Alice Savage

Introducing Graded Texts And Five Ways to Use them

Casen Low IntIf reading exists on a continuum, then intensive reading occupies the end where students work heavily on reading skills. Intensive lessons generally include much frontloading in the form of vocabulary work and schema building. Next, while students read, they work on additional skills such as scanning for the main idea or making inferences. Multi-lingual readers may also be decoding syntax to work out the relationship between words, phrases and sentences. These are important skills, and reading course books provide valuable scaffolding to help classroom participants meet curricular objectives.

However, at the other end of the continuum there is another type of reading. Extensive reading is designed to focus on fluency. The goal is to provide the English learner with an experience that is similar to that of a native speaker picking up a magazine at the doctor’s office. For this authentic reading experience to happen, non-fiction and fiction articles, stories and books are graded and selected to be within the reader’s language ability.

Extensive reading has many benefits. First, it is highly motivating as students are meant to have a successful experience; second, readers are afforded multiple opportunities to see language in context; and third, it can set a rich context from which other sorts of language learning can occur. In fact, reading experts suggest that students do far more reading outside their traditional course material than they actually do. So, how do we include more reading in our English classes?

This post introduces a new feature that we are including on the English Endeavors Website. In addition to providing downloadable grammar activities, we are now offering free downloadable reading passages in the form of short articles and stories. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be uploading these passages at the A2 (high beginner level), the B1 (low intermediate level) and the B2 (intermediate level). Just click on the new tab Downloadable Graded Readers, and you’ll see the titles of texts at three levels. Just click on the link and go.

We are able to offer these original leveled texts for free thanks to Lone Star College System, which has generously given Alice Savage a sabbatical to develop these texts and make them available to teachers and students as downloads.

As materials writers and teachers, we know how difficult it is to create texts at level. We also know that teachers often need a text at the last minute, not because they’re lazy, but because inspiration can strike right before class. Finally, we understand that accessible texts can be mixed and matched with other material to infuse interesting content or create a cross-disciplinary approach to a module or unit.

However, just in case an inspiration does not come to mind immediately, here are five ways to use a leveled text in lesson plans across the curriculum.

  1. Conversation Starters

Meaningful conversations need at least three elements: You, me, and a good topic. In the classroom, this can be surprisingly easy to achieve through a short reading and response questions. The best readings are slightly provocative. They go beyond the basic presentation of facts to an interpretation that challenges the reader. Should we trust robots? Are some sports too dangerous? Do trees talk to each other? The content can provide information that helps students discuss or write about these questions. When effectively constructed, the reader may want to variously agree or disagree, compare, interpret, or apply information.

For example, after reading about the Futurist Ray Kurzweil’s prediction that humans may eventually join with machines, English learners can discuss whether they think it is possible based on the information in the article. This can happen in the classroom or it could spark an interesting conversation between students over coffee or even in a conversation practice tutoring session.

  1. Grammar lessons

The most frequent words in the English language are grammar words, and graded readers are full of them. But many of these grammar words are hard to define. For example, the word enough is in the most frequent one thousand, but what does it mean? When it appears in a graded reader, the context provides the schema for readers to grasp both the meaning of the word and its place in a sentence.

Teachers can be on the lookout for these tricky lexico-grammatical features and draw students’ attention to them. For example, the teacher might give readers a noticing task. Find three sentences with the word enough. Does it appear in statements, negatives and/or questions? It could then be followed by an application: Write your own examples by substituting other nouns for the nouns in the original.

The context of the reading can also set up further practice. For example, ask a question that the story answers: Why didn’t the father want her daughter to marry Kenji? (Use enough in your answer) Answer: He wasn’t rich enough. Why did the father want her to marry Yoshi? He had enough money.

  1. Writing Prompts

One of the most difficult problems for writers is getting started. Multi-lingual writers are not an exception. Given a question prompt, they may or may not have something to say. But given a four or five-paragraph article that presents two sides of an issue, writers have something to start with. They can analyze the two sides and respond. Or given a short story, they can identify with a character or evaluate her decisions.

A short extensive reading text can also be helpful for early work in paraphrasing or summarizing. Because the reading is not the primary challenge, more cognitive resources can be given over to the writing task. For example, after reading about Temple Grandin, the animal husbandry expert and autism activist, readers can summarize her challenges and then compare them to their own challenges or the challenges of another role model or leader.

  1. Debate Material

A simple, structured debate can be quickly organized around a reading about an issue. For example, you might start with the following: Extreme sports such as rock climbing and base jumping should be banned for the protection of the athletes.

Students can prepare by reading the article and identifying pros and cons. Then the class can be broken into three groups. (For bigger classes, use two readings and have two debates by creating two groups of three.) Each three-group set can include a pro group, a con group, and a moderator group. Then pro groups and con groups each meet for 15-20 minutes to organize their arguments.

During this time, the moderators formulate questions that can be posed to the debate teams.  The moderators also decide who will ask which question and be in charge of any follow up discussion. The moderators also create a rubric for assigning points for each answer.

The debate takes place with moderators taking turns asking questions. Each moderator assignments points to one team or the other for each question. The winning team will have the highest number of points at the end of the debate.

  1. Scaffolding for Listening or Speaking

Many news organizations now post short videos about topical issues on their websites. This is a virtual treasure trove of material for students at the intermediate level and above. However, because these videos are not designed for language learners, learners can benefit from scaffolding. A background reading can set the stage by introducing concepts and language that listeners are likely to experience. Or at higher levels, it can provide a point of view that is similar to or different from the video. Learners can read, listen and compare.

For example, Mars has been in the news quite a bit lately as both private and government projects are underway to send humans to the red planet. There are many short videos on the NASA site and on mainstream media. For example, the New York Times has a video series about a group of volunteers who are spending eight months on a volcano that resembles the Martian landscape. The volunteers, all NASA scientists, eat and sleep in a small habitat, and if they go outside, they wear a space suit.

A whole lesson can be built around the videos that includes readings on Mars and perhaps a panel discussion on the biological, ethical, and economic considerations of what it means for humans to live on a faraway planet.

There are other sources of texts as well. For more free material, try the British Council Website. It has both reading and audio material.  British Council Reading Resources.

For kindle or paperbacks with short stories and articles about topical issues, try Wayzgoose Press’ Big Ideas. (Note that Alice is an author/editor for this series.)

For adapted novels, Oxford University Press has many classics. Try Bookworms.

For fiction written exclusively for English learners, try Cambridge University Press’ Cambridge English Readers.


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