Kind of like teaching an upset, 10-year old sack of potatoes to read.
April 22, 2010 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Advice on making reading palatable to a disgruntled ESL 10-year-old.

I've been hired as an English tutor to a Korean family with two brothers, one 7 and one 10. They're both smart and can speak English decently well, although they have a lot of vocabulary to learn. I see them for 1.5 hours/week.

Up until recently, I've just been hanging out, playing charades and taboo, doing a few worksheets, playing go-fish and memory with various vocabulary cards, etc. Recently, the parents approached me and asked me to focus more on reading, since the 10 year old got his report card back and he's struggling in that department. I wasn't surprised, since every time I put something to read in front of him, he sticks his head in his arms and says "No I'm not going to do that" and stays quiet until I (dumbly) suggest an alternative.

After reading a pretty fantastic book on teaching and realizing that I've been sabotaging both of us by caving in to his refusal to read, I decided that we couldn't avoid reading any longer.

I ended up telling him I'd wait until he was ready to read, while he sat there crying with his arm in his hands for 55 minutes, until he finally read for 5 minutes. Oof.

This week, I tried to make a class out of it with his brother, pre-teaching difficult vocabulary with pictures and games, playing charades with the new words, practiced reading an example sentence in a few ways to learn about expression and not reading in a monotone, and then reading a few pages of a relatively easy book, bouncing from speaker to speaker at random to keep both of their eyes on the page. My 10 year old shut down pretty quickly, and only really got through the lesson via 2-3 interventions by his mother. Complaints during the hour ranged from "It's too hard" to "It's too easy" to "It's too boring". If he hits a word he doesn't know, he shuts down, and when he hits words he does know, he reads them in a monotone and complains that it's too easy/boring. He's asked for a more fun book, with lots of pictures. (At this point we're using one of his brother's picture books in the Clifford the Big Red Dog series). Help!
posted by sdis to Education (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I recommend trying some of the strategies in this book.
posted by leesh at 8:18 AM on April 22, 2010

Comic books.
posted by bubukaba at 8:19 AM on April 22, 2010

Ooh, yes, boys that age love the Bone series and they shouldn't be too hard for him.
posted by leesh at 8:25 AM on April 22, 2010

Start with easy stuff. Instead of go fish, get two matching decks of simple vocabulary cards and play go fish with them so at least he will need to know what the words are. Then start with super super easy books (like pre k three words to a page books) so he can build up his reading confidence. Reading to them from a more grade level book (Harry Potter?) may get them excited about books and give them some new vocabulary. Finally, do you know if he can read well in Korean? Just want to be sure he doesn't have dyslexia which is making him freak out about reading...
posted by MsKim at 8:26 AM on April 22, 2010

I'm pretty sure he can read well in Korean. I was thinking of comic books and I'll look into the Bone series. Stuff that I can download and print out gets bonus points just 'cause I'm in Austria and it's hard to find things here.
posted by sdis at 8:30 AM on April 22, 2010

You don't say if he is in a regular class or not, but even if he isn't, and even if he has really good teachers, reading out loud could be embarrassing for him. While, when conversing, he is think only of what he's saying, when he reads he aware of his voice and accent. So I'd shy away from asking him to read aloud. Let him read a very short passage and then verbally ask a question or three about it. Or, I think better yet, make flash card of short, simple instructions: Stand. Go to the door. Draw a cat. Wiggle your ears. Put the blue pencil into the red cup on top of the green book by the window.

Also, if he is having trouble with English pronunciation, he is going to have even more trouble with phonics. So try some sight reading, and also review letter and diphthong sounds, but only partly use that as a speech lesson, let him attach the sounds he makes to the sounds of the letters.

I'm not an ESL expert but I've used these methods before when I was ready to try anything.
posted by Some1 at 8:34 AM on April 22, 2010

Kids' level Scrabble to work on vocabulary and word comprehension.

How is his reading in his native language? His reaction makes me wonder if perhaps he has some more global reading "issues".

You could also do that game (broken picture telephone?) where you write a sentence, then the brother writes one, then the mom, then him, but each player can only see the sentence directly above their own, and has to write a sentence in response to what they can see.
posted by anastasiav at 8:46 AM on April 22, 2010

comic books are good, the CLifford books are good - stuff with short pieces of text and pictures so he can look at pictures and predict the text.

get a list of "sight words"(Dolch word list) and work on those - flashcards or a word wall in their bedroom would help. sight words are like 75 percent of a lot of reading. also try some phonemic awareness and phonics stuff - see if he knows that written letters relate to sounds, and if he can identify initial sounds in words.

read to him, making sure he can follow along and see the words as you're reading them.

also, just because he speaks and understands social english well doesn't mean he has the larger academic vocabulary of reading and the classroom. he is *really stressed*.

google these terms: "BICS" (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills) and "CALP" (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). the first means social/playground language, the second is academic language and there is about 5-7 years of study between them.

don't lay down ultimatums. you need to make reading fun, not frightening. kids tend to act out when their academic skills are below their age/grade level because the admission is scary and humiliating.

/just finished one section of Reading Endorsement certificate for Florida. memail me if you want and I'll send you some links/more stuff
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:47 AM on April 22, 2010

I would second comic books as well. Where in Austria are you? If you're in Vienna I suspect there are a few comic book stores there. I know there's a huge English language bookstore downtown.
posted by smallerdemon at 8:50 AM on April 22, 2010

My nine year old hates reading but loves the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. They are the only books I've been able to find that she will actually sit and read herself. Maybe you could try finding some books that would actually catch his interest. The easy books might be boring or embarrassing to him.

Another way to get him reading might be to get him some projects that can't be figured out without reading the instructions. Maybe you could send him on a treasure hunt. Instead of a treasure map give him written clues, even simple riddles.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:55 AM on April 22, 2010

Find some books that he will like. I recommend Captain Underpants or the Grossology series.
And here is a list of other books that boys may like, YMMV.

If you tell us about some of his interests, we may be able to recommend others. Sports, science, inventions, superheroes, magic, fantasy?

And I second the idea that YOU can read to THEM, especially harder books that will hold their interest. Maybe use that during his next break-down time: "ok, while you're getting ready, I'll read a chapter to you, then after that you can read something that you pick out"

I've never taught ESL, but in general, one of the things that you should be trying to do is to find something that he can achieve, and with dignity. So if he can only read the words in baby books, maybe that makes him feel like a baby. See if you can find (or write your own! or let him help you write!) some books using those easy words but the story is not a baby story. Once he can do that, praise the heck out of him, and find something just a little bit harder. Maybe give him a few really hard vocabulary words to learn on cards (tyrannosaurus,experiment) , then write them into a story where the other words are really easy.
posted by CathyG at 9:01 AM on April 22, 2010

I am not a teacher. But I was really struck by this:

If he hits a word he doesn't know, he shuts down

You said that he is smart. Is there a lot of pressure on him to be smart from his parents or from you? Does anyone compare his intelligence to other kids his age or to his brother?

The NY Times has done a few articles on praising for effort rather than for intelligence; how "[p]raising a smart son or daughter for his or her intelligence may make the youngster anxious and ill-equipped to deal with failure," "encourages them to embrace self-defeating behaviors such as worrying about failure and avoiding risks," and avoid subjects or tasks where they aren't assured of doing well off the bat.

Just a thought on what might be contributing to his behavior.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:08 AM on April 22, 2010

Does he play videogames? English-language game reviews and walkthroughs of his favorites. Reluctant readers are often motivated by being able to use their reading for something USEFUL to them, whether that's the ultimate Pokemon trading guide or a book about dinosaurs.

Also, cookie recipes. (Make them double it or halve it so they can use math too!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:51 AM on April 22, 2010

This may be impractical, but one strategy that can work with reluctant readers is letting them read to a dog ... some schools in the US they bring in "reading therapy dogs" and the children who are struggling with reading but have behaved that day get to read to the dog. They like spending the time with the dog and the dog is a non-judgmental listener who just likes to be with the kid.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:53 AM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

TokyoPop's Spongebob Squarepants Cine-manga series are great: funny, well written and drawn. Your pupil will have an easier time of learning how to read expressively if he has something to model (assuming he's seen Spongebob on TV).

Seconding Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Capt Underpants. He might also enjoy the Franny K. Stein series.

Is it possible he's embarrassed by reading more poorly than his younger brother? Might want to work with him alone. And also, just a caution: kids have incredibly sensitive radar of how an adult perceives them. I'm sure the title of this post was just a joke for the sake of having to fill in the blank but if even a hint of that is leaking out during your sessions with him, he's not going to trust you.
posted by jamaro at 11:54 AM on April 22, 2010

Would it be possible to prime him with all the vocabulary in the reading selection immediately before giving him the selection to read? Maybe start with something extremely short, possibly written by you - silly jokes? simple quotes? something about his room, house, life, or parents?

Just start small and prepare a heck of a lot before doing the actual reading.

It can be frustrating and embarrassing for me when I try (lamely) to read French and come upon a word I don't know approximately every ten seconds. That's where this idea came from.
posted by amtho at 1:32 PM on April 22, 2010

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