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How Can I Get My Students Excited About Reading?

Young student with a pile of books looks excited about readingLearning – the lazy way

‘What is the best strategy to improve one’s English?’ Well, this is a hard one to answer. Change just two words however and the question becomes ‘What is the laziest way to improve one’s English?’ All of a sudden, a single answer springs to mind: ‘Extensive Reading’. Now imagine you are a teacher of English and someone tells you that OUP is launching the amazing Oxford Reading Club which could give your students access to literally hundreds of top-quality readers, allowing them to ‘read their way to better English’. Wouldn’t that be great news? 😊

Why Extensive Reading?

There must be at least a dozen good answers to this question. Here are four of them:

  • Reading Speed: The more you read, the faster you become. You gradually get used to coping with ambiguity when you encounter unknown words, and you learn to focus on the gist.
  • Vocabulary: Countless studies have shown that extensive reading helps one acquire vocabulary effortlessly – through a process of osmosis.
  • Grammar: The late Michael Lewis used to say that extensive listening helps one acquire the grammar of the language subconsciously. Most of the readers in the ORC are accompanied by audio recordings. What better way to make use of ‘dead time’?
  • Identity: Every time you spend a few minutes reading, you are sending a message to yourself: ‘I am a good learner. I care about getting better.’ Research shows that what changes people is not words, but actions – their own actions.

But wait: just because this material is available does not necessarily mean your students are going to be interested in it. So how can you get them interested? Here are two answers: ‘Curiosity’ and ‘Investment’.Credit: Emily Wade on Unsplash

Principle 1: Curiosity

Professor George Lowenstein has come up with the following fascinating theory: curiosity is the result of the gap between what we know and what we do not. If you know everything or nothing you are not curious. But if you have only a partial picture – well, that’s different.

Lowenstein tested this in the lab: he got two groups of people to sit in front of computer screens. Each screen was covered in tiles, like a brick wall. When you clicked on a ‘brick’ you could see what was behind it. The subjects had to click on at least five ‘bricks’ – and then they could keep on clicking for as long as they wanted – this was actually what the researchers wanted to measure. When the people in the first group started clicking, they found the image of an animal behind each brick, so after a while they got bored. In the case of the second group, however, each click revealed part of the outline of a large animal. This group went on clicking away – they wanted to see what the picture was! (Lowenstein 1994).

A reading activity: Half-sentences

So how can we use this idea to generate curiosity in a book? One of my favourite techniques is ‘Half Sentences’. The idea is very simple: you take some key sentences from the text (or you make up a few yourself), you cut them in half and you give the first half to the students. Now they do know some things about the story – but not everything. So naturally, they want to find out what the second part of each sentence is. Let us say the book is ‘The Lazy Grasshopper’. Here are some possible half-sentences:

  • In the summer, the grasshopper likes to spend his time…
  • When he is hungry, the grasshopper likes to eat…
  • In the summer, the ant is always busy. She is…
  • In the winter, things are different because…
  • In the winter, the grasshopper goes to the ant’s house in order to…

And if you want your students to be even more curious, you can take things a step further; simply ask them to predict what the second part of the sentence is. This is called ‘Investment’. Read on…

Principle 2: Investment

Curiously perhaps, once we have spent some time and some mental energy on a particular task, what we have been working on becomes disproportionally important to us and we are dying to find out how successful we were. This was demonstrated by a study that took place in the US (cited in Gilbert 2007)The researchers got together two groups of elementary school students. They told the first group they would ask them a few general knowledge questions. They also told them that when they had finished, as a reward they could get either a bar of chocolate or the answers to the questions. But they had to choose the reward in advance. No prizes for guessing which one the kids chose…

With the second group, however, they did things differently; they asked them the questions first and only then did they offer them the choice. Amazingly, this time around the kids chose the answers over the chocolate! Because they had made an ‘investment’ in trying to give the answers, they were dying to see how many answers they had got right.

Another reading activity: Sequencing

How can we make use of this principle? Well, the simplest form of ‘investment’ is asking students to make guesses (as in the ‘Half-sentences’ task above). Here is another idea: these brilliant Oxford Graded Readers contain images. As the books are digital, it would only take a minute to take screenshots of some of them (but not the last one!). You can then jumble them up and show them to the students. Now the students have an idea about what the story is about – but they do not know everything (a gap = curiosity!). The next step is to get students to guess what the right order of the pictures might be (investment 1). Then you can ask them to predict how the story ends (investment 2).

Beyond language

For me, the best thing about introducing your students to the magic of Graded Readers is that reading might then become a habit. And the habit of reading simplified books may then turn into a life-long love of books. As teachers, we tend to focus on the linguistic benefits of course, but people with a love of reading have also been found to have superior people skills and to be more well-adapted socially (Mar et al., 2006). Now you didn’t know that, did you?

 

Give your students access to hundreds of top-quality readers!

Oxford Reading Club

Or, join the Oxford Teachers’ Club to access our exclusive focus paper ‘Using Graded Readers for Extensive Reading’!

 


Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been active in ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner, presenter and teacher trainer. He has travelled and given seminars and workshops in many countries all over the world. For articles or worksheets of his, you can visit his YouTube channel or his blog.


References

  • Gilbert, D. (2007) Stumbling on Happiness. London: Harper Perennial
  • Loewenstein, George. (1994). The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation. Psychological Bulletin. 116. 75-98
  • Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., Hirsh, J., dela Paz, J., & Peterson, J. B. (2006). Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds. Journal of Research in Personality, 40(5), 694–712.


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All The Lesson Ideas For Graded Readers You’ll Ever Need!

All The Lesson Ideas For Graded Readers You'll Ever Need: books fanned out in a geometric patternIn this blog, I have provided some lesson ideas as examples of how graded readers might be used in the classroom. There are four sections – ideas for reading the story, exploring the cultural/historical setting, discussing social themes, and additional tasks to be used as suggested follow-up activities or projects. All of these are for the purpose of sparking your creativity and to show how readings texts can be a springboard into many other interesting topics and activities.

A best-seller, and particular favourite of mine, is The Elephant Man, a fiction based on the true story of Joseph Merrick. In the story, Merrick struggles with a worsening physical deformity that gives him the name of the title. During his unique life, the reader sees the protagonist experience small glimmers of beauty and friendship, experiences that make his death all the more tragic.

While this reader has been carefully graded for A1 /A2 level students, it can also be used by higher levels to gain reading confidence, and the discussion points and suggested points below could be used to create stimulating lessons all the way up to C1 classes.

Lesson ideas for reading the story

Here are some lesson ideas for reading the text. One thing to keep in mind for students to be engaged is to make sure they all have access to the text (physical books each, e-books, or share the text on the board so everyone can see).

  • The teacher could read the text with students following.
  • Students could take turns to read sentences or paragraphs.
  • Students could read along with the included audiobook.
  • Each reader comes with pre-made activities in the back of the book to complete before and after reading certain chapters.
  • Why not ask students to predict what happens next? Get them to look at the illustrations in the book – does this elicit any new predictions?
  • Direct speech offers students the opportunity to ‘act’ as they read aloud. Why not get them to stand up and act out certain scenes with the book to consolidate comprehension, or without the text to check comprehension? The teacher could ‘pause’ or ‘rewind’ scenes to give other students the opportunity to play various characters.

Discussing the culture/historical setting

Readers can present opportunities to dig deeper into history and various cultures. The Elephant Man takes place in Victorian England (1837-1901). The following could be considered, and contrasted with the present day and the students’ own countries’ histories:

  • The standard of living – Child labour, workhouses, the introduction of free education for children under the age of ten in 1870, the industrial revolution, population boom, the divide between the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ classes, lack of women’s rights, the London Underground (built 1863-1884) and the introduction of welfare.
  • Fashion and entertainment – Top hats worn by the wealthy, bowler hats worn by the middle and lower classes, etiquette, “freak shows”, parlour music, fiction (Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewes), art (the accuracy of classicism, emotion over reason captured in romanticism, light and colour in impressionism, and the new technology of photography)
  • The Monarchy – Queen Victoria, imperialism and colonialism.
  • Religion – The power of the protestant Anglican Church vs. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) questioning the foundations of religious belief.
  • Medicine – Improvement in microscopes, the introduction of antiseptics as an alternative to amputation, realising Cholera was caused by contaminated water and subsequently boiling water before drinking. Superstitious beliefs pervading, such as the common belief that a person’s own spiritual or moral failing could cause disease or physical deformity.

Lesson ideas with social themes

Readers can provide a great launchpad for looking at various themes in context. Below is a list of themes with suggestions for possible questions to provoke classroom discussion. The teacher could ask students individually to answer or ask a question and then put students in pairs or small groups to discuss (better for sensitive topics). Additionally, students could be divided into groups and given different questions to talk about, and then present their Q&As back to the whole group for a bigger class debate. Students could even be encouraged to write their own questions on the topic for discussion using the questions below as examples to get them thinking…

Disability

Merrick’s disability hinders his ability to perform many everyday tasks that able people often take for granted.

  • How are the attitudes towards disability different from today?
  • Do you know anyone with a physical or mental disability? What is their life like? Are there any similarities with Merrick’s life?
  • Why do you think people laughed at Merrick? Would people laugh at him today?
  • What would you do or say if you met ‘The Elephant Man’?
  • What would you do if you were him?
  • Do you think Merrick wanted to die when he did? Why / Why not?
  • How can we help people with disabilities to have a good quality of life?
  • Have you ever watched the Paralympic Games?

Alienation and Loneliness

Merrick lives an isolated existence. He dreams of living an even more isolated existence to spare others from looking at him.

  • In what ways are we divided by the culture we live in?
  • What are possible solutions to loneliness and feelings of alienation?

Beauty

Merrick is often referred to as ‘ugly’, yet he can make beautiful things with his hands. A ‘beautiful young woman’ visits Merrick in hospital but her humanity is much greater than her beauty. She is able to look past Merrick’s deformity and see the beauty of his soul.

  • Why do people often value external beauty more than internal beauty?
  • How important is internal and external beauty to you?

MORE lesson ideas!

Why not consider doing the following as extra tasks or setting them for homework:

  • Research Project. Look into life in Victorian England. Report back.
  • Write a diary from the perspective of a one-handed person. Perform a task using only one hand, e.g. tying shoelaces/getting dressed. How does it feel to have limitations?
  • Interview someone with a disability. Show your questions to your teacher beforehand.
  • Find, follow and listen to disabled people on social media. Make notes to feedback in class.
  • Watch The Elephant Man (1980, PG) film, directed by David Lynch, starring Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Frederick Treves. Or The 1900 House (1999), a documentary series following a modern family who volunteer to spend three months in a restored Victorian house and live the life of the middle class of 1900.

 

Give your students access to hundreds of top-quality readers!

Oxford Reading Club

Or, join the Oxford Teachers’ Club to access our exclusive focus paper ‘Using Graded Readers for Extensive Reading’!

 

Oxford Reading Club

This resource material was researched and written by Tom Veryzer for Oxford University Press.


Tom Veryzer has had a diverse teaching career in the TEFL industry spanning almost a decade, specialising in teaching English to young learners. In 2018 he presented an interactive workshop at IATEFL entitled ‘Student Engagement: Top Tips for Classroom Management’. His other ‘parallel life’ as a clown has seen him travel internationally in order to bring ’emergency happiness’ to refugee children. He also performs to family audiences in theatres around the UK, teaches comedy in schools and festivals, and leads workshops on ‘happiness’ for all ages. More info can be found at his website www.tomveryzer.com


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Classroom Management Through The Eyes Of A Teenager

Smiling teenager in the classroom presenting to other studentsI recently participated in a LIVE event on social media to discuss questions about Classroom management and group dynamics for teenagers with Montse Costafreda. This topic has always been important because of the challenges it presents, and opportunities for development it provides. Over the years the idea about our role as a teacher has changed in terms of classroom management, from a set of actions to maintain discipline, to ways of creating a positive atmosphere. Continue reading


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Warm-Up Activities For New Classes

Warm up activities, students around a laptopThe best warm-up activities are all about getting students engaged, and providing them with new interesting ways to work together and connect. They should make the students feel stimulated and allow for personalisation where possible. Don’t error correct during warm-up activities. The emphasis should be on fluency and building trust and rapport. Here are some great warm-up activities suitable for teens and adults to get your classes off to a flying start!

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An Introduction To Assessment For Learning

Assessment For Learning: A student looking at a test paperWhat is Assessment for Learning?

Assessment for learning is a process where teachers seek and use evidence to decide where learners are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there. The emphasis here is on using assessment practices to gather information, which can then be used to make judgements about teaching decisions and directly improve learning. The emphasis is on those assessments, which are used to directly help with learning. The term ‘assessment’ is being used in the general sense of ‘gathering information to make a judgement’. Much of this evidence will come from the daily classroom activities – an unexpected answer to a question may alert the teacher to a misunderstanding, puzzled looks on students’ faces may mean a need to clarify some instructions. Continue reading