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What principle would you follow to select reading materials for teaching English as a second language?

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M.P. Ossa, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer, ESL/TEFL Instructor

bookM.A. from Chapman University

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write5,713 answers

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Research in the area of SLA shows that Extensive Reading Programs (ERP's) are highly conducive to second language learning in terms of exposure, comprehension, and retention. For this reason, the reading materials used for teaching English as a second language should consider

  • a) Native language's lexile level
  • b) ESOL levels
  • c) Discussion generation and metacognitive skills.
  • d) Social vs. Academic language in the vocabulary of the text
  • e) Student's usage of BICS and CALP

Native language's lexile level

A struggling reader in any language cannot succeed at reading in a second language. Therefore, the teacher must first administer a Reading Inventory that would not only reflect the lexile level of the students, but also their topics of interest. A good ELT would never allow a student who is already failing at reading in their first language to attempt to read in a second language. Hence, picture books such as the ones produced by Scholastic and Pearson, as well as non-fiction selections with high frequency vocabulary is suggested.

ESOL levels

There are four levels of ESOL proficiency. They are, in order:

  • Pre-production
  • Early production
  • Speech Emergence
  • Intermediate Fluency

It is advisable that a print-rich classroom continuously exposes the student to the second language in posters, word walls, labels and in a small class-based library. For this reason, the teacher has to select texts that can help the student make connections. Examples include picture books and picture dictionaries for levels 1 and 2, and then switch to magazines (Scholastic ESL, Zoom), or comic books and short stories such as those found in Goosebumps and similar books are always successful.

Discussion generation and metacognitive skills

ESL leisure reading materials should include discussion generation and metacognitive skills. It is suggested that the material is conducive to the development of higher level thinking and to the building of schema. If a student is not a naturally-inclined reader, the information in the text will not be fully understood to the point of "getting" the main idea. Hence, ESL teachers must consider readings that ask questions, or raise issues.

Social Vs. Academic Language

An ER program in the ESL classroom should include readings with both, academic and social language. Magazines, as well as texts are equally useful for students who are interested in developing their language skills and understanding through reading. It gives them a sense of connection with the social language, and a sense of intellectual exposure when asked to read formal texts. All works, as long as the student enjoys it.

Student's usage of BICS and CALP

The student's basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and their cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) are equally important when deciding reading material. This is because, depending on the comfort zone of the student in the second language, the teacher can ascertain or at least infer which type of literature the student will connect with the most. Also those students who DO NOT show BICS may actually be MORE inclined to learn through reading than through speaking. Therefore, this is also an important factor to consider when building a reading program in the ELL room.

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

In teaching English as a second language. one selects texts based on several different objectives. The first objective is that it contains vocabulary and syntax that are at the appropriate level for your students. If they are too easy, students don't learn anything and if they are too complex, students will be frustrated and accomplish little. The second element that is important is cultural. One chooses works that will acquaint students with both the classics that formed English culture and ones that will help students negotiate features of contemporary Anglophone culture that they might find alien. For the latter,  well written magazines and newspapers might be useful. For the former, I would choose well-written works by major authors with fairly simple vocabulary such as Alice in Wonderland or Kipling's stories.

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