5 ESL/EFL Tips for Skyrocketing Reading Motivation

Reading Texts Can Kill Motivation; Help Students Climb to Find the Fun 

Put a smile on their faces

Reading content in your ESL/EFL textbook isn’t always interesting, so what can you do to inject some fun into it to motivate your students and get them to enjoy reading? 

Nothing about learning a language should be boring and reading is no exception.   

Let’s say that the textbooks you are given to work with are boring for students and you can’t change them for something more interesting. How can you sugar coat material like this? How can this kind of material ever turn your students in avid readers that will read with a flashlight under the covers because they can’t stop?

Who are the culprits that stole the fun out of reading?

Imagine yourself as the author of a reading textbook for ESL/EFL learners. You are sitting at your desk, pondering about what to write for reading texts. In my experience there are usually two ways the content is handled. Which of the following two do you prefer and which of them would be more beneficial for the students? Choose which kind of writer you would be if you were creating content for reading texts.

The Educator:
An educator or curriculum developer might be 
tempted to kill two birds with one stone by Including a lot of didactic material such as history, geography, or science. This material would be packed with facts and figures to educate the students.

It stands to reason that if students can gain general information along with acquiring a language you give them a double benefit. It’s a brilliant way to multitask but love for reading does not necessarily follow.  

The Linguist:
If a linguist is developing the reading curriculum, he/she might be considering the language itself by paying close attention to the necessary language skills that need to be acquired. Priority would be given to reading  content that covers all the grammar rules with no consideration for the storyline or how interesting the grammar exercises are. 

Which approach would you prefer for your reading textbooks?

As an educator you might choose the first as a way to test your student’s comprehension and help them learn about the world. You might overlook the fact that  packing in so much information may burden students. Their focus moves from the language to acquiring extra information.   

Remember, reading is one of the single most important ways for students to acquire a language correctly. So if the reading material you give them does not captivate them, you will be missing one of the best ways to facilitate accurate acquisition.

As a language teacher you might prefer the second approach. After all, your aim is for students to acquire the language. Granted, you would prefer the material to be interesting but if it isn’t, that is just too bad.

Can you take a guess at the best content for ESL/EFL learners?

For language acquisition, the content is almost irrelevant, as long as it is well written, informs the language and is interesting and fun for students.

Some of the best content is in the area of fiction, tall tales of an unexpected nature, mystery, suspense or action. Additionally these engage the right brain, a key factor in second language acquisition. Here are five of my favorite ways to enhance reading:

1 – Switch Users:
Personalize narratives. If the narrative in your reading has characters change their names to the names of students in your class. If the narrative depicts a situation in a different country or setting, have students change it to their own country or setting by substituting places in the original narrative. 

2 – Add Fluff:
If the narrative is general with no people involved, create a scene for each student, related to the content you are covering in the textbook. For example, if the reading describes Mt. Everest, have each student describe what gear they would take if they had to hike up that mountain. You can also add mysterious and magical settings around the narrative in your text. You could personify the mountain by having it describe itself in the first person. This really scaffolds core language skills and brings the mountain to life.

3 – Create Satellites:
Plan satellite activities like writings or dialogues that include your students and their names. The idea is to search for creative ways to get your students into the material they are reading.

The above tips, can inspire dialogues and poems to be read or acted out. Diversified reading practices cover other base skills while including your students and allowing them to enter the reading in their own unique styles.

4 – Contradict facts:
Ask your students to contradict the facts that are in the reading, just for fun. This practice also supports universal language skills such as creating negative sentences and working with antonyms. “A rocket travels fast.” “No, it doesn’t, a rocket travels slow.” contradicts the facts.

5 – The Art of Lying
Allow students to lie, create tall tales or model stories. Using text narratives as templates is a great exercise. If they re-create these by using the same structures or sentences but altering them imaginatively, they can invent a brand new narrative that is based on solid correct structures. Additionally they can lie all they want to, as long as they do so in correct English!

NOTE: The only exception to deviating from the reading content and vocabulary in your syllabus is when you are teaching English for specific purposes such as ‘business English’ or English for doctors and nurses’. These are geared to provide specific job related vocabulary and content for specific students.

Even in this case the primary aim and focus should always be on the target language. So if you have a choice on readings, choose readings like banking anecdotes for bankers or emergency experiences and anecdotes about doctors. Specific vocabulary may limit your reading content but does not preclude having fun and being motivational.

Please provide some examples for tweaking content for motivation?    

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