4 Main Problems of Building Reading Habits in EFL Students
Even in the first language, it can be difficult to get children reading. There are many reasons they may turn their nose up at a book. In some way, I think most of those reasons can be boiled down to boredom.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Bailey N. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
I have the privilege of remembering my journey to reading. When I was very young, my parents would read simple books to me, and I would enjoy looking at the pictures. I would enjoy the way they sounded especially when they rhymed. I remember the moment it clicked in kindergarten when I was so excited to understand the correlation between the words (“the cat bats the ball”) and the picture of a cat playing with a yarn ball. As I got older I would seek out short novels, no longer than 100 pages. Then, after overcoming a period of intimidation, I picked up larger books like Harry Potter. I was surrounded by incentive programs— summer reading at the library, and AR/RC at school— and those programs had appealing prizes for reading large quantities of the books I had come to love.
The Importance of a Good Example
Having said this, I’ve been surrounded by people who developed a love for reading late or never, and upon asking them why they don’t pick up a book more often, the answer is usually something along the lines of “the text is boring because it isn’t visually appealing”, or “the content is boring”. This is frustrating to me because there are plenty of beautifully illustrated books/graphic novels out there. There are plenty of novels about that one niche interest you have or the genre you love which you haven’t discovered yet. Sometimes, however, even knowing one’s perfect book exists isn’t enough to make someone look for it. They’ve just been too disappointed before. While there are some marked differences in a child’s motivation for reading, I think it’s important to address the problem of book ennui before a child ends up carrying this prejudice against reading for an entire lifetime.
1. First, it’s still, quiet activity.
For a young child with a lot of energy the hardest part can be sitting down to focus. This is to say nothing of children with ADHD. I believe the best way this can be addressed is to initiate reading after a time of intense play, so the child is in a space to listen to/ engage their imagination in the story without distraction from restless limbs.
2. Second, for very young children, the act of reading itself can present a challenge, and the content of the book must be worth the effort they made to understand the words.
Sometimes the accomplishment of reading is reward enough, but it would be ideal that the content of the book provides a concrete, outward incentive for decoding the story. As the course reinforces, the original need to communicate which drives learning in the first language is not present for the second language.
3. Third, children must be presented with a variety of book topics.
Even a book that is mildly interesting is better than nothing. It falls upon the teacher to expose children to as many different stories as possible so children can find a genre to explore. The child’s short attention span can be an advantage in this endeavor; the shorter a book is the more of them you can finish as a class. This is the way to get to children with ADHD engaged. As ADHD can cause someone to be disproportionately driven by the enjoyment they get out of something (and conversely cause them to neglect boring tasks, as reading may become under unfortunate circumstances), finding something which engages their focus is NOT impossible, and is very rewarding; it simply has to be the right thing. Exposure is key. Drawing off of a child’s interests is key.
4. Lastly, reading should not be used as a punishment if you can help it.
If the child is put in time-out for being too rambunctious, I can only imagine that being told to “go read” and then struggling to do so could be a horrible impression which you must work to undo later. If reading will be part of a punishment, then it would best be served as a choice, as you may read, tidy the room, or (x).
How do you instill a love for reading when the book is in a second language?
The challenges are stacked even higher when a child doesn’t already like to read and then must be persuaded to read in a less comfortable language. My strategy, therefore, would be to address the turnoffs in the first language while encouraging the use of the second language. This involves picking books with plenty of illustrations, making the book into an interactive activity (mime the actions in the book, for example, to get children activating their knowledge in the real world) and skipping straight to subjects in the children’s interests. Even among small children, the teacher can conduct a simple survey to find out what they like. If vocabulary is insufficient for this purpose, drawings of unicorns, soccer players, and dogs can tell you what you need to know while providing a learning opportunity. The teacher can be flexible about providing comics and other less traditional books. Books could be left out in the classroom on a shelf in case the students have any free time and are inclined to go over and pick one out freely. There should be a range of levels, so students can feel comfortable reading at whatever level they’re on. Incentive programs with small prizes would be great whenever possible to help their sense of accomplishment.
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Ultimately, it is up to the teacher to make books an exciting affair in the real world until children can better imagine the contents of the book. I believe exciting books can then become a naturally incentivized vehicle for the second language.
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