Teaching English Language Learners does not have to be difficult! Using a few strategies for English Language Learners and level (and age!) appropriate texts, any teacher can teach ESL reading comprehension with ease! Just be ready to have fun...and do a lot of acting!
After teaching English Language Learners for several years, both in the United States and abroad, I found that many teachers were not differentiating for their ESL students. Those who were were often giving their students kindergarten worksheets, regardless of their age! While our students may be at a kindergarten English level, they are developmentally and socially much older! That's why I created my Leveled Texts for English Language Learners! They are easy on the teacher (just print or assign digitally!), and are appropriate for older language learners. However, these strategies will work for any appropriate text!
Start by Previewing Vocabulary
Pick a few key words (my texts have them ready for you!) and read them with your students. Ask students if they know what the word means, or if they are able to use clues within the word to determine the meaning. Some of their guesses may be way off, but that's ok! Look for strengths in their connections. If a student gives the correct definition, celebrate! Then, write it down for reference as you go through the text. If no student knows the answer, highlight it and come back to it after you read the text. See if students are able to use context clues to determine the meaning! Encouraging students to solve their own problems and determine the meaning of words on their own, or with a classmate, will help them become independent readers! Give clues and ask probing questions when students need a bit more support.
Read the Text
For your less proficient students, read the text aloud (or have them listen to the audio version of the text). When working with a group, have more proficient students read the text independently or aloud to the group (you know your students!). Allow them to struggle through new words for about 5 seconds before correcting. English has a lot of weird rules, and the extra wait time will often help ESL students to figure out the pronunciation on their own! Done reading the text? Have students read it again, this time to a partner. Depending on time, students can read every other paragraph, or the entire passage. Reading aloud to a partner can help students become more confident readers without the pressure of messing-up in front of a large group of their peers. Classmates can also be a great help with pronunciation and tone!
Summarize the Text
Ask students a simple question, "What did you just read?" Have students tell a partner what the text was about using sentence frames like "I read..." or "The text was about..." Make sure students use complete sentences as they speak! This is SUCH an important part of English proficiency that I overlooked for way too long!
After students have shared with a partner, ask a few students to share with the group. Make sure students really know what the text was all about! I've read stories about the U.S. Government only to have students think we were talking about the cafeteria...misconceptions are real! Correct any misconceptions by going back and looking in the text for the correct answer with the student. Model using key words to skim the text and determine what was really said.
Answer the Questions
This is my FAVORITE part of reading comprehension! Not only because I love seeing what students write, but also because this is where we can make the most dramatic impact in our students' confidence and academic abilities.
Now, I'm going to say something a bit controversial here. If you're working with a pre-emergent, beginning reader, you are not actual looking for comprehension. They're just not going to understand the text...yet! What you are looking for is clues that can help them find where they need to look in the text. In my level 1 comprehension sets, the questions are nearly identical to the text. This is NOT so you can teach students how to cheat. It IS so you can teach students how to find the pertinent information from the text. Read the question, highlight important words, and then highlight those same words in the text. Look for words that would make sense as an answer. Circle them. At this point, show students that they do not have to be able to read every word on the page to complete word. They do not have to understand everything that they read to be successful. They just need to be able to find what's important. Comprehension will come, but it will take a long time. I promise you that. For now, teach students how to be successful where they're at. This will translate into stronger skimming skills once they are proficient readers, but most importantly, it will do wonders to improve their confidence in the classroom.
Now what if your students are more proficient? Great! Have them answer the questions with a partner. They should talk about the answer first, and then write it down! Writing is one of the most intimidating parts of learning a new language, but discussion goes a long way in making it more manageable! Ask students to justify their answers. Have them back-up their ideas with text evidence. Alongside the encouragement ask for more details and more justification! This might look like, "Great job! I love how you found the answer to the question and wrote a complete sentence. Could you add in text evidence to prove your answer is correct? You could do that by adding in another sentence that says "The text states..." Sentence frames are great for pre-emergent (not proficient) students, but as your students become more efficient readers and writers, remind them they can find the sentence frame in the question! I'll be writing about this in a blog post soon!
Share and Celebrate!
After students have answered the questions, ask them to share their strongest answer. Then...celebrate! No matter how old your students are, kids love to be celebrated, and this is no different for English Language Learners! Claps, stickers, stars, compliments and more can all be a great boost for your ESL students. Sharing their proudest work and receiving positive feedback will help your students feel confident in their work and encourage them to keep on trying. I even brag to the class on occasion! I love being able to say "Ruqaya has been working really hard on reading in English, and she just did an amazing job with this really difficult text! Ruqaya, would you like to share one of your answers, or should we let them just think about what amazing things you might have written?" It is SO wonderful to see your students beaming and so proud of their work. Plus, they work twice as hard the next time!
Still looking for more easy English Language Learner Strategies? You can read about my 5 favorites here!
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