Reading for EAL Learners

Speed Reading Promises Are Too Good to Be True, Scientists Find –  Association for Psychological Science – APS

Reading plays an integral role in any learners school life and this is especially true for our EAL learners.

Pauline Gibbons (2002) suggests that teachers need to break planning for reading instruction into three parts. Firstly, what activities will you plan for prior to reading the text? Activities could include:

  • Predicting what the text is about from the title, key visuals or keywords
  • Pre-teach essential vocabulary. What vocabulary you teach will depend on your learners proficiency in English. For example, beginners should probably focus on no more than five words that are essential to understanding the text. Whilst more proficient language users can deal with more words possibly up to ten at any one time.
  • In groups, learners could brainstorm questions that they want to find answers to in the text
  • Sharing any prior knowledge / building background is essential for EAL learners prior to reading. This will enable them to make explicit links from their prior learning with what they will read.

Secondly, Gibbons (2002) suggests that teachers need to plan for during reading activities. These could include:

  • Having suitable during reading activities is crucial for EAL learners. Even beginner EAL learners can access complex texts if suitable scaffolding is used.
  • Skimming and scanning for essential information – practice in skimming and scanning is really helpful for EAL learners. I often get my beginners to skim and scan the text to find the essential vocabulary we have investigated during pre-reading activities. Other skimming and scanning activities can include locating answers to questions.
  • Read alouds. EAL learners benefit greatly when a more proficient language user models effective reading. Read alouds happen where a teacher reads a text aloud to model reading. The teacher can model skills such as predicting, clarifying, summarising and questioning. Summarising in particular is a difficult skill for EAL learners to master and the teacher can play a vital role in modelling how to summarise a text.

Thirdly, post reading activities. Gibbons (2002) suggests there are a number of ways that a teacher can use a text after reading. These include:

  • A focus on the language of the text. This might include a focus on a particular grammar point, idioms, or the particular text type or genre that has been read. Once learners have been exposed to a text it can be used as a tool to develop language awareness and promote language development.
  • Allow learners to respond to a text creatively, for instance, through drama, role play or an activity such as hot seating.
  • Focus deeply on the text by using information transfer activities. Such activities are designed in such a way so that the learner has to return to the text again and again to transfer information.

Gibbons (2002) book Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning goes into a lot more detail on the areas above. I hope the summary above will entice you into reading her book for further advice and suggested activities. It is a fantastic book in supporting EAL learners in mainstream classrooms.

As well as Gibbons (2002) planning framework for supporting your EAL learners during reading, here are some other strategies that can be used.

  • Jigsaw reading – Jigsaw reading is a great approach to reading for EAL learners if it is done properly!
    • In jigsaw reading you separate a text into different parts.
    • Each learner / group reads their section of the text. For beginner EAL learners, I would suggest pairing them with a more proficient English speaker and where possible, from the same language background.
    • They are guided in their reading by questions they have to answer (provided by the teacher).
    • Questions, when answered, will be used to communicate with other learners, after the group has read their section of the text.
    • Once the group has finished reading their section, learners now form new groups.
    • Next, they explain to their new group what they have read (from the questions they have answered), the others listen and complete the grid that you have provided with all of the questions that students have to answer on them.
    • Once they have finished get feedback to check understanding.
  • Margin questions – margin questions are a great strategy with any EAL learner from beginner to more advanced. Questions are placed around a text that point to where the answer is. For EAL learners that are new to English / beginners this helps to take away some of the problems of locating answers to questions, thus, focusing on comprehending the answer.
  • Pre teach key vocabulary – vocabulary understanding is essential. Our EAL learners must be taught vocabulary related to a text that they will read. To what extent EAL learners are taught vocabulary will depend on their proficiency in English and also their home or first language (L1). I have found beginners should only be pre taught around 5 new words that are essential to the text. In contrast, you can always use more words with more proficient EAL learners. Pre teaching vocabulary strategies that I would recommend include:
    • Matching pictures to words
    • L1 translations of keywords
    • Sentences with words used in context
    • Learners underline in the text where they see the keyword
    • Matching words to student friendly definitions of the words
    • Including parts of speech (verb, noun, adjective etc.) in the word
    • Frayer model / 4 square strategy
    • Beginner EAL learners need practice in saying and writing the keywords
  • Beginners need to understand overall meaning first
    • Beginner EAL learners need to understand the overall meaning of the text first. This can be done by checking prior knowledge and building background in the text, using effective questioning and pre teaching essential vocabulary related to the text.
  • First language / Immersive Reader / Other translation tools
    • First language (L1) can play an integral role in developing an EAL learners reading skills in the additional language (English). Luckily there are a number of tools that teachers can use to translate text into the learners L1. Many translated texts are also available to buy online. Mantra Lingua or World Stories are good places to look!
    • Microsoft’s Immersive reader is really helpful for EAL learners and use of L1
    • Word / Word Online / Google Translate all have the ability to translate texts but this comes with a warning! Translations may not always be accurate
  • Reciprocal reading
    • Reciprocal reading develops learners reading skills. Some of the EAL learners I have taught have limited skills in reading a text. Therefore, they need support in developing their reading skills. Reciprocal reading is a great strategy for this but for EAL learners it will scaffolding through teacher modelling. Reciprocal reading teaches skills such as: summarising, questioning and predicting.
  • Underlining or highlighting key parts of a text. Beginner EAL learners will need support in locating and identifying essential information from a text. Underlining or highlighting essential information can help take away some of the pressure of locating essential information. Thus allowing learners to focus on making meaning.
  • Direct Activities Related to Text (DARTs) – The Bell Foundations’ classroom support strategies suggests a number of DARTs including:
    • Labelling
    • Matching
    • Sequencing
    • Gap fills

EAL learners need scaffolding when reading. Teachers need to plan for before, during and after reading activities. A range of approaches and activities can be used to provide EAL learners with opportunities to engage in texts.

If you are interested in other blog posts I have written regarding reading see:

Gibbons, P. (2002) Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning. Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. Heinemann. Portsmouth

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