7 Tips for Teaching Reading Comprehension to ESL Adults

By Altiné Moumouni
Properly learning to read and comprehend written words is essential because reading is a doorway to advanced and higher education, including in science and language

Properly learning to read and comprehend written words is essential because reading is a doorway to advanced and higher education, including in science and language.  

As a high school math teacher, I come across this issue all the time. The bottom line is that students can’t read and understand a science book if they can’t read in general.

Use these seven tips for teaching reading comprehension for ESL adults to help increase your students’ chances to succeed in life. 

1 Encourage your students to make predictions

Making predictions is an excellent skill for both young and adult ESL students to learn. Predicting the end of a story will encourage your students to discuss and get them thinking in English. 

To share their predictions with their classmates, they will need to practice their vocabularygrammar, and speaking skills, reinforcing their understanding of the English language in their minds.

In addition, making predictions is an excellent way to develop creative writing skills. For example, you can take the first half of a text and challenge students to continue writing. It will help your students improve their reading comprehension and their writing skills

I like this strategy because it encourages students to be more creative and increases class engagement and student participation.

Another thing you can do is also to choose a book or an article with a thought-provoking title. Before reading, ask your students what they think the book or article is about based on the title.

2 Pair students with abilities 

Pairing up students with mixed abilities is an excellent way to teach reading comprehension to young and adult ESL students. 

For example, you can ask the students to discuss the text or summarize the story, which will further expand their speaking, reading, and writing skills. 

Additionally, you can ask each student to write a summary of the text and then read it to the group. Also, students can exchange their summaries and give feedback to one another.

3 Encourage class discussion

A good reading comprehension class should include class discussions, allowing ESL students to communicate and develop other sub-skills in their ESL development, including critical thinking, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

During class, ensure you minimize your teacher talking time and maximize your students’ talking time. 

After reading, ask your students simple and easy questions to initiate class discussions and exchanges, and then let your students do all the talking. 

Maybe one student could take the author’s perspective, and another student could take an opposing view. You can even break your class down into several speed debates about 7 minutes long or less. 

Class discussions help students learn how to think critically and plan arguments. And, encouraging class discussion can be an excellent way to teach reading comprehension for young and adult ESL students.

4 Encourage students to ask and answer questions

Encouraging students to ask and answer questions is also a great way to build on predictions and pre-existing knowledge. 

Here’s a suggestion on how you can implement this strategy in your class:

  • First, you can check what your students already know about the text and author before reading. 
  • Second, ask them to highlight any new information.
  • Third, ask your students to write two or three questions they want the text they are about to read to answer. 
  • And then let them read the text to find out if their questions are answered. 

5 Ask students to translate text to their native language and translate it back again to English

This strategy works well if you can also read and understand your students’ native languages to ensure the translation is well done. You can also pair up students to check each other’s translations. 

Also, for this strategy to be effective, choose short phrases from the text and see if students can translate them into their native language. Then, choose another group to translate the text back into English. 

Look at what stayed consistent and what changed. What was challenging for your students to translate, and how does it affect the meaning or topic discussed? 

6 Ask your students to summarize what they read

After reading a text, ask your students to summarize it in their own words. For example, you can ask your class to read a short story and then write a summary in just one sentence or two. 

Your students’ summary should answer the following question: what was the main point in the story?

7 Encourage your students to read independently in and out of class

I haven’t implemented this yet, but I am thinking of finding ways to help my students love reading. Personally, reading changed my life, making me a better person. Through reading, I learned life-changing habits that helped me start several businesses. 

The truth is that the more students read, the higher their score will be in all subjects. For example, test scores generally go way up for students who can read fast enough to answer questions during the allotted testing period.

Written by Altiné Moumouni for Teflnet January 2022
Altiné is from Toronto, Canada, and currently teaches mathematics at a high school in Guangzhou, China. He has a master's degree in International Economics and Finance from Ryerson University in Canada and is passionate about helping people worldwide through his blogs. He writes about TEFL Teaching and Health and Fitness. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, running, traveling, and anything that allows him to experience the beauty of nature. You can find him at altinify.com.
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