Eva Balážová, an ELT Consultant for Oxford University Press in Slovakia, highlights the importance of encouraging students to enjoy reading in English as a way of improving their communicative competence.
Reading a book in English???
People usually read in their mother tongue. Foreign language readers encounter many obstacles that wipe all the pleasure out and can make it a real pain. On the other hand, reading in English undeniably enhances the learning process.
What does pleasure from reading mean in general?
It is everything that drives us to read and read again, all the reasons why we say ´I like reading books,´ everything that helps us immerse ourselves in the content. We like reading because it encourages our curiosity, our fantasy, it whips up our desire to know more. What’s more, we enjoy reading in a safe environment without any stress, pressure or assignments.
Reading for/with pleasure in ELT proves invaluable for developing communicative competence. When reading for pleasure we focus more on content than vocabulary or structures. In that case students think in English, which is necessary for successful communication. Furthermore, students build a positive attitude towards language and develop their critical thinking and creativity skills.
My idea of how to incorporate this into the school syllabus is to establish a readers club.
It offers students the chance to spend their free time with a good book, reading in English. I know that their attitude might be: ´Why should I stay at school for longer than I have to?´ … ´It´ll be a drag. I can´t be bothered sitting and reading for the whole lesson.´ … ´What for? ´…
So how do we get over these objections and encourage students to give up their free time for reading?
Here are some tips for a readers club that can attract them:
- Make sure the content is appealing: good texts are essential – they need to be comprehensible but still challenging enough to make students work to understand them. Graded readers, such as Oxford’s Dominoes series, are perfect for maintaining a reading library that is appropriate for many levels. And it‘s important for club members to read real books, not photocopies, to give them a real sense of achievement and satisfaction.
- Membership privilege: members of the readers club will most likely improve their English. This should be taken into account in the end-of-term evaluation by giving them a wildcard: a privilege to give a presentation on what they have read or created in the club.
- Membership badge with a logo: wearing the badge at school or on special occasions could provide the members with sense of prestige for working harder than others.
- Reading club council: set up positions of responsibility for the members – e.g. chair – the teacher; custodian – a member responsible for the room and keys; secretary – a member responsible for keeping on the club rules, checking attendance, librarian; interlocutor – responsible for publishing info about club activities for the school.
- Motivation for high achievements: word count – a long-term competition for the highest number of the words read in the books; read books grid with members´ names – for entering the titles of the books being read, reward – e.g. a voucher for choosing a book in a local bookshop.
What can students do in a reading club?
Cocktail reading: various illustrations, segmented text, reading aloud, silent reading, glossary in the margin, key words in bold, fully dramatized audio recording – all these features help the reader to grasp the content of the text. The teacher can choose what kind of input will students receive while reading. Students can get different input cocktails – e.g. students read and listen to the audio with sound effects or read and watch the pictures at the same time – it turns their attention to the content. They understand better, they imagine the scene and predict the text, they experience the feelings of the characters. Graded readers eliminate the barriers, enable reading with pleasure and provide high quality language input.
Chain game: What is… the most interesting information you have read today?/the nicest thing XX did in this story?/What have you learned from this book?/What do you think about …? and many other questions asking for personal opinion capitalize on students´engagement and impression after reading. As it is a chain game, everyone is involved and practices expressing an opinion.
Quiz exchange: two groups read different chapters of a book and prepare a quiz about the content. Then they swap the chapters, read the text and both groups complete the quiz . Students always learn something new and get practice in teamwork.
Activity time: graded readers usually contain fun activities focusing on content and vocabulary. Students can develop their critical thinking through activities like: true and false, answer the questions, complete the sentences with the correct information, match, complete the chart, circle the right word, label the picture, and others. They work intensively with the information from the text.
Real projects: Students make projects using surveys, searching for the information, evaluating collected data, etc. The projects have different forms: poster, presentation, art work, picture book, school play. The message or information gained from the text is being transformed. This is good practice in interpretating the text.
Tricky cards: After reading a few books in club, students prepare a set of tricky cards with indications for others to guess which book it is. Names, dates, numbers and places shouldn´t be written on the cards – just to make it a bit more challenging.
It is clear that pleasure is not the only outcome of this reading programme. With the proper material it also improves students´speaking and writing skills, social skills, cognitive and pragmatic skills, and much more. I wouldn’t mind joining such a reading club myself!
Have you set up a reading club at your school? If so, how did you do it? How do you keep it interesting? What reading materials do you use? Share your experiences in the comments below.