Lessons & Classroom Games for Teachers

How to Teach Reading Comprehension to ESL Kids
By:Erin Schreiner

One of the most difficult tasks an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher must face is teaching her students how to read English. Instructors commonly teach this task in one-on-one or small group settings, allowing them to respond to each student's personal needs and customizing lessons specifically to each pupil. To ensure optimally effective reading lessons, ESL teachers must follow a systematic process of instruction

Start with picture books, which pair pictures with a brief amount of text. When students are just beginning to comprehend written English, you can use pictures as a reading tool. Even when teaching children in their pre-teens or teens, you should start with picture books, allowing ESL students to begin to develop their reading skills. Even though these simple picture texts are traditionally intended for elementary students, they can prove useful to older children who are just beginning to develop their English literacy skills.

Motivate your students with contemporary, high-interest materials. Teaching your ESL students to read will be easier if your students want to read. The article "Teaching Reading Comprehension to ESL/EFL Learners" on the Reading Matrix website recommends that those instructing ESL students use authentic, engaging texts when teaching their pupils. Determine what might interest your students by creating and administering an interest inventory in which they answer questions regarding their interests on paper, or discussing their interests with them as a group. You will likely find that topics like sports and adventure are popular with young boy readers while relationships or friendship-themed books prove interesting to young girls. To increase students' intrinsic reading motivation, use contemporary books that fall within their stated areas of interest.

Study English vocabulary in context by providing readers with a pre-reading vocabulary list. The article, "Teaching Reading to ESL Students" on the TeachingESL website recommends that you preview all reading materials and make a list of words that the student needs to know in order to comprehend the text. Present this list of words to the ESL student before he reads, and discuss each word to prepare him in advance so he understands the word when he encounters it in the text.

Make the student complete the reading. While reading the text to the student may be tempting, it's ultimately ineffective. Make the student read the text orally so that you can gauge his pronunciation and fluency as he reads.

Ask comprehension questions orally. Since your goal is to determine whether the student understood the reading, not whether the student can write responses to questions, ask the student to demonstrate his understanding orally. This practice allows you to accurately measure his reading comprehension regardless of his current English writing skills. As he becomes a more adept reader and writer, transition to written questions and responses.

Gradually increase the complexity of the texts in response to the student's abilities. Because you are working one-on-one or in a small group, you can allow the student's competency to determine the text complexity. Continually increasing the complexity of the texts ensures that you're adequately challenging the student as he moves through the learning process.

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