Helping young English learners understand what they’re reading


Reading is generally thought of as a receptive skill, and involves learners making sense of and understanding both pictures and words. Reading for children starts with and includes the ability to ‘read’ pictures and goes on to involve a number of different processes and skills which learners need to be helped to develop.

We can help young learners to read more effectively by:

  • doing pre-reading activities. These activate knowledge of the topic, encourage learners to predict and guess what is coming and motivate them to want to read. Some examples: brainstorming, predicting from pictures, pre-teaching of vocabulary, sequencing pictures, guessing what is going to happen
  • setting reading tasks. Learners need a purpose for reading and a task does just that. Some examples: confirming (or not) predictions from the pre-reading activity, finding out how many characters there are in the story, finding a specific piece of information
  • doing post-reading activities. These help learners to make sense of what they have read and give them more opportunities to use and to begin to internalise the language. Some examples: creating their own version of a story, making their own books, making a poster, doing a role play or a short dramatisation

How important is reading aloud?

We need to think why we are asking our learners to read aloud. If there is a clear purpose for their doing so, then, on occasion, it can be a useful activity. But not everyone can read aloud well, even adults. Even when learners can read aloud quite well it doesn’t mean that they understand what they are reading. On the other hand, child development theory tells us that as children develop speech and reading they go through a stage when they ‘speak their thoughts’ and actually need to quietly read aloud to themselves to aid their understanding of text.

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