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Selecting intermediate reading for students

Students need a healthy diet of reading input to go along with their listening. Stephen Krashen has talked about "compelling reading" and he is, as I have blogged here before, a big fan of extensive reading for effective second language acquisition. But how do you find compelling reading for children who may not be great teenage readers anyway?

It seems to me certain factors need to be taken into account when selecting or adapting texts for adolescent learners.
  • The language needs to be at the right level. This may seem obvious, but it's not an uncontroversial thing to say. I still believe in reasonably careful selection and grading of language material. Too hard and it will put off readers who will be reluctant to persevere, too easy and it may not expand the learner's vocabulary and syntax enough. Unedited reading material aimed at French-speaking teenagers will be too hard and should be generally avoided.
  • The content needs to interest students. This needs qualifying: you can try to select content that already appeals to the class, but this is not easy since each pupil has different interests; or you can select content which can arouse an interest because it teaches children something new or worthy. Think of a higher tier GCSE reading exam - how well does it fit these criteria?
To explore the second of these points, I would argue that we need not shy away from content which may not be of existing interest, since we have a double duty as language teachers - we are teaching language and educating in a broader sense. What's more, if students feel they are learning something new of intrinsic interest, they will engage with the language more readily.

Over the last few days I have been designing reading tasks for intermediate level and my chosen topics have been diverse: polar ice melting, air guitar, Louis Braille, driverless cars, giant pandas, lions, dolphins and an interview with an astronaut. I adapted these texts from original sources, mainly in English, because they were either important (ice melting), appealing to a wide range of children (pandas, dolphins and lions) or just potentially interesting (driverless cars and astronauts). I also had in mind that subject matter had to appeal to a range of interests and temperaments. My guess is that many students would find these topics, if not compelling, at least reasonably interesting or enlightening.

In the past I have used fairy tales for their familiarity and consequent ease of comprehension, flying cars, biodiversity, healthy eating, shale gas, GM foods, child labour, mobile phones, J K Rowling, Stephen Fry and the Simpsons. Each of these has a chance of either appealing to existing interest or exciting a new one. I frequently rack my brain for new ideas for texts.

Reading at the right level supported by visual images is hard to find. The best intermediate readers can cope with some Tin Tin, but what is really missing in the MFL publishing market (as many language teachers report) is a well illustrated graded reading scheme along the lines of the old Bibliobus. Such a scheme is probably too expensive to print now, so maybe an online solution is in order. Some online reading resources which could be useful include:

Free

1jour1actu is an online magazine for French 7-13 year olds, is a superb source for easy-ish reading material, but still needs adapting.

Momes.net is an online magazine for young French speakers around the world, with forums, reviews, stories etc. Suitable for intermediate level if adapted. Good source of reading material to base worksheets on.

Subscription

Online Language Resources, from Ireland, has high quality articles accompanied by exercises and grammatical notes. They can used online or printed off. A classroom licence costs $15 per student per year, with the teacher’s subscription free. Individual students pay the same. Other individual users can buy credits. 

Mary Glasgow, from the publisher Scholastic, has on online presence to add to its traditional magazines. An online subscription costs £15 a year. If you buy a hard copy magazine it comes as part of the deal. You get “Hundreds of topical teaching resources including worksheets, MP3 listening tracks and exercises, interactive activities, videos and a rich archive of Mary Glasgow magazine articles.”


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