ESL EDUCATOR’S GUIDE: Tips for Teaching Reading to ESL Students

Kids Reading (Flickr photo by GoodNCrazy)
Kids Reading (Flickr photo by GoodNCrazy)

As teachers, we’ve all walked into a classroom with a scheduled reading assignment and had the entire class groan at another boring reading lesson at some point in our careers.

It’s easy to see why kids get bored so easily with reading assignments. Oftentimes, the assignments are boring, too difficult or simply aren’t age and level appropriate. Motivating ESL students to read is a tough business, and many teachers are often stumped as to how to make their reading assignments entertaining. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. There are plenty of online masters programs for teachers who want to expand their education, you can find all sorts of great information on teacher forums, and of course, you can always come back here for great classroom advice!

Here are some teaching tips for teaching reading to ESL students and some advice on how you can make your reading assignments more interesting and relevant to the age level that you are teaching.


1. Ask your students to scan a passage. Have them underline new words or grammatical structures.

2. Ask your students to read through the text once on their own. It’s important that your students are able to understand and isolate the main ideas and significant details of a reading assignment.

3. Talk about cause and effect in the story. It’s important for students to understand the reasons why something happens in a story. Talk about sequencing. Do compare and contrast exercises to strengthen your students’ understanding of what they are reading.

Here are some resources to help with talking about cause and effect:

4. Don’t hand out language exercises or comprehension tests for reading assignments. Play a word game or a reading game instead.

5. Don’t be afraid to read parts of the story aloud to your students.

6. Ask your students to read quietly and then play a game that focuses on the story being retold or reenacted in class.

7. Ask your students to have a look at titles, sub titles and pictures or photos. Encourage your students to make predictions about the story they’re about to read.

8. Encourage your students to make predictions about a reading passage wherever possible.

9. The appearance of a reading passage is important. Keep reading passages short and attractive. Pay attention to the attractiveness of a reading layout, the font and the type size.

10. Arrange some warm up and pre-reading activities for the class. Pre-reading activities go hand in hand with teaching reading in the classroom. These activities are designed to help students build their understanding of a reading passage before they actually begin reading it.

Don’t forget to check out this comprehensive list of ESL reading resources!

This monthly series is designed for ESL educators in countries all over the globe. As part of a new Blog Carnival called ESL Educators, I will be posting an informative article on English as a Second Language on the 20th of every month. This month, A Journey in TEFL is hosting the ESL Educators’ Blog Carnival. This month’s education carnival is on Motivating ESL Students to Read.

Check back for more articles, and if you’d that would like to contribute to our ESL Blog Carnival, please get in touch with me through the CONTACT page.

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. I'm an experienced businesswoman and have worked in many leadership positions in Asia. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. I started writing about my health journey in 2009 after being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. In 2014, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, which came with other massive health issues. These diagnoses were the start of my journey as a health advocate and patient leader. Since then, My Several Worlds has been recognized worldwide as a top site for AS, fibromyalgia, and chronic illness by WEGO Health and Healthline.

1 thought on “ESL EDUCATOR’S GUIDE: Tips for Teaching Reading to ESL Students

    Luria Learning

    (June 21, 2011 - 2:42 am)

    Thanks for this great article. I have been working with ESL students and have started using partner reading with them. I teach them sentence frames to use during partner reading and then have them read together. This increases their motivation and skills. Here is a video I took of two boys modeling partner reading with sentence frames:


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