It happens almost every class.
The teacher explains something. The students nod. The teacher asks “Does that make sense?” The students nod. However, when the students go to practice, they can’t meet the lesson objectives. Why? Because they never understood in the first place. Checking for comprehension is one of the most important steps in the language classroom. At the end of the day, it’s not the lesson we taught that matters most, it’s what the students actually learned. Here are some ways to ensure that all of your students are comprehending your lessons:
How to Check For Comprehension
Immediate Written Production
When practicing with the class, give each student something to write their answers on and hold up when they have finished the question. Individual small white boards work very well for this. Simply give each student a white board, a dry-erase marker, and a paper towel, and you can have students answer each question individually and check their comprehension. As students hold their boards in the air, you’re able to immediately see how many are correct and who needs to keep trying. This is a better alternative to oral questioning where only one student can answer each question.
If you don’t have whiteboards available for all of your students, laminating a white piece of paper works well although it is less durable. Alternatively, you could give students index cards or simply have them use their own paper to hold up for review.
Before students leave your class, ask them to write an ‘exit ticket.’ You can have students summarize the day’s lesson, write down something they didn’t understand, or answer specific questions that you assign. Students often feel more comfortable writing down their questions as opposed to asking them aloud. Review the tickets as you prepare for the next day’s lesson to see what students still need help with.
You can also have students write entrance tickets to check for understanding over a period of time. Before your lesson begins, have students write down what they remember from the previous lesson to ensure that that material is still sticking with them or that they understood the purpose of their homework.
Pair work and group work
A great way to have students reinforce knowledge is to have them teach each other. After going over the material, pair students up and assign one the role of teacher. Their job is to pretend that their partner is a new student, and they must explain the new concept to the student. When students explain or teach concepts, they get a deeper understanding of what they learned. If the students struggle, their partner can also help them fill in any gaps they may have. After you teach an additional concept, have the partners switch roles.
Allowing students to write quiz questions is also another good way to ensure comprehension. Ask each pair or group to come up with two or three questions they think you might ask them on a quiz for this concept. If they can write an accurate question, then they understand the material well.
The simplest and least time-consuming method of ensuring comprehension is to question students during the lesson. Rather than asking questions with a presumed answer (such as, “Do you understand?” or “Does this make sense?”) ask specific objective questions about the concept you are teaching (also known as ‘concept questions’). The students’ answers to the objective questions will tell you more about their understanding than any other kind of question.
Equally important to the type of questions you ask is how you ask the questions. Make it random; don’t let the same students answer all the time. A popular method is to use popsicle sticks with student names. After you draw a student’s name, put the popsicle stick to the side to make sure that you call on all of the students. Another option is to use the seating chart to make sure all students are called upon. Always wait a few seconds after asking the question before calling on the student. Alternatively, you could call on the student first before you ask the question so that they are attentive and prepared. When a student gives a correct answer, always ask a follow up probe, such as ‘why is this the answer?’ or ‘how do you know?’ to ensure they understand. If a student is struggling, try to scaffold them to the answer before allowing another student to give the correct answer. Call upon the struggling student again later in the lesson or work with this student one-on-one during the practice time.
Engage multiple intelligences
Undoubtedly, the students in your classes will have various learning styles. Regardless of preferred learning styles, it is always good to engage more than one intelligence for all of your students. After reading a text, for example, have them draw a picture to illustrate their understanding. When explaining sentence structure, write a sentence and cut it up into individual pieces to have students put the words in the correct order. The more diverse styles you can incorporate into a lesson, the deeper students will learn.
Of course, the traditional methods of homework and quizzes are also effective ways of gauging your class’ understanding. Always be careful to convey the purpose and importance of each homework assignment. If students feel they are simply being assigned ‘busy work,’ you will not get a true measure of their understanding. Don’t assign homework if you cannot evaluate it or review it in some way to show students their progress. With quizzes, keep them frequent and short. Quizzes at regular intervals will inform you about what you need to review or reteach before you give your summative assessment.
Know your students!
The best and most effective way of checking comprehension is to know your students. Understand their learning styles and their typical communication patterns in class. If a typically talkative student is unusually quiet, monitor them more closely to see if their quietness can be attributed to a lack of understanding. Most importantly, know how your students like to be taught. With a solid understanding of their learning styles, you will be more effective with teaching each lesson and have less confusion when you do comprehension checks.
Making sure your students have absorbed the content and are able to apply it effectively is our primary responsibility as teachers.
Our meticulously planned lessons will be meaningless unless our students have truly comprehended the material. Using the above comprehension checks help to make sure each lesson is as successful as possible!