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A View on Reading: a Skill for Life | Gustavo Gonzalez

Why Reading?

Reading is a skill that everybody should excel at. We need to read to interact, to agree, to disagree, to make decisions, to comprehend, to understand. All in all, Reading is an invitation to savour life.

Reading sometimes goes unnoticed, because we are focused on doing something else.

Have a look at the following picture. What five words from the word cloud resonate with you and your relationship with reading?

 

Have you just realised that in order to select such words, you had to read? Basically, this is not a reading activity, but you needed to read to accomplish the task. This is what I meant before when I said that reading sometimes goes unnoticed.

Reading is such an essential part of learning, such an essential part of life! Reading is everywhere! And students need to effectively develop this skill in order to interact with life itself.

Do you have your heart set on reading? What about your students? I like to believe that when you put your heart to something, you are likely to succeed in doing it! How effective and successful are our students today when it comes to reading? These are some questions that, in my opinion, need some further consideration.

Many are the times in which they are faced with Reading activities that only cater for knowledge of syntax or how the language works, with questions that push them to “copy/paste” the answer and they feel they have comprehended the text. And when you ask them to infer meaning, they just blurt out “The answer is not in the text, teacher!” They are not used to reading critically, to analysing, evaluating, to creating something new out of a given text. As you can clearly see, I am resorting to Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of learning outcomes and objectives when I say this. We cannot talk about Reading without referring to Bloom’s taxonomy (see picture below). I am taking this framework only as a springboard for the so many activities we can design when it comes to reading.

Bloom concluded that 95% of test questions focus on the lowest level of his taxonomy, the recall of information. Many reading comprehension tasks consist of questions that focus only on the sheer recall of facts presented in a text. Students do not find any appeal in doing this, they get bored, they do not find meaning in the activity and they give up. Something must be done.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Outcomes and Objectives (1956)

Credit: https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2014/03/03/creativity-in-the-young-learner-classroom/blooms-revised-taxonomy/

 

So I guess it’s high time we started reconsidering whether students’ dislike of reading is because of the tasks that many teachers provide them with.

Not only should we focus on our students decoding, that is, the ability to understand letter-sound relationships, such as knowledge of letter patterns in order to pronounce written words correctly (which children grasp in their first years of schooling), but on the students’ knowledge and vocabulary that will enable them to understand a given text. Decoding in itself is not Reading. Decoding is essential for Reading. But we can only talk about Reading if Comprehension is involved.

To what extent do students enjoy reading?

I believe that the skill of Reading is the one students like the least. They usually associate reading with exercises that require them to recognise this or that, to what “it” refers to in line X, to look for the author’s intention, to find the main idea and the details that support it, to put events in order, to compare and contrast, to re-insert a line into a given paragraph, to identify words, to find cause and effect relationships, and so on and so forth. Mastering these skills makes them think they have a good comprehension of the text. But do they? Don’t get me wrong, please, I am not saying that these tasks are not necessary, but I think there are many more ideas that can be implemented to get students to find meaning in what they do when reading.

Isn’t it time we made them realise how much more they can get out of Reading and how much they can enjoy the reading itself when activities are meaningful, relevant, fun and they meet their interests?

The typical three stages of reading tasks

You know how important the three stages of a reading task are, namely pre-reading, while-reading (or through-reading) and post-reading activities. Yet, many times we spend precious time on grammar or vocabulary tasks, which aren’t true comprehension activities. Students are presented with meaningless activities that should be engaging and go beyond some of the conventional tasks mentioned some paragraphs above.

Well-thought-of and carefully-planned activities that are engaging and meaningful can make all the difference when it comes to making reading a skill that students will crave for.

The Art of Constructing, Deconstructing and Reconstructing Meaning

I like to think of Reading as a complex and active process of constructing and even deconstructing and reconstructing meaning. That meaning will be constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed in three possible ways:

  • In an interactive way — involving the reader as well as the text and the context in which reading takes place.
  • In a strategic way — readers have purposes for their reading and use a variety of strategies and skills as they construct meaning.
  • In an adaptable way — readers change the strategies they use as they read different kinds of text or as they read for different purposes.

Should you be interested in reading more about what Cognitive Science Research tells us about Reading Comprehension and Reading Instruction, you will find a very comprehensive article you may find interesting at www.readingrockets.org (see full link to the article at the end of this article).

What I care most is that during that meaning-construction/deconstruction/reconstruction phase, students are able to find joy in what they are doing and they have fun at the same time.

Reading for Life

Reading is a skill that will stay forever with us. We should instil the love of reading in our students. They need to stop seeing it as a boring task only to do exercises or to pass tests, but as a skill that will accompany them and will make them informed and assertive human beings for life.

Register for my upcoming webinar! 

In my webinar I’ll explore these themes further, and will share some real-world activities that I use with my students.

Register for the webinar


Gustavo González is an English teacher from Argentina, he’s been in the ELT field since 1993, working as a teacher, school coordinator, teacher trainer and presenter. He has been delivering seminars and workshops all over Argentina, South, Central and North America, China, Singapore and Spain. He is one of the contributors to the book “Imagination, Cognition & Language Acquisition: A Unified Approach to Theory and Practice”, published by the New Jersey City University and has also written some articles for OUP (Oxford University Press), IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) and other institutions. He is a teacher trainer for the Oxford Teachers’ Academy (OTA), freelance PD trainer for Oxford University Press, Trinity College London and Buenos Aires Players, an educational theatre company. He is a former vice president of APIBA, the Buenos Aires English Teachers’ Association and former vice president of FAAPI, the Argentine Federation of English Teachers’ Associations.


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The Jungle Book becomes our 100th Domino! | Alex Raynham

Jungle Book graded reader among other copies of the Jungle BookTo mark the publication of the 100th Dominoes graded reader − The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling − the author Alex Raynham talks about the challenges of adapting such a classic title and gives some advice about classroom use.

When Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Books (originally plural) in the mid-1890s, he was the most popular author in the English-speaking world, and his stories became an instant classic. The Jungle Books have stood the test of time, appealing to successive generations of readers and appearing in many print, movie, and theatrical adaptations. The characters of Mowgli, Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, Kaa the snake and Shere Khan the villainous tiger have become part of popular culture. No wonder then that Oxford University Press has produced so many different versions over the years!

How do you adapt a classic story?

The biggest challenge was how to adapt and simplify a story that has become such a well-known classic, whilst keeping it fresh and entertaining. The original Jungle Books are a diverse collection of stories over 300 pages long. In contrast, a Level 1 Dominoes cartoon-style reader has only 27 pages of story text and is about 3,000 words − so careful text selection was required. We decided to focus on the stories in The Jungle Books, which concern the adventures of Mowgli and his friends and exclude any stories unrelated to them. We then tried to focus on key events that moved the stories forward and contributed to our understanding of the main characters.

After that we made a detailed plan of each page of the story, deciding what artwork and text to include in each ‘frame’ on those pages. Each piece of text needed to be short enough to leave plenty of space for artwork, so the wording needed to be precise. Every sentence had to contribute to the overall story. In addition, each chapter needed to end with some kind of cliffhanger, motivating learners to read on and find out what happens next.

Staying true to Kipling’s vision

The original Jungle Books are witty, captivating and descriptively rich. Kipling sets the scene and paints the characters beautifully. So one big issue with the adaptation was how to stay true to the spirit of the original story when a Level 1 Dominoes reader only has A1 grammatical structures and a wordlist of just 400 headwords. One way to do this was to preserve Kipling’s ‘voice’ as much as possible. Using plenty of direct speech helps with this, and we’ve also kept some of Kipling’s original phrases: for example, ‘man cub’ − the way that Mowgli’s wolf family describe him as a child.

Why a comic strip?

A comic strip is ideal for many readers at A1 level − particularly titles which contain rich settings and many different characters, such as The Jungle Book. It helps to introduce new vocabulary, and descriptions of the characters and settings can be supported by the pictures, making them easier to visualise at this level. A comic strip also helps the teacher to use each chapter in a variety of ways in class. For example:

  • Illustrations help the teacher to pre-teach vocabulary or reinforce it after reading.
  • All or part of some speech bubbles can be blanked out, and learners can be asked to reconstruct or predict the dialogue.
  • The teacher can photocopy a page of the story and cut up the pictures, then rearrange and scan them, asking learners to put them in order. This can be done on the IWB as a pre-reading prediction activity, or as a post-reading story review.

Supporting learners’ reading without breaking the flow

It’s probably true to say that the less we intervene, the more learners get out of extended reading. We need to motivate learners by giving them a sense of achievement through being able to read and understand an extended narrative pretty much on their own. But we also want to make sure that learners are actually understanding the story and getting the most out of it. So we’re playing the role of facilitator– encouraging students and giving them space, but also directing them to the resources contained in the books.

The meaning of above-level vocabulary is given on the page in Dominoes titles, allowing the learner to read on without getting stuck. For example, in The Jungle Book, we gloss the word ‘cub’ so that learners can understand ‘man cub’. It’s important to direct them to these Glossary words when needed without interrupting their reading by focussing too much on them.

Using activities to support learning

The Activities after every chapter can be used to facilitate class discussion about the story and recycle new vocabulary, but we should avoid the temptation to check that learners remember every detail. Using the ‘Guess What’ predictive activities in these sections is a good way to get learners thinking about the plot and what might happen next without the pressure to get any answers right.

End-of-book Grammar Check activities are designed to support learners when reading each particular title. For example, in The Jungle Book, one focus is irregular plurals nouns like ‘deer’, ‘buffalo’ and ‘teeth’! Using the Projects at the back will also help learners to relate what they’ve read to their experiences and the wider world. For example, in The Jungle Book, they’re asked to write a profile of one of four animals in the story, based on a model: Bengal tiger, wolf, black panther or brown bear.

It’s easy for students to get to the end of a graded reader, then forget about it. But in L1, we talk about good books that we’ve read with friends and think about them long after we’ve turned the last page. So it’s vital to try and reflect this both inside and outside the classroom.

 

Looking for something new to support your learners’ reading skills? Try these ready-to-use activities from our brand new graded reader!

Download your sample of The Jungle Book

Download the Activity Pack

 


Alex Raynham grew up in New Zealand and the UK before graduating from Oxford University. He was an ELT teacher in Italy and Turkey and later became an editor with Oxford University Press. Today he is a freelance author, editor and ELT teacher trainer based in Turkey. He has written over 20 ELT titles, including more than ten graded readers for Oxford University Press, and spoken at conferences throughout Turkey and abroad.


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The Novella | Why it’s a great extensive reading resource for English Language Students | OUP

The benefits of extensive reading for learners of English have been well documented, and there are some informative articles easily discoverable on this blog.

The Graded Reader can play a hugely important part in developing reading skills, and OUP has a fantastic selection of them for all levels – as a teacher I used them regularly in and out of class. Occasionally, however, I would have a medium to high-level student ask what they could read in unabridged format, and when they did I often pointed them towards a novella.

This post will consider the novella: one of the more neglected fiction categories and how you can find novellas suitable for your students using lexical frameworks.

What is a novella?

At the most basic level, a novella sits between a short story and a novel, with a word count between 17,000 and 40,000 words. Typically, it may include subplots, twists and a range of characters. A novella will frequently not have chapters as you’d find in a full-blown novel and can often be read in one sitting. There are a lot of exceptions in the world of the novella so some works mentioned may be considered ‘short novels.’

The novella can be difficult to sell (Stephen King, in his collection ‘Different Seasons’, describes the novella as being thought of as ‘an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic’), but they can also be enticing to write: Ian McEwan wrote, the novella is “… the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant.

However viewed, the novella/short novel can be ideal for the Intermediate+ student.

What’s a Lexical Framework?

Very simply, a Lexical Framework (developed by Stenner and Smith III in 1989) is a method used to grade (never ‘score’) readers through quantitative methods around, amongst other things, individual words and sentence lengths to assess difficulty and readability.

Many sites online provide a full breakdown of lexical ranges. Many will let you put in a published novel or novella and give a Lexile measure. Some will let you enter your own Lexile measure and provide you with a percentage comprehension estimate of a text, and identify challenging vocabulary in it.

A simple Google search around ‘Lexile level’ will help you choose the most suitable site for your needs.

Five Novellas/ Short Novels to Consider…

I have selected five pieces of fiction to consider – all with a Lexile measure of less than 1,000 (roughly equivalent of a US Grade 5/11 year old native speaker UK). There are, of course, other issues beyond ‘difficulty’ and ‘readability’ levels in deciding upon suitability – subject matter being key. These five novellas/short novels are, in cinema terminology, no more explicit than a PG-13. Depending on your location, this will depend on who the publisher is.

  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

At around twenty-nine thousand words (approx. 187 pages) Of Mice and Men was published in 1937. It tells the story of George and Lennie; two field workers in depression set California trying to scrape out a living until they can ‘live off the fat of the land’. The beautiful simplicity of Steinbeck’s writing makes this an easy-to-read tale with complex ideas.

  •  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The last major work published in his lifetime and probably Hemingway’s most well-known work. The story of Santiago, an ageing fisherman, and his struggle with a giant marlin off the Cuba coast is approximately 27 thousand words – which makes it 179 thousand words less than Moby Dick…

  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Note: this is available as both a short story and short novel.

Flowers tells the story of a man, Charlie, with learning difficulties whose intelligence grows after a science experiment (some terminology acceptable of the time around mental disability are somewhat problematic today).

Written in journal format, Flowers is told from Charlie’s POV: initially almost unintelligible in its’ spelling and style but becoming increasingly lucid and intellectual as the story progresses.

  • The Body by Stephen King

Taken from his collection ‘Different Seasons’ (also including the novella ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was based on), The Body (filmed as ‘Stand by Me’) is the story of four boys who go on a hike to find the dead body of a boy with the aim to become famous. The novella is a poignant examination of youth and ideal for those who think King only writes horror.

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding

William Golding’s 1954 Nobel Prize-winning novel(la) is the longest in this list at around fifty-nine thousand words. Named by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels, the book follows a group of schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited Pacific island and the disintegration of their newly built ‘society’.

You can find the exact Lexile ratings for each of these titles, and many more as well, via simple searches around ‘Lexile level’.

For a challenging reading piece – native speaker or not, you could always try A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – its use of a slang Burgess invented for the book makes for an interesting read levelling for the native speaker or learner.

Happy Reading!


Simon Bewick has taught in the UK and Japan and worked in ELT for more than 25 years. You can find more of his writing: including fiction, resources for writers, and reviews and articles for Readers at www.bewbob.com

 


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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 explored this topic in my webinar. Please click here to watch the recording!

We also discussed 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.


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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(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.