Throughout lessons, teachers have to ensure that students are paying attention and understanding the material. Conducting comprehension checks will highlight what students are struggling with and what needs to be covered more thoroughly before completing additional activities or moving on to the next topic. The comprehension exercises you do are often determined by the type of activities you have decided to include in your lessons. This how-to guide describes some easy ways to check comprehension.
How to Proceed
When doing reading activities, you should spend time introducing new vocabulary and topics before reading the material. Give students the opportunity to read silently at first and then have them do some pronunciation practice. While conducting these pronunciation exercises, you can ask students for synonyms or translations for words and phrases. Teachers often use simple true or false statements, multiple choice questions, or ask for students to summarize or paraphrase key points to check that students understand the content of the reading.
For writing exercises it is important that students understand the questions they are being asked or the topic they are being given before beginning the activity. Prior to even introducing the writing activity, have students volunteer to answer similar questions or talk briefly about the same topic. Once students have been given the assignment, provide them with a clear sample response and write it on the board if you think that students may need to refer to it later on. If students are required to use a specific structure in their answers be sure that they have had plenty of practice using it and when you mark their papers, pay special attention to whether or not students are using it appropriately.
Speaking activities are very important in English classrooms. Most of the comprehension checks for speaking exercises will be done during the initial introduction and practice sections of the lesson. You can have students practice the pronunciation of new words, provide synonyms for certain vocabulary, and give you translations of target structures to see if students grasp the meaning of certain material. During speaking exercises it may be difficult to correct students because correcting a student during a class activity brings him negative attention while when students are doing exercises in groups it is impossible to catch everything they say. The most important things you can do during speaking activities is listen for correct pronunciation of key vocabulary and make sure that the material students are producing are appropriate for the structure or topic being covered. If you notice a trend in student errors, this could point to a comprehension issue that you will have to review before moving on.
For listening activities students can complete some of the same activities they would for reading exercises. If your students have difficulty answering true or false questions without being able to refer directly to the passage, multiple choice or fill in the blank exercises may be more appropriate. You should ask basic comprehension questions about the material. If the passage was about Lisa getting a dog for her birthday, you can ask if Lisa received a dog, cat, fish, or horse as a comprehension question. If these types of questions are too easy, you can also ask questions about things that are implied from the tone of the passage. Using the example above you may ask if Lisa was happy, sad, tired, or hungry at her birthday party even if the passage did not directly address this. Fill in the blank activities are generally more challenging than multiple choice ones but you can provide the missing words so that students have some guidance when completing them.
At every stage in the lesson be sure that students have a firm grasp on the material.
If students are struggling with something in one exercise, the same thing may give them trouble in the next one as well. Rather than let them become frustrated due to lack of understanding, explain key points again. You can do this individually if only a couple students are having difficulties or as a class if the majority of students have questions. In certain classes, pairing or grouping students who understand the material well with those who do not may also help.
Tara has worked with English Language Learners of all ages for many years and has taught in Japan, Cambodia, and China as well as online. When she is not teaching, she enjoys cooking, traveling around the world, and scuba diving. She is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California.
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