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Four Secrets for Reading in the ELT classroom 

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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.


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#NationalStorytellingWeek – Top 10 Tools for Expression in the EFL Classroom

writing booksIn recognition of National Storytelling Week, we thought it might be helpful to gather some of our resources and articles on the blog for aiding language learners in expressing themselves, either through written or spoken work. We’ve come up with our ‘top 10’ to share with you today.

Focusing on pronunciation and writing skills, equip your class with the techniques and skills to make telling their stories in English less of a challenge.

‘The Writing Paradox’ – Gareth Davies explores a quick writing exercise to overcome the common hurdle – ‘My students don’t want to write’.

Insight Top 10 Tips: Writing – Useful, practical tips for making writing accessible in the language learning classroom, both as a creative exercise, and more formally.

Ideas to get your students writing – A piece on helping to break down the barriers around writing tasks with quick practical exercises for the classroom.

Creative Writing in the Language Classroom: 8 Collected Poems – Following a Creative Writing in the Language Classroom webinar, Jane Spiro shares some of the output of poems collected from webinar attendees, along with a list of activities to help spark creative writing.

#qskills – What can I do to improve my students’ pronunciation and fluency? – Tamara Jones shares a quick video with some helpful hints around improving fluency.

Poetry in the ESL Classroom – Lysette Taplin shares some activities for using poetry to help with both writing and pronunciation in the language learning classroom.

You’ve got to have a system: vocabulary development in EFL – This article explores tips for building a broader vocabulary for language learners to draw upon when speaking in class.

#qskills – How do I motivate my students to speak in English instead of their native language in class? – A quick video run-through on encouraging students to use English to express themselves as opposed to relying on their native tongue.

Speaking in the monolingual classroom – Focusing on the most common problems learners have around expressing themselves in spoken English in class, this article comes up with practical tips to help fluency.

Why is Writing so hard? – Olha Madylus runs through some of the more common challenges around writing for language learners.

Are you planning to celebrate #NationalStorytellingWeek in your classroom? Let us know in the comments if you’ll be taking part!


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Gamifying your way to Fluency: Read and Be Rewarded

Screenshot2015-04-24-16-44-34Dr Charles Browne is Professor of TESOL and Applied Linguistics at Meiji Gakuin University in Japan,  a recognized expert in vocabulary acquisition and extensive reading, especially as they apply to online learning environments. In addition to creating two well known high frequency word lists for second language learners (known as the New General Service List and New Academic Word List), he has created several free online learning sites including an extensive reading and listing website known as ER-Central, and has helped advise many publishers and companies working in these areas including SecretBuilders, who recently launched a set of ER reading apps using graded readers published by Oxford University Press.

Did you ever notice how whenever you try a new online game, that the first level is almost ridiculously easy to complete but the final levels are incredibly hard? This is done for several reasons, and some of the basic principles of online gaming can be usefully applied to online learning environments as well.

First, most online games provide a way of leveling up – for example if you kill enough monsters in Warcraft, you will gain enough experience points to go up to the next level. Games usually have many levels and make the first level(s) purposely easy both to help gamers to build confidence and interest in the game, to teach them how to use the basic features of the system, and to instill a desire to play the game more to reach higher levels.  Second, most good RPG (role playing games) as well as many other types of online games, provide players with an interesting or compelling storyline which helps to pull them deeper into the world of the game, as they become motivated to find out what happens next. And third, online games usually give players a way to accumulate points as well as to rank themselves against other players. This, too, leads to higher levels of motivation and commitment since most players want to achieve the highest score, or at least higher than others around them.

When we try to apply the use of game thinking and game mechanics to learning environments such as second language learning it is called “gamification”, something which, when done correctly, can lead to higher levels of learner motivation, engagement and time-on-task.

Interestingly, one popular approach to second language acquisition, extensive reading (ER), echoes many of these ideas.  In 2002, Day and Bamford wrote a very influential article on the 10 most important principles of a successful extensive reading program, with the following 3 principles often cited as the being the most important:

1) reading materials should be easy
2) learners should be able to choose what they want to read
3) learners should read as much as possible

First, if the reading material is easy, it instills leaners with a confidence at being able to read well, as well as the desire to read more and more in order to reach higher levels, very similar to the principles of gaming. Second, when learners are able to choose whatever story they want to read, they get pulled into the book’s storyline and become motivated to find out what happens next in a very similar way that gamers are pulled into the storylines of RPG games. And third, when teachers have students keep track of how many pages they’ve read and post those numbers to the whole class (which is common in many ER programs), it leads to higher levels of motivation through a friendly spirit of competition in much the same way this is achieved in the gaming world.