The Pleasure of Reading Can Lead to Learning

by Despena Dalmaris

Why does a person read? There are many answers to that, but one of the reasons why a person reads is for pleasure. There is nothing more relaxing than settling down with a good book. A book is able to give you hours of pleasure and transfer you to another world.

A good story gives food for thought, it makes you think and react to certain events that happen. You actually become a part of the hero or heroine as you follow their progress in the story. You feel as if you have experienced something similar or that under certain circumstances you may act in a similar way. When this point is reached then you have become one with the story and you are actually living through the details of the experiences outlined in the story. When the climax is reached there is a feeling of completion.

This of course happens because of the language that is used in the stories. The beauty of the language can only be seen through literature. Only through such an experience will the students acquire a feeling for the language and understand how it can be used to express feelings and thoughts. Through such an experience, the students’ own imaginative powers will be awakened. They will be able to use this new awareness in their own writing; they will not be afraid of experimenting with words and ideas.

Therefore, teachers should incorporate reading into their programme. Just as much learning can take place through the reading of a good story as in a set piece of learning. Comprehension exercise, grammar, vocabulary, writing, speaking, listening, etc. can be integrated into such a lesson.

Through my experience as a teacher, I have found that by introducing readers to all my students from the very beginning of their English language learning, it not only gives them pleasure but it has helped them to take an interest in the language.

Starting (or ending) a lesson with ten minutes of reading becomes a habit after a while and something that the students look forward to. They will actually ask for another book once the first one is finished.

There are two types of reading that can be done – silent or oral. Both types can be used depending on the type of lesson the teacher wants to develop. I prefer oral reading (especially in the junior classes) because many things can be taught through oral reading.

First of all, pronunciation. A must if the students are to understand what they are reading and what is being read to them. If words are not pronounced properly then there is no understanding of what is being read. At the beginning it will probably be necessary for students to be corrected for their pronunciation more often, but as the reading of the story progresses then the need for correction will not be as great. In conjunction with this, there is the rhythm and stress and the intonation that is necessary if there is to be an understanding of what is being read. The students must learn to put feeling and expression into their voices otherwise the reading is monotonous and unemotional.

Then of course there is vocabulary work when certain words in the story have to be explained. This can be done either when the story is being read or for homework and checked in the next lesson before the reading continues. However, it is often best to give a quick oral explanation of a word when the reading is in progress so that there is an understanding of the story and the students maintain their interest in the story. Sentence construction can be set for homework where the students make up sentences of their own using the words found in the story. Spelling can also be included in this where the unknown words can be learnt and given in a spelling test.

Depending on the part of the story that is being read, a discussion may take place on either the character/s or the setting or an incident that has occurred and the outcome of that. Going on from here, extra work can be done in the writing lesson – again in describing a character or a place or an incident. Certain parts of the story can be studied to see how certain descriptive words or phrases were used. These can be practised by the students in similar exercises in their writing.

Although many readers are available as audiobooks, another way of practising their listening skills is for the students to have their books closed while the teacher reads. This can be done after a first reading of the book. Questions can then be asked to see how much the students have understood. The problem areas such as in recognising similar vowel and diphthong sounds or consonant clusters can then be practised using drill exercises so that the students become aware of the different sounds they have to listen for when doing a listening exercise.

As the FCE exam consists of different types of reading texts, i.e. narrative, factual, etc., by introducing reading as a permanent part of the course, the students will become acquainted with different types of texts and different styles of writing. They will learn to read quickly and to understand what they are reading.

A class library can be set up whereby students can borrow books outside what is read in class. Small projects can be set on the books chosen which can then be presented to the rest of the class. This will increase the interest of the students because they will want to read a book that somebody else in the class enjoyed reading.

Because of the time factor, it might be a good idea to choose short stories for the junior classes. This will ensure a quicker turnover of stories as well as keeping the interest of the students. Once they reach FCE level, there will be no problem in keeping their interest and doing a more complete analysis of the story. Choose stories in which the plot is simple to follow and where a lot of explanation is not necessary.

Although reading should be looked at from the viewpoint of pleasure, the exercises and projects that are set will ensure an amount of supplementary learning that would otherwise not have been possible. However, it should be done in such a way that it is not regarded as another piece of homework. The students will then truly look upon reading as a form of relaxation and something that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

Despena Dalmaris is a teacher and an author of EFL textbooks.

Vocabulary Attack

by Constantinos Gabrielatos

Vocabulary & learners

On the one hand, one of the main problems of learners when reading is unknown words or expressions. On the other, it is unrealistic to expect learners to have learned all the vocabulary they are likely to encounter in the exam. It is evident, then, that helping learners to cope successfully with unknown vocabulary should be an integral part of the preparation. That is, learners need to be taught how to:

  • Distinguish between essential and inessential vocabulary. Essential vocabulary is the words/expressions learners need to understand in order to answer the questions correctly. Inessential are the ones which do not affect successful completion of the task even when they are unknown.
  • Recognise and ignore inessential vocabulary. This strategy has two positive effects: (a) it relieves anxiety as it reduces the number of unknown words or expressions learners have to cope with, (b) it saves time as learners do not try to infer the meaning of vocabulary they do not need.
  • Infer the meaning of essential unknown vocabulary. Inference is based on clues provided by the text, the situation, and the learners’ relevant background knowledge.

Vocabulary & teachers

Of course, in order to be able to help learners it is important that teachers themselves are clear regarding the different categories of unknown vocabulary. In particular, teachers need to be aware that it may not always be inferable, because there may be cases when the text does not provide clues. In such cases teachers need to train learners to tolerate the unknown and guide them to cope as best they can by using all other clues available.

Practical Suggestions

Complete text

After finishing reading the new complete text, give learners two lists: one with unknown vocabulary from the text and one with their definitions or synonyms. Ask them to match the two lists. At a higher level of learner competence, just indicate unknown vocabulary and ask them to infer their meaning.

When providing definitions and synonyms, keep in mind the following:

  • They have to be clear and straightforward so that learners can understand them. Make sure that they are not more difficult or complicated than the target items in the text.
  • Do not use dense dictionary-type definitions. You can adapt dictionary definitions or formulate your own. A lengthy but clear definition is much more helpful than a concise but unclear one.
  • Use the meaning which the words or expressions have in the text. Remember that the aim is development of inference strategies for more effective reading – not vocabulary learning.

The “gapped” text

  • Before reading. Tell learners you will deal with unknown vocabulary later and go through the text without stopping to explain any unknown word or expression. Tell them to treat the text as one with gaps and could even “blank out” their unknown words.
  • After reading. Provide guidance regarding clues and inference strategies: (a) if the word/expression is inessential, ask them to blank it out (using their finger) and read the problematic part again. (b) if it is essential & inferable, guide them to look for clues in the surrounding text (e.g. synonyms or explanations). Do not expect learners to come up with the exact word for a definition!

Such procedures coping with unknown vocabulary boost learners’ confidence as they become aware of the fact that not all the vocabulary in a text is essential to completing the task.

Constantinos Gabrielatos is an EFL teacher specialising in exam 
preparation. He holds an MPhil in English & Applied Linguistics
(Cambridge), an RSA/Cambridge Diploma with distinction, and a Degree in
Economics (Athens). He has published articles and given practical seminars
on various aspects of EFL teaching/learning.

Phrase: Hats Off To Someone

e.g. Hats off to you for getting a big promotion!

Meaning: A phrase said to congratulate someone you admire or respect for doing something impressive or helpful.

Origin: In the 1940s and ’50s when men wore hats, the removal of the hat was typically a gesture of respect.

Idiom: Get On Your Soapbox

e.g. Once grandpa got on his soapbox about the local election, I found an excuse to slip out of the room.

Meaning: to share one’s opinions in an impassioned, impromptu manner, often to others’ annoyance.

Origin: Soapbox is any box that someone stands on to make a speech in public, often for a political subject. The term originates from the days when speakers would elevate themselves – so that they could be seen and heard more easily by standing on a wooden crate originally used for the shipment of soap. Hyde Park, London, is known for its Sunday soapbox orators, who have assembled at Speakers’ Corner since 1872 to discuss religion and politics among other topics.