Simple exercises to improve ELL reading skills — Part 2
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
In the first part of this article, we discussed how reading is an essential means of communication and the importance of developing strategies for English language learners to approach reading in their non-native language.
After a series of prereading exercises and a list of the skills needed to be taught, we went over several sample exercises. Below are a few more helpful hints to the teacher and classroom activities for the reading class designed to develop reading skills in English.
Interpretation of the text
Sample readings in almost any text are followed by a series of questions that force the reader to look back over the text for specific information. For example: When did the event happen? Who was involved? Where did it happen? Why did people do what they did? How many did they? How much was it? And so on.
These questions are generally called a comprehension check and are useful for checking the learners' recall of detail. But the focus is on form, not function. This type of question should be accompanied by communicative or problem-solving questions in which the learners give an opinion — even if it is just a yes or no — rather than rewrite part of the passage.
For example, after completing a reading about a major city, the class does the following activity. They answer factual questions then move to a more functional activity:
Activity 1: Factual questions
- Name the river flowing through the city.
- What is the most famous landmark?
- What is the population? Is it greater or smaller than where you are now?
- Who is the mayor of this city? Who is the mayor of where you are now?
- Is this city larger or smaller than your home town?
- Where in this city would you like to live?
- Which of the sites would you visit first?
Activity 2: Close activity
Choose a passage at the learners' reading level and delete every 10th word. Leave the first sentence.
Every day I went to look in the bird's nest. Yesterday there were four _______ in the nest. The ___________ wasn't there. When she ________, she quickly hopped ______ into the nest and sat _______ the eggs. ("Teaching Adults: An ESL Resource Book")
What are some questions that you the teacher can ask?
- Do the students show that they have some knowledge and interest in the topic?
- Do they respond perceptively rather than mechanically to questions about the text?
- Do they ask meaningful questions about the ideas, topics or the new words?
- Do they retell the story giving details?
- Do they make the right inferences?
- Do they relate the material to their own knowledge or to other texts that they have read?
- Can they give their own opinions and interpretations?
Reading is active and interactive, not just a mechanical exercise. Meaningful activities contribute to reading skill development and language acquisition.
Reading involves a group of skills that goes beyond just sounding out words. Originally thought of as a "bottom up" activity, reading required the reader to recognize individual sounds a followed by words and then the whole text.
The "bits," letters, blends, words were mastered first, followed by the whole in much the same way as the grammar-translation and audio-lingual approaches relied on the learner mastering discrete points before putting them together to make sense out of the L2.
The opposite, "top down" starts with the text as a whole and then leads to the parts. Readers are considered to have an active role in the process; they predict as they read and take in large chunks of language and match it to their internal schema.
Students are taught how to guess from context, preview looking for headings and subheadings to get an idea of the subject matter before they read. Instructors can encourage readers to apply both processes.
Activity 3: Using the Internet as the text
The following activity is suggested for intermediate to advanced levels: "I Love New York."
The activity involves speaking, listening in addition to reading and is of a high interest to students who are learning American culture and geography. Students have opportunities to interact with interesting materials from online sources, such as official city sites and travel sites. Resources needed are a city map, computers connected to the Internet or classroom computer with projector.
Before class, locate a reading on the Internet that is about a city that students might like to visit. See, for example, http://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm (e.g., New York City).
Next, have students log onto the website with the reading and have them look at a map of the city. Ask students to share what they already know about that city. Write keywords, including popular attractions, on the board. Students look at the suggested online source and decide whether to use it or look for a better site.
Then, direct students to go to the suggested Internet sites for more information. They can work in small groups to come up with places to visit and things to do. Students look for illustrations, subject headings, highlighted passages, quotations, topic sentences and captions. Sample questions serve as a guide for students as they read through the material.
For a final follow-up activity, each student will write a summary of the reading and include a paragraph describing personal preferences of where to go and what to do.
Sample text from the Internet:
"The Statue of Liberty is perhaps New York City's most familiar landmark and the easiest one to overlook since it’s only accessible by boat. Still, it's worth the short ferry ride to Liberty Island to see the historic monument that has welcomed so many generations of immigrants to our shores. Passes are available to visit the Statue’s pedestal observation level, and admission to the nearby Ellis Island Immigration Museum, another short ferry ride away, is included. As of July 4, 2009, the Statue of Liberty's crown was open for visitors for the first time since 2001. Visit the website http://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm for more information." (Statue of Liberty National Monument)
- How can you get to the Statue of Liberty?
- What other attraction is nearby?
- Research Question: Who built the Statue of Liberty? When?
- What is the economic importance of New York? (Wall Street, garment industry)
- Locate Wall Street.
- What international political organization can you visit? (The United Nations)
- What do people go to New York to see? (Possible answers include Broadway, Empire State Building, etc.) Select at least two places of interest to be visited each day.
- When will we leave to go to New York? Pick a time of year for the visit based on seasonal activities available in the area.
- How will we travel?
- Where are we going to stay? Select a hotel from a travel site, and figure out how much it will cost to stay for four days.
- Estimate the cost of meals for four days. Use the tour guide to choose restaurants.
- Estimate transportation costs within the city, for example from the hotel to Broadway.
Activities progress from mere fact-finding to problem solving that involves original thinking and communicative functions.
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