Neil Anderson (2005) of Brigham Young University defines language learning strategies as "the conscious actions that learners take to improve their language learning" (p. 757). Good language learners use a variety of strategies frequently and appropriately in their language learning. It is critical to teach strategies to ESL students to help them develop the skills necessary to become independent language learners who effectively direct their language learning through planning, monitoring, and evaluating their progress. Strategic language learners are empowered because they are life-long learners; they continue to learn long after they leave the formal classroom. They develop autonomy in such a way that their learning is not dependent on having a teacher in front of them.
Strategy instruction should be explicit for our students so they can learn to develop an awareness of their strategy use. A critical component of strategy instruction is how we introduce the concept of strategy use to our students so that they buy into it. So how do we introduce strategies so that they become "conscious actions" for our students?
Strategies should be introduced early on to the students--even as early as the first day of class. In the ESL reading classes I've taught, I introduce the concept of reading strategies to my students on the first day of class by engaging them in an interactive group-work activity. This is how it works:
First, I pose the question, "What makes a good reader?" After discussing a few ideas as a class, I have the students get into small groups of three or four and list their responses to this question on an overhead transparency. After each group composes their list of what makes a good reader, I put the transparencies up on the overhead projector to review each list as a class. As we begin our discussion of each item, I introduce the concept of "strategies"--things they can do to improve their language learning, specifically to improve their reading. I tell the ESL students that the things they listed are strategies they could use to be good readers. I then have students reflect on what kind of readers they want to be, and I invite them to set some specific goals that they want to accomplish by the end of the semester (long-term goals) and what they need to do to achieve these goals (short-term goals). They write their goals down to serve as a constant reminder of what they want to accomplish, and they begin writing each goal with "I will..." to show commitment. I then collect the goals, make a copy of them for my file so I can follow-up with them throughout the semester, and hand back the original to the student so they can review them often during the semester to remind them of what they committed to do to be a good reader. I also compile the list of reading strategies that the students generated into one list and distribute this list to the students the next day so they can keep the list of strategies as a handy reference as they are striving to be better readers.
I'm continuously impressed with how well the students do at generating lists of strategies. I included a couple examples of lists that my low-intermediate reading students have created collectively as a class:
What Makes a Good Reader?
(Please note: The following lists were generated by students as part of a reading strategy awareness-raising activity. The lists are not based on scientific research.)A good reader...
- reads every day.
- reads in their free time.
- reads many books, magazines, and newspapers.
- studies all the time.
- sets good goals.
- prepares the reading environment to learn.
- finds a good place and time to read.
- writes questions about the text (what, where, when, why).
- is interested in what they're reading.
- has a critical sense.
- looks at pictures and titles before reading.
- learns about the author.
- learns about the context.
- talks about what they read.
- learns the meaning of new vocabulary.
- uses a dictionary to learn unknown words.
- has patience.
- underlines texts as they read.
- enjoys reading
- makes personal conclusions about the book.
- learns prefixes, suffixes, and word roots.
- analyzes what they read.
- feels the author's feelings and writes about them.
- doesn't use a dictionary. First, they guess the meaning of words from context.
- finds the main idea.
- reads everyday.
- learns new words when reading.
- reads many kinds of books.
- reads interesting books.
- is motivated.
- practices reading faster.
- doesn't translate into their native language while reading.
- likes to read.
Anderson, N. J. (2005). L2 strategy research. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 757-772). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.