Reading is a BIG component of teaching any language – first or second. Reading, especially in a foreign language, can be quite difficult for learners. I have been working on earning my TESOL certificate through the American TESOL Institute (ATI). One of the modules I had to complete was about teaching reading.
Reading can be especially difficult since not every student reads at the same level. Some are able to read at higher levels than their peers, and others may struggle.
So, how can you teach students of varying levels?
Oftentimes, students learning another language may not always understand what they are reading. Therefore, they well become easily frustrated and give up. A teacher needs to devise different strategies to help their students close the gap in their understanding. A teacher also needs to know which strategies are effective and beneficial. That is the real challenge.
I teach a few reading classes and I can tell a major difference between the levels of the students in each class. Some students read just fine, right at the appropriate level, while other are ahead and some lag behind. Reading not only help students build vocabulary, but fluency and comprehension. It can also open up students’ minds to new ways of thinking, genres of literature and topics for discussion.
Step by step! (Oooohhh baby!)- Here are some great steps for teaching reading.
Step 1. Engage the student- Start by asking a few warm-up questions related to the topic of the story. You can look at the pictures (if there are any), and ask the students if they can predict what the story will be about just by looking. If there are no pictures, then use the title. When the students are engaged and focused, it will make it easier for them to learn new words, themes, etc. If you are covering one story over a few classes, start with a different warm-up activity each class.
Step 2. Pre-teach new vocabulary- Before you start any story, it is always a great idea to look over target vocabulary words beforehand. The book may have the target vocabulary words printed on an inside cover, or may have resources accompanying it. At the school I teach at, the reading stories all come with PPT slides with the vocabulary words and other lead-in activities on them. I go through the words before we start the story, then have my students point out the words in the selected text as we read. You could teach the words though a matching game, by simply having the students write the words and definitions down, or some other game that words (such as a quiz bowl-type of game).
Step 3. Ask a focus question- Come up with a focus question about the text. It should clear, and easily answerable from the given text. In fact, write two or three of them. These questions should cover three-quarters of the given text and allow the students to focus on the story’s themes, characters, setting, or plot. Make sure to write it (or them) on the board so everyone can see it.
Step 4. The students read- There really is no other way to help students build their fluency and confidence reading in a foreign language. This allows the students to practice speaking, putting what they’ve learned into a real-life situation. It also cuts down on “teacher talk time”. During this time, the teacher will have to monitor each student’s progress, and may need to correct mispronunciation, or encourage students to read a little faster (if time is an issue).
Step 5. Ask questions about the reading- Whether during the reading or afterward, it is good to ask questions about the story. These questions serve to check the comprehension of the students. If the students cannot answer a question, have them reread the correct page(s) in order to correctly answer the question.
Step 6. Follow up with a task- After you have completed the story, have an activity planned. It could be a vocabulary review game or worksheet, a set of comprehension questions students need to answer, or a class discussion. The vocabulary activities are great because the reenforce the words from the story and help expand the students’ overall knowledge. Class discussions also work well because students can voice their thoughts, ask questions, or share a similar experience (depending on the type of story you read).
What is the trick to teaching reading?
The trick is to teach these strategies without bringing them to the forefront. You don’t want to say the name of the strategies and throw out a lot of educational speak. All that does is confuse the students and turn them off to reading. Since reading is a task-based learning activity, it is best to have the goals centered around phonics and vocabulary for beginners. You can work comprehension and grammar into the lessons for more advanced learners. The best thing you can do is to be flexible! A good teacher should be able to go with the flow and yet still keep to the target goals. Teaching reading is a can be way for ESL learners to become familiar with English in a more friendly way. So, grab a few books and start reading!