Teaching Reading to Lower Level Second Language Learners

By Sheila Corwin

Teaching the receptive skill of reading to elementary learners of English can be a lot of fun. Try this method the next time you have a group of lower level English language learners in your classroom.

Things You’ll Need:

  • An appropriate reading text
  • Highlighter marker pen
  • Clear projected voice

Choose something you’d like students to read from an EFL or ESL textbook or better yet, find something short and authentic that you find on the internet or in your local community that your students will find interesting.

Before class, read through your chosen piece of text carefully and ask yourself if there are any words or expressions, that you’ll need to pre-teach to your students before  the reading begins. Don’t choose too many. If you find too many words that need to be defined, consider rewriting, modifying and shortening the text even further. Underline or highlight all words and expressions that you plan on pre-teaching on your students’ copies.

In class, before beginning your reading, activate your students schemata (background information) by showing them pictures that relate to the text or asking them questions about the text that may also apply to their own lives or knowledge. You can also, let students know the title of the text and ask them what they think the text is going to be about or what questions might be answered by reading the text. When you’re ready to pre-teach difficult words and expressions, make sure you define them as they are used in the context of the chosen reading. Before giving definitions, write all the words and expressions on the board and elicit as much information as you can from your students. Ask if they can define any of the words and expressions and give them time to brainstorm their ideas or definitions with a partner.

When activating schemata, eliciting, and pre-teaching vocabulary has been done, pass out the text to your lower level students.

It is suggested to allow for three readings in this order:

1) Teacher reads and students follow along. The is to allow lower level students to hear teacher’s pronunciation.

2) Each student reads one sentence of the same text again, with teachers help, until everyone has read at least once or twice.

3) Each student reads the same text silently (or with a partner) and underlines or circles any other difficulties with comprehension or vocabulary.

After the third reading, further class discussion can take place on the gist of the reading or specific details. Teachers can ask students questions or pass out a worksheet related to the text to check on their comprehension.

Make sure that activities provided (after the text is read) provide not only comprehension checks, but also begin with more controlled to semi to freer activities that all directly relate to the given text. Also, ask students to work in pairs during activities and confirm answers with another pair before coming together as a class.

Leave plenty of time for class discussion, leave yourself free to walk around for questions during pair and group work activities, and create additional class assignments or homework that relate directly to the text and its content.

Final tips:

  • Lower levels need very simple text and should include tenses that your students are familiar with or have studied in class.
  • Pictures that go along with the text are very useful for lower levels and can make any reading more visual and interesting.
  • Always choose readings with content that will be relevant to your students.
  • If you need help knowing what’s appropriate reading for a certain proficiency level, thumb through an EFL or ESL textbook written for a specific level (beginning or elementary) and see what kinds of readings are included.
  • Be sure to notice sentence and paragraph length, tense, and topic.
  • Be careful not to choose a text that is too long or one that includes too many difficult vocabulary words, expressions and/or technical terms.