Monthly Archives: October 2012

An experiment in extensive reading

Last summer, my student asked me to recommend books for her to read and us to discuss. I gave her a list of books I thought she might enjoy – a range from teen fiction that I liked when I was her age to more mature novels. She chose “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. She bought the book and we agreed to read a chapter every week.

It didn’t quite go that way. The first two chapters went well. We read and discussed them. We talked about the main concepts present in the book. She asked questions when there were phrases she did not understand. The book has a lot of Capital Letters. Usually they are used for words that are being used differently from their regular use. I drew her attention to those and for the most part, she was able to deduce the usages.

Then came the third week – and she didn’t have time to read. And the fourth week. And the fifth. I asked her about her interest in the book and she claimed that she was very interested, but just didn’t have time to read and check the dictionary for the words she didn’t know.

Comprehension dawned. I hadn’t realized that is how she was reading it, but I guess I should have known.

So I said, “Okay. I want to try something different. Read it without the dictionary.” She looked dubious, but I convinced her that it would save her time and that it was not important to understand all the words or all the ideas. I told her not to take notes on things she didn’t understand.

The next week, she told me it took less time, but she thought she only understood about 50% of the chapter. However, she was able to have the same level discussion about it that we had before. We decided to keep doing it this way. This has been going on for a few weeks now and the chapters have flown by.

I asked her for feedback again today and she said it’s relaxing to read without the dictionary and she feels that she understands nearly 70% of what she reads. She wants to continue reading this way and she wants to find out what happens next in the book.

What I learned:

I learned that I need to be aware of how my students are approaching reading assignments.

I learned that reading can be more enjoyable when students choose the reading material themselves, reading limits are flexible (today’s homework: read as much as you can), and exact understanding of every single word is not required.

I learned that I need to convince my well-intending student that it is okay to read like this.

The ESL Learners Output Library

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” – Ryunosuke Satoro

“The beauty of collaboration is that you get pushed and stretched to go where you’d never go otherwise.” – attributed to Licia Perea


I am very excited for the launch of the new ESL Learners Output Library, put together by the awesome collaboration of @JohnPfordresher and @AlexSWalsh.

This website is a database for teachers to share examples of their students’ work (output), whether it is written or spoken. It’s not a lesson plan database, but a library aimed at collecting the work of English language learners from all over the world.

One of the reasons I am so excited is the potential this website has. It can be used in so many ways. The first thing that springs to mind is the chance to compare learner output on similar tasks from different countries. It can also be used to demonstrate to learners (and teachers) how English is used in other parts of the world. It can provide inspiration for lessons, tasks, action research and so much more.

Student work has long been an important part of my teaching toolkit. I display it around the classroom and around the school both for information (as in my environmental awareness activity) and motivation (students who see their work in public strive to give their best output). It’s a confidence boost for students to know that their work isn’t just being thrown away when it is finished.

I don’t throw away anything my students have produced. Some of it I keep for my own reference: as part of my portfolio of activities that worked. Some of it I keep even if it didn’t work, to learn from it and improve on it and go back to it many months later to compare not just how my teaching method has changed (I can see that in the lesson plan), but how the result has changed. Most often, though, I put student work on the walls for everyone to see. I was absolutely delighted last summer when a group of students brought an observer outside to their poster and (without being asked) explained it to her. They were clearly proud of their work. I was proud of their initiative. Using their own work to present their ideas to a stranger (who was also a L2 user) was a better use of learner output than I had imagined.

For those reasons I’m excited by the potential of the ESL Learner Output Library and collaboration with other teachers internationally. I can’t wait for resources to come in from a variety of countries so that I can use it to show my learners real communication from around the world.

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” – George Bernard Shaw

Working with other teachers will be helpful in many ways. The tasks they use in their classrooms can potentially be adapted for mine and vice versa. The output their learners produce can be compared to output my learners produce on a similar task. By working together through the Learner Output Library, we can build a database of ideas.

Output from the library can also be used for awareness-raising activities. I want to use the spoken output for listening activities to get them used to other accents and speech patterns. Right now, they understand their own accent and mine, and that’s about it. To tell you the truth, I’m not a whole lot better. There are quite a few accents I am unused to hearing and need time to decipher.

I don’t want my students to think that other L2 users of English are doing it wrong. They need to be aware that there is no such thing as Standard English.

I want to use the written output for reading and writing activities. The main reason is that not all writing students are going to come across will be “textbook perfect”. My students do most of their reading online – through blogs, emails, and chats. The vast majority of their reading material is unpublished. Right now they’re doing this in their L1, but some day they will begin to do it in English. They need to be prepared not just for imperfection – and imperfection that’s different from their own imperfection, but for usage they haven’t seen before and ways to structure arguments that are different from what they have learned.

“We’re in this together, and if we united and we inter-culturally cooperated, then that might be the key to humanity’s survival.” —Jeremy Gilley, TEDTalks lecture

Finally, the advent of the ESL Learner Output Library has reminded me that language is a reflection of culture. My students are very knowledgeable about their own culture, and some of them are curious about other cultures. Awareness and education can combat racism and xenophobia. I will use output from the library to raise intercultural awareness in my students. One way I can do this is by having students identify in written and spoken texts aspects of culture in L2 output that are similar or different from their own.

I am very happy to add the ESL Learner Output Library to my teaching toolkit and invite comments from readers about how they can use it in their own classes.

“Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” —Vince Lombardi

See also these posts from John Pfordresher: “Why Create the ESL Learner Output Library?”
and from Alex Walsh: “Using Students Output in Preparation for Lingua and Cultura Franca”
and this forum post by Darryl Bautista: “Why This Forum?”

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