Teacher asks: how to help ELL students with English reading comprehension?

"I have some problems about reading comprehension in English but my students don´t speak English. I want you to suggest for me some strategies about this theme and develop more interesting classes with them. I´ll be waiting for an answer. Thanks a lot."

Above question asked by an visitor after reading the activity article, "Reading Native Son":
In Topics: Helping my child with reading, Learning a second language
> 60 days ago



Jun 30, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

Believe it or not the use of Closed Captioned (CC) movies/television is an excellent way to teach reading.  Although there can be problems with captioning (errors), overall this is an excellent tool to help with reading.  Many children with learning problems have found CC to be of great value, as well.

I have known several non-English speakers who have learned to read by using CC.  You can pick a topic of general interest.  Watch a video then discuss or incorporate a hands on project that emphasizes key words and concepts.

CC is not only for the hearing impaired.  

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Additional Answers (2)

WendyZZZZZZ... writes:
Without knowing what country your teaching in and the English language level and age of your students, it's hard to recommend strategies/activities, but here's my best shot...

1. You'll want to develop their listening and speaking skills in English either first or in tandem with developing their reading comprehension. Their oral language skills will impact how much they understand what they read. If you're starting from the very beginning, speak the them in English constantly, and use a lot of gestures, physical activities, real-life photos, realia (real objects), etc.

2. Teach basic phonics, as well as common sight words and everyday vocabulary.

3. Introduce a book with only a handful of words per page, and pre-teach any words they aren't already familiar with by using the strategies mentioned in #1. Post the vocabulary words in the room, along with a visual (photo, etc.) that students can reference later. They can also make personal dictionaries with words and pics.

4. Before you read anything, talk about what they're about to read in order to tap into their prior knowledge. Then, do a picture walk. Turn pages, point to the pics, and get them to think ahead about what might happen. If all the students speak the same language, feel free to get them to talk to one another in their native language about what the story might entail.

5. As you're reading, point to the pictures (context clues), use gestures, and reference the vocabulary visuals posted in the room when you get to the vocabulary words you pre-taught. Talk about the story a little and ask students questions about what's happening as you read. There are lots of creative activities you can do and comprehension manipulatives you can use to make this questioning more interesting and active for your students. See the first article referenced at the bottom of this point.

6. After reading, have them summarize what they read or communicate the main idea. Even if they can't speak at all, they can draw pics. Most students can listen better than they can speak, so you can ask them specific questions and have them point to parts of the story, act it out, or somehow SHOW you they understand by using manipulatives.

7. Use graphic organizers to ramp up students' higher-order thinking skills. They're research-based and very effective for ELLs.

8. Utilize a lot of manipulatives (hands-on materials) all the time to tap into students' potential. These tools are also research-based. You can instruct with them and also have students use them to SHOW you they're comprehending (assessment).

The attached links include a couple of related blog posts I've written...
* Comprehension, a Multisensory Experience?
* 10 Easy Tips to Helps ELLs Tune in to Learning well as additional resources:
* Great hands-on products especially for ELLs
* National Assoc. for Bilingual Ed
* Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages

Good luck!
WendyZZZZZZZZZZ (find me on Twitter!)

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kidscanlearn writes:
Try Spell to Write and Read. You can find it at
This book works wonders with 'English as a second language' students or English speaking students. It can also be tailored to fit any age.
4-104 anyone can learn with this program even handicapped or challenged students.
> 60 days ago

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