The Benefits of Reading English Stories to Younger Groups of ESL Students
I adore books, and reading aloud to our young students is one of the highlights of my job as a Teaching Assistant.
Most of our students are Turkish, whose ages range from four to eleven years old, who have had little or no exposure to the English language. The students come to our school to receive an English education and therefore use daily a language of which their parents have little knowledge. It can be overwhelming to suddenly be thrust into an environment where everything is taught or spoken to them in a foreign language. Consequently, reading aloud to this age group is an invaluable method of language delivery, especially as many may be reluctant learners, and may actively resist learning as it was not their choice of the learning environment.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Louise O. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
The Importance of Reading Classes
In my experience, young children love listening to stories, even if their knowledge of English is very limited. I have been asked "Why bother if they don't understand? Isn't it just you uttering meaningless words at them for ten minutes?". The answer to this is an unequivocal "No!". Reading stories aloud, particularly to young students is one of the most useful, non-threatening methods of teaching, exposing them to the English language and teaching the many other skills they need to acquire to become successful.
By reading stories aloud, a teacher or parent is encouraging the child to sit still and practice the skill of listening. Whether the students understand any of the text or not, they are actively listening to the story's language, tempo, intonation, pronunciation and memorizing keywords and phrases that become the foundation on which to build a working knowledge of English.
This, however, can only be achieved through the careful choice of a story and its delivery by the teacher. A story that uses complex language, ideas or grammar would be unsuitable for this age group; a story needs to engage the young student from the outset.
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Factors Influencing Students’ Interest
As important as the story choice is, the most crucial element is the teacher's delivery. It is through their narration that the words and text come alive; it becomes a performance. A student, even with limited understanding, will be entranced by the teacher's performance if it is full of expression and inflection, and this results in the student becoming enthusiastic themselves. I have read stories using vocabulary the children have yet to learn or become familiar with, but I see their complete absorption and concentration in their faces. They are truly spellbound. I have watched teachers read in a monotonous, unvaried tone, the same story as I, and they have lost the concentration and involvement of the class within the first two pages. Enthusiasm engenders enthusiasm, and children are so receptive to a well-told story. The opportunity of furthering the student's skills is one every teacher of this age group should utilize.
In my personal experience of reading stories aloud, my first concern is to read and study a book choice to gauge its appropriateness to the English level the students are at, and the possibilities for further activities as well as its potential for enjoyment. My choice of the story at the beginning of the new school year needs to foster and build rapport between myself and the students as well as among themselves, as most areas new to each other as they are to the school. The most successful story, I have found, that accomplished this has been "We're Going On A Bear Hunt", written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. It has proven to be a firm favorite with the children!
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I begin by reading the story to the class. Some may hear words already familiar to them and this connects them to the story even more. After the first reading I ask the children a few questions, such as "Where was the bear?" or "What did the mud sound like?". Some may answer with words or actions, but it gives a general indication of the level of comprehension within the group. Then I ask the children to stand, and I read it again, encouraging the students to act out the different scenarios, and inevitably they begin to join in with its repetitive sentences, chanting out phrases such as "We're going on a bear hunt", acting out "over", "under" and "through'. Through these actions and repetitious sentences, they are unconsciously learning grammatical tenses, sentence structure, verbs, prepositions, nouns, adjectives, and new vocabulary in a fun, accessible way. It becomes a kinesthetic group learning activity. Confident learners help those less able, and the reluctant contributor's in-class work time become enthusiastic participants. It is heartwarming to see those who are too shy or nervous to answer questions voluntarily in lesson time activities becoming vocal and excited!
A class teacher should be able to continue to use a story past reading time to create engaging lesson plans, to further capitalize on the students' enjoyment and interaction. This can be achieved through class discussions, worksheets, gap-fill activities, even role-playing the different characters. This will lead to further learning that arises from enjoyment and class interaction.
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The ultimate goal, I believe, of reading stories to a class is that eventually, they will be able to read and enjoy English storybooks of their choosing. To engage their imagination and lose themselves into worlds rich with language, beauty and adventure are, in my opinion, a life-lasting achievement.
I hope that I have illustrated sufficiently that there is indeed the necessity of reading English stories to none English speaking young students.
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