We encounter a great variety of written language day to day -- articles,
stories, poems, announcements, letters, labels, signs, bills, recipes, schedules,
questionnaires, cartoons, the list is endless. Literate adults easily recognize
the distinctions of various types of texts. This guide will not cover instruction
for learners with little or no literacy in their native language; you will need
to work intensively with them at the most basic level of letter recognition and
Finding authentic reading material may not be difficult, but finding
materials appropriate for the level of your learners can be a challenge.
Especially with beginners, you may need to significantly modify texts to
simplify grammar and vocabulary. When choosing texts, consider what background
knowledge may be necessary for full comprehension. Will students need to "read
between the lines" for implied information? Are there cultural nuances you may
need to explain? Does the text have any meaningful connection to the lives of
your learners? Consider letting your students bring in their choice of texts
they would like to study. This could be a telephone bill, letter, job memo, want
ads, or the back of a cereal box. Motivation will be higher if you use materials
of personal interest to your learners.
Your lesson should begin with a pre-reading activity to introduce the topic
and make sure students have enough vocabulary, grammar, and background
information to understand the text. Be careful not to introduce a lot of new
vocabulary or grammar because you want your students to be able to respond to
the content of the text and not expend too much effort analyzing the language.
If you don't want to explain all of the potentially new material ahead of time,
you can allow your learners to discuss the text with a partner and let them try
to figure it out together with the help of a dictionary. After the reading
activity, check comprehension and engage the learners with the text, soliciting
their opinions and further ideas orally or with a writing task.
Consider the following when designing your reading lessons.
Purpose Your students need to understand ahead of time why they are reading the
material you have chosen.
Reading Strategies When we read, our minds do more than recognize words on the page. For
faster and better comprehension, choose activities before and during your
reading task that practice the following strategies.
Prediction: This is perhaps the most important strategy. Give your
students hints by asking them questions about the cover, pictures,
headlines, or format of the text to help them predict what they will find
when they read it.
Guessing From Context: Guide your students to look at contextual
information outside or within the text. Outside context includes the source
of the text, its format, and how old it is; inside context refers to topical
information and the language used (vocabulary, grammar, tone, etc.) as well
as illustrations. If students have trouble understanding a particular word
or sentence, encourage them to look at the context to try to figure it out.
Advanced students may also be able to guess cultural references and implied
meanings by considering context.
Skimming: This will improve comprehension speed and is useful at the
intermediate level and above. The idea of skimming is to look over the
entire text quickly to get the basic idea. For example, you can give your
students 30 seconds to skim the text and tell you the main topic, purpose,
or idea. Then they will have a framework to understand the reading when they
work through it more carefully.
Scanning: This is another speed strategy to use with intermediate level
and above. Students must look through a text quickly, searching for specific
information. This is often easier with non-continuous texts such as recipes,
forms, or bills (look for an ingredient amount, account number, date of
service, etc.) but scanning can also be used with continuous texts like
newspaper articles, letters, or stories. Ask your students for a very
specific piece of information and give them just enough time to find it
without allowing so much time that they will simply read through the entire
Silent Reading vs. Reading Aloud Reading aloud and reading silently are really two separate skills. Reading
aloud may be useful for reporting information or improving pronunciation, but
a reading lesson should focus on silent reading. When students read silently,
they can vary their pace and concentrate on understanding more difficult
portions of the text. They will generally think more deeply about the content
and have greater comprehension when reading silently. Try extended silent
reading (a few pages instead of a few paragraphs, or a short chapter or book
for advanced students) and you may be surprised at how much your learners can
absorb when they study the text uninterrupted at their own pace. When
introducing extended texts, work with materials at or slightly below your
students' level; a long text filled with new vocabulary or complex grammar is
too cumbersome to understand globally and the students will get caught up in
language details rather than comprehending the text as a whole.
ESL textbooks are a good place to look for reading activities that include
pre- and post-reading exercises. If you choose to select your own reading
material, the following sites may be helpful.
In 2002, Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc. and Laubach Literacy
International merged to form ProLiteracy Worldwide. If your learners have basic
literacy needs that you are unable to address, consider referring them to affiliates
literacy program such as this one.
Find specially trained volunteers in all 50 states to assist adult learners
with literacy needs. ESL programs are available.