Child reading

Teaching reading: It’s as easy as A, B, C!

In this series of blog posts for primary teachers, Katherine Bilsborough, coauthor of Imagine, offers simple tips for easy ways to make teaching grammar, phonics, and reading as easy as A, B, C!

Primary children are often developing reading skills in their first language (L1) at the same time as they are learning how to read in English. This means that we can’t assume that we’ll be able to transfer reading skills from one language into another. Nor can we assume that all children in a class will learn to read at the same rate. Those children who are introduced to storybooks at home and see the people around them reading, will have a head start. But children who aren’t exposed to reading at home do catch up, especially if we offer extra support and encouragement.

Here are three tips that show you how easy it can be to help children develop reading skills – as easy as A, B, C.

Tip #1 A. Start off small

Reading starts with individual words. Before exposing children to longer texts, get them used to reading words. Label common objects in the classroom. For example: the door, window, board, desk, a wall, the floor, etc. With a bit of creative thinking, these labels can then be used as a resource. For example, a simple walk, point, and say activity can be done in pairs or by a different child each day. Nominate a child to choose a word. They walk to the object, point to it, and read the label aloud for the rest of the class.

If you are teaching online, children can label objects they have to hand, starting with common classroom objects and adding labels to objects around them. Write the label words on a slide for children to copy or provide a pdf which they can print out and cut up. Children can hold up objects to show their labels or they can share photos in a collaborative space.

Tip #2 B. Warm up first

Always think of a warmer activity to introduce children to a text they are going to read. This can be as simple as showing a related image and asking children to say what they can see – thereby activating some of the language they will come across in the text. Or, for older children with a higher level of English, it can be more sophisticated. For example, using a KWL chart to first generate ideas about what children already know (K) about a topic and what they want to find out (W) and then, after reading, what they learned (L). Read more about KWL charts here. These activities can easily be done in a face-to-face context or online.

Tip #3 C. A reason to read

Providing a purpose for reading is key for engagement. The better the reason, the more effort children are likely to make to read. Information gap activities are an ideal way of providing a reason. In this kind of activity, learners have to read something in order to find the missing information they need for completing something like a table, a chart, a fact file, a gapped text, etc.

Example 1

The key information is in a single text. Children have to read the text and complete a simple table with the missing information.

Look at this man. Is he real? No, he isn’t. He’s a scarecrow. A scarecrow is a big doll. You can see scarecrows on farms.

This scarecrow is happy. Look at his mouth! He has big eyes. What color is his face? It’s orange.

What about his clothes? He has a blue and red shirt and jeans. He doesn’t have shoes, but he has boots. They’re black. He has a nice hat and two gloves.

Can you make a scarecrow?


The key information is sometimes held by, and later shared between, A and B pairs or a larger number of group members.

Bonus Tip

Wherever possible find ways to foster the children’s love of reading. One of the best ways to do this is to show how much you love to read. Let children see you reading a book. Their natural curiosity will prompt them to ask questions. If you are in a traditional classroom, let children see your book up close. For online classes, invite children to hold up a book they have at home and to tell their classmates about it. This can be simple, just the title and whether they like the book. Or it can be more complex, with children reading the first line of their books or explaining a bit about the story.

Imagine supports the teaching of reading in numerous ways, becoming gradually more sophisticated with each age and level. In level one, the main reading texts are accompanied by colorful photos that support understanding. Sentences are short and simple with about five unfamiliar words. These are written in bold and presented in an audio before the children read so as to avoid difficulties. Reading texts are accompanied by an audio which teachers can use if they prefer. Alternatively, inexperienced teachers can listen to the recording before class to check pronunciation. Readings are followed by comprehension questions to check understanding. The workbook and online resources provide further practice.

Featured Photo by Rendy Novantino on Unsplash

Author: Katherine Bilsborough

Katherine has been creating ELT materials for 30 years, for her own students and for some of the top ELT Publishers. She has written more than 30 course books and many online courses. . Katherine also writes monthly lesson plans for the British Council/BBC website and blog posts for National Geographic Learning’s In Focus blog. She is the author of ‘How to write Primary materials’, a training course for ELT writers and is the Joint Events Coordinator for IATEFL’s MaWSIG (Materials Writers’ special interest group). Katherine is a co-author of Look, a seven-level primary series from National Geographic Learning.

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