Tuesday, 02 February 2016 12:12

ESL: Teaching Reading to Young Learners

Reading is 'dreaming with your eyes open'. Teaching reading to young learners activates their imagination and enables children to master intonation and word stress from a young age. Reading also passively teaches punctuation and grammar. These skills are very important in achieving near-native English skills.
 
Using Technology to Teach Reading

I teach reading to young learners aged 7-9 in my English corners. As a modern teacher, I use my iPad and free online fairy tale books from my (Chinese) App Store. I have found a variety of free interactive books from TabTale.
 
Before we start reading, we play a ball game to review what we read during the previous English Corner. This allows them to physically warm up (it's winter), and to get ready for an hour of English only. I do not have an assistant teacher in these reading English corner sessions, so a good warm-up activity is essential.
 
Interactive Fairytales: Repeated Listening

Once our heart rate is up and our lungs are filled with good laughs, it’s time to listen to a fairy tale. The fairy tales are interactive and during the first listening they enjoy moving the characters and copying their voices. (I encourage them to go crazy – I believe children learn best when they don’t feel boxed in)

The first listening is for them to make out what the story is about and for them to settle down from a hyped-up warmer. The second listening is often calmer, as they know which characters move and they are aware of what is going on. During this session they listen more intently to the words in the interactive story and the sounds of the reader.

New Words in the Story
 
Inevitably there are new words they learn with each fairy tale; we play an interactive counting game to practice the new words e.g. 1 Witch, 2 Huntsmen, 1 Huntsman, 2 witches.  an apple, 2 oranges. etc…
 
Our third and final listening/reading is easy on the ear for them because they know the full story and understand all the new words. I read to them and ensure I stress each syllable and repeat each word and ask them to repeat after me as I read along. This helps the young learners greatly with pronunciation and correct word stress. 

Get the Students Reading Themselves
 
We then activate “read to myself”. I pick my strongest student to read the first page while the others listen, fairy tales from TabTale are often 15 – 20 pages long. Because each page is interactive, the reader has exclusive “rights” to the iPad. We each take turns reading. I encourage silly eyes and faces while they are reading. This allows me to see which student understands the story and which one doesn’t; a handy tip for teachers teaching reading to young learners! 

Teaching Reading: Difficulties in Pronunciation

Difficulties in word pronunciation come up while reading and I encourage them to correct each other. I only step in when none of my students know how to say the word. Fairy tales usually have simple language but occasionally words such as “conscientious” pop up and I step in, but aside from that, I encourage the kids to help each other read.

Doing Puzzles After the Relay Reading
 
After relay reading, that is, the students assisting each other to read and teaching reading in repeated steps, we do a jigsaw puzzle of the characters from the fairy tale. Each student relays the part of the story the puzzle refers to. There are a few good jigsaw puzzle programs you can use to make your own jigsaw puzzles online.

Read Once More a Little Faster
 
After the puzzle, we read once again, this time at a slightly faster pace than before. They enjoy it because they try to reader faster, louder and better than I do. After our third reading, we do a colouring activity in which each student gets to color in their favourite book character and say why they like that character.

The Final 10 Minutes of the Reading Class
 
By now I have about 10 minutes to the end of the reading class and I ask a volunteer to read. I usually have a child who is ready to show off their reading skills. They read and everyone reads and repeats after them. Then, each student has a sentence each and we read the book from start to finish. 

Same format, different story
 
The beauty of using the same format for different fairy tales (it’s important to always have a different fairy tale for each session), is they become accustomed to what is expected of them and have fun whilst reading in the class. The first week can be chaotic, as most Chinese students are not used to reading a long fairy tale all at once and mastering it in an hour. I have found that after three weeks of using the same format but different fairy tales, you will start to notice just how much better your students read than when they started. Teaching reading to Young Learners is a wonderful way to improve a broad range of laguage skills and I would encourage all teachers to incorporate reading into their classes.

by Rene Elliott
"Reading for pleasure has been revealed as the most important indicator of the future success of a child (OECD, 2002), and improvements in literacy, at any point in life, can have a profound effect on an individual."
 
Stories provide authentic context for the presentation of language. Young learners are eager to identify with characters, predict the upcoming plots and visualize the stories. Follow the tips below your students will benefit a lot from reading lessons with storybooks.
 
Identify the right focused area for your students.
 
There are five areas in reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension. Find out which area your students are supposed to focus on and select the relative readers.
 
Grade the reading level.
 
According to the popular system- Guided Reading Levels (GRL), developed by Fountas and Pinnell, storybook readers are graded from level A to Z with a variety of factors considered- book and print features, content, themes, language and literary features. It is essential to choose the right book based on the students’ actual reading ability.
 
Make full use of a variety of reading activities on each reading stage.
 
Every single element of the story reader could be of great value to achieve specific objectives. Take the front page as an example, the topic of the story, the theme picture, the characters could be introduced on the stage of Pre-reading. And prediction is an important strategy to be developed before the practice of some sub-skills. 
 
Achieve the teaching objectives of the development of reading sub-skills.
 
Reading for gist, reading for specific information and reading for details are three important reading sub-skills to be introduced. Teachers are supposed to be flexible task-setters and fun storytellers to make use of the readers. For instance, putting pictures in the right order, choosing the right topic for the story could be used as effective task for gist reading.
 
Provide a post-reading task.
 
Drawing mind maps, visualizing the story, rewriting the ending, anglicizing characters are some good examples for the follow-up reading activity. Encouraging the students to have their own reading response file and keep a habit of completing a reading log are also good ways to cultivate a continuous reading habit and motivation.
 
Using storybooks to clarify language or improve skills are incredible and effective, but it is more than that. A shared value immersion and mindset development are what I want to emphasize. Teaching reading at the language level is something what most language teachers can achieve. Is it possible if we all set a higher goal to enable our students to think critically, creatively and openly? 

by Sherbet Su
 





With three year's English teaching experience and one year's experience in English course book publication in China, Sherbet Su is capable of lesson planning and execution for multi-levels with considerable English methodological and linguistic knowledge. She was awarded Pass (Grade A) in Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults by Cambridge English Language Assessment in 2014. She has been working as a teacher trainer producing continuous didactic training workshops and initial trainings for ESL teachers.


Edmund V. Starrett (2007). Teaching Phonics for Balanced Reading. Corwin Press
Dugdale, G.and Clark C. (2008) Literacy changes lives: An advocacy resource London: National Literacy Trust.
 
                                             
 

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