10 tips to help your adult learners read

Joyce holds a master's degree and a PhD in Cognition and Language (UENF). She is an academic consultant at Troika and teaches English for Academic Purposes. She is also the author of books, book chapters and scientific articles in Brazil and abroad.

Adult learners have to overcome a lot of beliefs so that they can finally read in an additional language. Apart from connecting syllables and producing sounds (literacy), it is necessary to provide them with opportunities to read between [and beyond] the lines, images and even intentions (literacies). Reading what is not exactly written with letters - layers of meaning conveyed by the context, historical references and others - is a complex task. In a way, we can say it's similar to when a child is learning how to read. One of the differences is that adults have more previous experiences that allow them to make connections that children are not able to do yet.

Some ideas that might help your learners:

1) Explore the topic of the text being read. One way to start doing it is by asking questions to elicit what they already know about the theme. Questions are a great way to engage, as well as encourage curiosity and reflection.

2) Flip the class by encouraging reading as a pre-class task. This will give learners more accountability (before and during your meeting). Of course, some of them might not have time to read a long text. So, why not ask them to read a paragraph or even a page? Make sure you are realistic about what they are able to accomplish.

3) Teach them to use a good (online or print) dictionary. Yes, teach it. One of the first reactions when a language learner is reading and comes across a new word or expression is to look upr its translation. I'm not saying that it is wrong. However, if they look up the meaning instead of translating a term, they might be much more successful in the reading task, in terms of investigation of the word in context, the use of synonyms, pronunciation features and more. Thus, explain this to them and help with the baby steps.

4) Celebrate every new achievement, such as when your learners understand something different in the text, when they look up new words and meanings by themselves, or when they start speaking more in the additional language in class and become better able to explain things to you using what they`ve learned. Isn't it priceless when they notice their own progress in their learning process? Celebrating with them will certainly help in this.

5) Provide them with the chance to organize their thinking, textual comprehension and ideas. In this case, you can work with diagrams, mind maps, tables, word clouds, and other visual organizers which you can use to initiate the writing process. By the way, writing will help them systematize everything they have learned and work on ideas that emerge from the texts they have read before.

6) Allow learners to suggest the texts you will work on together, and dig into it (articles they have to read either for a class, to prepare a presentation, or write an essay at the university, for example). Thus, learning will take place for everyone in class (not only they will learn, but also you) by the end of the course. Working on subjects that really interest them will make your class a pleasant place to be. Also, you will give learners the chance to teach you things they are really into, which is an unmissable opportunity to have them use the target language.

7) Expand their idea of texts by exploring multimodal elements in your classes. You can analyze images, graphs, infographics, and other pieces of reading together.

8) Correct them on the spot just when necessary. Make sure you don't interrupt them during a reading or speaking task or when they are presenting something to you - unless it is something that will have some impact on their language production. Instead, take notes. Have a notebook to record things you notice and talk to them afterwards. How about a feedback session or a moment for analyzing typical misuses in different types of texts?

9) Based on the previous tip, make your classes an open space for making mistakes. Show them that you also make mistakes and that they can help us - normal people - learn more.

10) Lastly - and as important as all the ideas above -, incorporate linguistic variations in your classes - in written texts, videos, podcasts, and others. When exploring meanings, make sure you don't privilege a kind of variation over others. Show possibilities and discuss reasons why they can be used in different contexts. This will help minimize linguistic prejudice and broaden your learners' view of the language around the world.

You will certainly have or remember more ideas to help learners read. If you do, please share them with us!

But these are a good place to start from.

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