2 Helping students to maintain interest in reading a longer text

It is possible for you to motivate students to begin reading a text by relating it to their own lives and experiences. However, it can be difficult to maintain that interest, especially when the text is long. Here are some ideas suggested by other teachers to help students to stay interested in reading longer passages in English.

Dividing passages up and using a variety of activities with each section makes them more interesting to your students. You may worry that your students are not able to do this because they can’t read independently, or that they won’t understand every word of the passages. It is true that they may not understand every word they read, but they will usually get a general understanding of the passage – the most important events and the key points of the story. Reading to understand will help them to enjoy the passage, which in turn will help them to become better readers (see the units Supporting reading for understanding and Whole-class reading routines). You can read how one teacher used this technique in Case Study 2 and then try this yourself in Activity 2.

Case Study 2: Mr Sinha teaches The Happy Prince to Class IX

Mr Sinha teaches English to Class IX. He had to teach the story The Happy Prince from the supplementary reader. Here he describes what he did with the second section of the story (see Resource 3).

My students did the first section of the story in a previous class. That section ended with a question from the sparrow in the story: Why are you weeping then?

I reminded students of the question, and asked them to guess why the Prince was weeping. One or two of the students made some suggestions:

I told the class to listen and to find out why the Prince was weeping. I then read some lines from the passage aloud [NCERT, 2006a]:

‘Why are you weeping then?’ asked the swallow. ‘You have quite drenched me.’

‘When I was alive and had a human heart,’ answered the statue, ‘I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep.’

‘What! Is he not solid gold?’ said the swallow to himself. He was too polite to make any personal remarks.

I read the passage again, and told the class to discuss with their classmates why the Prince was weeping. Some of the students understood that he was weeping because he could see the ‘ugliness and misery’ of the city. Then I organised the class into groups of three students. With 53 students, that made 17 groups and one pair. I gave the groups that were sitting on one side of the room the section from The Happy Prince about the tale of the seamstress (from ‘Far away …’ to ‘Thinking always made him sleepy.’)

I assigned the groups that were sitting on the other side of the room the tale of the writer in the garret (from ‘When day broke …’ to ‘… and he looked quite happy.’)

I told the students to read their sections silently, and then to work in groups to write a short summary in their home language. I gave my class 30 minutes to read the section and to write the summaries. As they read and wrote their summaries I walked around the room, checking that students knew what they had to do, and answering questions about the passages. For example, one student asked me what the phrase ‘withered violets’ meant.

When they were ready, I asked a group from each side of the room to read out their summaries, so that the whole class heard a summary from each of the two sections. I asked them to say what the differences were between the tales – for example, in one the swallow helped a seamstress, and in the other a writer; in one tale the swallow took a ruby, in the other a sapphire.

By the end of the class, the students knew what had happened in a long section of the story, even though they had not read all of it. In fact, it wasn’t really important for them to read every single word together – and the students who want to can read both sections at home if they like.

Activity 2: Planning to teach a longer text over a number of classes

Find a longer passage from the textbook or supplementary reader that you will soon teach. Read the passage and divide it into a suitable number of sections (such as four). Remember that each section is for one lesson.

Plan a different activity that your students can do with each section that allows them to use each of the four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. This list below has some ideas. Try to use a variety of ways of working – for example, some activities could be with the whole class, while others could be in groups or pairs. You should always be clear why you are using particular approaches.

  • Listening: Read the section aloud as students listen with their books closed. They should be told to listen out for information or answers to questions.
  • Listening: Students read or listen to the sections and draw a picture or cartoon representing the scene or what happens.
  • Reading: Ask students to read a section silently (perhaps with a time limit). They should then be asked to look for information or answers to questions
  • Reading/listening and writing: Students read or listen to the section and take notes. They should then use their notes to write a summary or reconstruct the text
  • Reading/listening, writing and speaking: Students read or listen to the sections and write summaries in English. They should then present these summaries to the class.
  • Reading/listening and writing/speaking: Students read or listen to the sections and work in pairs or groups to answer comprehension questions.

Record your ideas using a form like Table 1. You can find one that has been completed in Resource 4.

Table 1 Planning to teach a longer text.
Section Activity

Pause for thought

Here are some questions for you to think about after trying this activity. If possible, discuss these questions with a colleague.

  • Did dividing the passage into sections help your students understand and main maintain interest?
  • Was the number of periods enough? If not, could you ask students to read their section at home before they come to class?
  • Did you need to modify your plans in any way? Why was this?

Once you have tried a plan like this, make a note of what has worked and make another plan with another passage from the textbook or supplementary reader. See what works to improve your students’ learning.

1 Stimulating students’ interest in reading longer passages in English

3 Encouraging students to read in English beyond the classroom