How to Improve ESL Students’ Reading Skills

Mar 15, 2018

Are you looking for a new way to develop your students’ reading abilities in English?

One effective strategy to improve ESL students’ reading skills is to use authentic news articles in class.

By using this method, you can teach them new vocabulary, how to skim for general ideas, how to scan for specific details, and combine multiple reading tasks with active discussion. Moreover, integrating language skills in this manner will help consolidate language learning and acquisition.

The first step is to find a news article that your students will be interested in. It should also match their level of proficiency in English. If the lexis is too challenging, then you may want to edit the article somewhat and replace complex vocabulary with easier words. However, modifications are not always necessary if you are teaching intermediate or advanced classes.

Next, after finding the article online that you want to use, print out copies for the class. Of course, if you have made any edits to the original article, then make sure to use the modified version.

Stage 1: Lesson introduction

At the start of the lesson, it helps to activate the students’ background knowledge about the article topic. You can introduce the subject and have them discuss it in groups or pairs for a few minutes. Try to encourage discussion as much as possible. For instance, get students to voice their personal opinions about the topic.

After leading feedback from the discussions, pre-teach any difficult vocabulary that exists in the article. You could write the words on the board and/or give the students a vocabulary list. Elicit and explain the meanings with examples.

Then, hand out the article for them to preview.

Stage 2: Model the reading task

Before the students read anything, explain to them that they will be reading the article in short sequences. Clarify that they will read one or two paragraphs silently to themselves, then attempt to recall what they read in a brief discussion with a partner.

To begin, model the task by reading the first paragraph silently. It should only take 30 seconds or so.

After reading, cover the article up so everyone sees that you aren’t looking at it.

Then, briefly summarize what you just read (in your own words) for the class. Highlight any key points or factual information that you can remember. By observing you do this, students will have a clearer idea of what they should do with their partner once it is their turn.

Stage 3: Students complete the reading task

For the next stage, tell the students to read the next paragraph (or several paragraphs) silently to themselves. Set a specific time limit ranging from one to two minutes depending on their ability.

After the time is up, have the class cover the article or turn it over so they cannot see the text. Then, they can try to summarize what they just read with their partner. Encourage them to recall a few specific details or interesting things that they read in the paragraph.

After their discussion, ask a few students to explain what the section was about for the entire class to hear. You can ask a few other people about key details that they can remember.

Continue the sequence of reading, discussion, and feedback until the entire article has been completed.

Stage 4: Review and conclude the lesson

To conclude the lesson, you can spend the remainder of the class reviewing difficulties from the news article. Summarize main ideas and have the students engage in critical discussion about the article topic. Encourage the students to use new vocabulary that they learned in the article in their conversations.

There are other post-reading exercises that you could do as well, such as asking them questions to find specific information in the article. This will help them practice scanning skills. Making a game of it and rewarding points for correct answers can increase engagement too.

Alternatively, you could integrate writing skills by having them write a short paragraph expressing their opinion about the topic. If time is limited, the writing task could be done for homework or during the next class.

More ideas about how to improve ESL students’ reading skills

To find more information and additional tips for teaching reading, check out the ESL reading activites on

The site also features a collection of other ESL activities and games that you can try in class to help develop your students’ language skills.


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