Teaching English to speakers of other languages is a daunting task, because one must create both the interest in the material and cultivate the motivation to continue pursuing excellence. In comparison with many other languages, the English language is particularly difficult:
- Its verb forms are often irregular
- Its words are culled from dozens of other languages
- It changes colloquially causing confusion among new speakers
One of the best things for ESL students is to complement reading with activities that make the readings engaging and interesting which ultimately creates a greater learning experience.
Activities that combine reading with listening are among the most effective reading activities for speakers of other languages. Students simply learn better when a text is read to them, and they can read along with it.
While this exercise is obviously a simple combination between a reading assignment and a listening assignment, studies have shown that students learn more when they can both hear what they are expected to learn and follow along with it, going over particularly difficult pieces of text if necessary.
The importance of listening to the English language as it is spoken is taken for granted as a worthwhile learning activity. ESL teachers often instruct students to watch television, listen to the radio, and spend time listening to people speak with them in English. However, having the text of a piece of literature in addition to the listening exercise allows the student to see how speech is represented in writing—an important piece of the puzzle that simply watching television lacks.
"Skimming and scanning" is an important concept in ESL which, when applied in an active way to short stories, can make all the difference in how much a student learns.
Stories, as opposed to essays or speeches, work best with this activity:
- Choose a shorter short story (less than a page in length) for every period of instruction.
- Allow the student to skim the story for the main concept, and scan for details and words with which they are familiar.
- Once they have done so within an allotted period of time, allow them to participate in an activity to act out or represent the story. Even if a student cannot finish a story within the allotted period of time, maintain the timeframe as a guideline to them. They will not always have as much time as they need to work through a text, and the timeframe will allow them to focus on what’s important.
Once the allotted period of time has passed, ask them to represent the story with a picture, to summarize it aloud, or to act it out with a friend or partner. After a while, they will begin to learn what to look for, and how to represent it.
Chances are good that you’ll have a difficult time finding an activity to bolster a concept at some point. Don’t beat yourself up over it! Teaching English to speakers of other languages is a difficult task that requires you to think on your toes, and many times you’ll be at a loss for activities that will reach your students in their current situation.
The Internet is your savior, a veritable oasis of good ideas from which you can glean the best and most effective options for your class. When you do a search for assignments on the Internet, you should look for:
- Websites with a track record in ESL instruction
- Activities that speak to the students’ interests
Some competitive students will like timed activities that will allow them to recycle some of what they’ve learned. Others will want concepts to apply in a meaningful way. For every student who enjoys filling in the blanks, another will prefer a crossword puzzle that augments their reading or a word search full of vocabulary terms.
If you can’t find an activity that will do, make your own! Don’t stop being creative and interested just because the material seems scarce. Seek instruction, and relay what you’ve found in reading activities to your students.