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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.


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Extensive Reading and Language Learning

oup_54206Dr. Richard R. Day is a Professor at the Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii. He has authored numerous publications, particularly on second language reading, including Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (co-author).

Extensive reading is based on the well-established premise that we learn to read by reading. This is true for learning to read our first language as well as foreign languages. In teaching foreign language reading, an extensive reading approach allows students to read, read, and read some more.

When EFL students read extensively, they become fluent readers. But there is more. Studies have established that EFL students increase their vocabulary, and become better writers. We also know that reading extensively helps increase oral fluency—listening and speaking abilities. Finally, students who read a lot develop positive attitudes toward reading and increased motivation to study English. So there are some excellent reasons for having EFL students reading extensively.

Let’s now look at what extensive reading is by looking at four of its key principles*:

1. The reading material is easy.

For extensive reading to be possible and for it to have the desired results, students must read books and other materials that are well within their reading competence—their reading comfort zone. In helping beginning readers select texts, I believe that more than one or two unknown words per page might make the text too difficult for overall understanding. For intermediate learners, appropriate texts have no more than three or four unknown or difficult words per page.

I recognize that not everyone agrees with using easy materials. Many teachers believe that learners must read difficult texts; they also believe that students need to be challenged when learning to read. Perhaps they think that reading difficult texts somehow gets them used to reading materials written for first-language reading.

This is a mistake. Of course, our goal in teaching students to read is to have them read literature that is written for native readers. But we should not start with that goal! We need to start with books and material that have been especially written for beginning and intermediate levels of reading ability. They have to read texts they find easy and enjoyable as they learn to read.

2. A variety of reading material on a wide range of topics must be available.

For an extensive reading program to succeed, students have to read. So it is critical to have a large number of books on a wide variety of topics to appeal to all students. Such a library will include books (both fiction and non-fiction), magazines, and newspapers. There should be materials that are informative, and materials that are entertaining.

3. Learners choose what they want to read.

Allowing students to select what they want to read is key. Again, this is related to the basis of extensive reading: we learn to read by reading. Students are more likely to read material in which they are interested. So it makes sense for them to choose what (and where and when) to read.

In addition, students should also be free, indeed encouraged, to stop reading anything that isn’t interesting or which they find too difficult.

4. Learners read as much as possible.

The most crucial element in learning to read is the amount of time spent actually reading. We have to make sure that our students are given the opportunities to read, read, and read some more. This is the “extensive” of extensive reading, made possible by the first three principles.

How much should we ask our students to read?  The quick and short answer is, As much as possible! I usually set reading targets for my students. For example, for beginning EFL readers, the minimum is one book a week. This is realistic, as language learner literature for beginners (for example, graded readers) is short. Some teachers set their reading targets in terms of time. For example, students must read for 60 minutes each week.

To finish, let me repeat this important fact: we learn to read by reading. There is no other way. Extensive reading helps students become readers.

 

 

References:
Day, R. R. and J. Bamford. (2002). Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading.  Reading in a Foreign Language 14/2.  http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/October2002/


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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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A Picture is Worth A LOT More than a 1000 words…to a 6 year old.

testDo we collate data too much? Do we infer from observation too much? Do we believe we know what’s best for our young learners to read simply because we are the teachers? Answering the third question first – without going directly to the source – our students – then the answer is probably an unfortunate yes, making the other two answers a negative yes as well.

The following is an interview to get a 6 year-old’s opinion on Extensive Reading. The insight on the value of pictures and the power of their appeal and reading encouragement to young learners is soon apparent and is something educators should not undervalue nor underestimate, especially when selecting the right readers for their classroom library.

What’s your name?

George

How old are you?

6

Do you like to read?

Yes, a lot.

Do you know about Extensive Reading?

(Thinks for a second) What does that mean?

Do you play video games?

Sometimes. I like Minions.

Is that a race?

Yes. If you finish the first lap then you can do the second lap.

You mean you get extra time?

Yes.

Your time is extended?

Hmm, extra yes. Oh! Extended means like extra?

Yes. Do you think extra means choice?

Hmm, yes. So Extensive Reading means… reading choice?

Basically. Do you like Extensive Reading?

Yes.

What is the last book you read?

George’s Marvelous Medicine.

Why did you like it?

It’s funny, and I really liked the pictures, especially when Grandma got taller and thinner – and uglier!

Who gave you the book?

Alex (his uncle). He said it was his favourite book when he was little, so I really wanted to read it.

Did you read it by yourself?

No, with my Dad. And the pictures really helped me understand the words I didn’t know.

What other books do you like?

Curious George.

Do you like books that have characters with your name?

(Laughs) Sometimes.

When do you read books?

With my Dad, at night. In bed before I go to sleep. George’s Marvelous Medicine took about a week. At night is my favourite time to read but I sometimes read after lunch. On the sofa. I don’t like reading in the morning so much.

How about reading on a computer?

I like reading stories both on computers and books.

What book are you reading now?

Fables from Africa.

Do you like it?

Yes, it’s about animals. I really like books about animals. And it has some good pictures.

Do you talk to your friends about books?

Not really. But I sometimes read to my sister. I point to the pictures when I read to her.

How old is she?

18 months. But I only try when she’s in a good mood.

How many books have you read in your life?

I have no idea about that.

You have 2 Curious George books that have 8 stories each, so 16 stories. How many times have you read those stories?

So many.

Why have you read the same stories so many times?

Because the pictures are so funny.

What other books do you read?

I speak Japanese too, so sometimes I read Japanese books, but not the ones with Kanji. I don’t know Kanji.

What do you like about Japanese books?

The stories are good. And I really like the pictures. They help me understand more. Oh, and I really like word search puzzles. It doesn’t feel like reading but I feel smarter after I do them.

Last question, do you have a favourite book?

I have four! Curious George (all), George’s Marvelous Medicine, Baby Animals, and Where the Wild Things Are – that one has great pictures!

Sorry, one more question. If a book doesn’t have pictures will you read it?

Yes…maybe…, but I will always choose the one that has pictures.

So George, I think you like Extensive Reading.

Yup!


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Webinar: Leading a horse to water and making it drink!

Olha Madylus, a teacher and teacher trainer specialising in both primary and secondary education, introduces her upcoming webinar entitled ‘Leading a horse to water and making it drink‘ on 5th and 7th March, where she will explore ways to motivate students to read and enjoy doing so.

How do we motivate our students to read long texts in course books and how do we ensure that students understand and enjoy what they read?

To our students a long text in a course book can be very off-putting. Not only does the length put them off but it may contain a lot of vocabulary they are not acquainted with and the tasks they need to do, e.g. answer comprehension questions, may seem too difficult.

Using examples from the Insight series, my webinar on reading aims to address these issues by answering the following questions:

  1. What is reading?
  2. What makes a text difficult and off-putting for students?
  3. What can we do before looking at the text to increase motivation to read and to prepare students for potential difficulties like a lot of new vocabulary
  4. What strategies can students employ to get a ‘feel’ of the text when they first meet it, putting into to context, to make reading easier
  5. How can skimming a text effectively help students understand text organisation in order to better navigate it
  6. What do students need to know about syntax, discourse markers and cohesive devices that will make reading easier
  7. How can students deal with new vocabulary within a text?
  8. How can students be encouraged to ‘read between the lines’, identifying implications in order to make inferences
  9. How can we personalise response to texts, to ensure that students do really think about its meaning, rather than just try to get to the end of the activity.
  10.  How can reading be more rewarding and more fun?

So, if you teach reading skills and want some ideas on how to make your teaching more effective and reading lessons more motivating for students, do join me in this webinar.