Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


23 Comments

Five things I think I know about teaching reading

Woman teaching young girl to readBarbara Hoskins Sakamoto, co-author of Let’s Go, shares five principles for teaching reading effectively in the classroom.

I’ve tried quite a few different approaches to teaching literacy over the years, initially with students learning to read in their first language, and now with students learning to read English as a foreign language. Like most teachers, I’ve settled on a fairly eclectic approach that seems to work well for me, and my young learners. Here are five principles that work for me.

1. Build a strong oral foundation first

When students begin learning to read in their first language, they have a working vocabulary of between 2,500 and 5,000 words. They learn to connect printed text to words that they already know. We want to be sure that our young learners have a strong foundation of oral language before we begin asking them to attach symbols to sounds, particularly since they will be working with a much smaller vocabulary to begin with.

2. Introduce text from the beginning

I think it’s important to have students looking at printed text long before you begin working on reading skills. By the time my students begin having dedicated reading lessons, they’ve already figured out that English writing goes from left to right and from the top of the page to the bottom, big letters are about twice as big as the little letters and appear at the beginning of a sentence, and that we can tell where words begin and end because of the spaces between words. They’ve become familiar with the graphic look of English before having to deal with it.

3. Teach phonics in context

Phonics can be a useful key for students learning how to make sense of English sound/spelling patterns. Teach the patterns in the context of words that students have already learned orally. Go through your students’ coursebook looking for words they’ve learned that illustrate the patterns you want to teach. That way they only have to focus on one new thing – linking sounds and letters – rather than learning a new word in order to practice the phonics skill. Practice reading the words in the context of sentences (and later, stories) that are also made up of words your students have learned orally.

4. Teach both accuracy and fluency in reading

Both skills are important in developing independent readers. As students become better at applying sound/spelling strategies, phonics shifts into spelling practice and word study, equally important in order to keep expanding your students’ reading vocabulary. To develop fluency, students need a lot of opportunities to read, and be read to. Include reading in every class. Let your students read the lyrics of their songs, or conversations, or grammar lessons – after they’ve learned the language orally, of course! Read to them, so they can enjoy understanding stories even if they don’t understand every word. Create a class library and let them take books home between classes (with audio CDs, if they aren’t yet fluent readers and don’t have anyone at home to read to them). Help them create their own stories to share and read.

5. Engage multiple senses in teaching reading

Have students trace letter and word shapes, sing or chant to help reinforce phonics, use letter cards to build words and word cards to build sentences. Ask them to act out or dramatize stories. Let them write sentences and stories and draw pictures to illustrate them. Record them reading their stories to create audio books. Encourage students to use multiple senses to help them become more effective readers.

How about you?

What have you learned about teaching reading? It would be great to hear in your comments to this blog. I’d also love to see you at my webinar on Saturday, 23 March. You can sign up here.

Visit Let’s Share for more videos, blogs and upcoming events by our Let’s Go authors.

Bookmark and Share


11 Comments

An interview with the authors of English File, Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig

English File third editionEnglish File third edition is here! We went behind the scenes to find out what makes the authors Christina Latham-Koenig and Clive Oxenden tick. They tell us about their inspirations, their own struggle with learning Polish and Spanish, and they muse about the future of English language teaching.

What made you decide to become a teacher?

Christina Latham-KoenigTo be quite honest I hadn’t actually thought of becoming a teacher. I studied Latin and Greek at university, and I knew I didn’t want to teach that. When I left university I got a job at the British Council in London, and that’s where I learned about TEFL, as we had to organise courses for people. I then decided I’d like to go and live abroad for a year, and thought that the easiest way would be to teach English. In fact I loved it right from the start, and realised that I had accidentally found the right career path.

Clive OxendenAfter university I worked as a volunteer for a while in the Middle East with a lot of young people from different countries. It showed the importance of English as Lingua Franca and I found that I enjoyed helping people with their English. When I came home I went to the local library to look up English teaching (this was a few years before the internet was invented!)

Where did the idea of writing English File come from?

Christina Latham-KoenigBasically it responded to a need – we didn’t find that the material we were using as teachers was appropriate for our context, teaching monolingual classes abroad. In particular there was very little material that helped to get students talking, which is why we have always really focused on this aspect of teaching in English File.

Clive OxendenWe wanted to write a book that reflected our view of teaching which was that while learning should, of course, be approached seriously and  in a very professional and organised way it is vital that the experience should also be fun and motivating. If not, students quickly get bored and disheartened.

When you were learning a foreign language, what did you find most challenging?

Clive OxendenPronunciation! I came to live in Spain and at first I had a lot of problems with certain sounds in Spanish, especially ‘r’ and ‘rr’. When I went shopping in the market I sometimes could not make myself understood and I spent several months ordering pork (which I could pronounce) when I really wanted steak (which I couldn’t ). It certainly showed me the importance of pronunciation and how it affects a learner’s confidence and willingness to speak. I think the fact that Christina and I wrote English File while living in a foreign country explains the emphasis we always give to pronunciation.

Christina Latham-KoenigAs I’d studied Latin at university, I have found learning Latin languages relatively easy, in fact I was convinced that I was a very good language learner. Then a few years ago I decided to learn Polish. It was a real shock to learn a language where you couldn’t rely on Latin-based words being the same. It has taken me forever to learn certain basic things, like the months, or telling the time. And the grammar, the different ending for nouns and adjectives, is a nightmare.
Continue reading


5 Comments

How teachers help to rewrite coursebooks

Blonde woman taking notesHaving given us an insight into the daily lives of materials writers, English File authors, Christina Latham-Koenig and Clive Oxenden, share with us the importance of reader feedback when it comes to writing new editions.

In our last post we talked a bit about the way we work and how we look for interesting material to provide good lessons for our books. This time we thought we would talk a little about how readers’ feedback helps to shape the new versions of English File that we are currently writing.

The way it works is that we send the first draft to a number of readers all over the world. The readers are all experienced teachers, and they tend to all be teachers who have used New English File, because what we want to know is whether they prefer the new lessons to the old ones, and what still needs improving or tightening up in the  new lessons.

It’s always a slightly tense moment for us when the readers’ reports arrive. Normally we feel reasonably confident that readers are going to like most of the lessons, but you can never be totally sure! However, although positive comments are important to reassure us that we are on the right track (and sometimes just to boost our morale!), constructive negative comments really do help us to improve the material, and so we welcome both types of feedback. The feedback we received this time gave us just about the right mix, and it has been extremely helpful.

After reading through all the reports – a stage when the room we work in is almost knee deep in papers – we then have a meeting with our editors where we go through each lesson one by one and discuss all the readers’ comments (not to mention the editors’ comments) and decide how to improve on them. These meetings always seems to take longer than anticipated, but by the end of it we are really clear about what needs doing for each lesson. All that is left to do then is to go away and re-write them!

By the end of the report stage we often feel that we have really got to know our readers, even though we have never met most of them. We know the kind of topics they like or dislike, what aspects of grammar and pronunciation are important to them, even their sense of humour! For example, we once wrote a grammar practice sentence which said ‘England ___ Brazil 3-0 (defeat/beat/thrash) and one reader added the comment ‘In your dreams!’

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers from all over the world, past and present, whose comments have helped us so much in the writing of all the different levels English File. If you have any suggestions for improvements, we’d love to hear them.

Bookmark and Share


8 Comments

A day in the life of materials writers

Man and woman at table with postcards and coffeeIn this first of a series of posts, English File authors Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig give us an insight into their daily lives, the writing process, and reaching out to the community of English File teachers around the world.

Over the years we have met a lot of teachers around the world when we have travelled to give talks or teacher training sessions and one of the things we’ve most enjoyed about travelling has been meeting teachers. We won’t be able to travel much in 2011 because of our writing commitments, so writing this blog will be our way of keeping in touch with English File teachers around the world. And of course teachers themselves will also be able to share their experiences and ideas with each other.

We thought we’d use the blogs to tell you what we’re doing at the moment and tell you a bit about how we work, as it’s something we often get asked about. In September 2010 we started work on the new edition of English File Elementary. We’d had a good long break from writing over the summer, since finishing the Advanced level, so we came back to work feeling refreshed and energetic.

We think we are quite unusual in the way we write compared to other author teams we know. Most teams seem to divide up the books either into units or sections (grammar, skills etc.) and then write separately. We get together every day (from about 10 to 6) and work together on everything. On the one hand this means things take longer than if we simply divided up the book, but on the other hand two heads are definitely better than one and we think that the lessons benefit from the way we work them up together. Luckily we live very near each other just outside Valencia in Spain. We work in Christina’s house (as Clive has two small children), and our working day is punctuated by one of us looking at the other and saying ‘Time for a coffee?’ (or, in Clive’s case, tea).

Continue reading


3 Comments

Addressing concerns about project work

Nervous woman biting nailsHaving introduced us to, and examined the benefits of, project work in the classroom, Project author, Tom Hutchinson, now considers the primary concerns held by teachers about its use and offers his suggestions for overcoming such concerns.

In previous blog posts, we looked at the benefits of project work, including motivation, relevance and educational values. You are probably wondering by now: what’s the catch? For every benefit there is a price to be paid, and in this section I’ll take a look at some of the main worries that teachers have about project work.

Noise

Teachers are often afraid that the project classroom will be noisier than the traditional classroom and that this will disturb other classes in the school. But project work does not have to be noisy. Students should be spending a lot of the time working quietly on their projects: reading, drawing, writing, and cutting and pasting. In these tasks, students will be working on their own or in groups, but this is not an excuse to make a lot of noise.

The problem is not really one of noise, it is a concern about control. In project work students are working independently – they must, therefore, take on some of the responsibility for managing their learning environment. Part of this responsibility is learning what kind of, and what level of, noise is acceptable. When you introduce project work you also need to encourage and guide the learners towards working quietly and sensibly. Remember that they will enjoy project work and will not want to stop doing it on the basis of it causing too much noise. So it should not be too difficult to get your students to behave sensibly.

Continue reading