Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
Graded Readers are a hugely underused resource. Teachers often faced with reluctant, time pressed readers don’t always know what to do with them. Students often see reading almost as a punishment. Readers are not focussed on as heavily by the publishers even, as they bring in far fewer potential sales than course books. But if you employ fun activities and the reading itself is kept in bite-size pieces they can be a great basis for lessons by themselves.
So, I’m going to describe some general activities you can do in class and then, in celebration of the release of The Tomorrow Mirror (Penguin, out on Feb 21), I’ll make a downloadable sheet specially for it and post it next week.
My interest in Graded Readers began when a language school I was working for made a very brave decision to insert a course between the end of one level and the beginning of the next to improve Skills, using one Reader over a period of a few lessons. It was as if they both realised and cared that students were not really moving up a level in ability just because they’d passed the end of course grammar and vocab test. This is quite radical stuff for a language school and it inspired me to use them in my private classes when I went freelance and then later to write them.
The books themselves come with exercises nestled amongst the chapters and, for Penguin at least, a project idea at the end. These can be used by the teacher or the student during self study. They’re not bad, having written mine for The Tomorrow Mirror I know that they have to fit a certain schema laid down by the publishers, but there are many, many more activities the creative teacher can use to exploit a Reader beyond a ten minute class filler or homework self study task.
1 Write quotes from dialogue in the upcoming chapter and get students to predict who says it and what the context might be.
2 Choose a few keywords that won’t ruin the story and get students to predict what role they might play in the story.
3 Write true and false predictions for what happens next. Students discuss them and choose the ones they think will happen and then read to confirm. Another time get the students to come up with these themselves.
4 On slips of paper (everything is more fun when they can move bits of paper around) write character’s names and then objects or significant places from the next chapter. Students have to predict who might do what, with what or where.
(Sort of)** While reading activities
1 Draw up a table with the characters names down the side. Columns can be headed: Appearance, Personality, Likes & Dislikes, Possessions etc as relevant to the story. As they read students add words from the book into the columns to build a character profile. The first time you do it in Chapter 1, you could provide the words and students place them in the right boxes so they get the idea. You can use it to reinforce exact vocab from the book or, to make it more challenging, give them synonyms for words from the text. e.g blond = fair hair, happy = positive.
** Generally speaking, I think this is actually post reading as while reading students should just be sorta, like, you know, reading. Generations of ELT coursebooks have taught us that it should be accompanied by some kind of task, perhaps tap dancing out sentence stress or making origami models of the keywords but how realistic is that to real life reading? Same goes for watching films, thinks I.
Post reading activities
1 Use dialogue quotes and get students to say who said it, to whom, and why.
2 Write keywords onto slips of paper and get students in groups to retell the story putting the words in order.
3 Taboo. Keywords on slips of paper face-down. A student picks up a word and has to describe it by its role in the story and other students guess what it is.
4 Invent thoughts that each character might have had in dialogue quote form and get students to say which character might have been thinking that and why.
5 Write a quiz where all the answers are “who” eg Who tells/told the secret? Who is killed? Who kills someone? Vary active/passive/subject/object questions.
After finishing the book
1 Students prepare questions based on the book to ask the teacher which the teacher has to answer without being allowed to look at the book. Thus students get to give the teacher a grade. They soon realise they can make these questions fiendishly difficult and happily spend a lot of time preparing them. You can do this orally in the hotseat like a TV gameshow or have them write you quizzes which you do for homework and they then mark in the next lesson. Kids especially love this. It can come after a general test on the book if you want to end the course that way. (Often students are primed to judge their success in measurable ways like this and you can keep the questions to comprehension of events or character so it rewards reading rather than vocab learning etc.)
2 Students write and/or perform a scene or a play based on the book. The higher the level the more you can get them to think about things that are told in narrative in the book but might need dialogue to work in the play. Or give different groups different scenes to put together into the whole play.
3 Students set up a chat show and interview characters from the story. Or do it as a magazine interview which they record and then write up.
4 You could get students to write a diary entry for a character but it’s the thing they’re most likely to be sick of doing for school as it’s the unimaginative English teacher’s constant resort. A much more creative take on this, get them to set up Twitter accounts for the characters or create their Facebook pages. Of course this depends on their ages, school rules, parents, how much you supervise it etc. You can always do it in class and the logins be known only to you.
5 Students create a photostory version of the book taking their own pictures and coming up with the captions.
1 Using the chapter titles, students come up with their own stories. They can write these in full or just prepare the blurb or “elevator pitch”.
2 Research project using the issues that come up in the book.
3 Students write alternative endings to the story.
4 As 1 above but using some of the pictures from the story as a stimulus.
Using the audio version
1 You could entirely replace reading with listening but if you do, it’s best to choose a reader one level below the class’s reading level and pre-teach vocab as necessary so they can enjoy listening as entertainment rather than in a more test like way.
2 Simply play the CD while they read. I think this is primarily to bring it to life rather than to enhance their pronunciation etc although it might perform this function. I used to love Read and Listen books as a child and I sometimes wonder if reluctant readers find it boring because they are not as able to hear or see it in their heads. Imagine if reading for you was always like reading an Academic text, which I suppose (?) you don’t turn into a little film in your head. Some people who hate reading maybe don’t or can’t do this, well, this is my theory anyway.
3 Play excerpts of dramatic scenes or sounds to make students want to know what happens next. Discuss their predictions.
4 After reading, play micro excerpts and students have to say what was happening at the time. Reveal more and more until they guess it right.
Feel free to add any ideas you might have or things that have worked well for you. Happy Reading!
NB The actual reading part can be done either in class (silent reading) or as homework. For. how not to use reading in class see Mike Griffin’s post and the comments.