Have you ever tried have your ESL students read aloud, either as a whole class, individually, or to each other? Sometimes this is a strategy that works pretty well, but often times you get students who are not paying attention while someone else is reading, or reading ahead to mentally practice what they’re going to read, shy students, students who are nervous about vocabulary pronunciation, and so on.
So how do you help build students’ confidence with reading out loud, and make it fun? Easy! (…ish!) If you are teaching college level ESL students (like I am), have them read aloud to children, especially preschool or kindergarten age. Children are very easy audiences for ESL learners…children are usually active participants in the reading aloud process (they ask questions, they make comments, they get excited). In the past, when I’ve had my ESL students read aloud to children, they really enjoyed the reaction they got from the kids. They also said that they were never worried about pronunciation, because kids don’t really pay attention to that. They also said it was just plain fun hanging out with children because they got to talk a little bit about their culture (they chose pictures books based on their culture to read out loud). ESL students are also likely to put a little more effort into reading out loud to children, because it’s a lot like play-acting…they have to be aware of how their voice affects the reading of the story. ESL students also get to work on creating a dialogue over what they’re reading. Sometimes they ask the children to respond, or ask what happens next, or follow up a page with a tag question (“That rabbit is really cute, isn’t he?”). Also, small children really respond to being read to – it helps them with processing and language skills. So overall, having ESL students read to small children is mutually beneficial.
Now you might be wondering…”How do I find children to read to?” This is the slightly harder, but more rewarding part. I am lucky enough that my university is located in a downtown area, and the public library is only about four blocks away from my office. I have worked with my public library for a few years now to collaborate on my ESL reading classes. This includes doing tours of the library, hosting a conversation hour, and so on. The library hosts a preschool story time every day, and we have participated in this before – parents bring their young children and the ESL students take turns reading the picture book for the day. So the first thing you could do is approach your public library and ask if they would allow your ESL class to participate in a similar event. I also know of a colleague who has taken her ESL reading class to her daughter’s preschool with very positive results. If you have a preschool near your classroom, you may approach them about forming a reading partnership. You could even bring your class on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis to build on the benefits of reading aloud!
So if you want your students to get past bored, repetitive, wooden reading aloud, try out this idea! Good luck!