Coaching learners in reading and listening.
We made the point in our first article that students who practise their English outside class on a regular basis are likely to make more progress than those who don’t. An obvious piece of common sense, maybe, but how do we make this common sense common practice? Students and teachers tend to concentrate on what happens in the two or three hours-per-week class time they have together and not the 100-plus remaining hours of waking time which they could potentially direct towards practising their English.
As teachers, we need to think about learning planning, not just lesson planning. Consider this: by dedicating 2–3 percent more of waking time to English, students can effectively double their progress! Any impact will be far greater than just having a successful lesson. So what can teachers do to help make this happen?
Reading and listening independently
Reading and listening naturally lend themselves to independent practice. You need someone else to have a conversation, but you can read and listen on your own. Here are six ways we think teachers can encourage students to do a little more work on listening and reading outside class:
1 Encourage the students to build up and share reading and listening resources. Let them try them out in class time. At the end of this article you will find a list of websites where students can find listening and reading material, both authentic and designed specifically for learners. Students tend to pick up on recommendations from their peers more eagerly than those from their teachers, so provide ‘sharing slots’ during lesson time.
2 Incorporate student choice. Rather than getting everyone to do the same thing, encourage the students to choose from a range of options. For reading practice, for example, they can be encouraged to find a website related to an interest they have. You can help them identify their key words for Google searches.
3 Bring to class simplified readers, specially modified books for learners of differing levels, and lend them out to the students. If you’ve ever finished a book in another language, you’ll know how motivating it is.
4 Use the course workbook if your students have one. They usually come with further reading texts and these days most have a CD, too. Completing exercises can be very satisfying because it provides systematic written evidence of the students’ work and because it often links with and directly reinforces language covered in class.
5 Explain the rudiments of reading and listening task design, so that the students understand key concepts and can use this rationale to make their own tasks:
- It’s easier to tackle texts on subjects you like and are interested in.
- If you think about what you already know before you read or listen, you’ll understand it better.
- Give yourself a reason to read. A task helps you focus.
- The first task should help you get the general idea; you can get the details the second time you read.
6 Provide clear step-by-step procedures to support and structure independent practice. You can find some examples in the activities on this blog and in the example below. You’ll notice they put into practice some of the concepts just mentioned and they can be used with a range of texts. It’s always a good idea to do a practice run in class, just as it’s a good idea to bring in a laptop to promote any online activities you recommend.
Sample activity 1
Authentic internet reading
This is a simple procedure to encourage you to practise your reading, a little at a time and often. The idea of this procedure is that you don’t worry too much about how you read or what you learn exactly, just read.
Find a website relating to an interest you have (a site in English, of course). You may already have some favourite sites. For example if you like football, you could go to the site http://www.uefa.com.
Spend 15 minutes looking around the site and reading bits that interest you. Refer to the top tips below for reading on the internet.
When you have finished, record what you have done in a log. This can be an e-document or a notebook. It could be simply a few sentences to say what you read and perhaps a note of any vocabulary you have learnt.
Top tips for reading on the internet
- Aim to understand the main message of what you read.
- Use Google translator or a dictionary to look up a few words if you think they are important to understanding the meaning or interesting for you to learn. When the translator is activated on your computer, you can see a translation of a word when you hover over it with the mouse. Ask someone to help you activate it if you are not sure yourself.
- Remember to practise actually reading! Don’t spend a long time looking at images. This is your English time.
- Make a note in your notebook or a computer document of useful new words you find.
- If you have the opportunity, tell someone about what you read in English. Re-telling and summarising what you have read will help you remember it.
Sample activity 2
Make your own reading or listening task
This is more structured activity than the one described above and encourages you to prepare and give yourself a reason to read or listen. You predict what you are going to read or hear and ask questions before you start.
Find an online magazine, newspaper article, interview, news report, etc, relating to a topic you’d like to know more about. Think about the topic beforehand. Write down, in five minutes, as much as you can about it.
In the next five minutes, write some questions on things you would like to know about the topic.
Now read or listen to the text. Tick any of the information you already knew.
Read or listen again, and this time answer any of your original questions that you can from the information in the text.
Read or listen for the third time. Make a list of things you have learnt.
Sample activity 3
Learning from listening to songs in English
Choose a song you want to understand (see the list of song websites below, or use a song from your own collection).
Listen to the song twice and, as you listen, write down some of the words or phrases you hear (or think you hear).
Find the lyrics of the song (search on the internet for ‘dancing queen lyrics’, for example).
Listen again to the song and follow the lyrics. Check to see if what you wrote is correct.
Read carefully through the lyrics and use a dictionary or Google translator to understand the words you don’t know. You may find a translation of the lyrics in your language. If so, use that to help you. Make a note in your vocabulary document or vocabulary notebook of words you think are useful for you to learn.
(Optional) You can post a short comment about the song on YouTube. Respond to something someone else has posted or simply say why you like the song or the singer/band.
Top tips for listening to songs
- Listen to songs you like.
- Start with songs you think will be easier to understand.
- Don’t worry if the vocals are not always clear. Native speakers find it hard to catch all the words of a song when they hear it.
- Use the written lyrics and a translation if there is one available to help you understand.
- Listen a couple of times without the lyrics to give yourself the opportunity to understand and practise your listening skills.
Sources for reading
The list of websites that may be useful for learners is practically endless and ever-changing. You and they will have a better idea, so treat this as a tiny sample of the possibilities.
http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page This is a version of Wikipedia designed for school students so it is easier to understand.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/language/wordsinthenews This has up-to-date news articles with glossaries and other support for students.
http://www.nationalgeographic.com This is a good example of a large website with engaging and accessible texts that might interest students.
Sources for listening and songs
YouTube, Grooveshark and Spotify These are free sources of music.
http://www.subingles.com This is a Spanish site that offers songs with subtitles (and exercises).
http://lingual.net Here you will find a range of types of video (documentaries, cartoons, etc) with subtitles.
http://www.elllo.org This site has lots of types of listening (conversations, opinions, etc) with subtitles.
http://www.euronews.net Look here for up-to-the-minute news clips with transcripts (in several languages).