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Using Graded Readers in the EFL/ESL classroom -by Heather Doiron

Summary : The graded reader can provide several learning opportunities for the ESL/EFL student. Using background information, character exploration and Reader’s theatre, the following article will provide an overview of how through the use of graded readers...

    The graded reader can provide several learning opportunities for the ESL/EFL student. Using background information, character exploration and Reader’s theatre, the following article will provide an overview of how through the use of graded readers, an ESL/EFL teacher can activate a student’s schemata to develop an appreciation for second language reading.


      Graded readers provide multiple learning opportunities for the ESL/EFL student. While the activity of reading a novel may seem intimidating for the beginner to intermediate ESL/EFL student, the grader reader provides an excellent staring point to  build the confidence required to read in a second language.  Under the headings of background information, character exploration and reader’s theatre the following article will provide an overview of how the graded reader can present the opportunities to develop vocabulary, improve comprehension and  advance speaking skills. The article will also make references to the Christmas Carol, the Great Gatsby and Rabbit Proof Fence, all of which are available in graded reader format.


Background Information


            Background information can supply a body of knowledge that  provides a student with the necessary support  to develop the reading task that lies ahead. Background information can also provide a foundation for vocabulary building. Depending on the level of the class, there are several methods to support vocabulary building. Requiring students to keep a record of their vocabulary during the pre-reading stage will certainly help students  to begin the development  of understanding the story. Prior knowledge may also help students define new vocabulary from context. Teachers may decide to supply the background information, or it may-be helpful to ask the students to do their own research.  In small groups students can share their information with classmates.  This may also lead to discussions on predictions in reference to the  reading material. When dealing with a novel such asThe Christmas Carol, it may helpful for students to be aware of Charles Dickens’ time line and cultural influences.  The research and discussion aspect encourages independent learning and reader responsibility, which in turn nurtures a sense of personal involvement in the reading assignment.  The sense of preparation can  also create a sense of anticipation, which hopefully creates a desire to read.


Character Exploration   


            Character exploration is a process in which students learn about the characters and what role they play in the story. By using character time lines, which are divided by predictions and outcomes, students can monitor the predictions for each character and the actual outcome of the character.  In The Great Gatsby, it is helpful for the students to know that Gatsby is a mysterious millionaire who just happens to buy a house directly across the bay from his  former girl friend, Daisy. Daisy’s cousin, Nick also lives near by and eventually he becomes a close friend to Gatsby. Discussion as to why the students choose certain predictions can create a desire to seek out the actual outcome. Having students make predictions about the characters, then doing  a follow up while reading may also provide a need to continue vocabulary building while developing comprehensions skills.


Reader’s Theatre


            The presence of background information and the ongoing development of character exploration provide the foundation for the reading process to begin. Reader’s theatre is a low-maintenance combination of reading and drama that allows students to increase comprehension, improve pronunciation, intonation and expression, as well as participate in a group learning activity. In the case of Rabbit Proof Fence, choose a section and using different highlighters, have students separate the passages of each character, i.e., Gracie is blue, Molly is yellow, Daisy is Pink.  It might be helpful to make an example and then show the class the example on an OHP.  First ask the class to follow the example, and then split the class into groups of three. Once groups are established, have group one highlight everything Grace said,  assign group two to Molly, and group three to Daisy.  Once the highlighting is completed, have students take turns reading their highlighted passages out loud.  The next step is to allow students to continue to read silently and highlight the passages they are responsible for. Once the students are comfortable with the process, continue with reading out loud, but this time have them add intonation and expression.  Reader’s  theatre encourages students to play an active role in reading while simultaneously improving reading comprehension, and speaking skills.

      The graded reader is a valuable resource to the ESL/EFL student. Several titles from beginners to high intermediate are available in the form of graded readers. Before choosing  a reader it is important to consider the level of the students, the goals of the class, and the allotted amount ofclass time to be spent on the reader. Furthermore it is  recommended to chose a reader that motivates both student and teacher. Many readers are available on audio, which can provide support for intonation and pronunciation. Several titles are also available in video and with the proper guidance can be useful for student comprehension.The reading process for a ESL/EFL students can be a educational  experience that goes far beyond the classroom. The preparation, engagement, and exposure to written language, may be just enough to encourage students to read outside the classroom, and even beyond the textbook. 

About Author
Heather Doiron lives in Nagoya and teaches at Nanzan Univeristy, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies and Aichi Shukutoku University. She holds a M.Ed in Psychology and Counselling from University of New Brunswick. Particular interests include making real literature accessible to ESL/EFL students,finding ways to improve student motivation, and developing methods to use music,movies, and drama in the ESL/EFL classroom.

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