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
“Sarah, what song are we going to listen to next week?” One of the students excitedly asked me after I finished my weekly music class. “You’ll have to wait and see,” I replied with a mischievous grin and walked away, leaving my student hanging on a cliff.  I don’t usually tell my students what song we’ll be listening to next, but rather tell them to expect the unexpected.
I’ve taught my music mystery class for more than two years and I can honestly say that it never gets boring or old, because you’re highly unlikely to ever run out of material. With music there is so much you can do. Listening to an English song in the classroom isn’t only a great opportunity for students to practice their listening skills, but also gives them the chance to talk about the meaning of the lyrics, learn new words and grammar structures.
While I seldom focus on the grammar in my music class, I do insist that students point out ‘mistakes’ in the song lyrics and tell me how they should be said. This helps them to differentiate between slang and Standard English.
A gap fill exercise is a wonderful way for the students to listen to the lyrics carefully and complete the lyrics on their own, but if you do that in every class students will get bored. Instead, engage the students with a competition: You simply pick a song; then you choose about twenty words from the lyrics. Add about five words that sound similar to some of the chosen words but are not in the song, then print it all out and stick the individual words on the wall or board in the class. Don’t tell the students about the wrong words, just ask them to listen carefully and grab the words they hear. For every wrong word they chose, they must give up one of their right words. It’s a wonderful competition to get the students out of their seats and actively involve them in the class.
Alternatively you can cut up the song lyrics, put the students into groups and ask them to put the lyrics into the right order while listening. For these competitions I tend to get a small prize, e.g. chocolates, to motivate the students. The idea of a piece of chocolate at the end of the class really gets them going.
What else can you do using music in the classroom? Well, I have taught students about different music styles and their development. We have for example looked at Jazz music and how it developed. We listened to early Jazz songs and compared them with modern Jazz songs, trying to work out the difference. We even learned about the Andean Condor!

Around Christmas we sang Christmas carols and on St. Patrick’s Day we danced like crazy leprechauns. With big ESL classes I’ve played musical chairs, just to get the students up and moving for a few minutes after a long day of class after class, which is common practice in English training centres in China.
Sometimes we just sing the song; karaoke is still a firm favourite among Chinese students. We’ve analysed music videos and even made our own. With music, your options are endless, you can do so much and all it takes is a song. You can teach them about rhetorical questions, and if you dare, even chose a Chinese song and ask the students to translate it into English. I’ve done this activity quite a few times using music in the classroom and the students have always had a blast. This activity does take a little more preparation since you either need to pre-translate the song first yourself or get somebody to do it for you. 
If you aren’t using music in your classroom, you’re missing out on a great opportunity for a fun-filled class, students of all ages will enjoy. It’s a win-win for everyone involved and if you’re teaching a lot of classes during the day, a few minutes of rest for your vocal cords, while the students listen to complete an exercise, will feel wonderful. If you play an instrument, e.g. guitar, bring it along to the class and play a song for the students, then ask them to sing with you!

by Serlina Sarah Heintze
Serlina Sarah Heintze 

I’m originally from Germany but spent most of my twenties in Ireland, working for a well-known multi-national corporation. After getting my ESL  qualifications, I left the Emerald Isle and I have been teaching English at an English training centre in Wuhan, Hubei for the last two and a half years. I’m a bit of a fitness junkie so when I’m not teaching, I can usually be found in the gym. I’m also a bit of a foodie, so trying out new restaurants with my Chinese friends has become somewhat of a hobby. I also blog at sellyslittleworld.com
Sunday, 24 January 2016 12:37

Teaching pronunciation can be dangerous…

 “Teaching pronunciation can be dangerous…”
This sentence is not a profound thought – nor is it a conclusion I have reached after long academic research....
I have a small class of three lovely ladies, aged 60, true beginners in the process of learning the English language, who I teach privately twice a week. Their objective is to be able to order their own food, shop and get about when they go on holidays around Europe. About 6 months have gone by since our first lesson and their ability to communicate in English is astonishing! They seem to have digested the form of Yes/No and Wh- questions, the use of ‘do/does’ and ‘did’ in present and past simple, even though they’re still not fond of the short answers (“Isn’t just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ enough?”).
Pronunciation: A Big Chapter
Pronunciation is a big chapter for them, as it is for most Spanish speakers in the south of Spain. Those consonants at the end of the words (ng, tch, kt, pt) are so hard to form and their lips, tongue and teeth struggle every time we practise ‘isn’t’, ‘evening’, ‘vegetable’. We recently stepped into the world of the regular past simple ‘-ed’ verbs. Arrived, lived, worked, changed, liked – lots of drilling, bingo games, listen and repeat with and without the CD. The next day, one of the ladies showed up with her front tooth broken. She said she’d been practising the ‘-ed’ past simple endings at home and the filling of this tooth she’d broken years ago came off! So, this is why pronunciation can be dangerous!
Apart from this, correcting pronunciation mistakes has to be done carefully and selectively. Before interrupting a student to correct the way they say ‘comfortable’ (/ˈkʌmp .fə.tə.bl/ or /komfortéibl/), we should really ask ourselves whether their pronunciation would really hinder communication.
A Core Part of the Lesson
I recently attended a seminar in Seville by OUP writer and teacher Robin Walker whose message to teachers was that pronunciation should be a core part of our lesson – as important as teaching grammar, vocabulary, writing and speaking. If a student is not confident on how to pronounce a word, they will not use it. So, correcting and working on students’ pronunciation is essential, but speaking English with a strong accent is not a crime. If your student pronounces ‘aren’t’ /árent/ and not /á:nt/ it’s not the end of the world.

However, if you’ve got a student who says /éi/ or /éitʃ/ or even /éiht/ when they’re thinking of the number 8 (like one of my lovely ladies does), then that’s something you need to work on with them and incorporate as one of your main aims in your lesson. How you’ll go about it depends on your class – level, L1, etc. You might for instance want to focus only on difficult numbers and their pronunciation (3, 6, 8, 13, etc.) or on ‘gh/ght’ endings, you might want to do it with a game or your students might ask you to write the phonetics for them or you could create a transcription of your own that your students prefer or understand better.
Activity Ideas for Teaching Pronunciation
Here are some ideas of target language I usually practice with my Spanish students and activities I use to make it into a fun part of the lesson.
- gh/ght words:
enough, laugh, tough, rough
bought, fought, brough, sought, thought, caught, taught
Whenever one of these words comes up in English class and I hear a student having trouble pronouncing it, I write up all of these words jumbled up on the board. I ask them in pairs to take a look at the words and say them out loud together, check how confident they feel with their pronunciation. Then, I write the four different sounds on the board: /ʌf/, /ɔːt/, /uː/ and /oʊ/. I ask them to categorise the words according to the sound of ‘(ou)gh(t)’. It’s usually a challenging task with which students sometimes get desperate. But, in the end it’s worth it because they realise how much easier it is to pronounce these words.

Students actually make up a much harder pronunciation that the real one, e.g. /bouht/ instead of /bɔːt/ or /kæutʃht/ instead of /kɔːt/. I think it’s important to encourage students to see how easy saying these words really is. Sometimes it’s as easy as asking them to look at your mouth when you pronounce them.
To have a laugh, I drill the words with the whole class. Ask them to concentrate and pronounce the words correctly in unison. I start pointing to words one-by-one, slowly and looking at the students till they pronounce it. The first time, I go through the words in order, then I start pointing randomly and then I might repeatedly point at the same two words 2 or 3 times and then start jumping from one word to another faster and faster until students break out in laughter. 
- ed regular past simple
An old-time classic. I’m sure all of your students have declared how much they hate the regular past simple. It’s true that some of the past simple verbs are tricky (‘changed’), but most of them aren’t. I usually create a powerpoint slide with all the regular past simple verbsand pair up my students. I assign one box for each student. They then take turns calling out a number from their partner’s box (they usually pick the ones that they don’t know how to pronounce) and challenge their partner to pronounce the verb correctly.

After a couple of minutes, I either pick verbs myself and check/correct their pronunciation, or ask them to pick the 10 most difficult ones to drill individually and as a class. I go through the voiced/voiceless and –t/-d sound theory, but not too much. I just highlight the importance of pronouncing /id/ only when they should. Of course, how you explain the theory behind the –ed pronunciations depends on what your students need.
A fun activity usually follows: table tennis. I ask them if they like playing table tennis and to get ready to play. In pairs (different than before if possible), Student A calls out the infinitive of a regular verb, Student B calls out the past simple and Student A the past participle. Then it’s Student’s B turn to pick a verb and so on. It’s good practice.
Other fun activities which you could do with your class focusing on the above language or any other words that your students have trouble saying (e.g. ‘comfortable’, ‘useful’, ‘road’, etc. go around when your students are doing a speaking activity and take note of all the words they mispronounce. You can use them for all these activities.) are the following:
- Minimal pairs: e.g. ‘sheep – ship’, ‘peach – beach’: write them up on the board or dictate them to the students. Say them and ask students to say ‘a’ or ‘b’ (e.g. ‘a) sheep   b) ship), or have students in pairs or small groups take turns to say a word and the others have to listen and point which word their partner is saying.
- Bingo: fast and fun. Students draw a six- or nine- bingo grid. This game works well with regular past simple verbs. Make a list on the board with regular infinitive and past simple verbs. Ask students to copy some in their grid. Call out verbs (make sure you cross them out on your personal list) and wait till someone calls bingo. Check that the winner has crossed out the correct verbs. Then students can take turns calling out the verbs.
- Tonguetwisters: if you’re creative, write up your own tonguetwisters with target words you feel your students need to practise. Make sure it’s fun and encourage students to keep practising at home, record themselves on their phone and listen to check for mistakes.
Written by Katie Foufouti
 Katie Foufouti is a highly experienced ESL teacher and ELT  materials editor currently working in Spain.

 Her list of clients include Macmillan Education, Cambridge  University Press and Signature Manuscripts.

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