One of the trickiest parts to teach of any TEFL textbook is the reading section. As an inexperienced teacher I remember thinking, “Well this will be easy, I guess I’ll just have them read the article…but if I do that, it might take some of them the whole period to complete…if they’re just looking at the book the whole class time, why am I here…wait, maybe I’m supposed to do more than that.”
If you find yourself going through a similar thought process to the one above you may want to read on. If you already feel confident teaching reading and just want a few new reading activities, click on the link below. Teaching reading in the TEFL classroom can be fun, communicative and still achieve the desired goal. Here’s how.
Don’t Forget the Basics
Before getting into reading games and activities, make sure that you are at least covering the essentials. One of the reasons that teaching reading can be difficult, is because teachers often don’t feel confident with how to do it. Here are the basic phases of a reading lesson:
- Raise your students’ interest- This can be done with the use of a short video or picture that introduces the reading topic in an interesting way. For example, if you are doing a reading about pollution, why not include a series of photos of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Ocean Gyre). Get a short conversation going before the students even open their books.
- Activate Schema and Pre-teach vocabulary- Basically, you want to jump start your students’ memory. As a foreign language, there are many words that a student may be familiar with but are not at the tip of their tongue. Do a brainstorm or activity before the reading to get them warmed up. Extremely essential, is to pre-teach vocabulary that you know your students will have problems with. When planning the lesson, read the text and underline the words you don’t think they’ll know.
*NOTE* Remember to think about how you plan to explain these new words! Use examples, pictures, synonyms, etc. but have this planned out beforehand. There is nothing more painful than watching someone try and explain difficult vocabulary on the spot.
- Assign tasks- Similar to listening activities, you shouldn’t expect your students to understand the whole text in one quick read. Set a task that they can achieve, revisit the text, set a new task. I’ll go into more detail about what these tasks should be in the section “You’re Teaching a Skill Not Just Vocab”.
- Concept check- This should really be going on at each phase of the reading lesson, but especially after a first read. Once you clear up any confusion they may have encountered on the first read, they will return to the text with more confidence and will be able to understand it more clearly.
- Follow up activities- Now that you’ve got all this new vocab rolling around in your students’ minds, make sure you use it. Potentially, the specific reading topic wasn’t something that your students were particularly interested in. Now is your chance to turn it into something they will activate them. The sky is the limit for follow up activities, but some things to try are role-playing, short talks, making a comic, debates, etc.
Reading Doesn’t Have to Be Boring
Especially with secondary students or younger, motivating them to read can feel like a losing battle. One way to turn the tide is to make reading activities game based. This can be as simple as setting strict time limits for tasks that need to be completed and awarding team points for accuracy.
There are also lots of games that can be played, especially with younger learners, during the reading. For example, why not try “reading tag” where one student reads a sentence or two, stops, passes a ball or stuffed animal to another student who has to pick up where the other student left off. This is a good way to keep students following along and to check on their pronunciation. This particular activity works best in a circle.
Another problem with motivating students during reading activities is the topic. You may be teaching an out of date textbook with no real relevance to the modern world or simply have a topic that your students will find dull. Change it! There are loads of reading materials online and likely, you’ll be able to find something that meets a similar goal to the one in the book. If you absolutely have to teach the reading section of the textbook, make sure you have ways of making it relevant and interesting to your students before and after the actual reading.
You’re Teaching a Skill, NOT just Vocabulary
Remembering this point is a game changer. Reading is an essential component to almost every standardized test that your students will need to ace sometime in their future (TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, etc.) Make the focus of the lesson about those skills and less about memorizing vocab or mastering a new grammar point.
Most textbooks organize themselves in such a way that they are working on different reading skills in the activities on the page. Quite often though, teachers aren’t aware of what these activities are trying to do. Being aware of the types of reading skills means that you can set them up better and make them more interesting.
Some skills that you’ll be teaching as a TEFL teacher include: skimming, scanning, predictive reading, using context clues, summarizing, paraphrasing, organizing paragraphs by topic and more. I’ve included a few engaging reading activities for some of these skills in the pdf below. Download it and try it out in your classroom.
Reading in the TEFL classroom is necessary. If you know why you’re doing it, how to do it and how to make it engaging for your students, it doesn’t have to be a page to dread.