Meeting Challenges in the EFL Classroom/ Part 1: Read-aloud activities (by Christina Markoulaki)
Branko M., Assistant Professor of American Literature of the English Department (Faculty of Humanities in Serbia), has been so kind as to give me the opportunity to present in a webinar some of the challenges teachers worldwide need to face if they wish their teaching to result in efficient learning on the students’ part. Although I feel fortunate to have been trusted with students of all ages and levels, the difficulties posed on the way have been numerous, also allowing me to take delight in their resolution.
The PDF file above shows how I structured my talk: I elaborated on four different, though interrelated, challenges which manifest themselves in EFL teaching combined with the corresponding solutions, the potential resources to be used and some examples from my personal experience. I consciously avoided complex educational jargon or the use of related bibliography. My words solely represented my everyday anxieties when it comes to my profession and my thoughts about the solutions I have given.
The first thing I noticed when I started teaching was that children, at least in my country, were not really used to reading books as an extracurricular activity apart from magazines or comics. It is undoubted, though, that children nowadays are overly busy and resemble the hard-working adults in all the responsibilities they have to carry out through the day (take for example, all types of extra classes like dance classes and doing homework on top of all that), so including reading in their activities was indeed a hard task.
You may be wondering why I am insisting on reading so much. The ability to cope with a written text is considered by many to be the number one activity to help the learner get the feeling of a language as well as acquire new vocabulary. I once heard during a seminar that the world’s greatest polyglot based her skills on reading various books. Thereby, not only do books enhance one’s knowledge of the language and the culture expressed through them, but they also contribute to the development of critical thinking skills and the ability for self-expression, which is the ingredient that completes the recipe for success in foreign-language exams, let alone in the real-life world.
Considering all the above, the question that was whirling into my mind was this: how can I familiarize students with a variety of reading material, even the most reluctant of them? After gathering information from other teachers’ blogs, I finally decided to apply the read-aloud technique in the classroom. Apart from the texts included in the coursebooks, this kind of teaching allows literature texts to enter the classroom, without anyone having to spend extra time on them after the lesson ends.
This is what a read-aloud activity entails in brief: In a relaxing atmosphere including unobtrusive music and a circular arrangement of desks, the teacher sits in the centre reading short passages of the book aloud, fitting the level, needs and interests of the specific class. He/she needs to pause regularly to ask comprehension questions, explain difficult vocabulary or urge the students to predict what is going to happen next. As it can easily be seen, this activity trains the students’ listening and speaking skills, familiarizing them with a variety of texts at the same time. The students have the chance to look at the pictures of the book during the short intervals, also taking a look at the text that has been read by the teacher.
Another great thing about this activity is its outcome, as students have to reproduce the story or part of the story or their favourite scene in their own words together with their own drawings, which leads to the production of some wonderful team or individual projects, sometimes taking the form of a comic book. Examples can be found in the last column of the PDF file. Personally, I had a great time sharing stories with my younger students, like ‘Sherlock Holmes‘ and ‘Jack and the Beanstalk‘. The latter was also combined with songs which the children utterly enjoyed. The resulting projects can be seen here or by clicking on the hyperlinked phrase ‘their favourite scenes’ in the Slideshare pdf.
The resources one needs to implement such an activity are not hard to find, especially if the school has got its own library or collection of children’s books. Reasonably priced books can always be bought, though, from local bookshops or online. I have also included the link to the wikipage where I have listed places on the web to download free e-books from.
I intend to continue the present post to elaborate on the other three challenges mentioned on the Slideshare file. In the meantime, you can find the recording of the whole seminar here.
Note: This article by Christina Markoulaki originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.