Extensive reading for pleasure
How do you approach the challenge of encouraging students to read in order to improve their level of fluency? This is especially demanding in a large class with students who have a range of abilities and interests.
Traditionally, a teacher would choose one book for the entire class to read and be tested on at the end of the course, and often only some of the students would actually read the whole book from cover to cover. Thankfully, these days education tends to take a more customised approach and teachers make an effort to personalise the material to the interests and learning styles of different students.
After all, presenting a class of Japanese teenagers with a copy of Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility, and advising them that they should read it because this book is considered a British literary classic, is unlikely to be met with high levels of enthusiasm. The cultural references will be entirely alien to them, and this will arguably have the opposite effect and discourage them from reading in English in the future.
These days reading needn’t be restricted only to novels or plays when there is such a wide range of additional material available. Spending some time helping your students to access texts related to their specific areas of interest will have far more results in the long run than insisting on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ style of learning.
As an example, students who are interested in a particular music genre have access to the website of their favourite band with a few clicks, as do those who are fanatical about Manchester United or other sports personalities or celebrities. A small amount of research can lead to countless blogs dedicated to a range of topics, as well as online magazines and newspapers. Moreover, the huge amount of graded readers available are tailored to specific levels so that students can read a shortened version of a famous film they’ve heard about or already seen in their native language.
The benefits of reading regularly, in any of the above formats, enables ESL students to systematically recycle important vocabulary and grammar structures in a more natural context than doing course book exercises alone. Choosing a topic that is close to the individual’s heart cannot be stressed enough, and reading on a regular basis will help to quicken speed and improve confidence. Having the opportunity to consolidate and strengthen their command of the language through repetition is proven to be a more effective learning method due to the human mind’s ability to remember vocabulary associated with contexts and situations far more than definitions alone.
Follow up activities could involve written exercises, in which students have further opportunities to consolidate their knowledge and repeat the target language. Presentations could also be given on a variety of contemporary, local topics related to the text chosen by each student, which would arguably be far more engaging for the whole class than everyone being forced to speak about the same book.
Martin Wilson has been working as a teacher of English to non-native speakers for over 13 years, since qualifying from St. Giles International College, London, in 2004. His Trinity Tesol Certificate was followed shortly after with a Masters Degree in Linguistics and Philosophy from The University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Martin’s experience within the various fields of ELT has been plentiful, and has involved teaching children and teenagers in Thailand, as well as asylum seekers and refugees throughout Europe, and university students and business professionals in London, UK. In this series of blogs, Martin aims to share his insights into the world of ELT, including tips and tricks for students and teachers alike, in addition to observations and reviews regarding current available material and resources. Martin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.