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

Tuesday’s child is full of grace and Tuesday’s guest is Yekaterina (Kate) Afanasiyeva. Or Катя Афанасьева, if you prefer.

Kate is from Ukraine and runs her own language school in Kharkov but is (I think) living in Moscow at the moment. She came across my blog about Reading Aloud rather late in the day and wrote a very eloquent and thoughtful comment, completely disagreeing with me. I thought it a pity that most people might miss it, so I asked her to turn it into a post in its own right.

Her blog arrived with certain key words and expressions in bold. So, breaking the habit of a blog-time, I’m presenting it as she wrote it and not all in bold, as is my usual style.🙂

Kate Afanasiyeva, on the right in white, holding a piece of paper

About me

I have devoted over 16 years to teaching, running my own language school in Kharkov and training the teachers of my school. I want some new horizons now, learning more, doing more, and sharing what I have.

Reading aloud in an EFL/ESL classroom: who needs it? We do.

I was very late in commenting on Ken’s post on Reading Aloud (http://bit.ly/dhfTDW), which he finds boring, time-consuming and downright ineffective. Yet, perhaps my comment is worth attention as Ken kindly agreed to post it as a guest blog. So, here it is.

As I like to question every extreme approach, and because I myself apply in-class reading aloud regularly and have seen the obvious benefits of it, I decided to share my experience with you, dear colleagues. This short article debates on the reasons why reading aloud should be encouraged, and provides an outline of a sample 5-step approach to weaving it into a communicative lesson framework.

What’s wrong with reading aloud?

One reason why communicative teachers would resist the “academic” reading aloud may be that the way it is set up in a “traditional” (that is, “mediocre”, uninventive) classroom is, indeed, too far from perfect, with the students struggling one-by-one, sentence-by-sentence, over a long period of time.

Bad management totally compromises this otherwise useful technique.  WE DO READ ALOUD in my – I insist – highly communicative lessons – but the exercise is set up in a completely different way with totally satisfying – and highly communicative – results.

It’s not communicative! Is it not?

I contend that reading aloud powerfully ensures controlled pronunciation practice and is in fact a kind of highly controlled pre-speaking practice, so, IMHO, it could be used at least once per a set of lessons. At least, it can be beneficial indeed, IF USED CORRECTLY.

Here is only one of the many procedures I have applied successfully. In this five-stage plan I read the text aloud once at some stage, then at a later stage students read it aloud… in pairs, simultaneously!

(Note: short texts of around 300-500 words are best suited for this purpose).

The five-step approach

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: that 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. As 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 are the benefits?

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 (which is essential for building 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 ALL – students!

4         Increased students’ confidence, 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.

Conclusion

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

Yekaterina Afanasiyeva
waykate@gmail.com
WAY language school, Kharkov, Ukraine

Comments on: "Guest post 11-6 – Kate Afanasiyeva fights back in the Reading Aloud debate" (5)

  1. Hiya Kate,

    I think this approach is probably one of the best to deal with reading in general, not just tackling the area of reading aloud. Ever since I saw Jeremy Harmer at the Language Show talking about poetry I have been a fan of shadow reading, which I think matches with what you say in stage 2 above.

    Also, I was happy to finally be able to work out what you are doing in your Twitter avatar!

    • 🙂 Hi Mike – thank you for this comment🙂 I think I need to do some research into shadow reading though – I’m not yet familiar with it (eager to learn!). My personal view is that there are no bad techniques – there are incorrect applications of them. Anything might work – and looking for a key to an individual’s mind , we may need to try out just about every method there is.

  2. Ken Wilson said:

    Kate’s blog emphasises the key issue here – she presents reading aloud activities with strong and clear aims. My point remains that the reading aloud activities I have seen in dozens – maybe hundreds – of classes over the last 20 years have no purpose at all, and are at best boring and at worst a stressful ordeal for the students who have to take part in them.

    • Ken – thank you for inviting me as a guest blogger: I couldn’t even dream of it at the dawn of my blogging “career”🙂 I only hope my post wil be useful or inspiring. I think the hundreds of purposeless classess you’ve witnessed are the result of the teachers themselves having been taught in this boring way so they themselves cannot enjoy reading and simply treat it as “reading for the sake of reading” whereas texts are there to convey ideas, be the source of information and serve as springboards for communication.

  3. Thanks for this post, Kate!
    I found it very interesting, and a lot of things I want to think through. I used reading aloud only once last term, because everyone is always telling me that it doesn’t work, and it’s not the correct way to do it. But, I must say, my students were actually reading for once! I think I’ll have to try it a bit more.
    Thanks for sharing!!

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