ESL Reading Exercises


ESL students need to acquire many different kinds of reading skills to achieve their English goals. Strategies like reading for gist and reading for comprehension help students achieve a more natural fluency in their reading, and creative exercises keep students motivated.

Skimming and Scanning

  • ESL students often feel intimidated when faced with a few paragraphs of English. Help them get over their fears by teaching these skills first, which don't require understanding or reading every single word in the text. When teaching skimming (or gist) and scanning skills, explain to your students that both involve speed and learning to read only important words. When skimming, readers are looking to get the main idea of a text, while scanning is looking for specific information.

    Use scrambled paragraphs. Find an article written at your students' level that has several paragraphs of text. Print out a copy leaving space between each paragraph. Cut them apart so that the students can't immediately tell the order of the paragraphs. Give them the title of the article and let them try to organize the paragraphs into the correct order. Set a time limit so that the students are forced to skim rather than read word for word and check students' work when the time is up.

    Scanning skills can be taught using common examples, like travel situtations. Create a detailed train or airplane schedule and a separate itinerary. Only have one or two of the schedule options work with the travel itinerary. Give the students both papers and ask them to find the best travel option that fits the itinerary they've been given.

    Another option is to give the students several articles or a page from a newspaper. Having previously chosen a topic covered in the text you've given them, have the students race to see who can find the topic first. This kind of speed-reading for a particular word or topic is a competitive way to teach scanning.

Comprehension and Intensive Reading

  • Once your students feel comfortable with skimming and scanning texts in English, they are ready to learn other important reading skills: comprehension and intensive reading. Reading for comprehension is for general to specific understanding of a text and is the one of the most commonly taught reading skills. Intensive reading is even more detailed and accurate reading.

    To work on comprehension skills, create questionnaires based on current news articles that require students to produce detailed answers based on the text they have read. Or give them exercises with sentences missing important vocabulary from the article. Ask sudents to fill in the blanks after they've finished reading.

    Intensive reading skills require nearly complete understanding of the text. To teach these skills to lower-level learners, you'll need to make sure that they understand all the vocabulary first. More advanced students should be able to figure out any unfamiliar words from context. This reading skill can be taught with activities like reading a simple contract, solving math word problems, and following a recipe. The texts should be full of detailed, specific information, like names, places and numbers, encouraging the students to read carefully.

    Follow up the activity with some comprehension questions to ensure that the students understood the vocabulary and text.

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