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Oral Language Activities & Reading Comprehension

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

A student's reading comprehension abilities can be difficult for any teacher to evaluate. This lesson discusses verbal strategies for assessing a student's comprehension level.

Reading Comprehension

One of the most important aspects of teaching English Language Arts is reading comprehension. This concept encompasses anything and everything that has to do with understanding the written word, which is a tremendous undertaking for any teacher to determine.

Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use as a teacher to evaluate your students' reading comprehension. Many of these involve oral activities and verbal questioning you can use not only to help you determine student learning and progression, but also to model self-evaluation so that your students can learn to analyze their own comprehension.

Retelling

The first strategy you can use in your classroom is retelling, which calls for the student to verbally convey what they have read. Be sure to explain to students ahead of time that they will be giving all the details they can remember from a reading selection. During the retelling, you can note any major details that were missed in order to determine comprehension. In addition, you can create guiding questions to adapt this method for any specific objectives to check for. Let's say your class has just read the short story 'Rip Van Winkle,' which is centered on a man who falls asleep on a mountain and wakes up 20 years later. Here are some guiding questions you can use for a retelling:

  • Explain how Rip ended up on the mountain.
  • What happened when Rip met the strangers on the mountain?
  • What did he do after he woke up?
  • How did the story end?

These questions are still requiring the student to retell, but they break the story into sections. Furthermore, you can turn retelling into group activities and cooperative learning opportunities. It can be difficult to allow the time for each individual student to do a verbal retelling. So instead, assign small groups a section of the story to retell to the whole class. Some groups can even have the same section; that way you can observe when some groups pick up on details missed by others. Overall, retelling can be a very useful strategy for a teacher to check a student's reading comprehension.

Think-Aloud

A second strategy is the think-aloud. This activity involves inquiring about a student's thoughts during the reading. The goal of this type of activity is to see how a student forms meanings from the text. Strong readers process the text as it is read, making personal connections, forming mental images and making predictions at the same time. A think-aloud will check for these processes in your students.

To do a think-aloud, you must create stopping points in the text your students will read. These are the moments the students will be required to explain how they are interpreting the text. You can have guiding questions at the stopping points, or simply ask students to discuss what they think about the reading. When observing a student's think-aloud, you will listen for specific skills of processing the text. Struggling students will not show the personal connections, mental images, predictions and other abilities.

As the teacher, you can adapt the think-aloud to suit your needs. You can use it in one-on-one situations, or pair the students up to take turns telling one another their thoughts. In addition, you can mold the questions at the stopping points to check for specific learning goals. For instance, ask about the motivation of a character, or make a prediction on what might happen next. You can even ask students to discuss what they think happens to the characters after the end of the story and require details from the story to support their opinions.

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