Guest Writer: Independent Online Reading Practice

Rebecca Palmer, a colleague of mine at Northern State University, has the unenviable task of teaching beginner reading to a very mixed level group of adults in the Academic English Program. While many of the materials we have dug up seem far too childish to use with adult English language learners, she has really found a great variety of appropriate online resources to use with students both in and out of the classroom. It is my pleasure to have her introduce you to some of them today, and, since many of these sites would work well for a wide range of levels and ages, you can pick and choose what will work best for you, your learners, and your teaching context.

I am encouraging my beginner-level college-age ESL readers to use their smartphones and tablets for easy-reading practice anywhere, at any time. If students use the “share” buttons on their electronic devices, most of the websites below are easy to access with just one click without an app. If an app is required, I steer students to free apps. The key to out-of-class reading practice is to make sure that students choose extremely easy articles to read and that they look for topics they find interesting. Here are a few of my students’ favorite online easy-reading sites.

1. Reading Skills for Adults/Marshall Adult Education
Free, no log-in required
This site has hundreds of stories in two reading level groups: 0.7–4.5 and 5.0–8.0. The site also makes it easy for students to improve their oral and silent reading rates. Students may time their silent reading (using their own external timers), and they listen and read along to an audio of the reading. The audio version gets faster with a second reading. One drawback: Users on a smartphone will have to listen to the audio and then return to the written text. Users on a tablet can see and hear the text at the same time.

2. Books That Grow
Free, teachers create an account and send an access code to students’ email addresses [UPDATE: This site is no longer free.]
This site has an amazing mix of fiction and nonfiction. Each title is written at several different reading levels; students select a level that fits. Some titles also have a teacher’s guide. A list of the materials offered on the site can be found if you click on Library at the top of the homepage.

3. Newsela
Free, teachers sign up and get an access code to give to their classes
The same news articles can be selected in one of five different Lexile levels. Students may select a level or the teacher can assign a level. Articles are updated daily.

4. Tarheel Reader
Free, no log-in required
Click on Find a Book and start reading. Choose E books for Everyone or C books with a Caution label. The C books contain eyebrow raising language for young readers, but are easy reading for older readers.

5. Free Stories and eBooks for the Beginning Reader
Free, no log-in required
Stories are written at 38 levels. The vocabulary used in the stories grows in a logical, structured way.

6. Breaking News English
Free, no log-in required
This site is mainly for teachers, but it has some handy features for students. Students can select a reading level that fits and a topic they are interested in. In the Listen section, students can listen to the article read at up to five different speeds. In the Read section, they can practice reading at up to four speeds because the text scrolls down the page at different speeds, depending on the speed selected.

7. Reading A-Z & Raz-Kids Mobile App (Soon to be renamed Kids A-Z Mobile App)

These are paid sites. Reading A-Z is for teachers and allows teachers to create print versions of the books and provides access to a projectable version. Raz-Kids is an app for students and allows them to practice reading on a computer, smartphone, or tablet. The Raz-Kids app is free for a class of up to 30 students if students have a teacher code, but teacher access costs approximately $100 per site.

The online books are colorful and interesting with fiction and nonfiction options as well as songs, poetry, and rhymes. Students may listen to a book, read it silently, and read it aloud. Reading levels run from aa–z; students can access six of the levels at a time in a “Bookroom.”

8. Free Books and Gutenberg—Free Online Classics

a. Free Books (an app for iphone or tablet from Digital Press Publishers)
Students can read 23,469 classic books from the public domain such as Robinson Crusoe and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

b. Project Gutenberg
With Project Gutenberg, students can access thousands of print and audio versions of new and old public domain books.

Although many public domain classics are too hard for beginners, students should check them out. If students are extremely interested in a topic or know a lot about a particular plot, they sometimes find a classic book they can read on their own. Stress, however, that only real practice, not fake half-hearted practice, improves reading skills.

9. Extensive Reading Central
Free; users sign up to get an account
This site has 20 levels of books and offers many genre possibilities. One drawback: There are few books at the lowest levels.

10. Xreading
An ER subscription with links to graded eBooks from many publishers such as Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan, and Cengage costs about 1300 yen per semester, but it is not yet available in the United States. Check availability in your country. I’m waiting for the U.S. version.

Additional Outside-Reading Aids for Teachers

11. Extensive Reading Foundation (ERF)

 12A New Print SeriesTeen Emergent Reader Libraries

Reading print books outside of class is enormously important, too! Here’s a recent, low-cost series my adult beginner readers have greatly enjoyed. There are three sets of books. Each set of 20 books costs $149.95. One of my students read No Home and said it was the first book he enjoyed reading by himself.

I am always looking for materials for my adult ESL beginner-level reading class. I will keep you posted if I find more interesting materials to pass along, and please feel free to share materials you have used by leaving a comment below.

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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2 Responses to Guest Writer: Independent Online Reading Practice

  1. Galina says:

    These are great sites. I’ve just tried them out – awesome! Thank you, Tara.

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Thank you for your comment, Galina! Becky has really put together a nice collection of reading resources. I am glad you liked them.

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