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Hooked on Books: Crafting stories and reading activities with Frances Mariani

February 08, 2017 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

In this series of interviews we talk to teachers, ELT writers, visual artists and researchers about the importance of using literature in the language classroom. Together they have over a hundred years of experience in teaching and writing so they can definitely give us plenty of advice and insight into the best practices. We talk about the importance and transformation of literary texts in education, we ask for genre and title recommendations as well as personal stories. This month we talk about editing readers, teaching with literary texts and adapting stories with Frances Mariani, who is an editor and materials writer as well as a language teacher. She also adapts fiction for language learners. You can read our interview about adaptations with her here.

Frances Mariani

Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): How did your love of reading begin?

Learning to read as a child was really fun. Our local library organised reading groups and activities every Saturday, and I used to help my mum out on a bookmobile (taking books in a van to children who couldn’t get to the library). There were so many different stories you could choose from and as I grew so did the choice.

HRB: You have been editing readers and writing materials for them for a long time. What do you like about this job?

Even though the formula, structure and basic layout is quite constant, each reader is different and unique. Each time you start a new reader it’s really exciting. Different author, artist and approach. You ask yourself, ‘How can this one be even better than the last, more fun to read, more useful for students as a language tool? How can we help students to connect this particular story with all its themes and language to their own lives?’

HRB: What are the most challenging aspects of your job as an editor and writer?

Making sure that every single word (and picture) on the page is the right one for the story and for the chosen level. The story has to read well and keep the students reading. It has to teach new words and structures showing them in a natural context within the text. Then these same words and structures in turn have to be isolated and reinforced in the activities and pictures. The reader has to appeal to the teachers and to the students at the same time. Readers are used in class and in individual study/relaxation time, they have to have that visual ‘wow’ impact, be fun and interesting but most importantly educational.

HRB: How long have you been teaching?

On and off since I was at university. It’s always good to keep in touch with the students you are making or writing the readers for. They give you ideas for new projects and help you understand what they like and don’t like and what they can and can’t do.

HRB: What or who inspires your teaching and writing?

Helping students to learn to communicate and read in English in a fun and stimulating way not just by being taught. Helping them to learn by doing, speaking or reading. Readers are the one of the greatest teaching tools (alongside the more traditional tools such as course books and grammars) as they give confidence and a great sense of achievement to students and give them something to talk about, which is the basis of communication in any language.

HRB: You also run a book club. Why and how did you set up this club?

Inspired by the book club ideas on the Helbling Readers Blog (honestly) I decided to experiment. I had a group of friends that I used to see quite regularly anyway and I thought of asking if they were interested. To my surprise they said yes and we are still reading and meeting once a month three years later. We read all sorts. We all have very different tastes but that’s what makes it so interesting. It takes time and some dedication to be part of a book club and you have to be flexible but it is very possible both in class and in your free time.

HRB: Can you recommend three classic authors all English teachers should carry in their schoolbag?

Charles Dickens, so they can remind themselves and their students of different social situations and suffering but how there can also be hope of change. Arthur Conan Doyle, because everyone loves a good mystery to solve. Oscar Wilde, for his poetry and allegory and his ability to make even sadness seem beautiful.

HRB: Thank you for the interview, Fran!

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