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Reading for Pleasure – Students make their own word games

Teenage girl reading on couchContinuing the Reading for Pleasure series, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at ways of keeping students reading for pleasure.

You have set up the class library and started your students reading. First of all, congratulations. Next, we need to keep them reading.

Having played Bingo and made some posters, I now ask my students to make some word games based on the stories they are reading. Students usually expect activities around words in a language class, so word games are no surprise. However, games like word search puzzles or crosswords are usually provided by the teacher. In this case, I am going to ask my students to make the games themselves, and more importantly, I am going to show them that the games they make are for their friends to solve.

You can follow the instructions for the word game here. I would like to focus on why we are doing word games and how this is helping our students learn better.

My students have played Bingo and made some posters for their stories. Although I have displayed their posters around the school, with word games I want to encourage them to share their reading experience with each other on a more personal, one-to-one level. By making a word game that a friend will solve I hope to achieve this level of involvement.

I start with a very simple game that is quick to make. I want my students to make the game and have another student solve it within a class period. This is to reinforce the idea that the games are not for the teacher. I also want them to focus on their stories, not on how to make the word game. As they decide on the sentences to use, they are going over their story, using their books as examples of the English they want to use.

Of course, some of my students, usually the stronger ones, will write sentences without actually using their books. Expecting me to look at their work, they rely on me, as the teacher, to correct any mistakes. So, I purposely stand back and not correct any work. After all, they have the correct sentences in their stories, all they have to do is copy. Being responsible for their own work is the first thing many students notice. If they do make mistakes, their friends will point these out when they solve the game.

And this is the second important point they notice, that their word games go directly to another student. They get immediate feedback, not only on any mistakes, but also on whether the game is interesting or not. If it’s too easy, then it is boring. If it’s too difficult, then a student won’t want to do it. This feedback helps students adapt to the activity. They begin using their books in order to avoid mistakes. With their friends in mind, they adapt their sentences accordingly.

As they get used to making the word games, students focus on making them fun and challenging. They choose sentences that are interesting to their friends, rather than focussing on correct language for the teacher. They try to make the sentences difficult so as not to make the game too easy. In doing this their reading comprehension improves as they browse through their stories a second and third time.

An equally important point is that as students solve the word game, the sentences create a certain curiosity about the story.  This curiosity leads to further conversation about their stories, usually outside of class. These conversations further strengthen the social aspect of the class library and the positive reading environment, which is an integral part of the project.

As my students understand the activity, they become better at making the word games. They enjoy making various games for friends throughout the month. At this point, it is possible to introduce games that take longer to make, like word search puzzles. The key is that the game is easy to make and the focus of the students is on the content.

With word games, the participation of my students in the class library becomes more personal. If there are still any hesitant readers, they are usually motivated to participate by a friend as they share their games.


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Correcting dyslexic spelling

Teacher helping two young studentsIn this guest post, Joanna Nijakowska, author of Dyslexia in the Foreign Language Classroom (2010), explores the difficulty of spelling among dyslexic learners of English, and how the use of the red pen only enforces incorrect spelling.

Spelling mistakes constitute a notorious feature of dyslexic writing. Teachers often highlight or circle the mistakes (especially with a red pen) bringing them to the surface of the text but in that way students focus their attention on and consolidate the erroneous forms instead of learning the correct spelling.

In similar vein, writing the words on the blackboard and asking students to compare them with their own spelling attempts does not work very well with learners with dyslexia.

The occurrence of mistakes is sometimes indicated on the margin in a given line of the text; however, if we do not specify where exactly the mistake is, we make the correcting task much harder for our students with dyslexia.

Another technique is to simply count down the mistakes and give the total at the bottom of the text, often with no indication of the exact position of the mistakes. Unfortunately, even very careful looking at words and searching for mistakes cannot guarantee identifying the misspelled ones, just the opposite, it happens that perfectly well-spelled words get ‘corrected’ mistakenly.

It proves much more effective and less time-consuming to cross the misspelled word and write the correct spelling above or next to it. In that way it is the correct form which is made visible and, hopefully, integrated.

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