Teaching Beginning Reading Skills to ELL 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.

There are some great instructional strategies to promote the development beginning reading skills of your English Language Learners. This lesson lays out those strategies to ensure your students succeed.

Basic Reading Skills

You teach a class of beginner ELL students and your goal is to lead the class to success in reading. But you notice that your students are at different levels. For example, you notice that Ana can pronounce many sounds but she lacks a strong vocabulary, while Cecilia cannot pronounce many sounds. This makes you wonder, what are the basic skills needed for ELL students to become strong readers?

Keep in mind that beginner ELL students will be at many levels of reading. For this reason, it is best to stick to the most basic skills because the elementary abilities in reading are the foundation to support more advanced reading levels. The basic reading skills that apply to beginners are: phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, fluency with text, and comprehension. Let's go ahead and explore each of these skills so that you can apply them to your class.

Phonemic Awareness

Whether you want your students to read aloud or silently, phonemic awareness is the key to understanding words correctly. Later on, phonemic awareness gets your ELL students spelling and reading correctly. To teach your students how to reproduce sounds correctly, a first good exercise is simply to read aloud a text to then have students read it aloud as well.

Depending on how students do, you can make a list with the words your students are not pronouncing correctly. Then, you can add to the list a couple of words that follow the same phonemic pattern. For example, say your students are reading 'th' like 'd'. The word they read in the text is 'that'. Emphasize the correct sound of 'th' and give other examples of words with this phonemic pattern such as 'thin' or 'this.'

Another good option is to have a list of phonemes you want your ELL students to recognize while reading. For example, say you want them to recognize the phonetic sound 'e' as in 'bed'. Ask your students to find and underline all the words in the text that correspond to this phonetic sound.

A third good option is to read to your students a list of new words they will see in the text. Ask them to find and underline the words you read to make sure they are able to identify them just by listening to them.

Lastly, keep in mind that an accent might not go away regardless of all your efforts. However, an accent is different from phonemic awareness in that an ELL student can keep sounding like a foreigner while s/he is pronouncing correctly, which is what phonemic awareness is about.

Vocabulary Development

The new words your students see in the text can intimidate them. To avoid this, make sure to pre-teach vocabulary by using images that make evident the meaning of new words. Also, you could give your students a definition and put the word in an sentence that is easy to understand. For example, say a word in the text is 'sauce'. A sentence like 'The spaghetti sauce is very tasty' or 'Lisa stained her shirt with tomato sauce' helps students a lot.

Vocabulary development is also possible through teaching your ELL students to guess meaning from context. For example, if a sentence in your text says 'The oak is such a beautiful tree,' your students can certainly guess what 'oak' is.

Finally, to keep vocabulary alive and to help your students remember it, you could have a list of new words posted in the class. A list for each new reading is a great idea because students would keep looking at the words every day as they attend class. Also, your students can create a diary with a list of new words they learned on a given date.

All these vocabulary development activities have the purpose to have your ELL students mastering new words every time they read something new.

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