When young children start learning English, their parents want the best opportunities for them. They want to make sure that their little ones feel comfortable in this new language, have better comprehension skills, and a larger vocabulary and greater fluency in speaking. When you start teaching young learners, you have an excellent opportunity to help the parents with raising enthusiastic readers in both English and their mother tongue.
Encouraging our kids to love books and reading cannot come too early in their lives, and neither can learning through reading and storytelling. The earlier they start getting in touch with books in English, the more they will watch out for reading opportunities as they are growing up. This is why it is important to create a comfortable and enjoyable reading environment for young language learners.
Remember, stories create a context for the new language you would like them to learn, and retelling and recalling stories is always more exciting and successful then chanting vocabulary lists or remembering grammar rules.
We have collected ten ideas you can use to keep your young learners enthusiastic about reading. Next time we are going to look at ways to encourage teenagers to read more in English.
1 Make sure you set aside enough time for reading for pleasure.
We often find ourselves short of time in our weekly classroom schedule, and we can hardly dedicate enough time to reading. If you cannot spend time every lesson on reading, choose a lesson every week when you dedicate time to practising some kind of reading. It can be reading aloud, reading alone, acting out stories, shared reading, reading games or just browsing books. If it becomes a habit, and is perceived as a reward or guaranteed fun time, your students will look forward to your reading sessions.
2 Create a reading corner and leave all sorts of children's books, magazines and albums around.
This can be a mini library or a shelf with some comfortable chairs nearby. Maybe you can get some colourful bean bags and cushions and put them around a low table. Make sure your students have a variety of materials they can independently choose from. Even if your students are not fully independent readers yet, they can get used to the presence of books in a friendly environment.
3 Choose reading materials that are visually engaging.
Of course content is just as important as visual design, but you need materials that will catch your young learners' attention and keep them interested and young people's visual literacy is highly developed. Today a wide range of beautifully illustrated and designed children's books are available in English which can help young and beginning readers to 'read' through the illustrations as well as the text.
4 Choose reading materials that were designed for language learning.
If you want to make your life as a teacher easier, go for books which were created for language learners. Using original children's books is also a good idea, but if you want to keep your students active during reading, and you would also like to have games and activities based on the stories, it is a good idea to pick young readers for language learners.
Check out our Young Readers Series to see what learning opportunities and outcomes these books can offer. Remember that they come with CD-ROMs that contain chants, games and the audio recording of the story. You can also download flashcards for each reader as well as a range of fun worksheets with games, rhymes and speaking activities.
5 Let your young readers read stories to you.
You can have short sessions when you ask your students to read a page or a chapter from a reader they really like or for less fluent students choose a page or word that struck them. This will make them feel proud and excited about their own reading.
6 Ask older students to read to your young learners.
If you teach older students, organise a lesson or an afternoon session when the older students can read their favourite children's stories to the younger ones. This will create a friendly school environment and make your young learners see how cool reading can be. If this isn't possible, ask the families of the students to read together. A great free booklet, Helbling Young Readers Guide - How to help your child to read in English (by Frances Mariani and Louise Potter) is available to download, with lots of ideas on how family members can encourage young children to read both at school and at home.
7 Have fun arts and crafts sessions.
Make bookmarks or book covers together so that your students can personalise their own book and make a special connection with their own books.
8 Do follow-up activities to show them that reading goes beyond the pages of the book.
If you are reading about animals, take - or ask the family to take - the children to a zoo. If you are reading about birds, make a bird feeder. At the end of each Helbling Young Reader you will find a creative project that will help you with this.
9 Make sure they see you read all sorts of books - both thick novels and children's books.
Studies have proven that teachers are excellent role models for students. If you are a keen reader, your students will see it and will be more likely to follow your example. Share your reading experiences with your students and present them in a positive and encouraging way. You can also show them your favourite children's books - but remember that they might not like the same books as you used to when you were little.
10 Make reading visible.
You can either use reading timers (see the Reading Timers we prepared for teen readers and young adults), or create a reading chart where you can record what books each students have read (or the class have read together). You can also give them stickers or smileys for each book they have read (give two for a longer book) and reward them for reading at the end of the term.
Do you have any practices that have worked out really well with your young learners? We would love to hear about them.