Tips for Educators of ELLs: Reading in Grades 7-12

The tips below offer some great ways to help your regular and newcomer ELLs become confident and successful readers. Add a new language strategy each week, and watch your students' reading improve!

Help students learn to monitor their comprehension

Use "think-alouds" to model the practices good readers use to make sure that they understand what they're reading.

Provide systematic instruction in comprehension skills

Teaching basic comprehension skills, such as picking out the main idea, recognizing cause and effect, summarizing, and outlining, will support ELLs' learning in all their classes.

Check for understanding

English language learners at this level may be able to decode text flawlessly, even though gaps in vocabulary and background knowledge continue to affect their comprehension. Use rich discussions and questions that require higher-level thinking to make sure your students understand what they read.

Use outlines to scaffold comprehension

Providing a brief, simple outline of a reading assignment or an oral discussion in advance helps ELLs pick out the important information as they listen or read.

Teach students to use graphic organizers

Graphic organizers allow ELLs to organize information and ideas efficiently without using a lot of language. Examples include Venn diagrams, K-W-L charts, story maps, cause-and-effect charts, and timelines.

Provide students lots of different ways to "show what they know"

Drawings, graphs, oral interviews, posters, and portfolios are just a few ways that students can demonstrate understanding as they are beginning to develop their reading and writing skills in English.

Provide explicit, systematic instruction in phonics

Students need explicit instruction in sound-symbol correspondences in order to become successful readers in English. Make phonics instruction part of a balanced program that includes reading meaningful text and writing. Make sure to use age-appropriate materials related to phonetics and pronunciation in addition to the modeling of language, poetry, jazz chants, songs, etc. Older students tend to be turned off by phonics materials targeted to younger children.

Discuss different types of texts

Teach students the difference between fiction and non-fiction, the various forms of non-fiction writing (newspaper and magazine articles, brochures, medical information, etc.), as well as different forms of creative fiction (short stories, epic novels, etc.). Discuss the different kinds of information found in academic content (what will be found in science vs. social studies texts) in order to strengthen academic reading skills.

Use "high-low" texts to capture students' interest

Many publishers offer high interest-low readability texts designed with older readers in mind. Written on a beginning reading level, these books include topics and themes that appeal to the adolescent reader. However, don't hesitate to expose students to more challenging texts when appropriate.

Choose "friendly" expository texts

In choosing expository, or information, books, look for texts that are well-organized, with built-in scaffolds, such as clear section headings and bold print to identify important terms. Note that newcomer students without prior formal education may need an introduction to the basic parts of the text, and how the text is organized.

Ask questions that require higher-level thinking

Students may be able to answer simple, factual questions about text, even if they do not fully comprehend what they have read. To probe for true comprehension, ask questions that require students to analyze, interpret, or explain what they have read.

Ask open-ended questions

Answering questions that require more than a "yes/no" answer gives students practice with organizing their thoughts in English and fosters English language proficiency. It's also a great way to check reading comprehension.

Practice makes perfect for fluency

Activities such as reader's theater and poetry or speech reading allow students to practice their parts before performing them with a partner or in a small group. This builds both reading and oral language fluency.

Provide models of fluent reading

Listening to fluent reading by a teacher or another student helps newcomers improve their own fluency, both in reading and in oral language.

Use choral/call and response reading to develop more oral fluency

Frequent and structured opportunity to practice reading aloud, speaking, and hearing themselves will give students more confidence in their English skills.

Provide opportunities for group and pair work

Working with peers during classroom activities supports both language development and content learning. Like native English speakers, ELLs must continue to expand and extend their English vocabulary as they "read to learn" in the upper grades.

Make reading practical

Help students overcome some of the literacy obstacles they may face in their everyday lives. Practice reading movie schedules, signs, telephone books, bills, letters, and job applications.

Watch out for idioms!

Expressions such as "opening a can of worms" or "pulling my leg" are common in our everyday language, but they may be very confusing for ELLs, especially newcomers. Explain idioms used in conversation and in readings.

Make time for individual reading

Build in some time each day for students to read on their own. You may wish to use this time for one-on-one instruction with students who need more support.

Give students a choice in what they read

Adolescents are more interested and more engaged in reading when they have some choice about what they read. Provide a wide variety of texts, representing different genres and reading levels, and occasionally let your ELLs choose for themselves. Help them identify texts that interest them and that they can comprehend.

Make your students the experts!

Reading to and with younger children is a great way for English language learners to improve their own reading skills. Pair your students with reading buddies in Kindergarten or 1st grade during a structured tutoring or reading mentoring session. Everyone will benefit!

Use physical responses as one way of checking comprehension

Techniques such as Total Physical Response (TPR) give students an opportunity to show what they know by acting it out in skits and by playing games.

Consider books on tape and captioned movies

Providing textbooks on audiotape and films with captions are effective alternatives for some English language learners who struggle with the increased language demands posed by content area textbooks.

Make use of multicultural texts

Including texts that feature multicultural themes and settings not only validates English language learners' home cultures, but it also allows students to draw upon existing background knowledge to support comprehension.

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