Unmotivated students are pretty much impossible to teach. So, when you’re confronted with a class full of them, one of your only options is to build motivation. Motivation has to be built before anything can be taught, otherwise it just won’t stick.
Reading is a language skill that is mostly completed individually, as compared to speaking or listening. Plus, it’s not as easy to “check in” with your students periodically, like you can with writing. So, how do we, as language teachers, personalize our instruction, engage our students, and build motivation in the classroom? Making a more student-centered learning environment can do wonders for your students' reading motivation! Continue reading below to find out more about how to do this.
One of the best ways to motivate your students, no matter the language skill, is by creating a more student-centered learning environment. If you’re teaching adults, it’s important to remember that they’re autonomous individuals. They can make decisions and direct their own learning most of the time. Today we're going to focus on 4 ways that your classroom can be more student-centered: the materials you use, the tasks you assign, the application to your students' lives, and the environment you create.
Try giving your students more control over the material they’re reading, or at least choose your materials with your students in mind. Giving your students some control over what and why they read can create a deeper interest in the subject matter and, consequently, in the act of reading about that subject matter.
When you aren’t able to give your students that amount of control because of available resources or institutional requirements, use reading materials that are directly related to your students’ interests. Use newspaper articles about things that affect them, find novels that feature protagonists who have similar experiences to theirs, or find real-life materials that they may encounter (menus, job descriptions, service bills, etc).
Another way that you can create a student-centered learning environment is through your reading assignments. While reading is reading and there isn’t too much that you can do to make it more exciting or engaging, the tasks that you assign can help to build context around the text and motivate your students.
There are two ways that I like to create relevant, meaningful, and useful reading assignments that are sure to motivate my students. The first is to always consider why and how my students will be motivated. I ask myself why they should complete the assignment and how motivated I would be to complete the assignment if I was a student.
The second thing I do to create engaging reading assignments is to set an interesting purpose or reason. This goes back to the question of why my students should complete the assignment. Instead of having my students read a short story in order to answer reading comprehension questions, I may have them choose a scene from the story to act out with a twist. Or instead of having my students simply read a newspaper article to present to their peers, I may have them find someone in their community to interview regarding the article topic.
One of the biggest motivators when it comes to learning something new is understanding how it can be applied to your life. Why would I learn something that I won’t be able to use? I wouldn’t. Your ESL classroom should be no different.
Follow your reading assignments with activities that will help your students to use what they learned through reading. If all your students ever do with a reading assignment is fill out a comprehension worksheet or write down vocabulary, you’re missing out on a great learning (and motivating) opportunity!
Think of the situations that your students find themselves in and find ways to connect your reading material to that. Instead of doing comprehension worksheets, have students debate some of the more controversial themes in the text. Instead of just writing down vocabulary, have your students write a cover letter and resume after reading a job description.
Have you ever sat down to read in a busy coffee shop with a hot cappuccino or at the poolside with an iced drink and felt like it was the perfect scenario? Compare that to trying to read with children around or on a road trip when the person in the back seat was loudly snorting, or even just when it was too hot, cold, loud, quiet, etc. The setting within which you read can make a world of a difference when it comes to your reading experience.
Creating a positive learning environment is one of my biggest concerns as an ESL teacher, and it’s no different when it comes specifically to reading. There are obvious steps you can take to make your classroom more cozy and conducive to reading, but there are also some not-so-obvious steps you can take to make the overall reading environment more inviting.
Make sure you’re not creating an environment where reading is seen as a chore or a punishment. If students aren’t cooperating or are getting distracted, don’t retaliate by making them read. If that’s the course you’d like to take, frame it as an activity to help everyone focus and get ready to learn together again, not as an activity that they have to do because they were talking to one another.
Picking material that you, the teacher, are interested in can be a great motivator and can really help to build excited readers. Have you ever entered a classroom only to be greeted by a bored teacher? You can usually tell right away that they aren’t enjoying their job. Don’t be that teacher. Share your passions with your students whether it’s reading in general, or something more specific like politics, botany, comics, or short stories.
Student-Centered Activity Ideas:
Creating a more student-centered learning environment can seem like a really big task, but it can be quite simple. If your reading instruction isn't already student-centered, try out one of the activities below to motivate your students and begin to make small changes.
Split It Up
- Go over 3 different themes from the text you're reading, talk about 3 different genres, or discuss the motivations of 3 different characters. After having a whole class discussion about the topics, have your students write down on a piece of paper the one that interests them most or would be most applicable to their lives. Them, have them get into groups according to what they wrote down. Have your students work in their groups specifically with the topic they chose. They could further research and prepare to present one of the 3 themes, make a list of the pros and cons of the genre they chose, or discuss why the character they chose was motivated in the way that they were. The point is to give your students autonomy within confines.
- When preparing your next unit or group of lessons, present options to your students. The options could be in regards to topics, books, reading strategies, or goals. Take a vote on what your students are most interested in or think would be most useful to them and their individual goals. Involve your students in classroom decisions!
Individual Reading Time
- If you're looking to just have your students practice reading in the classroom, let them use reading assignments from their other classes (if applicable), or from their lives (novels they own, letters they've received, a magazine they are subscribed to, etc). They'll appreciate being able to complete other things while practicing reading, they'll be more invested since it was their decision, and the stress of reading something brand new will be taken away.
I've found reading in an ESL class to be one of the most dull language skills to practice simply because it is so individualized and difficult to practice together. Instead of trying to make reading more engaging, I've found that embracing the individual and calm nature of the task to be the most beneficial. Find ways to bring reading to your students and you'll be just fine. As always, get your students' input, remember they're capable adults, and find out what type of reading instruction would benefit them the most.
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I Want to Hear From You!
Do your students seem to be bored or detached from reading assignments? How do you motivate them?
Do you enjoy reading? If so, what do you enjoy reading and how do you motivate yourself to read?