Quick Tip for Helping Student Comprehension Through Language Structure

reading Mar 07, 2024

Do you ever find your students reading sentences well, and yet they have confusions when you discuss the text? Students need to understand that there are two ways in which to think about a text when reading.

First, they need to understand the words as written on the page and literally be able to read them. This is often referred to as the surface code. When speaking with my students, I refer to this as the “reading voice”. At the basic form, this is the ability to read the words on the page. In addition, there is a second part to reading, in which the reader must pull out the meaning of the text, infer the lesson or message that the author wants the reader to take away.

This deeper level of connecting with the text can certainly become a hurdle if there is a lack of access to vocabulary, background knowledge, language structure, and more. There is a great level of depth we can cover with surface code and text base - but today I want to share a quick tip on helping students with language structures in reading - especially the use of pronouns. 

When reading, many students will have difficulty understanding the structure and use of pronouns within a text, especially the third person singular pronoun “it”. Students need to understand what the noun “it” is taking the place of within the text and connect that understanding. We can achieve this in a meaningful, multimodal way -but first a quick review.

Quick Review of the Functions of “it”

  1. Subject or Object pronoun  - it can be used as a subject or object pronoun to refer to a previously mentioned thing, or situation. For example, The milk is old. It smells bad.(subject pronoun); I have to study hard because it will impact my grade. (subject pronoun); I have to study hard. If I don’t do it, I will fail. (object pronoun). 
  2. Empty Pronoun - also called a “dummy” pronoun uses it when there is no subject in the subject position of the sentence. It is used to emphasize the subject, weather, or provisional. For example, Hello, it is me.; It is my sister who races cars, not my brother.;  It’s getting late. It is raining.; I don’t like it when you don’t help out.  

When working with students, I try to keep the focus on understanding the text - and looking at the sentence structure through the lens of meaning - not so much labeling parts of speech. Analyzing the text this way, I can incorporate meaningful multimodal connections and strategies that students can take with them and apply independently or in their general education classrooms. Because, understanding what we are reading is the primary goal!

Take a look at this photo. This student read the words on the page wonderfully, but when discussing the differences between the Wandering Albatross and the Andean Condor, the student had some misunderstandings.

As we chatted, it became clear that that student wasn’t connecting the pronoun it to the appropriate subject. So, a quick analysis of the sentences and marking of the paper aided in a deeper understanding of the two birds. We identified the subject of each sentence and connected the use of the pronoun it to the appropriate subject in the previous sentences, then circled it and drew lines to link the subject across sentences.

Planning for Student Comprehension

This quick, meaningful strategy was done within the context of reading, and provided access to the sentence structure in a way that supported development of language structures and grammar as well as a deeper understanding of what was read by the student. 

When planning for instruction, preview the text and predict where the student may have some language misunderstandings, such as pronoun use, and pull in multimodal strategies to help the child make connections to aid understanding. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!


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