Guided Reading Strategies for ESL Students

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

In this lesson, we will explore a teaching method known as guided reading and discuss how you can use it to help your ESL students become independent readers.

Guided Reading for ESL students

Guided reading is an approach in which teachers assist small groups of students who are at the same reading level. Students in these small groups generally also display similar reading behaviors and may have the same native country. Guided reading can be particularly beneficial to ESL students, as it allows teachers to provide the more focused attention that ESL students may need and address students' needs on the road to becoming independent readers.

When developing and implementing guided reading strategies, keep in mind that they should be motivational. After all, ESL students need encouragement because, from their perspective, reading is a huge and often scary challenge. Now, let's explore guided reading strategies for ESL students at three different stages of the reading process.


Motivating Students to Read

Let's put ourselves in our students' shoes. Imagine you know the basics of a foreign language and you must read a text in that language. You are afraid that others will be excel at reading while you struggle and are left behind. This stress can turn students off to reading the text before they even start.

Before reading begins, make sure students relax and feel comfortable about the reading assignment. We want them to look at reading as an enjoyable experience, not one to feel stressed about. You can do this by emphasizing that reading is a pleasure because we get to live stories and learn new things.

Reviewing Vocabulary

Vocabulary reviewing is also essential. No one knows better than you what words your students may not know. You might give them a list of words they'll see in the text to learn before reading. Or, you can ask students to quickly scan the text and underline the words they do not know, then explain those vocabulary terms to the group.

Students can have fun while learning new vocabulary. You can have your students talk about the new vocab terms and guess the meanings before you clarify for the group. Students can also use the new words in sentences or even draw a picture of the word, which is particularly appealing to elementary students. These same strategies can be applied to idiomatic expressions, language structures, and so forth.

Making Predictions

Another way to get students interested and engaged in the text is to have them predict what will happen in the text. Based on the title, they can brainstorm about what the text will be about and what the conclusion will be. They can also use their skimming skills to familiarize themselves with the main idea, and the teacher can give clues about what the text will contain. (Be mindful not to provide a summary of the text, as this doesn't challenge students to improve their reading comprehension skills. And be careful not to give away the story!).


Put yourself back in the ESL student's shoes again. Imagine you're reading and you come across a new word no one discussed before. So, you assume that the other students all know the word except you, and you begin to stress out and feel discouraged about reading. This scenario is all too common, and so it's important to encourage your guided reading group to ask about unfamiliar words, expressions and grammar as they come across them while reading.

Students can take turns reading aloud, or they can read silently. Either way, it can be helpful to have students read a couple of paragraphs and then ask them a few questions to ensure the group understands the content. Ask questions that can be answered by the content of the text as well as indirect questions that ask students to reflect on the text, like 'What is your opinion on...?' and 'Why do you think...?'

If the group has trouble answering these questions, you may need a change of text to better match the students' reading level. If they do appear to be grasping the text, the discussion can get students talking about the text in a relaxed way and motivated to continue with their reading.

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