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Teaching Reading

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 phonics.

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.

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 of a literacy program such as this one.