The following blog post was written by Pat Kelly, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.
Why do some learners want to start on the bottom of the handout they just received? Why do some write long answers when they can circle yes or no?
The ESL literacy learners in my class struggle with reading and understanding instructions. I have noticed that some learners tend to skip the written instructions and attempt to complete the handout on their own. I have been using the following strategy to encourage them to read and understand the instructions.
When preparing the learners for a handout, we start orally. Using visuals, realia, or by eliciting their experiences, the learners become prepared for the language and concepts needed to complete the activity. Now, what to do next?
Before the handout is distributed, the whole class participates in using examples of the target language orally. Learners practice sentence stems and patterns in groups, pairs, and individually. The topic might be about looking for an apartment, reporting an accident at work, or going to a pharmacy. Then in front of the class, the same stems and patterns are shown and manipulated. I make sure the learners can do the exercise before they even see it in the handout. Since they have been prepped for the activity, they can now focus on the instructions. The instructions for the handout are treated the same. They are listened to, repeated, and checked. Next it is time to get the handout, read the instructions again, and begin the exercise.
By using this approach daily, the class is also becoming prepared to practice giving and understanding instructions.