In an earlier post we have looked at using graded readers to improve writing skills. This time we will connect reading with another fundamental language skill: speaking. We write stories, we read stories, we listen to stories, and then we tell stories. It seems clear that the more stories we read, the more discussion ideas, opinions and vocabulary we will have.
Although at times the four main language skills (speaking, writing, reading and listening) are worked on separately they are widely accepted as being interdependent; progress in one, helping progress in the other three. If we want to approach language development from a more comprehensive, productive perspective, we need to think about how we can integrate these different language skills to achieve a more holistic use and understanding of language. How often do you hear reactions like ‘I don’t know what to say’, ‘I don’t have any ideas’, ‘this speaking task is too hard’ in your classroom? This can happen for various reasons, for example:
- lack of vocabulary
- lack of grammar confidence
- lack of self-confidence
- lack of ideas
- lack of factual resources
- insecurity because of pronunciation.
It can happen during any classroom discussion, and it is a widespread symptom during exam preparation courses when we often find ourselves dealing with more challenging discussion topics. There are also a lot of students who are confident speakers, but the moment we start talking about diverse topics, they seem to feel blocked and unable to talk with ease. If they have never been exposed to texts on that topic or they haven’t had the chance to discuss them, they consequently won't have much to say about them. When we read stories, we are exposed to written language, a large vocabulary, and we are given enough time to read and reread sentences until we understand sentence and paragraph structure. So how can we use written texts for speaking practise? Course books can provide one solution. However, in the language classroom we usually focus on task-based reading rather than discourse-based reading sessions. Coursebook texts often focus on reading strategies for scanning, skimming, T/F, multiple choice, and there is hardly any time in a 45-minute session to have longer discussions. A comprehensive and motivating approach is using extensive reading to develop speaking skills. You will find graded readers in various topics, various genres, and all stories have a special subject-focus. They will serve as great discussion materials and the language they provide will be at hand for your students to recycle and use in oral communication.
What are the best ways to do it?
1 Choose a graded reader for the most important units in your course book.
- How many units are there in your course book? what are the topics?
- Take the contents page, find the most important or the most challenging topics
- Take a graded readers catalogue, and pick a book for each topic
When to do it:
- After a unit test organise a reading class when you read & talk
- Ask students to read a chapter for the class.
- Read a chapter together in the class.
- Ask the students to read the book by the time you finish that unit.
2 Do role plays
Read these posts about using role plays based on readers.
3 Do a special classroom reading and discussion session based on graded readers.
Make it a special lesson when students do not have to bring their course books to the lesson. You can combine it with a D.E.A.R. reading session. For more ideas on reading in the classroom, read our posts:
- Extensive Reading in the Classroom
- Reading the Classics in Class
- Still reluctant? - 5 classroom solutions to build reading stamina
Here are 5 different types of ways you can use readers in the language classroom to initiate reading-based classroom discussions. Of course you can combine them. Do not need to use extra worksheets. You already have vocabulary, grammar, and language activities in the reader. Here are some ways you can do text and reading-based activities to focus on speaking.
Level 1 (CEF A1) Example: Double page with illustration from The Fisherman and his Soul by Oscar Wilde Use an illustrated page from the reader your students have all read. On this double you can read the description of a bazaar.
Focus your students' attention on the use of adjectives and nouns that describe materials, sensations and names of special objects typical of the bazaar.
- Tell them to read the description out loud without reading words like lanterns, silk, golden, perfumes, silver, precious, sweet like honey, as well as the colour of fruits.
- It is an easy activity to recall a special setting, revise vocabulary to describe places and demonstrate how using nouns to specify materials, and adjectives to describe colours, sensations and scents can create a more descriptive atmoshpere of the setting.
- Ask your students to write a similar description of their favourite fair or marketplace.
Level 2 (CEF A1/A2)
Take a chapter from a reader you have already read or planning on reading with your class.
- Start with an introduction by looking at the main illustration.
- Ask the students 1) if they remember this scene from the story, 2) if they haven't read it, can they guess what's happening in the picture, what the girl is doing, what time of the day it is, and how the girl might be feeling.
- Read the chapter in class.
- Discuss the idea of a time capsule.
- Focus on the discussion boxes for more discussion.
Graphic stories are excellent resources for classroom activities as they are packed with visual illustrations.
You can use the double-spreads for storytelling practice, and you can also ask your students to write their own narrative for the comic spread.
Level 4 (CEF A2/B1) At these higher level you can comfortably discuss a whole reader with your students in class. Make sure everyone has read the story, and choose a focus point for it.
- Go through all the discussion boxes in the reader.
- Ask the students to write a book report and present it to the class.
- Another ways of doing a book report are:
- making a poster about the book focussing on Setting, Characters, Plot, Themes
- make a slideshow presentation about the reader.
Level 5 (CEF B1)
At this level you can still do any of the tasks from the above levels, but with B1 level students you can also have fun comparing two books. For example, take Mystery and the Mill by Elspeth Rawstron and Red Water by Anotinette Moses and talk about social and environmental issues. If you read The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde and Tales of Mystery by Edgar Allan Poe, you can talk about how mystery stories can be represented through humour and horror.