Top ESL Reading Strategies: Choral Reading vs. Reading Out Loud

Top ESL Reading Strategies: Choral Reading vs. Reading Out Loud

Top ESL Reading Strategies: Choral Reading vs. Reading Out Loud

As ESL teachers, we know that ultimately any student’s goal is to learn to speak English.

Very few students want to focus mainly on writing. Even fewer will take an ESL course just to improve reading comprehension. Yet, reading is an activity that can help students learn to speak better. Choral reading and reading out loud are two reading strategies that, when applied correctly, will help your students’ fluency shoot through the roof. But let’s consider each separately.

Choral Reading: Boosting Confidence

Choral reading involves having an entire class or group read out loud, in unison. It is typically used in grade school classes. Because students feel they are “in it” together, they are more likely to feel less self-conscious. This is why choral reading helps boost confidence. It also helps build fluency because children have a fluent reader (you!) as a model to teach them the right rhythm and pronunciation.

How do I use choral reading in my ESL classroom?

  1. 1

    Choose a reading passage

    Great for choral reading are:

    • Short excerpts from a story or book
    • Poems
    • Very short stories
    • Picture books
    • Books/stories with rhythm and rhymes (like Dr. Seuss)
  2. 2

    Hand out copies

    It is best for each student to have their own copy of the passage they’ll read. But if you use a big picture book, and your class is not that large, you can hold it open in front of the group as they sit together on the floor.

  3. 3

    Model the reading

    For best results, don’t make your students dive right in. First, read the entire passage out loud and model correct pronunciation and intonation. Have students follow and read the text as you read out loud.

  4. 4

    Check for comprehension

    Ask a few comprehension questions to make sure they all understood the text. Go over any new words.

  5. 5

    Read the text out loud in unison

    Now is the time for everyone to read together, out loud and in unison. Walk around the classroom to make sure everyone is reading. Give extra support when they encounter a word or phrase that is particularly difficult.

You can work with greetings, short phrases or longer passages. The great thing about choral reading is that you can choose any text that suits your students’ needs. Repetition is key. The more your students repeat the reading, the more confident they will feel and their fluency will increase. You may also want to divide them into smaller groups and have each group read a different part of the story/book.

Reading Out Loud: Improving Pronunciation

In reading out loud, there is just one person reading — either you or a student. In my opinion, this is a strategy that works best with teens and adult learners, though you can certainly use it with young learners. But in my experience, young learners need more support in reading out loud, which is exactly what choral reading gives them. Adult learners, on the other hand, have different needs, the most important being the need to improve pronunciation. Reading out loud is perfect for this.

How do I use reading out loud in my ESL classroom?

  1. 1

    Choose a reading passage

    You may choose any reading passage from the student book, or if your students’ level allows it, choose authentic reading material: newspaper or magazine article, brochure, blog post, poem—you name it! If it’s not in the student book, make sure each student has a copy.

  2. 2

    Model the reading

    Read the passage out loud, while students follow along. Be sure to model correct pronunciation and intonation.

  3. 3

    Check for comprehension

    Assuming that there aren’t too many new words, ask a few comprehension questions and go over any doubts regarding the text or the meaning of any words/expressions.

  4. 4

    Students take turns reading out loud

    Have one student read, for example, one paragraph. Notice which words or phrases are particularly difficult to pronounce. When the student is done reading have him/her repeat the words/phrases/sentences he/she had trouble with. Have the class or individual students repeat the word/phrase/sentence, as well, until it sounds natural. Have another student continue with the next paragraph and so on.

You can go about this in a number of ways, but there should always be a moment when you model the reading and another when your students repeat. This not only helps them learn the correct pronunciation and intonation, it helps them understand the text. Many ESL students say that when they read something for the first time out loud, they understand half of what they read because they are paying attention to their pronunciation. Others claim that the sound of their own voice distracts them. But these problems are avoided when you read first: you model the correct pronunciation and they have a better chance of understanding the text.

Choral reading and reading out loud are two strategies that you can use with any student, any class.

But I’ve always obtained the best results using choral reading with children and reading out loud with adult learners—it does wonders for their pronunciation and fluency.

What’s your experience with these two reading strategies? Do you use one or both? Sound off in the comments below!

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