Some students just aren’t born readers.
It doesn’t matter what their native language is for kids who just don’t like to read. But just because someone isn’t born a reader doesn’t mean they can’t become someone who loves turning the pages. Some young people, ESL students included, need a little help to foster a love for reading and to make it flourish, especially when they face the challenge of reading in a second language. The good news is there are easy ways to do that. Here are some things you can do to help grow the love of books in your ESL class.
Inspire Your Students to Read Easily
Make Room for Reading
If you don’t have a reading learning center in your classroom, you might want to think about creating one. Having a designated space in your classroom for students to pull out a book and get comfortable will show them that reading is important and valuable, so valuable that you set part of your classroom aside for just that purpose. Fill your reading center with plenty of age and language level appropriate books, and make it as attractive as possible. You might want to include soft pillows or cushions to make students more comfortable as they read. Or you might want to design your reading center like a secret getaway by using a small tent or curtains that partially set the area off from the “real world” that is the rest of your classroom. There are plenty of great ideas and designs online, but don’t feel like you have to have the best from the beginning. Start small and build on what you have. The most important part is setting aside a special space for reading.
Take a Trip
Take a trip, to your library that is. Children love libraries. They are a nearly limitless resource for whatever topic your students are interested in. Encourage your students to befriend the librarian, and help them prepare questions for that special person who can direct them to the books they are longing to read. If your librarian is willing, have him or her share a book with your students each time they visit the library. Nothing is more motivating than reading one or two chapters in a book and not knowing what comes next. You can take your students beyond the school library, too, and visit a local public library. No matter where you are, encourage your students to look at books, and talk with them about other books that might peak their interest.
Be An Example
If you give your students free learning periods, and I hope you do, use that time for more than just grading papers and planning future classes. Let your ESL students see that reading is important to you by cracking open a book of your own. Young students look up to their teachers, and elementary ESL students are no exception. Let your students see that reading is important to you and it’s likely to become important to them as well.
Have a Chat
Take your example a step further than just reading in front of your students. Talk to them about what you are reading. If you like, tie your reading into your current language unit, or just share something that is important to you. Tell them what you are learning, what you found interesting, or what questions you have about what you are reading. Doing so will peak your students’ interest in reading, but it may also give you a chance to teach new vocabulary or cultural points making it a double classroom benefit.
If you are making a habit of telling your students about your reading, you may find this next step comes to you with little to no effort. Turn the tables and ask your students questions about what they are reading. Any questions are good, but you can also ask specifically about characters, setting, and plot. Don’t stop there. Teach your students these literature terms, and ask them to make predictions about what will happen next. If you have class reading periods, save a few minutes at the end of the period to let students share with the class. They can share specifics about what they read and introduce the class to new vocabulary in the mix. Teaching their fellow students will help them cement what they read in their minds.
Share and Share Alike
Give your students a chance to share about what they are reading with classroom space too. Designate a bulletin board or blank wall in your classroom as a reading recommendation wall. For each book a student completes, give him or her a simple sticky note. On the note, have the person write the title of the book, the author, and one sentence about why a fellow student should or shouldn’t read that book. Not only will your class get to share their personal thoughts on the books they read, other students will also get peer recommendations when they are looking for a good piece of reading.
If a recommendation wall isn’t right for your class, how about a comic book? Rather than giving students a sticky note for each completed book, give them a page printed with a blank comic strip. Students should illustrate an exciting part in the book (without giving anything important away). If they are up to it, have students include dialogue or word boxes in their comic. If they aren’t, having students illustrate what they read will still test their comprehension in a fun and hands on way. Collect these comics from your students and compile them in a notebook for class members to read when they are looking for a new book.
One of the greatest things one of my teachers did to encourage a love of reading in me and my classmates was to read aloud to us in class. Every day after lunch, my second grade teacher took ten to twenty minutes to read classics like Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and anything by Beverly Cleary. These might not be the best choices for your students, but sharing a book together has many benefits for ESL students. They can practice their listening skills while also getting entertainment and learning new vocabulary. Also, students who may not be able to complete a book on their own will still feel a sense of accomplishment when you turn the last page of the book. Ask students about what you are reading together, too. Encourage students to make predictions and give summaries of what you read yesterday and the day before.
Do It Electronically
If your classroom has a student computer or if you encourage students to use smart devices in class, point out websites that have reading activities and word games that your students will enjoy. Bookmark them on your classroom computer and you have an easy learning center that takes little to no work to upkeep. Have your students offer their recommendations as well, and soon you will have several great suggestions for those techies in class.
Make Writing a Priority
Students who like to write will also enjoy reading, so make writing a priority in your classroom. Set up a writing center such as a classroom post office. Encourage students to write notes or postcards to each other and deliver them to student mailboxes. These simple notes are less intimidating than formal writing and are fun to both write and read. When students are excited about writing, they will be excited about reading as well.
It’s true that not everyone is born with a love of reading, but an affection for literature is something that can be encouraged and grown. These simple suggestions implemented in your classroom can make the difference between reluctant and voracious readers among you.