Unit six - Helping ESL students understand what you give them to read

Unit goals

At the end of the unit the participants will have:

Theories of second-language reading

More on theories of reading.

Characteristics of written language

Special features of academic texts:

What makes it difficult for ESL students to understand what they read?

What can ESL students do to improve their reading comprehension?

Detailed advice to students

What can teachers do to help ESL students understand what they read?

More detailed advice.

Reading strategies

There is an overview of reading strategies at the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory website.


A workshop participant said that her son was a reluctant reader in both his mother tongue, German, and in English. She wondered if this would have a negative impact on his ultimate success in school. In reply, I summarized two extracts from a highly recommended research article entitled "What they can't read will hurt them: Reading and academic achievement" (Pretorius, E). The full extracts and the link to the research article are shown below:

Research findings in applied linguistics and reading research consistently show a strong correlation between reading proficiency and academic success at all ages, from the primary school right through to university level: students who read a lot and who understand what they read usually attain good grades. In fact, the relationship between reading and learning begins even earlier in the pre-primary school years - children who are exposed to storybook reading before they go to school tend to have larger vocabularies, greater general knowledge and better conceptual development than their peers, and in addition,  they learn to read and write more easily and quickly (..) . The correlation between reading proficiency and academic performance obtains for both those who study through their first language (L1 students) and for those who do not (L2 students). In fact, several teachers and researchers argue that reading is probably the most important skill for L2 students in academic or learning contexts (..) .