Monday, October 15, 2012

How to teach reading skills to children with the free online books

In my previous post I promised I would come back with a few ways of how you could use the free online books from OUP, originally available to help English children develop reading skills, in your EFL classes. I found that these stories are perfect for children learning the language for the reasons I had already listed and would be a shame not to make use of them, especially in a world where more and more schools have online access. Yes, in order to be able to use these in your lessons you will need online access, a computer and a projector. If you don't, I will discuss how it could be used by children on their own at their leisure in the second part of this post.
A great plus for using these stories, is that as long as you remember the generic staging, which you'll read about below, this lesson does not require any preparation allowing you to tune in with the children and the story they choose.

As you can see on the screenshot of one of the books
  • children can hear the text as well as read it
  • you have the option to turn it silent
  • you can enlarge the page so that they don't see the words
  • you can turn the pages of the book with one click
  • there are two fun activities children can play after they've read and listened to the story

So all these functions allow us to take children through the reading process we would very much like them to use when reading on their own as well.

So here's one way I have used it in a series of two lessons:

Lesson One: The story

Offering choice: First I showed my class the main page with all the titles available in free online format and asked them to make a decision on which book they would like to read as a class. The only thing to remember here is that you need to make sure you choose the age-group with the right level of challenge for your group. For my 7-9 year old group I use the Age 5-6 group, this being the most suitable both in terms of content and language level.
At this stage it was not easy to reach a compromise, but do devote time to it, letting children reach an agreement in L1, as this is an important skill to practice, I believe. Unfortunately, in today's education system they are not given enough opportunities to make decisions as a group and then taking responsibility for them: experiencing the consequences and learning from them. So I tend to pay extra attention to giving space for developing such important skills.
I also point out at this stage that they will have the opportunity to read the books they want at home on their own, possibly with the help of their parents, whom I will send the link to this page.

Predicting content from title and cover: Once they have chosen the book they want to read together, I ask them to predict the content from the title and the cover of the book.  To help them do this I ask questions such as: 'Who are they? Where are they? What are they doing? How are they feeling?' We also brainstorm a few words and expressions they think will appear in the text. If they say them in L1, I reformulate them and put all of them on the board (not more than 7-10)

Predicting story-line from the pictures in L1: At this stage I first turn down the volume, as it starts reading the story automatically, and I don't want children to hear anything yet. I enlarge the page so that they cannot see the words either, all they can see are the pictures of the story. I ask them to work in pairs and work out what is happening in each picture, speaking in L1.
This stage is crucial in making sure they have an idea of what the details of the story are well before reading or listening to it. This will help them focus more on how things are worded in English and be able to match it to the content they have already got.

Listen and enjoy: At this stage I keep the page enlarged so that they cannot see the written words, but they can hear the story. I ask them to listen, enjoy the story and possibly see if their predictions were right, or if there was anything different they could pick.
It is very important that at this stage the main aim is kept at enjoying the story-line, enabling them to feel a sense of achievement in their ability to guess the content well. An added process that usually takes place at this stage mostly unconsciously, is that children start to listen out for how things are said in English, and this is a very natural thing to do. So bearing this in mind, I do not ask them any language-questions during the feedback stage after this activity. The only thing I ask them to comment on whether they have found the same story-line they had predicted or if there were any differences they noticed.
NB The pictures of these story-books are carefully designed so that children can work out what is happening pretty well just from the pictures.

Listen, read and enjoy: Next I tell them that they will also be able to read the words as well as listen. I ask a volunteer to come to the front. This person will have to point with their finger at the sentences that are being read. Tell the volunteer that they can play a trick minimum three times, maximum 5 times with the class, not showing the sentences that are being read at that very moment, but showing a different one. If the class notices, they should shout "No, not that one."

Working out the details of the story: Next I ask them to think of who the characters are and the main objects that are used in the story. They discuss these in pairs in L1, during the feedback stage they shout it out either in L1 or in English. If they shout out words in L1 I write their English equivalent on the board. In this story it would be: mum, dad, Kipper, children, water butt, hose, patch, tap. At this stage you can also discuss why they need the water butt, the hose and the patch.

Listen, watch and act out the story: First put children in groups of four-five and each of them should choose a role: mum, dad, Kipper, children (can be one child too). Ask them to find an object in their pencil cases, bags or around the room to replace the main objects of the story: the water butt, hose, patch, tap. Alternatively, you can also tell them to just imagine these and "show them" to you. At this stage each group of children will have to listen to the story, look at the pictures if they need help and just act it out, animating the story.
In my experience they have a lot of fun at this stage and can be extremely imaginative. It's worth asking them to act it out several times, after each one discussing how they could improve it. Another important factor is here is to help them rely less on the pictures and more on the spoken words they hear. If they can follow and animate the story just by listening to the lines, their acting will improve tremendously, they will become more creative and imaginative.
Also, experiencing the story with their bodies, animating it, really helps them connect with the language they hear and it helps them acquire it more naturally. So animating stories is always a must :-).

At the end you can ask a volunteer group to animate the story in front of the class as they are listening to it. You could make a little show out of this as well, if your class is into such things, allowing them to feel appreciated for their performance.

In the next post we will look at some fun ways to explore the story for language work and further fun acting activities that can emerge from it.


  1. I have just gone through your blog and find it very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for dropping by and leaving nice comments.
      Have a great day!

  2. Thanks for a great link. I wasn't aware of those free e-books. With colourful illustrations, audio and simple activities I can keep my children busy for hours! Thanks for sharing - the resource is cool.

    1. Dear Barbara,
      I'm glad you have found the resources great. They make teaching so much easier and what I love about it the most is that makes children more interested in reading in English. This is what I have experienced ever since I started using it in my class.
      If you have one or two practical activities, suggestions of how else they can be used, do let us know.
      Looking forward to hearing from you.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...