Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


4 Comments

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.


3 Comments

The universal benefits of songs as teaching tools

Children singing in classSongs are a great way for children to learn English. In this post, Devon Thagard, co-owner of Super Simple Learning and songwriter for the new Primary level course, Everybody Up, explores the benefits of using songs in class.

This past year, I had the great pleasure to be involved in the Everybody Up Global Sing-along as one of the songwriters, a contest judge, and a workshop leader. The entire experience reinforced and reminded me of the strong feelings I have about 1) the power of songs in the classroom, and 2) the importance of learning from other teachers.

The Global Sing-along received over 70 entries from countries all over the world. When you see classrooms around the world all enjoying singing the same songs, it really brings home the universal benefits of songs as teaching tools. Songs allow all ages to participate and learn at their levels. In the Global Sing-along videos, we see pre-schoolers and kindergartners (like these great students from Ukraine) doing some very simple dancing, picking up a few words, and getting a feel for the rhythm. For very young students who are just beginning to learn English, songs provide a fun, welcoming way to get that oh-so-valuable input, and gestures and dancing help them understand and internalize the meaning.

Older and more advanced students are able go beyond the basics and to express their creativity with songs. As students move into higher grades, they may be a little more reluctant to sing and dance as they did in kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy learning with songs, and the benefits of the repeated exposure to comprehensible input continue. At all ages, students are learning vocabulary, pronunciation, intonation, the rhythm of the language, listening skills, and more. Here are some great examples from Thailand, Korea, Turkey and France.

It’s also fantastic to be able to visit our fellow teachers’ classrooms around the world through video. Just having the chance to see how the classrooms are arranged and decorated sparks a lot of great ideas, but being able to see how teachers are using dance, crafts, instruments, and drama together with songs is really inspiring. If you haven’t already, browse the playlist of Global Sing-along videos. I’m sure you’ll come away from it with several great ideas for your classroom.

How do you use songs in your classes?

Bookmark and Share


10 Comments

Fun with flashcards

Ahead of her workshop at IATEFL 2012 about engaging students with flashcard games, Weronika Salandyk talks about some methods she uses to teach with flashcards in the classroom.

Flashcard games belong to my favourite classroom activities with young learners. Kids love them, I love them and they seem to help my students remember the new vocabulary. When teaching a class of six- or seven-year-olds I try to stick to a few rules: remember about classroom management (otherwise these lessons would be a mess, not fun), reduce the amount of materials I use (why should I waste time copying and cutting if I can use a pile of flashcards and a few everyday objects?) and mix new activities with my ‘tried and tested’ favourites.

When I introduce new material I show students flashcards and ask them to repeat the words a few times. To keep this activity more lively I make funny voices or ask children to speak as if… they were eating hot soup, chewing bubble gum or sitting in the dentist’s chair with their mouth open. In this way students repeat the same words many times without realising it. They practise pronunciation and begin to remember what each flashcard presents. And what’s more, they’re having great fun!

After a few revision activities we play games based on associating the word with the picture. At that point students don’t feel perfectly comfortable with the new words so I make sure they get plenty of practice in the safe and entertaining environment. Slap the card is one of the games my kids want to come back to during every lesson. I divide the class into two teams. We sit on the floor in two rows, one team opposite the other. I put flashcards face up between them, usually in a single or double line.

The games starts when I say a word and children who sit near that flashcard must quickly slap it with their hands. The first team to do it get a point. Actually the points are not important at all, the kids just love the tension the game involves. It is a very dynamic activity which wakes the sleepy ones up but also allows the over-energetic children to work off their energy surplus a bit.

Finally, we play flashcard games which make children say the word or use it in a sentence such as pass the bomb. Students sit in a circle and I give one child a bomb which is a ticking egg timer. At the same time I show him/her a flashcard and the student must say what is in the picture or build a sentence with the word according to a pattern we practise (I like…, I have got…, I can….). Then s/he passes the egg timer to the next person and I show a different flashcard. The person holding the bomb in the moment of explosion is in real trouble!

With the rest of the class we prepare a special task for this person (e.g. s/he has to name three words that come next in the pile of flashcards). Pass the bomb is a great activity as it gives you a chance to check every student’s progress – but you need to be careful not to scare anyone. With my youngest students we call it buzzer and I give them funny tasks at the end, so the result is that everyone wants to hold the timer when it buzzes!

Do you and your students like using flashcards? What are your favourite flashcard games?

Bookmark and Share


Leave a comment

Projects should be creative, collaborative, challenging and fun!

Teacher and students at computerOlha Madylus, a teacher and teacher trainer specialising in both primary and secondary education, shares her thoughts on what makes a great class project.

I visit a lot of classrooms around the world and teachers proudly point out posters on the walls and say “look at my students’ projects.”

Although the work looks very nice, I would argue that it isn’t a project. This work is usually a piece of writing with a picture. What worries me is that the text often seems to be directly copied, or merely cut and pasted, from the internet.

Such work may have some merits (encouraging students to look things up on the internet and designing the final product) but I have two main worries about it. One is that students should be discouraged from what is, in fact, plagiarism and, for me most importantly, that students aren’t getting involved in the challenges and satisfaction of what a full-blown project consists of – it’s not very interesting for them!

The important characteristics of a project are:

They are collaborative – a group of students work together to produce a final product.

By working together students share ideas, divide up responsibilities (depending on what they like to do or are good at), and learn crucial lessons about respecting each others’ opinions and finding a good compromise. They also discover talents in themselves and in their friends.

The final product is important and can be extremely varied, ranging from interviews, to songs, to magazines, to drama.

Choosing how they will present their ideas in the final product is a major part of the project. If it is a PowerPoint presentation or a video drama, these need different types of organisation, materials, and perhaps help from their teacher.

Because the final product can be so varied, the language skills involved are not limited.

Ideally students will have lots of opportunities to use the English language in different ways that are meaningful to them. At lower levels they may not use English to discuss the projects, but they will still be discussing what English they need to get the job done.

Other skills like design, acting, directing, negotiation are involved

And this is where a lot of the challenge (and fun) lies – in putting it all together.

Take a look at this example of a project a class in Serbia created, with the help of their teacher. Notice, although the project is based on one piece of grammar – the conditional – how:

  • it obviously needed lots of planning and collaboration
  • all the students are involved
  • language is used to make meaning in a fun way
  • all the students are enjoying themselves
  • the final product – the video – can be shared and enjoyed by the class and others

Take part in our Engage 2nd edition Project Competition using these tips and you could win a video camera for your school. Competition closes 11th November 2011.

Bookmark and Share


Leave a comment

Q: Why do projects? – A: Relevance & educational values

Group of children gathered around a globeProject author, Tom Hutchinson, continues a series of posts on the benefits of project work in the classroom, this time exploring how projects can help bring relevance to students’ learning and promote cross-curricular learning.

In looking at the question of motivation in my last post, I have been most concerned with how students feel about the process of learning, that is, the kinds of activities they do in the language classroom. An equally important and related question is how the learners feel about what they are learning.

A foreign language can often seem a remote and unreal thing. This inevitably has a negative effect on motivation, because the students don’t see the language as relevant to their own lives. If learners are going to become real language users, they must learn that English is not only used for talking about things British or American, but can be used to talk about their own world. Project work helps to bridge this relevance gap.

Real needs of language learners

Firstly, project work helps to make the language more relevant to learners’ actual needs. When students from Athens or Barcelona or Milan use English to communicate with other English speakers, what will they want to talk about? Will it be London, New York, Janet and John’s family, Mr Smith’s house? Surely not! They will want, and be expected, to talk about aspects of their own lives – their house, their family, their town, and so on. Project work thus enables students to rehearse the language and factual knowledge that will be of most value to them as language users.

Continue reading