Reading and Other Skills
At York English we have an emphasis on multi-skilled learning. This means that even though we want students to practice lots of speaking and listening in the classroom we also want our students to have some practice with reading and writing. Having students complete activities using all four skills simultaneously will help them acquire the language faster and more comprehensively. Simply put, this is the fastest way to learn a language and means that even in our reading classes we don’t want silent students!
Setting the Students Reading Goals
Before giving the students a reading task, ask yourself, “What do I want them to get out of this? Are they going to learn lots of new words? Review recently-taught language in context? Be introduced to a new grammar point?” Knowing what you want them to practice before starting the activity is key, and not just in terms of the language too. Think about other skills. Will they be reading to fully comprehend every sentence? Reading for the gist? Scanning for key information? These are all useful skills to have and students should get regular practice with each.
Finding the Right Level and Engaging the Students
Students thrive off a challenge, but if the reading is too difficult they will quickly lose interest. Aim for something achievable and relatable to their interests. Choosing a text about jobs for a group of 11 year olds is always going to be a dry class. Remember also that if the reading is achievable the students will feel a sense of accomplishment when they finish it which will give them a hunger for reading in the future.
So definitely avoid going into an article ‘cold’. This can really throw the students off. Take time to introduce the reading properly so students are engaged and can quickly comprehend the content of the material. A 2 minute brainstorming session on the topic of the text before handing it out can provide just this. Give groups of students a pen and paper and let them draw a spider diagram with words/sentences. Avoid the strongest students from dominating this task by rotating the students who are writing.
Pre-teaching New Words
Most reading passages feature some new vocabulary. This gives you a lot of flexibility. You can teach the students some of these new words beforehand and then have them scan the text to find them. Want to make this into more of a game? Ask each student to think of one of the new words. Then you start reading the text. When a student hears their word they stand up and join in with your reading.
Alternatively you could have them skim-read the passage and circle the new words. Then elicit them one by one from the students and have everyone in the class find that word in the text. All the students then read out that sentence together to provide some context. Quite often the students can pick up on the meaning of the new vocabulary from this alone.
For beginner-level students reading can be daunting because we fear listening to students stumbling over new words. Giving students the confidence to try reading new words is the key here and if their level is low, more phonics practice is likely what they need. Having students break up new words into their individual phonic sounds and then blend them together helps with their pronunciation and understanding.
Comprehending the Text
Once you are happy the students can read the text you need to make sure the students can actually understand it. In a non-ESL classroom environment this would usually mean giving out a worksheet (boring for the students) or the teacher standing in front of the class and asking questions (teacher-centered). Challenge the students to make their own comprehension checking questions they can ask each other. This could be done as a mingle to increase student-talk-time.
Having some fun
The students can now read and understand the text so they’ll be looking for a new challenge. Advanced students could be given a post-reading task to do such as continuing the story or article (and acting out). Alternatively try a running dictation. Stick sentences from the article around the classroom, students work in pairs and take turns to find the sentences in sequence. They then dictate the sentence to their partner who writes it down. After each sentence, swap roles. The competitive element between pairs of students makes this very enjoyable.
For beginner level students it will be difficult for them to do anything that involves expansion with the language. Instead, look to give the students more opportunities to practice reading the text out loud. A particularly fun way to do this is to put students in pairs and challenge one student to read the story while the other students tries to put them off and make them laugh. If you laugh, you lose!
Finding this balance between fun and learning is essential to our success here at York English. As you can see we try to use 4-skilled learning wherever possible and having seen the progress of our students, we’re having a lot of success! Try some of these ideas out and let me know how they go!