Reading aloud has recently been stigmatized in modern classrooms. The reasons are simple: we don’t read aloud that much in real life, it doesn’t improve speaking skills, it’s far from being communicative.
Sounds reasonable, you might say. However, reading aloud still has its benefits, especially while teaching teens and adults. First, it links written and spoken forms of words. If done properly, it also helps students focus on intonation and features of connected speech. What’s more, reading aloud in class can still replicate real-life moments. After all, we do read instructions, news features, bedtime stories — or just give speeches. A bit of extra practice won’t hurt anyone.
Reading aloud is not about asking students to open their books and read some part of a text taking turns. Teens aren’t usually big fans of this activity. They lose track, get distracted or just bored, and don’t listen to each other reading. But a carefully selected text can solve some of these issues. Try to follow these tips to see how it is going in your classroom:
Opt for a short text
Short texts are much easier to focus on. They are also better in terms of work with pronunciation. By limiting students to 6-8 phrases, you will make this work manageable and let teens notice some particular patterns and regularities.
Make it authentic
Practise reading aloud those texts which are usually read aloud in real life. Among them are instructions, news snippets, presentation texts. Vary intonation, try different pausing, add emotions.
Vary interaction patterns
Reading out loud in front of the whole class can intimidate even a brave teenager, let alone a shy one. Don’t make others just listen purposelessly. Arrange students into pairs for a pair dictation or ask them to read to each other in small groups and give feedback on intonation or sounds.
Bearing in mind these principles, what can we actually do at the lesson? Below you will find some activities which exploit reading aloud in class painlessly and productively.
Shadowing is listening to the text and repeating what you hear trying to follow the speaker in every detail. This is a great technique to use if you want to draw teens’ attention to connected speech, intonation or various accents. Most texts in coursebooks are accompanied with an audio track, as well as listening tasks go with a tapescript. Here is what you can do with those:
- listen to the text several times, marking the stress, intonation patterns and linking
- listen to the text while reading the tapescript silently
- listen again, trying to repeat with a minimum delay
- in the end, students can also record their shadowing to compare with the original
You will find more about shadowing here.
A simple thing to do is to have a student read a text according to an adverb, such as ‘excitedly’, ‘nervously’, ‘thoughtfully’ etc. Other students listen and guess the emotion. It works well with lower-level students and makes them aware of intonation.
Higher-level students can go further. Put them into pairs to read aloud a dialogue which contains some functional language. It can be booking a hotel, asking for directions, shopping for clothes and whatnot. After they pick up their roles, give one of them a clarifying card. The card can say ‘You are terribly late for an extremely important meeting’ or ‘You have a runny nose and talking much gives you a headache’. The task is still the same — to guess the problem. It can be tons of fun! My favourite activity of this kind is taken from Fun Class Activities Book 1 by Peter Watcyn-Jones:
Put students into pairs. Hand out a short printed text. One student gets the full version, the other gets the same text but with no punctuation marks. The task is to listen to the partner reading the text and reconstruct the punctuation.
This task comes in handy when teens start asking you about this ‘crazy English punctuation’ while preparing for their exams. Give it a try!
While a student is reading aloud, why don’t you invite the others to close their textbooks? Choose a reader and provide other teens with a task to do while listening. It can be a focus question, a chart to fill or target vocabulary to tick.
You can assign the role of the reader to a more confident student or turn it into routine practice and pass the role to a new student each time. This way you will have more chances to focus on individual pronunciation issues while keeping all the students busy.
All in all, reading aloud is still the subject of debates. However, it’s a diagnostic device and a powerful tool for working with pronunciation. What’s more, reading out loud can be used for rehearsed speaking activities Try to give it another chance instead of banning this practice from your classroom.
Do you see any benefits in reading aloud? Do you practise it with your teens?