Having 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.
I also like to use video as a ‘teaser’, showing part of the chapter before pausing and asking the kids to guess what will happen next. This task really gets them thinking about the storyline and often leads to great ideas! Having seen the video (or at least part of it), the children find it easier to follow the story when they read. After all, they are just young learners and asking them to decode the text and follow the story at the same time is challenging. Video helps them visualise the story a little bit more easily. Take, for example, The Wrong Trousers: understanding exactly how Wallace’s Getting up in the morning machine works is a bit complicated from only reading the chapter but this video clip makes it all very clear:
What if there’s no video? Well, the images accompanying each chapter are a great (but often under-used) resource. A well-illustrated book will highlight the key vocabulary and actions from the chapter and it’s always worth drawing your students’ attention to that fact, as they won’t always do it automatically. The pictures can also be used as the basis for predictions and discussion before reading. I like to scan the illustrations and show them on the projector screen as well to draw the class’ attention to particular details, again providing them with a rich visual stimulus.
Activities while reading
When it comes to actually reading the chapter, I try not to set too many tasks as my main focus is just to allow the students to read and enjoy it. However, there are a couple of light activities I will ask them to think about as explained next.
Having done the prediction tasks outlined above, the main question I will put to the class is ‘Were your predictions correct?’ This encourages them to engage with the text and refer back to the pre-reading activities. In the case of using a video preview, I may also ask about the differences between the film version and the text, which is good for getting them to make comparisons. Finally, I sometimes ask them to label the illustrations with character, place or item names. I especially find this useful in the early chapters when such things are being introduced for the first time.
As you may have guessed from the title, I’m not a fan of comprehension questions or the grammar-focused ‘language work’ activities that often appear at the end of chapters. I find that young learners often just copy whole chunks of text when answering , which doesn’t require much more than superficial reading of the text.
Usually, we will simply review the while reading tasks and I will answer their questions about anything they didn’t understand or were just curious about from the chapter. In terms of language work, I like to find ways to get them to really scan the text for information. For example, I may list the numbers or some adjectives that feature in the chapter on the board and ask the class to re-read and find out what they relate to. If we have been working on something like past simple, a task such as ‘find the irregular verbs’ is useful to connect their regular lessons to the reader.
And, if you insist on comprehension questions or true/false sentences, why not try the following? Put the students in groups and ask them to come up with questions to quiz the rest of the class with. Not only does this encourage them to analyse the chapter more deeply, it also gives them highly useful language practice (question writing) and adds a bit of fun to the lesson too!