Seven Strategies for Reading Success with English Learners

The appreciation of reading can be broken down into five stages. These stages build on one another as we grow and learn. They deepen our understanding of the written word:

Stage 1: Reading brings enjoyment. We see this very early on as we look at picture books, read with our parents and teachers, or share oral manifestations like nursery rhymes.

Stage 2: Reading becomes a vicarious experience. We start to think about the adventures or experiences that we read about and begin imagining ourselves in the place of the characters. We question how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking and compare it to our own emotions.

Stage 3: Reading becomes self-reflective. We start seeing ourselves in characters and find solace or escape in texts. We look for characters and relationships that we can relate to in order to understand the world around us.

Stage 4: Reading becomes about achieving greater understanding. We start to examine social issues and take on a new level of consciousness regarding varied topics. We read to learn and use this new information to examine the world.

Stage 5: Reading becomes aesthetic in nature. We are able to appreciate the written word for art. We take pleasure in what it adds to our lives and the world around us.

So, what does this have to do with engaging English learners with text? It’s very simple. We regularly ask ELs to start at Stage 4 in most of our classrooms. We say, “Let’s read this information about Mesopotamia and see what you can understand.” We fall into the content trap. However, there are ways to engage our ELs with texts and to sidestep the trap. The key is to foster a general interest in reading. By encouraging these students to engage with works that interest them, you are ultimately building the skillset they need to be successful in their classroom content reading. Give them time and help them find joy in reading. From there, they will be able to tell you all about Mesopotamia.

Try these strategies with your ELs to help them engage with reading and foster a desire to connect with texts.

  1. Tell stories. This is often a forgotten element to reading. Allowing EL students the opportunity to tell stories without reading them allows them to develop an interest in text structure and, in some cases, plot.
  2. Read bilingual books. This may seem like a no-brainer, but students who are literate in their native languages are much more likely to build literacy in English. Try looking for some texts that are written in dual languages, allowing the students to compare what the different writings look like without worrying about what the English portion says.
  3. Listen to audio books. To me, this totally counts. Students may not be working on fluency or decoding skills, but they are gaining vocabulary, applying comprehension strategies, and attending to information. They’re being exposed to words, thoughts, and ideas that may be entirely new to them, and isn’t that a main goal in reading?
  4. Choose material that is relevant and interesting. Or better yet, allow them to choose! Give them ownership of their learning and let them steer for a while.
  5. Fill your shelves with readable materials. It’s wonderful to have a stocked library, but if no one is checking your materials out, who is it good for? Readability is key! Invest in a few really interesting titles. Try graphic novels. Look for books with great illustrations. You’ll have less on the shelves, but it will actually get read!
  6. Give them some background information. Before you start any sort of reading, gauge what the student knows and understands, and then give them some vocabulary and details that they may struggle with later on in the text. Then, when they get to it, they’ll already know a little about it.
  7. Home libraries are crucial! I don’t have to tell teachers that many kids just don’t have home libraries. So talk to their parents about it. Tell them about nearby thrift stores and used bookshops. Help them help their children. And if they’re not reading to their kids in English? Tell them to read with them in whatever language they can. It’s all about building a love of text!

Looking for ways to engage your readers this fall? Starting in September, get in the game and register for our Word UP Challenge. It’s a win-win that could earn your school great prizes and will get students reading through our motivating Reading Counts! program.

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