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(Reads, reading, has read): 5 smart tips for teaching grammar through extensive reading

extensive reading teenagersNigel A. Caplan, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Delaware English Language Institute in the United States and the co-author of Q: Skills for Success and Inside Writing. In this post he provides some useful tips for teaching grammar skills through your reading program.

We often encourage language learners to read for pleasure, read for comprehension, and read for vocabulary. But reading is also an excellent way to learn and practice grammar. It is important for teachers and learners to recognise that grammar is not a separate skill divided into discrete chunks (or textbook chapters!), but rather the resources which make meaning in a language. In other words, grammar is everywhere, and everything a learner does with the language is an opportunity to improve their grammar.

Here are some activities you can suggest to your students to help them discover the grammar of their reading beyond the classroom walls.

1. Read for meaning first and grammar next

We have limited attentional resources as we read, so it is natural to read first and foremost for meaning. However, language learners benefit from multiple readings of the same text. So, once they have understood the text and checked the meaning of any important new vocabulary, encourage your students to read all or part of the same text again and pay attention to the language use.

2. Start with verb tenses

One of the most interesting questions readers can ask is which tenses are used in the text. This will tell you a lot about the type of text you are reading. For example, we would expect to find a lot of present tenses in scientific texts because they describe facts and phenomena, but a sudden shift to the past tense might indicate a discussion of the history of an idea or a particular scientist. Meanwhile, historical texts unsurprisingly use mostly past tenses, but they may nonetheless contain present tense verbs to discuss the current significance of past events.

Also encourage your students to look for less frequent verb tenses; if there’s a present perfect progressive verb, why is it used? Could the writer have chosen a different tense?

3. Learn the grammar of new vocabulary

We want learners to notice new and useful vocabulary when they read, but the context of the text is an opportunity to learn more about the word than its meaning. When encountering a word, in particular a word that the student understands but doesn’t yet use, ask questions about its use in the sentence. For a noun, is it countable or uncountable? What verb goes with it? For a verb, is it transitive or intransitive? What prepositions go with it? What kinds of nouns are its subject? This approach will encourage learners to see words in collocations and phrases, which will expand both their receptive and productive vocabularies.

4. Play with the Grammar

Grammar is a system of choices, and for every choice a writer makes, there are others which could be made. These choices are worth exploring.

We can encourage learners to rewrite texts using alternative grammar patterns. For example:

  • If the writer repeats the same nouns a lot, could pronouns be used instead?
  • If there are many short sentences, how could they be combined?
  • If an advanced text uses a lot of reduced clauses, what would the full (finite) clause be?
  • If the text is academic, how could you rewrite it for a different audience, such as magazine readers?
  • If it’s written in a less formal register, what changes would you make for formal, academic writing?

The last example exercise benefits both reading comprehension and writing development. Readers of sophisticated and academic texts, such as those in Q: Skills for Success, may need to “unpack” long noun phrases and reduced relative clauses in order to understand the structure and ideas.

Meanwhile, when writing for academic purposes, students can draw on the techniques they see in their reading, such as nominalisation, demonstrative pronouns (this, those), and reductions.

5. Keep a Grammar (B)Log

In order to develop their grammar, students need to notice the language they are reading and internalize it, not just move on to the next page, show, or app. A great way to develop independent study skills is to have students keep a grammar log, journal, or blog to complement their extensive reading.

In my classes, I ask students to post an entry on the discussion board in our learning management system in which they write about an interesting phrase or sentence that they’ve read. They have to either explain the grammar or ask a question about it (I don’t allow them to focus only on word meanings: there are dictionaries for that!). I then encourage students to answer their peers’ questions before I provide an answer. Students might wonder why a verb has a third-person ending, why an uncountable noun has been unexpectedly used in the plural, what a new clause connector means, or what a pronoun refers to. This works at all proficiency levels! Most importantly, the grammar log helps students develop the habit of looking for new and interesting structures while reading, and the discussions allow for the kinds of negotiations over language that can promote acquisition.

These simple techniques can be used for homework or self-study to turn any reading activity into a grammar lesson! If you try these with your students, let me know in the comments how they worked.

Get a sneak peek at the exciting free resources being made available for Q: Skills for Success from August, including new Skills Videos and a new Extensive Reading program in which every unit has been matched with a free, downloadable chapter from Oxford Graded Readers.


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Extensive Reading and Language Learning

oup_54206Dr. Richard R. Day is a Professor at the Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii. He has authored numerous publications, particularly on second language reading, including Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (co-author).

Extensive reading is based on the well-established premise that we learn to read by reading. This is true for learning to read our first language as well as foreign languages. In teaching foreign language reading, an extensive reading approach allows students to read, read, and read some more.

When EFL students read extensively, they become fluent readers. But there is more. Studies have established that EFL students increase their vocabulary, and become better writers. We also know that reading extensively helps increase oral fluency—listening and speaking abilities. Finally, students who read a lot develop positive attitudes toward reading and increased motivation to study English. So there are some excellent reasons for having EFL students reading extensively.

Let’s now look at what extensive reading is by looking at four of its key principles*:

1. The reading material is easy.

For extensive reading to be possible and for it to have the desired results, students must read books and other materials that are well within their reading competence—their reading comfort zone. In helping beginning readers select texts, I believe that more than one or two unknown words per page might make the text too difficult for overall understanding. For intermediate learners, appropriate texts have no more than three or four unknown or difficult words per page.

I recognize that not everyone agrees with using easy materials. Many teachers believe that learners must read difficult texts; they also believe that students need to be challenged when learning to read. Perhaps they think that reading difficult texts somehow gets them used to reading materials written for first-language reading.

This is a mistake. Of course, our goal in teaching students to read is to have them read literature that is written for native readers. But we should not start with that goal! We need to start with books and material that have been especially written for beginning and intermediate levels of reading ability. They have to read texts they find easy and enjoyable as they learn to read.

2. A variety of reading material on a wide range of topics must be available.

For an extensive reading program to succeed, students have to read. So it is critical to have a large number of books on a wide variety of topics to appeal to all students. Such a library will include books (both fiction and non-fiction), magazines, and newspapers. There should be materials that are informative, and materials that are entertaining.

3. Learners choose what they want to read.

Allowing students to select what they want to read is key. Again, this is related to the basis of extensive reading: we learn to read by reading. Students are more likely to read material in which they are interested. So it makes sense for them to choose what (and where and when) to read.

In addition, students should also be free, indeed encouraged, to stop reading anything that isn’t interesting or which they find too difficult.

4. Learners read as much as possible.

The most crucial element in learning to read is the amount of time spent actually reading. We have to make sure that our students are given the opportunities to read, read, and read some more. This is the “extensive” of extensive reading, made possible by the first three principles.

How much should we ask our students to read?  The quick and short answer is, As much as possible! I usually set reading targets for my students. For example, for beginning EFL readers, the minimum is one book a week. This is realistic, as language learner literature for beginners (for example, graded readers) is short. Some teachers set their reading targets in terms of time. For example, students must read for 60 minutes each week.

To finish, let me repeat this important fact: we learn to read by reading. There is no other way. Extensive reading helps students become readers.

 

 

References:
Day, R. R. and J. Bamford. (2002). Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading.  Reading in a Foreign Language 14/2.  http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/October2002/


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Four Secrets for Reading in the ELT classroom 

IMG_3569_lowres

Andrea Sarto is the author of Football Forever, a NEW Dominoes graded reader available now. He was born in the UK but has lived and worked in several different countries as an English-language teacher, trainer and editor. By his own confession, he probably reads too much.

I have this habit when I start a book.

Maybe ‘habit’ is the wrong word. It’s more of a strategy. First, I have a really good look at it – judge it by its cover. Next I’ll read the first line, word by word. Then I’ll read the first chapter, twice. Sometimes I’ll read it more than twice.

Why? Basically, it’s because I enjoy it. I want to savour it. It’s such a treat to tune yourself into a new story – the style, the sense of place and character that the author is creating. That’s why I take it slowly. It’s all about anticipation. You never quite know what’s going to happen.

In this respect a graded reader is no different, especially when it’s an original story. Encouraging students to read in English can provide massive benefits to their language learning. There are so many academic studies which prove just that … but how exactly do we do it? What’s the secret?

Secret # 1

First, and most importantly, it’s about the topic. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in everything under the sun. Some things I sort of like, but other things I’m really passionate about. If you can find out what your students are passionate about – be it football or music or vampires or time travel – then that’s half the secret. Because there’s bound to be a book or text in English about it.  And that book or text is going to tell you something else about your passion – something you didn’t know before. In that sense, English is just a conduit for students to find out more stuff about what they like (and the world it’s part of).

Secret # 2

The second secret is getting the level right. Who wants to read with a book/device in one hand and a dictionary in the other? OK, fine if we encounter the odd word we don’t understand – it still happens to me and I’ve been learning English for over forty years! But students want to lose themselves in the experience, and they can’t do it if they keep tripping over words they don’t know. So the book needs to be of a slightly lower level than the students’ own language level. It’s not rocket science. (There are books about rocket science, too, though.)

Secret # 3

Thirdly, it’s about taking it slowly, or rather in stages. We need to help students to find a way in … or a way out if it comes to that. Only the bravest can plunge in without any preliminaries; the rest of us like to take our time. And here’s where my ‘habit’ comes in. I’m about to spell out one tried-and-tested approach for using graded readers inspired by it …

So you’ve assembled your library of graded readers. (Incidentally, most publishers do a deal where you can get a collection of topics and levels for a discount instead of buying them one by one.) Here’s what you do next:

  1. Spread them out face-up on a large table (or do the equivalent digitally with thumbnails.) Ask students to choose a reader based on the title and picture on the front cover alone.
  2. Tell students to read the back cover blurb for homework. They can use a bilingual dictionary if necessary – who cares as long as they’re reading! Ask them to make a note of where the story takes place (setting); who the main person is (character); and what happens (plot).
  3. Get students to read the first line of Chapter 1 three times and Chapter 1 itself twice.
  4. At this point, if they didn’t enjoy it, they can STOP. But they must promise to do two things if they do decide to give up. The first is to tell you why (in English). The second is to take a different graded reader from the library. They can also stop this one after stage 3, to be replaced by another book, but this third one they must read through from start to finish, i.e. stick at it!
  5. Tell students to write a short summary (in the past or present tense) of what happens in Chapter 1. You can do all sorts of things with these summaries: error correction; peer dictation; gapfill, etc.
  6. Repeat the process with the next few chapters. If students start to copy each others’ summaries, do some comparison work in class and talk about the importance of original work vs plagiarism!
  7. Before students read the final chapter, get them to predict what’s going to happen (in the future) and how the story will end in terms of setting, character, and plot. They then read to confirm their prediction – even changing what they wrote to reflect what they read.
  8. After students finish the book, get them to give it a ‘star rating’ from 1–5. Decide as a class what the star ratings stand for, e.g. 1 = Don’t waste your time! 2 = Probably not for you; 3 = Give it a go; 4 = Definitely recommended; 5 = Out of this world! (If they want to write a review or give a mini-presentation about it, don’t stand in their way!)
  9. At the end of the term or year, do some project work. Tell students to calculate the most/least popular titles (and do a basic graph to show it), to interview each other about their favourites, to write follow-up chapters as a story chain, look for common ground between stories in order to draw up a list of If you liked this, then try … etc.
  10. Go back to stage 1 and start over. After all, the funny thing about reading a good book is that it makes you want to read another. And then another. That’s Secret # 4, by the way!

 


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#IATEFL – Why invest in extensive reading?


IMG_3569_lowresAhead of her talk ‘Engine of Change – research into the impact of extensive reading’ at this year’s IATEFL conference, Domino author Nina Prentice explores the relevance of extensive reading in the language learning classroom, and discusses the successes of the Read On! class library project in Italy last year. 

I believe that [extensive reading] has helped me learn and develop in a number of ways. It gave me the chance to learn English differently, by having fun. It has also enriched me. Above all it has really improved my English. There isn’t a better way to learn!’

 Maria – Read On! Student 2015

‘The [extensive reading] project obliged me to invest my and my students’ energies on other activities outside the normal routines. [This] delivered unexpected outcomes in terms of motivation, learning, and students’ self-esteem thereby facilitating lessons even outside the project.’

Professoressa Confetta, Della Chiesa Middle School, Reggio Emilia 2015

What is extensive reading and how can it transform learning? The short answer is reading by choice and for pleasure but what does this mean in practice?

The two comments above, reflecting on last year’s participation in OUP Italy’s Read On! class library project, show that reading extensively makes a real difference – to individual students’ growth and to effective teaching and learning in the classroom.  But it does require an investment of energy and time. This post will look briefly at what it takes to invest in extensive reading and how it enriches students, like Maria, who have enjoyed learning in this way.

INVESTING YOUR ENERGIES IN A DIFFERENT APPROACH

Extensive reading works well alongside traditional language learning methods but this kind of reading is not about comprehension exercises, book reports and spot quizzes. It is about motivating students by giving them choice, responsibility and the opportunity to enjoy reading free of the usual classroom obligations.  

INVESTING TIME IN THE CLASS LIBRARY

The Class Library is the heart of extensive reading. For the OUP Read On! project in Italy, teachers use a mobile trolley suitcase library filled with around 90 OUP graded readers, four for each class member, so that borrowing works smoothly. Teachers and students take time to:

  • Celebrate their class library with a welcome party
  • Organise their borrowing system and choose class librarians
  • Enjoy the library, opening it in every lesson so students and the teacher can exchange books freely and frequently.
  • Share everybody’s reading experiences, likes and dislikes.

INVESTING IN CREATIVE READING ACTIVITIES

Another key approach is to enjoy alternative classroom activities encouraging students to explore their reading through games, drama, videos, illustration, newspaper reporting, CLIL links and research. Check out the Read On! Website for practical ideas: www.oup.com/elt/readon

INVESTING IN READING FLUENCY

Reading requires practice. There are no short cuts. Fluent readers decode words and understand meaning rapidly with little mental effort. Learning becomes easier because students don’t translate every word they read.

To invest in reading fluency means:

  • Starting simply and working your way up. Persuade students to read easier low-level graded readers in the class library before tackling higher levels.  Ban dictionaries. There should be no more than one or two words on the page that the learner does not understand.
  • Ensuring students have time to read extensively. Give your class regular 10 minutes silent reading breaks during lessons two or three times a week. Encourage students to read on the bus travelling to and from school. Give reading time instead of homework for one night a week.
  • Practicing regularly. Students read for 20 minutes a day, aiming to read one to two graded readers a week.

Extensive reading is pleasurable, interesting and fun: never a chore. Inspire your students. Show how much you love reading. Read alongside them and promote and enjoy alternative activities linked to their reading. Your students will grow and your classroom will be enriched. Read On!

 


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5 Ways Graded Readers can Motivate your Students

_MG_1827Jacqueline Aiello PhD (New York University, New York) specializes in research concerning Curriculum Theory, Teacher Education and Teaching Methods. Jacqueline was the lead qualitative researcher in an impact study on the Read On! class library project in Italy.

English is widely featured in students’ entertainment and social media platforms: in Hollywood movies, worldwide gaming communities, celebrity Twitter accounts, Facebook, music and so on. This English – cool, dynamic and exciting – is different from the English students are confronted with in school. For many students, English is just another school subject and, often disengaged, they approach English learning sluggishly or even reluctantly. Bridging this divide, then, is a challenge worth tackling.

An effective way to motivate students to work hard to learn English is by implementing extensive reading projects in language classrooms. As extensive readers, students get to freely choose from a wide variety of graded readers that are at the right level for them. How does it work?

Here are the 5 ways that graded readers motivated students who participated in the Read On! class library project in Italy to learn, use and study English:

1. Love of Choice: As participants in the Read On! project, students chose what they wanted to read from a library that offered a selection of 90+ graded readers of different genres and topics. When students have choice in learning, they become more motivated to do it. One student said: ‘I really liked this project because we could choose the books that we wanted to read, and read them at our own pace, without anyone rushing us. The Read On! library was stocked very well and it included every genre that I could imagine. In short, there was something for everyone!’

2. Authentic English: The fact that English is an instrumental international language might be enough to motivate some students, but research has shown that motivation really kicks in when students feel that their English classroom provides access to the English they can actually use for the things they want to do. Undoubtedly, communicative competence in English is a necessary skill. Reading books at the right level provides students access to both standard written English and real interactions in English, which may include authentic colloquial and informal language. The audio that accompanies each graded reader allow listening practice of this real-world English.

3. Reaching attainable goals: Graded readers make it possible for students to find books at the right level. One Read On! participant explained: ‘It is truly satisfying to be able to finish a book, at whatever level, without needing translators or dictionaries to understand the words or the whole text.’ Unlike other more challenging reading materials, students were quickly reassured that finishing multiple books – even in a foreign language – was an attainable goal and a doable feat. Not only did students feel a sense of accomplishment when they completed an entire book in a foreign language, but they were able to track their progress from one level to the next level as they read more graded readers.

4. Perks of Reading: Before beginning their extensive reading experience, the idyllic image of curling up to a great book on a rainy Saturday afternoon wasn’t quite vivid for Italian Read On! students. Participation in the Read On! class library project allowed students to discover the perks of reading. For example, one student realized that through reading, learning occurred: ‘thanks to the project I started reading the books, and I learned many things.’ Others explored the new worlds – both actual in non-fiction and imagined in fiction – described in the graded readers. Ultimately, as one student said: ‘[Read On!] was able to reawaken in me the desire to read, which I thought was long gone.’

5. Confidence boost: Seeing improvement in performance and outcomes is one of the most powerfully motivating forces. The better you are at something, the more likely you will dedicate yourself to it. Students were surprised to find that by reading extensively, their vocabularies, implicit knowledge of grammar and automaticity in their target language improved. As one student remarked, ‘I believe that [the Read On!] project has helped me learn and develop in a number of ways. It gave me the chance to learn English differently, by having fun. It has also enriched me. Above all it has really improved my English. There isn’t a better way to learn!’ Together, by listening and reading authentic English, students gained knowledge of English and their confidence grew.

Want to set up a class library and get your students motivated? Watch this video by reading expert, Verrisimo Toste, on how to get started.