A foundational element of every academic discipline, the ability to read in a studied language is vital. Working to develop central reading skills, such as utilizing a specific reading strategy and noticing discourse patterns, provide ELL students with the opportunity to practice vocabulary, critical thinking, and build fluency. In situations where there is minimal exposure to the target language outside of the classroom, at the very least, reading provides the potential for language exposure while students are not in class.

One of the major difficulties in teaching ELLs to read involves the student’s perception of reading. Some students regard reading in a second language as a translation exercise. For younger students, reading is just another task they’ve been assigned. This may be especially true for students who are not particularly strong readers in their first language. The idea that they can increase their fluency, or that reading in a second language might even be enjoyable, can be a foreign concept for beginning students.

While fostering students’ abilities in each of the four foundational skills (listening, reading, writing, and speaking) is important, it should be a priority to maintain focus on the skill at hand. Attempting to give equal emphasis to each language skill may detract from the purpose of focusing on reading itself. Of course reading instruction shouldn’t be completely divorced from other language skills. Once students learn and utilize a particular reading skill to think critically about a text, incorporating the remaining language skills in reading instruction will naturally follow.

In addition to both a focus on reading skills and a focus on discourse type, there should also be a balance between intensive and extensive reading. Intensive reading is a good place for more deliberate strategy instruction and guidance in reading more difficult texts. Extensive reading, on the other hand, allows for more student autonomy, incidental vocabulary learning, increased fluency, and higher levels of motivation to read.

In order to foster a successful second language reading course, the following elements are essential. Along with vocabulary instruction, two other competencies ought to be emphasized: discourse competence and strategic competence. In other words, it’s important for students to understand how different types of texts are organized and that students are practiced in using specific reading strategies. Fluent readers realize the structural differences between expository and narrative texts, along with the variety of genres within each of these broad categories. Fluent readers have specific goals, ask relevant questions, and make use of strategies to digest and evaluate various texts. ELLs can be instructed to approach reading in the same way.

Try these activities in your classroom:

Article Recap – Students give an oral summary and assessment of any article they read over the weekend. This is a low-stakes spoken presentation, usually lasting less than two minutes, in which students share what they read and critique it. Because of the variety of articles that students are able to choose, this is often an opportunity for good discussion and fosters interest among other students. Visitwww.tweentribune.com and www.newsela.com for current, lexile-appropriate articles.

Making Inferences – Students answer a series of questions that require them to make inferences from the text, whether it’s a short series of sentences or a multi-paragraph passage. The questions posed often don’t have a definitive answer that can be found in the passage, which can generate good discussion.

In-Class Extensive Reading – Students read texts of their own choosing silently in class. Allowing time for silent reading is important, especially for beginning lexile readers. Texts chosen by students are usually graded readers from the library, comics, or news articles at an appropriate lexile level. Assessments, if any are even given, are low-stakes in order to foster habitual independent reading.

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