4 Ways to Help ESOL Students Reach First Grade Reading Levels

4 Ways to Help ESOL Students Reach First Grade Reading Levels
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The Editorial Team October 20, 2012

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Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) can be quite challenging, and bringing students to even a first grade reading level takes time and effort. Fortunately, there are significant resources available to help teachers and their students on the rewarding journey to reading proficiency.

Here are four ways to help ESOL students- many of whom may be starting from scratch-reach a first grade reading level. While in no way comprehensive, this list offers four ideas to help get students on the right track.

Minimize Decoding Effort, Maximize Vocabulary

It is often difficult for beginning ESOL students to avoid becoming mired down in decoding the meaning of individual words, limiting their ability to comprehend the overall text. Students must reread each time they find a word they do not understand. This slows down the flow of their reading and limits comprehension. Constantly improving their vocabulary will help with this difficulty.

Here are several ways to help students maximize their vocabulary:

Sticky notes everywhere – Label everything in the classroom with colored sticky notes. Every time a student looks at a chair, the chalkboard or the window, they should be able to see exactly what the name is in English.

Encourage in-text annotation – Have students highlight familiar words in one color and unfamiliar words in another, then encourage them to define the words they do not know in the text. This way they have a quick reference every time they read. Feel free to help students with definitions when appropriate.

Create a wall glossary – When the class is studying a particular text, work with them to create a list of difficult words. After the list is compiled, have students define the words in a wall glossary somewhere in the classroom that is easily visible. A wall glossary can save students time later when they are struggling with the text.

Work with Texts of Cultural Significance

If the majority of the ESOL class comes from a similar cultural background, it can be beneficial to choose texts that have cultural relevance for them. This will aid in students’ interpretation, allowing them to reach to their own culture for reference.

For instance, if the class is predominantly Spanish-speaking, choosing a Spanish folk tale could help students with comprehension. The tale could have some words in Spanish, which would make it that much easier for students to decipher the meaning of the rest of the text.

Using culturally relevant texts is also beneficial because it helps validate the value of the students’ background, something they may be feeling particularly sensitive about as they approach learning English.

Thoroughly Preview the Text

Taking the time to preview a text is a valuable reading tool for any level, and can be especially useful for students new to English.

According to Mary J. Drucker, in The Reading Teacher, English-language learners gain meaning from a variety of cues in conversation such as setting, body language, gestures and intonation. Helping students preview a text can help them gain meaning through their interaction with you, the teacher, and give them something to reference while reading.

Previewing involves the following:

  • Hook students interest by making a statement or two that relates to the text, or ask a rhetorical question to pique interest
  • Relate the passage of the text to something familiar
  • Ask a brief discussion question to increase involvement
  • Provide an overview of what you are about to read, including characters and plot

Shared Reading

Shared reading accomplishes several things for ESOL students. It allows them to hear the language as it should be spoken, and allows them to see the way each word is read phonetically. It also lets them practice reading left to right, something with which they might have little familiarity. 

To engage in shared reading, display the text in a way that the entire class can see and follow along (such as a projector). Then read the text as slowly as is necessary, having the students follow along.

A Few Among Many

Students can gain a lot through the use of these techniques. Using these methods, among others, can help your students reach the level of reading comprehension they desire.

Source: www.readinghorizons.com – “ESL Teaching Strategies: Improving Vocabulary Improves Reading Fluency”, Dr. Monica Bomengen, 9/16/10

Source: International Reading Association – “What Reading Teachers Should Know about ESL Learners”, Mary J. Drucker

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Categorized as: Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Tagged as: ESOL