How can ESL/EFL teachers motivate their students to develop reading and writing skills and keep them engaged

Written by Rossana Quiroz, M.A.

In order to answer this question, I think it is important to reflect on two things: what motivated us to learn a foreign language and what motivates us to teach it? This reflection helps us understand the challenges our students face and gives us the tools to deliver meaningful lessons so our students can improve their motivation and language skills.

We all have different teaching contexts and scenarios, some of us may teach from a textbook supplied by the language center; others may develop their own reading and writing resources. In either case, I´d like to share the following experience that helped me boost my students’ motivation towards reading and writing by acknowledging their potential.

When I taught at a language center, I use to take a look at the whole textbook and read all the reading passages. In that way, I could get a glimpse of what the unit would be about, what I knew about the topic and how I could make it meaningful to my students. I found many interesting and inspiring stories that I had never read before. I inquired more about the people, events and places portrayed in the reading passages and felt motivated to share that with my students so that they could also experience the same feelings. When I saw the class roster, it showed my students’ majors and I noticed there were some students who may have some background information related to the readings, so I planned on asking for their help to get this started.

During class, I was not the only one interested in the reading, but most of my students. They helped support their peers and increased their confidence not only in the task, but also in giving feedback to the ones who needed it. It was a great collaborative experience. What is more, they actively exchanged experiences, compared scenarios, and showed interest in getting more information about the content. Learning reading strategies were not an issue because the topic made it easier. In fact, a writing prompt come up from that rich class discussion with my students.

Reading can ignite writing development and empower students with confidence on how to make their thoughts visible. Lee and Van Patten (2003, p.245) point out that “reading is the best resource of input for the second language writers and it is through reading that writers find the type of language they need for writing.” Now, in terms of writing, I believe it is important to keep in mind that the weight we give either to the product or the process can impact students´ ability to communicate through writing.  The writing process includes purpose and audience, generating ideas and organizing them, evaluating and revising the ideas written. Furthermore, by focusing on the process, teachers can help students unfold their creativity and enrich their composition.

The role the teachers play in the classroom is crucial and will shape the way all the students interact. Lee and Van Patten (2003) describe teachers as architects and students as builders working together to construct their learning by sharing teaching functions.

In my reflection of having a retrospective look at our days as learners and our role as teachers, I learned that motivation is contagious, if I am motivated enough in a topic or become motivated, it will have an effect on my students. I also learned that the more I involve my students as coworkers in the planning process, the more they will learn; I learned that by having a class where all four language skills are intertwined, it not only contributes to our students language proficiency level, but to their confidence to face future challenges.

Resources: Lee, J.F., & VanPatten, B. (2003). Making communicative language teaching happen (2nd ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill

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