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The Power of Rereading Read Alouds with Language Learners, Part 1: Lexical Comprehension

I always tell my colleagues that you don’t need 180 picture books for 180 days of read alouds.  Instead, you need a few dozen outstanding books.  Books you want to pick back up, and read over and over again because there’s so much there.  You’ll be able to take a deeper and deeper dive into reading comprehension.  

When I was still in the classroom, I read a now out of print professional book published by the International Reading Association: Dynamic Read Aloud Strategies for English Learners.  One lesson I held onto was the power of REreading.  That’s because reading a book is like peeling an onion.  Each time we read it aloud, we peel a new layer of meaning for our listeners.  For language learners, rereading is extremely beneficial because it removes the pressure of having to fully comprehend the text the first time around.  For teachers, it allows us to target specific types of reading comprehension skills over the course of several days. 

In the next few blog posts, I’ll be showing how I read aloud targeting different levels of comprehension each time: lexical comprehension, literal comprehension and then inferential comprehension.  Today’s post is all about Lexical Comprehension, which is the first level of comprehension you should be aiming for. 

Lexical Comprehension

Lexical comprehension is key for language learners.  When students have lexical comprehension, they understand the key words in the text.  On the very first read, teachers should focus on giving students lexical comprehension of the text by previewing vocabulary that is in the text, and asking questions where students will reuse that same vocabulary. 

In the book ¿Qué estás haciendo? by Elisa Amado, the main character, Chepito, asks lots of neighbors what they are doing, and they are all reading different content.  I love this book because it teaches students the value of reading, while also showing them the rich culture of Guatemala.  
At the very beginning of my first reading, I would preview vocabulary for all of the reading supports because otherwise students will not understand that characters are reading many types of written texts. These are the words I would preview: el periódico, un cómic, una guía, las instrucciones, una revista, los jeroglíficos and of course un libro
When previewing vocabulary, teachers must be explicit.  I have found that the best way to be explicit is to not ask a single question about vocabulary.  When we ask questions about vocabulary, students’ answers can take other non-native students on a loop for understanding meaning.  


How to Preview Vocabulary 

  • Prepare a visual or two (or three) for each word.  
  • Define the vocabulary word in simple words and sentences. 
  • Point to pictures. 
  • Use gestures to convey meaning.  
  • Have the students repeat the word as you point.



    I take the time to open the book, and show the page where students will hear the new word. If the word is illustrated, I point to it.  This small step gives students a visual bearing.  They’ll now associate the picture and word with this page in the book.  

    Explicitly introducing 6-8 words takes time.  Preparing the visual scaffolds before the read aloud will take time. Actually defining the words in front of students will also require a few minutes.  That’s why many teachers of language learners feel like they can’t get as many read alouds into the year as teachers in mainstream classrooms.   Yet another reason to read fewer books!  Let’s build upon the time invested in creating a few, great resources.
    On days where I focus on lexical comprehension, I spend a good 6-8 minutes just introducing the new words.  During a preview of vocabulary, I do not engage students in conversation because this will prolong the read aloud.  I know that this sounds counterintuitive, but when we engage students prior to reading, typically only native speakers or very proficient speakers will contribute.  I’d rather have total engagement later when I ask a question or two. 
    Before I start reading, I plan one or two questions to ask.  For lexical comprehension days, I tend to ask very literal questions that will force students to use the new vocabulary.  I base my question on a Reading Literature or Reading Informational standard such as RL.K.1 With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text. 
    For the first reading of ¿Qué estás haciendo? I’ll ask just one question, but change the subject each time: What is [name of the character] reading? 
    ¿Qué está leyendo la señora?
    ¿Qué está leyendo el mecánico?
    ¿Qué está leyendo el arqueólogo?
    Rereading is such a great way to scaffold reading comprehension.  It also helps to ask the same questions so that your students with the least proficiency in the language can finally understand what you’re saying, and build up the confidence to speak up.  To encourage total participation, I have the students turn and talk.  This is a routine we have been learning since the very beginning of school. 

    This week, I wanted to show you how to start with vocabulary development on your first day of reading a new book.  In the coming weeks, look for two more blog posts on literal and inferential comprehension to see how to reuse the same text multiple times. 

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