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Let them choose!




Ahead of his talk at IATEFL 2012 about encouraging students to read, Verissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, talks about the importance of allowing students to choose what they want to read.

Most teachers would agree that reading is important. Good readers make good students. I have always believed that it is important to let students choose what they want to read. However, experience has shown me that this is not always easy. Having the large variety of readers in front of them in the form of a book fair, my students become confused. Some pick up a reader, seemingly at random, and ask me if it is okay. Some look at the cover, recognise the movie, and choose it on that basis. Others choose it based on the topic it suggests. None bother to open the book and read a page, or even question what those numbers and colours meant on the spine. They needed my help.

By running a book fair, I can better help my students choose a reader. I could limit the choice of levels they have access to, but I prefer not to do this. I want them to see the range they have available to them. I ask them to choose a reader they think they would like and then to sit down with it and read a page.

Read comfortably

They should be able to read the page comfortably, almost as if it were their first language. According to the Extensive Reading Foundation, extensive reading should be “fast, fluent, … and enjoyable.” If the reading is too slow, it can easily become frustrating. So, what is the right pace? It varies, but intermediate students should read about 150 words per minute, beginning students a bit less.

Know the language

As students are reading as if it were in their first language, they should understand most of the text, well above 95%. There shouldn’t be more than 2 or 3 unknown words. There shouldn’t be any confusing sentences or unnecessary pauses. In essence, students should be reading at or below the level they are studying. This will help them develop reading fluency and confidence. They shouldn’t need a dictionary – the stories are meant to be enjoyed, not studied.

Level on the readers

It is important to make students aware of the level of the readers. Understanding the number and/or the colour that usually appears on the cover and the binding is important to help them choose other readers. Students should understand that the stories have been simplified, that they have been written for people who are learning English, people like them. Once they find their level within a particular series, they should be aware that they can choose other titles in that series and be able to understand and enjoy the story. This gives them a lot of autonomy to continue with their reading by being able to choose a reader on their own.

Enjoy the story

As the students read the page from their reader, they should enjoy it. This seems obvious, but too many times my students turn to me to confirm that it is okay to choose a particular reader. Although they may have enjoyed it, it is important that it also meet what they think of as the teacher’s hidden criteria. Or they may feel they have to read at a certain level, based on their level in the class. It is important to encourage them to choose the type of story they enjoy, whether it be horror or fantasy, romance or mystery.

What methods do you use to encourage students to read?

[Photo by Tim Pierce via Flickr/Creative Commons]
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  1. I teach high school and have used SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) sessions three days a week for 20 minutes each. My English Department and my school do not encourage this and no other teacher does this anymore.
    I believe it makes more sense to have student read something they enjoy than to labor through “classics” written 100 years ago that have to be studied for vocabulary, background, and situation that pertain to their lives.
    Even here, I have some students that have a difficult time accepting the freedom that this entails and don’t know which book to read. I maintain a class library of my own of about 400 books that I’ve accumulated from library castoffs and Goodwill-type stores. This is meant as a starter source. After a while I take them away and the students need to go the school library or the city library to find more choices. I encourage parents to buy books for their students once they have established a genre they seem to like, even if it’s about surfing, fishing, or skateboarding.

  2. […] trainer, talks about the importance of allowing students to choose what they want to read. Mo…Via oupeltglobalblog.com Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Categories: […]

  3. There are lots of ways to encourage students to read more.
    Something that a site from Oxford University Press used to do (if it is still available please tell us the site!!!) was to play a part of the story and to stop when it would get to a climax. You simply would like to listen to the rest of the story!
    We can play the CD of the story to create the same interest!

  4. How about students that don’t have a habit of or like reading? I remember how long it took me to become intrinsically motivated to read. It was my teacher who introduced me to a good book.

    For instance, I had a Japanese student that loved his manga (comic). I tried to get him to read the English version of manga he was reading in Japanese for the umpteenth time, he mentioned. (It never seizes to amaze me how the Japanese students love to read the same manga over and over.) When I was able to get him to read the English version was when he started to pick up other books by himself.

    Thus, we must not forget that teachers need to keep up to date, as well as be able to provide that ‘first book’ to the reader that is not yet intrinsically motivated to read. This is the case in Japan where many students are so used to owning test-prep books that reading for enjoyment is just something many don’t do.

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