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  • Writer's pictureKyle Larson

Step 4: Drawing Attention to Content-Specific Concepts in Reading Conferences with ELs

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Step 4: Drawing Attention to Content-Specific Concepts is fundamentally important to growing student thought as they acquire a more robust interlanguage.
A teacher has a reading conference with a student over the leveled books he is reading.

How to push the boundaries of untapped knowledge during reading conferences with English learners

At first glance, step 4 seems redundant--the purpose of the reading conference is to give students a tool to grow as a reader, and to send them on their way, right? Right. And Wrong. Students not only need to be given tools to grow as readers, they also need to test untrodden ground--to learn how to think about books while they are reading.

So, is this an extension of step 3 (assessing)? Absolutely. It is further assessment, but, as mentioned in the previous blog on assessment in reading conferences, it is some kind of confluence of assessment and instruction. On one hand, the teacher is assessing knowledge of a particular topic in order to push the bounds of the depth of the understanding of that topic. But on the other hand, the teacher is moving from concrete to abstract, that is, s/he is pushing the student to move up Blooms Taxonomy. In other words, the teacher is teaching reading and thinking about reading. This is the beauty of ungraded individual instruction, centered on a book: you learn about an individual student--what they know and what they don't know--and you guide them into the beyond.

The AIR Language eBook on page 15 gives a more concrete picture of what step 4 should look like.

The teacher should ask, "...questions like, “Have you ever done that?,” or “Do you want to go there?” [to] encourage deeper thinking and learning. These are different than questions found in step 2, because students are being asked (implicitly) to use the knowledge and vocabulary gained from reading and apply it to their lives. In step 2, they are being asked to draw from knowledge they have learned previously. Whereas in step 4, they are being asked to use the knowledge they are currently learning and apply it to their lives.

As the student grows throughout the year, these questions should become deeper and move toward application, as the student not only acquires a fuller set of linguistic tools, but also becomes a better reader. These will develop into full-on academic discussions if students are continuing to grow, and hopefully, by the time they are ready to move into general language arts classes, they are ready for full on socratic seminars where the whole range from concrete understanding to analysis, evaluation and application is happening simultaneously.

So, redundant is not the right word for step 4. Maybe underrated is. And maybe this step is the most important of them all because it is where the real modeling happens. And that is why students go to school in the first place: to learn how to take knowledge and apply it to the real world.

Tools for Step 4

Below, you will find questions that lead students to deeper thinking about the materials as they read more and more. Obviously, language is often the limiting factor for whether students are able to discuss these questions or not. Much of the time, students are already able to think at high levels in their first languages, but they have not yet learned the language to do so yet. While we would advise multilingual educators to limit the amount of L1 discussion during reading conferences, sometimes, it's very helpful to understand what students are capable of expressing in their first languages.

Just remember: negotiating meaning in English, though often tedious, will build upon students' languages, so keep that in mind when speaking with students in their L1s.

If you have any questions, please email

Level 1 Questions: Understanding What is that?

Who is that?

When did they do that?

How many...?

Do you do that?

Level 2 Questions: Description and Application

What happened?

What is the difference between...?

What is she doing?

Do you like this or that? Why?

Do you want to do that?

Explain that.

What is happening on this page?

Level 3 Questions: Analysis

Which is better? Why?

What questions do you have?

Explain this to me.

Would you use that? Why?

Would you go there? What would you do there?

Level 4 Questions: Evaluation

Do you agree? Why or why not?

What do you think about that?

Have you used this idea in your life?

How could this idea change your life?

Does it help to read these books? Explain.

Can you think of another point (or counterpoint)?


*"Bloom’s Taxonomy of Measurable Verbs." Utica College,

*Terantino, Joe, and Sarah Donovan. “Cell protocol (conferring with English language learners): Supporting ells’ reading comprehension in middle level education.” Middle School Journal, vol. 52, no. 2, 2021, pp. 14–25,

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