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Reader Leaders

by Lee Friederich | 13 Mar 2017
Resource Description: A Reader Leader session helps to address the difficulty ELLs sometimes have getting through and understanding assigned readings by making use of community volunteers who come into the classroom to assist the instructor by reading aloud and discussing texts with students. Addressing the gap between the student's current skills and the academic reading task at hand, a Reader Leader session (or series of sessions over the semester) can be an effective and enjoyable means of starting to close that gap, provided that the gap is not too large.  Although this activity can be applied to many other teaching situations, this particular activity is designed to help instructors ensure that students are understanding the texts upon which they are basing their essays in an entry-level source-based writing course.
Audience: Secondary, University
Audience Language Proficiency: Advanced, Intermediate
Duration: full class period (60-75 minutes)
Materials and Technology: The instructor should provide a different text for each group, a shorter reading of 3-5 paragraphs that will take about 20-25 minutes to read and discuss.  I am a college composition teacher, and so I brought in Reader Leader volunteers to read with my students four times over the semester to help students better understand texts they were required to make use of in their writing.  In one case, we read a longer essay from Native American writer Zitkala-Sa's "School Days of an Indian Girl," which is divided into shorter sections that could be distributed among the groups. On another occasion, we worked with 4 short opinion pieces from the New York Times "Room for Debate" online forum.  I usually aim for a total of 3 Reader Leaders, 2 other volunteers and myself, each working with 5-7 students.  Classes with just a 50-60-minute timeframe should try to do shorter texts.
Using class materials, this activity will address overall "global" reading comprehension as well as cultural competency.  The activity may also help to build vocabulary and better pronunciation.


Outcome(s): Students will feel more comfortable and confident about their understanding of the readings with the help of the Reader Leader volunteers, and may also feel a positive bond or connection with the community member or student volunteer. (Many students enjoy the opportunity to speak with community members or other students they may not know. Bringing back the same volunteers is a plus in strengthening this bond.)
Activity Description:

The first step is to find Reader Leaders who are willing and available to visit your class.  Because of my connections with various groups that traditionally volunteer to help the international and refugee students at my university, such as students of Intercultural Communications, Peer Tutors in our campus Learning Center, as well as community members from all walks of life in our Community Host program, I was able to put together an email list to send a basic description of my proposal and the date of the first Reader Leader Session. I received many responses, but only two volunteers could come to the first session; one of the volunteers came to all four sessions, and two others came 1-3 times.  I sent out an invitation to my list for each session one week beforehand.

As mentioned above, the readings should be keyed to class content and should be short enough to read and discuss in detail in group discussion (about 3-5 paragraphs or so).  Copies will need to be made before class, a copy of each reading for each student and Reader Leaders.  If possible, give the Reader Leaders a copy of the reading they will focus on a few days in advance, explaining that their role is to read the text aloud (slowly and expressively) and to discuss it with the students both during and after the reading.  If they are very interested in other readings, you can give them all of the readings for their information, marking the one you would like them to work on with students.

For homework before the Reader Leader session, ask students to read and annotate readings for key points and to mark passages and words that they found interesting or difficult.  At this point, before they read, it is also a good idea to preview the readings in class for the students, discussing the topic, background, and any overarching concepts that are helpful to know about the topic.

When the Reader Leaders arrive, introduce each one to the class and have students introduce themselves to each of the Reader Leaders as they visit their group during the session.  With three Reader Leaders (each leading 5-7 students), the each group will have 20-25 minutes to read and discuss their reading.  Volunteers are encouraged to read at least one paragraph before stopping to ask students for their questions or ideas about the passage.  

The Reader Leader, after reading and discussing the first paragraph with students, may ask if there is anyone in the group who would like to read the next paragraph aloud; however, it is critical that no one feel pressured to read and that the Reader Leader "go with the flow" and desires of the students when it comes to reading aloud.  I have been in groups where everyone read and in other groups where no one wanted to read.  You may want to ask students about their feelings about reading aloud in a "get to know you" one-on-one conference at the beginning of the semester.

The instructor should keep track of time.  When the time limit is up, the Reader Leaders rotate to the next group to read the same excerpt with another group, and then the next.

For followup, students can write a journal entry or note to one of the Reader Leaders describing what they learned and got out of the Session, which the instructor can share with the Reader Leader, since it will likely be good incentive to return to the class.  

TESOL Interest Section: Second Language Writing