The pressure on educators in today’s environment is nothing short of brutal. Achieving a balance between individualizing instruction and ensuring that all students are performing against standards requires comprehensive expertise, the ability to adapt to immediate needs of students and classrooms, and saintly patience.
This balancing act is especially challenging for educators in ESL classrooms. They not only have to deal with the same variations in skills, knowledge and experience that every classroom teacher must face; they must also engage students of varying cultural and linguistic backgrounds, making for an especially challenging mix of communications and social skills.
So, what kinds of reading activities can we use to teach all of these different students and engage them for maximum effectiveness? There is certainly no shortage of great techniques and ideas out there that we can mine. We need only to look to resources like The Internet TESL Journal, Dave’s ESL Café, ManyThings.org, and the US State Department’s English Teaching Forum for great techniques as well as background research.
Here are just a few seed questions to help you think about designing engaging ESL reading activities:
What’s your sign? The world we live in is awash with language in the form of signs and advertisements. Looking at signage out in the world around us not only offers wonderful, relevant reading material, it gives students short, quick messages to read and interpret. ManyThings.org offers an archive of over 700 photographs of signs to pull from at http://www.manythings.org/signs/.
What’s your story? Reading stories along with audio recordings is an excellent way to solidify reading and comprehension skills. We can maximize student engagement by choosing stories that are directly relevant to the cultural backgrounds of our students. Not only will this engage individual students, but it will provide fodder for cross-cultural conversation and understanding. Further, in highlighting individual students’ cultures, it allows each to shine and find pride in their background. For stories, check out Folk Tales from Around the World and the World of Tales.
What’s cool? Maybe the most effective way to engage students in reading is to select activities that are of genuine interest to them as individuals. What are the things that they think are, well, cool? Where are their passions? Designing activities that plug into those interests has incredible potential for maximum effectiveness. Websites like How Stuff Works offer endless resources for allowing students to read and learn about the topics that they find most interesting. And when they’re genuinely interested, they are most likely to want to read more, discuss more and write more.
Finding the “sweet spot” for designing ESL reading activities requires a great arsenal of tactics, tools and techniques. But if we can create and execute activities that teach the essential skills through harnessing each student’s passions and interests, we are that much more likely to help them learn successfully.
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