I can remember struggling through texts in my high school Spanish class, especially when I was asked to read out loud. It took a lot of my energy and concentration to get the pronunciation of those unfamiliar sound combinations to come out right; so much energy in fact that while I sounded pretty good and fluent, I got to the end of the paragraph and had understood nothing.
This happens to many of our students as well because while they are struggling with grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation (if they are reading aloud) the meaning of what they are reading gets lost.
It is therefore important to help students pause after reading a chunk of text to think about what they just read. In text books this often takes the form of comprehension questions (who, what, where, when, why, how etc.)
I have found that getting rid of those questions is even better though because you can then ask students to come up with their own who, what, where, when, why, how questions and quiz each other. As the teacher you can then collect those student-generated questions and use them to create quizzes and exams. It also helps students get used to being the questioners rather than always the answerers.
How to Let Students Demonstrate their Comprehension
Some other ways to help students show their understanding of text is to ask them to:
1. Make a time line showing significant events in the story or history they are studying.
2. Draw a map and label the places where important things happened.
3. Draw a relationship map with the main characters (or concepts) circled and lines between them explaining how they are related.
If your class is reading different texts or is at different levels or they just have different strengths/weaknesses, you could show students how to do all three and let them choose which one they want to do. You could also split your class into three groups, ask them to work on their comprehension project together and then present it to the other two groups.
However you do it, make sure that all of the students have some responsibility and are required to explain their understanding to someone.
What to Do if They Don’t Understand