Comprehension Checks

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Note: Much of my knowledge about comprehension checks has come from Betsy Paskvan, a Japanese teacher here in Anchorage, AK. Betsy has presented many times on checking for comprehension at state and national language conferences (she’ll be at NTPRS this summer), and she often travels to other school districts to offer them professional development on comprehension checks and other essential TPRS®/CI skills.

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It is important for all teachers to informally assess students’ comprehension throughout any lesson. We use students’ answers to decide whether to move on to the next topic or to spend more time on whatever we are studying at the moment. Comprehension Checks are one of the essential tools in a TPRS®/CI teacher’s toolbox. When they are used effectively, the input provided by the teacher will remain comprehensible to all students, and therefore all students will further their language acquisition.

There are five keys to comprehension checks:

  1. Check for comprehension continually.
  2. Check for comprehension (mostly) in English. (Students can respond in TL; but usually question should be asked in English.)
  3. Check for comprehension in different ways.
  4. Check for comprehension quickly.
  5. Modify instruction as needed based on students’ responses.

It is important to keep your finger on the pulse of your students’ comprehension so that you do not lose students (cognitively or emotionally) by venturing into incomprehensible territory. This requires continual checking for comprehension. It must be done in English so that a wrong answer can only be attributed to a lack of comprehension of the content in question and not a failure to understand the question itself. You must ask different kinds of questions to different populations (individuals and groups) in order to gather accurate data. Comprehension checks should be quick so that they do not distract from the content. Finally, comprehension checks are only valuable when you use the information gathered to inform your instruction–spending more time on a topic, backtracking, or moving forward based on your students’ needs.

Here are four basic meaning-based questions that can be used during storytelling, PQA and other discussions, and read-alouds. These questions can be asked to individuals or to the entire class. When asked to individuals, the teacher should try to match the difficulty level of the question to the students’ language ability:

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Those four questions are all meaning-based and require an oral response. However, there are many other ways that students can give feedback (both general and specific) during instruction. Some are more accurate than others, so it is important that you do a variety in order to gain a complete, accurate picture of your class’s comprehension:

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In addition to comprehension checks completed during instruction, there are many ways that teachers can informally assess comprehension after instruction: exit slips, post-it notes, pop quizzes, etc. These checks can be used to plan instruction for the next day, but they’ll have to wait for another day 🙂

What other comprehension checks do you use during instruction in your classes, and what strategies do you have to develop the habit of checking for comprehension?

…and for more on checking for comprehension, check out this infographic from the TELL project; shared by Thomas Sauer!

11 comments

  1. What a comprehensive list! Thank you for compiling this resource. One comment on the “think don’t say”: LOVE this. I didn’t use it until this year…after I attended a workshop and was reminded that I am a slower processor in a language classroom. I had been neglecting the kids who are much like me! This method REALLY WORKS for those kids who just need extra time to think and respond. I use a red/green paper to signal. There are lots of great ideas on the Internet for cute little signs…STOP/GO in TL.

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    1. Yes, signs are a great way to switch things up! I had an administrator that had done her Doctoral thesis on wait time, so she of course LOVED to see the “Think don’t say” in action…she would count the seconds that I waited after every question I asked before accepting an answer. Having her in the room was a great reminder for me–she should have come more often so that it truly became habit!

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  2. I need to use “Think, Don’t Say”! I have one class in particular with some very fast processors in it who always blurt out the answers, even though I have asked them to silently count to five. When those students are not here, the other students participate more and comment how much they like having time to think. I haven’t been sure about how to manage this, but “Think, Don’t Say” could be a great tool!

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