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4 Creative Ways To Share Your Enjoyment Of Literature

teenagers enjoying literature togetherThroughout my teaching I have used literature in the EFL classroom, and the most rewarding moments have always been connected to lessons where I was teaching a poem, a short story, or a play. I’ve always thought that the most important factor was my own love of the pieces that I was teaching, and finding ways of sharing that love with my learners.

Here are four ways in which you can engage learners with literary texts, convey your own love of literature to your students, and show them how literature reflects human experiences and connects to our lives.

 

1. Connect the piece of literature to your students’ personal lives

James Joyce’s short story, Eveline, is about a young woman in early 20th century Dublin who has a chance to leave home with her suitor and go to Buenos Aires (you can find it here). I taught this to students aged 17 or 18, to whom the themes in the story were very relevant, introducing these themes without students even knowing that our discussion would lead to a literary work.

I start by presenting Edward Hopper’s painting New York Movie and asking students to describe the woman in the picture, where she is, what she is doing, how she is standing, then what she might be thinking about. Then I ask them to write the first paragraph of a short story about this woman. Invariably, students describe her as tired, stuck in a tedious job; they suggest she might be thinking about household chores she still has to do; they write about her dreams for the future and escaping her lot through marriage. We discuss the students’ interpretations, their first paragraphs, what they mean about the students’ view of life. The students see this as an exercise in creative writing but, without knowing it, they are writing about many of the themes of the story.

At the end of the lesson (or even in the next lesson) I move to the first paragraph of the story:

She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.

This extensive introduction ensures that even before we start reading Eveline, the students have made connections between the main themes of the story and their own experiences.

 

2. Illustrate ways in which literature connects to current events

Many literary works are extremely relevant to contemporary events. They may be overtly political and obviously written in response to a major event, like W.H. Auden’s September 1, 1939 (a wonderful poem, though I wouldn’t suggest using it in an EFL class!), but even poems that are not political have contemporary resonances. One example is Robert Frost’s Mending Wall, written in 1914, which talks about two neighbours meeting to fix the wall between their properties. It meditates on walls and boundaries, their uses and misuses, their personal and public meaning. Though Frost could not have known that 100 years later there would be such violent discussions of walls in the public sphere, the connection to current events is clear. Discussing this enables you to work on understanding other people’s points of view and balancing contradictions and ambiguities in one’s own thoughts – vital skills and attitudes in contemporary life.

 

3. Connect the piece of literature to art

Many artists have responded to literature in different ways. The contemporary American artist Roni Horn has responded to Emily Dickinson’s poems by casting lines from the poems in plastic letters. She embeds these in aluminium bars, which she then places against a wall – see here . When you walk into a room with these bars against different walls they present an enigma – you have to approach to realise that they include letters and words, and you realise slowly that these are lines from poems. The bars force you to consider their meaning – which is not immediately obvious or straightforward. As you walk round one of these bars and watch it from different angles the words appear and disappear – a wonderful metaphor for the way in which the meanings of poems are difficult to grasp and the way in which they enter and exit our consciousness.

By doing this you are demonstrating to learners that literature does not stand on its own – it is part of a rich cultural history and a rich cultural present.

 

4. Encourage students to react

One way of moving the focus from us to our learners is an easy technique called ‘a walkabout’ or ‘gallery walk’. The idea is simple – you choose a number of extracts, print out or photocopy enlarged versions of these extracts, and put them up on the walls around the classroom. Students walk around the room, read the extracts, and choose the one that they like most, or that means most to them. They then go and stand next to it, and discuss their reasons for choosing this extract with the other students who chose it. Each group then tells the others why they chose a specific extract.

In order for this activity to work the extracts need to be short – you can choose short poems, the opening paragraphs of different stories, or the opening paragraphs of different novels. I have also used it with short critical views of works that we have studied. Choosing short extracts means that students have time to read everything before they make their choice. Also, don’t choose too many extracts – 5 or 6 extracts are more than enough. This normally means that there is someone who chooses one of the extracts.

 

Want even more simple techniques to promote language development, for all levels and ages? Join me for my upcoming webinar!

Register for the webinar


 

Amos Paran is a Reader in Second Language Education at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London, where he teaches on the MA TESOL. He started his professional career in Israel, where he taught EFL in secondary schools and trained teachers. He has run teacher training workshops in countries such as Viet Nam, Uzbekistan, Israel, Switzerland, Spain and France, and works regularly in Chile.

His main research interests are reading in a foreign language and the use of literature in language learning, as well as distance education, and he has written extensively on these topics. He is co-editor (with Lies Sercu) of ‘Testing the Untestable in Language Education’, published in 2010 by Multilingual Matters. His most recent book is Literature, co-written with Pauline Robinson and published by Oxford University Press in the Into the Classroom series. He is also a lead tutor on the free Coursera MOOC, ‘Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task Based Approach’.


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25 Alternatives to Reading Aloud Around the Class

shutterstock_116955382Philip Haines is originally from London, England but lives in Mexico City, where he has been working as a teacher and teacher trainer since moving there in 1995. He is an author/co-author on several ELT series published in Mexico, in the primary, secondary and adult segments. Philip works as the Senior Academic Consultant for Oxford University Press Mexico.

In most ELT classrooms there are at least a few students who do not particularly like reading. There are many possible reasons for this, but one factor is that students often do not find the act of reading in the classroom very engaging, despite potentially interesting content. Teachers often capture students’ interest with pre-reading and post-reading activities, but when it comes to the actual process of reading some students are simply not engaged.

A common while-reading activity is to have one student read aloud while the rest of the students follow along in silence. While this way of working has some merits, it also has its drawbacks. It can be both stressful and boring at the same time. It can be stressful for the individual student who is reading aloud and it can be boring for all the other students who are listening and following along in silence.

Below are 25 while-reading activities that reduce the potential stress and boredom described above. These activities are designed for classes where all the students are working with the same text. It must be pointed out that these activities do not always lead to maximum comprehension, but we sometimes need to sacrifice this for the benefits of more engaged, participative and motivated students.

The activities are based on four principles:

  1. The activities can be done with practically any text
  2. All the students have something to do while reading
  3. The activities should be low-stress
  4. They can be done with little preparation

The activities have been categorized by how the students are grouped:

capture

The activities have also been categorized by the kind of response students need to give.

  • Perform actions
  • Underline
  • Say part of words
  • Say words
  • Say phrases
  • Say sentences / lines of text
       

1

Whole class

Perform actions

Stand up / sit down –
The teacher chooses six words from a chosen section of the text and writes these on the board. Each student chooses three of these words and makes a note of these in their notebook. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and students read along in silence, but stand up and then quickly sit down again every time they hear/read their
chosen words.

2

Whole class

Perform actions

Perform the action –
The teacher chooses some important/common words from the chosen section of the text. Students and the teacher decide on a specific action to perform for each of the chosen words. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and the students listen and read in silence, but perform the appropriate action whenever they read/hear the corresponding word.

3

Whole class

Perform actions

Click / clap –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and students read along in silence. Every time the teacher gets to a full stop/period the students clap their hands once. Every time the teacher gets to a comma the  students click their fingers once.

4

Whole class

Perform actions

Follow with finger –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and students read along in silence and follow along with a finger. The teacher can check that every student is following the text by seeing where their finger is on the page.

5

Whole class

Underline

Fill in the blank –
The teacher chooses and circles several words in the chosen section of the text. The teacher read the chosen section of the text aloud, but says ‘blank’ in place of those chosen words. Students listen and follow the text at the same time and underline the words that were substituted with the word ‘blank’. Students then compare with each other and check with the teacher.

6

Whole class

Underline

Spot the missing words –
The teacher chooses and circles several words in the chosen section of the text that can be omitted without the text sounding strange. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud but misses out the circled words. The text needs to be read in a natural way so that it flows and sounds normal. Students listen, follow the text and underline the words that were omitted. Students then compare with each other and check with the teacher.

7

Whole class

Underline

Spot the mistakes –
The teacher chooses and changes several words in the chosen section of the text. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and the students read along in silence and underline the words they think the teacher has changed. Students then compare with each other and check with the teacher.

8

Whole class

Underline

Secret message
The teacher selects some words from the chosen section of the text so that the first letter of each of these words spells out a secret word or short phrase. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and students listen and read along in silence. However, every time the teacher comes one of the previously selected words the teacher substitutes the word with a funny noise. The students need to underline each of these words. The students then need to work out the secret message.

9

Whole class

Say parts of words

Finish off words –
The teacher reads a chosen section of the text aloud and the students listen and read along in silence. However, every now and then the teacher says only the first one or two syllables of a word and then pauses. The students need to say the missing parts of the word in chorus. The teacher continues reading once the students have completed each word.

10

Whole class

Underline and say parts of word

Say only that part of the word –
The teacher chooses a feature of word morphology that is common in the chosen section of the text. This could be the plural ‘s’, ing-endings, ed -endings, –tion, etc. The students go through the section of the text and underline all the examples of that feature of language. The teacher then reads aloud and the students need to call out in chorus only that part of the word at the same time as the teacher reads it.

11

Whole class

Say words

Banana –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and the students listen and read along in silence. Every now and then the teacher substitutes a word in the text with the word ‘banana’. The students need to call out the word from the text that was substituted. Special thanks to Quyen Xuan Vuong for sharing this activity.

12

Whole class

Say words

Say only those words –
The teacher chooses and identifies about four or five words that appear frequently in the chosen section of the text. The teacher writes these words on the board. The teacher reads the section of text aloud and students listen and read in silence, but say only the chosen words in chorus as the teacher reads them.

13

Whole class

Say words

Every third word 
The teacher starts to read the chosen section of the text aloud and students listen and read along in silence. However, the teacher reads only the first two words and the student need to say the third word in chorus. The teacher then reads the next two words and then the students say the sixth word in chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.

14

Whole class

Say words

What’s the next word? –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and students listen and read along in silence. However, every now and then the teacher stops reading aloud and the students need to read the next word in the text in  chorus. Once the students have said the word, the teacher continues reading but stops every now and then and the students need
to say the next word in chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.

15

Small groups

Say words

One word at a time –
Students take turns reading one word at a time around the group until the end of the chosen section of the text.

16

Small groups

Underline and say words

Alphabet words –
The teacher assigns each member of the group different letters of the alphabet; so that all the letters of the alphabet are assigned and so that each student has several letters. Each student needs to look through the chosen section of the text and underline all the words that start with their assigned letters. Then the group reads the chosen section of the text aloud, but each student only says his/her corresponding words.

17

Whole class

Say phrases

Listen, read and repeat –
The teacher selects a short section of the text. The teacher read the section aloud one short phrase at a time. After reading each phrase the whole class repeats in chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section
of the text.

18

Whole class

Say phrases

Finish off the sentences –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud to the class. Before the end of some sentences the teacher stops and the whole class has to read the rest of the sentence aloud in chorus.

19

Pairs

Say phrases

Sentence tennis –
The teacher chooses a section of a text with two paragraphs of similar length. One student is assigned the first paragraph and the other student is assigned the second paragraph. The first student reads part of the first sentence aloud but stops part of the way through whenever they want. The other student has to listen and read in silence, but read the rest of the sentence aloud from where the first student stopped. This is repeated for the rest of the paragraph. For the second paragraph the students swap so that the second student starts reading each sentence.

20

Whole class

Say sentences

Every third sentence 
The teacher divides the whole class into three groups. The groups are called 1, 2 and 3. Group 1 reads the first sentence aloud in chorus, group 2 then does the same with the second sentence, and group 3 does the same with the third. Group 1 then reads the fourth sentence and this continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.

21

Whole class

Say sentences

Dice sentences –
The teacher divides the whole class into six groups and assigns the numbers 1-6 to the groups so that each group has a different number. The teacher roles the dice and all the students in the group with that number read out the first sentence in chorus. The teacher roles the dice again and the corresponding group reads the second sentence in chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.

22

Whole class

Say lines of text

Secret lines –
The teacher chooses a section of the text with enough lines of text for every student to have one or two lines each. The teacher assigned one or two lines to each student in a random order. The could be by handing out numbers at random to each student or by cutting up a photocopy of the text and giving out a line or two of text to each student. Each student identifies their lines in the original text. The whole text is read in the correct order by each student reading their line(s) of the text aloud.

23

Small groups

Say sentences

Nominate next reader –
One student reads the first sentence aloud from the chosen section of the text and the rest of the group listen and read along in silence. When the student finishes the sentence, he/she nominates the next student to read aloud by saying the name of that student. That student then reads the second sentences aloud and then nominates the next reader. This continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.

24

Small groups

Say sentences

One sentence at a time –
Students take it in turns to read one sentence at a time around the group until the end of the chosen section of the text.

25

Pairs

Say sentences

Fizz / buzz / bang –
The teacher selects three words which appear frequently in the chosen section of the text. The teacher writes these three words on the board and next to the 1st word write ‘fizz’, next to the 2nd words writes ‘buzz’, and next to the 3 rd word writes ‘bang’. Students then take it in turns to read one sentences at a time and substitute the selected words with ‘fizz’, ‘ buzz’ or ‘bang’ as indicted on the board.

 


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Strategies for ‘swimming’ safely in a text

Boy swimming underwaterFollowing on from his previous post about not drowning in a text, Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English, now suggests strategies for moving learners from the shallow to the deep end of a reading text.

In my last blog post I used the image of a swimming pool to represent a reading text. A swimming pool is full of water and a text is full of language: it is possible to drown in both! In this post I’d like to stay with that image and think about how we can take the learners from the shallow end to the deep end of the text. I’d also like to ensure they are never in danger of drowning in the language.

My teaching aim is to develop different swimming strokes or reading strategies so that they learn to move comfortably through the water/text.

What are the reading strategies that competent readers bring to a text? They can:

  1. Predict content. We don’t usually read a text without some idea of its content.  A headline or a title or pictures usually gives us some idea about the content of the text.
  2. Skim a text for an overview of what it’s about.
  3. Scan it and pick out specific information or detail.
  4. Read from beginning to end of a selected passage, drawing out the author’s message and intention.
  5. Read carefully to understand how that message has been constructed and the language used.

In points 1, 2 and 3 my learners are in the shallower end of the swimming pool. In 4 and 5, they have moved into the deep end. (You may have noticed that I have dropped the terms extensive and intensive reading. Do you use these terms or something different? Leave a comment and let me know).

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Reading, not drowning!

Girl in swimming pool with t-shirt and gogglesFollowing on from his previous post about reading aloud, Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English, teacher trainer and ELT consultant, considers how to encourage successful reading in language students.

In my last blog post I questioned the value of reading aloud around the classroom. I suggested that the main aim for this seemed to be spoken pronunciation and not reading skills. In this blog post I would like to think about how you can get children aged about 9 and above to read successfully in a foreign language.

Let’s start with an image. Think of the reading text as a swimming pool. A swimming pool is full of water and a text is full of language.  If I’m not careful and throw my students in at the deep end (for example, by getting them to read aloud word by word), my learners may drown in the language. I want them to dip their toes in the shallow end and then, as they grow more confident, move them towards the deep end.

To begin with they need something to aim for: an objective or task. The tasks I set will guide them into the water at the shallow end and gradually move them to the deep end.

To complete these tasks successfully they will need to read efficiently. In other words, they will need to use reading strategies. These strategies are the swimming strokes, which will help keep their heads above water so that they don’t drown in the language of the text.

Before teaching the strategies or swimming strokes, I need to make sure basic  pool safety, or methodology, is in place.

1. Task before text

Most of the time we need a reason to read. We infrequently read a text with no purpose – without a reason. To give our pupils a reason to read I need to set a task. This for me suggests a logical order to my procedure: they need to know what the task is before they read the text. Have you noticed that some coursebooks put the task or questions after the text? They often seem to be dictating a procedure of text before the task, which I think is in the wrong order! What do you think?

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Reading aloud allowed?

2 teens reading
In this post, Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English, teacher trainer and ELT consultant, discusses practising and correcting pronunciation through activities that encourage students to read aloud in class.

Sometimes it is worth questioning our procedures and attitudes in the classroom: asking the question “why”? Why use this technique or procedure and what is its value? By doing so, we continually reassess our attitudes, principles and procedures as a teacher. We avoid becoming dinosaurs. 

Reading aloud was a regular activity in language lessons when I was a schoolboy. Some of us loved it; others hated it. The procedure went something like this: one of the kids in the class read from the textbook, but only the first sentence of the text. Then a different child would read the next sentence and so on, around the classroom. Some teachers worked methodically around the classroom; you knew when your turn would come

For some children (sadly, myself included), it was an opportunity to turn off and only turn on when the child seated alongside started to read aloud. Other teachers were more alert to the tricks of children like me. They chose the reader at random so you never knew when you might be exposed as a daydreamer.

As I struggled through my sentence the teacher corrected me–and believe me, in my case, there was a lot to correct!  At the end of the sentence I heaved a mental sigh of relief as the spotlight of the teacher’s attention moved onto the next pupil. By the end of the reading aloud activity a lot of correction had taken place. After that, we worked through a comprehension task (usually 10 comprehension questions!).

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