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Making reading fun: Using graded readers with young learners

There is a famous saying by Dr. Seuss that says: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Anyone who has read a good book knows how  reading can transport us to far and distant places. Not only does reading help us relax, but it also develops our mind, and imagination. Reading has become an essential life skill that helps us interact with the world around us. Equipping our children with effective literacy skills has become a natural and fundamental part of our lives.

However, reading isn’t a skill that we are naturally born with. Whilst it is true that there are some children who are capable of learning to read on their own, the majority of us need to be taught how to read. In most cases children start developing their literacy skills at nursery school, where they start to learn how to decipher the letters of the alphabet. It is only usually at primary school that they begin learning how to read by learning how to apply decoding and blending strategies. Although mastering this skill requires a lot of focused practice both in and out of the classroom, the result is and should be magical.

So how can we, as teachers and parents, promote the love of reading in our children? How can we make it easier for our children to choose a book that appeals to their natural curiosity, as well as their interests? Only with the answers to these questions can we enable them to have a meaningful and personalised reading experience.

Children need to make sense of, and personalise their reading experience.

To do this, get them to develop their creativity skills. Ask them to create a final “product” that reflects upon their reading experience. Rather than relying solely on reading worksheets with comprehension questions (which we can use to test the children’s reading memory), there’s a wider variety of activities out there that we as teachers could use to get an insight into our student’s understanding of the story.

I’ll be exploring this topic, and answering all of the questions above in my upcoming webinar. Please click here to register!

We will also discuss how these activities allow children to take a step further in their language learning process. As children make and present personalised reading activities, they are also learning to apply the language to real world scenarios. By the end of this webinar, you’ll be equipped with the tools that’ll allow your children to experience and share the magic of reading. Afterwards, you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions, and to share your own valuable experiences with fellow teachers.


Vanessa Esteves has been teaching English as a foreign language in Portugal for the past 23 years in both private and state schools around the country. She is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação in Porto. She has an M.A. in Anglo-American Studies and has been involved in teacher training in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Croatia, Slovenia, Malta, Morocco, Egypt and Portugal. Vanessa is a regular presenter at conferences.


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Creating a reading environment | Using readers in the classroom with adults

We all know why our students should read. Ask any teacher and they will probably tell you that reading builds vocabulary, improves grammar, improves writing skills, and develops critical thinking skills. Readers will tell you that they read because it gives them knowledge, helps them sleep, enhances the imagination, provides entertainment, or takes them ‘away from it all’ when they are feeling stressed.

But reading in a foreign language can feel like work. Tethered to the dictionary, learners often don’t get the same satisfaction from reading in a foreign language that they do in their first language. I recently experienced this myself. Wanting to ‘brush up on my French’, I bought a novel that looked promising. However, after 2 pages I gave up. Why? There were too many unknown words and expressions. It was a chore, not a pleasure.

So, how can we encourage our adult students to read?

1. Ensure they choose the right reading level. Graded readers are ideal for students learning English because they can choose the right level for comfortable reading. A quick way to assess reading level is to read a page from a book. There should be no more than 2-3 unknown words on the page, and students should be able to read steadily and with understanding. Students can also find out their level with this interactive level test. Once they have their level, they can choose a book that interests them out of the many available.

2. Create space for reading and discussion in class. Adult students have busy lives outside of class, so if you are serious about getting them reading, carve out reading time into every lesson. First, put students into groups to discuss what they are reading. Each student gives a short summary of what the book is about and how they like it so far. Next, give students 5-10 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted reading time. Without interfering or adding any pressure, quietly observe the reading behaviour of the students – if they are glued to the dictionary, suggest a lower level reader for this part of your lessons. You may find that students enjoy the quiet reading bit of the lesson the most!

3. Make reading a social experience. Building social relationships is a motivational driver, and many people enjoy talking about what they’ve read, so integrate this into the classroom with reading circles. Put students into groups and ask them to choose one graded reader that they will all read. Assign different roles to each student: discussion leader, summarizer, connector, word master, passage person, and culture collector. You can find out more about these roles in my webinar, or go to the teaching resources site at the Oxford Bookworms Club.

4. Find ways to link books to the outside world. In Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes takes on a very strange case with links to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. As a project, students can learn more about these and other islands – connecting fiction with fact. For non-fiction lovers, there are plenty of graded non-fiction books that are informational and educational. One example is the Factfile about Stephen Hawking. You may know that between 1979 and 2009, Hawkins was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, can you name three other well-known scientists who held this role (answers in the webinar!)?

5. Create low-stakes competition. A little competition can add a game-like element to lessons, bring students satisfaction from seeing their progress charted, and create a sense that students are part of a reading community. Set each student a 6-book challenge. To complete the challenge, they read a book and write a review – complete with a star-rating system. A review can be structured for any level:

Create a class chart or leader board to record how many books each student has read. Give students certificates once they have reached 6 books. Of course, students can read each other’s reviews to help them decide which book to read next!

If you are using e-books from the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf, ask students to share their reading diary which not only tracks which book they have read, but also how many words they have read and time spent reading – this can give them quite a buzz when they see how a little reading over time can add up – imagine reaching 5,000 words read!

There are many more ways to foster reading. Join me in my webinar where I’ll present these and other ideas for using readers in the classroom with adults. Come a few minutes early and share what you are reading with others in the chat box!

Click here to register for the upcoming webinar, see you there!


Stacey Hughes is a part-time lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and also works freelance as a teacher developer, materials writer and educational consultant in ELT. She has taught English in the US, Poland, Italy and the UK in many different contexts. She also taught French and Spanish. As a teacher developer, she enjoys engaging with teachers from all over the world. She has recently run an introduction to teacher training course for the Oxford Department of Education Summer School.


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Graded Readers and 21st Century Skills

Graded readers then and now

Using graded readers to help learners to improve their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills is not a recently discovered English teaching technique. In the 1920s, for instance, Dr Michael West edited a series called New Method Supplementary Graded Readers (Longman) with exactly this aim, and these were not the first simplified story books for foreign learners of English. Nowadays, most ELT publishers produce a wide range of readers designed to appeal to different age groups. Oxford University Press, for example, publishes both Bookworms and Dominoes for teenage readers.                                                                                            

21st century skills

The idea of teaching 21st century skills is relatively new. What do we mean by 21st century skills? Although there are different definitions, most people agree the following four skills areas (the four ‘C’s) are at the heart of 21st century learning:

  • Collaboration (with students working effectively in teams, groups, or pairs)
  • Critical thinking (with students questioning content, and solving problems, rather than just accepting and learning facts by heart)
  • Creativity (with students using their imagination to produce something new)
  • Communication (with students transmitting and receiving spoken, written and mixed-media messages effectively)

The following three ‘C’s are also sometimes included under the 21st century skills umbrella:

  • Computer literacy (with students undertaking online research, word-processing, the production of digital presentations, video clips, audio recordings, etc.)
  • Cultural and global awareness (with students learning about other cultures and the world)
  • Civics, citizenship and ethics (with students learning about society and social values)

Incorporating a focus on 21st century skills like these into classes based around graded readers can combine new and familiar lesson elements in fresh ways which are really engaging for students – especially teenagers!

Giving support

When designing extensive reading lessons for learners of English from other language backgrounds, we should naturally provide support. This support should enable students to complete the reading-related tasks that we set them. It can take many different forms – for instance, with a fictional text:

  • activating the language learners may need to understand the story
  • raising learner awareness of the time and place of the story, especially if these are unfamiliar
  • encouraging cognitive skills like prediction and empathy to help learners enter more fully into the story

Of course, choosing a story text which is simple enough for learners to read at speed without a dictionary can help to make the task of reading more achievable. This is where the carefully graded levels of a series like Bookworms or Dominoes can greatly help the teacher. Clear levelling helps teachers to select suitable reading materials for different classes (in a ‘class reader’ approach – where all students in a class are reading the same story). Clear levelling can also help teachers to suggest appropriate books for individual students to read (in a ‘readers library’ approach, where different students in a class are reading different stories according to level and taste).

Three different stages

The three classic stages (and stage aims) of a reading lesson – using a story text as a class reader – are as follows:

  • Before reading (aims: to arouse curiosity and prepare learners to make sense of the story)
  • While reading (aims: to help learners understand the story so far and make them curious about what comes next in the story)
  • After reading (aims: to encourage learners to respond to the story through thinking, speaking, writing, or creating something inspired by the story)

Each of these stages will naturally focus on different 21st century skills. ‘Before reading’ tasks will often involve thinking skills (hypothesizing, predicting, questioning). ‘While reading’ tasks will often involve communication and collaboration skills (discussing the story so far, or the story yet to come, in pairs, groups, or as a class). ‘After reading’ tasks will often involve creative self-expression and maybe also computer skills (for online research, making and delivering PowerPoint presentations, word processing and designing texts for poster display, etc.)

Webinar

Join me in my webinar ‘Graded Readers and 21st century skills’ to learn more – with examples from Bookworms and Dominoes – about practical ways of refreshing and varying your reading classes. Blending modern skill sets with classic graded reader techniques makes for rich teaching territory that we will explore together.


Bill Bowler is a founder series editor, with his wife, Sue Parminter, of Dominoes Graded Readers (OUP). He has authored many readers himself. He has also visited many countries as a teacher trainer, sharing ideas about Extensive Reading. Bill has contributed to the book Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (OUP).  Two of his Dominoes adaptations (The Little Match Girl and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) were Language Learner Literature Award Finalists. Born in London, he now lives in Spain.


Further Reading:

Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (Revised Edition) – Day, R., Bassett, J. (et al) – Oxford University Press (2016)


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Developing Reading and Writing Skills | Q&A

Thinking back on the Developing Reading and Writing Skills webinars, it was wonderful to see so many teachers participating from all around the world. Thank you all for your participation, sharing your own ideas, and all your wonderful questions. While we managed to discuss a number of your questions during the sessions, this blog post is here to answer some of those that we did not manage to get through.

Webinar Activities

Could the activities we looked at be used with other age groups?

The content of the webinar was focused on young learners, however all the activities we looked at work just as well with teens and even adults. The ‘Who? What? Why?’ activity where students analyse the writer’s purpose, for example, can be used in exactly the same way with all age groups, the only thing that would change is the text you use in class.

Similarly, the activity below, designed to encourage students to respond to the text by sharing facts, ideas and questions that have occurred to them, can be used with very little variation. If you are working with older students you may wish to take out the visual prompts of the book, light bulb and question mark and replace them with question prompts, such as ‘What have you learned?’, ‘What ideas does the text give you?’, ‘What questions do you have?’ However, this is in no way necessary, and many adult learners will find the images just as useful for prompting their ideas as the young learners do.

reading and writing activities

How frequently we should use these activities in class?

My answer to that is as often as you can! Getting into the habit of looking at reading texts as pieces of writing is important, and these activities are designed to help your students to do just that. I recommend repeating these tasks at least once every couple of weeks. By doing this, the students will quickly learn what is expected of them, and because the texts we are using in class are different every time, the students don’t get bored. If you are worried about repeating the same activities with your class you can always vary the way the students are working (pairs, groups, individual, or whole class discussion), or the way they present their answers: Oral presentations, mind maps, graphic organisers, or written paragraphs would all be good alternatives.

Error Correction

There were quite a few questions regarding correcting mistakes in our students’ writing, so I shall attempt to answer them all together. When and how we correct our students’ writing will depend on the objective of the writing task that you set. A free writing task, for example, would typically not be corrected at all, as these tasks are usually a tool for thinking. However, if we are practicing specific skills or writing task types then we will need to factor in some level of error correction.

One of the biggest benefits of written English is that students can go back over their work, and think about and correct what they have written. Like many teachers, in my classroom I use error correction codes to enable students to self-correct their writing. Allowing students to correct themselves gives them the opportunity to think about their writing, and put all that they have learned in class into practice. Of course, before you start using a correction code you need to let your students know that this is what you will be doing. Make sure that the correction code you use is on the wall of the classroom and that your students have their own copies for working at home, that way they will become familiar with it.

Of course, what we correct is a more complicated question. Younger learners, and those who are just starting to learn English are likely to make many mistakes in their writing, and when our students get their work back from the teacher it can seem very disheartening to find that there are many errors to correct. One way to avoid this is limit the type of errors you are correcting. If you are using a course book, or a writing skills book with your students then it can also work as a guide for your error correction.

Let’s say you are working through Oxford Skills World with your students, unit by unit they will be learning new writing skills, and these are the areas that we should focus on in our marking. So, if they are learning how to use full stops and capital letters in unit one, then when we take their writing homework in we would correct only the mistakes connected to this skill. When the student has corrected these errors, you can choose to move onto another type of mistake for the second draft, or save other error types for a later piece of writing. You can change the number of error types you look at per draft depending on the needs of your students and the class objectives.

Recommended Reading

Finally, several of you asked for some recommended reading and books for further information. If you are looking for guidance for teachers, then the OUP ELT blog is a great place to start! You will find plenty of interesting and useful articles right here, like Gareth Davies article Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible – How to get your students writing  or Philip Haines’ 25 Alternatives to Reading Aloud Around the Class.

There are also plenty of great professional development books available with ideas for improving your students reading and writing. I really like the Into the Classroom series from OUP, as it has plenty of practical activities which are easy to use in class.

Thank you again to those of you who attended the webinars, and good luck with your reading and writing!


Charlotte Rance is a freelance teacher trainer and consultant based in Brighton. She has worked in the English Language Teaching industry for over a decade, and has worked in China and Turkey, as well as her native UK, where she completed her Diploma in TESOL at the University of Brighton. Charlotte’s key areas of interest are young learners and the use of reading as a tool for language learning.


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Extensive reading for engaging learners beyond the textbook

Scott Roy Douglas has worked with high school, university, and adult English language learners around the world.  He is a co-author of Q: Skills for Success Second Edition, and the author of Academic Inquiry: Writing for Post-secondary Success.  He is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education on the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. 

 

Today Scott joins us on the blog to explain how extensive reading could be beneficial to your students.

Supporting Classroom English Language Teaching and Learning with Extensive Reading

A program of extensive reading can be a powerful complement to English language teaching and learning.  This blog post explores what extensive reading is, how it can benefit students, what challenges there may be, and how it supports and enhances courses like Q: Skills for Success Second Edition.

What is extensive reading?

Rather than closely reading a single challenging text in class, extensive reading involves students engaging in large amounts of reading at levels that match what they are able to understand easily without using a dictionary or extra help.  Typically, students read at least one or two books a week from a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction choices.  Students read these books on their own either in their free time or during class, usually at a pace that might be a bit faster than usual for the classroom.  The goal is to go beyond thinking of reading as a task, towards developing a habit of reading for pleasure.  The key is to remember that extensive reading materials shouldn’t be too difficult or challenging for students.  As a rule of thumb, students should choose books with less than four or five new vocabulary words on a page.

What are the benefits of extensive reading?

A lot of research has been done examining the benefits of extensive reading.  It seems that the more students read, the better readers they become.  In fact, students who engage in a program of extensive reading often increase their reading rates and their overall reading fluency.  They can also improve their reading comprehension.  It appears that part of this improvement might be down to the development of new vocabulary knowledge.  Students can learn new vocabulary incidentally through the extensive reading process as well as deepen the vocabulary knowledge they already have by seeing the words they know in a wide variety of contexts.  However, the benefits are not just limited to reading and vocabulary.  There even seems to be a positive effect on students’ grammar and writing skills, performance on standardized tests, motivation, and attitude towards reading.

The challenges of extensive reading

While extensive reading programs can provide a rich source of comprehensible input that supports students’ English language learning goals, it can also present a number of challenges.  Students who have not taken part in extensive reading programs before might not be used to reading easier texts outside of class and may not immediately see the value in reading interesting and accessible books as homework.  In fact, because some students may equate learning English with challenging reading texts, intensive teacher support, and dictionary work, they might choose texts that are too difficult.  Poor reading choices can lead to a less than enjoyable experience, thus defeating the purpose of extensive reading.  In addition, extensive reading programs don’t always align with what is being covered in class, and students might not see the connections between what is happening in class and what they are reading in their free time.  Thus, in order to be successful, the extensive reading process needs to be thoughtfully supported in class, with students having access to level-appropriate reading choices and guidance from the teacher.

How can teachers enrich the extensive reading process?

Teachers can facilitate the extensive reading process by engaging in a wide variety of activities to support and enrich the experience.  For example, you might help students find appropriate books, check in on what they think about the readings, explore how they feel about the characters, and keep track of what is being read.  Examples and resources to support these types of activities can be found on the Oxford Graded Readers Teaching Resources page.

One activity your students can do is keep an extensive reading journal.  As a framework for their journal entries, you can ask students to write three short paragraphs for each book they read.  In the first paragraph, students can ask themselves what the book is about and write a quick summary in their own words.  In the second paragraph, they can connect what they read to the topic of the textbook unit they are currently studying, or as in Q: Skills for Success Second Edition, the corresponding unit question.  Students can explore the information in the book that helps them answer the unit question, and possibly include a quote that connects to the unit question as well.  Finally, students can write what they think about the book in their third paragraph.  In this paragraph, they can record their opinions, their favourite parts, and whether the book relates to their own experiences.  Thus, students will have a personal and meaningful account of each book they read.  You can read students’ journals from time to time to see how they are doing, and the journal entries can also be used as a strong basis for classroom discussions related to the books students are reading.

How can extensive reading complement Q: Skills for Success?

Each unit of Q: Skills for Success Second Edition has now been aligned to an Oxford Graded Reader based on the appropriate topic and level of language proficiency.  Starting in August 2017, the first chapters of the recommended graded readers can downloaded for free from iQ Online.  These graded readers come from a wide range of genres, all drawn from the Oxford Bookworms Library.

In the Q: Skills for Success series, each unit is centred on an essential question such as “Why is global cooperation important?” or “What happens when a language disappears?”  These questions touch on universal themes, encourage curiosity and discussion, and prepare students to engage with learning. All of the activities and skills presented in each unit support students finding answers to the unit questions.  The graded readers now provide another avenue of support for students answering the unit questions, while the unit questions prime students to fully engage with the aligned extensive reading choices.

To find out more about the new timesaving and practical resources being added to iQ Online, including Graded Reader chapters and new video content, visit https://elt.oup.com/feature/global/beyond-four-walls.

 

Further Reading on Extensive Reading

Beglar, D., Hunt, A., & Kite, Y. (2012). The effect of pleasure reading on Japanese University EFL learners’ reading rates. Language Learning, 62, 665–703.

Day, R. & Bamford, J. (2002). Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading. Reading in a foreign language, 14(2), 136-141.

Horst, M. (2005). Learning L2 vocabulary through extensive reading: A measurement study. Canadian Modern Language Review, 61(3), 355-382.

Jeon, E.Y. & Day, R.R. (2016). The effectiveness of ER on reading proficiency: A meta-analysis. Reading in a Foreign Language, 28(2), 246-265.

Krashen, S. (2007). Extensive reading in English as a foreign language by adolescents and young adults: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 3(2), 23-29.

Mikami, A. (2016). Students’ attitudes toward extensive reading in the Japanese EFL context. TESOL Journal, 0(0), 1-18.

Nation, P. (2015). Principles guiding vocabulary learning through extensive reading. Reading in a Foreign Language, 27(1), 136-145.

Robb, T. N., & Kano, M. (2013). Effective extensive reading outside the classroom: A large scale experiment. Reading in a Foreign Language, 25, 234–247.

Storey, C, Gibson, K., & Williamson, R. (2006). Can extensive reading boost TOEIC scores? In K. Bradford-Watts, C. Ikeguchi, & M. Swanson (Eds.), JALT 2005 conference proceedings, 1004-1018. Tokyo, Japan: JALT.

Waring, R. & Takaki, M. (2003). At what rate do learners learn and retain new vocabulary from reading a graded reader? Reading in a Foreign language, 15, 130-163.