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Using Graded Readers with Young Learners: Supporting Reading

Wallace and GromitHaving chosen a reader to use with your young learners and helped them engage with the characters and story through pre-reading activities, David Dodgson now shares some tips on how to support their reading by going beyond comprehension questions and language work.

Kids love reading stories and, in the foreign language classroom, they can be motivating and captivating. However, reading in their second language can also present children with a considerable struggle as they grapple with plot and character development, extended passages of text and new language. There is also the danger that reading followed by standard comprehension questions turns what should be a fun activity into ‘just another lesson’ in our young learners’ eyes. In this post, we will look at some ways to engage the students by supporting them before, during and after the reading process.

Visual stimuli as advance organisers

In my last post, I looked at activities to raise the students’ interest before reading the book so here I’ll share some ideas to use before individual chapters. I’ve always found that one of the best ways to engage children is through video – the combination of moving images and sound provides a context-rich way to display and explain difficult concepts. I’ve been lucky this year in that both of the readers we have used in class had films to go with them: for The Wizard of Oz there is the classic 1939 film starring Judy Garland; and The Wrong Trousers is of course based on the Nick Park animated film of the same name.

I think it’s a waste when the video version of the story is just shown after the book has been finished as there is so much that can be done to support the reading process throughout the story such as showing a relevant clip to set the scene before a chapter. This can be a great help when it comes to pre-teaching specific vocabulary needed to understand the unfolding events. Rather than go through a difficult explanation to teach an unknown word that appears once in the chapter, you can quickly show the class the word in action instead.

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Using Graded Readers with Young Learners: Before you Read

Young girl reading in a libraryHaving given us some advice on choosing a reader, David Dodgson, a teacher to young learners in Ankara, Turkey, now introduces us to some pre-reading activities to encourage young learners to engage with the characters and the story.

When using a graded reader as a class text, one of the most important lessons is the first one. The students need to be introduced to the characters, the plot and the theme of the story, all the while capturing their interest. This activation of their background knowledge, or schemata, is essential to ensure the students don’t read the book ‘cold’. I therefore generally spend the first session asking the students to speculate, predict content and profile the main characters, all of which helps raise their awareness both of what kind of book they are going to read and the content within.

This year, my classes have used two different readers: one based on a classic tale and one adapted from a modern animated film. My approach to introducing each was different and I will discuss how I went about it below.

Working with an ‘adapted classic’

The first reader used this year was an adaptation of Frank L. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I knew most of my students would be familiar with the story, either through a translation of the book or through the classic film version starring Judy Garland, so I started by asking them what they already knew about the story. In groups, they brainstormed the characters, the places and the events they already knew with each group comparing their findings.

I remember one of my colleagues saying “but you’re giving the plot away!”  but I didn’t view it like that – after all, most of the children were familiar with the story anyway! Instead, I found this to be a great way to get them pooling and sharing their knowledge. A lot of the vocabulary they would need to understand like tornado, scarecrow, brain, heart and emerald came up naturally within the context of the lesson as well as some important threads of the plot. Moreover, as we were working with a shortened, adapted version of the story, there were bound to be discrepancies between what they knew and what was in the book. Gathering their ideas and knowledge in this way helped form the basis for a later activity looking for those differences, which proved to be a fantastic way to get them to engage more actively with the text.

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Using Graded Readers with Young Learners: Choosing a Reader

Two young children reading in the libraryIn his first guest post, David Dodgson, a teacher to young learners in Ankara, Turkey, gives his advice on how choose a Graded Reader that is not only suitable for young language learners, but will also motivate them to read more.

Stories are undoubtedly an important part of children’s literacy development. They offer a rich source of vocabulary and familiarity with narrative structure. In the classroom, they can also add colour to a lesson and provide motivation for kids to read more. However, reading in a second language is a complex process, especially when dealing with young learners, and the stories and books we use need to be carefully considered.

Before reading on, just take a moment to consider what criteria you or your school use for choosing readers for primary aged learners (if you haven’t selected any storybooks for use in class before, think about what those criteria might be). What is your main consideration?

Ready? Good. Now, I may be wrong (let me know in the comments section if I am) but in my experience, most teachers’ first thought will be “Is it at the right level for my students?” and by the ‘level’, they usually mean the language level. An analysis of the grammatical structures in the book, the vocabulary and number of words will then follow. Increasingly, the exam level the book is said to be suitable for is also a factor as schools look to support children in preparation for tests such as Starters, Movers and Flyers.

But look at the above paragraph again and something seems to be missing, something fundamental to any storybook. That’s right – the story! While the above considerations are important, I can’t help but feel the content is often overlooked or a secondary factor. The plot, the characters and the theme should all be relevant to and engaging for the age group. If they enjoy the story and like the characters, they are much more likely to be motivated to read.

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