Strategies to Enhance Oral Comprehension for Students

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Being able to understand spoken language is an important life skill for students at every grade level, and improving comprehension skills can be frustrating for both students and teachers when progress is slow. Whether your students are English language learners or native speakers who just need a little help, several effective strategies exist for improving their listening comprehension skills.

Metacognitive Instruction

  • The word "metacognitive" is generally defined as thinking about thinking. In the context of listening comprehension, it means having students think about the methods they are using to understand what they hear, so they can assess those methods and improve upon them. Hossein Bozorgian, in his 2011 study, "Metacognitive Instruction Does Improve Listening Comprehension," uses this procedure: students first listen -- without taking notes -- to a short passage of everyday speech on a topic with which they are familiar, spoken at normal speed. They self-evaluate their comprehension, then listen two more times while taking notes. After that, they form small groups and use notes to re-form the original passage. Finally, they compare their work with the original and analyze their mistakes, and then listen one final time , without reading, to judge their own achievement.

L.I.T.E.L. Instruction

  • The L.I.T.E.L. method relies on visualization. The acronym, according to a study conducted by Annette Kurz, stands for "Listen, Imagine, Tell, Evaluate, and Listen again." The method is an adaptation of the R.I.D.E.R. comprehension strategy which uses reading as the first step. To use this method, have students listen to a short passage of speech, and then visualize what the passage describes. Then, have them tell you about their visualization, or they can even draw a picture. Next, by comparing their perceptions to the actual message of the passage, they can evaluate accuracies and inaccuracies before moving on to the next passage.

Top-Down Instruction

  • The top-down method is a strategy in which students first attempt to identify the main idea of the passage, and then use their preexisting knowledge of that idea to draw inferences about the details. For example, if a student assumes the main idea of the passage is a set of baking instructions from the title of the passage or the opening sentence, she can then use her knowledge of baking as a framework into which she can identify the meanings of individual words -- such as batter and eggs and oven, and predict the progression of the passage, allowing her to identify the patterns of speech associated with giving instructions.

Bottom-Up Instruction

  • The bottom-up method is essentially the opposite process of the top-down strategy: students focus on the details of the language to ultimately construct a comprehensive main idea. To use this strategy, a student will focus on understanding the meanings of individual words and patterns, often by recognizing cognates -- words that sound the same in a students native language, and then assemble those elements to form general meaning. For example, if the student recognizes words such as oven, and batter, and sugar and eggs, and recognizes patterns associated with instruction, she can determine that baking instructions are being given.

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