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Reading activities. For some reason, there is a vast variety of speaking activities for adult ESL on the internet, but not many reading activities. Some might even say that the level of creativity and engagement that teachers strive for in their discussion tasks don’t carry over to reading. And sometimes reading in a classroom is just plain old boring. Most reading routines and reading lessons follow a pattern of reading a text and answering comprehension questions.
Whether an individual is learning a second language or not, I’ve never met someone who enjoyed reading comprehension exercises. Don’t get me wrong, they can certainly play a role in the classroom, but they certainly don’t spark a passion for reading and they don’t always help struggling readers.
English language learners can struggle with reading in a lot of different ways. They may have trouble following the story-line, understanding the written symbols, defining words, or finding motivation to continue reading (maybe even when it isn’t required). Our job as teachers is to help support our students learn.
If your learners are struggling with writing, listening, reading, speaking, or anything else in their language learning journey, there are plenty of ways that you can support your students and help to give them the resources and assistance they may need.
Today we’re turning our attention towards the alternatives to reading comprehension questions. If you’ve found your students struggling with these types of questions, it may be time to switch it up a little bit. We’re looking at how you can “spice up” your reading lessons to help your students prepare, better understand, and find joy in stories and reading assignments.
1. Prepare Your Students With Pre-Reading
Pre-reading is the perfect way to help your learners prepare for a reading assignment. Instead of waiting for your students to struggle to help support them, pre-reading is a tool that you can use to anticipate needs. There are two things that I always look for when preparing for a pre-reading activity: vocabulary and themes.
Read through the story, article, or text ahead of time and mark any words that your students may not know or may need to review. Look for nouns, adjectives, verbs, places, and characters. Knowing ahead of time who the characters are in the story is a huge advantage for many learners. You can also have your students mark down the characters’ names and keep track of descriptors as they read.
Pre-reading doesn’t just have to be a time of instruction, it can/should be interactive. As you read through the text ahead of time, think about what themes are present and how your students could relate to those themes. If a story focuses on choosing a career and the uncertainty that often comes from that decision, have your students discuss how they chose their career, what career they would choose, what they wanted to be when they grew up, etc. On the other hand, if your students will be reading an article about a new community garden being established, talk about whether or not they garden, what they’d be interested in gardening, and maybe even how they would plan out the garden space.
2. Tell the Story Before Reading the Story
We all know that repetition is key for almost everything in the ESL world, and reading a story is no different. If your students are overwhelmed by reading a whole story in their second language, start small. Begin by telling your students a story in your own words. Then, ask them to follow along as you read the story word-by-word. Afterwards, you can have your students begin reading the story on their own or with a partner. Spacing this out over a week or two can help your students develop the confidence to fully comprehend a story before beginning the work of sounding out words and actually reading the written word.
3. Make Reading Interactive
To help your students develop a better understanding of the function of certain words or punctuation, use this interactive reading technique as an alternative to comprehension questions. After reading through the story once, either out loud or independently, direct your students towards making certain marks on their copy of the text. For instance, have students go through and circle all of the names, underline words that describe the characters’ appearance, put a box around words that describe how a character is feeling, and/or draw a squiggly line underneath words that describe what a character is doing. You could even ask students to color-coordinate their markings according to character.
Students will not only have an opportunity to read the story, but also to better comprehend the characters within the story (in this example). Traditionally you may just have your students answer a few questions on paper about what a character looks like, what they felt, etc. However, using a more interactive approach can help to jump start discussions and tailor the activity more towards students inclined towards visual and kinesthetic learning.
4. Create a Cheat Sheet
If you’re looking to build up your students’ independent reading skills and/or asking your students to read for homework, you may be wondering how you can help support your struggling readers when you’re not around. Independent reading activities are the perfect opportunity to use a cheat sheet. At the most basic level, your cheat sheet can simply be the information that you would have presented during pre-reading. However, there are definitely ways that you can take a cheat sheet above and beyond pre-reading. There are two main types of cheat sheets: prescriptive and descriptive.
A prescriptive cheat sheet will already be filled out with information by the teacher. You can help to support your learners with a prescriptive sheet by providing them with vocabulary definitions that you anticipate they may need, a list of characters, scenes to look out for, and other general information to help guide them as they read.
A descriptive cheat sheet will be more of an interactive worksheet to help your learners think critically as they read. This is more suited towards intermediate to higher-level learners. Your descriptive cheat sheet can have space for students to record new vocabulary terms and their definitions, characters that stand out, scenes that they may find important or thought provoking, etc. Descriptive cheat sheets are a great resource to use as a homework assignment and to help guide your classroom discussion.
5. Focus on Phonics
For learners that are struggling with the logistics of reading, focusing on phonics can be a lifesaver. There are so many vowel sounds in the English language, which can be really confusing to beginning readers. Take a week or two to focus on a single vowel sound in your reading activities in order to help your students become familiar with it. Give your learners plenty of opportunities to interact with those vowel sounds before moving on to the next one.
It can be really difficult to find adult-appropriate phonics resources on the internet. When I was teaching beginning-level readers, I ended up writing a lot of my own stories that focused on specific vowel sounds.
There are a few resources that I have found perfect for adult language learners when it comes to phonics. I can say with confidence that my favorite resource for phonics for adults are these stories written by Marn Frank M.Ed. Not only are they free, but they’re easy to read and use too. Plus, they’re a great balance of simple language and adult-appropriate story lines.
Two other resources that I’ve used, loved, and would recommend for adult phonics are the Sam and Pat series and Very Easy True Stories. Both of these books feature entertaining and engaging story lines that are written specifically for beginner-level adult language learners!
Reading can be just as interactive and engaging as the rest of your class! Don’t settle for boring comprehension questions and worksheets, especially when the alternatives are just as easy to plan for! Try out one of the activities above (or all 5) and see which your students respond to the best. Your classroom is your classroom, and only you can truly determine what will be the best for your learners and lessons.
I Want to Hear From You!
What do your students struggle with the most when it comes to reading?
How do you focus on reading in your classroom?