Helping our students overcome their ‘reading allergy’!

Reading does not seem to be on the list of priorities for most teenagers. But as it plays such a vital role in their English language development, we often need to find new ways of engaging them. Maria Teresa del Blanco has a suggestion to get your students to see books in a new light.

Author: María Teresa del Prado

Every year, interesting my students in reading a book in English seems more and more like Mission Impossible. In fact, once when I conducted an informal class survey on the subject with my second ESO group (who are not exactly renowned for their enthusiasm towards reading), one student declared in the most solemn way I hate reading. I’m allergic to books! Most of them claimed that reading in English was too difficult a task for them to accomplish.

RTEmagicC_02E66553_01.jpgFinding a way in

They were certainly right about the fact that reading is not an easy skill. This is why it needs to be practised routinely at school. At the beginning of the school year we decided that one of our goals should be to encourage reading as a means of both learning and enjoyment. However, I did not want to impose books on them, as this would have been totally counterproductive. So I thought of a different way to grab their attention.

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Creating an environment

I decided that the school library (having already been infected with the ‘reading virus’!) was not the most favourable environment, so I brought in several books and set them up in a place with which they were much more familiar: the classroom. I wanted to give them a variety of levels and topics so my selection ranged from very simple Primary-level readers to books with a level higher than second ESO. I displayed them on some tables at the back of the class.

Introducing the task

Naturally, my students’ initial reaction was one of suspicion! What’s going on? Have we got to read all these books? they cried. I explained what the activity consisted of, and then each student was given a set of questions referring to the books in the exhibition. Among the few rules was one that they loved immediately: You mustn’t open the books, as the information you are searching for is only on the front or back covers. The questions were built around a selection of the grammar contents from the second ESO syllabus, such as verbs in the past simple and wh- questions. It was also a good chance to recycle some of the vocabulary we’d covered. They were required to write short answers, very often just one word, which made the activity seem less laborious and also made it quick and easy to check.

Something for everyone

The students started to look at the books, touch them and discuss what they were looking at. In two classes they organised themselves spontaneously into teams where they collaborated with each other and shared knowledge to find the answers. Some students with quite severe special needs took part in the activity and coped extremely well, feeling a great sense of pride in doing so. The fact that the questions were structured so as to contain different levels of difficulty meant that students of all abilities could carry out the task, even if it took some a little longer. By the end of the lesson, all of the students had actually read quite a lot of the titles and summaries on the back covers. Many of them had even opened the book and read a couple of pages (rules are made to be broken!). And believe it or not, some even borrowed books from the library over the following few days!

Reaping the benefits

RTEmagicC_02G68455.jpgWe checked the answers. Most students had come up with the correct answers in the next lessons and filled in the section of the questionnaire that asked for their comments on the activity. They loved it! For me, it was successful for many reasons. It tested their reading comprehension skills, recycled vocabulary and worked on cognitive skills such as reasoning and the ability to concentrate. They had a chance to browse and move freely, just as people do in real book shops. There was a ‘game’ feeling about the activity which certainly helps the learning process.

Even with a small budget, this activity can be easy to set up. It does not matter how old or diverse the books are. Whether it be the title, the colours, the picture or the text, there is always something you can use as inspiration for a question, and it is surprising how quickly a questionnaire can come together. Now that they have seen that English readers can be fun, my students have suddenly become a bit less allergic to them!

María Teresa del Blanco de Prado worked at a Secondary school in Gijón (Asturias) and currently teaches at the Lycée International de Saint Germain-en-Laye (France).

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