Tips for Improving ESL Students’ Reading Activities

English as a Second Language Tips

Because reading is an important part of language learning, ensuring reading exercises’ effectiveness is an important part of teaching English as a second language (ESL) students. Teaching reading texts from the textbook probably won’t be enough, especially for students who fear or are frustrated by reading. Make reading texts interesting, make them visually attractive, and complete pre-reading activities beforehand.

Make Them Interesting

Boring texts obviously won’t interest students, so choose or create a text students will feel motivated to read. ESL teacher Dorit Sasson, in “Six Tips for Teaching Lower Level Junior High School ESL Students,” writes that interesting students in reading means presenting texts on topics that they want to learn more about. Sasson surveyed students to see what topics they liked and used that information to create an interesting reading text for them. Another advantage of using a reading selection on a topic students like is that they will have some background knowledge on that topic, making understanding the selection easier.

Make Them Attractive

Looking at one big chunk of text can be overwhelming. Sasson suggests not making a selection all one big paragraph with lines that are about the same length. Shorter texts with short lines are easier to read. Use clear fonts. Younger students and visual learners would also appreciate illustrations to accompany the text.

Complete Pre-reading Activities

Ease students into reading texts. Sasson recommends doing this by explaining new vocabulary, vowel and letter sounds, and syntactical structures before reading; by ensuring students understand the title first; and by letting students make predictions about the text whenever possible. Do these activities verbally to strengthen speaking skills. Breaking down any learning task into smaller parts makes it easier for students.

Choosing or creating interesting, attractive texts may require more effort, but the result—improved learning­—is worth it. Take more time to teach new words and structures before launching into reading activities to help ESL students gain more from them. Without helping students construct individual meanings, they’ll have little hope of improving reading comprehension.

Work Cited: Sasson, Dorit. “Six Tips for Teaching Lower Level Junior High School ESL Students.” The Internet TESL Journal 13.7 (2007): n. pag. Web. 16 October 2013.

Tips for Giving Feedback on Writing to ESL/EFL Students

Because of language and cultural differences, giving feedback on ESL/EFL (English as a second/foreign language) students’ writing is challenging. I’ve learned how to make such feedback more effective from my years of working with ESL students in a university writing center and from research on ESL composition. I’ll explain two ways teachers who don’t specialize in ESL instruction can handle this challenge: Be directive yet encouraging, and model frequently.

Be Directive yet Encouraging

In general, be directive. Hedging can confuse ESL writers because of the extra words involved. For example, “Add more detail to this paragraph” is easier to understand than, “I think that there should be more detail in this paragraph.”

You can balance this direct approach, which may seem harsh to those who prioritize being positive when giving feedback, by pointing out positive aspects of ESL students’ writing, such as adherence to a topic, before commenting on aspects that need improvement. Encouraging ESL writers is vital! Noting thought-provoking passages can show writers that despite imperfect language skills, their ideas are clear and interesting to others, according to Jennifer E. Staben and Kathryn Dempsey Nordhaus in “Looking at the Whole Text” (85).

Prioritizing global-level issues, such as development and organization, is important. Remember, they contribute more to quality writing than articles and commas do. Academic English has conventions and language that are foreign to ESL students, so explain them and terms associated with them, such as transition and citation (Staben and Dempsey Nordhaus 79).

Respect ESL students’ opinions about writing style because different cultures have different ideas about what makes good writing. Respectfully explain genre features students’ writing must have. Being friendly and respectful will minimize students’ worry and boost their motivation to write.

Model When Addressing Sentence-Level Issues

If a sentence doesn’t make sense, try asking about what the writer might have meant and then modeling corrections. Underlining or somehow formatting the words that differentiate the meanings of the corrections can help writers see which part of the sentence is unclear.

If there is no solid rule behind a proposed revision, which sometimes happens with articles, prepositions, and the like, you may need to give the correction without explanation. Allowing writers to discover the patterns may help them more in the end than lengthy, confusing attempts to explain rules that have many exceptions.

I think the easiest way to apply all of these ideas is to comment on the student’s paper and talk to him or her about it. Making the extra effort will help ensure he or she understands your feedback. However, start by being respectful and modeling frequently to make your comments helpful.

Work Cited: Staben, Jennifer E., and Kathryn Dempsey Nordhaus. “Looking at the Whole Text.” ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors. 2nd ed. Ed. Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2009. Print.

My First Teaching Experience: ESL Vocabulary Lesson

Monday, March 15th, 2010, I had my first teaching experience. I taught a baccalaureate class. I started with the theme “Health & Welfare” and my objective was to introduce the vocabulary related to health and welfare and make students understand these two concepts. In this report, I will be describing, reflecting and evaluating my vocabulary lesson.

I introduced the students to abstract and broad concepts, which was not an easy task, and I tried to expand the discussion to tackle health and welfare from different angles. So, the challenge was to expose the students to a variety of new vocabulary and draw the relationship between the two concepts. I started with a game as a warm up and I generally used group/pair work to make the students brainstorm and come up with the information by themselves. I helped them when needed by giving them hints, clues and examples. I also used all kinds of interactions T→S, S→T and S→S. The main problem that I had during the lesson is time constraint. For instance, in the second half of the lesson, I provided the students with an interesting reading material, but we could not discuss it to the fullest. I think, as a first lesson, it was good since I used a variety of activities and I established a good rapport with the students. However, it could have been better if I had not asked the groups to exchange their papers and report what each group came up with; it was not a good idea since the students found difficulties in reading each other’s handwritings and this was the less successful phase in the lesson.

It was amazing that the students contributed actively in the lesson by answering my questions, arguing, asking questions…etc. I suppose the lesson was challenging enough for the students especially that the term ‘welfare’ was a new concept for them. I think that the lesson’ outcome was that the students were able to define the two concepts, discovered the relationship between them and learned the target vocabulary.

I think it was a quite good session for a first lesson, there was a variety of activities. I have also established a good rapport with the students from the very beginning. The only thing I had to do is to limit the time of my activities in order to push the students to work better. From my own experience, when the target vocabulary is contextualized, it is more assimilated than when it is de-contextualized. So, the use of a reading material was enriching, however it was not exploited enough due to time constraints.


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