The Most Effective Classroom Organization for Reading Skills Development

Reading book

Here is what seems to be some well-kept secrets about reading classes.  The teacher doesn’t have to be the center of attention.  The teacher doesn’t have to “act” like a teacher, standing up front talking.

And most of all, students will not be bored or waste time if they are reading individually during class.

What students need from the reading teacher is someone who can help each individual student develop their reading comprehension skills.  A student doesn’t need to listen to a teacher explain to the class parts of a passage he/she already understands but that a classmate doesn’t.

Students can get the maximum benefits from a reading class and from a reading teacher through a reading workshop.  This workshop approach has proven effective at all levels and with students from over 40 countries.

One of the greatest advantages is that each student’s individual needs are addressed by the teacher during the class.  Another advantage is that students are working on reading by actually reading.  Also, they don’t have to wait for classmates to finish reading a passage or feel pressure to read faster to keep up with them.

Here is how a Reading Workshop can be effectively organized.

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Saving Mental Energy: Give Two Grades on Essays


(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.) Essay Evaluation Form

Imagine that you read Mari’s essay in which she developed her ideas exactly the way that you had hoped she would.  But her grammar was very weak and even caused some confusion.  You are torn about what grade to give her.  You know that her grammar skills are not strong enough to succeed at the next level, so you don’t want to mislead her.  But you also don’t want to discourage her since her content was so good.

What grade should you give Mari?

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Discussion Technique to Get Quiet Students Involved (Part 2)

Akiyo Noguchi and Anna Stöhr during the semifinals at the IFSC Boulder Worldcup Vienna 2010

Listen and summarize

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Most of us have had experience like this with an ESL student: Someone is talking for a half a minute or more, and the student is just looking at the person.  When the person stops, the student just nods his/her head.  The speaker isn’t sure if the student really understood. 

There is a technique which students, both the listener and speaker, can uses in conversations to avoid that type of situation.

The technique expands on the one introduced in Part 1. Discussion Technique to Get Quiet Students Involved (Part 1) Instead of asking a clarification after each paragraph, in this one, the listener summarizes in one sentence what s/he thinks was said.

By doing this, the speaker is able to feel confident that s/he is being understood correctly and the listener can confirm his/her understanding.

Just as with the technique introduced in Part 1, after students have used the two attached handout-activities, they usually find the technique to be a “tool” that they can use not only in group discussions but also when interacting with teachers and others outside the classroom.

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Teaching the Most Interesting Type of Essay Introduction (an Inductive Approach)


(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Handout Dramatic Introductions

Most people like stories.  And essays that start with a story are often the easiest to enter.  Like these written by a couple of students:

     “A few months ago, in the middle of the night, when I was staying at home, I heard my house’s gate was shaken violently by someone.  There, I saw a woman who was carrying her baby, standing with panic and asking for help. …”

       “The 40-degree Celsius weather was miserable when we were going on the trail to my grandmother’s house in Bucaramanga, Colombia.  We had been traveling about seven hours and were in El Pescadero, which is the curviest and dizziest part of the trip.

These dramatic introductions are not only enticing for the reader, but they are also fun for the students to write; it gives them a chance to use their imagination and creativity.

At the same time, a good dramatic intro isn’t just a story.  There are three characteristics of especially good ones:

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Guaranteed Active Whole-Class Discussions (2nd  Technique: Volunteering to Answer)

Volunteer answer

(This posting includes an attached teacher’s script which you are welcome to use.)

As mentioned in the previous posting “1st Technique: Responding to others,” Guaranteed Active Whole-Class Discussions (First Technique: Responding to Others)  whole-class discussions can be an alien concept to some students.   This is the second technique.

International students in Western-style classes often feel ignored during whole-class discussions if the instructor doesn’t directly call on them.  In some of the classes, instructors expect students to freely offer their comments or ask question.  Also, some hesitate to call on International students because they think those students might feel uncomfortable speaking to the whole class.

This technique, Volunteering an Answer, is very effective in helping even passive students involved in whole-class discussion, and in the process, impressing their instructors.

To help you students become comfortable with this technique, you can use the attached script, which I’ll explain about below.  (Notice: for this technique, there is no handout for the student, just a teacher’s script.) Script Whole class Technique 2 Volunteering to answer

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Guaranteed Active Whole-Class Discussions (First Technique: Responding to Others)

Discussion responding

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.) 

During a whole-class discussion, one of the students, Santos, made a comment.

Then Mai said, “I’d like to ask Santos a question …”

Then Lan gave her opinion, and Camilo replied, “Lan said something very interesting …

These students were employing a discussion technique “Responding to Others,” which had taken just 10 minutes for them to pick up.

The concept of whole-class discussions can be an alien one to students from non-Western countries. Students are told that participation in class discussions is expected in Western academic settings and that if they are active participants, it can affect their grade in a positive way. Nevertheless, these students don’t know what “active participation” means, other than to state one’s opinion.  For instructors preparing students for mainstream, academic coursework, the techniques introduced in these next postings could help students develop five specific techniques that they can apply to be active.  

                                  Five Techniques
Responding to another student’s comment
Volunteering an answer
Redirecting a question when you don’t know what to say
Reporting what someone else has said
Summarizing what other group members have said

An additional benefit to those students who employ these is that their classmates will feel good about them and future instructors will be impressed.  For research about this, see  Want Your Students to Seem More Likeable? Research Says: Teach Them Follow-up Questions

The first technique and handout is explained below:

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LINCS Discussion about Grammar (Handout Exercises)

LINCS logo

You don’t have to be a grammar expert to help your students with the grammar in their writing.

During the week of Jan. 15-19, each day, I was interviewed online at LINCS about teaching grammar.  You can read the discussion at this link:  LINCS grammar discussion ,

The topics were:
Jan. 15: Inductive teaching
Jan. 16: Importance of grammar terminology
Jan. 17: Ear-learners
Jan. 18: Leading students to finding grammar mistakes
Jan. 19: The connection between reading and learning grammar

Each day, I mentioned handout exercises related to that days topic, and I made these available in this posting below.

To see the handouts and read more information about the topics, please read below.
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