What can be more exciting than helping people access information? Teaching reading to adults as part of an ESL program can be a complex task, but there are some basics that enable a teacher to help the adult make great gains. Word identification and comprehension are equally important.

Word Recognition is the place to start.Decoding or word identification is made up of being able to use sound-symbol relationships, sometimes called phonics or phonetic strategies. This is an important skill that is worth the time spent to master.

Word families- bat, cat, pat, sat, etc. are important and vowels will require special attention as it is those distinctions of short i and short e as is in pit and pet that can be frustrating throughout the reading and English acquisition process.

Sound blends such as st, fl, dr, sh, etc are an area of emphasis as are digraphs such as ch, ck, ph. These letters together form distinct sounds or phonemes.

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Be sure to emphasize ending sounds as well as the more obvious beginning sounds. Listening for ending sounds is sometimes overlooked, yet it is very important.

We learn some sight words incidentally or in the course of everyday life. Certain words are just recognized by their appearance and ESL Adults can recognize and appear to "read" signs and advertisements, such as Brand Names such as NIKE, Pepsi,etc.

Here are some tips to promote the developing ESL Adult reader's identification of sight words:

  • word games such as matching, "Concentration" and Bingo
  • Word search games
  • flashcards
  • selection of emerging reader books with plenty of sight words
  • picture dictionaries
  • rhymes and entertaining poetry

Our English language is confusing with its many words and terms with multiple meanings. Be sure to work with ESL Adults on discerning these variations in meaning as well as going over homonyms, words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings.

Reading Comprehension Reading comprehension is essential to the enjoyment of reading for pleasure and for understanding informational text. Several important skills contribute to higher levels of reading comprehension.

  • using context clues
  • ability to retell, summarize, or paraphrase what is read
  • making inferences or drawing conclusions when certain information is not explicit
  • sequencing events
  • comparing and contrasting

In teaching English to adults whose native language is not English, it is important to teach word parts: prefixes, root words, suffixes, and derivations of words. When ESL Adult students know even the basics, the skill enables them to come close to knowing what, at first, is an unfamiliar word. For example, when even an elementary school student knows the psych- means mind and somato- means body, then they stand a chance of understanding what psychosomatic means, even in their later educational years.

Put reading in a context of real life

Reading across the curriculum and having teachers from different core subjects join forces on learning objectives is a powerful strategy. The ESL for Adults teacher who uses reading tasks from everyday life can demonstrate the value of continued mastery of the language.


  • Keep in mind that these are adults who may be learning basic English, but they already speak their native language and they come to this instruction with education and experience that makes them peers.
  • Teaching adults is different than teaching children. The approach needs to be more of a client relationship than teacher-student.
  • Find out what the adult's goal is so that the instruction can be geared toward what the ESL Adult needs rather than to make inaccurate assumptions about what the ESL Adult is working toward. Establish a rapport to guide the ESL Adult toward his or her goals.
  • Enjoy this special teaching and learning opportunity

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