Skip to main content

Three ways to practise reading aloud



Having students read aloud in class meets with varying reactions from teachers. Some have been trained to avoid it all together, based on the idea that it is embarrassing for students, is often done badly and does little to assist language acquisition. Others believe the activity has value, allowing students to practise pronunciation and intonation, providing an alternative to the teacher's voice and helping students embed knowledge of language through their "phonological memories".

I was not at all averse to giving pupils the opportunity to do some reading aloud for the reasons given above. I would use it specifically to teach intonation patterns, get feedback on students' pronunciation and give them a chance to show off how well they could do it, building their sense of confidence in using the language, their "self-efficacy" if you like.

For reading aloud to be successful it generally needs to be scaffolded, for example through choral repetition with texts in view, and needs to be handled sensitively, for example by not forcing a very shy or weak student to read until they are ready and by giving students quite short sections to read. Paired reading is, of course, a way to reduce the stress associated with reading aloud in front of the class.

Here are three ways I have used or come across to successfully practise reading aloud.

1. Choral reading aloud

This is an obvious one, but only occasionally used by teachers in my experience. You can display a text at the right level on the board and follow a sequence like this;

a) Read it aloud your self and allow pupils to simply listen.
b) Read it aloud in short sections getting the class to repeat all together. Insist that all take part and pronounce accurately. Don't accept second best.
c) Display another version of the text with a few gaps in and try choral reading again. Students use their memories to fill the gaps. You can tailor the gaps to the class in front of you.
d) Try the same again with more gaps. Students often like short term memory tasks like this.
e) Finally allow a few individuals to read the same text aloud or get them to read in pairs 9with or without the gaps).

Note how the above is structured from easy to hard and gets the students to use the same language multiple times. A really good class may be able to recreate the whole text from memory.

2. "Fingers in ears"

I observed this demonstrated by Barry Smith at the Michaela Community School in London. Once students are familiar with some text through repetition and other work such as question-answer or other oral drills, ask them to read aloud the text with fingers in their ears.

If you try this yourself you'll note that you can hear yourself well enough while blocking out other sounds. By doing this students are all working alone with no distraction. You could consider this the lowest tech version of listening to yourself!

There is not much point in doing this if the quality of reading is poor, so other activities would usefully precede fingers in ears.

3. "Read and look up"

I came across this in the book Breaking Rules: Generating and Exploring Alternatives in language Teaching (John Fanselowe, 1987). In a chapter called Oral Reading John explains how, quite often, pupils read aloud poorly because they read "one word at a time" rather than in sense groups. So he advocates getting pupils to do what actors and politicians do, namely silently read a short chunk of text, then look up and say it. The length of the chunk will depend on the reader's capabilities.

You could structure this task as follows:

a) Read aloud the short text to the class.
b) Do some choral repetition to the point where you think everyone can make a good fist of reading aloud on their own. You could display the text from the front, enabling you to pick out any awkward bits.
c) Tell students to work in pairs using the "read and look up" technique. Each partner works through the short text to the best of their ability, repeating the task a few times until they can read longer chunks from memory. Very able pupils may be able to do this so well they can recall nearly the whole text. You could even set this as a challenge.
d) At the end of the pair work section of the lesson you could invite individuals to try the task in front of the class.

Now, you may be uncomfortable doing any of these tasks and that's fine. I think that many classes would gain a good deal from them. The gains I see are these:

  • Improvement in making sound-spelling links (phonics).
  • Improvement in pronunciation and intonation.
  • Almost no use of L1 with students hearing and seeing multiple repetitions of language.
  • A degree of personal challenge and achievement leading to gains in confidence.
  • Improved grasp of syntax as students learn to read in sense groups.
  • Improved phonological memory of vocabulary (recall that we store vocabulary in many ways, e.g. by the sound of the word, its spelling, its meaning and its collocations - i.e. other words with which we come across the word).
  • The opportunity to include reading aloud in a longer teaching sequence, adding variety.

Image: pixabay.com

Comments

  1. Great ideas. I do a lot of choral reading with my students as an AIM teacher and the feedback I get about their pronunciation is very positive. Choral reading provides a level of practice that ensures students of all abilities can speak without fear of making a mistake publicly and they can self correct without fear of reprimand or embarrassment.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…

Five great advanced level French listening sites

If your A-level students would like opportunities to practise listening there are plenty of sources you can recommend for accessible, largely comprehensible and interesting material. Here are some I have come across while searching for resources over recent years.

Daily Geek Show

I love this site. It's fresh, youthful and full of really interesting material. They have an archive of videos, both short and long, from various sources, grouped under a range of themes: insolite (weird news items), science, discovery, technology, ecology and lifestyle. There should be something there to interest all your students while adding to their broader education. Here is one I enjoyed (I shall seriously think about buying tomatoes in winter now):




France Bienvenue

This site has been around for years and is the work of a university team in Marseilles. You get a mixture of audio and video material complete with transcripts and explanations.This is much more about the personal lives of the students …

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended.

Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013:

“Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".”

For the record he subsequently added:

“The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.”

I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative assess…