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Reading for pleasure – Activities to get students involved

Teenage Girl ReadingContinuing the Reading for Pleasure series, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at ways of involving students in the reading process.

So, we’ve started our class library. Students have the books and many have begun reading them. In an ideal world, my students would now go on to read a variety of stories, sharing their experience with their friends, while effortlessly improving their English. Like I said, in an ideal world. In the real world of my classroom, most of my students are looking at me with a look that says, “Okay, we’re reading. Now what?” There is the expectation to do something with the reading. And I need to meet that expectation to keep them involved and motivated.

In my classes, I use the first lesson of each month to introduce an activity they can do based on their reading. The main aim of the activity is to keep them involved and share their reading experience with their friends and family. You can find 10 of these activities on the Oxford Big Read website, so I won’t explain how to do them here. However, there are some important underlying features in these activities that are crucial for the reading experience to also become a learning experience.

Let’s take the first 2 activities from the Oxford Big Read as examples of this. The first is based on the whole class and the second is based on students working individually.

Bingo

“Why are we playing Bingo?” they ask me. It’s a good question. As I am a firm believer that teaching should not be a secret, we discuss why we are playing Bingo.

First, playing Bingo involves all the students in the class, even those who have not yet started reading their book. Everyone can participate, some by saying words from their stories, others by simply writing them in their Bingo card. Without preaching to them about the value of reading, I am saying to all my students, “If you want to, you can do this!”.

Second, each student reads and understands based on their own ability and interest. There are no wrong answers. Maria may decide to say “love” in relation to Tom Sawyer because that is the part she liked, or simply because that is the last part she read. One student in my class said “adventure” simply because it was on the cover. I wrote the word on the board, the students wrote it on their Bingo card and the activity continued.

Third, playing Bingo creates a certain curiosity about the different stories.

Students become curious about what others are reading based on just words. A word like “dragon” or “murder” will raise a few eyebrows. This may lead students to talk to each other about the stories outside of the classroom. In this context, playing Bingo is just a means to another end.

Finally, playing Bingo reinforces the positive reading environment I want to create around the class library. The activity associates reading with fun and enjoyment, going against their original perceptions. As the first activity in our class library, Bingo encourages the more hesitant and sceptical students to start reading, showing them how they can participate.

Discussing this with them helps them to see that there is more to Bingo than simply playing a game.

Posters               

The first individual activity I ask my students to do is to make a poster for the story they are reading. Making posters reinforces the features I have mentioned in playing Bingo, but it goes further.

First, the language for the posters is in their stories. There is little need for the teacher to intervene. Whether based on a sentence or around 10 words, students refer back to their stories to find the language they will include in their posters.

Second, displaying posters reinforces that their work is for their friends to see, not simply for the teacher to correct. This will emphasise that they are sharing their reading experience with others. Becoming fully aware of this will lead them to be more careful about spelling and grammar mistakes. They will browse through their books to help them get it right and thus reinforce language learning.

Third, displaying their posters will add to the sense of achievement they already feel in understanding and enjoying a story in a foreign language. Seeing their poster amongst everyone else’s will strengthen their involvement in learning English, regardless of whether they are weak or strong students. After all, there is their work being looked at and read by others.

Finally, their posters have a communicative purpose. They are not meant simply for the teacher to correct, but primarily to encourage their friends to read the story. And this encouragement is based on what they liked about the story. There is real student-to-student communication, making the English they use more memorable to them.

The features of these 2 activities will become part of the class library as the activities change. As students’ confidence and self-esteem increase, so will their learning.

Verri will be running a workshop on setting up a class library at IATEFL Liverpool on Tuesday 9th April.


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Are teenagers really reluctant readers?

Teenage boy on laptop and phoneAhead of her talk at IATEFL 2011 in Brighton entitled ‘Getting students into extensive reading painlessly: A threefold solution’, Sue Parminter, series co-editor of the Dominoes Readers series, considers how to get today’s tech-savvy teenagers reading books.

What do you take with you when you travel alone by plane? I have a hunch the answer to this question reveals lots about us. I never get on even a short-haul flight without a book to read: I guess having a paperback in my hand also reassures me that I won’t need to bury my nose in the in-flight magazine in order to escape from tedious conversations with over-chatty people who might be in the seats next to mine. When my kids were young, our in-flight bags invariably bulged with colouring books and crayons, replaced – as the kids aged – by hand-held computer game consoles, and latterly by iPods, crammed to bursting with music and films.

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on a plane with a book in my hands, letting my thoughts drift, when my pleasant daydreams were rudely interrupted by a boy of about thirteen moaning to his parents in the row behind mine. He’d been perfectly happy when I’d followed them up the stairs onto the plane, earphone attached to his android mobile, tapping out text on the screen faster than I can type on a regular computer keyboard. The cause of his sudden fury was the safety instruction to turn off all electronic equipment, forcing him to enter into reluctant, monosyllabic conversation with his parents while the plane taxied and took off.

His reaction brought home to me the parallels between my addiction to words on a paper page and a teenager’s dependence on the small screen. Although I find it fascinating to play with an iPad, turning digital pages at the swipe of a finger and marvelling at how ‘real’ they look, I’m a bit too old to transfer my passion for paper text to the screen version. For me, the traditional bookworm, it’s a technological gulf as hard to cross as it must be for ‘digital natives’ to feel passionate about reading books, especially school books in a language not their own.

It is really vital – I feel – for us English language teachers not to underestimate how wide this ‘digital native-print native’ divide is, and how much we need to do in order to bridge it.  But there’s one aspect of the small LCD screens that have invaded our world in recent years that we can also be grateful for. Ten years ago, studies of how teenagers spent their time shocked us when they itemized all the hours spent in front of television sets. Nowadays the balance has tilted away from the passive watching of larger screens to interacting in various ways with smaller ones, and this quantum shift towards interactivity makes a significant difference.

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Readers – Bridging the ELT gap in the Digital Age

This past year my wife, Sue Parminter, and I have been busy editing the new edition of the Dominoes graded reader series. This has led to many a conversation over the dinner table on extensive reading, and the challenges both teachers and learners face in doing it with confidence. I’ve also had lots of chances to discuss the topic with teachers in various countries that I’ve trained in recently, and there seems to be a definite general concern about how to capture the interest of today’s teenage ‘digital natives’ in reading books, when they’re far keener to participate in chat, or play online games.

Ideas to foster book-reading that I’ve been talking about with English teachers in North Cyprus – my most recent port of call – are:

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