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What’s the point of Extensive Reading?

To celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, Domino author, Nina Prentice explores the relevance of extensive reading in the upper primary classroom.

School is generally about hierarchies and rules. The teacher is the authority on and dispenser of the syllabus. Students are novices. Their purpose is to consume and learn the year’s programme of study and satisfy the requirements of the examination system.

But, if we believe that learning is not just about passing exams, our classrooms need not follow this pattern. We can break the traditional roles of ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ following our set tasks and duties quite easily. All we need is a library of graded readers and the enthusiasm and passion to read extensively alongside our class.

The transformation is astonishing. Discussion and debate become the norm. Students, even those who are less able or confident, participate enthusiastically because when people respond to personal reading there is no right or wrong answer. Everyone has a voice and a right to have it heard.

Extensive reading is the opposite of the obligatory ‘intensive reading’ we practice in school, crawling like snails over texts and leaving inky slime trails of annotation over every page. Reading extensively is about consuming large amounts of texts greedily to know the end of the story, not to dissect the author’s style. It is about choice, freedom and pleasure.

When we read extensively, we forget our dictionaries because we are reading well within our comfort zone. Choosing freely what we read (and rejecting it if we don’t like it) for our personal enjoyment and interest is liberating, motivating and empowering.

Extensive reading also frees us from daily textbook routines. The class library not only allows us to explore language together naturally through our reactions to the books we are all reading but provides a endless supply of spontaneous activities with which to animate our lessons and engage our students.

The class library allows us to share our reading experiences communally. This collaborative approach, where the normal, formal routines of the classroom are set aside, creates an environment where learning happens naturally through discussion, the expression of opinions and even disagreement! Extensive reading is real language in real use and demonstrates that books will always be the best and most stimulating teachers!

Some examples of practical extensive reading activities

Graded readers provide prompts for classroom activities in ways that many textbooks or undifferentiated material cannot.  Books which students have chosen deliberately and are enjoying reading are self-evidently within their competence.  Textbook work can never be quite as accessible or as pleasurable.  Additionally, students are usually excited about sharing their current reading with the rest of the class and less able students gain confidence when they can perform and contribute in the same way as more able classmates. Continue reading


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Project work with Young Learners

To celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, author of Projects with Young Learners, Diane Phillips considers the benefits of using projects in the upper primary classroom.

What don’t children like?

If I asked you to list some of the thing that children don’t like you might say: – learning stuff of no immediate or obvious relevance e.g. grammar rules or lists of vocabulary; having to read about topics they have no interest in; being told to ‘be quiet’, to stop talking to their friends; being passive; never being asked for their view or about topics they know about; never seeing an end or a point to the work they have to do; always being told what to do!

Yet, this is exactly the way many classrooms work.

What do children like doing?

One way to get children doing what they like while still learning is through projects.  Children enjoy using their imagination – making up characters, stories; being creative – making things, drawing, colouring, cutting and gluing, using multimedia; finding out about interesting stuff; sharing, chatting, working together; talking about themselves, their friends and family, their interests; making choices, deciding for themselves, trying new things out; showing off!

What are Projects?

Experiential learning or ‘learning through projects’ is a tried and tested way of motivating children – by doing what they naturally like doing and avoiding what they don’t like.

It’s an approach founded on sound pedagogic principles. It addresses the needs of the ‘whole child’ to develop a number of different skills

  • the intellectual skills
  • physical/motor and ICT skills
  • social skills
  • learner independence skills

Children are given an opportunity to produce work which is personal and individual, which reflects their own ideas and interests, and their opinions are asked for and valued.

It gives the children an opportunity to bring their knowledge of the world into the classroom and can be cross-curricular – linked to other subjects the children are studying in school. Continue reading


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How to make your students enthusiastic test-takers

Happy teenage English studentsTo celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, English teacher, Marina Kopilovic, from Serbia writes about how to make your students enthusiastic test-takers.

Tests are usually students’ least favourite and most stressful school activity. But, there are some ways to make our learners feel more relaxed and enthusiastic about dealing with tests.

To begin with, think about yourselves as test–makers. Do you think a good test–maker  makes a good test–taker? I do.

During my first years of teaching, as a young and slightly overconfident teacher, I naively believed I was a very good test–maker. Then, in a very short time I sensed my first bitter flavours of the reality of testing results. Every testing time was another disappointment both for me and my students – more than half of them scored badly. In spite of that and completely unaware of the fact I should have changed something, I still believed my tests were great and blamed my students for the bad results. Fortunately, I met a more experienced English teacher who was willing to help – to ‘attack’ my tests before they were given to my students.

While doing the tests I had created, she kept asking me questions like “What am I supposed to do here? What does this actually mean? Do you think kids will ever use something like this? What do you want to test here?” She also complained about the time – “Thirty minutes have passed and I have completed only half of the tasks”or the context itself – “This sounds really stupid”etc.  I must say this was a major blow to my overconfidence as a teacher. I suddenly realized my basic errors and became more aware of the close interrelation between test-makers and test-takers.

I haven’t stopped searching for better testing techniques ever since then and have developed some strategies. Welcome to my ‘testing database’ and feel free to update it!

How about making testing time a regular routine by establishing a testing timetable in advance? Why not tell your students they are going to have a test after each unit or after every two or three units?  If they know this, they will be able to plan their revision at home in time.

Classroom preparation activities? Plan them well in advance and in the way that will make your students familiar with what you are going to test and the form of the test itself.

Make sure the instructions are clear. Be specific about the requirements and don’t forget to give an example. Students sometimes fail to complete their tasks not because they do not know English, but because they do not understand what they are expected to do. Have a look at the following reading task:

Insert the phrases into the appropriate gaps.

 a) a part time job
b) baby sitters
c) deliver newspapers
d) 60% of students
e) in the morning
f) 20% of students
g) in the evening
h) They don’t need
i) as shop assistants
j) they want

 In Britain, children can have ____________ (1) when they’re 13. Lots of teenagers work in the evenings or at weekends ____________ (2), or in restaurants and fast food places. Others ____________ (3) before they go to school ____________ (4).  Girls often find work as ____________ (5). In one school near London, ____________ (6) said that they had a part time job. It’s more than a half. Most say ____________ (7) the money to buy clothes and CDs. ____________ (8) the money for their families.

Do you think the instructions are good? Is it clear what students have to insert? The letters preceding the phrases or the phrases in full? There are eight gaps and ten phrases! Continue reading


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Interview with Marija Jović, a Project Competition finalist

This interview with Marija Jović, a teacher in Serbia and a runner-up in the recent Project Competition, was originally conducted by Anica Đokić of the Elementary School “Sonja Marinkovic” Novi Sad and posted on the “Sveti Sava” school’s English blog, Svetisavabadnjevac.

Marija's project

Over 700 hundred projects were submitted to the International Project Competition organised by Oxford University Press. The topic was “Communication” and the participating teachers and their students had to create a paper project about this phenomenon. We will hear more about the competition from our colleague, Marija Jović, whose work was chosen among the six best of all 700!

Q: How did you learn about the competition and how did you decide to participate?

The magic word is surfing. I often use the Internet, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. I also google because I am curious and always willing to learn. I don’t even remember how I came across this competition but I do remember I was determined to give it a try. Except being curious, I am also very competitive. However, I am often not motivated by the prizes, but by the process of reaching the goal, by participating with other colleagues from all over the world and most important by including my students into something new and challenging.

Q: What was your students’ opinion about it and how motivated were all of you to create and submit a project?

I am very proud of my students, especially of those who are willing to participate in different projects. They write, draw, act and even dance if that is necessary for our English lessons. So when I asked them to pose for this project, they were more than interested – they were flattered. Of course, they liked the prizes too and I promised to grant some extra marks for their effort only, regardless of the competition result.

Continue reading


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Three Question Interview – Tom Hutchinson

We have asked top ELT authors the following 3 questions:

1. What’s your favourite ELT book?
2. What or who has had the biggest impact on ELT in the last 25 years?
3. What do you wish you’d known when you started out in ELT?

Here, Tom Hutchinson answers these questions in a short interview:

With Oxford University Press Tom has published New Hotline, Project, Lifelines, Lifetime Video, American Hotline, An Introduction to Project Work, Big City and the award-winning Project Video.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of Tom’s answers? Have you read either of the books he mentions, or can recommend others? Why do you think ELT course books get such a bad rep? Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started in ELT? Why not share your thoughts here.

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