Reading motivation? I dare you to read the whole piece and other stories…

Do something for me if you will. Google the word “brain”. The first result you get is the link to Wikipedia’s “Human Brain”. Click and start reading. Go on! That’s it… Now somewhere between the words brainstem and skull bones I bet my bookshelf you would start thinking about the last time you cleaned the floor and how you’d look with your hair shorter.

 

by Natassa Peioglou, Academic Associate, Language Qualifications Development Department; PeopleCert

 

What is it that keeps us motivated to read? What makes a text interesting enough to stick to and keep going? How can we combat this social media frenzy by finding or creating time to read? And above all, if we cannot do it, then how can our students? Good luck in convincing your class to put their phones down and read a page-long text that will help them prepare for their English language exam. (Are you back on your cleaning-the-floor-thoughts? Who can blame you?)

 

Let’s go back to the start. Reading is a cognitive function that started pretty late in our couple-hundred-thousand-year-old humble existence. We had to create space for it in our brains, which means we really wanted to read! That’s good. Therefore, when your students complain, you tell them it was decided by their great grandfathers around the third millennium BC when they started writing in clay tablets (i-clays allegedly) and someone had to start reading as soon as you can say Southern Mesopotamia where writing was actually invented.

 

Relate and breathe

 

Fast-forwarding to today, learning to read in your own language is one thing. When, at the age of six, they drag you to an L2 class just when you thought you were done and they give you a different alphabet, then that’s when the real fun begins. We always need to remember the perspective we had as learners in order to stay close to our students and work alongside them. Nothing is a piece of cake but a piece of cake (as my grandma would say, were she from the American south) and nobody knows everything. Let’s repeat that.

 

At later levels, take your students seriously when they complain about reading. It’s never them; it’s the way we do it. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself. Would you be interested in your own lessons? Would you want to learn more?

 

Make Reading work for you

 

Practicing reading skills in class can be an enjoyable experience, can serve as a nice breather from grammar, homework-checking or essay-planning. Reading practice is a good chance to bond, see the class as a mosaic of individuals ready to feedback if you make it worth their while. Keep reading for some lightbulb moments.

 

Authentic material

As you all know, authentic is all material not designed for classroom use. From a movie script, to a newspaper article to a song to an obituary… it’s all authentic and eager to be discovered and join your class! Put a book in your bag that you found interesting, cut off a paper piece or magazine article. Make it fascinating for you too. Go even further and buy a little scrapbook or a fancy folder and tuck all your findings in it! There’s a whole world out there waiting; it’s free and adjustable and destined to make you the cool teacher.

 

That’s all very charming but…

 

I see your face now thinking, “Great, yes, you sit there and preach that in the midst of all the chaos I am facing, I will take my colorful crayons and draw a happy class where everyone is smiling and working to their max potential.” Actually, they will. Having had some pretty challenging classes in the past, I had to come up with better ways than holding onto a textbook because my international teenage students simply did not care to put their phones down and pay attention and it was my entire fault.

Yes, that’s right. Adults gradually learn to suppress their boredom, their yawns and irritability because they know there’s a balance to be kept and an order to be maintained in the world. Teenagers simply do not censor themselves and that’s absolutely fine because they make us -the older and “wiser”- better this way. No one ever said that getting better doesn’t come with a bit of effort. It does but it’s worth it. At the very least, you get to discover Vin Diesel’s filmography and life mantra.

 

Repeat after me: “I got this”.

 

 Let’s say that you found a few book excerpts on a specific topic or you have quite a big class and you put together several written pieces from different sources. Print them out and stick one under each chair. When it’s time, ask your students to look under their chair and get their piece of paper. Trust me when I say that the moment of anticipation for whatever you have stuck under there, is going to give the room the adrenaline rush you need to secretly slip some hard work in before they realise. Have them predict, ask, omit facts, change tenses, give a summary, mime the topic… The ideas are endless.

 

If you want to use literature, there’s a great site called writerswrite.com where you can find book excerpts listed by genre. Browse and choose what suits the learning objectives you set.  Getting students engaged with reading is beneficial on all levels. Stretching from real life situations, to classroom work and ultimately to achieving exam goals. Whether it’s scanning for details or skimming for general info, finding the gist or simply looking for a key word, reading is a skill that makes us all better.

 

Lightbulb moment (about those chairs)

 

When students get their piece of paper, give them a few minutes to read it. After that, they each have to give a sentence-long description of what it’s about. (short for gist and time keeping)

Then, they come into possible theme groups of four. Make sure you have even-numbered topics. If your class is made up of let’s say 6 students, then obviously you can choose three short texts for each topic (2 groups of three) and so on.

Once the groups are formed, they read each other’s texts and come up with 3 questions to ask the opposite team. You could even have a couple prompters available to start them up such as “Where do you think this excerpt is from?” “Why would someone read it?” “Who would read it?” Get them fired up and moving.

 

 

Lightbulb moment – the sequel

 

A different version would be for the students to create/bring their own written material (around 100 words). They present them in class and the rest have to guess the source and intention of each short text. Then they try to group them. If they cannot be grouped, a nice follow-up activity is born; exchange them and ask your students to go home and write a text on the topic they were given. Alternatively, you have given them a topic so they come prepared and easy to match. It’s always better if they blindly choose their topic otherwise you find yourself involved in a Friday evening debate of why-me-and-not-him kind of situation.

 

On more practical grounds

 

At my work family, the LanguageCert family, we have my favourite third part in the Reading paper exam that appears in all levels. It consists of four different short texts with a common topic accompanied by questions on source and content and makes for the ideal platform of classroom practice as well as an interesting exam part. I drew inspiration and got passionate about creating fun learning activities from my beloved part three as it works well in groups - the students can bring their own writing pieces or cut outs. They can come up with questions and test the other groups, they can mix up the material and guess which one belongs where, they can quiz or present or even send you out for a cuppa and take over! Give them space, sit back once they feel confident, record them, celebrate them!

 

Don’t call, tweet

 

My guess is, the last person who read Crime and Punishment is now at least 42 years old. Also, if he got through Dostoyevsky, he probably speaks a foreign language or he is just very patient. What does that mean? It means chances are, our target audience is younger and used to short, fast information, they get bored easily and want to cut to the chase as soon as possible. Their heads are by now formed to function like your laptop tabs. Too many opened, too few fully read. I love my LanguageCert reading part three because of this. It’s short enough to be cool, gives me the info I need, its format is great for classroom practice and feels a bit like something you would mess around with on the beach if you weren’t that good at Sudoku.

 

Conclusion

At this present time in the world, at least according to Barnes & Noble, one of teenagers’ most loved books is called “A beautiful mind; a beautiful life” by the inspiring philanthropist Lindy Tsang. Written in the first person, it’s direct, it’s honest and it gives advice and a good dosage of life philosophy on the side. Who said teenagers don’t crave inspiration? Keep up, search, find what your students appreciate and print some extracts, slide them into their notebooks, under their chairs, chase them with it, inspire them to read again or read more, show them the way, be cool and most of all, be happy in your teaching.

 

 

Short Bio

Natassa completed her undergraduate studies in London, UK. She was then awarded a Postgraduate Certificate in Education – specializing in Dyslexia Studies – by the University of Birmingham. She has taught extensively in the UK, Greece and Switzerland, she has attended teacher training courses in Oxford and New York. She is currently a proud member of PeopleCert’s Language Qualifications Development Department. Natassa’s work focuses on creativity, learning difficulties and materials production. She is an avid coffee drinker and a traveler.

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