Oftentimes, when ESL teachers ask a large group of students to do a reading comprehension exercise there are two common outcomes that are not ideal. On the one hand, students get bored and distracted fairly quickly and don’t do their work. On the other hand, they work quietly – maybe too quietly – and the lack of noise and interaction makes students feel sleepy. These outcomes are far from what we would like to happen in the ESL class and none of them is conducive to the real development of reading skills and the overall language development and improvement of our students.
Making sure that reading comprehension exercises resemble real life situations is one way to ensure that our students get the most from the lesson.
Jigsaw Reading Exercise
This exercise works very well with short texts like newspaper articles. Try to find two articles from different newspapers about the same event (making sure they have some significant differences or omissions) or two articles somewhat connected (a sequence of events in a longer piece of news, or two articles with a common theme). If you have a very large class you could even find three articles following the same criteria above.
Divide the class into the number of articles you have and give each group of students one article to work on with a short set of questions to ensure they read it carefully and understand it.
Once everyone has finished, re-group the students into pairs if you have two articles, or groups of three for three different articles; forming the groups with one representative from each different group. Ask each student to recount the article they read to the rest of their small group and encourage students to ask each other questions in order to clarify any doubts there might be.
This kind of exercise will ensure that your class includes speaking as well as reading and it is an authentic activity since very often people discuss articles they have read with each other.
Again, reading one novel with the whole class can be beneficial sometimes, but more often than not it can result in a big group of bored students. The solution for this is to put in place something that Karen Smith first implemented in 1982.
If, instead of having only one novel for the whole class, you choose a certain number of novels of approximately the same length and difficulty, you can offer your students one of the best motivating agents out there: the element of choice. Once students choose which novel they will read, you can group all the students that chose the same novel together.
Once students have been grouped according to their choice of novel, they can read the book on their own and form a literature circle that meets once a week -in class or for homework-. For each meeting, each student in the small group would be in charge of a special role:
- Artful Artist: The student will use some form of artwork to represent an important part of the section or chapter read.
- Discussion Director: The student will prepare questions that they will ask the members of the group.
- Capable Connector: The student will try to find similarities between what they read and something else that is not in the book; it can be something happening in their personal life, or something they learned in another class, something they watched in a movie or on TV, or even something else they read about.
- Word Wizard: The student will choose 5 words from the book that they think are different, interesting, important to learn, good to remember, or difficult to understand. They have to explain these words to the members of their group.
With these roles you are also changing an inactive reading class, which can lead to disengagement, into a class with yet another motivating agent: leadership. Students lead the learning and direct it, making it much more meaningful for them. If there are more than 4 people per group you can double up any of the roles or even invent a new one.
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