BAP060 Teaching Older ELs to READ. The Basics!

Do you know how to teach a person how to read when they don’t know how to decipher text?  Maybe they can read in their first language… maybe not! Yikes!  Where do we start?  What do we focus on?

In this post, I have two ways for you to get this content.  You can watch the YouTube video below or scroll down to access the podcast.

In this show, you’ll get an overview of Balanced Literacy and some foundational understanding of how you can help a person gain the ability to independently read words in your target language.

UPDATE: LOOK FOR A NEW SHOW in 2022 that addresses The Science of Reading.

Science of Reading is an important shift in the field as we consider how the brain learns to read.  But it does not change how I approach non-English speakers and SLIFE.  They still need some language under their belt before we attempt to teach phonics.  And we can assess what phonics they DO know prior to a rolling out a scripted phonics curriculum.

This show is meant to explain how to teach someone how to decipher text.  We know that reading is much more than that.


Of course, it is.  But many upper elementary and secondary teachers get training in how to help students analyze text, think deeply and critically about the text.  We differentiate for students who cannot easily read grade level text.  But WHEN are they getting better at decoding the words?  When are they working on the ability to read words with automaticity?

Where do we start if the student isn’t able to read in their first language?  This is a training we would not normally get.  Or if we do, it doesn’t make sense in our reality.  This show gives you the understanding of best practice for teaching a person to read.   Let’s get the gist of that… and then I’ll tell you how I hack it!




I use these slides to explain Balanced Literacy (at a high level) to teachers.  I use slides like the ones below when I’m explaining to students why they need to read more (easy reading, shared reading, ANY reading..) and how they will begin to decipher text.  KEY is that they (and we) remember that they will understand more English every day.  I do a very basic phonics inventory at the beginning of the year and mid year to show them growth.  I take anecdotal notes when possible to see that they are progressing.  I don’t do any phonics lessons until the second semester.  We read together A LOT. They are flooded with low stress opportunities to speak in English with frames and read together starting on Day One.

I also assess students to get an idea of what they CAN decode about every 4-6 weeks.  I use assessments like this and also this so I can show them growth.  I also use nonsense words to get an idea of what they can do with letters and blends.   But it begins with their awareness.

I also want to be sure that you have access to this Rapid Literacy padlet.  It has many resources I use to help students grow their mindset, help them learn English and help them begin to read.

I want to also share the padlet we use for our Boosting Achievement workshop. There is a lot of overlap but the Boosting training is a bit more relevant for content teachers and anyone wanting to boost the achievement of the entire class while they include SLIFE.



Are you thinking something like….

But what should this look like in an ESL classroom?  (Check out Episode 26)

But my kids are not motivated at all. (Check out Episode 5 and then activities on the padlets above)

But my kids are not respectful to each other, the room is a zoo! (Episode 15)

But my students don’t believe that they can do it. (Episode 17, Episode 5, every episode really)

But I am a content teacher, what can I do to help with this?  Please check out all the other podcasts here! My PLN has helped me address these types of issues and so much more.


I will soon be doing a show that gives you more ideas of how I talk to the kids so they begin to take ownership of this process.

I use the slides above but I have some lessons that might be helpful to you.

Hope this was helpful, folks!  I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter.  I’m still learning and input from you would only further my journey, I am sure.

Please check out the Upcoming Events page to see where I’ll be in the near future:


2 thoughts on “BAP060 Teaching Older ELs to READ. The Basics!

  1. Do you use a specific reading and writing curriculum? How do you know what resources to use for your lessons?

    • I follow the curriculum if there is one but only as a guide for ideas of what type of language we should be acquiring. If there is not curriculum, any used ESL textbook may work as you’re just using it as a guide for ideas (Greetings, Weather, Clothing, Survival English, etc…) But the majority of what we read and write initially is co-created from their interests. ALSO! I will have authentic guests lined up (Skype or in-person) and we can practice the language from the guide (greetings, clothing, weather, etc..). A newcomer language class lends itself to authentic use of language so we capitalize on that. Please see ep. 75 for webinars on how I set up my year. Hope that helps!

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