In this series we talk to inspiring teachers who use storytelling to set up reading programmes and creative programmes, and use the arts and literature to develop their students’ language and literacy skills.
We would like to share real examples from real teachers to show how small ideas can make powerful learning activities. When they share their techniques and experiences, we realise that no matter how diverse our world is, our students are interested in similar issues and enjoy doing similar creative tasks.
This month we talk to Margit Oblak, a language teacher from Kumberg, a small village in Styria in Austria. She has been teaching English to teens for about forty years now, and this term she was asked to teach young learners in a local primary school, which she thinks of as a fantastic challenge. Margit Oblak has taken part in a number of European exchange projects, and her school hosted students from the USA within the PEOPLE to PEOPLE project. She has worked with language assistants from the USA and has coordinated their stays and supervised them. She coordinates the SPIN-Region Weiz, which is a network of fourteen schools (from primary to upper-secondary), whose main objective is harmonious transition between different types of schools. Margit often travels with her students to various English-speaking countries. She works with teachers from the USA, England, Scotland, Ireland, and recently she has worked with teachers from Trinidad and Tobago. She also works as a teacher trainer and works for the Austrian Center for Language Competence. Margit loves teaching English and aims to make her students realise that languages can open doors.
Interview with Margit Oblak
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): How long have you worked as teacher?
I’ve worked as a teacher for more than forty years.
HRB: What age groups and levels do you teach?
I teach mostly teens between the ages of 10 and 15.
HRB: What inspired you to use literature in the English class?
I think that literature is an excellent tool for language learning and it creates the right setting for a multi-sesory classroom. Literature also appeals to learners with different learning preferences and it provides rich linguistic input. I also think that it is important that literature embraces other activities and resources as literary texts can be supplemented with audio files, music, video clips, puzzles and riddles. When students read literature, they practise the four major skills and extend their range of vocabulary and grammatical structure. I have also noticed that themes like friendship, love, fashion, music, films and environmental issues increase the learners’ motivation. Reading literature also contributes to the development of tolerance and understanding by dealing with different cultures and beliefs.
HRB: How long have you used Helbling Readers?
For about 10 years now.
HRB: How do you read them with your students?
It depends on the purpose. Sometimes we read them in class and we have class sets of readers. Other times students choose their readers individually according to their level and interest. When they have read the story, they prepare a book review or a book presentation on their tablets or iPads. We also use readers within CLIL projects.
HRB: Have you ever set up a reading project?
Yes, we always do a reading project on World Book Day (23rd April). Our reading projects are called ’Lesefreitag’ on ’Andersentag’. We spend a night reading in the school (including the gym) and then we solve puzzles and riddles, do some listening and reading tasks, and then we act out some scenes. We also read out various situations while doing other activities in the gym. For example, we read while balancing on (parallel) bars, while bounding on balls, or while practising gymnastics on various equipment.
HRB: Which stories do your students like the most?
They love science fiction and stories with any kind of sport in it.
HRB: How do they relate to classic narratives?
I see a sad parallel here between their reading in German and English. As they don’t know classic narratives in German, they don’t like reading them in English either.
HRB: Do you have any good tips for other teachers on how to use readers in their teaching?
I recommend using them as a kick-off for a CLIL project or to introduce a discussion about a new topic. I think they also give good starting points for role plays, for example students can change characters and settings or modify the plot. And readers also give a good basis for writing poems, in which they can use the title of a story or the names of the main characters. Readers can also be used for making comics and animations with the help of digital tools.
HRB: Thank you for the interview!