Reading is essential to language proficiency growth.
However, reading activities are pointless if students do not engage and actually read the text. So, how do we get our students to engage with a text? This can be especially difficult as the school year drags on for students who dislike reading in any language. As I was recently considering an upcoming reading task and ways to ensure that students would engage in the reading, I reviewed several methods I’ve used in the past. I’ll share some tips below. The first 4 are general strategies that should guide the later activities described, which are more practical.
1. Get students to buy into the importance of reading: Constantly remind students that everything you do, especially reading, leads to better proficiency, which is the ultimate goal and what will be assessed. Unfortunately, such buy-in is very difficult to achieve and maintain throughout the year.
2. Vary reading activities: Use different types of activities and methods every time your students read. Several of the techniques below help with variation.
3. Be sure the reading is comprehensible: Nothing causes a student to disengage faster than an incomprehensible text. Use embedded readings, thorough vocabulary preparation etc. to ensure comprehensibility.
4. Read engaging materials: This is probably the most valuable tip to ensure that students are actually reading. Give them something they will want to read. It can be funny, current, relevant, personal, cultural or suspenseful. It must be interesting.
5. Read aloud to the students: Read slowly, with inflection and sound effects. Watch students to be sure they are reading along. Stop to ask comprehension check questions of random students or make gestures. Ask for a translation of a simple term just to shake students from drifting off.
6. Include comprehension questions: There are two types – questions used as an assessment and questions used to guide reading. Questions for assessment are obviously used to evaluate a student’s ability to comprehend a text. More often, I use questions to guide reading. The act of reading the test and the input gained is more valuable than an assessment. So, the role of the questions is to force the student to keep reading. These questions can be based on small details.
7. Ask comprehension questions after reading: Give students a text and tell them they will be responsible for proving comprehension on a short quiz afterward (How old-fashioned is that?). Read the text aloud, in pairs or silently. Take the text back from them and give them the questions. Because these questions are answered without the text, they should not be based on small details.
8. Require students to create something based on the test: Underline certain parts and instruct students to represent them in drawing. Ask students to write a new ending, change a part or write from the point of view of a secondary character.
9. Read silently: If you’re accustomed to reading aloud, change things up a bit and ask students to read individually and silently. You’ll be surprised at how well they focus. Each student can read at his/her own pace.
10. Utilize various media: Sometimes it doesn’t feel like reading to students if it’s on the screen and not on a paper. Project a text on a smart board or share a presentation to computers from which students can read.