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Reading with/for pleasure in ELT

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Woman reading a book in bedEva 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

7 thoughts on “Reading with/for pleasure in ELT

  1. Pingback: Setting up a language learner reading club | efl-resource.com

  2. These are certainly good ideas, but a greater challange is, perhaps, to encourage reading by students who perhaps aren’t so enthusiastic about reading in schools. The idea of a Book Club will certainly encourage motivated students to read more, but will it encourage less motivated students or those, perhaps who are at a lower level of English in class?

    The answer, I think, is to remove all association of reading English with work. For example, by having a “word count” competition you immediately discourage many students from reading because they know their name will never be in the top five so they are immediately put off.

    In our school, we have tried to encourage reading for pleasure by taking out all elements of competition or work associated with reading. In other words, we encourage our students to read solely for pleasure and everyone knows that there is never going to be a test, a league table or any kind of work associated with the process.

    It’s a fairly new change we’ve made but we can see good signs already. There’s a short description of it here: http://tinyurl.com/cgnrrnw

    • Thank you for this important point. I agree with you that motivating less enthusiastic or even weaker students is really challenging. Taking out all elements of competition – as you write – could definitely help these readers to feel secure.However I strongly believe reading for pleasure is a convenient way to improve all students´ English. Weaker students are more likely to become motivated by reading club activities than by traditional classroom work.
      In my opinion excluding work from a reading club could deprive students from developing key competencies, literacy and productive language skills. Activities suggested in my blog aim to give students a chance to express their attitudes, impressions, feelings and opinions. If they like the book they will presumably feel a desire to share it. Club activities unlike classroom tasks have an element of fun and game. They are attractive, students work intensively on their language competence without realizing it.
      According to my experience with running such a club I propose to focus also on feedback. Feedback information comes out during activity time. For example I have found out that students have no problem with reading comprehension, but their interpretation skills are very poor. It means they understand the message but are not able to work with the information.
      Therefore I woould be very interested in what kind of feedback have yoou got from your reading project. It is very interesting.

  3. I really like this article. I have always tried to read books in the language I am reading. When I was learning Korean I bought a book of Aesop’s Fables. Each day I read and studied a fable, and then practised telling the story again to Korean people. This was an enjoyable way of learning and practising the language. If I had been with other learners a book club would have been a great idea. Thanks for this article.

    Jon Sumner
    U.K.

    • Thank you for this story Jon. It is a real example of how natural it is to learn language through reading. In real life reading is usually followed by speaking or writing – sharing ideas, likes, dislikes. Such a spoken interaction involves also listening. Reading a book in English can form a basis for successful language learning.

  4. I like the idea of reading for pleasure, but I’m not sure I understand why there would be activities in a book club. If they are reading for pleasure, wouldn’t it be better to stay away from the teacher-designed activities? That seems like normal class to me, not reading for pleasure.

    • I am glad I can answer your question David. As suggested in the blog the aim of a reading club is not only pleasure and a big number of titles to be read.
      In my theory I distinguish between reading comprehension and reading literacy. The aim is to improve literacy which is an ability to interpret the text. Pleasure is very imprtant here because of an affective filter hypotheses /Krashen/. The more secure and relaxed the students feel, the more effective the language input is. Teacher designed activities are included for developing reading literacy and language skills.

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