Making Connections to Improve EL Reading Comprehension

In my last blog, I talked about Reading Workshop and how well comprehension strategies work for English learners (ELs). Books such as Mosaic of Thought (Keene and Zimmerman, 2007), Reading with Meaning (Miller 2012), and Strategies That Work (Harvey and Goudvi 2007) demonstrate the comprehension strategies that good readers use when they interact with text. When I first learned about Reading Workshop, I spent a lot of time with a classroom teacher who used these strategies, and  I adapted them for my ELs. By using the same strategies and terminology as my mainstream colleagues, I could better support the reading instruction taking place in the general education classroom where many ELs spend most of their day.

Making Connections

Good readers make connections to their background knowledge. They activate their schema, which is the prior experience that students bring to the text they are reading. In the case of ELs, the schema that they bring to the classroom may be very different from their classmates’ experiences. It is therefore important that teachers help ELs to relate their schema to the book they are reading. The goal during Reading Workshop is to help our students make the following connections: text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world. Making authentic connections to text helps ELs gain a more profound understanding of the content. It is important that teachers model for ELs how a text connects to their own lives, another text, or the world.

Text-to-self connections are associations that readers make between the text they are reading and something that happened in their own lives. This connection allows ELs to share their unique schema with classmates. They learn the phrases, “ I have a text-to-self connection; this reminds me of when I…” We use this strategy so that students see how their own experiences help them better understand what the characters in the story feel.

Text-to-text connections are links that students make between the text that they are reading and another story that they have read. It is important to teach students the language of text-to-text connections. When I teach this strategy in my ESL classroom, I prompt the connections by asking, “Does anyone remember another book where children had to share with their friends?”

Text-to-world connections are those links students make between the text and something that has happened in the world. My students made connections to their lives in Korea, Japan, China, India, and South America. If we read about a hurricane in a 5th-grade ESL class, the students have the language to make the connection between the text that we are reading and extreme weather that has occurred in their own countries. This is a powerful strategy for ELs because they are using their schema to contribute to the class discussions. I teach them to use sentences such as “This makes me think about,” “I remember when…”, or “this is what happened in my country.”

Scenario From the Classroom
Teaching ELs the language to make connections really improved the quality of their oral responses. Here is an example from students in my 2nd-grade classroom.

“That’s amazing!” “Look at this!” “I didn’t know this!” These were the reactions of the eager students in my ESL class as they perused the dozens of nonfiction books on animals arranged at the center of the table. They squirmed with excitement as they pointed out items of interest to their classmates. Junya stopped and studied a picture of a raccoon in a book about forest animals.

“Mrs. Haynes, you won’t believe what I see on Japanese TV!” he exclaimed. “They have raccoons in Japan! They make big problem.”

“Hey,” interrupted Junya’s classmate Seigi. “That’s text-to-self connection.” He paused and thought for a moment. “Or maybe text-to-world.” After much discussion, the class decided that Junya had made a connection from the text he was reading to information about the world.

Do you have anecdotes from your classroom that demonstrate how they are learning? I’d love to have you share them with readers of this blog.

About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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