Four Fun Ways to Build Knowledgeable, Confident IELTS Readers – by Richard Buckley:
When IELTS candidates stare at their Reading paper, alone and under time pressure, traditional scaffolding techniques aren’t available.
– pre-teach blocking vocabulary.
– activate schemata by facilitating conversation around the general topic.
– concept-check to ensure that learners have understood the title and the genre before tackling the details and inferring author’s intention.
Our fear is that the candidate will miss something key and not ‘get it’. What can we do?
Burgess and Head’s ‘How to Teach For Exams’ (2005) offers tips for strengthening candidates’ grasp of the ‘nuts and bolts’ – in particular, question format and task types, not to mention text coherence and vocabulary inference. Petrie (2017), however, has found that practice alone doesn’t make perfect: mock exams enjoy high face validity but aren’t necessarily linked to better outcomes, unless targeted and aligned to clear learning aims.
One often-missed step is fundamental learner training. While IELTS course participants (and even some teachers) expect quick fixes, short-circuiting the need to work on language, the most valuable intervention we can offer is to develop the same lifelong language learning skills that will stand them in good stead, whatever their goals.
Here are some ideas to take learners on the journey towards being knowledgeable, confident IELTS readers – General or Academic.
Technique 1: Do you even read though?
Extensive reading delivers tangible, empirically-demonstrated benefits. We fear that, unless we tightly control the material, learners might gravitate towards what they know and like, not what is aligned with exam content (Maley, 2010). But evidence shows that ‘free voluntary reading’ is associated with gains in the spectrum of language learning outcomes – not solely reading speed, skimming and scanning (Krashen, 2004).
So how can we get learners reading more? One technique I’ve found powerful is a traditional mingle on the topic of reading. Each participant has a unique question about course mates’ reading habits, and conducts a five-point Likert-scale survey (answers ranging from ‘yes, regularly’ to ‘no, never’).
– Do you follow a blog or a website in English?
– Do you read fiction in English?
– On your commute to this centre, do you read in English on your phone?
– Do you follow any Facebook or Twitter feeds in English?
– Do you read the news in English (from a newspaper or news website)?
When you listen to English language music, do you ever search for and read the lyrics?
Once the survey’s complete, it lends itself brilliantly to the extension activity of writing up the results as an Academic Writing Part 1-style ‘describe the table’ task. But more immediately, it gets learners reflecting on their reading habits. Without fail, learners agree they should be reading more – OUTSIDE class – and are receptive to ideas.
I use the moment to introduce learners to easily-integrated, accessible reading options: inspirational Facebook pages such as ‘Humans of New York’, Genius.com for song lyrics – or offer to identify options based on learners’ hobbies one-to-one. The opportunity is there for learners to share their favourite sources of English reading, too. You can ‘task’ learners with building a reading portfolio, or set a formatively-assessed task, but in terms of building a sustainable, long-term habit, it’s more about showing what’s out there and ‘normalising’ reading in English, less about coercion.
To find out the other three useful techniques, please click here:
Published by: IHWO
Burgess, S. and Head, K. (2005), How To Teach For Exams, Harlow: Longman.
Harmer, J. (1998), How To Teach English: An introduction to the practice of English language teaching, Harlow: Pearson.
Krashen, S. (2004), The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research, Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
Maley, A. (2010), ‘Extensive reading: why it is good for our students… and us’, British Council TeachingEnglish, available online at https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/extensive-reading-why-it-good-our-students%E2%80%A6-us (accessed 01/11/17).
Nuttall, C. (1996), Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language (2nd edition), Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Petrie, D. (2017), ‘Does Practice Make Perfect?’, IH Journal 42, available online at http://ihjournal.com/does-practice-make-perfect (accessed 01/11/2017)
Thornbury, S. (2011), ‘G is for Gist’, An A-Z of ELT: Scott Thornbury’s Blog, available online at https://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/g-is-for-gist/ (accessed 01/11/17).
Richard Buckley is Corporate Programmes Coordinator at British Council Sudan. Since completing his CELTA at IH Newcastle, he has also taught in Indonesia and Japan, as well as completing a Master’s in Education and DELTA Modules 1 and 3. His main interests are Business English and needs analysis for corporate clients. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.