Developing ELL Reading Skills for Social & Academic Purposes

Instructor: Jennifer Garcia O'Neill

Jennifer has taught ELL classes more than 10 years and has her Master's of Education in ESL.

ELL students need to be able to read text written for both social and academic purposes. This lesson discusses reading for different purposes and various instructional strategies to help ELL students develop their reading skills.

ELL Students and Reading for Social and Academic Purposes

Have you ever taught an ELL student who was able to easily understand notes from their friends, but struggled with understanding information in class material? The student probably had a better understanding of social language than academic language.

Let's take a look at the difference between reading for social purposes and reading for academic purposes, as well as related ideas for teaching reading.

Reading for Social Purposes

Social language is the simple, informal language we use to communicate with friends, which may include slang and gestures. Examples of reading for social purposes are reading letters, emails or text messages from friends or family. ELL students begin to develop their social reading skills sooner than their academic reading skills.

You can help ELL students develop their reading skills by building upon their existing social reading skills. Provide informal reading opportunities, such as letters written by students for other students about a relevant topic.

Reading for Academic Purposes

Academic language is more complex and is the language used in the classroom. Examples of reading for academic purposes are reading instructions for a school project or an excerpt from a history book.

You can help ELL students increase their reading comprehension skills by building their vocabulary, especially their academic vocabulary. Identify key academic vocabulary and make sure to teach students the meaning of these words. A good place to begin is by teaching cognates, or words in a student's native language that look similar to English words and have the same meaning. For example, there are many cognates in Spanish and English such as 'important' and 'importante.'

Promoting ELL Students' Reading Development

Many strategies to help ELL students develop their reading skills can be used with both social and academic texts, such as previewing a text, focusing on key vocabulary, and using frequent comprehension checks.

Previewing a Text

ELL students benefit from being exposed to the text before reading it. You can use a variety of strategies to have students preview a new text, such as a picture walk. For this strategy, give students the text and then have students look through and discuss all pictures and/or graphics. This preview of the text helps students to better understand the story.

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