ELL Reading Comprehension

How do ELLs use their L1 while reading English?

ELL population of American public schools is 4.4 million

Due to the growing number of English Language Learners in the U.S.. Teachers need to be aware of the instructional needs for these students and how to assist them. There are not nearly enough resources or professional development about ELL students. It is well researched that L1 helps improve comprehension when students read in English (L2). Are teachers encouraging and teaching this skill? Do students actually do it?

The Proposed Study

The participants of this study are from a diverse suburban school district. They are all in 5th grade and are English Language Learners. There are 24 children, 14 boys and 10 girls. This study will use verbal protocol and surveys to determine the usage of L1 while ELL students are reading passages in English. Students will each read one informational and one fictional text. They will stop at various points to think aloud and will retell what the passage was about once they've finished reading. Each passage will be 200 words long and be an excerpt from the basal with a lexile score within the 740L -1010L range.

Data Collection

Pressley and Afflerbach’s (1995) research indicates that there is a significant relationship between active cognitive processing while reading and good readers. Directions given to the participants will be minimal, they will simply be told think aloud while they read and report on what they are thinking and reading during the task. This method of concurrent reporting was deemed most effective through Ericsson & Simon's research (1984/1993).


The texts will be presented in their entirety and there will be asterisks at the end of each paragraph or section to indicate that students are to express what they are thinking aloud at that point in time. After reading each passage students will complete a retell. Once the retell is complete the researcher will ask 5 survey questions about the participants' feelings towards their L1 in comprehending English. The entire sessions will be audio recorded.

Data Analysis

The Presence of L1 in the Reading Comprehension from the think aloud cues will be classified with the descriptions of Wyatt and colleagues (1993):

- Never occurring

- Observed once

- Observed a few times (2-4)

- Observed frequently (5 or more times)


Comprehension Retell Scores will be determined from Lipson & Wixson’s retelling checklist from Assessment of Reading and Writing Difficulties (2013, p. 487).

- Weak comprehender (1-3 points) is able to understand only what is said, facts and details while relying on rote learning and memorization.

- Average comprehender ( 4-7 points) is able to imply meanings, draw inferences and tap into prior knowledge, including doing all of the above mentioned skills.

- Strong comprehender (8-10 points) is able to analyze, synthesize and apply what he or she has read, including doing all of the above mentioned skills.


Survey Questions about L1 Perceptions

1. Do you think that information and knowledge you know in your native language helps you read English?

2. When you are reading in English do you ever think or translate words in your L1?

3. Can you read in your native language? If you can, does being able to read in your L1 help you read English? Why or why not?

4. Do you think using L1 helps you or others who speak another language with reading in English? Why or why not?

5. Do you use your native language when trying to comprehend text in English?


Students answers will be coded by three categories

- Important relationship between L1 & L2 Reading

- Neutral relationship between L1 & L2 Reading

- Negative or no relationship L1 & L2 Reading

Intended Outcomes and Goals

Verbal Protocols Strengths

  • Open-ended
  • Allows for data to show theories can be refined, altered or begin new theories
Verbal Protocol Disadvantages

  • ELLs think-alouds could be strained by language barrier
  • Student may not be mature enough to vocalize their metacognition
Goals of the Study

  1. Determine how ELL 5th grade students actual use their L1 while reading English text.
  2. Learn the types of perceptions ELLs had about using their L1 in reading comprehension from the face-to-face survey.
  3. Add to the growing research of bilingual intermediate students - adding to the quantitative study of Jiménez, García & Pearson’s (1996).
  4. The usage of L1 language and funds of knowledge that help stronger comprehenders, could be modeled and shared with less proficient weaker comprehenders.
  5. To help improve the English reading comprehension of all ELL students.
  6. To see examples of the metacognitive strategies participants use while reading (Duke & Mallette, 2011).

Colleen Egan 1

Audio Recording for Electronic poster by Colleen Egan 1