Simple Reading Strategies For Language Learners

Reading in another language is a wonderfully rewarding experience. Developing your second language literacy skills involves time and persistence, however, as you work through piecing together vocabulary, grammar, and meaning.

Here are some tips to help you navigate foreign language texts.

1. Pick material that’s at or just above your level. Reading texts that are too advanced will soon frustrate you. A good rule of thumb is to quickly scan the first few paragraphs for new and unknown vocabulary. If you count 5 or more unknown words, then it’s above your level. Skip it and move on.

2. Get out a pen or pencil and take notes in the margins while you read. When you finish reading a complex sentence or when you arrive at the end of a paragraph, take a moment to summarize what you have just read. Often times learners will go through a passage reading word-for-word. By the time they reach the end of the page, they’ve no idea what the text was actually about. Use this easy summary strategy to force yourself to make sense of the text as you read.

3. Connect to the text on a personal level to make it more memorable. When you’re learning a language, you’re learning to read, not necessarily reading to learn. As such, when you’re done with a passage or chapter, try to connect the ideas and concepts back to your life, personalizing the story as much as possible. Here are some great questions to connect to reading:

  • Have I read this story or something like it in my first language?
  • What would I have done in this situation?
  • How is this story similar to what happens in my own country/culture?

Again, when you take a moment at the end of a reading session to connect the story to your own life, it makes it easier to remember the vocabulary later on. This is as much a memory strategy as it is a reading strategy.

4. Read when you’re feeling alert. When you are struggling through a text in your second language, you’re giving your brain a massive workout. I always find that even after a single page of a difficult text in Spanish that I’m ready for a siesta. Choose a time when you have extra brain cells alert and ready to focus all of your attention on the task of reading. If you find yourself yawning and rubbing your eyes, then it’s time to get up and take a break.

In summary, these are easy strategies all language learners can incorporate to read strategically. Try them the next time you read. When you go back to review the article or vocabulary, you’ll be amazed at how much you’re able to remember!

Educator Advocacy Letter for English Language Learners


[Your State’s Name] State Department of Education

[Your Superintendent’s Name] State Superintendent of Schools

[DOE Address]

[DOE City and State]

To Whom It May Concern:

As an educator in the field of early childhood education I have a concern regarding English Language Learners (ELL) reaching linguistic proficiency. My authentic learning experience as an educator within the classroom revealed the harm that takes place academically when an ELL is pulled from the classroom two to three times a week for 30-45 minutes a day. This action creates a disconnect between the ELL and his/her classroom social interaction and normal daily classroom routines. In society today, schools have experienced a dramatic increase in enrollment of ELL’s; this is due to the immigration and migration of families to the United States from different parts of the world. There is a need to bring into existence a strategy that will increase the English language proficiency ability among ELL’s. The state of [Your State’s Name] public elementary schools have experienced linguistic and dialect differences within the classroom, which proves many ELL’s are challenged to perform at literacy proficiency levels, meet state standards and state assessments. Enrollment within the schools in society will continue to increase each year with ELL’s and it is imperative to ensure the school systems accommodate all ELL’s and help them reach their linguistic potential.

Although there are methods already in place within the [your state’s name] school systems to prevent isolation and low linguistic proficiency, such as the pull out method, an improved strategy is needed. There is an alternate system that is designed to improve the linguistic deficiency among ELL’s. The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol is a program that trains teachers to integrate academic language development into their lessons, through this method students are not pulled out of class, but they remain and are afforded the opportunity to learn and practice English as it is used in the textbooks and lectures in each academic discipline.

This program allows teachers to modify their instruction so they can meet the ELL where they are linguistically and build upon what they already know.

As an advocate and future educator, I strongly recommend this program for all teachers and schools. Our goal is to ensure that every ELL reaches their linguistic potential. The critical urgency to develop a strategy that will accommodate incoming ELL’s requires the support of students as learners, parents as support, teachers as instructors and the state as a resource.

Thank you for your consideration of the SIOP program in advance.


[Educator’s Name]

Tips on How to Motivate Your English Language Learners to Study ESL

Rod Ellis defines motivation as referring to “the efforts which learners put into learning an L2 as a result of their need or desire to learn” (1995).

The two main types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic, can affect the learning process. Intrinsic motivation is task motivation that derives from an inherent interest in the learning tasks while extrinsic motivation refers to the external influences that affect the strength of learner’s motivation such as that which comes from teachers and parents.

While some students have their own intrinsic motivation or external motivation, other students need to be motivated to learn. There are many things that you can do as a teacher in order to motivate students to learn. These strategies are based on various articles I have read below.

Students are more likely to want to learn when they appreciate the value of the classroom activities, and when they believe that they will succeed if they apply reasonable effort. Hence, “student motivation to learn is an acquired competence developed through general experiences but stimulated most directly through modeling, communication of expectations, and direct instruction or socialization by significant others – especially teachers and parents” (Brophy, p.40) When it comes to lower performing learners, teachers realize that such learners are accustomed to experiencing failure, hence, the teacher’s task is to help them experience success.

Here are some strategies and tips that may motivate students and stimulate them to learn.

  • Provide a supportive environment and establish a trusting bond. “Motivation is the feeling nurtured primarily by the teacher in the learning situation” (Ellis, 1994). Greet your students, interact with them, indicate a personal concern about them as individuals.
  • Cater levels of activity to students’ level – try and make sure that the learning tasks pose a reasonable challenge to the students – neither too difficult nor too easy.
  • Help students recognize links between effort outcome – learning is a long term plan of effort and investment.
  • Break down learning steps into digestable pieces.
  • Minimize student’s performance anxiety during learning activities.

Articles on Motivating Students

Brophy, J. Synthesis of Research for Motivating Students to Learn. Educational Leadership, Oct. 1987. p.40-48. (article summary)

Ellis, R. (1994) The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.