Reading lessons

Every few weeks The Guardian Weekly prints lesson plans, most recently written by Janet hardy-Gould. They are meant to be model lessons. The steps in the plans are similar to those in most textbooks published in the last few years. Here is a summary of a plan in the October 8th, 2012 issue. As you read the steps, write in your notebook which steps you think focus on reading, which as you can see below is the focus of the lesson.

Focus: reading, question formation

Time: 50 minutes

Topic: Galapagos Islands lose shy superstar (lower intermediate) In fact the reading level is 9.5 and the Flesch reading ease is 55% which means that it is not very clear—100% would be totally clear. A reading level of 9.5 means that a native speaker of English in the middle of the 9th year of school would be able to read the passage without difficulty. In fact, many students in the US in the 9th grade—the last year of middle school—are not reading at the 9th grade level and so could not comprehend the passage. To say it is lower intermediate is inaccurate.

Step 1. Show students photo of Lonesome George—a giant tortoise and explain to students that he was famous. Ask questions like “What information might be in the article? Information about his home, reason for fame, etc.? 4 minutes

Step 2 Write up these question words on the board: Where, Who, What, Why, When, How, How much, How many? As a class think of an example question to ask and in pairs prepare questions. Note the questions on the board. 10 minutes

Step 3 Focus on key vocabulary—write words and definitions and students complete sentences such as

a. If you —— something, you stay away from it.

Avoid, fail, unique

8 minutes

Step 4 Give out copies of the article and students look for the answers to the questions they wrote. 10 minutes

Step 5 Write up the following adjectives on the board and have students check meanings and discuss which adjectives apply to George. Have them underline sections of the text that justify their ideas.

A [ ] friendly

B [ ] solitary, etc.

8 minutes

Step 6 Write up the following questions. Students make notes about their ideas. Monitor. In groups discuss answers.

Do you know of other endangered species or subspecies that may die out? Etc. 10 minutes

Of the 6 steps, I think that maybe half of step 4 in which the students are supposed to read to answer the questions they wrote is devoted to reading. So out of a 50 minute lesson supposedly focused on reading, students actually read 5 minutes out of 50 minutes! This type of lesson is very, very common. I wonder why. To master any skill we need to practice the skill. Talking about music, reading reviews of recitals can be stimulating but to improve our ability to play the piano we have to play the piano not read reviews and talk about what we are doing or not doing.

If students read only five minutes how can they possibly improve their reading? What other skill can we improve with only 5 minutes a day of practice? NONE!

During the other 45 minutes if we were to record what the students said and wrote we would find a minimum of one error and in most cases 3 errors in every utterance and sentence! So we are asking students to continue to speak incorrect English and teaching them nothing. If they can do the tasks we set they do not need to be in an ESOL class. But in fact they cannot do the tasks correctly.

DO NOT BELIEVE ME. Follow the steps with a text you are using, record what students say and look at what they write and see how many statements they say or write are correct!

Then, have the students read the passage silently a few times, looking up words they do not know in a bilingual dictionary but not writing the meanings in their first language. Then, in pairs have them read silently as many words as they can, pause to think about the meaning, say what they have read while looking at a fellow student. Then have the person who read the sense group as well as the person who was listening write what they think the words are. After a paragraph, they can compare their written versions of the text with the original. Have them circle differences and write OK above the differences that are acceptable and NOT OK above those that are not.

Here is a line many know and variations that are OK and are NOT OK.

Once upon a time, there were three bears. They lived in a forest.

A long time ago, three bears lived in a forest. OK

Once a time, there three bears. They live forest. NOT OK

One a time, were three bear. They in forest. NOT OK

One time, three bear live forest. NOT OK

Read/think/ speak/listen/write/edit is a series of steps that if used regularly will enable students to develop not only their reading skills but their listening, speaking and writing skills. The steps also integrate vocabulary and grammar, which the steps listed in The Weekly Guardian do not.

But again, do not believe me, try the alternative I suggest and remember that to learn to play a tune we have to practice over and over not talk about what we are doing, read reviews of other piano players, read biographies of composers and write letters to friends about our love of music. To master a piece on the piano or to master a text we have to process the material over and over and over and over.

Not only are the steps I suggest going to lead to language mastery but they are easier to have students do and take far less time planning. The more extensive the plan the less when we teach we focus on what students are actually doing because we want them to do the steps we planned. Looking at what they say and write will reveal much more about what language we need to practice than doing the types of activities advocated in The Weekly Guardian.

All the bet.

John