Geoff Richards

Writing your own readers

Why not design your own student reading material

Walk into any decent bookstore and you'll quickly see that most English readers for primary students were designed for native speaking countries.

Oxford's "Let's Go", for example, has one reader about baseball fans. Would you be interested in reading that if you came from a non-baseballing nation? Neither would I.

You'll also notice that the condensed and simplified readers aimed at teens and adults are still far too wordy for non-native speakers. The need for students to continually refer to dictionaries makes the readers tedious to use. Although I have recently seen a series where English to Thai is provided in sides bars on the page BUT the books are still quite wordy.

The solution to this is to write your own readers and, by doing so, you can produce something that students really want to read and understand.

First of all there are foreign festivities like Christmas and Valentines Day.

Then there are sports like football [soccer] and events like the SEA Games, the World Cup and the Olympics.

And as if this wasn't enough, you've then got the latest crazes: Ben 10 and superhero movies for primary students. Americas Next Top Model etc., for teens.

Just ask your students what they're really interested in and create readers around this.

Let your textbooks dictate the level and style of language to use and only introduce new vocabulary if it's cool and/or funny. Students have a nice habit of always remembering these types of words.

Pictures are always worth a thousand words, so raid Google Images and the local media.

If you're not artistically inclined, get your students to draw pictures for you. In case you haven't noticed, most Southeast Asian students are infinitely better at art than we are. I'm always gob-smacked when I walk into the school art rooms here.

Use the pictures as talking points. Ask and encourage questions about pictures. Make this language everyday, meaningful English so that students can retain it. Let them realise how relatively straightforward it is to ask and answer wh- questions. But don't do this in a hurry, one step at a time if you please.

If students can understand what a picture is telling them then they can more easily understand the accompanying text that goes with it.

Verbal Q & A for pictures, written Q & A for text.

You can also introduce grammar questions as well, i.e. simple present or present continuous? When do we use simple present? Etc.

Verb, noun or adjective? etc., for younger students.

A real litmus test is to get students to relate the theme of your readers to local English teachers and then have those teachers relate it back to you. "Almost" = very good. "Exact" = excellent. Both will help to ensure that your students more confidently pass tests and exams.

So, give me an example of a homespun reader. Ur, that's your job matey!

What I will say though is that shorter and simpler, based on the level that you're teaching, will work way better than anything you can buy in a bookstore. We're teaching English, not nuclear physics.

To conclude, I once read somewhere that if a student can't ask and answer questions about their immediate environment, then they haven't really learned the language. I quite agree.

Writing your own readers is one way around this and a powerful one too when you realise how easy it is.

Go on, MS-Word is a piece of cake. Off you go, but consult your students first of all otherwise you'll hit them with something that only you think is trendy.


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