As ESL teachers, it’s easy to focus solely on learning, acquiring, practicing and reviewing language. It’s easy to set out to plan a reading lesson and plan exactly that: reading. However, when we take a step back we can see that there’s a lot more at play in language acquisition than simply language.
Reading can be a frustrating skill for teachers and students. It can be difficult for teachers to find fun, interactive, and engaging activities to help their students practice reading fluency, comprehension, and more. It can also be frustrating for students because there are so many different aspects of language at play: grammar, phonics, vocabulary, context clues, sentences, punctuation, etc!
Spending time preparing your students for reading can be one of the best ways to help alleviate some of that frustration for you, but especially for your students. Reading prep gives students time to activate their prior knowledge, which holds many benefits.
When prior knowledge and experiences are activated, your lessons become more student-led and your students become more autonomous. Most of the people on this planet know more than they think they know. Your students are holding knowledge and experiences that can help them learn, and all you have to do is activate it!
Today we’re going to be breaking down how you can prepare your students for reading and, in the meantime, build their confidence, vocabulary, and motivation! Keep reading below to learn more about how you can use background knowledge, experiences, vocabulary, and reading strategies to create more confident and capable readers.
Background Knowledge is a Lens…
There is so much untapped potential in your students academically, linguistically, and personally. Every student who walks through your classroom doors has the ability to see through a different lens. Whether you activate your students’ schemata or not, their life experiences, educational experiences, language knowledge, cultural background, etc will have an impact on how they view and comprehend everything that they read.
Do Your Students Have Trouble Remembering What They Learn in the Classroom?
Before reading, write the title of the text up on the board and ask your students, in small groups, to come together and figure out what they think the text is going to be about. Write their answers on the board, ask them to skim through the text, and vote on whose answer was closest. This simple task is a great way to get your students to think critically about the topic at hand before reading past the title. Not only that, but putting students in teams adds an element of competition, which ensures that your students are actually engaging with the text.
Another great way to activate your students’ background knowledge is to write the topic of the text in the center of the board. Have your students work together either as a class or in small groups, to create a thought web to explore the various topics and themes that may be present in the text.
A major part of activating schemata and unlocking background knowledge that we didn’t touch on above is vocabulary. Vocabulary plays such a huge role in reading that it deserves it’s own section. If your students do or don’t understand a word, it can make or break their comprehension.
When working on vocabulary during reading prep, your task is three-fold: find out what your students know, find out what they don’t know, and help them fill in the gaps. Thankfully, all three of these tasks work together simultaneously!
One of the easiest ways to target vocabulary is to simply look at a video clip or picture that correlates to your reading text and have a discussion with your students about it. You can talk about topics or themes that are present in the picture or video (caring for the earth, birthday celebrations, education, etc.), as well as vocabulary terms present in the image(s).
I mentioned creating a thought web with your students in the section above to activate their background knowledge and focus more on topics/themes. You can do something similar with vocabulary by asking your students what words come to mind when they think about… (cooking, work, taxes, etc.). To add in some competition, have students work together to come up with a list of 20 words that they think they’ll see while reading the text. Make it a challenge and see which team guesses the most words correctly.
These activities are just a few of the many activities that can help you to identify what words your students are already familiar with (and may have forgotten), find out which words they still need to learn, and help them to fill in the gaps. Taking 10-15 minutes to active your students’ vocabulary can help them to read much more fluently and easily. They may even enjoy it!
Equip Your Students With Reading Tools
There are so many different strategies and techniques that language teachers use to help guide and equip their students for success. If your students are struggling with a specific aspect of reading, be sure to look for some strategies that can help target that specific problem; there’s sure to be one out there! If your students are struggling with comprehension, you won’t want to miss out Supporting Struggling Readers article!
One of the most commonly used techniques for helping students to read more fluently and to practice comprehension is SQ3R. This strategy can guide your learners through everything from pre-reading to reading to post-reading!
Survey the Text
Question What Comes Next
Read the Passage
Recite What They Know
Review What Happened
While you can’t ensure your students are using a reading tool when they’re reading on their own time, you can begin to work through SQ3R as a class, in groups, and as individuals on a worksheet.
First, students should survey the text. This includes reading the title, looking at any images that may be present at the beginning of the text, and even skimming over the passage.
Next, students should question what will come next. Ask your students what they think the text is about based on the title, or find out what your students’ own opinion on the topic at hand is.
Now it’s time to actually read the passage. Encourage your students to read at a comfortable pace, check for comprehension throughout, and focus on reading for the story, not just individual words.
After reading the passage, students should recite what they know. I don’t mean that they should recite the text word-for-word, instead they should think back on the story and identify what it is the author’s message was, what the story was about, or what the article argued for or against. What did they actually read?
Finally, students will review what happened. This goes beyond simply reciting what the author said. Students should think back on their predictions, think about their opinion on the piece, and identify what their reaction is towards what they read.
It’s pretty simple, but giving your students these tools to use in the classroom and, ultimately, on their own is a surefire way to give them independence when reading. My goal when working with second-language-readers is to build these habits in the classroom in a way that will give my students confidence to continue them on their own.
Just a few short activities before jumping into a reading passage can help alleviate some of the fear and confusion your students may be facing. There are plenty of pre-reading activities out there that can be used with both children and adults or beginners and more advanced-learners. However, using the three components above is a surefire way to build your students’ confidence and help them to become autonomous readers!
I Want to Hear From You!
How do you build healthy reading habits in your students?
Have you found spending time on pre-reading to be helpful for your learners?
What are some of the challenges you face when teaching adults how to read?