Get Your ELLs Reading with “Speed Dating”

ESL Library is not just the name of our site. It is literally a library full of readings for English learners. As a subscriber, your license allows you to download and print unlimited graded readings for your students. And there are hundreds of choices!

This week I came across an excellent Edutopia article titled Building Choice Into Your Students’ Reading about giving students more reading choices to encourage the growth of readers.

In the article, one of the recommended activities for creating a “literary-rich environment” at school is speed dating.

In the library, all sorts of books are arranged on many different tables. The teacher has a timer and sets it off every two to three minutes as the students browse the books and find titles they are interested in. Students keep a log of books they like. At the end of the activity, they choose one book to begin reading immediately and a few to try later in the year.

Speed Dating with ESL Library Readings

Here’s how to adapt this reading activity with ESL Library readings and ELLs:

  1. Choose several topics from the Reading & Discovery sections. Filter by level in order to find appropriate reading materials.
  2. Print a double-sided copy of pages 1 and 2 from each topic that you choose. Page 1 includes the lesson image and page 2 includes the reading. Make sure you have selected at least as many topics as you have students in your class, so that someone is always reading something.
  3. Spread the readings on several tables or desks around your classroom or library. You can choose to organize the readings by theme or category or just mix them up and place them randomly around the room.
  4. Start a timer on your mobile device and tell students to find something to read (just page 2). Since they are reading articles rather than books, give them less time (try 1–2 minutes). When the buzzer goes, have them find another reading topic. (You may want to ask them to make a list of the readings they picked and liked.)
  5. After about 15–20 minutes, ask your students to go back to the reading that they were most interested in. Give them enough time to read the entire page. You may find that many of the students want to read about the same person, place, thing, or event. Allow students to pair up, or allow groups to form reading circles and take turns reading out loud.

This is a great way to find out what your students are interested in. Look around to see which topics your students liked and find time to do the whole lesson in class. When you go to the lesson page to print the full lesson, see if there are Related Materials to try. For example, our latest Famous People lesson on Jack Ma has links to related lessons on Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Hedy Lamar. After you discover your students’ interests, you may be able to recommend some fictional books, too.

Happy reading!

PS. If you want to encourage your students to read fiction, be sure to read the whole Edutopia article for more great tips. Don’t forget to tell your students what you are reading. They may be inspired to pick up a book.

I’m currently reading a book by a local author called Men Walking on Water. It takes place on the banks of Detroit during prohibition before the tunnel and bridge were built near my new home. What are you reading? Here’s a book suggestion from ESL Library’s CEO, Ben.


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