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Reading for pleasure – Inviting a Character to Class

Interviewing a character helps your students learn the language, gives them an opportunity to be creative and use their imagination, and, whilst having fun, allows them to share their reading experiences.

As with previous activities, you can see the steps to actually do the activity with your class here. Beyond the fun and imagination, there is serious language work taking place. Let’s look at it a bit more closely, taking the example of Becky Thatcher from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

First, reading for pleasure helps students improve their language skills. In this case, students improve vocabulary and grammatical structures when they are writing the questions for the interview, as well as when they listen to the answers. Whether it is simple questions like, “What’s your favourite colour?” or “How did you feel on your first day at school?”, you can help your students write their questions correctly. You can also focus their questions on the language you are working on in class. For example, if you are working on past tenses, you can focus the questions on Becky’s last holiday or weekend. Questions might be, “Where did you go?” or “What did you do?”

The activity also helps students improve their listening and speaking skills. Since every student has a question, it is important not to repeat the same question for the interview. This means students will need to say their questions out loud to the class to make sure there is no repetition. In a controlled way, they are beginning to speak. Weaker or shy students can do this in a safe environment, focussing only on their own question. The person who will play Becky in the interview is listening to the questions from the class and so can prepare her answers in advance. The interview itself further improves listening and speaking. Students will ask their questions, listen to the answers, and some may even have follow-up questions.

There are great opportunities for students to be creative and use their imagination. First, students should be encouraged to ask questions they want an answer to. Any student who knows the story a little may ask questions about Tom, which usually raises a few giggles in the class. The student playing Becky is free to imagine some of the answers that are not directly in the story. Becky’s favourite colour is not in the story, nor is there anything about who buys her clothes. To answer these questions, “Becky” is free to use her imagination and the information in the story. This will certainly make it more interesting for everyone. Questions concerning Becky’s opinions may even raise a few interesting discussions. The language in the activity can quickly become secondary as students focus on the “Becky’s” answers.

This is a fun activity that can easily lead to students being curious about the story and wanting to read it. It is important to encourage students to enjoy the interview. Would they ask the same questions in their own language? If not, then they are focussing on the language more than on the interview itself. Help them ask the questions they really want to ask. Questions about her relationship with Tom, how she feels about school, living in the small town, or her family can raise interesting discussions.

The interview allows “Becky” to share her reading experience with the class. She will expand on the parts she enjoyed more, talk about events in the story, like being lost in the cave. In this way, many students will become curious about the book and want to read it.

By helping students with the language, encouraging them to use their imagination, and allowing them to have fun with the activity, they will become more personally involved in their reading. This will help them learn more effectively.


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Reading for pleasure – Making puzzles, improving comprehension

JigsawThis month’s activity will have your students fully engaged in their stories. Your students may be familiar with solving word search puzzles, but in this activity they will be asked to make their own puzzles for other students to solve.

In making their own puzzles, students will be improving their reading comprehension in various ways. Let’s take a look at the different steps of the activity to see this more clearly. You can see the steps to actually do the activity here.

When students are looking for the words or the sentences for their puzzle they will be reading the story, each student choosing language at their own level. For stronger students you may want to frown at some of their choices. Don’t discard them completely, but question them. This will encourage your student to go back to the story to find a more interesting word or sentence. In this way they are encouraged to read the text at a deeper level. Also, encourage them to show their words or sentences to someone else in the class who has read the book. By asking for the opinion of others, students have a context to discuss the stories and get different points of view.

As students complete the words in the grid, they will be thinking how these words fit into their story. In this way, they are revising the story, the words helping them remember the parts they enjoyed most. But the words may not fit into the grid. They may be too long, or the last words may not fit with the words already written. Don’t make the grid bigger. This is on purpose. By reworking the words, students are once again revising the context of the story. They may have to return to the story to choose a shorter word. This is great, as it increases reading time with the story. Although they have not used a word they had chosen, they still worked with it, which helped them remember that part of the story.

Make sure that your students understand that their puzzles are to be solved by other students, either in their class or in another class. This will motivate them to reduce mistakes and to make their writing legible. They easily understand that their friends can be more critical than their teacher. This will also have another interesting effect – they will try to make their puzzles a little more difficult. In making their puzzles more difficult, they will read for details and specific information. This will improve their reading comprehension.

Solving the puzzles helps students in many different ways. First, it is a revision of the story for those students who have read the book during the year. Some students may be able to find all the words without needing to go back to the story. Others may find 3 or 4 words difficult to find. This may encourage them to talk to the person who made the puzzle. Notice how, once again, the puzzle has created a context for students to discuss a story. By the way, rarely do students simply give the answers. This means the discussion helps both students revisit the story.

In solving the puzzles, students also become aware of how interesting it is to solve. For puzzles to be interesting they must be challenging – too easy and they are boring, too difficult and the student gives up. In this way, students reinforce the language and comprehension at the general level of the class. Especially important is that students who consider themselves weak in English will be motivated to make their puzzles for students they consider better. This will help to raise their own level of English. Since the puzzles are based on the story, the student reading and making the puzzle knows that it is simply a matter of copying words or sentences. Weaker students see that, through effort, they can make their puzzles challenging to any student in the class.

And finally, when the puzzles are solved by another class, students will usually talk about their experience outside of class. Comments like, “Hey, I did your puzzle today.” will become common.


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Reading for Pleasure – Making Triangles, Sharing Opinions

Continuing the Reading for Pleasure series, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at how students can make triangles to keep them interested in reading.

This month’s activity is deceptively simple. However, it is an important step in the sequence of activities our students have been involved in. So far, the language for the previous activities has come directly from the stories. Whether it was simple words, phrases, or sentences, students were able to browse through their books and simply copy what they wanted. Making triangles is the first activity in which students are free to use their own words. How to make triangles for their stories is explained on the Big Read website, or in the video below.

Let’s take the example from the video clip about “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. Expressions like “lives in the USA” or “saw Injun Joe kill someone” are probably not part of the story itself. The student here is using their own words to describe facts and events in the story. An expression like, “Tom and Becky became good friends” is this student’s opinion. Another student may see the story differently. So, the triangle gives students the opportunity to use the English they have learned to communicate about the story they are reading.

At this point it is important to point out what students have achieved by doing the previous activities that allow them to make their triangles:

  1. Students are confident that they can read in English and enjoy the story they are reading.
  2. Students have become aware that the activities are based on effort, not knowledge. Everyone can do them if they want to.
  3. Students know that their activities are to be shared with their friends and family.

These three points are important as students prepare to make their triangles. The positive environment created around the class library means that students are confident they can do the tasks. Some students may insist on finding expressions directly from their story. Some may ask for help from their friends or the teacher to improve their English. For example, some students may write “see Injun Joe kill someone”. Although this is not incorrect a friend may suggest using “saw”. And others may personalise the words they use, mixing facts, events, and opinions. Knowing that their triangles are to be shared, students will try to make them interesting to their friends.

This is also the first activity in the class library in which students need their English to be checked and corrected before it is displayed. As their teacher, encourage peer correction. Reinforce the idea that the triangles are to be displayed and so the English must make sense to their friends. When correcting any student’s work, reinforce your role as a facilitator – you are helping them with their work, not judging it.

As with making movie posters, making triangles allows students to become more personally involved with their stories, in this case by encouraging them to share their opinions and thoughts about the story. You can ask them that 2 of the lines from the triangle are based on their opinion, 2 lines are based on events in the story, and another 2 lines are facts about the story. Suggest this to your students as a way to make their triangles more unique and personal. Don’t make it a requirement, as this may interfere with their enjoyment of the story and the activity.

By making triangles, the class moves beyond simply copying the language they need, to using the English they have learned to communicate their thoughts and opinions. Depending on your students, this can be the basis for brief summaries of the story as they expand their expressions into complete sentences. Building on their confidence and involvement, the triangles allow students to more fully personalise their reactions to their reading experience.


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Reading for pleasure – Coming Soon to a Cinema Near You!

Movie ticket and popcornContinuing the Reading for Pleasure series, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at how students can make movie posters to keep them engaged with reading.

Reading appeals to a student’s imagination. From the words spring images, and each image is personal. The forest from “The Wizard of Oz” is unique to each reader, as is the castle in “Dracula”.

As your students read from month to month, they are developing their ability to imagine, to add images to the stories. Many of the stories they are reading may have been made into films, so it will not be difficult for them to make film posters. How to do this is explained on the Oxford Big Read website. (You’ll need to login (or register for free) to your Oxford Teacher’s Club account to access the free video and downloads. You’ll find the “Movie posters” activity under the ‘Activities’ tab)

By now, your students are becoming confident readers. Most are finishing their second story, many will have read more than four. Activities also need to keep up with this confidence.

Students will be familiar with making posters, and by now they know that their work is to be shared with their friends and family. Making movie posters will appeal to their imagination, allowing them to make the story more personal. It will also give them an opportunity to bring their world into their reading experience.

With both the titles and the stars of the “movie”, encourage your students to be both unique and imaginative as they create their posters. They can base their title on their favourite part of the story, or an event they think will appeal to their friends. The same with the “strapline” sentence they choose. The more mysterious, the more curiosity it will arouse.

Choosing the stars of their movie also allows students to personalise the story. Students can choose from famous Hollywood stars or movie stars from their own country. More interesting may be to choose people from their school to play the leading roles. In “The Wizard of Oz”, who would play Dorothy, or the Wizard? Who would play the Scarecrow with no brains, or the Tin Man with no heart, or even the Cowardly Lion? The choices would certainly get a reaction from their friends, leading to many discussions. These discussions encourage a greater knowledge of the story.

Movie posters do not have to be based on the stars. They can also be based on an event in the story. This can encourage students to bring the real world around them into their reading. Ask them to imagine that event happening in their area. Where would it be? – a street corner, a café, a house? They are free to use their imagination.

Choosing the stars and the events allows students to take their own photos for their poster. This gives them an opportunity to use digital technology in the activities. Many students may think of reading as boring, but the activities can give them an opportunity to use digital skills they enjoy using. This will give their reading a new dimension, allowing them to be more creative and to think beyond the story. They will become even more personally involved.

Finally, making movie posters allows students to go beyond the activity itself. Thinking of their stories as movies leads naturally to filming a scene or making a trailer for the movie. This is a more involved project and may not be for all students, but it will encourage students to use skills they already have (or to develop skills) to become even more personally involved with their reading experience.

By making movie posters, the class takes a big step in their reading experience. They build on their personal involvement from previous activities, and expand that involvement into using their imagination, creativity, and personal skills to share their reading with friends. Reading takes on a new dimension as the activities allow for another level of involvement and sharing. The class library slowly becomes a social environment.


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Reading for Pleasure – Students make their own word games

Teenage girl reading on couchContinuing the Reading for Pleasure series, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at ways of keeping students reading for pleasure.

You have set up the class library and started your students reading. First of all, congratulations. Next, we need to keep them reading.

Having played Bingo and made some posters, I now ask my students to make some word games based on the stories they are reading. Students usually expect activities around words in a language class, so word games are no surprise. However, games like word search puzzles or crosswords are usually provided by the teacher. In this case, I am going to ask my students to make the games themselves, and more importantly, I am going to show them that the games they make are for their friends to solve.

You can follow the instructions for the word game here. I would like to focus on why we are doing word games and how this is helping our students learn better.

My students have played Bingo and made some posters for their stories. Although I have displayed their posters around the school, with word games I want to encourage them to share their reading experience with each other on a more personal, one-to-one level. By making a word game that a friend will solve I hope to achieve this level of involvement.

I start with a very simple game that is quick to make. I want my students to make the game and have another student solve it within a class period. This is to reinforce the idea that the games are not for the teacher. I also want them to focus on their stories, not on how to make the word game. As they decide on the sentences to use, they are going over their story, using their books as examples of the English they want to use.

Of course, some of my students, usually the stronger ones, will write sentences without actually using their books. Expecting me to look at their work, they rely on me, as the teacher, to correct any mistakes. So, I purposely stand back and not correct any work. After all, they have the correct sentences in their stories, all they have to do is copy. Being responsible for their own work is the first thing many students notice. If they do make mistakes, their friends will point these out when they solve the game.

And this is the second important point they notice, that their word games go directly to another student. They get immediate feedback, not only on any mistakes, but also on whether the game is interesting or not. If it’s too easy, then it is boring. If it’s too difficult, then a student won’t want to do it. This feedback helps students adapt to the activity. They begin using their books in order to avoid mistakes. With their friends in mind, they adapt their sentences accordingly.

As they get used to making the word games, students focus on making them fun and challenging. They choose sentences that are interesting to their friends, rather than focussing on correct language for the teacher. They try to make the sentences difficult so as not to make the game too easy. In doing this their reading comprehension improves as they browse through their stories a second and third time.

An equally important point is that as students solve the word game, the sentences create a certain curiosity about the story.  This curiosity leads to further conversation about their stories, usually outside of class. These conversations further strengthen the social aspect of the class library and the positive reading environment, which is an integral part of the project.

As my students understand the activity, they become better at making the word games. They enjoy making various games for friends throughout the month. At this point, it is possible to introduce games that take longer to make, like word search puzzles. The key is that the game is easy to make and the focus of the students is on the content.

With word games, the participation of my students in the class library becomes more personal. If there are still any hesitant readers, they are usually motivated to participate by a friend as they share their games.

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