Teaching those studying English as a second language how to learn to read and write is a process that can be greatly simplified with the right approach. Seasoned ESL have found that starting out with reading as opposed to writing is the number one step to success that eludes so many other programs.

Reading Comes First

Choose carefully the words or sentences you will introduce in class. Group them around a theme, vocabulary lesson or specific sound you are working on. If necessary, explain what some of the words mean. Depending on your ESL students’ backgrounds, you may want to explain the uses for an appliance or item you are reading about.

Prepare your students for the words or sentences they are going to read. Point out sounds that may be unusual to them, such as the “th” or “gh” combinations. Identify grammatical patterns, if you are reading a more advanced text, or explain the context of a paragraph with respect to a lesson they learned previously. Whenever possible, your ESL students should build on their already acquired knowledge when learning how to read in English.

Model proper enunciation of the sounds, and invite your students to imitate your articulation of the sounds.

Ask your students to pronounce the sounds in the words that contain them. Your students are now learning to read the words you indicate. Using the example of the “th” and “gh” consonant combinations, they may read “the,” “light” and “thought.”

Go a step further and encourage your students to now read the sentences that contain these words. Repeat this step over and over, until your students are comfortable reading the words with the “th” and “gh” combinations as well as the other words that surround them.

Randomize the approach to discourage mere memorization. ESL students may memorize the sentences, but if you break up the reading, they will actually need to focus on the word or sentences at hand. Break up the reading exercise by calling on students in no particular order to read a sentence, a paragraph or simply a word.

Suggest that your students take a break from class. At this point you are confident that they are able to read the text beyond merely memorizing the words. At the end of the break, move on to the writing exercise.

Writing Comes Second

Incorporate all of the words you taught earlier in a crossword puzzle format. You can make your own crossword puzzle for free online (see Resources below).

Stipulate that writing must be done by printing, using uppercase and lowercase letters. For those students unsure of how to accomplish this kind of writing, go ahead and set up a remedial study group.

Use a printout of the English alphabet in print form to allow your remedial students to copy the letters. Use worksheets you can download online to bring your students up to speed in the art of printing the English letters (see Resources).

Dictate the sentences the students read earlier and require your students to write them on paper without peeking at their reading exercise. The goal is to ensure that there is no disconnect between reading and writing the words that were previously studied.

Build on the exercises and now suggest that students craft their own sentences, using the words they learned in prior lessons and incorporating the words, sentences and phrases they learned today. You might make it a group effort if the class is large or simply an individual exercise if you have fewer students.

End the class by having the teams or individual students come up and read some of their creations.