Task list that represents a paper process that teachers used to follow to plan standards-based goals for students
Written by Laurie McDanel on November 6, 2020

Cognitive-based Instruction

“I don’t understand” and Its Link to Weak Verbal Comprehension

How Does Verbal Comprehension Affect Understanding?

Have you ever taught a student who can read fluently but not understand a word he or she reads? This student can’t answer questions about the text. Instead, the response is, “I don’t understand.” A reason students say that they don’t understand could be due to weak verbal comprehension. Verbal comprehension refers to the ability to read, understand, and make sense of language. It reveals your vocabulary and knowledge of the world. Additionally, verbal comprehension affects listening and expressing. Think of verbal comprehension as a librarian. When needed, this librarian provides information to answer questions and complete tasks.

Why is Verbal Comprehension important?

 The study by Recht and Leslie (educational researchers) looked at how prior knowledge influences reading comprehension. Interestingly, they found that students’ prior knowledge of baseball greatly impacted their ability to understand the story. Furthermore, the students who struggled with reading but knew baseball outperformed the proficient readers who didn’t know much about baseball. 

 In the book The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System—And How to Fix It by Wexler, the author discusses comprehension. She states comprehending what you read is determined by your vocabulary and background knowledge.  As a result, the author believes that the time spent on literacy skill drills is not helping students comprehend.  Instead, she advocates for spending more time building knowledge of the world.

What is the Impact of Weak Verbal Comprehension on Understanding?

For students with weak verbal comprehension, understanding what they read is a challenge. Also, they struggle to express their thoughts and ideas in conversation.  In addition, writing can be difficult due to a limited vocabulary. Lastly, they have trouble following directions. Hence, they feel lost in school.

Weak Verbal Comprehension and Content Area Impact

Therefore, students with weak verbal comprehension have difficulty in content areas. Depending on the degree of impact, students with weak verbal comprehension may have difficulty in all content areas. For example, here is what they may experience.





In summary, understanding how students learn is crucial.  Some may require MTSS plans or IEPs. As a result of learning about the impact of verbal comprehension, you will be ready. With increased understanding, you can develop more empathetic and effective plans.

In case you want to learn more about what students with memory challenges experience.  Click here.

Share this post

Explore more resources for smarter MTSS and special education

Teacher successfully connecting the dots between their students

Stay connected with us

Subscribe to our mailing list to never miss a connection on how to make your MTSS and Special Education process smarter. As a bonus, you will also receive the 9 Keys to a Connected Strategy to help you plan and present smarter right now.