Monday, February 3, 2014


How Can I Use Stories or Books with My Adult English Students?

I LOVE to teach English via stories, but some teachers seem more hesitant. This guest blog by Mallory May of Really Learn English focuses on reading in the classroom.

Reading is one of the best ways for students to expand their vocabulary, and it can also be a good opportunity to work on their pronunciation out loud. They also come into contact with idioms and other fixed expressions, as well as seeing in context the grammar structures they’ve studied. 

It’s common for adult learners to groan when we bring reading activities to class. In my experience, this is mostly because
they haven’t had a very entertaining experience with reading activities in the past. They’ve found the topics boring, and the exercises have not made them really use the information they’ve understood by reading.

Adult learners can be tricky, so here are some suggestions that I’ve found very helpful.

Find their interests!
1. Choose something they’ll find interesting
This is the golden rule of working with reading materials! If you have someone who is a news buff, bring in a short current events article. If you have a fiction nut, choose a short story within some genre that they’ve said is interesting to them. And for very avid readers, especially if you’re working one-on-one, novels can even be a great option.

No matter what you pick, you’ll find new vocabulary, phrasal verbs, idioms, and useful grammar structures. The main thing is for your students to actually read it!

2. Find something level-appropriate
You don't want your students to feel the text's too much!
You’re not going to bring in an opinion piece from The Economist for a pre-intermediate group, clearly! When you’re working with adults, it’s important not to choose childish subject matter, but you do need to keep their level and reading abilities in mind. If the text is too difficult for your students, they will quickly become frustrated and bored.

As a general rule, you should choose a text with four or five brand-new vocabulary words in it. If you work with a story or article prepared for language learners, it should include synonyms and descriptions that will help your students to understand.

3. Select short texts that you can cover in one class
Fables and other short stories work well!

I personally love longer short stories, but this is simply not practical if you are working with a group of students. 

Imagine: you begin the story on Monday with your three students. On Wednesday, one is absent, but you continue with the other two. On Friday, the student who was absent is lost, and the others feel bored explaining what has happened in the story.

Of course this is no disaster, but the best reading activities can be completed in one class

You should allot the proper amount of time to read together, check understanding, discuss, and complete the corresponding activities.

4. Be sure the activities are interesting and useful
Have students discuss a character's motivations!
Adult learners don’t miss a beat! If they feel that the activities that go with a reading exercise do not help them to better understand the content or remember the vocabulary, they will feel they are wasting their time.

As you move into intermediate and upper-intermediate levels, open-ended opinion questions for discussion are a great idea. Why did this character do what she did? Why did the government take action against the protesters according to this article? Do you agree?

You can also create debates or role-plays based on the text’s content. Have the students take different sides on an issue or act as the characters in a story. This way, you get speaking practice using the story! Write the vocabulary on the board and challenge the students to make their own sentences with them. Whose sentence is more interesting and uses the most correct grammar? Competition can be a great motivator.

5. Pre-teach vocabulary and have your students read out loud
Have each student read a different character out loud!
It’s important to be very familiar with the text before you go in to class. That way, you know what’s coming! 

Use the board and examples to pre-teach the difficult vocabulary so that students understand the text better. You should also have them read out loud so that they can practice their pronunciation. Dialogues are excellent for this! It’s almost like a role-play within the reading itself.

These tips are general, so now let’s look specifically at ideas on how to use specific types of texts.

Short stories
Smiling while reading is good!
When you’re working with short stories, it’s a great idea for them to be funny or include some kind of punch line at the end. If they make your students smile or laugh, they’ll enjoy the activity much more, and they’ll be more likely to feel enthusiastic about doing more reading! Shoot for topics that are somehow related to your students’ lives – something about living in a city, working in an office, dealing with work relationships, etc. You can even try writing your own stories (about 250 words is a good guide) to practice vocabulary and grammar. Don’t forget to include those jokes!

As we mentioned above, short stories ought to be of a manageable length for a single class period. It’s a great idea to assign some kind of homework (especially writing) according to the level and content of the story. Perhaps your students can write an alternate funny ending or make their own sentences using two or three of the vocabulary words they find the most difficult.

News and other articles
Again, it’s very important to choose your content carefully. On the one hand, it’s great to pick topics that your students can share their opinions about. But on the other hand, we have to be careful of students’ comfort levels (and our own!) as well as cultural sensitivities. In many cultures, it is not polite to talk about religion, politics, or income.

For example, unless you have students who are very comfortable with each other and you, as well as being open and respectful, you shouldn’t consider very controversial topics. Try topics like the environment or life in different world cities.

You won’t often be able to work with novels, but it can be a blast! Advanced students can enjoy the challenge of reading a whole novel in English. If your avid readers are lower-level, check out some simplified and abridged readers appropriate for their level. You can find classic literature, detective novels, romantic stories, or adventures in simplified readers!

Some readers are already equipped with good exercises, but you can go the extra mile for your students by preparing activities for each chapter. Create a list of vocabulary words that your student can keep close at hand when he or she is reading the chapter for homework. Have the student read you his or her favorite passages or confusing sections to you in the following class.

Then create activities - the only limit is your own imagination!

Mallory May is an English teacher and lesson planner for Really Learn English. She has six years’ experience working with adults at all levels in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is also a literary translator and loves finding new and creative ways to keep her classes interesting and engaging, especially using fiction in the classroom.

If you’re looking for more teaching ideas, visit the teaching center at Really Learn English.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks so much for commenting. Due to spam, your comment may not show up right away, but as soon as I get a chance to approve it I will. I promise to be as fast as possible!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...