TRC Read to Kids

Welcome to The Reading Connection’s blog, where you’ll find the best guidance on reading aloud to kids. Whether you are a TRC Read-Aloud volunteer, parent or student, the book themes and crafts ideas, child development guidelines and recommended websites will expand your world. For 25 years, The Reading Connection has worked to improve the lives of at-risk kids by linking the magic of reading to fun experiences that inspire a passion for learning. Visit our website at

Monday, October 5, 2015

Readers Come in All Languages

Learning to speak a new language is hard. So is learning to read. Trying to do both at the same time is doubly challenging. Understandably, this situation can end up crushing a kid's motivation and love of learning. 

The Reading Connection serves many kids who speak a language other than English at home and who may be developing their English language and reading skills at the same time. Our goal is to boost their reading motivation and fuel their love of learning, so we need to be mindful of their situation.

Feel Dumb
[My teacher] points to me, then to the letters of the English alphabet.
I say A, B, C and so on...
[My teacher] points to the numbers along the wall.
I count up to twenty...
I'm furious, unable to explain I already learned fractions and how to purify river water.
So this is what dumb feels like.
I hate, hate, hate it.

--Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
English language learners make up the fastest growing population of students in U. S. schools. How can you help English language learners become enthusiastic, motivated readers while building their new language skills at the same time? Here are a few ways to support literacy development for these kids.

Slow down and ante up

English language learners frequently coming from under-resourced communities and have to do much more with less. Under-resourced communities have fewer books available for kids, and the kids living there may also have fewer chances to build the background knowledge and vocabulary that will help them with reading comprehension. That's the "less." English language learners are also working not just to learn to read and write, but to do so (and also to speak and think) in at least two languages. That's the "more." 

To accommodate this multitasking, allow English language learners time to process what you are saying. Even if a child appears fluent in English, she may still be thinking in her native tongue. That means she may need to translate what you’ve said into her first language, interpret the meaning, formulate a response and translate it back into English before responding to you.

Provide opportunities to build background knowledge and vocabulary through life experiences and enrichment activities. Including nonfiction books in your Read-Aloud also adds variety and builds background knowledge at the same time.

Provide access to books in English language learners' native language and bilingual books with English and the English language learners' first language. Also valuable are books in English featuring characters and themes from the English language learner's native region that depict the characters in a positive, capable light.

Build the word bank

Passing Time
I study the dictionary
because grass and trees
do not grow faster because I stare.

I look up
Jane: not listed
sees: to eyeball something
Spot: a stain
run: to move really fast
Meaning:  ______ eyeballs stain move.
I throw dictionary down
and ask Brother Quang.
Jane is a name,
not in the dictionary.
Spot is a common name
for a dog.
(Girl named) Jane sees (dog named) Spot run. 
I can't read
a baby book.
Who will believe
I was reading
Nhat Linh?
But then,
who here knows
who he is?

--Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Many English language learners have limited English vocabularies, which directly affects their reading comprehension. Help kids put more words in their word banks by
  • Encouraging talk at every opportunity,
  • Pointing out cognates to ease vocabulary growth,
  • Using pictures and real-life activities to build vocabulary and
  • Teaching new words encountered in books you read together.

Be a super model

English language learners' reading comprehension develops more slowly than that of their monolingual peers. They benefit even more from modeling of comprehension techniques. 

When reading aloud with English language learners, consider including the following techniques:
  • Model comprehension skills by thinking out loud and asking questions. 
    • "Hmm, I'm confused. Maybe I should go back and read that sentence again." Or, "I wonder what that means. What do you think is happening here?"
  • Define unfamiliar words within the context of the story and point out how you can use context to understand a new word. 
    • If the book you were reading said, "The crab grabbed my finger in his pincer. It hurt!" You could say, "'Pincer' is another word for the crab's claw. We might be able to guess that because of the words 'grab' and 'it hurt,' and also from the picture."
  • Make connections to other books or experiences and encourage the kids to do the same thing.
    •  "What does this remind you of?" "Have you ever done that?"
  • Model making predictions and encourage kids to predict what will happen next.  Retelling or summarizing what they have heard are also important skills to develop.

English language learners make up the fastest growing population of students in U. S. schools. We hope the strategies and insights we’ve provided here help you help the English language learners at your Read-Aloud enjoy reading and strengthen their language and reading skills at the same time.

Thanks to Jennifer Gray, Ph.D., of Marymount University, for her collaboration on this piece.

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

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