Random ideas for ELT people, plus guest blogs & travel notes

One of the many interesting sculptures at Zanka Pioneer Camp, near Lake Balaton

I gave a talk called ‘Ten things I think I know about teaching and learning’ at IATEFL Hungary in the former pioneer camp at Zánka a while ago. It was the first time I’d given the talk, which I also plan to give at TESOL France next month and wherever I get the chance in 2011.

It was my first time in Hungary since 2005, and it was great to be back. Between 1992 and 2005, I think I made about 30 working visits to this fabulous country, including ten summer courses called Drama Plus which my wife Dede and I did in the middle of nowhere on the Hungarian Plain.

My IATEFL-H ‘Ten things’ talk went down reasonably well, and I think I can say that with nine of the items, I was pushing against an open door. In other words, I was saying things that most of the teachers in the room, non-NESTs working in state education, agreed with.

The one exception was item 5 – Reading aloud in class is a complete waste of time.

Let me explain first that the reading aloud I’m talking about is when students are asked to read a text in a coursebook line by line. There are lots of types of reading aloud in class that work – reading instructions that other students have to carry out (cooking recipes, for example). I’m not going to talk about these – but if you want to mention activities like this that work, please do so in the comments.

At IATEFL Zánka, several teachers, including the one pictured below who bravely took me on in a vehement argument in the bar in the evening, told me that reading aloud was a vital ingredient in their teaching method.

Here are some of the arguments that they used:

1          Students love reading aloud

2          Reading aloud brings the text to life

3          I have 35 students in my class. If they didn’t read aloud, they wouldn’t get any speaking practice at all

4          It’s good for their pronunciation

5          If they don’t read aloud, the class goes very quiet when we’re doing a reading text

So why am I opposed to it?

I get to observe a lot of classes when I’m researching a new book, and I reiterate my absolute admiration for the courage teachers show in allowing a native speaker ‘expert’ like me to come and watch them at work. Particularly non-NEST teachers.

When I’m observing a class, I normally sit at the back, and hope that the students will forget that I’m there. And herein lies the first problem…

In state schools all over the world, whether in Beijing, Bratislava or Buenos Aires, the students sit in rows facing the teacher. Everyone apart from the students on the front row are facing the back of other people’s heads. This is a classroom reality which is fundamental to the following remarks.

The View From The Back Row, by Magritte

Reading texts are often the most dominant features of most coursebook material. And the most common thing teachers seem to do when they reach a reading text is ask their students to read it aloud.

The teacher asks a student near the front to read the first sentence. The student reads it, the teacher thanks her and asks another student to read the second sentence. And so on, and so on…

From the back, it sounds like this.

Teacher: Will you read the first sentence, please?

Student: Mount Everest is … mmmmmmm…Himalayaaa…. mmmmm

Teacher: Thank you. Will you read the next sentence, please?

Student: It’s more than eight thous …….. mmmmmm.

At the back, and usually without a book, I struggle to hear what is being said. The students in front of me are not suffering in the same way. Because they aren’t listening. They have their noses in their book and they are reading the text. Or they’re day-dreaming.

Based on numerous experiences like the one I described, here’s my response to the five main arguments used.

1          I have never seen any evidence that students enjoy this part of the lesson. In fact, if a teacher says ‘My students really enjoy X’, you can usually interpret this as ‘I like X, and I ask my students to do it a lot’. Which CAN be a good thing. But not with reading aloud.

2          Reading aloud, in the manner described above, does not bring the text to life. In fact, it has completely the opposite effect, as it usually sends most students to sleep.

3          The idea that this kind of reading aloud is good speaking practice is patently absurd. It isn’t real speaking at all, it’s reading aloud, a sub-skill that very few people have in their own language, let alone in one that they are learning.

4          Good for their pronunciation? Not in my experience. In fact, when I’ve had to the chance to talk to students afterwards, I discovered that their speaking was markedly better than I might have imagined if I had only heard them struggling through the text.

5          The class goes quiet if they aren’t reading aloud, eh? Well, there’s a surprise. They’re reading – it makes SENSE that it goes quiet.

The most obvious change that would make things better would be for the desks to be taken away, and for the students to sit in a circle, or maybe two circles if there are more than 20 students in the class. But when I’ve suggested this, teachers generally say that they are not allowed to do it. Interestingly, teachers in private schools usually ARE allowed to do it.

But that still wouldn’t solve the problem that nothing is really happening in a classroom event where different students are struggling to read a dense text on the page in front of them.

All right then, say the teachers who, like the one photographed, are brave enough to challenge me about this: what are we supposed to do with a course book reading text?

Here are a couple of ideas. And they’re easy to organise.

1          Choose a book where the reading texts are recorded. Play the tape as the students read. Maybe turn the volume up and down so the class have to find where they are in the text when they start hearing it again.

2          Read the text aloud to the class yourself. And make a few mistakes. Occasionally change a word in the text, or add an extra word. Tell the students to make a note when they hear something different.

3             Ask the best reader in the class to stand up and face the class and read the text to the rest of the class. Tell the rest of the students to close their books and listen. If you like, divide the reading between your three best students. Encourage the students who are listening to ask for repetition of any words or phrases they didn’t hear or understand. Build up an atmosphere of trust and understanding, so none of the students – readers or listeners – feel stressed about what happens.

When I suggest this last idea, teachers argue that this turns it into a LISTENING activity, not a reading activity. To which I reply, well, yes it does, but YOU were the one who wanted to read it aloud!

Here’s another idea that takes a bit of organising, but increases student responsibility and engagement. And, if you’ve read my blogs before, you’ll know that I believe implicitly that these things are strong motivating factors.

Divide the class into groups of three if you have 24+ students, or pairs if you have fewer. Let’s say this gives you ten groups or pairs. Choose ten reading texts in the book and assign one to each group/pair.

The group is now responsible for the presentation of that text. Tell them that they will have fifteen minutes to present when you get to that page in the book (which of course could be months from now).

They can, if they wish, merely read the text to the class (books closed). They can talk about the topic of the text and/or about any new words that they have found. If you have the right technology in the classroom, they can make a powerpoint or other kind of presentation for the class. Bring back show and tell!

Teachers should promise that they will be available to them for any preparation work they may need. It doesn’t mean extra work. You can build in a few minutes at the end of each lesson when you can do this.

Your students may get quite nervous, even stressed, as the day approaches when they have to present the text. But the experience will be memorable and exciting for them, and may even improve their English. Always a nice side-effect.

If you have access to a copy of the November 2009 issue of English Teaching Professional (Issue 65), you may want to read Jeremy Harmer’s article Is Reading Aloud Allowed? Jeremy offers some appealing arguments, some of which are quite contrary to mine.

PLEASE comment if you agree or disagree. The debate starts here.

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Comments on: "Reading aloud in class is a complete waste of time – Discuss…" (88)

  1. Hear Hear Ken, I don’t think I have met a student who ‘loves reading aloud’. As a teacher trainer, I have watched many a class when students have been filled with dread when the teacher started asking them to read – including a couple of really scary classes where the teacher made the students go back to the beginning every time they made a slip, causing no end of unnecessary stress.
    Reading a text aloud merely causes classes to panic, pay no attention to the text, instead students rapidly try and find out the bit they might have to read (you can see them counting the paragraphs and number of classmates before them). Both of these reasons also impede comprehension and student understanding of the text.
    I can see the case for it aiding pronunciation, if done say as a pronunciation activity after reading comprehension but overall the idea of reading aloud occupies number one position in my list of classroom bugbears.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Thanks for getting the ball rolling, Shaun – I didn’t even mention the fear factor, which you have so eloquently referred to. And ‘counting down to see which line I have to read’ – that would be hilarious, if it wasn’t such an ordeal for them.

      • Hi! It was a pleasure to read Ken’s post and your reply. When I was studying English as a second language in Brazil, that’s exactly how I felt when a teacher asked us to start reading a text aloud in class!! I was so scared that I could never concentrate on the message! I’ve been an English teacher and a teacher trainer for many years and I do not recommend reading texts aloud. My boss and I are doing a brief research on this issue and we definitely agree with your ideas.

  2. Joanne Sato said:

    Ken. Allow me to take a step back to how we met (virtually) last year. It was through drama, which is one thing I am lagging behind in, commenting on, but totally involved in. Drama is/might be/could be memorization, self-confidence, pronunciation, grammar, lexical choice, and it might be walking out onto a stage where no-one knows me……..and if they do know me they blank my crap jokes…

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Joanne, I agree with everything you’ve said so far, but it looks as if you stopped in the middle of the sentence. Do you want to continue your thought?

      Reading aloud from a script as part of a drama activity is a very different (and more successful) activity than the kind of reading aloud I’m talking about here.

  3. Billy Hasirci said:

    I have to say that in my experience, the students I teach (3rd-7th grades) here in Turkey, absolutely fight over who’s going to be next to read aloud. They do seem to love it.

    I agree though, I don’t see any major benefit apart from getting the students used to following a vocalised text… for all that’s worth.

    We, as natives, are usually armed with story books rather than dry texts so, recently, I’ve been trying a new strategy (I’m sure everyone does it but it’s new to me).

    I bring a group of students to the board so they’re facing the class. Then I get a narrator (I try to be sly and grab a student I know can read well) and however many character parts. Then I simply get them to use it more as a drama activity. They read the book as a team with each character reading his/her own lines.

    This really can bring the text to life as they’ll naturally start to get physically involved in the story. Any subtleties in the text suddenly become more obvious to struggling students and …well …it’s fun for everyone.

    As for the comments of the classroom being too quiet during silent reading lessons… It should be silent shouldn’t it? The classroom is probably one of the only places in a child’s world where they can have a moment to practise the art of silent reading. If they’re on task to read for detail, I say silence is golden.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Billy,

      this is EXACTLY what I wanted people to do – to describe classroom activities that work. This sounds fantastic, involving and fun. And don’t for a moment consider that asking your best reader to narrate is ‘sly’. That student will glow with pride that you chose her.

    • I also teach in Turkey and I can confirm that, as Billy said, students are desperate to read aloud. I’ve just started a graded reader with my classes this week and when I said there was a CD to accompany it, in some classes there were groans and pleas of ‘can WE read it please?’

      Here’s what I did – the initial reading was done with the CD playing, they then read again silently and labelled the characters in the illustrations. I then finally answered the call to read aloud by playing some pre-editied clips of the film (Wizard of Oz by the way) and asking some students to read as a narration to the film (no speakers on the computer gave me this idea!). They enjoyed the challenge of keeping pace with the film, whether they had to speed up to follow the action or slow down to allow for establishing panning shots.

      It won’t work for every chapter as the film doesn’t always match. In those cases, I’ll go with Billy’s idea from above.

      • Ken Wilson said:

        David,

        this kind of activity is fantastic – it’s creative, mobile, fun, engaging and has the right degree of challenge. Nothing at all like the reading aloud I was describing.

        Another great idea to add to the list!

  4. Katalin Tamás said:

    Hello, Ken and thank you for the chance to read and re-think your Zánka-thoughts. I absolutely agree with your ideas about the meaninglessness of the old type of reading aloud in our classrooms with fixed desks. I have to admit that I used to do it a lot, although I moved the desks in classrooms where it was possible. I do agree that every task has to have a meaningful outcome. And the old-style of reading aloud is nothing like that. Thank you for the new ideas.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Kati!

      I wonder how many Zánka participants will find their way to the blog post!

      It isn’t enough simply to say something is wrong – I should be putting together a set of reading activities that I think can be useful and/or fun in class.

      Maybe my next post! :P

  5. Nick Bilbrough said:

    Hi Ken,

    Like you I’ve observed quite a lot of classes where learners read aloud around the class, and sometimes this hasn’t felt like a very motivating thing to do, mainly for the reasons you say.

    But I’m certainly not against it in principle. In fact I’d say it can be a very useful thing to do. Just like performing the lines of a play, singing a song, or reading a poem in another language, reading aloud allows the experience of speaking at a higher level, and putting words together fluently into chunks, without the pressure of actually having to construct language yourself.

    Of course learners need good models in order to be able to do this effectively, so I’d say that it’s not a bad idea for texts to be read aloud by the teacher first so that learners start noticing where the chunks are. This way we decrease the possibilities for failure which you’ve already outlined as a problem. It’s also nice if they’re able to start mumbling to themselves alongside the teacher’s reading to increase confidence.
    I learnt a nice activity from Chris Roland at the British Council in Barcelona where learners, working in pairs, play a kind of reading aloud game. The objective is to not read the last sentence. They take it in turn to read sentences in order from the text and each person can read either one, two or three sentences at a time. Whoever is forced to read the last sentence is the loser!

    Nick

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Nick,

      if you try to sneak ‘reading lines from a play’ under the radar, you are introducing material above and beyond the remit of this blog post. Like other correspondents before you, you have focussed on a type of material where students can indeed benefit from live performance of a written text.

      But would you do it with a text about Mount Everest?

      • Nick Bilbrough said:

        Yes – I think I would do it if I felt that the learner reading the text would benefit from it. If I felt that by doing so the learner could be freed up from having to focus on constructing talk, and therefore might have more attention available to pay to some other aspects of speaking, such as pronunciation of individual sounds, appropriate chunking and connected speech.

        What is more I’d also like to do it as a learner, and to hear other learners doing it.

  6. Ian McShane said:

    Ken, I have to violently agree with you. Even as a Drama teacher, I resist readthroughs, whether in a circle, rhombus, right-angled oval, etc. Sight-reading is, like public speaking, surprisingly difficult and dread-inspiring, even for the most lucid and expressive of performers. I’m constantly reminded of an e-mail of Confucian pearls of wisdom or suchlike – possibly sent by your good self – one of the maxims being that we learn from listening, not from speaking. This is a sweeping generalisation: as an exception I’d cite the learning of a foreign language, and the training of a sheepdog is probably in there too. And it’s certainly gratifying to hear that students in other cultures respond favourably. But the average British schoolchild is my stock in trade. (I also work with the odd exceptional one, who – thanks to a few months under my tutelage – ends up as average as everyone else.) They are rarely keen on cold readings, which can make a difficult text impossible and transform even a witty, slavishly crafted script – sometimes written by their teacher – into a stuttering dirge, punctuated not by the gales of laughter which are clearly merited, but by the occasional barks of distant dogs. Now I’m probably doing it wrong, but my experience would certainly back up your thoughts.

    By the way, please don’t read this aloud to anyone. You’ll only ruin it.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Well, Macca… if you don’t think reading aloud is a good idea in a drama teaching situation, then this really is the kiss of death for this particularly teaching device.

      However, I would have thought that cold readings, followed by some advice from a good teacher, then warmer readings, then off-book etc is the way to go in a drama class. What is the alternative? Constant improvisation? Surely they’ve got to read a script sometime…

      • Ian McShane said:

        In an ideal world, absolutely. Sadly, there’s precious little about the state school system that is ideal. At Key Stage 3, Drama is limited to an hour a week, maximum. (We’re moving way off the TEFL question here, but you did ask.) That rules out whole class read-through, with pair and small group work being much more likely. A second reading? Nah, not enough time – get it on its feet and the words will ‘take’ much more quickly. The exam classes often include many students with literacy problems who are attracted by the practical side of things. More reading = less time for Drama. Students can read scripts in their own time and prepare for the fun bit. Seems to work.

        This is also the reason why Gareth Gates doesn’t stammer when he sings. And that is an absolute fact.

        Possibly.

        Anyway, I stand by my agreement with your original point.

        A few observations which may justify or completely undermine what I’ve already said. I’m pretty good at cold reading, but loathed it when I was at acting auditions. Seeing the script first was always preferable. Furthermore, I’ve been in many excellent shows that were preceded by appalling readthroughs. In my own experience competent cold script reads, even by accomplished actors, were rare and most were generally considered to be a waste of valuable rehearsal time. (More reading, less Drama.)

        I was also particularly bad at languages at school, but learned very quickly when working abroad. The ‘get up and try it as soon as possible’ approach is the bedrock of my subject-specific philosophy. That sign for ‘wet paint’ couldn’t be any clearer, but the urge to check is irresistible.

        By the way, much of the above – and a huge amount of my teaching armoury – was gathered during my years with the English Teaching Theatre, a wonderful company you should check out. I’m delighted to say that they never had readthroughs. Those boys knew their stuff.

        That was all over the place, but I’m exhausted after my first week at a new school, so I fancied a good natter. The kids can’t read for toffee but they’re sweet little actors.

      • Ken Wilson said:

        Macca,

        Thanks for that!

        I’d just like to add that I think reading scripts, dialogues etc aloud has a very important part to play in second language learning and, how shall we call it, improvement in first language production. And the work that people like you do is invaluable in the social development of lots of kids. I think you yourself are a prime example of the power of drama teaching and training.

        Hope we can meet up for that pint we talked about in 2002…

        For other readers, Ian (Macca) was an actor with the English Teaching Theatre for many years in the 90s, one of the most inventive and amusing performers I have ever worked with. Also a great writer. His Rough Guide to the English Teaching Theatre is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

  7. Dear Ken,

    An absolutely brilliant blog, yet again! Very thought-provoking for teachers, and I guess many will get a lot from it. Your blogs are first-rate, Ken, even when I don’t fully agree with you. You have so much to say to teachers – it’s very moving.

    I agree with Nick Bilbrough above, and I am from the ‘read-it-aloud’ school, and usually get annoyed with those who knock it. Most students, in my experience, enjoy reading aloud, and as Nick says, it’s good and relaxing for them to be involved with a flow of English without having to construct something themselves. They want to sample good quality texts and practise their intonation and general reading skills. Adult students, in particular, appear to enjoy reading aloud, and welcome the opportunity to do so.

    The framework in which you describe ‘reading aloud’ is somewhat restrictive, and based on old school ideas/methods. Going through a coursebook, line-by-line with alternate students reading, and seated in rows, sounds very much like institutional torture. Your overall heading about ‘reading aloud’ is therefore, a little misleading/sweeping in its message. You immediately qualified your remarks at the start of your blog, but I would have preferred you to have written a heading like: ‘Reading Aloud can be torturous, and of no benefit, sometimes, if handled in the wrong way’. Yes, a bit long….but it makes my point.

    I admire the fact that you clearly respect those who ‘challenge you in the bar’ later on, and print their objections. Your spirits are clearly in the right place, Ken.

    I suspect you could easily do a mega blog about the benefits of reading aloud, especially within a Drama setting.
    Hope to see it one day soon.

    Regards,

    Peter…..

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Peter,

      you have persuaded me that there is another post to be written which identifies motivating, challenging and fun ways to read texts aloud in class. In fact, I wrote a chapter of such activities for my Drama book, but it didn’t make the final edit because it ran over-length.

      I will therefore hunt it out and offer it for general consumption here. Thank you for pushing me to do that. :P

  8. I completely agree with you on reading aloud but Czech teachers of English seem to love it. Czech is a phonetic language so reading out loud is nothing like as difficult as reading out loud in English. Speaking English is a difficult skill. Reading English is a difficult skill. What do many teachers get their students to do? Do them both at the same time! Perhaps they could ride a unicycle and juggle five eggs as well. Nuts. Absolutely nuts.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hello Jeremy,

      it isn’t only Czech teachers who seem to enjoy this particularly odd form of torture. The question is: do the teachers enjoy the resultant icy atmosphere in the classroom?

      • Hi Ken,
        I encourage my students to read as much as possible – but not very much in class. Any classroom reading will be just enough to be able to carry out a speaking+listening exercise. How useful is the ability to read and speak at the same time? There are remarkably few times when this skill is required – unless you’re learning a language with a teacher who is a big fan of reading aloud in class…

  9. Very young learners have the wonderful ability to store new language on an auditory basis, no paper and letters needed. We adults cannot do it any more (at least me). I have the impression that reading aloud in the classroom is the result of one of those misconceptions we adults have developed —as we are simply unable to understand how kids’ brains work slightly differently from ours. Reading aloud often kills the natural music of the language, just recall some of those sentences read out by 5th graders…
    And I also think that reading aloud (often combined with translating sentences into L1) works against the top-down process of comprehension. Learners who get used to this procedure will just become addicted to picking up and understanding/processing every single bit of an utterance, which prevents them from developing the ability of grabbing the meaning from anything else than morphemes or lexemes. Or?

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Barbara –

      another key phrase – ‘reading aloud often kills the natural music of the language’ – SO true. And what surprises me is that teachers who do it don’t seem to be aware that this is happening.

  10. Thanks for this Ken, and wonderful comments by all that further my thinking. As an urban HS teacher, I’ve avoided round robin style. Good book for alternatives is called Goodbye Round Robin. Another reason to avoid the round robin read aloud is that decent readers get impatient with struggling readers, which only puts more unnecessary pressure on the struggling reader.

  11. Hey Ken,

    It’s quite a funny thing but I did do this this afternoon. Read-a-loud -as I’m currently using a book and you pull out the old strategies…

    But I got all the other students to close their books while one of them read and then we discussed the short article.

    I think, like all things, balance is key and keeping whatever activity you’re doing, active.

  12. Oh, and I’ll add that although I agree with you in principle, I also agree with some of the other commenters: sometimes reading aloud is useful for catching pronunciation problems.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Karenne,

      well, as I said in the blog, I totally approve of reading aloud when the rest of the class have their books closed. But I don’t buy the idea that reading aloud catches pronunciation problems. As I also said in the blog, my experience has been that students pronunciation deteriorates if they have to carry out the extremely complex task of reading aloud – and this is proved when you talk to them later, and they don’t make the same pron (especially stress) errors that you heard them making when they were reading.

  13. I think hearing your students speak is a great way to catch their pronunciation problems – but not while they’re reading. A Czech student once said “Teacher! What’s this?” (Pointing at her tongue). “It’s your tongue,” I replied. “How do you spell it?” “T-o-n-g-u-e.” “Ah! Tong-way! Thank you teacher. And, no, it was not just her way of remembering the spelling. I think it is genuinely difficult for speaking of phonetic languages to accept that English isn’t.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Thanks Jeremy – your point actually reinforces point one in my Ten Things – English is Tough Stuff. How on earth did we finish up with a language of such a glorious, imaginative and maddening spelling-pronunciation dichotomy?

  14. Ania Kozicka said:

    Hi Ken,
    I’ve immersed myself in this blog and I would like to share the midnight conclusions I have just drawn.

    I think it is not the most vital question if students are fond of reading aloud in the class or not – this is not the criteria teachers take into consideration while planning the tasks for lessons, I don’t;-) It is the other way round-
    activities which have explicit benefits are of our main interests and we need to make them engaging and fun. What is more, it is not possible to do without reading aloud in the classroom. That is why we need to make reading aloud a beneficial part of the lesson – and engaging. I believe, Ken, this is what you meant by the discussion topic. Many people who submitted comments above suggested great ideas: role plays; mini drama activities with short texts. Texts without narrators or characters seem to involve less fun when it comes to reading aloud. We can for instance prepare 2, 3 or more versions of the same texts with different parts missing – immediate reason for them to follow the text. However, it is not enough. There is one thing that all reading aloud activities should have in commnon- before the reading part we should always set the task for the students to make them focus on listening . All the activities in EFL classroom need proper tasks set before they are conducted. Reading aloud is such an activity too:)

    I hope it makes sense.

    Best regards,
    Ania :)

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Ania – and welcome finally to my blog!

      You are absolutely right that the key is to make the activities engaging and fun, and with some clear-sighted task in mind.

      Information for other readers – Ania is going to be my next guest blogger! :P

  15. I’m definitely not in favour of reading aloud. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it at all. Sometimes just to change things it’s perfectly ok. Depends on the purpose of the activity. However the arguments presented by Hungarian teachers shocked me a bit.
    1 Students love reading aloud – no, not at all. At least not Brazilian ones. They get very self-conscious, uncomfortable and tend to stutter more than they would if they read to themselves..
    2 Reading aloud brings the text to life – I also don’t agree. Students who read aloud tend to concentrate on how they read and not on what they read. Result – lots of time wasted as they have to read it one more time to understand better and be able to do activities that follow the text.
    3 I have 35 students in my class. If they didn’t read aloud, they wouldn’t get any speaking practice at all – whoa! That’s definitely lack of teaching techniques. There are so many ways to make your students speak. The simplest one that really makes them speak is putting them in pairs to discuss something. Will you be able to monitor all your pupils all the time in order to correct? No. But would you stop your reading students to correct every single mistake they make? I don’t think so.
    4 It’s good for their pronunciation – as long as you stop them every time they commit a mistake, but then would you really do that?
    5 If they don’t read aloud, the class goes very quiet when we’re doing a reading text – so what? Quiet doesn’t mean they aren’t learning! They process what they read, which is extremely neccessary to understand the text.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Agata,

      you have taken my points one by one and improved them. Thank you. However, to be fair, the points I listed were not all made by Hungarians and certainly not all at the recent conference. The five points are a distillation of the arguments used by teachers that I have met over the years.

      And will you please write something new on your excellent blog??

  16. I do think it is popular with students, because they feel like they are practising speaking, spelling/ pronunciation, reading and listening all at the same time, but the mental load is very low and so they feel like they are getting a learning bargain. Well, students, if you think it’s too good to be true,…

    The most important skill to think about is pronunciation. Most correction that happens is just due to spelling/ pron confusion, whereas while we are speaking that isn’t usually a problem. If there is an actual sound they are having problems with, you have to wait until they are finished to go through it, so you may as well do that after a real speaking activity instead. I did something similar with French in a language lab, but with the more positive factors of usually being dialogues rather than prose and being able to record and hear myself. The result is that I can read out something with a half-decent French accent, but that skill completely disappears when I am trying to express my own ideas in real-time conversation, or when I am speaking in front of another English person and don’t want to sound like a pretentious tw*t.

    • PS

      I wonder if you’re thinking of changing some of the other nine to get some more debate going and avoiding preaching to the converted

      • Ken Wilson said:

        Thanks for that , Alex….

        make all ten points controversial? Not sure I want to turn into Sandy McManus! :P

  17. Hi Ken

    A great post.

    I hated it when the teacher made us read aloud in English Lit classes in school. I became incredibly self-conscious when it was my turn. I imagine this would be so to a greater degree for our learners, compounded by worries of whether they’ve pronounced something correctly or whether they’ll be able to negotiate an unfamiliar spelling.

    I was also bored when other students read. I much preferred it when the teacher read – she always dramatized what she read, which made it more interesting, fun and comprehensible. Again, I imagine students would much prefer to hear their teacher read for the same reasons as I did. I teach Arab students for whom reading in English is (a) a chore and (b) something associated with taking tests. I feel I can make them experience reading as a pleasure if I do it myself. If I succeed, I have changed minds that reading is fun and interesting. I doubt that would happen were my students to listen to their peers.

    Pronunciation is better dealt with in speaking and listening stages of lessons, methinks.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Thanks, Sean…

      I think you and I share some dread memories of things we had to do in language classes. And for me, it was compounded by the fact that I was ‘the best in the class at French’ – which really says very little for the efforts of my grammar school class-mates. I spent every lesson expecting to be asked to give a model answer, or read stuff out.

      As I say in another of my ‘Ten things…’ talk, it is also unlikely that all students in a state school class are best mates, so these moments are ammunition for your enemies in the class to make fun of you later!

  18. selcan kurt said:

    Sorry i couldn’t read all replies and comments. But as a young and unexperienced teacher i learned that reading aloud doesn’t work at class in the meaning of interaction between students and the teacher.
    To reply these arguments;
    1) Students love reading aloud: Actually they love to hear their own pronouncation and the others don’t care about this except the teacher. So we can clearly say that they do not listen each other.
    2) Reading aloud brings the text to life: i think when no one focuses on about what they hear it doesn’t make sense.
    3) I have 35 students in my class. If they didn’t read aloud, they wouldn’t get any speaking practice at all: I respect the idea and reading aloud can be listed as a speaking activity but this is an easy way to escape preparing effective speaking activities.

    Thanks to developing teaching methods and materials we learned so many techniques to do this. My favorite one is make students choose a subject from the list, make them write 5-10 sentences about it. Then they change the papers with each other and read it aloud. if you make 3 or 5 groups, it will be better for timing. then they will give points to each other. at the end of the activity, each group will talk about their ideas and what they think when writing these ideas. This activity will help students to develop their awareness about the matter and they will involve the learning at first hand . The lesson will be more constructivist than traditional.
    4) It’s good for their pronunciation: listening activities will be better for this than speaking and reading activities from my point of view.
    5) If they don’t read aloud, the class goes very quiet when we’re doing a reading text: i totally agree with Ken Wilson’s response to these arguments. ” The class goes quiet if they aren’t reading aloud, eh? Well, there’s a surprise. They’re reading – it makes SENSE that it goes quiet.”

    i may be wrong in my opinions about activities and ideas but once again real life and authentic materials will be better for reading.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Selcan

      thank you for the words of support. :P

      We may ALL be wrong of course, but I agree with you and I think you’re right.

      However, the more comments I read here, the more I realise we must start putting together some positive ways to use the reading text when the students first deal with it. In most coursebooks, the reading texts are the richest source of information, and often the best illustrated.

      I wrote a chapter of drama-based ideas for reading texts for my book Drama and Improvisation, but it wasn’t published because I wrote too much. Maybe I will publish the ideas here.

      • selcankurt said:

        Thanks for your interest to my comments. If you publish the ideas here, I will be very glad. Your blog is wonderful and I believe that I can learn many things with the sharings in this blog. At the very beginning of my career, i really want to improve myself :)

  19. Hi Ken

    I do love your blog! You seem to find the right balance between “ordinary” and “stimulating”. Never too pretentious, but never too braindead, either . . .

    Anyway, I can’t really disagree with anything you said. We both know we’re right, and that’s good enough for me :) I’m a teacher trainer in my spare time, and I think this reading aloud lark is largely a generation thing. Very 60s, and very popular with teachers born before John Lennon. With respect, of course :)

    By the way, I tried reading your post aloud but got stuck on Zánka.

    Keep the flag flying!

    Mike

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Mike,

      if you think this is a generational thing, you should get out more. New swathes of non-native speaker teachers are doing it as we speak, or rather as you read. Silently, I hope. :P

  20. Hi Ken,

    Wonderful post….very interesting issue – very practical. Much like Karenne I believe balance is the key, not only to this, but in anything else.

    From what I’ve been reading on the comments you’ve had so far, I believe there’s a cultural component that makes the experience different for every country/students’ nationalities. Much like the students in Turkey (as Billy and David D mnetioned), the students here in Brazil enjoy reading aloud. Ok, let me rephrase that – MOST students in Brazil enjoy reading aloud.

    So, I very often do reading aloud in class. And students do fight over whose turn is next. I don’t believe it is a speaking practice, since students are not producing language but merely saying out loud what was given to them. But I see benefits (if you consider intonation, word stress practice for instance).

    Sometimes I’ll do it with one student reading and others with their books closed, sometimes I do it with everybody keeping books open and following the reading aloud. If I start reading a text out loud (myself) it won’t be long until one of the students asks if he/she could read it. It might be cultural, I don’t know, I’ve never taught students from different nationalities.

    But, I think it’s necessary for me to make it clear that my groups are not that big (most of 17 students in a classroon) and the chairs are arranged in a U shape, so all the students are facing each other – I see your point about looking at the back of each other’s heads, having difficulty in understanding what’s being said. And I never force a student to read. In the first class of the semester I say that when we read aloud if I call your name and for some reason you don’t want to, fine, just say “pass” and I’ll pass the reading turn to another student. I’d never put a student in the spotlight like that unless for a very productive, interactive activity.

    I guess what I disagree mostly with you here is the generalization – I am always afraid of those. Reading aloud CAN be a complete waste of time and students MAY not like it. But then again, some students may LIKE it (truthfully) and it CAN be beneficial. ;-) I really likes a lot of the activities you suggested – some I’ve done, some I hadn’t – but plan on trying.

    Cheers!

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Thank you Cecilia – that is a very articulate and well-written disagreement with my main point. Congratulations! :P

      You may be right and it may be a cultural issue, some nationalities may find reading aloud an exciting and fun thing to do.

      However, I imagine that you teach in a private school, am I right? Smaller classes, more talented teachers (sorry if this seems like a slur on state school teachers, but… ) and most important, that extra motivation that comes from paying for your classes.

      And finally, the title was of course intended as a red rag to a bull – you need to be extreme to get this level of informed comment! :P

      As I said earlier, I think it’s time to be positive about how to deal with reading texts in class, so I think I’ll start the ball rolling in a later blog.

      • Hi Ken,

        Thank you for the compliment – though I have to say that I just read it again and found a considerable number of typos and small mistakes;-)

        You are right: I teach at a private language institute, with smaller classes and many talented teachers (some of which are also teachers in the public sector). But I certainly don’t feel any extra motivation from most students (especially the teens) because they pay for their classes. Studying English in private language institutions here in Brazil despite being a great advantage (to those who can afford it) is rarely considered so by the students themselves. Sad but true.

        The motivation you refered to I can sometimes notice in adult students. And still, even in these cases, I’m not sure the motivation is fueled by that.

        In the end it all comes down to respecting the students, identifying their needs and interests and finding a way to use the reading aloud for some purpose, not for the activity itself, doesn’t it?

        And yes, I saw the red rag… But I’ve been meaning to put my two cents in ever since I read the tweets from your presentation at IATEFL H from @burcuakyol, @tamaslorincz and @marekandrews. I was really glad when I saw you had written a post on it. :-)

  21. Hi Ken!
    Great post! I read all the comments too. I can agree with most things you said, and then, I agree with some things other teachers commented. Here are some of my observations…
    Students in Serbia seem to be used to reading aloud, since many teachers ask them too. I remember when I told students to read the text silently for themselves, they were surprised, and wanted to read it aloud plus translate it…
    I remember that, when I was a student, I liked reading aloud, but, it was because I was among the best students and I was good at it, plus it was good practice for my pronunciation and sentence stress. On the other hand, I did not like listening to “struggling” readers, and there definitely was a problem of not hearing what the other students are reading! Plus, after I had read the text, I wouldn’t have remembered a thing, because I would have paid attention to pronunciation and stress!
    Nevertheless, I think that, with closed books (thus making it listening activity actually) it’s good that the teacher reads the text once, just because there are some new words and students have to hear them pronounced.
    I usually get the best students to read, sometimes I make the whole class repeat some of the words or phrases (they are more relaxed when they are not the only one whose voice is heard). They say this activity is for kindergarten, but, I usually make some joke, or sing it to them or make them sing it, but they do it in the end. And it works!
    One of the teachers that commented said that reading aloud in class is a good escape for teachers who don’t want to waste time on preparing reading activities… Yes, I know a lot of similar teachers.. I am not one of them, definitely.
    Now, I’m impatient to hear about all those activities for reading in class you have to offer!
    Branka

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Branka!

      you see? You’ve added another dimension – you SING the text – you are a performer and your natural instinct is to perform the material to make it more memorable.

      Some ideas to make reading texts more memorable coming shortly.

  22. Ken,

    quickly…you say “Jeremy offers some appealing arguments, some of which are quite contrary to mine.” Well thanks for the ‘appealing arguments’, but I don’t get ‘quite contrary from mine’…

    If you read my article (a very slight thing) again you will surely see that I think that:

    reading aloud, sight unseen can often be disadvntageous and can actually provoke students into speaking badly (we disagree on that?)

    reading aloud with rehearsal can be incredibly useful, motivating and productive (we disagree on that?)

    Getting student to rehearse and then read and recite well can greatly boost students’ self esteem (we disagree on that?)

    I have heard from many teachers how much their students enjoy reading aloud. But in the workshop I have been doing for a few months now we try sight unseen reading aloud and teachers generally agree it’s a bit rubbish. But then we look for ways of doing it well. Because actually reading aloud has all the advantages that people here have suggested.

    I LOVE reading aloud. But ONLY when it’s done in the right way (you disagree with that?)

    Jeremy

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Oh dear! Mr Argumentative hasn’t had his morning cup of tea, methinks!

      I will read your article again to make sure, but the worry I had whilst reading it was that you thought teacher participants at your talks (and by extension, their students) should struggle on through with the reading aloud part because there was a good task at the end of it.

      I LOVE reading aloud – reading texts to students, amusing bits from Charlie Brooker’s column in the Guardian to Dede over breakfast, warning signs on buses while I’m waiting to get off – but I think Sean Banville’s icy terror is a more normal state of affairs for many students.

      PS – I don’t read warning signs on buses aloud. Not often, anyway. :P

  23. I don’t think I’m being argumentative at all – and I certainly don’t think my comments were written in the mood that you seem to be suggesting! On the contrary, I just wanted to clear up what seemed to me to be a misrepresentation. That IS what blogging and commenting is for, isn’t it?`

    So that other readers of your blog understand what I was on about, in the article which you thought had ideas which were quite contrary to yours, I described setting up a reading aloud experience for teachers in a workshop and “afterwards we discussed what it felt like and it wasn’t good! Amongst other things they were nervous, they didn’t understand what they were reading or why, and they hated the experience of not being able to pronounce correctly in front of their peers, or of fighting to make sense of long complicated sentences”

    I then went on to detail 6 arguments in the case against reading aloud (very similar – some them – to your worries), before going on to make a strong case in favour of reading aloud if done in the right way.

    I have had my coffee. I am not feeling argumentative.

    Jeremy

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Not feeling argumentative? On a Monday? Whyever not?

      I think the part of your article which gave me most food for thought where you introduce some activities, the aims of which are “to build students’ confidence so that when reading prose they do it carefully, dramatically and with maximum impact for their listeners.”

      On the one hand, I wasn’t sure that this was a high-priority classroom aim, and on the other, I can think of a lot of non-NEST teachers, and maybe some NESTs, who would be incapable of achieving this by reading aloud themselves.

  24. Ken,
    What a great post to make us think! I do love reading your blog, but I’ve never left a comment, so here’s my first one.
    I completely agree with you. Since I have been teaching I could never see any enjoyment in reading aloud the reading text nor improvement in the student’s pronunciation. I teach at a school where reading aloud the reading text is part of its methodology. Teachers must play it twice and all the students have to read at least 50% of it. I particularly don’t like this part of the lesson, because I never see the effects on the improvement on reading skills. Besides this, the students get bored and never pay attention to other classmates. I might break the rules there but I will definitely adopt your suggestions. What I sometimes do, is ask students to prepare their reading text at home, listen to the CD and in class they have to pretend they are the characters, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, as the majority of my students are teens, they are never willing to prepare anything for class.

    Cheers!
    Luciana Podschun
    @inglesinteract

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Luciana,

      well, I’m glad you DID decide to leave a comment! My goodness, reading aloud is part of the school’s methodology, and you could get into trouble if you don’t do it?? This is the most extraordinary thing I’ve read in these comments so far.

      So, my first thought is how wonderful that you want to try out these ideas. My second thought is – don’t get into trouble with the school authorities.

      And the last line made me smile – ‘the majority of my students are teens, they are never willing to prepare anything for class.’

      Some things never change. :P

      • Ken,

        Believe me, it’s true. Once a semester a person from the Teaching Department comes to watch the teachers’ class in order to check if we are doing everything exactly according to their methodology.

        Definitely I will try out your suggestions. I am always trying to bring something new for my students, because I’m not fond of doing the same thing every day. I might be breaking the rules there, but the students love trying something different. :-) Maybe, I should resign and look for another school which has the same train of thoughts.

        Recently, I’ve decided to try something new with them, instead asking questions to see if they learned the lesson. I wrote many different words on the board, so I asked them to make up a story using those words. The first student makes up a sentence with the first word on the row, the second continues the story using the second word and so on. They really enjoyed it!

        Cheers!
        Luciana Podschun
        @inglesinteract

      • Ken Wilson said:

        Thanks Luciana,

        if reading aloud – or any methodological item of questionable value – is something that a teacher has to do and might get in trouble id they don’t, then this is a very different matter from a teacher choosing to do it.

        I wouldn’t recommend that you put your job in danger by doing anything that would antagonise the ‘person from the Teaching Department’, but is there any way that teachers get to have a say in these policies? Can people say what they think at some kind of teachers’ meeting?

  25. Hi Ken

    You set out an interesting challenge to teachers with this post. I remember my tutor during my training saying that reading aloud is a skill that isn’t used very much in real life, so why would we do it in the classroom. I’m one of those who can sight read a text quite well which comes in handy now and again as a teacher, but when I think about all my business customers I can’t think of one that would need to do this. As it happens I was truly lousy at sight reading in music, though I could copy something that I heard much better.

    I have some kids who love reading aloud and a lot who hate it. As a teacher I can get a feel for whether the learner understands what they are reading, but I’m not sure what the benefit is for the learner. I don’t think it particularly helps pronunciation – I remember from my schooldays reading a sentence, “It was the epitoam of a tragedy.” I knew the word epitome, but I’d never seen it written and pronounced it as it looked. I remember a lot of people laughed…

    The only time I do anything which might loosely be called reading aloud in class is with a version of running dictation. I cut up a short story or dialogue into sentences and put them in the corners of the classroom, and put 2 or 3 kids in each corner. I give the first sentence and then the kids have to decide which if any of their sentences come next. The have to memorise the sentence and come to the middle of the class to say it. This is more a test of comprehension than reading aloud, but it combines reading and speaking in a more useful manner.

    Thanks as always for making me think.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Olaf…

      i LOVE running dictations! I have no idea what their deep (ie long-lasting) learning value is, but they are SO good for getting rid of surplus energy, the kind of energy that students OF ALL AGES have.

      I just hope someone out there is doing running dictations with classes of retired people. They would LOVE it!

  26. Although I work in a private school where there are no more than 8 students per class + they are all facing each other, since they are sitting at one big desk, I too, rarely do reading tasks without another, more or less hidden, activity attached to it – sometimes I read while making mistakes (to get them correct me) or tell them to read while making mistakes on purpose (rather difficult but very engaging). One of my favourite activities is jigsaw reading – where I divide the text into several paragraphs and tell each student to (silently) read only his/her part and then they retell the text to their partner. Sometimes, if there are important new words that I want them to practice, the additional task would be to include those words in their retelling.
    Or they need to turn the text into an interview based on information they got.
    Also, I write a sentence using i.e. informal language while they are supposed to find a sentence with the same meaning but with formal vocabulary. Other times we skim read or scan the text for new words, phrases, answers to some questions, we make questions for some sentences in the text etc.
    Of course sometimes we simply listen to the recording, or if it’s a short text I let a strong student read it.
    I’m not entirely comfortable with reading the text myself, except for the little ones, because I feel it wastes their precious speaking time. I’m not talking about drama here, but ‘Mount everest’ type of text. I’m not sure I’d enjoy hearing my German teacher read a page long text to us, no matter how good her pronunciation was. In fact, I’m sure I wouldn’t.
    When i do stories with the little ones, I (now) always bring a puppet to read some character’s lines, and I get them cards with words written on them so they can put them up when they hear them etc. Afterwards they illustrate the meaning and use them to tell the story again.

    In my experience, reading a long text out loud in class, with 8 or 88 students is equally passive, downright boring and offers no practice since the students
    a) rarely really listen to each other
    b) just wait for their turn and start daydreaming
    c) when it is their turn they don’t pay attention to what but how they are reading – i remember reading texts in my native Serbian – i was an excellent reader and loved reading, but most of the time, i had no idea what i was reading about, i just enjoyed listening to the flow…
    d) it’s a rather lazy thing to do in class when there are so many other activities that need very little preparation. It’s still reading, but more meaningful reading.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Liv…

      great good sense, as I would expect from you. :P

      I think point c) at the end is quite important – what about the students who DO enjoy reading aloud? Clearly it’s a good idea to encourage them to do it, but the classroom is probably not the best place for it. Maybe they can record their own voice reading the text. If they like the sound of it, they can let you the teacher listen to it. If not, they don’t.

      • Hi Ken and colleagues,
        I’d like to share my PRO-reading-aloud experience. (A lesson plan will follow!)

        I am very new to this blog, however being another great fan and promoter of Mr. Monday and English Teaching Theater. Unfortunately for me, I came across this discussion long after it was started – although I do believe I have to get my humble word in edgeways in the hope of being heard and becoming useful. I fully agree that the reading aloud YOU described should be eradicated from the classrooms… BUT WE DO READ ALOUD in my- I insist – highly communicative lessons – in a completely different way with totally satisfying – and communicative – results. My thoughts developed into a 500+-words article, but I’m willing to share it with those who are constantly questioning the established ways to get better results.

        Reading aloud powerfully ensures controlled pronunciation practice and is in fact a kind of highly controlled pre-speaking practice, so, IMHO, it should be used at least once per every topical module. At least, it can be beneficial indeed, IF USED CORRECTLY. Here is only one of the many procedures I have applied successfully. In this 5-stage plan I read the text aloud once at some stage, then at a later stage students read it aloud… in pairs, simultaneously!
        (Note: only short text of around 300-500 words are best used for this purpose).

        1. I PRE-TEACH the pronunciation of those words and phrases in the text to be read they will likely get wrong, choral-drilling them. Moreover – there is a stage PRIOR to this “academic” stage, where I set up a whole-class discussion introducing the new words – then drill the difficult ones chorally – then set up a pair work activity to get them to use the words PRIOR to reading the text in question.

        2. I set up a silent reading activity with a communicative purpose, often acting as a human tape-recorder reading the text out as they are reading it as it speeds up the process enormously and makes the text more memorable, apart from many other benefits (reading fluency, listening comprehension, etc)

        3. I get them to answer the questions or do any other communicative tasks as usual.

        4. I POLISH THINGS UP by getting them to read the text ALOUD IN PAIRS, alternating paragraphs, with a third student, maybe, controlling the reading. The conductor of this orchestra, I can usually hear almost every violin and make a note of their errors, just as you would during a regular speaking activity – although, with the procedure I described, the errors won’t be at all overwhelming (in fact you can minimize them with proper pre-teaching).

        5. This will be followed-up by detail-focused questions and may become a springboard for grammar presentation based on the text, or a writing assignment, etc.

        What do we achieve? Here are only a few benefits I can immediately think of.

        1. A better control of student’s pronunciation beyond the word or expression level. Far fewer pronunciation mistakes are observed.
        2. A much better understood and even partially memorized “as is” text (essential to build speaking competence, I’m sure).
        3. Practice in saying – albeit ready-made – chunks of language to help students later express themselves beyond a sentence level. The kinesthetic memory switches on – essential for many, if not every – student!
        4. Students’ perception of “solidness”, a feeling that things are in control (a lack of which is one of the most frequent complaints in a communicative classroom) – and the resulting confidence and trust.

        Thus, reading aloud can provide a somewhat academic, but sill enjoyable and highly useful practice – as one of the necessary steps in developing free self-expression. IMHO. Such or similar controlled stages are necessary – as my whole experience shows – for the communicative approach to really work.

        Thank you for bearing with my wordiness and hope that will be of use.

        Katherine, an EFL language school curator, teacher and teacher trainer (Kharkov, Ukraine, and Moscow, Russia).

  27. This topic in never going to die:

    http://networkedblogs.com/jJTM1
    :)

  28. I tend to agree with just about everything in the text. I have Italian students and Italian is a phonetic language I= /i:/, when they get to a text in English they want to read it according to the way it’s written. Making them read aloud only reinforces the errors they are already prone to make. The difficulty is in breaking this tendency.

    P.S. I furnished my school with large meeting tables to encourage conversation

  29. Hi Ken. A great refective post and my two penny’s worth is that reading out loud is cultural. You met some teachers who had valid arguments for using this technique and some people here are against it. Cultural reasons can’t always be logically explained and it maybe the clash between cultures that makes reading out loud give such correct views on both sides of the argument. Not sure there is a definite answer. Also teaching theories and approaches don’t always translate into the classroom.
    Can I say, what I do like about your post is your completely classroom based practical ideas. Lovely

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hello Shaun, and first of all, thank you for the positive reaction – I certainly want all the teaching debates here to be centred in (on?) classroom realities.

      I completely take the point that some of these things are culture-based and have no problem with teachers and students doing things which are inside their comfort zones.

      What I DO have a problem with is a classroom event where there is aching silence, total boredom and nothing of any educational value taking place.

      If I had only experienced this set of circumstances once in a reading-aloud class, I wouldn’t have made such a song and dance about it. But I’ve seen it repeatedly. And no one is benefitting from it. In some cases, student motivation takes a permanent nosedive.

  30. Michael Kerr said:

    I’m in a Sixth Form class of 18 students, asked on a daily basis to do round-robin reading aloud. It has never worked for us. When someone else reads others focus on potential mistakes and spend time counting them. We have not asked the teacher to change style. Should we and, if so, how?

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Blimey! Ask the teacher to change style? Pupil power? Whatever next?

      Seriously, have you ever asked your teacher – of any subject – to change style? And would a teacher ever ask if the class wanted to? This seems an interesting new development. How long do we have to put up with unsuccessful teaching methods before we speak up?

      Speaking up is surely better than nodding off. :P

  31. Ken, I absolutely agree with you. Unfortunately many teachers think reading aloud improves pronunciation. On the contrary, what I’ve observed in a number of classes was students reading way too slowly and bumping into words whose words they couldn’t pronounce and teachers doing absolutely nothing to help. I’ll definitely share your ideas with my fellow teachers. The way I see it, reading aloud is pointless — especially long texts, and booooring. There are lots of interesting ways to help students with pronunciation and intonation. I’d add shadow reading to your list: students reading together with the teacher or an audio track, which spices up reading tasks in a challenging way. Nevertheless, work on meaning is essential before this task as students must know what they are reading in the first place!

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Thanks for that Teresa,

      if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my experiences watching classes do this – READING ALOUD DOES NOT IMPROVE PRONUNCIATION. As I noted in the main article, when I’ve talked to students after the class, their fluency and pronunciation are much better than when they’re reading aloud. I think shadow reading is something we should encourage students to do at home, if they have access to the audio track, something which is happening much more with coursebooks that have online content.

  32. I am a teacher in São Paulo, Brazil and I teach in-company to students that need to learn very fast, so I totally agree with you Ken.
    I also ask my stds to read at home. Which works very well .

  33. Hi Ken,
    As a new secundairy school teacher, my coach asked me to look up information about making the kids read out loud in a class. I think it is a beginners way of seeking contact with the students, whilst working through the material.

    I never realised that the reading out loud is an international issue. Nor did I relate it to the way kids sit in rows. I only thought of the hormons, nervousness and unwillingness related to puberty…

    I now seek for ways to work with my studybook (since I now “have to” a lot) but still make it fun and interactive. I now try to work in groups. I also read out loud myself bits and pieces and summerize.
    Do you have any new suggestions that you didn’t mention here yet (your blog is over a year, although your posts are not).

    Greetings from the Netherlands

    Daniëlle van Lith

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Daniëlle,

      thanks for dropping by. You’re right that the discussion about reading aloud has gone on and on – partly because other people have also blogged about it, and more recently there was a twitter eltchat devoted to it too. After that, I did a video interview with Marisa Constantinides, which you can see if you follow this link:

      http://eltchat.com/2011/10/07/interview-with-ken-wilson/

      There are explanations of one or two of my favourite techniques there.

      Hope they help!

      Ken

  34. Hi, Ken. Thank you for your ideas. I use cassette tapes/CDs rather than make the students read out loud. Several principals and curriculum specialists have had a fit over this, but I find that they are more engaged when I use the prerecorded texts. The students get the text through their eyes AND ears and don’t have to stumble over difficult words. I can still stop the recording at anytime and ask comprehension questions. The is the ONLY way I learned Shakespeare’s plays in college with any success.

    Another thing, I found a “kindergarten” activity and used it last day of the 3rd quarter with my Junior American Lit students. I had the students divide into groups and we pushed all the desks to the sides of the room (in a U). I gave them instructions to choose one of the six American writers we’d read about in the quarter and to choose one. Then a volunteer from each group laid down on a piece of colored butcher paper and his/her groupmates traced his/her outline. After that, the students in each group made the tracing “look” like Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, Harriet Jacobs, or Frederick Douglass by using a photo from their textbooks. Some used their Smartphones for author photos (which I normally don’t allow, but I kept my mouth shut this time.)

    Students then wrote five personality characteristics that described their author and five quotes about their author from the text. If the author wrote poetry (like Dickinson and Whitman), they were encouraged to copy a short poem/stanza from that author’s works. At the end of class, the students stapled their works to the walls. When we ran out of classroom wall space, they also staped them in the hallway and earned some passerby attention.

    Another “kindergarten” activity I’ve used is for students in groups to create “storyboards” by folding an unlined piece of paper into quarters and drawing four scenes from the reading. Then, below the drawings, they write a complete sentence describing the scene. Stick figures are okay. This activity helps them remember the highlights of the text. Hollywood movie producers use storyboards to convey characters, setting, and plot and I mention this to the students.

  35. Aisha Ertugrul said:

    I read this post about a year ago. At the time, in upper primary, I used reading aloud authentic novels much more than silent reading for some of the same reasons as mentioned in the comment thread and many more.

    Thanks to this post, I began to accept adressing my misconceptions and did some reflection.

    I decided to also ask my students what they thought. We had a lengthy discussion, and decided that even though there are many reasons why it became “cultural” to read out loud in Turkey, we should break down those walls and “reprogram” ourselves. They never asked to read aloud again after that.

    Nowadays, my students actively practice silent reading 99% of the time. The only time we read out loud now is when we read only the quoted lines in a chapter that contains lots of important dialogue between characters which we do in roles a few times; or, I read a difficult but important passage, emphasizing, inserting synonyms, pausing. Sometimes, if they are tired, I read aloud allowing them to follow the text without taxing them with the decoding.

    If I have any other aims, I separate them from reading skills.

    The only time I would want someone to read aloud to me for a length of time is on audio tape when I am driving.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Aisha!

      glad the blog post led to some reflection, and the new direction sounds good. Can I say immediately that I think teachers reading aloud is a different matter altogether? Your voice is the one they are most familiar with and they probably love the sound of it (I’m not being ironic, I really mean that). Don’t deny them the chance to sit back and listen to you sometimes, particularly if the text is something that you find funny, original or moving in some way.

  36. Aisha Ertugrul said:

    Yes, I agree.

    Some years back, my fifth graders were agast at my portrayal of Dahl’s Grand High Witch witch I played with a German accent and Nazi fury unleashed: “Witches of England… You are a disgrace! Miserable witches… You are good-for-nothing WORMS! Everywhere I look, I see the repulsive sight of hundreds, thousands of revvvvolting little children…”

    Oh my, life has been getting much to serious since then.

  37. Jessica Faugno said:

    When I first saw the title of this article, I was alarmed. I just finished essentially reading the entire novel, The Kite Runner, to my Advanced ESL high school class. They absolutely loved it but I had a moment’s fear that I just wasted a lot of their time! Glad to see that you think teacher read-alouds are valuable. I gave them the option of being read to, working in small groups and reading to each other, or reading silently, and they almost all always wanted to be read to. They just did’t comprehend the text when they read to themselves, but when I read to them, they really got it. These kids aren’t really learning to speak English – they’ve all been here (the Bronx, NY) for a long time. Most of them have literacy issues that, disgracefully, are not and have never been addressed. But that’s another issue….Thanks for the information!

  38. Salam .I came cross your blog when looking for the benefits of reading aloud.I’ve never used this strategy in my classroom ,but after reading your artice i’m going to impement it for it sounds an effective way to improve students’ fluency.Thanks for writing such interesting article. arabian roses

  39. afifa rahma said:

    Hi, Ken. It is a shame that I comment on your article today while it’s been three years since you wrote this. I just want to say actually oral reading is necessary to promote speaking and/or reading fluency. Yes, I agree that reading aloud a text individually line by line is horribly boring, but there are other great strategies that are modifications of reading aloud we EFL & ESL teachers can try in the classroom, e.g. Reader’s Theater, Choral Reading, Quaker Reading and Interrupted Reading, as stated by Burke on his book (http://www.amazon.com/English-Teachers-Companion-Third-Curriculum/dp/0325011397). These strategies are originally implemented to primary students with English as their mother tongue, but I think they can be used in ESL & EFL classroom depending on the level of text complexity. At the moment I’m planning a research on the use of Reader’s Theater in EFL setting, with high school students as the research participants.

  40. Hi Ken. From my personal experience most students actually pay *more* attention when a fellow student reads out loud – if nothing else then to poke jokes of the reader and the text. But it *does* bring attention and, if used wisely, can be of great help to “wake up” the class. Obviously, going over board with reading out loud is counter-productive as well. In any case thanks for bringing this up, even though yours’ is a somewhat contrarian view, as you mentioned.

  41. Hi Ken and all
    I just left college and i have very bad memories about reading aloud in class from Primary School and through college.
    In Primary schools where the classes are like 40 children each and each one has to read aloud and you make a slight stutter you can hear and literally see the other students smile and even the teacher looks like he is about to give up with me.
    In High school Reading out loud varied and it depended on the seating places of the class and where I sat like for instance when everyone faced each other i stammered alot more than when i sat on the back row and i knew that noone would look at me etc also it depends on the teacher when they literally force you to read and they wont take No thanks for an answer you feel forced unlike when you have a lenient teacher and they understand that you feel uncomfortable with it.
    Thats the same through college but most people there have grown up and more mature except the odd person in the class but i liked Drama alot more when you got to choose your own groups and perform on a stage where you knew it was just for fun i enjoyed that.

    The one thing i find pointless is where teachers Make the entire class read out 1 sheet on paper where each person only had upto 12 words to say because they it would take about 5 minutes to read whereas a teacher could of done it within 2 mins.
    My favorite teacher for reading was in Year 7/8 – 12/13yr old and the teacher was in his sixties and he made jokes all the time while reading and added drama to it by using different tones and when he asked you to read out you knew you would be ok because the rest of the class were focused on the story because he chose good interesting ones not the stupid children books like mice and men etc.

  42. Kara Wilson said:

    There was this girl who said her s’s in this annoying way like she was licking her lip-gloss and a lollipop and saying s’s all at once. She was a pretty good reader though so the teacher let her annoy us for an extra long time. Then there was the stuttering kid. He only got a few lines. Everyone else was waiting for the teacher to take him out of his misery. Go on already (of course we are MUCH kinder as adults). Then there was the kid who got stuck and the guy in the back would whisper the word in his ear to try to help, but the kid couldn’t hear it. And when I wasn’t thinking about everyone else’s annoying reading behaviors, I was thinking about my own. After all, I was only “like” 4 people away from having to read! I was a great reader, but I wanted my reading to sound pretty. When I was finished I wondered if my reading sounded pretty. It did. And then I kept wondering. I wasn’t so sure what the story was about, because I had just spent an hour analyzing all of the annoying reading behaviors I had just heard. Then I looked at my teacher’s shoes and thought he should get an update. And what does “hubris” really mean? I remember this day from 25 years ago.

    I have always dreaded presenting, but I find that I can manage it pretty well in a small group. I wonder if some less confident readers could rehearse and be accountable for reading in their own time. I like the idea of acting out special parts of a book. I especially like helping students understand the character and dialogue shifts by using different voices. We will also use washy tape and mini dough balls to read aloud the parts that imPRESS. If we are interacting with the text in a variety of light-hearted ways, reading out loud can be done to bring select points into the light. I think it’s great to do a long teacher read aloud, with opportunities for students to react after every couple of pages, rather than a big discussion at the end.

    I would have noticed everyone’s shoes by then.

    Thanks for all of the great ideas. I can’t wait to try.

  43. \i was googling something about reading texts in ELT and look what was 4th on the search list :) What a lot of comments. If I ever doubted your superstardom (I never have) I certainly wouldn’t now!

    • Ah – those were the days. When you could get that much traffic about a minor rant about reading. I’m not a superstar – I just got in early. :)

  44. Adriana Militão de S. Sampaio said:

    Good morning, Mr. Ken Wilson!

    I’m from Fortaleza, in Brazil. I confess I haven’t read your article in full, but I think the topic’s very interesting. I sometimes use this ‘strategy’ in class and some of my students even fight to be the next to read. I need some more time to ponder the pros and cons. Taking into consideration that the life of teachers in Brazil is very stressful, I don’t know how much time it will take me to finish this comment.

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