Ahead of his talk at IATEFL 2012 about encouraging students to read, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, talks about the importance of allowing students to choose what they want to read.
Most teachers would agree that reading is important. Good readers make good students. I have always believed that it is important to let students choose what they want to read. However, experience has shown me that this is not always easy. Having the large variety of readers in front of them in the form of a book fair, my students become confused. Some pick up a reader, seemingly at random, and ask me if it is okay. Some look at the cover, recognise the movie, and choose it on that basis. Others choose it based on the topic it suggests. None bother to open the book and read a page, or even question what those numbers and colours meant on the spine. They needed my help.
By running a book fair, I can better help my students choose a reader. I could limit the choice of levels they have access to, but I prefer not to do this. I want them to see the range they have available to them. I ask them to choose a reader they think they would like and then to sit down with it and read a page.
They should be able to read the page comfortably, almost as if it were their first language. According to the Extensive Reading Foundation, extensive reading should be “fast, fluent, … and enjoyable.” If the reading is too slow, it can easily become frustrating. So, what is the right pace? It varies, but intermediate students should read about 150 words per minute, beginning students a bit less.
Know the language
As students are reading as if it were in their first language, they should understand most of the text, well above 95%. There shouldn’t be more than 2 or 3 unknown words. There shouldn’t be any confusing sentences or unnecessary pauses. In essence, students should be reading at or below the level they are studying. This will help them develop reading fluency and confidence. They shouldn’t need a dictionary – the stories are meant to be enjoyed, not studied.
Level on the readers
It is important to make students aware of the level of the readers. Understanding the number and/or the colour that usually appears on the cover and the binding is important to help them choose other readers. Students should understand that the stories have been simplified, that they have been written for people who are learning English, people like them. Once they find their level within a particular series, they should be aware that they can choose other titles in that series and be able to understand and enjoy the story. This gives them a lot of autonomy to continue with their reading by being able to choose a reader on their own.
Enjoy the story
As the students read the page from their reader, they should enjoy it. This seems obvious, but too many times my students turn to me to confirm that it is okay to choose a particular reader. Although they may have enjoyed it, it is important that it also meet what they think of as the teacher’s hidden criteria. Or they may feel they have to read at a certain level, based on their level in the class. It is important to encourage them to choose the type of story they enjoy, whether it be horror or fantasy, romance or mystery.
What methods do you use to encourage students to read?