engage in a personal reconstruction of the text and that helps them develop a better understanding of the material. Retelling has also been proven to be effective. According to the research findings of Morrow (1984, 1985, 1986), retelling significantly improves students’ story comprehension and sense of story structure (Gambrell & Koskinen, 1991, p.356). It is evident that retelling is a technique that help to develop students’ comprehension of print material. In addition to retelling, questions play a key role in facilitating comprehension. In the words of Gunning (2010), “They can be used to develop concepts, build background, clarify reasoning processes, and even lead students to higher levels of thinking” (p. 366). Teachers can use questions to foster understanding and retention of the material read. It is important to note that teachers must plan questions carefully and the placement of questions has an impact on their effect. (Gunning, 2010, p. 367). The questions teachers ask shape and help build students’ comprehension of print material. Teachers can also foster comprehension through guided reading. Guided reading is a systematic but unified approach in which the teacher provides the necessary assistance and guidance students need to read a story successfully. Gunning (2010) also explained that the guided reading lesson consists of five steps: introducing the text, reading the text, discussing the text, rereading the text, and extending the text (p. 374). Guided reading is an effective approach that helps students develop an understanding of the text. Another approach that teachers can use to foster comprehension is cloze. As Gunning has asserted, “Cloze is an excellent device for building comprehension” (p. 385). This approach is very useful for students who focus on pronouncing words instead of reading for meaning. Since words are missing from the sentences, students must think about what they are reading so they can fill in the words (Gunning, 2010, p. 385). Cloze is valuable for building comprehension because it forces students to read for meaning, use context, and make predictions.There are clearly many techniques and approaches that can be used to develop students’ comprehension. Whether it’s retelling, asking questions, guided reading, or cloze, teachers play a significant role in helping students gain knowledge of text structure and understand what they are reading. Comprehension of print material is critical for success in and out of school.


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