Tag Archives: Reading

Relearning How To Teach Reading…The Correct Way

“Jack Silva didn’t know anything about how children learn to read. What he did know is that a lot of students in his district were struggling. Silva is the chief academic officer for Bethlehem, Pa., public schools. In 2015, only 56 percent of third-graders were scoring proficient on the state reading test. That year, he set out to do something about that.” E. Hanford, NPR

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Credit- LA Johnson:NPR

Excerpt: Why Millions Of Kids Can’t Read And What Better Teaching Can Do About It, Emily  Hanford,  NPR

“Bethlehem is not an outlier. Across the country, millions of kids are struggling. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 32 percent of fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders aren’t reading at a basic level. Fewer than 40 percent are proficient or advanced.

One excuse that educators have long offered to explain poor reading performance is poverty. In Bethlehem, a small city in Eastern Pennsylvania that was once a booming steel town, there are plenty of poor families. But there are fancy homes in Bethlehem, too, and when Silva examined the reading scores he saw that many students at the wealthier schools weren’t reading very well either.

Silva didn’t know what to do. To begin with, he didn’t know how students in his district were being taught to read. So, he assigned his new director of literacy, Kim Harper, to find out.Harper attended a professional-development day at one of the district’s lowest-performing elementary schools. The teachers were talking about how students should attack words in a story. When a child came to a word she didn’t know, the teacher would tell her to look at the picture and guess.The most important thing was for the child to understand the meaning of the story, not the exact words on the page.

Traci Millheim tries out a new lesson with her kindergarten class at Lincoln Elementary in Bethlehem, Pa.Emily Hanford:APM Reports

So, if a kid came to the word “horse” and said ‘house,’ the teacher would say, that’s wrong. But, Harper recalls, ‘if the kid said ‘pony,’ it’d be right because pony and horse mean the same thing.’ Harper was shocked. First of all, pony and horse don’t mean the same thing. And what does a kid do when there aren’t any pictures?

This advice to a beginning reader is based on an influential theory about reading that basically says people use things like context and visual clues to read words. The theory assumes learning to read is a natural process and that with enough exposure to text, kids will figure out how words work. 

Credit: Barnes and Noble

Yet scientists from around the world have done thousands of studies on how people learn to read and have concluded that theory is wrong. One big takeaway from all that research is that reading is not natural; we are not wired to read from birth. People become skilled readers by learning that written text is a code for speech sounds. The primary task for a beginning reader is to crack the code. Even skilled readers rely on decodingMichelle Bosak, who teaches English as a second language in Bethlehem, said that when she was in college learning to be a teacher, she was taught almost nothing about how kids learn to read…Bosak was among the first group of teachers in Bethlehem to attend the new, science-based classes, which were presented as a series over the course of a year. For many teachers, the classes were as much about unlearning old ideas about reading — like that contextual-guessing idea — as they were about learning new things.”


Extra: Something Very Nice To Watch:

How A Palestinian Teacher Greets Her Students!



ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann


II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Bethlehem is not an outlier.
  2. Fewer than 40 percent are proficient or advanced.
  3. Kim Harper was the new director of literacy.
  4. This advice to a beginning reader is based on an influential theory.
  5. This guessing approach is enshrined in materials and handbooks used by teachers.
  6. Even skilled readers rely on decoding. 
  7. This contextual guessing approach is enshrined in materials.
  8. The child was prompted to sound out the entire word.
  9. The children are successful and happy.
  10. The main goal was to expose kids to lots of text and get them excited about reading

ELLteaching 2.0 vocabulary chart


 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.


  1. Bethlehem is not and outlier.
  2. There are fancy homes in Bethlehem.
  3. The theory is wrong.


  1. Harper attended an professional-development day.
  2. The teachers were talking about how students should attack words in a story.
  3. Pony and horse don’t mean the same thing.


  1. The theory assumes learning to read is a natural process.
  2. Even skilled readers  rely on decoding.   
  3. This was an class on the science of reading.


Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. Jack Silva is the chief academic officer  for  Bronx, New York, public schools.
  2. Silva didn’t know anything about how children learn to read.
  3. One excuse that educators have long offered to explain poor reading performance is too much play time during school.
  4. Kim Harper  new  the director of literacy for Bethlehem school.
  5. One theory assumes learning to read is a natural process.
  6. The primary task for a beginning reader is to guess the word.
  7. The contextual guessing approach is what a lot of teachers in Bethlehem had learned.
  8. When a child comes to a word she doesn’t know,There should guessing.
  9. In the class, teachers spent a lot of time going over the sound structure of the English language.
  10. The starting point for reading is sound, and it’s critical for teachers to have a deep understanding of this.


Ask/Answer Questions

Directions:  Place students in groups and have each group list 3  questions they would like to pursue in relation to  the article. Have groups exchange questions. Each group tries to answer the questions listed. All responses are shared as a class.


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A Book is a Gift You Can Open Again and Again…

By Sarah Sweeney, The Harvardgazette, The one, indispensable book

Quote: Garrison Keillor

Harvard University recently  celebrated its 2011 Commencement, and as a parting gift, several of Harvard’s  faculty who were featured in Harvard Bound, shared what they felt were the essential books for the new Harvard graduates. The following are excerpts from some of  their responses.

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes


Noah Feldman, Bemis Professor of International Law and author of “Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices”:

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. This book has everything in it: religion, philosophy, a theory of human nature, government, even international affairs. It helped set the stage for the modern world.”

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare


Marjorie Garber, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies and author of The Use and Abuse of Literature:

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare.
I … still hope that voyaging in the company of Shakespeare, and encountering the pleasures of some of his least known — as well as his most-celebrated — works gave these students the exhilaration it has always given me.

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison


James Kloppenberg, Charles Warren Professor of American History, chair of the History Department, and author of Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition :

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. From my perspective, the novel’s enduring significance derives as much from its complex politics as from its mastery of the techniques of literary modernism or its value for illuminating aspects of African-American history.



The Prime Of Miss Jean Brody by Muriel Sparks

Sarah Braunstein, fiction instructor at Harvard Extension School and author of  “The Sweet Relief of Missing Children”

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie  by Muriel Spark. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, published in 1961, is a slim, hilarious, devastating novel,”

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics and author of “Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

“The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. Smith’s magnum opus created the field of economics, and it remains the best introduction to the economist’s mindset.”

The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi

Howard Gardner, John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education and author of “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed

The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi.
The autobiography is neither artfully worded nor elegantly composed,  but it describes in remarkably informative detail the ways in which Gandhi developed his own persona, learned from his mistakes, and inspired others.”

Ideas and Lesson Plans for additional novels from ESL Voices:

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingslover

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingslover

Extract from an ESL Voices Lesson Plan for Reading:

The Bean Trees by Barbra Kingslover

Pre-Reading Discussion Questions

In the novel The Bean Trees by Barbra Kingslover, there are several themes discussed. You might want to have discussions with students to check if  they understand the these topics.

For example, immigration, and the consequences of illegal immigration. Mattie, is one of the characters in the story,  who transports and protects illegal aliens. The immigrants Estevan and Esperanza are depicted sympathetically, and Taylor’s horror at their past life changes the way she sees the world. Kingsolver depicts those who denigrate immigrants not as evil, but as ignorant or misguided.

Another theme that comes up in the novel is that of family. Traditionally  the word “family” meant a father, mother,  and children (usually just 2 with the father being the provider, and the mother the caregiver.  Kingslover presents several untraditional models of family. The first mother introduced in the novel, Alice Greer, sets the stage for all the models of motherhood to come. Alice is a loving, responsible single mother, who raises her daughter without a father.  Taylor (the main character) becomes an adoptive mother overnight, acquiring a child of a different racial makeup and background than her own, and Lou Ann gives birth to a child on her own.

The bean trees have a symbiotic relationship with bugs called rhizobia, which move up and down the wisteria vine’s roots and provide a network that transfers nutrients. This mutual aid symbolizes the help and love human beings give one another. The bean trees, like people, only thrive with a network of support.

Words and  Terms:


legal immigrants

illegal aliens


family/ motherhood/fatherhood

Cherokee Indians

symbiotic relationship

For the complete Lesson Plan and the plans for additional novels visit Reading Lessons.

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