Encouraging reading for pleasure

I think we all know the importance of reading and the difference it can make in educational performance. Parents are encouraged to read to their children from as early an age as possible. In the UK all babies can claim a pack from Bookstart   (https://www.booktrust.org.uk/what-we-do/programmes-and-campaigns/bookstart/) which offers an amazing service. I’m lucky that both my children love books and for them going to the library is a treat. 

The Bookstart bear

Yet in the context that I teach in (HE) reading for pleasure is rarely addressed, even though it is just as valuable. As with babies and children, reading for pleasure offers HE students a relaxed opportunity to expand their language, through exposure to vocabulary and structures. With this in mind, a colleague and myself started a small scale project this term with a group we share. We both teach on slightly different modules: her module focusing on reading and writing skills and mine on listening and speaking; however, we both thought that this could be used to our advantage and also demonstrate that listening for pleasure is just as beneficial. We decided that for the students to see the benefit, the materials we chose would need to be linked to their coursebooks. Luckily, the module course books mirror each other.  A reading carousel has been set up in the college (with the intent for students to sit and read) and so we decided to use the magazines on this carousel. This also meant that students would have access to the actual articles used and have the opportunity to read in more detail. We then sat down and looked at the coursebooks to see which units could best be used, deciding at the same time to only use 4 out of 10 units in the book, so that the sessions would be different. Once we had the units, we found matching articles, form which I took the image (or a related image) and where I could found news extracts (Blue Planet 2 was very useful!) and other audio sources that complimented the chosen text. We then planned our sessions separately, sharing them to ensure that the lessons followed each other, but could be taught in any order (i.e. either the reading or the listening sessions first). We are at the point where we have completed 3 out of the 4 sessions and so far it’s all gone really well. The students have responded well to the materials. All we need to do now is successfully move it on to the students reading (and listening) independently for pleasure. To start this, I launched the  reading and listening challenge with my students last week. Using Readingo (mentioned in the post from 2nd November 2018), I challenged the students to listen or read to the topics mentioned on the card (I gave each student a laminated Readingo card) and try to get 4 in a row. The idea is they cross off the topic, once they’ve read or listened to something on it. Once they had done that, they can show me or my colleague and receive a small prize. Being aware some dear students may just cross items off without reading or listening, I set up a forum. Once they’ve crossed off a topic, students are to add a small comment of what they’ve read or heard.  So far, I’ve had no takers…

My next move is to look at ways to improve this. It may mean having students read or listen independently in class, but most likely it’ll be something I’ve not thought of…yet! 

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The Novella | Why it’s a great extensive reading resource for English Language Students | OUP — Oxford University Press

The benefits of extensive reading for learners of English have been well documented, and there are some informative articles easily discoverable on this blog. The Graded Reader can play a hugely important part in developing reading skills, and OUP has a fantastic selection of them for all levels – as a teacher I used them…

via The Novella | Why it’s a great extensive reading resource for English Language Students | OUP — Oxford University Press

I was attracted to this article because part of the changes that are being made to the course I’m teaching, is the inclusion of books and magazines that are related to units in the coursebook. I was intending to take this a step further next week and introduce a game  I found through online classroom resources(readingo) to encourage the reading of different texts (and hopefully start students reading for pleasure in English). If asked, I may recommend they try the novellas mentioned in the OUP blog.

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Developing courses under restrictions


Since the start of the new term, I keep meeting my former students in the corridor and almost all of them are saying “It’s too hard”, “There are so many assessments” or “It’s so hard compared to last term”. Then I’ll enter my office and tutors will say “Did you teach so and so last term? They’re always on their phone/not listening/ not completing home tasks…”. The list goes on. Generally the students in question were fine the term before: certainly not perfect, but engaged and participating.

This has led me to thinking that perhaps the course that I’m teaching on (language only), isn’t really preparing the students for their main courses (pre-university courses: Foundation, Diploma and Pre-Masters). I’ve chatted to a few of the language and skills teachers who teach on the main courses, I’ve spoken to the programme leader and senior tutor for the main language programmes and the conclusion that I’ve come to is that the gap between the language only and main terms is just too great.

This is obviously not going to help the students preform as well as they could if the course led into each other, so over the coming weeks (and probably months!), I’ll be looking into where the gap can be closed. The challenge (there had to be one!) is that the language only term follows a set text. This means I’ll have to see where the links can be squeezed in. I’ll also have to try and align it with their assessments and will have limited resources.

My current action plan is

  • to review the current teaching provision (in terms of hours, assessments, parts of the book that lend themselves to adaptation and linking to main programmes)
  • to determine what can be included in the changes (i.e. links to programme; assessment types; tasks within the classroom.
  • review the summer mini project with Business and language only
  • to meet with the Programme Leaders to see what they think is needed
  • arrange for subject tutors to observe language only sessions and advise what could help
  • arrange for language tutors to visit subject classes
  • create sessions that involve subject materials/vocabulary
  • trial the materials
  • gain feedback from the students

Looking at the list it’ll probably take me more than 1 term (terms are 12 weeks) to gather all the information and create something that can be taught. I’m quite looking forward to the challenge.


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How children speak. Do they? – Michael Rosen

I’ve just read this article by Michael Rosen and I can’t agree more with what he says. Language doesn’t, and never has, fit in to ‘boxes’  or set patterns that apply to every situation. I watch my children communicate (aged 4 and 1) and I don’t think they ever use full sentences (the 1 year old, obviously not, but she has a range of about 70-80 words that she uses very accurately and flexibly), although my oldest is more than capable of speaking in full sentences. 

People seem to forget that spoken language is varied and doesn’t hold the same ‘conventions’ as written language (and there are variances in written conventions as well). 

How children speak. Do they? — Michael Rosen

There are a lot of misleading statements doing the rounds in connection with children’s spoken language. First of all, we need to remember that no one speaks in what the Secretary of State for Education calls ‘full sentences’. When we speak, we hesitate, interrupt ourselves (or each other), we speak over each other, we don’t…

via How children speak. Do they? — Michael Rosen

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Keeping up with the Jones’

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write a post, what with one thing and another. I have been thinking about what to write and have mentally had about 15 ideas – the trouble is I don’t write them down, so when I actually get to sit down, my mind is blank.

One of the themes I’ve had in my mind (for about a year now!), is how can you keep up with all the new developments in teaching and technology when there’s so little time (pressured job and home life). I’ve thought about it for a while and come with a very basic checklist.

  • Read 2 articles related to field of work
  • Tweet at least twice (this can also be a retweet)
  • Read information and ideas from professional Facebook feed
  • Try and publish 2 posts on Facebook about what I’m working on/something interesting I’ve read (which could be one of the articles)

The above I attempt to do each week

  • Join in webinars
  • Write a blog post (on something I’ve read about or been involved in)

These I plan to do once a month

I’ve had this plan in my since I returned to work about 7 months ago!! I have to admit that it’s only now that I’m starting to implement it – not through lack of motivation but time (increased workload, 2 new roles and 2 small children!). I am disappointed with myself for not keeping up with my plan as I intended. However, I’ve not been idle with my CPD: I have attended conferences (on and offline), tweeted, facebooked (is that a word?) and become involved with a Design Thinking group (a post or 2 about that later).

Hopefully, over the next few months I’ll be able to make the checklist habit and feel that I am ‘keeping up with the Jones’.

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Encouraging curiosity

Ramsey Musallam: 3 rules to spark learning

While this talk uses chemistry teaching, I feel that it is valid for all kinds of teaching, including languages.  Engaging students in learning and the learning process, for me, is key in any classroom. It’s when students are interested that the knowledge is absorbed: consciously or otherwise.

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Planning – end of term review

In the lead up to the term I’ve just completed, I’d participated in a webinar which awoke an interest in reflecting on how I plan lessons.

I decided to use the questions below to analyse the way  that I plan.

What do I take into consideration?

Why do I decide on certain activities and others?

Do I use certain activities too frequently?

Why do I change activities?

What happens in the classroom?

Why do I alter items in class?


It’s been an interesting term for planning, mainly because I’ve had to deal with two new modules (as mentioned in a previous post). Adding an extra layer of complexity the planning process were students joining the course right up until week 5. Luckily, the other students needed quite a bit of recycling (although this did make it difficult to cover all the content). Due to the nature of the course I had to cherry pick and heavily adapt the coursebook material to ensure all aspects required for assessments were covered.

At the start of the term I was very conscious about presenting more (i.e. talking) then I ordinarily would. I think this was because (1) in lieu of a coursebook I was using powerpoints to present information; (2) my unfamiliarity with the modules and (3) not being quite sure (or confident enough) of areas I could easily hand over to students.  This meant that there was a bit more ‘heads up’ (teacher fronted) than ‘heads down’ (student led) time. However, as term progressed ‘heads up’ time didn’t necessarily mean that the activity was teacher led. As I became more familiar with the modules’ content I began to look at making it more interactive and varied: I used Kahoot!, PollEv , Kubuu and the like to introduce and review content; I incorporated Google Docs (which students could access via links on powerpoints and the college VLE) and Nearpod; I asked students to bring their own materials, to conduct surveys to create their own graphs and included activities such as ‘speed speaking’ (a bit like speed dating).

It’s been interesting to see how my planning has changed over term and although I wasn’t able to review my planning in the way I’d originally intended I did notice aspects I took into consideration when planning and when altering a plan in class. The themes I found are

  1. involving students as much as possible (i.e. having students actively participate)
  2. making the content as interesting as possible (from a student’s perspective)
  3. making the sessions as interactive as possible
  4. ensuring that different mediums are used
  5. bringing the coursebook content ‘off the page’ as often as possible
  6. changing the pace of a session (in the class especially  as a reaction to students’ moods)
  7. altering activities if I had seen a better way of doing them (in the class)
  8. adding extras to challenge students (in the class)

These areas indicate students tend to be the focal point of my planning and my lessons are designed to motivate and encourage students to learn  – where possible in their own way.

It’s a shame I’m not teaching the same modules again this term. If I were I could look in more detail at the frequency of the activities I use. But no, it’s another new module, set of assessments and coursebook for me! No peace…




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eBeam – the students’ perspective

At the end of the eBeam trial I asked students to (anonymously) write down what they thought of it.

Here are their responses (with permission):

“It’s not really neccessary, we can use it sometimes, but not each course. Sometimes it doesn’t work. We can use another way to activate classroom atmosphere. Maybe weekly we can use it.”

“It’s not really useful and nessary because that electronic pen soemtimes is not flexible. It could take long time to be ready for preparatory. There is a advantage which save resource. If that pen is flexible that could replace for the normal use.”

“Dear Teacher , I think it is very useful. Convenience our look at from broad.”

“I think it is useless and use it is very difficult”

“I think this pen is great fun. can adjust the classroom atmosphere”

“It doesn’t effect our study environment unuseful and useful is ok.”

“Tech-pen: unnecessary.”

“I think the equipment is not good because teacher is very difficult to use and not clearly.”

“I think it ok. Maybe not very useful in class but sometimes can help us and I  think it very facility when you writing something on screen.”

“I think this electricity equipment is useful. but teacher don’t have to write very beautifully and tidyly, we could understand your meaning. sometimes words are wrote badly, No problem, cause isn’t affected by them we could know it”

“I think the pen sometimes useful sometimes useless for the student”

“I think you don’t need this pen. It’s doesn’t matter.”


I find that the comments provide a very useful insight into how the students experienced eBeam and how they see it in regards to the class and what it adds (or detracts) from the atmosphere. It’s interesting that many of the students have focused on the pen in their feedback and not the activities. I’d be curious to see how the comments might change once I was able to write clearly and confidently with  the pen.

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Unplanned planning

The research into my own planning process has been of to an interesting start! I was hoping to be comparing the process I’ve been going through with the responses I’ve had about how teachers plan this week, but hey, best laid plans and all that!

The course that I was scheduled to teach  has now been cancelled (students couldn’t get visas in time), so all that initial planning is out the window. This isn’t really a problem as I was very familiar with the course: many of the extras I  planned to use, had been created for previous terms and I’m sure I can use them again. The challenge is that I’m now teaching on two courses  I’m not so familiar with, in fact I’ve not taught on them before. However, this has given me a new aspect of planning to consider: whether planning for new courses alters my planning process.

My timetable was altered a short time before the new courses were due to start, so I’ve been in a bit of a spin trying to get my head around course content, assessments and marking descriptors.When I teach a new course I like to understand the course requirements, assessments and content before I start planning. When I use a new book I tend to go through and add the answers ahead of the class, as this helps me understand the teaching point more clearly and/or the intended angle (which isn’t always clear from the book) and visualise any potential challenges the students may face. This isn’t always straight forward  if it’s unfamiliar.


Observations from the first week

Most of my planning time has been taken up with looking through the assessments and course materials, so I don’t feel that I’ve planned in the same way as I had for my original timetable. My focus has been on understanding the requirements of the new modules and ensuring I can pass the correct information on to the students, rather than how the information is passed on. I’ve spent  a good amount of time reading through the course books to understand the teaching points and find ways to take these ‘off the page’. This has been the main challenge, as I’m unfamiliar with the content and so being creative with it isn’t so easy. I have succeeded in adding some activities, for example using PollEv.com and Kahoot, and having students match items, that (hopefully) make the content more student focused.

I have managed to plan the first week for both courses, but I’m not confident that they will be successful.

I taught the first lesson yesterday. The lesson went as planned and  the activities seemed to be well received. I think the main stumbling was my own confidence in delivering the lesson. Since meeting the first group of students I’ve  started to rejig the week’s planning. I’ve changed the order, created and added new exercises.  I’m still not so confident that these will work, but that should come as I become more familiar with the course. I’ve also created a rough overview for the whole term to give me the confidence that I know what’s coming (I just need to match it to the course book now!).  I hope that in the coming weeks I can start to concentrate more on the students and tailoring the content to their needs and less on the content itself – by that I don’t mean ignore the content, just manipulate it more confidently.

Teaching on new modules has clearly influenced the way I initially plan.   – time will tell if it effects the whole course. It also seems to have had an impact on my confidence: I think this is because I’m not familiar with the course expectations and content (the teaching bit is fine!).


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Lesson planning

A few weeks ago I participated in a webinar on lesson planning (Perspectives of lesson planning. John Huges. Oxford University Press), introduced through a blog post of the same name (http://oupeltglobalblog.com/tag/webinar/). It spurred me into thinking about how I plan my lessons and what I take into consideration when planning. It’s not really something I’ve thought about for a very long time (i.e. about 15 years!).

My plans are usually pretty short affairs with minimal detail (below is a plan for 3 lessons – 6 hours of teaching).


This is generally because I plan about a week ahead and only sketch out a rough outline of each lesson. Once I’ve started teaching from them, they start to look quite different!


This seems to chime with what the webinar said: that plans are mainly written for the teacher to use and only as a base for  the lesson. Most teachers adapt what they are doing as they teach. If this is the case what do teachers (or myself) do in the planning process?

Before I attempt to answer that, I should start with my current planning process:

  1. Write a rough outline of the content to be covered, including possible extensions, quizzes, games… (this is what gets put into my planning book)
  2. Create any extra materials that come up from the planning
  3. Alter plans, re-adjusting and adding more appropriate activities (for the students or current atmosphere) as the week unfolds.

Most of  my planning time is spent on parts 2 and 3 (part 1 may only take 15 minutes). I’m not really sure why I plan like this (or if others do the same). It seems to have evolved this way and it works for me.

So why am I looking at it? I felt it would be interesting to find out (or at least try) what my thought processes are (hopefully there are some!) – namely

What do I take into consideration?

Why do I decide on certain activities and others?

Do I use certain activities too frequently?

Why do I change activities?

What happens in the classroom?

Why do I alter items in class?

In other words to look at the ‘unconscious’ part of my planning I guess. This term I intend to keep a diary of my planning and from this I’ll see if there are any aspects from the webinar that I should be taking more into consideration. It’ll be interesting to see what comes from it.

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