The Teaching of Comprehension Skills

* Types and aims of comprehension skills:

1) Listening or reading for gist:

(To get the general meaning of a text or the main idea).

–  Students should look for cues such as:

  1. Opening statements e.g. “The purpose of this talk”, etc.
  2. Summary phrases and words e.g. “In conclusion “, etc.

–  Students must be encouraged to:

  1. Read the topic sentence.
  2. Skip details.
  3. Look for summary phrases and logical connectors.

– It can be practised with listening or reading for detailed information.                                  

(Skimming is useful for this purpose).

2- Listening or reading for specific information:

  • (The questions or the tasks to be done are usually given before the students begin to read or listen to the text).
  • Students are required to scan through very quickly to obtain specific information.

3. Listening or reading for detailed information:

(The questions are usually given after the students have finished reading or listening to the text).

* Every listening or reading comprehension lesson will comprise the following instructional events:

  1. Gaining the attention of the students.
  2. Stimulating recall of prerequisites.
  3. Informing the students of the lesson’s performance objectives.
  4. Introducing new vocabulary.
  5. Presenting the stimulus.
  6. Conducting interactive teaching and learning.
  7. Assessing students’ comprehension.

A) Presenting the stimulus material:

There are two types of stimuli i.e. oral and written. The stimulus for listening comprehension must be an oral one and the stimulus for reading comprehension must be a written one.

  • If one neglects to use the proper stimuli for learning, the end result may be that the learner acquires the wrong skill.
  • Reading comprehension always means silent reading.
  • It is necessary that teachers keep the objectives of the comprehension exercise constantly in mind.
  • It is also important that the teachers’ activities and decisions should match the objective of the comprehension.

B) Conducting interactive teaching and learning:

  1. In this phase, the students will be interacting with the teacher and also, hopefully, with one another.
  2. The purpose of this event is to find out through informal assessment, the degree of the students’ understanding of the text and the provision of extra help to enable them to overcome any remaining difficulties some students are still facing in understanding the text.

The principles of this event are:

  1. Eliciting the response.
  2. Providing feedback.
  3. Providing learning guidance.
  4. Enhancing retention and transfer.

A) Eliciting the response: (Informal assessment)

–  Asking the students questions to measure their degree of understanding the text they have been reading or listening to.

 – Guidelines for the types of questions to be asked:

  • Avoid questions requiring long and non-specific answers that are difficult to verify.
  • Asking questions that can be answered with yes/no or one or two words only.
  • Use observation techniques to assess the students’ interests and attitudes.

–  All the questions and answers must be delivered orally.

The routine to be followed:

  • The teacher writes the questions and displays them.
  • A student reads the first question silently and then looks up and says the question to the student he has chosen.
  • The student named will then answer the question.
  • The one who asked the question will then ask the whole class, saying “Is she (he) right?”
  • The class answers. (Providing feedback).
  • The same student asks the one who answered the question, saying, “How do you know? or “Why do you think she is right or wrong?”  (Enhancing retention and the transfer).
  • The student who answered the previous question correctly is rewarded by asking the next question, and addressing it by name to another student.
  • The routine will continue in the same manner for the whole set of questions prepared by the teacher.

B) Providing feedback and learning guidance:

  • The student who answers a question must be given immediate feedback about the correctness of his answer. This is usually done by the teacher. But in our routine, it is done by the students themselves.
  • A wrong answer raises the question of how to give learning guidance to arrive at the correct answer.
  • In listening comprehension, replay the part of the cassette in which the answer is found.
  • In Reading comprehension, ask students to reread the relevant paragraph or sentence.
  • Leading questions can be used to direct the students’ attention to rules of text grammar or rules of syntax etc.
  • Remember that the teacher is just helping the students to find the correct answer.

C) Enhancing retention and the transfer of comprehension skills:

(By asking students why a certain answer is right or wrong).

  • It may be enough to mention the number of the paragraph and the line in which is the correct answer is found. The student may be asked to read the relevant part.

Assessment: (The last instructional event) (Summative evaluation)

  • The purpose is to obtain formal and systematic information about the students’ abilities to understand the text and the skills that have been taught.
  • The test must be a written one. (Selection tests are recommended).

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