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A Picture is Worth A LOT More than a 1000 words…to a 6 year old.

testDo we collate data too much? Do we infer from observation too much? Do we believe we know what’s best for our young learners to read simply because we are the teachers? Answering the third question first – without going directly to the source – our students – then the answer is probably an unfortunate yes, making the other two answers a negative yes as well.

The following is an interview to get a 6 year-old’s opinion on Extensive Reading. The insight on the value of pictures and the power of their appeal and reading encouragement to young learners is soon apparent and is something educators should not undervalue nor underestimate, especially when selecting the right readers for their classroom library.

What’s your name?

George

How old are you?

6

Do you like to read?

Yes, a lot.

Do you know about Extensive Reading?

(Thinks for a second) What does that mean?

Do you play video games?

Sometimes. I like Minions.

Is that a race?

Yes. If you finish the first lap then you can do the second lap.

You mean you get extra time?

Yes.

Your time is extended?

Hmm, extra yes. Oh! Extended means like extra?

Yes. Do you think extra means choice?

Hmm, yes. So Extensive Reading means… reading choice?

Basically. Do you like Extensive Reading?

Yes.

What is the last book you read?

George’s Marvelous Medicine.

Why did you like it?

It’s funny, and I really liked the pictures, especially when Grandma got taller and thinner – and uglier!

Who gave you the book?

Alex (his uncle). He said it was his favourite book when he was little, so I really wanted to read it.

Did you read it by yourself?

No, with my Dad. And the pictures really helped me understand the words I didn’t know.

What other books do you like?

Curious George.

Do you like books that have characters with your name?

(Laughs) Sometimes.

When do you read books?

With my Dad, at night. In bed before I go to sleep. George’s Marvelous Medicine took about a week. At night is my favourite time to read but I sometimes read after lunch. On the sofa. I don’t like reading in the morning so much.

How about reading on a computer?

I like reading stories both on computers and books.

What book are you reading now?

Fables from Africa.

Do you like it?

Yes, it’s about animals. I really like books about animals. And it has some good pictures.

Do you talk to your friends about books?

Not really. But I sometimes read to my sister. I point to the pictures when I read to her.

How old is she?

18 months. But I only try when she’s in a good mood.

How many books have you read in your life?

I have no idea about that.

You have 2 Curious George books that have 8 stories each, so 16 stories. How many times have you read those stories?

So many.

Why have you read the same stories so many times?

Because the pictures are so funny.

What other books do you read?

I speak Japanese too, so sometimes I read Japanese books, but not the ones with Kanji. I don’t know Kanji.

What do you like about Japanese books?

The stories are good. And I really like the pictures. They help me understand more. Oh, and I really like word search puzzles. It doesn’t feel like reading but I feel smarter after I do them.

Last question, do you have a favourite book?

I have four! Curious George (all), George’s Marvelous Medicine, Baby Animals, and Where the Wild Things Are – that one has great pictures!

Sorry, one more question. If a book doesn’t have pictures will you read it?

Yes…maybe…, but I will always choose the one that has pictures.

So George, I think you like Extensive Reading.

Yup!


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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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Reading for pleasure – Activities to get students involved

Teenage Girl ReadingContinuing the Reading for Pleasure series, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at ways of involving students in the reading process.

So, we’ve started our class library. Students have the books and many have begun reading them. In an ideal world, my students would now go on to read a variety of stories, sharing their experience with their friends, while effortlessly improving their English. Like I said, in an ideal world. In the real world of my classroom, most of my students are looking at me with a look that says, “Okay, we’re reading. Now what?” There is the expectation to do something with the reading. And I need to meet that expectation to keep them involved and motivated.

In my classes, I use the first lesson of each month to introduce an activity they can do based on their reading. The main aim of the activity is to keep them involved and share their reading experience with their friends and family. You can find 10 of these activities on the Oxford Big Read website, so I won’t explain how to do them here. However, there are some important underlying features in these activities that are crucial for the reading experience to also become a learning experience.

Let’s take the first 2 activities from the Oxford Big Read as examples of this. The first is based on the whole class and the second is based on students working individually.

Bingo

“Why are we playing Bingo?” they ask me. It’s a good question. As I am a firm believer that teaching should not be a secret, we discuss why we are playing Bingo.

First, playing Bingo involves all the students in the class, even those who have not yet started reading their book. Everyone can participate, some by saying words from their stories, others by simply writing them in their Bingo card. Without preaching to them about the value of reading, I am saying to all my students, “If you want to, you can do this!”.

Second, each student reads and understands based on their own ability and interest. There are no wrong answers. Maria may decide to say “love” in relation to Tom Sawyer because that is the part she liked, or simply because that is the last part she read. One student in my class said “adventure” simply because it was on the cover. I wrote the word on the board, the students wrote it on their Bingo card and the activity continued.

Third, playing Bingo creates a certain curiosity about the different stories.

Students become curious about what others are reading based on just words. A word like “dragon” or “murder” will raise a few eyebrows. This may lead students to talk to each other about the stories outside of the classroom. In this context, playing Bingo is just a means to another end.

Finally, playing Bingo reinforces the positive reading environment I want to create around the class library. The activity associates reading with fun and enjoyment, going against their original perceptions. As the first activity in our class library, Bingo encourages the more hesitant and sceptical students to start reading, showing them how they can participate.

Discussing this with them helps them to see that there is more to Bingo than simply playing a game.

Posters               

The first individual activity I ask my students to do is to make a poster for the story they are reading. Making posters reinforces the features I have mentioned in playing Bingo, but it goes further.

First, the language for the posters is in their stories. There is little need for the teacher to intervene. Whether based on a sentence or around 10 words, students refer back to their stories to find the language they will include in their posters.

Second, displaying posters reinforces that their work is for their friends to see, not simply for the teacher to correct. This will emphasise that they are sharing their reading experience with others. Becoming fully aware of this will lead them to be more careful about spelling and grammar mistakes. They will browse through their books to help them get it right and thus reinforce language learning.

Third, displaying their posters will add to the sense of achievement they already feel in understanding and enjoying a story in a foreign language. Seeing their poster amongst everyone else’s will strengthen their involvement in learning English, regardless of whether they are weak or strong students. After all, there is their work being looked at and read by others.

Finally, their posters have a communicative purpose. They are not meant simply for the teacher to correct, but primarily to encourage their friends to read the story. And this encouragement is based on what they liked about the story. There is real student-to-student communication, making the English they use more memorable to them.

The features of these 2 activities will become part of the class library as the activities change. As students’ confidence and self-esteem increase, so will their learning.

Verri will be running a workshop on setting up a class library at IATEFL Liverpool on Tuesday 9th April.

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