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Four Secrets for Reading in the ELT classroom 

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Andrea Sarto is the author of Football Forever, a NEW Dominoes graded reader available now. He was born in the UK but has lived and worked in several different countries as an English-language teacher, trainer and editor. By his own confession, he probably reads too much.

I have this habit when I start a book.

Maybe ‘habit’ is the wrong word. It’s more of a strategy. First, I have a really good look at it – judge it by its cover. Next I’ll read the first line, word by word. Then I’ll read the first chapter, twice. Sometimes I’ll read it more than twice.

Why? Basically, it’s because I enjoy it. I want to savour it. It’s such a treat to tune yourself into a new story – the style, the sense of place and character that the author is creating. That’s why I take it slowly. It’s all about anticipation. You never quite know what’s going to happen.

In this respect a graded reader is no different, especially when it’s an original story. Encouraging students to read in English can provide massive benefits to their language learning. There are so many academic studies which prove just that … but how exactly do we do it? What’s the secret?

Secret # 1

First, and most importantly, it’s about the topic. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in everything under the sun. Some things I sort of like, but other things I’m really passionate about. If you can find out what your students are passionate about – be it football or music or vampires or time travel – then that’s half the secret. Because there’s bound to be a book or text in English about it.  And that book or text is going to tell you something else about your passion – something you didn’t know before. In that sense, English is just a conduit for students to find out more stuff about what they like (and the world it’s part of).

Secret # 2

The second secret is getting the level right. Who wants to read with a book/device in one hand and a dictionary in the other? OK, fine if we encounter the odd word we don’t understand – it still happens to me and I’ve been learning English for over forty years! But students want to lose themselves in the experience, and they can’t do it if they keep tripping over words they don’t know. So the book needs to be of a slightly lower level than the students’ own language level. It’s not rocket science. (There are books about rocket science, too, though.)

Secret # 3

Thirdly, it’s about taking it slowly, or rather in stages. We need to help students to find a way in … or a way out if it comes to that. Only the bravest can plunge in without any preliminaries; the rest of us like to take our time. And here’s where my ‘habit’ comes in. I’m about to spell out one tried-and-tested approach for using graded readers inspired by it …

So you’ve assembled your library of graded readers. (Incidentally, most publishers do a deal where you can get a collection of topics and levels for a discount instead of buying them one by one.) Here’s what you do next:

  1. Spread them out face-up on a large table (or do the equivalent digitally with thumbnails.) Ask students to choose a reader based on the title and picture on the front cover alone.
  2. Tell students to read the back cover blurb for homework. They can use a bilingual dictionary if necessary – who cares as long as they’re reading! Ask them to make a note of where the story takes place (setting); who the main person is (character); and what happens (plot).
  3. Get students to read the first line of Chapter 1 three times and Chapter 1 itself twice.
  4. At this point, if they didn’t enjoy it, they can STOP. But they must promise to do two things if they do decide to give up. The first is to tell you why (in English). The second is to take a different graded reader from the library. They can also stop this one after stage 3, to be replaced by another book, but this third one they must read through from start to finish, i.e. stick at it!
  5. Tell students to write a short summary (in the past or present tense) of what happens in Chapter 1. You can do all sorts of things with these summaries: error correction; peer dictation; gapfill, etc.
  6. Repeat the process with the next few chapters. If students start to copy each others’ summaries, do some comparison work in class and talk about the importance of original work vs plagiarism!
  7. Before students read the final chapter, get them to predict what’s going to happen (in the future) and how the story will end in terms of setting, character, and plot. They then read to confirm their prediction – even changing what they wrote to reflect what they read.
  8. After students finish the book, get them to give it a ‘star rating’ from 1–5. Decide as a class what the star ratings stand for, e.g. 1 = Don’t waste your time! 2 = Probably not for you; 3 = Give it a go; 4 = Definitely recommended; 5 = Out of this world! (If they want to write a review or give a mini-presentation about it, don’t stand in their way!)
  9. At the end of the term or year, do some project work. Tell students to calculate the most/least popular titles (and do a basic graph to show it), to interview each other about their favourites, to write follow-up chapters as a story chain, look for common ground between stories in order to draw up a list of If you liked this, then try … etc.
  10. Go back to stage 1 and start over. After all, the funny thing about reading a good book is that it makes you want to read another. And then another. That’s Secret # 4, by the way!

 


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#IATEFL – Why invest in extensive reading?


IMG_3569_lowresAhead of her talk ‘Engine of Change – research into the impact of extensive reading’ at this year’s IATEFL conference, Domino author Nina Prentice explores the relevance of extensive reading in the language learning classroom, and discusses the successes of the Read On! class library project in Italy last year. 

I believe that [extensive reading] 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!’

 Maria – Read On! Student 2015

‘The [extensive reading] project obliged me to invest my and my students’ energies on other activities outside the normal routines. [This] delivered unexpected outcomes in terms of motivation, learning, and students’ self-esteem thereby facilitating lessons even outside the project.’

Professoressa Confetta, Della Chiesa Middle School, Reggio Emilia 2015

What is extensive reading and how can it transform learning? The short answer is reading by choice and for pleasure but what does this mean in practice?

The two comments above, reflecting on last year’s participation in OUP Italy’s Read On! class library project, show that reading extensively makes a real difference – to individual students’ growth and to effective teaching and learning in the classroom.  But it does require an investment of energy and time. This post will look briefly at what it takes to invest in extensive reading and how it enriches students, like Maria, who have enjoyed learning in this way.

INVESTING YOUR ENERGIES IN A DIFFERENT APPROACH

Extensive reading works well alongside traditional language learning methods but this kind of reading is not about comprehension exercises, book reports and spot quizzes. It is about motivating students by giving them choice, responsibility and the opportunity to enjoy reading free of the usual classroom obligations.  

INVESTING TIME IN THE CLASS LIBRARY

The Class Library is the heart of extensive reading. For the OUP Read On! project in Italy, teachers use a mobile trolley suitcase library filled with around 90 OUP graded readers, four for each class member, so that borrowing works smoothly. Teachers and students take time to:

  • Celebrate their class library with a welcome party
  • Organise their borrowing system and choose class librarians
  • Enjoy the library, opening it in every lesson so students and the teacher can exchange books freely and frequently.
  • Share everybody’s reading experiences, likes and dislikes.

INVESTING IN CREATIVE READING ACTIVITIES

Another key approach is to enjoy alternative classroom activities encouraging students to explore their reading through games, drama, videos, illustration, newspaper reporting, CLIL links and research. Check out the Read On! Website for practical ideas: www.oup.com/elt/readon

INVESTING IN READING FLUENCY

Reading requires practice. There are no short cuts. Fluent readers decode words and understand meaning rapidly with little mental effort. Learning becomes easier because students don’t translate every word they read.

To invest in reading fluency means:

  • Starting simply and working your way up. Persuade students to read easier low-level graded readers in the class library before tackling higher levels.  Ban dictionaries. There should be no more than one or two words on the page that the learner does not understand.
  • Ensuring students have time to read extensively. Give your class regular 10 minutes silent reading breaks during lessons two or three times a week. Encourage students to read on the bus travelling to and from school. Give reading time instead of homework for one night a week.
  • Practicing regularly. Students read for 20 minutes a day, aiming to read one to two graded readers a week.

Extensive reading is pleasurable, interesting and fun: never a chore. Inspire your students. Show how much you love reading. Read alongside them and promote and enjoy alternative activities linked to their reading. Your students will grow and your classroom will be enriched. Read On!

 


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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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Reading for Pleasure – Making Triangles, Sharing Opinions

Continuing the Reading for Pleasure series, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at how students can make triangles to keep them interested in reading.

This month’s activity is deceptively simple. However, it is an important step in the sequence of activities our students have been involved in. So far, the language for the previous activities has come directly from the stories. Whether it was simple words, phrases, or sentences, students were able to browse through their books and simply copy what they wanted. Making triangles is the first activity in which students are free to use their own words. How to make triangles for their stories is explained on the Big Read website, or in the video below.

Let’s take the example from the video clip about “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. Expressions like “lives in the USA” or “saw Injun Joe kill someone” are probably not part of the story itself. The student here is using their own words to describe facts and events in the story. An expression like, “Tom and Becky became good friends” is this student’s opinion. Another student may see the story differently. So, the triangle gives students the opportunity to use the English they have learned to communicate about the story they are reading.

At this point it is important to point out what students have achieved by doing the previous activities that allow them to make their triangles:

  1. Students are confident that they can read in English and enjoy the story they are reading.
  2. Students have become aware that the activities are based on effort, not knowledge. Everyone can do them if they want to.
  3. Students know that their activities are to be shared with their friends and family.

These three points are important as students prepare to make their triangles. The positive environment created around the class library means that students are confident they can do the tasks. Some students may insist on finding expressions directly from their story. Some may ask for help from their friends or the teacher to improve their English. For example, some students may write “see Injun Joe kill someone”. Although this is not incorrect a friend may suggest using “saw”. And others may personalise the words they use, mixing facts, events, and opinions. Knowing that their triangles are to be shared, students will try to make them interesting to their friends.

This is also the first activity in the class library in which students need their English to be checked and corrected before it is displayed. As their teacher, encourage peer correction. Reinforce the idea that the triangles are to be displayed and so the English must make sense to their friends. When correcting any student’s work, reinforce your role as a facilitator – you are helping them with their work, not judging it.

As with making movie posters, making triangles allows students to become more personally involved with their stories, in this case by encouraging them to share their opinions and thoughts about the story. You can ask them that 2 of the lines from the triangle are based on their opinion, 2 lines are based on events in the story, and another 2 lines are facts about the story. Suggest this to your students as a way to make their triangles more unique and personal. Don’t make it a requirement, as this may interfere with their enjoyment of the story and the activity.

By making triangles, the class moves beyond simply copying the language they need, to using the English they have learned to communicate their thoughts and opinions. Depending on your students, this can be the basis for brief summaries of the story as they expand their expressions into complete sentences. Building on their confidence and involvement, the triangles allow students to more fully personalise their reactions to their reading experience.


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Reading for pleasure – Coming Soon to a Cinema Near You!

Movie ticket and popcornContinuing the Reading for Pleasure series, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at how students can make movie posters to keep them engaged with reading.

Reading appeals to a student’s imagination. From the words spring images, and each image is personal. The forest from “The Wizard of Oz” is unique to each reader, as is the castle in “Dracula”.

As your students read from month to month, they are developing their ability to imagine, to add images to the stories. Many of the stories they are reading may have been made into films, so it will not be difficult for them to make film posters. How to do this is explained on the Oxford Big Read website. (You’ll need to login (or register for free) to your Oxford Teacher’s Club account to access the free video and downloads. You’ll find the “Movie posters” activity under the ‘Activities’ tab)

By now, your students are becoming confident readers. Most are finishing their second story, many will have read more than four. Activities also need to keep up with this confidence.

Students will be familiar with making posters, and by now they know that their work is to be shared with their friends and family. Making movie posters will appeal to their imagination, allowing them to make the story more personal. It will also give them an opportunity to bring their world into their reading experience.

With both the titles and the stars of the “movie”, encourage your students to be both unique and imaginative as they create their posters. They can base their title on their favourite part of the story, or an event they think will appeal to their friends. The same with the “strapline” sentence they choose. The more mysterious, the more curiosity it will arouse.

Choosing the stars of their movie also allows students to personalise the story. Students can choose from famous Hollywood stars or movie stars from their own country. More interesting may be to choose people from their school to play the leading roles. In “The Wizard of Oz”, who would play Dorothy, or the Wizard? Who would play the Scarecrow with no brains, or the Tin Man with no heart, or even the Cowardly Lion? The choices would certainly get a reaction from their friends, leading to many discussions. These discussions encourage a greater knowledge of the story.

Movie posters do not have to be based on the stars. They can also be based on an event in the story. This can encourage students to bring the real world around them into their reading. Ask them to imagine that event happening in their area. Where would it be? – a street corner, a café, a house? They are free to use their imagination.

Choosing the stars and the events allows students to take their own photos for their poster. This gives them an opportunity to use digital technology in the activities. Many students may think of reading as boring, but the activities can give them an opportunity to use digital skills they enjoy using. This will give their reading a new dimension, allowing them to be more creative and to think beyond the story. They will become even more personally involved.

Finally, making movie posters allows students to go beyond the activity itself. Thinking of their stories as movies leads naturally to filming a scene or making a trailer for the movie. This is a more involved project and may not be for all students, but it will encourage students to use skills they already have (or to develop skills) to become even more personally involved with their reading experience.

By making movie posters, the class takes a big step in their reading experience. They build on their personal involvement from previous activities, and expand that involvement into using their imagination, creativity, and personal skills to share their reading with friends. Reading takes on a new dimension as the activities allow for another level of involvement and sharing. The class library slowly becomes a social environment.