The George Washington University

Graduate School of Education & Human Development
TRED 227: Teaching Second Language Reading & Writing
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   January 19, 2010
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Literature as Content objectives
Learning Theories
Difficulties of ELL Ss
Reading Comprehension & Metacognition
Literature Response Groups
Extensive / Intensive Reading
Beginning Readers
Intermediate Readers
Using Computers
Assessing Reading
Criteria for  Selecting Books for ESL
Beginner Books

Quebec's ESL Resource list

Literature as Content


By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:
  1. Describe what research has to say about second language reading processes.
  2. Explain the role of background knowledge in readers' comprehension of texts.
  3. Discuss how cultural knowledge and experience may play a part in reading.
  4. Describe a proficient reader's reading process.
  5. Define metacognition and explain its role in proficient reading comprehension.
  6. Explain the importance of literature response groups for second language learners and explain how to prepare students for successful work in these groups.
  7. Define extensive and intensive reading, and explain how each one helps promote language and reading acquisition for English language learners.
  8. Describe at least three different literature strategies for beginning and intermediate English language learners.
  9. Describe three informal processes for assessing second language readers' progress.

1. What does research tell us about reading in a second language?

Readers use...
L1 readers

L2 readers

knowledge of sound/symbol relationships: graphophonics


word order: syntax


word meaning: semantics


knowledge about text topic & structure: background knowledge


* Background knowledge is crucial and most problematic once the linguistic knowledge is in place.

  Activity 1: Word Splash

  • Refer to the list of words from "MIDNIGHT SNACK"
  • Use the words to compose a story – define or demonstrate each word.
  • Write a story using the words.
  • Volunteers may read their stories to the class.
  • Read aloud "MIDNIGHT SNACK" Round Robin style.
  • Allow each student a moment to read over his/her paragraph silently before reading aloud.
  • Students can pass a turn.
  • Stop at 3 points in the story for fellow students to predict.
    Discuss the activity and how it might be modified for other levels. Note: teacher modeling, vocabulary development, preparation for reading aloud, lessened pressure on reading aloud, using the learning strategy predicting.

How Learning Theories Affect Reading and Writing Instruction

Behaviorism: (RWL p. 46)

  • Led to traditional approach of part to whole.
  • Learn separate skills, then put them together.
  • Bottom-up processes in reading: decoding --> words --> sentences --> text.
  • In writing: handwriting --> spelling --> sentences --> guided writing --> composition.
Problems with this approach:
  1. Communication of meaning tends to get lost.
  2. Drill on separate skills becomes rote, rather than mentally active.
  3. Students become bored, motivation falls.
  4. Assumption that students can integrate all the separate skills does not always work out - they get in the habit (leads to belief) that reading is the same as pronunciation and writing is the same as spelling.
Current Approaches:
  • Focus on communication of meaning as purpose of reading and writing.
  • Look at language as a whole, rather than focus on separate skills.
  • Concern for top-down processes which lead to global meaning.
  • Emphasis on process (e.g., writing process, reading comprehension strategies) rather than only on product.
  • Stress mental activity of learners. Active negotiation of meaning between writer, text, and reader.
  • Importance of prior knowledge --> schema theory. Types of schemata: linguistic, content, discourse (rhetorical).
  • Importance of text: authenticity, focus on literature; text structure.
  • Importance of text-processing strategies, both comprehension (top-down) and decoding (bottom-up) strategies (not either-or – but both).
  • Role of teacher - model of literate behavior. Explicit instruction or not.

Activity 2: Reading and Background Knowledge

Read the short text. Tell what you think the topic is. Come up with a title. Listen to the title from Dr. Robbins

Stroop Effect

A paper version of the task involves showing words that are the names of colors, although the actual words are printed in a color of ink different from the color name they represent. You are asked to respond with the color you see, and inhibit (disregard) the word you read. It turns out that this is much harder than it sounds and research documents lower scores with increased attentional fatigue. (More information...)

Online test

Stroop Effect

Difficulties ELL Students Encounter in Reading and Writing

1. Prior knowledge may be different from that required by text to read or write. Examples:
  • Cultural, linguistic, and educational background - differing degrees of overlap with English speakers.
  • Organization of discourse may be different in L1 - Story structure 
  • Literacy tradition - who is literate? How does a literate person behave when reading (aloud or silent? role of decoding - What does it mean to understand a text (memorize, explain, interpret)?
  • Lack of experience in reading and writing in L1.

2.  Reading difficulties due to language:
  • Decoding is not enough if word is unfamiliar.
  • Narrative, literary language is rich in vocabulary - too rich?
  • Academic language structures different from oral language (passive, long sentences).
  • Lack of context - What does "it" refer to? (in face-to-face conversation, gestures or presence of "it" reveal meaning).
3.     Writing difficulties:
  • Limited language with which to express intended meaning.
  • Frustration and low self-efficacy.
  • Use of translation (bottom-up) to try to write at cognitive level.
  • Physical difficulties with writing system (different prior knowledge).
4.    Strategic difficulties:
  • Lack of transfer from L1.
  • Inappropriate strategies.
  • Lack of metacognitive awareness.
  • Lack of flexibility in strategies (if one doesn't work, try another).

Reading Comprehension & Metacognition

  • Background knowledge - about the genre and the subject
  • Decoding - breaking word into parts and sounding it out
  • vocabulary knowledge - recognizing words in written form
  • inference - use literal information + background knowledge to interpret & draw conclusions
  • Metacognition: thinking about thinking - used to recognize and repair understanding when reading
  • Text structure - different according to genre

Literature response groups

Steps teachers can take to prepare Ss to work successfully in response groups:
  • read daily
  • share their own responses
  • make connections to own lives
  • encourage different views
  • share enjoyment of reading
  • teach vocabulary to talk about literature
  • provide a model response sheet
    Why use a variety of response types in teaching literature?
       students' varied learning styles can be address through dramatizing, discussing, drawing, writing, questioning in response to literature

Extensive / Intensive Reading

Intensive reading implies reading rather  short texts under close guidance of a teacher or under the guidance of a specific task. The aim of  this type of reading is to arrive at a detailed understanding of the text.

Extensive reading
is for students who want to improve not only their use of language but also to get information on certain topics, to become familiar with the literature of the country whose language they study.

In Extensive Reading, students read from self-selected books on a daily basis. Krashen promotes this as a means to language development.

Strategies for use with Beginning Readers

Language Experience Approach
Providing Quality Literature
Pattern books
Illustrating Stories & Poems
Shared Reading with Big Books
Directed Listening-Thinking Activity (DL-TA)
Reader's Theater
Story Mapping

Strategies for use with Intermediate Readers

Cognitive Mapping
Directed Reading-Thinking Activity  (DR-TA)
Literature Response Journals
Developing Scripts for Reader's Theater
Adapting Stories into PLays & Scripts for Filming

Using Computers & CD-ROMs to Enhance Learning

  • engage students with animated, interactive storybooks
  • story creation software
  • can provide background information on topics

Assessing Second Language Readers' Progress

  • observations in class: natural, routine reading situations
  • individual assessment procedures: (see more in chapter 10)
    • miscue analysis: student reads and teacher marks text for miscues; analysis looks for persistent miscue patterns
    • informal reading inventories: graded passages with comprehension questions - tape Ss reading aloud
    • running records: shorthand transcription of child's oral reading


  • literature is a human & humane experience
  • children should have chance to read self-selected literature
  • goal to nourish imagination & need for further reading
  • literature expands language
  • students become aware of the delight & magic of words

Choosing Books for ESL Students

What Are the Criteria for Selecting Reading Materials for ESL Students? *

* excerpted from Virginia Allen's chapter, "Selecting Materials for the Reading Instruction of ESL Children," from  Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students (Spanenberg-Urbschat, Pritchard, Robert, Editors, International Reading Association).


  • encourage children to choose to read;
  • help children discover the values and functions of written language;
  • permit children to use the written language for a wide range of purposes;
  • be appropriate for all the age and interest levels of  the children;
  • take into account the children's cultural background;
  • make use of the children's native language when possible;
  • support the children's acquisition of English;
  • offer a rich array of games;
  • have text structures that will support children's understanding; and
  • take into consideration the children's background knowledge.


Examples include:

Children's own writing

  • charts of words the children are learning as they explore a specific topic
  • class books that tell of shared experiences such as a field trip
  • labels to explain a classroom exhibit
  • written accomplishments to a bulletin-board display of children's artwork
  • individual books made by children on topics of their choosing.

"Real World" Print

  • signs in buildings and outside
  • advertising on TV
  • newspapers, magazines, brochures, catalogues
  • posters
  • menus
  • seed packets, game instructions
  • job applications

Textbooks - Basal readers

Basal readers, central to reading programs in many schools, are
  • designed for children whose native language is English.
  • may not match ESL student's prior knowledge
  • should be used selectively, with preparation to provide background knowledge

Textbooks: Content area textbooks

  • Content area texts use organizational patterns such as time sequence, cause and effect, or compare and contrast.
  • Information load is very dense
  • Vocabulary may be both more precise and more abstract than in basals.
  • CALLA-Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (Chamot & O'Malley, 1986), helps ESL students develop the academic language they need in order to participate in content area classes. The approach provides a framework to assist both ESL and mainstream teachers to meet the specific needs of the ESL student.

Children's literature

  • Viewed by researchers & teachers as the best material for reading instruction
  • Benefits children's language development:
    • vocabulary development
    • syntactic maturity
  • input made comprehensible through illustrations, predictable structure, patterned language
  • provide good opportunities for discussion and writing


Concept Books

Selections should encourage ESL children to:
  • acquire new labels for old experiences and for the many new experiences of life in a second culture. One example: Anne and Harlow Rockwell's The Toolbox (with clear and simple pictures of items that might be found in a toolbox) Other examples: Tana Hoban's Circles, Triangles and Squares; Over, Under, Through, and Other Spatial Concepts provide beautiful photographs of key concepts;
  • categorize knowledge about new experiences. Example: Lois Ehlert's Growing Vegetable Soup helps children discover the categories of vegetables that are picked, vegetables that are dug up, and used in a recipe for vegetable soup.
  • link old experiences with new. Example: People, by Peter Spier who examines concepts such as beauty, homes, games, and food as understood by people around the world.

Books With Predictable Features

Peterson (1992) identifies factors that make text predictable. They include:
  • content as it relates to the background experiences of the child
  • language patterns
  • vocabulary
  • illustration as it supports the meaning of the text
  • the narrative style of the book.
Books such as the Great Big Enormous Turnip (Leo Tolstoy) and The Napping House (Audrey Wood) are predictable because they are cumulative. Other books, The Three Billy Goats Gruff (Paul Galdone) or Titch (Pat Hutchins), have a predictable pattern of events. Others such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See (Bill Martin, Jr.) and A Dark, Dark Tale (Ruth Brow) have repetitive language patterns. They offer repetition in ways that are inviting for native English speakers and English learners alike.

Books Whose Illustrations Support and Extend Meaning

Mira Ginsberg's The Chick and the Duckling is appropriately and dramatically illustrated by Jose Aruegos. The text describes how the chick and the ducking go for a walk. The duckling takes the role of leader and says, "I'm taking a walk” and the chick immediately responds, "Me, too.” Supporting illustrations support the meaning of the text and add humor; so, when the duckling decides to capture a worm and the chick follows his lead, the picture shows that they are pulling on opposite ends of the same word. When the duckling decides to swim and the chick follows suit, the picture shows the chick's frantic struggle to stay afloat. These books extend the ESL child's understanding of the author's message and draw him or her more deeply into the world of the book.

Books That Invite Talk

The opportunity to respond to a book is central to becoming a reflective reader. One example is A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Smith, a book that tells of the sudden death of a young boy. The teacher asked the ESL student what she had experienced as she read the book. The girl replied that she had cried and then added, "I tasted blackberries once and they were sour, and now I know that death is sour.” This response revealed the deep connections she was making with a particular book.

Books with the same theme can be compared.

Leo Lionni has written books that explore the theme of being oneself: The Biggest House in the World, Fish is Fish and Frederick.
It is also useful for children to discover how different authors have approached the same topic. The love offered by and given to grandparents is a subject that writers of books or young children have explored. Tomie dePaola's Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, John Burningham's Grandpa, and Aliki's The Two of Them are several such examples.

Books That Offer a Framework for Writing

Books can offer models to frame the written product. Janet and Allan Ahlberg's book The Jolly Postman follows a postman on his route. He delivers a note of apology to the three bears' cottage from Goldilocks, a flyer on the latest bargains in witchly products to the Gingerbread House, and a threatening letter to the wolf from a legal firm to let him know that he is being sued by the three little pigs.
These letters can be taken from their envelopes, which are part of the book. Because the letters are written by and for characters well known in the folktale world, they allow ESL children, who have often had rich experiences with folk tales, to explore letter –writing language and letter-writing conventions.

Books That Support the Curriculum

ESL children studying the human body could gather interesting, significant information from Jonathan Miller's three-dimensional book The Human Body. The book allows children to lift the ribcage to expose the lung, pull a tab to see how the heart valves function, ad discover how an image becomes focused on the retina. ESL children studying stories of pioneer life on the America prairie can better understand it with Pam Conrad's book Prairie Visions: The Life and Times of Solomon Butcher. There are brilliant photographs of pioneers in Nebraska, actual sod homes, children playing in the yards, etc.

Books Linked to ESL Children's Cultures

Series editor Harriet Rohmer has selected authentic folktales from many cultures. These stories are published as bilingual texts with illustrations that share the art forms of the culture. Examples: Tran-Khan-Tuyet's version of The Little Weaver of Thai-Yen Village (English and Vietnamese), Min Paek's Aekyung's Dream (English and Korean), and Rohmer's adaptation of Uncle Nacho's Hat (English and Spanish).

Choosing Materials, Using Them Well

Good books alone are not enough. Teachers must also:
  • match books with particular children to meet both language needs and interests,
  • select books that support vocabulary development,
  • explore how books can help develop oral and written language skills,
  • choose books that support understanding across the curriculum,
  • help children revisit books in significant ways,
  • use books to support talk in book discussions and conferences,
  • think how books can be a springboard to writing for a variety of purposes, and
  • use children's responses to books to help assess their literacy development.
Quebec's ESL resource list
A nice resource: ESL library (PDF document) Books have been categorized according to the eight areas of lifelong learning cited in the Quebec  Education Program 4 since these areas are to be considered the basis of meaningful learning situations.   Appendix 1 provides a list of these eight areas as well as their educational aims.   A list of text types from  the English Language Arts Program appears in Appendix 2.  Appendix 3 has been included to furnish  teachers who prefer to select their own books, with criteria for choosing suitable texts.                

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