Developing EAL Learners Reading Skills Through Margin Questions

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Pauline Gibbons excellent book which I reviewed here English Learners: Academic Literacy and Thinking. Pauline Gibbons includes a great strategy for helping your EAL learners to become more effective readers.  The approach is called margin questions and it is one of my classroom strategies which you can read about by clicking this link: Margin Questions.

Place margin questions, as the name suggests, around the margin of a text.  Words, phrases or sentences that help to answer the questions are highlighted or underlined to show learners where they will find the answers.  As Gibbons states ‘margin questions focus learners attention not on the content but on developing reading strategies’ in turn making them more successful readers. Learners use the evidence in the text to comprehend what they are reading. Each question that you use should have a specific reason and purpose.

Margin questions scaffold key reading skills that EAL learners need to develop when studying academic texts.  This strategy is particularly effective for New to English learners or those developing competence in the language. Many of these learners often come to our classrooms with a lack of training and knowledge of what it is to be an effective reader and this might be because they have come from an educational background where reading was not valued as much as it is in some cultures and educational settings.  Therefore, it is essential that we support these EAL learners by providing them with ample opportunities to enhance their reading skills.

I have used margin questions in a number of different subject areas with both fiction and non fiction texts. I have used them from primary right through to GCSE level and my EAL learners have benefited greatly from practice in answering these questions and in turn become more successful readers.

As an additional extension to this strategy you could get learners to generate their own margin questions in groups that they then give to other groups to answer. You could ask a particular group to focus on a particular question type such as questions of inference, prediction, summarising or classifying thus giving learners practice in developing their own questioning skills and honing their expertise in questions that they might find particularly hard to answer.

Margin questions when used correctly greatly improve an EAL learners ability to become succesful readers. They provide them with appropriate scaffolding that fine tunes their ability to answer the wide range of question types that they will face in the mainstream classroom. The questions need to be carefully chosen and should point to where the answer can be found.

Next time you are planning a reading lesson for your EAL learners think about how you might use margin questions to support them

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