Even with native speakers, teaching reading is a balancing act. You want to push your students to read more frequently and more complicated texts, but you also shouldn’t want the activity to always feel like grueling work or to scare students from engaging with texts on their own time.
The effort of teaching reading to ESL kids is even more difficult, considering that most are already intimidated by English texts. That’s why it’s imperative that you insert some creativity and fun into your reading and writing lessons — and you can do that easily by twisting the following activities to suit your needs and help students learn more.
Rethink ESL Reading Quizzes
Reading quizzes are hard enough for native speakers, especially now that the Common Core is pushing close reading strategies, which eliminate crutches like summaries and pictures. For ESL kids, written reading quizzes are basically as difficult to comprehend as the reading passages themselves, which means they don’t quite stand a chance of getting a very good grade.
Instead of creating the standard fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice questions, you might make your quizzes more enjoyable and interactive by using pictures to help students get their point across. Most ESL resources rely heavily on pictures because of the communicate meaning nearly as effectively as written language and thus they can be used to facilitate the acquisition of reading skills. You might make your reading quiz into a matching game, connect-the-dots or something else — and you don’t have to make them easier, either. Throwing in random images or trying to trick students with nearly identical pictures is a good way to get them thinking about the text.
Related: 35 ESL Games to Use in the Classroom
Produce Live Recreations
After you finish reading a passage — in class or as homework — you can make sure your students are properly digesting the text by organizing a live recreation of it. For this to work, the passage will need to be a story with plot and characters that your students can act out in front of one another.
You should avoid giving them too much direction with regards to how they should create their play, and you should also be sure to mix up the groups, so students of different reading levels are working together to put on the show. If you can, you might also create groups of ESL students from different backgrounds, so they have to use English to communicate with one another to organize the play, too.
Hunt for Comprehension
What are reading comprehension activities but text-based treasure hunts? Treasure hunts are undeniably fun, so if you can transfer the same energy to your reading lessons, you are sure to elicit more enjoyment from your ESL kids.
There are plenty of ways to do this. You might start with clues to crucial information within your texts that lead to answers to questions on your next reading quiz. In this case, the reward for correctly deciphering your clues (and interacting properly with the passage) will be a good grade.
Of course, you can also go more literal with your treasure hunt and create a passage with actual clues to real-world treasures. You might hide goodies around the classroom or around the school campus and split your class into teams (again with varied reading levels and language proficiencies) to get them reading in depth and thinking about the text.
Solve the Mystery
Cause and effect is an important component of most reading lessons — and it is also a prominent feature of mystery stories. When reading mysteries, readers need to be able to track the course of events by paying attention to the effects and their potential causes. While reading mystery-based texts is fun, you might take it a step further and have your class work together to solve the mystery as a group. You can do this by breaking up a mystery passage into different components, each with clues pointing to certain culprits. Then, you might have your students create cause-and-effect maps that help them deduce whodunnit. You can have each kid (or group) pitch their ideas in front of the class before providing the final passage that reveals the right answer.
Unlike speaking, reading simply doesn’t come naturally — and ESL kids need extra special instruction. By making reading lessons more fun, you can make reading English feel less frustrating and encourage a classroom full of strong, confident readers.