In this unit the focus is on reading for pleasure. If students associate reading in English only with language drills and tests, they are not likely to learn much English beyond what is required. But if they learn to associate reading in English with enjoyment, they are more likely to become voluntary lifelong readers.
Your students will be learning to read in English and Hindi. The ideas and methods discussed are relevant to reading in any language. So as you read through this unit, think about how you could try out the activities for pleasurable reading in Hindi and local languages, as well as in English. Think too about how the strategies discussed would be effective with students of different abilities in your class.
Start by thinking about actions you already take to promote reading for pleasure.
Whatever level of reading skills your students might have, it is good practice to provide them with daily opportunities to experience reading pleasurably. It is important that students are motivated by a genuine desire or need to read. Here are five key actions you can take:
Review these five points.
Decide which activity you will try to develop with your class over the next month. Perhaps talk to another teacher and ask them to join you in making this change in your classroom. Discussing your experiences with another teacher will help you to keep motivated and to think about the impact of your change on the learning in your classroom. The readings, case studies and activities in this unit are designed to help you get started.
In Case Study 1, a teacher tries to make some changes to encourage reading in his classroom.
Mr Shankar teaches Class V in a government school.
In the school where I teach, students come from families with no formal schooling. I am not that confident in English, so I was sticking closely to the textbook. I am actually a keen reader, but in my own language. I like to read newspapers and magazines, and sometimes a bit of poetry. But I was not getting it across to my students about the joys of reading. My students associated reading only with testing – in English and in Hindi.
Bhaskar is one of my students. He is a very good football player and an ardent fan of David Beckham, but he has very limited reading skills. During the reading period he would do everything but read.
I thought hard about this. What could I provide that he would want to read? I got some football magazines and the sport sections of newspapers. I put them on the shelf, open. When Bhaskar saw this, he was so excited that he immediately picked up the magazine and started reading. After a few days I observed him reading the newspaper with some other students and checking out the weather. When I pointed out that they could find some English words in the magazines and in the newspapers, they began to hunt for these words.
As a teacher, I did not fully understand the critical role I could play in influencing my students’ attitude towards voluntary reading. Now I try to show my students that I am a reader. I often tell them what I have been reading at home. Sometimes this is something in the newspaper or in a magazine, or even something I saw on an advertisement or billboard. Now I try to start little conversations with students about reading and find out what they like to read.
Pause for thought
In Case Study 2, a teacher takes steps to improve the classroom reading environment.
Mrs Shanta is a primary school teacher of Class V in a co-educational government school.
Most of the students in my class don’t have any books at home. Although my students had the opportunity to borrow books from the school library once a week during the library period, they were not very interested in reading.
I examined my classroom. It had very few books for my students to read. Moreover, because these few books were kept inside a cupboard, they were often not visible. I decided to try making some changes.
First I increased the number of books in the classroom. I asked my colleagues for any surplus books. I decided to spend all my annual allowance for purchasing teaching and learning materials on books. I bought many interesting, inexpensive books from the National Book Trust and Children’s Book Trust. With the help of my students, I also made some story books using notebooks and magazine pictures.
While selecting and making the books, I tried to make them appealing to my students. I included picture books, easy-to-read books for early readers, fables and folk tales, information books, jokes and riddle books, poetry books, comics (including Spiderman), books on sports, and books on making things. I also borrowed children’s magazines from the school library. I avoided preachy, ‘moral’ stories, since from experience I knew they put off students. However, I did take care to choose some stories that convey important messages. For example, there is a Children’s Book Trust’s publication about the problems of a tribal boy on his first few days at school due to the insensitivity of other students and the teacher, and another book about a student being bullied for stammering.
My next task was to create a ‘mini-library’ in the corner in my classroom, with shelves and a reading area. I asked my students’ advice as to where this might be. Initially they felt that the room was too small to accommodate this, but when we rearranged all the furniture we were surprised that everything could fit in.
I placed a mat in the library corner because most of the students found it more comfortable to read while sitting on the floor. I obtained some attractive posters, free from book sellers, to encourage reading. A chair provided a place for me or one of the students to read aloud to the other students (Figure 1).
The students referred to the corner as a special place. The book corner gave them the message that books are so valued that space should be taken from the rest of classroom to make room for them. The students asked for more time to use the corner and permission to eat while reading the books.
Pause for thought
Look around your classroom and think about how you could arrange the space and furniture to make a small class library in a corner, as in Figure 2. Make a list of:
Talk to other teachers about how you could work together to create shared resources for reading.
See Resource 1, ‘Involving all’, to learn more about developing resources for a range of interests and abilities.
Now try the following activities.
First, do Activity 2 and make a list of books or other reading materials that you could collect in order to start a class ‘mini-library’.
In the lesson, tell your students that you want to make a book area in the classroom. Write the following questions on the board:
Divide the students into pairs and get them to ask each other the questions that you have written on the board. Give them a few minutes to do this and then bring the class back together. Ask for their answers to the questions and write their ideas on the board.
After the lesson, consolidate their ideas. Compare their ideas to your own list. Do their ideas match yours?
What did you find out?
How can this kind of information help you tailor the support you can give to individual students as readers?
Over the next few weeks, assemble your small selection of reading materials.
Will you have rules for the ‘library’? Will you tell parents about the library? Could you ask them to help? Perhaps you could ask your students to plan a small ceremony for the opening of your book area.
You can use a reading corner in a variety of ways. By choosing a range of reading materials you can cater to diverse tastes and needs of students. For example, a gifted student may find it interesting to read challenging texts that she otherwise may not have access to. Similarly, being able to read texts suited to their reading levels will build up the confidence of students who have reading problems. With the help of colleagues and older students you could also prepare worksheets to supplement their reading.
A reading corner will also help you with classroom management. If you have a large class or teach a multigrade class, one group can be assigned independent reading at the corner while you work with others, and vice versa. Of course it will take some time for students to work independently in a disciplined manner if they are not used to it. But with firm rules and initial guidance, they can be taught to do so.
Video: Involving all
The next activity is about reading aloud.
You will know how much students love to imitate their teacher. What you do and say, they will do and say. When you read aloud, you are a model for the enjoyment of reading. Reading aloud, and having students read aloud, will help you and your students improve your pronunciation of English.
Choose a short story or a poem in English that you know well and that you think your students will enjoy. It does not need to be from the textbook. Read the story or the poem aloud to the class.
Then invite a student to read the story to the rest of the class (Figure 3). Let the student hold the book and pretend to be the teacher. The student may have memorised some or all of the text, but this is fine – let the student imitate the way you read with expression and enthusiasm. Sit with the other students and show them how to be a good listener. Join in if there are choral parts to the reading.
You must avoid attaching any language drills to this reading aloud activity. Simply focus on the pleasure and enjoyment of reading.
When you let students read aloud to the class, with you in the audience, you can observe reading skills and behaviours. Do students handle books carefully? Are they reading or repeating from memory, or a bit of both? Are the other students listening and responding?
Now try the following activity.
This activity is suitable for Classes I–IV, but you can adapt it for older classes.
Create books using students’ own words. If you have a large class, you can make a big book over several days or a week. Alternatively, you can make a book for each student.
Read the books and practise English together. Invite parents into the classroom so that students can read the book to their mothers and fathers. Continue to build your class library and develop the reading environment.
You can adapt this activity by:
Pause for thought
This unit has focused on how you can develop a positive reading environment in your classroom.
Reading in any language has a crucial role to play in creating independent learners and increasing their educational attainment. Reading is the basis of a student‘s success at all levels of education. Developing good reading habits is vital to a child’s future – not just academically, but in everyday life as well. Students with good reading habits learn more about the world around them and develop an interest in language and in other cultures. Reading leads to asking questions and seeking answers, which expands students’ knowledge on a constant basis.
Other Elementary English teacher development units on this topic are:
The diversity in culture and in society is reflected in the classroom. Students have different languages, interests and abilities. Students come from different social and economic backgrounds. We cannot ignore these differences; indeed, we should celebrate them, as they can become a vehicle for learning more about each other and the world beyond our own experience. All students have the right to an education and the opportunity to learn regardless of their status, ability and background, and this is recognised in Indian law and the international rights of the child. In his first speech to the nation in 2014, Prime Minister Modi emphasised the importance of valuing all citizens in India regardless of their caste, gender or income. Schools and teachers have a very important role in this respect.
We all have prejudices and views about others that we may not have recognised or addressed. As a teacher, you carry the power to influence every student’s experience of education in a positive or negative way. Whether knowingly or not, your underlying prejudices and views will affect how equally your students learn. You can take steps to guard against unequal treatment of your students.
There are several specific approaches that will help you to involve all students. These are described in more detail in other key resources, but a brief introduction is given here:
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Images are courtesy of Suman Bhatia.
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Video (including video stills): thanks are extended to the teacher educators, headteachers, teachers and students across India who worked with The Open University in the productions.