Tips for Teaching Reading to ESL Students

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Kids Reading (Flickr photo by GoodNCrazy)

As teachers, we’ve all walked into a classroom with a scheduled reading assignment and had the entire class groan at another boring reading lesson at some point in our careers.

It’s easy to see why kids get bored so easily with reading assignments. Oftentimes, the assignments are boring, too difficult or simply aren’t age and level appropriate. Motivating ESL students to read is a tough business, and many teachers are often stumped as to how to make their reading assignments entertaining. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.

Here are some teaching tips and advice on how you can make your reading assignments more interesting and relevant to the age level that you are teaching.


1. Ask your students to scan a passage. Have them underline new words or grammatical structures.

2. Ask your students to read through the text once on their own. It’s important that your students are able to understand and isolate the main ideas and significant details of a reading assignment.

3. Talk about cause and effect in the story. It’s important for students to understand the reasons why something happens in a story. Talk about sequencing. Do compare and contrast exercises to strengthen your students’ understanding of what they are reading.

Here are some resources to help with talking about cause and effect:

  • Scope and Sequence Ladder
  • Break out Topics: A chart for organizing main ideas and supporting details
  • Brainstorming, Visual Organizers and Mindmaps

4. Don’t hand out language exercises or comprehension tests for reading assignments. Play a word game or a reading game instead.

5. Don’t be afraid to read parts of the story aloud to your students.

6. Ask your students to read quietly and then play a game that focuses on the story being retold or reenacted in class.

7. Ask your students to have a look at titles, sub titles and pictures or photos. Encourage your students to make predictions about the story they’re about to read.

8. Encourage your students to make predictions about a reading passage wherever possible.

9. The appearance of a reading passage is important. Keep reading passages short and attractive. Pay attention to the attractiveness of a reading layout, the font and the type size.

10. Arrange some warm up and pre-reading activities for the class. Pre-reading activities go hand in hand with teaching reading in the classroom. These activities are designed to help students build their understanding of a reading passage before they actually begin reading it.

This monthly series is designed for ESL educators in countries all over the globe. This month, A Journey in TEFL is hosting the ESL Educators’ Blog Carnival. This month’s education carnival is on Motivating ESL Students to Read.

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