Saturday, 6 September 2014

How To Do Comprehension Checks

Thanks go to Heidi Vande Voort Nam from Chongshin University who presented this at the KOTESOL Suwon Chapter Workshop on September 17, 2011.

Bad Ways to Check Comprehension
There are good ways and bad ways to check comprehension. Asking your students, "Do you understand?" probably isn't the best. Although it can work in some situations, most of the time your students will just smile and nod and hope that you continue on with your lesson. Or just look at you with blank stares and not say anything.

First Things First
She gives four tips about comprehension checking. First, the teacher should give an example, then do an example with the class, and finally students should work on their own. Second, you need to do comp checks frequently. Third, you need to do them before it's too late. Lastly, if you're going to ask for volunteers, you might want to put a limit on the number of times someone can answer. At this workshop, Heidi presented six different ways to do comprehension checks or comp checks.
  1. Translation
  2. Total Physical Response
  3. Positive, Negative, Or, Demonstration
  4. Written
  5. Pair
  6. Cold Calling

1. Translation
When it comes to using L1 in the classroom some people are totally against and some people are completely for it. While I'm not advocating that you translate everything, there are times when translation can save you lots of time and headache. Some words or concepts are very difficult to explain.

If you speak the students' L1, then you could explain the idea to them. If you don't, get someone to write it down for you. Then you could write it on the board, or have a student read it. Additionally, with all the technology out there, have students use their smart phones in class and look up the word. By doing this, you're passing responsibility onto the students and using technology in the classroom.

2. Total Physical Response
While commonly used with children or beginners, it can also be used to check older or more advanced students. For example, with younger students or beginners you could tell them to go open the door. With older or more advanced students you could tell the to conjugate verbs with a partner, tell a story in a group, or change sentences to the passive voice. The options are limitless.

3. Positive, Negative, Or, Demonstration
For this comp check you'll be asking students questions and anticipating certain answers. You'll want them to answer either positively or negatively for the first two. The third one is where you give them a choice. For example, do you live in London OR Birmingham? The last one is an open ended question that you ask. It usually begins with who, what, where, when, why, or how.

4. Written
This is often used in the form of a quiz or test, but you can also give them homework or class time to answer questions. Written checks are done individually. If you doing them in class, be sure to walk around and help when needed.

5. Pair 
Remember when you had spelling tests and your mom helped you study by reading the words and you'd spell them? That's a perfect example of pair comp checks. They're perfect for vocabulary.

6. Cold Calling
I'm sure everyone's familiar with this. This is when you pick a victim, or rather a student, and have them answer a question. Yes, it is horrible to be put on the spot but sometimes it's necessary to see if your students understand.

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