As discussed in previous posts, although reading-aloud (RA) techniques have not always been favourably considered in L2 classrooms in the last 3 or 4 decades, the usefulness of this approach for the development of lower-level processing efficiency has been widely confirmed in L2 reading research (e.g., Birch, 2007; Janzen, 2007; Gibson, 2008). Much research has clearly shown that reading aloud helps:
(1) develop L2 learners’ accurate phonological representations (e.g., Gibson, 2008);
(2) raise their awareness of rhythm, stress and intonation, by using connected texts rather than decontextualized vocabulary items (e.g., Kato, 2012);
(3) significantly improve silent reading rate (Suzuki, 1998),
(4) enhance reading performance (Miyasako, 2008),
(5) reproduction of key words and phrases. Miyasako (2008), for instance, investigated the contribution among upper-secondary level Japanese EFL users of six weeks of RA practice for L2 reading performance; it was found that RA significantly improved phonological decoding and reading comprehension performance, and that this practice effect was more pronounced with less proficient readers.
(6) improve listening ability – Kato and Tanaka (2010) for instance concluded that “the establishment of pronunciation accuracy/ fluency is crucial for the development of listening ability and that this impact of production ability may linger to a fairly advanced stage of L2 listening learning, in particular as a function of factors such as participants’ L1 – L2 relationship and the relationship between their L2 proficiency and the familiarity and difficulty of listening materials.”
(7) boost motivation (Shinozuka et al., 2017).
(8) enhance recall, especially when you repeat the words aloud to another person (Boucher et al (2015).
(9) develop oral fluency by (1) training the articulators, i.e. all the organs involved in the production of sounds (the end stage of oral production); (2) exposure to auto-input through the aural medium. For instance, Seo (2014) found that her experimental group spoke longer after the treatment than they did before, while the control group did not show a difference in length of time. Moreover, the experimental group used a richer grammar after the treatment while the control group did not show progress;
(10) develop coding ability which in turns facilitate processing and learning vocabulary. Practice in reading aloud connected speech facilitate our ability to chunk vocabulary (chunking is an essential process in vocabulary acquisition). This enables working memory (the articulatory loop) to process words more rapidly, thereby enhancing our ability to commit a larger amount of words to long-term memory. The fact that many children in England, as highlighted by Erler’s (2011) landmark study (see Picture 0 below) seem to have very poor decoding skills, is quite worrying in this respect.
Picture 0 – Erler (2011) study summarised
The role of reading aloud in my teaching approach
In my teaching method, E.P.I. (or Extensive Processing Instruction), reading aloud plays an important role for the following reasons:
- (1) My approach lays a lot of emphasis on the development of decoding skills/pronunciation;
- (2) Provided that one’s students are confident in their decoding skills (i.e. turning written words into sounds), reading aloud activities of the sort described below, provide a non-threatening opportunity for students to interact orally with each other, thereby providing L2-input to themselves (auto-input) and others;
- (3) Following on from point (2) – when provided with oral scaffolds of the sort shown in Picture 1 below, one can stage oral (pair-work) communicative tasks with students since the early stages of starting a topic;
- (4) Since E.P.I. is all about frequent and extensive exposure to and production of key patterns through all four skills, if the interaction referred to in the previous points involves reading aloud texts which repeat those very patterns to death, then it clearly serves the main pedagogic objective of my approach.
Picture 1 – Page 1 of an oral scaffold for conversation on holidays I designed for a year 8 Spanish class
- (1) It is crucial, if you do stage a lot of read-aloud games, that you lay a lot of emphasis on the teaching of decoding skills and pronunciation from day one of your course. I, for one, when it comes to French and English, place decoding skills as my main priority during the first semester of my teaching – yes, even more important than vocabulary and grammar!
- (2) Let me reiterate, once again, that every single read-aloud activity I stage in my lessons would be designed to recycle the same target pattern(s) over and over hence the texts used contain highly structured input which is flooded with the target items;
- (3) The role of the teacher is pivotal for the success of these activities. S/he must monitor, prod, and provide feedback all the way through, picking up any problematic areas to address in whole-class feedback prior to the next activity.
My favourite reading aloud tasks
In this section I describe a few of my favourite read-aloud tasks.
1.Sentence stealer (aka ‘Au Voleur’ or ‘Robo de tarjetas)
This is a very popular game I came up with to make reading aloud as interactive and fun as possible with my younger learners. It has gone viral in our faculty and everyone does it fairly regularly. It takes zero preparation and children love it. Here is how it unfolds:
Step 1 – The students are shown on the classroom screen a list of twelve L2 model sentences they have been practising. Each sentence has a number from 1 to 12.
Step 2 – They are given four blank cards each and asked to secretly write on each card any one of those sentences or simply the number for it.
Step 3 – The game consists of ‘stealing’ as many cards as possible from one’s peer in the five minutes allocated, i.e. classmate ‘X’ will approach classmate ‘Y’ and read out from off the screen any four sentences; if a sentence that ‘X’ reads is on one of ‘Y’’s cards, ‘X’ will have the right to ‘steal’ that card.To make it more fun students play rock, paper, scissors (repeating the three words aloud in the target language) to win the right to guess;
Step 4 – The student with the most cards at the end of the game will win.
Please note, the students cannot interact with the same class mate more than once.
I usually stage this game after I model the target patterns through my sentence builders. Picture 2 illustrates an example from a lesson with absolute beginner EFL learners drilling in ‘I would like + container/quantity + food’ (context: buying food and drinks).
Picture 2 – Sentence stealer game
This is another very popular zero preparation game which I usually play as a warm-up for the ‘Sentence stealer’ activity. The teacher-led version plays out as follows:
Step1 – Write a set of target chunks on the board;
Step2 – Write secretly one on a mini-board;
Step 3- Choose chunks containing sounds you know they find phonologically challenging and/or containing the target sounds;
Step 4 – Ask the students to guess the hidden chunk reading out any one of the sentences on and reward correct answers.
Picture 3 illustrates an example of this game, designed to recycle the same sentences practised in the ‘Sentence stealer’.
Picture 3 – Mind reading game
In the student-led version, two children – who play against each other – secretly write on their mini-whiteboards three or more sentences (taken from those displayed on the classroom screen or whiteboard). They then take turns at guessing each other’s sentences.
- Ghost time
Shadow-reading is a technique which consists of reading aloud a transcript / text as you follow a recording / reading of the text in order to imitate the speaker/reader’s rhythm, intonation and pronunciation, etc.
Ghost time’ is a shadow-reading technique I have come up with and use with my primary classes on a regularly basis. I call it ‘ghost time’ as I ask my students to whisper like ghosts to make it more fun. They absolutely love pretending to be ghosts. Besides the motivational rationale, ‘reading like ghosts’ forces them to slow down and enunciate more clearly the chunks I break down the text into as I read.
Please note that if your aim is to develop your students’ phonological memory you could simply ask your students to repeat what you hear from memory rather than give them the text that you are reading out.
Currently I am carrying out an experiment with this technique. One of my year 5 French (9 year olds) groups partakes in 5 minutes of ghost time per day, whereas with another group I do 5 minutes of dictation. At the end of the year I will get two of my colleagues to evaluate their reading-aloud accuracy and their phonological memory (their ability to repeat a unit of speech they hear accurately) to identify any differences.
- Find someone who with cards
It is played like ‘find someone who’ except that the students are given cards containing each one or more details, expressed in the target language. For instance, on the topic of food, one card may read ‘My name is Mark, I like chicken because it is tasty and healthy’ (in the target language of course). The students are also given a grid with a series of questions such as, on the topic of food, ‘Find someone who likes chicken’, ‘Find someone who loves meat’, etc. For each question, they need to find a person with the matching card and write their name in the grid asking questions in the target language, such as ‘What food do you like?’
The reason why I prefer ‘Find someone who with cards’ to the traditional ‘Find someone who’ is because (1) it turns it into a read aloud activity and (2) it allows me to control the students’ output thereby eliciting exactly the patterns I want them to practise (which will be the same, incidentally, that they will have practised in the other activities).
Picture 4 – Find someone who with cards
- Sentence hunt
This game is meant for younger learners. It is played like hotter and colder.
Step 1 – come up with ten or more short sentences containing the target patterns, grammar structure, chunk and display them on the classroom screen/board
Step 2 – get hold of thirty or more post-its. On ten post-its you will write the ten sentences (one sentence per post-it). On the remaining post-its you will write ‘distractor ‘sentences which are different from the target sentences but similar in structure. I usually recycle the same distractors over and over again throughout the year to minimize waste
Step 3 – scatter the post-its around the classroom on the walls, desks, chairs, anywhere, in as many places as possible
Step 4 – select and send a searcher out of the classroom
Step 5 – now take one of the post-its containing one of the target sentences and place it near other distractor post-its. Make sure the class knows exaclty where it is
Step 6 – now refer back to the list of sentences on the classroom screen/board and point to the students which sentence was on the post-it you have just hidden and instruct the class to repeat it louder and louder as the searcher gets closer to the target post-it and quieter and quieter as they move away. Orchestrate the volume with your hands.
Step 7- call the searcher back in the classroom, instruct him to find the post-it containing the sentence the class are repeating aloud and play the game until the post-it is found. Then do as many rounds as you like. I usually fit about 6 searchers in 5-6 minutes.
- Find your match
This activity is not too dissimilar to ‘Find someone who’. In a previous post I described a version of this game with cards. The version below is a ‘no-frills’ one that requires zero preparation.
Step 1 – the students write secretly on their mini-whiteboards one sentence (or more) from a list you will have put up on your classroom screen/board. For instance, the list might include a range of responses to the question ‘How are you?’ and John might write ‘I am very well, thank you;
Step 2 – the students go around the classroom asking ‘How are you?’. Their task is to find another student with the same sentence on their mini-white boards.
I usually stage several rounds of this game in the same lesson as the students usually find their match quite quickly. You can easily go through five or six rounds in ten minutes and kids enjoy it.
- The ‘something’ game (originally ‘The algo game’)
This game, created by my colleague Dylan Vinales, requires minimal preparation, gets the students to practise listening and reading aloud eliciting a strong focus on accurate pronunciation. Students really enjoy it and get very competitive.
Step 1 – Sit the students in pairs, back to back.
Step2 – Give Student 1 sheet A and Student 2 sheet B. Both sheets have different version of the same list of sentences; the sentences which are gapped on student A’s sheet are complete on students’ B sheet and vice versa (see picture below).
Step 3 – Students take turns in reading one gapped sentence each. As they read their gapped sentences they say ‘something’ (or ‘algo’ in Spanish) to signal the presence of a gap (note: each gap corresponds to a key target chunk). When Student B hears student A say ‘something’ s/he will have to read the whole sentence including the missing chunk out twice, whilst his/her opponent writes it down and vice versa.
Step 4 – At the end of the game the students compare the two sheets to see who was more accurate.
Picture 5 – Two students playing the ‘Something game’ (courtesy of Dylan Vinales and Global Innovative Language Teachers)
- Musical chairs walk-aloud
This is played like musical chairs except that the students walk around with a text which the students take turns reading aloud; when the reader utters a word belonging to a specific word class (e.g. an adjective or a verb) or part of set of words recently studied (e.g. animals) or containing a specific sound (e.g. ‘th’ as in ‘think’ in English), the class will have to sit down. If you are focusing on sound, make sure you choose ‘readers’ with very good decoding skills and diction.
- Critical listening pairwork
This activity is designed to enhance the students’ alertness to sounds fostering metacognition and a climate of self-direction in L2 learning. Although it may seem elaborate, it requires no preparation and elicits a lot of great learning conversations on sound. This is how I structure it:
Step 1 -The teacher reads aloud to class a text on a familiar topic flooded with opportunities for practice of specific phonemes. Students shadow-read;
Step 2- (prep time)The students are given the text and 10 minutes to prepare (on their own) reading aloud with a focus on pronunciation. They identify problems and attempt to solve them with the help of peers. I ask them to note down the main issues identified and the solutions they found/worked out;
Step4 – (At the end of prep time) the teacher provides recording of him/herself reading text. The students are allowed to listen to it for a few minutes before recording themselves;
Step5 – The students now record themselves reading the text;
Step 6 – The students listen to themselves and to a partner and identify targets for improvement (recording can be used in the process).
Step 7 – The students write down their findings, targets and reflections (I usually administer the survey in Picture 6 to elicit these data);
Step 8 – The students review their partner’s self-reflections to see if they would add something else.
Picture 6 – Post-task retrospective survey
These are the advantages of this activity observed by my colleagues and I:
- Students focus on pronunciation and listen to themselves and others critically with the added incentive of a wider audience;
- Students are given responsibility for identifying targets and strategizing, hence the process helps them become more metacognizant and autonomous in this area of their learning;
- The process makes them critical friends and builds relationships, diplomacy and empathy;
- It provides the teacher with a wealth of material which helps for future planning and enhances teacher’s awareness of students’ pronunciation issues.
‘Translistening’ is a task I do with my keenest linguists which combines reading aloud, listening and metalinguistic work. I designed it to focus my students on accuracy and to make them pay selective attention to a specific set of error types they kept making, especially word order, agreement, verb formation and mistakes with small function words (e.g. articles and prepositions).
Step 1 – The students are shown a short text in the L1 on the topic-at-hand, flooded with the lexical chunks and/or grammar structures they have been practising lately;
Step 2 – They are put in pairs and given an accurate L2 translation of the text (prepared by the teacher) and two different faulty L2 translations of the same text (which was allegedly produced by two anonymous students from a previous cohort) – one each;
Step 3 – Both translations contain the same number of occurrences of 3 or 4 types of error the class commonly make in their writing.
Step 4 -The students are told that both faulty L2 translations contain the same number of mistakes and their task is to listen to their partner as they read their faulty translation out (twice); with the help of the accurate L2 translation, they must spot as many mistakes as possible. The student who will spot more mistakes will win.
Step 5 – The students are now tasked with noting down and describing briefly the mistakes they identified in the translations, and the grammar rules they relate to;
Step 6 – The students are then asked to translate an L1 text which is extremely similar in structure and vocabulary to the one they have just dealt with.
The task (which take my classes around 50 minutes) elicits thorough processing, as the students really need to pay attention to every single detail they hear and allows the teacher to focus the students on a specific set of mistakes thereby priming them for selective attention to those mistakes in the translation task which follows, usually resulting in a more carefully crafted and more accurate final product.
10. Spot the differences
I have described this task previously as a teacher-centred activity. This is a student-led pair-work version of the game. Student A and B are given two nearly identical texts which differ only in terms of 8-10 words. As Student A reads aloud his text, Student B must spot the differences in his text.
This task combines reading aloud and listening whilst eliciting thorough processing, as Student B must really pay close attention to each and every word being read aloud to them.
11.Interactional Oral Communicative tasks
Of course, any interactional oral task done with a written scaffold is a form of reading aloud. Picture 1 above (reproduced below )shows part of a resource used to scaffold oral interaction in Spanish on the topic ‘Talking about a past holiday . Student A asks the questions and Student B responds in Spanish whilst Student A notes down (in English) his interviewee’s answer. You will find that after a few rounds many of the students will rely less and less on the scaffold, especially if you will have staged several of the read-aloud games discussed above prior to that.
Picture 1 – first page of oral scaffold for Spanish conversation on holiday
12. Concluding remarks
‘Reading aloud’ was criticised by the proponents of CLT for not being an ‘authentic’ activity which prepares students for life in the real world. However, recent research points to a range of beneficial effects on L2 acquisition, ranging from fostering speaking fluency to enhancing listening skills.
In my approach to language teaching, which lays a lot of emphasis on oral interaction and sensitisation to key lexical/structural patterns, the activities I have just described play a pivotal role at the initial stages of my pedagogic sequence (MARS + EARS), as they allow for masses of repetition of those patterns in a highly structured, non-threatening and fun and engaging way. In my own classroom research, I found the impact of such activities on retention, oral fluency, pronunciation/decoding skills, self-efficacy and general motivational levels to be significant, especially with younger and less able learners.
Of course, the role of the teacher as a vigilant ‘monitor’, motivator and feedback-provider cannot be overplayed when it comes to read-aloud pairwork. Good classroom management is, of course, a must.
I usually stage a battery of read-aloud pairwork activities (3 o 4) after introducing new language through a sentence builder and before engaging in reading and listening tasks. This allows for lots of recycling of the target chunks in a fun and memorable way prior to less structured and more challenging work requiring deeper information processing and aimed at ‘unpacking’ and consolidating the retention of those very chunks, as well as integrating them in a wider range of linguistic contexts.