George Lucas Educational Foundation
English Language Learners

Strategies for Reading Non-Fiction with ELL

October 16, 2015 Updated October 13, 2015

Being an English Language Learner in a mainstream classroom can be a very overwhelming experience for the student. Often, my English Language Learners need extra help when it comes to reading non-fiction articles in the class. Modifying the reading assignment is the first step, but there are times when it’s hard to modify an assignment that relates to an article/theme/topic. They need to be familiarized with the structure of non-fiction writings in order for them to feel comfortable reading, summarizing and analyzing.

I like to do reading “walk-throughs”: before we read the article we familiarize ourselves with its elements:

  • Create a vocabulary list: ask the students to briefly skim the article and try to locate a few vocabulary words that are difficult to understand. When they are done skimming, make sure to populate these words somewhere (board/google doc) where students can have access to them later.
  • Discuss Title: The title of the article often says a lot about the topic. However, some articles, especially if you’re working with newspaper articles, the title might contain vocabulary that students are not familiar with, especially ELLs. Ask the students about the title: “what do you think it means?” “what is it trying to tell the reader?” and “are there any unfamiliar words that we should discuss?”
  • Understand Topic Sentences: The purpose of the topic sentence is to introduce the topic of the paragraph to the reader, and it should relate to the overall point (thesis) of the article. Create guiding questions based on the topic sentences in the article that allows students to analyze: “What is the main idea of the topic sentence?” “what is it describing to the reader?” “what is the main topic that will be discussed in this paragraph?” “Does the topic sentence clearly explain the main idea?”
  • Summarize the Conclusion: Conclusions always contain a sentence that is a summary of the thesis. Get students to identify this sentence and compare it with the thesis. This helps them to look for language patterns and indicators for a thesis and conclusion statement next time they read an article. A summary can be one sentence.

To guide students to understand and identify these different elements easily on their own, consider asking them to highlight the text when the area is being discussed. Another helpful way to engage them is to get them to write their own elements (title, topic sentence, etc) to an article that they would fully write out later, about a topic they feel passionate about.

Group activity:

Have students create headlines to news articles that they’d like to see. You can assign them the topic, but it’s probably more engaging for them to choose a topic based on their interest. Consider including sample topics for students that need help in selecting a topic. Bonus if students get to create a graphic for their headline using fun apps like Canva, Glogster, Google Draw or Vanilla Pen.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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  • English Language Learners
  • Literacy
  • English Language Arts
  • 9-12 High School

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