Language Comprehension: Everything You Need to Know

These are the series of steps involved in taking in, demystifying, and understanding a message—written or oral. Skilled reading isn’t possible without language comprehension. Readers might have extensive background knowledge on a topic or strong oral language skills, but if they cannot read the words on a page, it might affect their ability to learn from or understand a book on the topic. On the other hand, students who easily decode a word but have never heard it before or don’t know what it means will also struggle to comprehend. According to Scarborough’s Rope model, language comprehension and word recognition are two strands that combine together and lead to skilled reading.

Smaller strands that form language comprehension include:

Background knowledge: Students learn more from a text and understand it better when they’ve got some familiarity with the topic. Teachers can help students develop background knowledge by encouraging them to establish connections to their earlier experiences and related knowledge. Teachers can also intentionally introduce and discuss new information and connect it to students’ existing knowledge.

Literacy knowledge: Students come to school with varying levels of literacy knowledge. Some might now yet know that the print in books has meaning. Some might flip confidently through books, pointing to some occasional familiar words. But they can still benefit from rich discussion of concepts of print and structures of various genres alongside explicit teaching. Print awareness plays a crucial role in students’ literacy development and can even predict their future reading achievement. Narrative texts and informational texts include common elements and follow predictable patterns. Having a sense of what to anticipate in a text depending on its genre gives students a framework for comprehension.

Vocabulary knowledge: Students will have difficulty understanding a text if they don’t know what individual words in that text mean. Vocabulary plays an important role in speaking, listening, reading, and writing activities throughout the school day. Teachers can use lots of opportunities to observe, discuss, and model the utilization of words throughout the school day.

Language structures: In any language, including English, words and sentences merge in predictable patterns. Those patterns make up the language’s grammar, including capitalization, punctuation, word usage, word order, and verb tense.

Verbal reasoning: Most of the learning students do in school depends on understanding what they read, understanding what teachers say, or both. From following instructions in kindergarten and learning to read to deciphering complicated text in upper grades and beyond, verbal reasoning lets students problem-solve around words and understand concepts.

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