Teaching Real Life Skills: Reading Signs

Part of an ESL teacher’s job is to help the language learner better function in the host country. One important skill to have is reading signs. They’re everywhere, and the information they convey does not apply to drivers alone. Consider the simplest of signs: ENTRANCE ONLY, NO SMOKING, EMERGENCY EXIT: Alarm will sound.  Then there are more detailed signs about fines for trespassing, the danger of guard dog, lanes merging on a highway, etc.

Thankfully, there are alternatives to stealing public property, carting real signs into your classroom, and showing them to your students. Yahoo images has plenty of photos to select from. You can download and print out 10-12 signs for classroom use.  I recently discovered an interesting compilation of signs by Tana Hoban. See if your local library has this title available: I Read Signs. (Children’s Literature)

You can tie this reading activity in with a grammar lesson on modal verbs. As you show each sign to the class, provide a choice of two modal verbs (or modal-like expressions). Have them write their interpretation. Require them to write at least one sentence per sign, but the challenge is to write two.




You provide two prompts: MUST / CAN’T

Possible interpretations by students: “You must drive slowly because children play on this street.” / “Drivers can’t go fast because there are children playing here.”



One Comment Add yours

  1. Lucy says:

    Hi Jennifer. It makes learning English so much more real to students when you teach life skills- and reading signs is a perfect place to start. I also like the idea of integrating modals with this. Thanks.

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