Oxford owl is an online site with an archive of free graded readers available to anyone, once they’ve set up an account. The archive contains a fantastic collection of beautifully illustrated books, including the Biff Chip and Kipper series, which I grew up reading as a child. Each book has an audio option, so that learners can listen and read at the same time, helping them to develop their reading, listening and pronunciation skills.
Why Oxford Owl?
It is widely known that extensive reading widens learners’ vocabulary. Scott Thornbury (2006) mentions that learners need repeated encounters of new words in different contexts for language uptake to occur and opportunities for incidental learning. The oxford owl series can motivate learners to develop an interest in reading for pleasure, as well as improving their vocabulary.
The books are organised into different categories according to age range and series, catering for a multi-level classroom. Flourishing learners can choose higher-level graded readers and lower levels can use ones suggested by their teacher. Students can be gradually trained to use these books autonomously, by initially working through classroom tasks and then onto more independent computer room tasks. Once they’ve worked through a myriad of meaningful activities, they’ll have the confidence and curiosity to use the resource at home, as a way of keeping their English alive outside of school.
These tasks generally require a projector to make the double page spread available on the whiteboard. Ten minutes can be spent reading a selected book in every class. It is important to introduce the book using the cover with basic activating schemata questions to draw interest. Learners should be asked to think about what happens next before turning each page, so that they read purposefully; that is, reading to check their predictions. Depending on the learners’ preferences, the teacher can ask them to read in silence or he/she can nominate different groups of threes to listen and repeat a sentence at a time.
Task 1: Interactive “Play activity” Tabs
Each book has a corresponding set of interactive and fun activities. These can be found by clicking on the tabs “Play activity 1” and “Play activity 2” on the top of the double page spread of each book. “Play activity 1” often features key book illustrations which have to be ordered correctly. One way to make this activity learner-centred is to nominate a student to write the numbers one to five next to the pictures on the board. Then, in threes or pairs, learners negotiate the correct order and a volunteer clicks the correct answer on the digital board or the computer. The same kind of learner-centred set-up can be applied to “Play activity 2”.
Task 2: Character Descriptions
Learners choose a character they like in the book and write a short character description. They are given a model with sentences to complete. These include set phrases such as “I think she is probably……. years old” and other sentences relating to hair length, eye colour and other features of appearance. The learners’ chosen characters can then be placed on a display wall, with the descriptions scattered, encouraging other learners to read and match the description with the corresponding picture. This would be a great way to showcase the learners’ work and revisit their it in a different context, further encouraging curiosity and language uptake.
Task 3: New Vocabulary Puzzles
As students read a book, unknown words will come up. At the end of each reading session or double page spread, the teacher can define these and encourage learners to keep a vocabulary record in their notebooks. Once they’ve finished the book, learners choose their top ten favourite new words and create a word search or a crossword. These can then be shared across the classroom, helping learners to review new vocabulary. They can also be displayed on the board, as another way of showcasing learners’ reading work and emerging vocabulary.
Task 4: Comic Strip and Performance
The teacher provides a comic strip template, with two frames on which they draw and include speech bubbles relating to their favourite scenes in the book. Once they have finished, they practise and perform these moments at the beginning of the next class. This activity enables learners to respond to what they’ve read, as well as sharing their favourite parts of the books with their peers. If they aren’t keen on drawing, they can write a short five-line dialogue instead.
TASKS FOR COMPUTER ROOM USE
Learners must be shown how to sign into a class account in the classroom before they are taken to the computer room. They should be encouraged to take notes in case they wish to sign in at home. The following tasks should be modelled in class before going to the computer room in order to give learners a clear purpose for reading.
When choosing a book the teacher can give learners a number of strips with book titles, from which they choose one at random. This will ensure that every pair is reading a different book each time.
Task 1: Similarities Mingle
Learners are given four general questions about the book they’ll read, on a grid. These can include: How many people are there in the story? How many animals are there in the story? What actions do the characters do? Is it a happy or a sad ending? The teacher can adapt the complexity of the questions to the class.
Once learners have completed a reading session and answered the questions, they mingle and ask three other people in the computer room, to see if they find any similarities. This encourages learners to find out what their classmates have been reading about and which book is the most similar to theirs.
Task 2: Reorder the Story
The teacher provides learners with a summary of a story that they’ve read. It is made up of three to five sentences arranged in the wrong order. The sentences include time sequencers such as then, after that, and in the end/ finally, to help them work out the correct order. Learners rearrange the story and once they’ve read their book, they reproduce a similar task in pairs. They create a class worksheet with a key included. Once finished, pairs report to different groups, they take turns to listen to each other reading their sentences, and decide on the correct order using the time sequencing devices as clues. This kind of activity provides good preparation for the story telling part in the Cambridge Flyers exam.
Task 3 : Making their Own Comprehension Questions
The teacher elicits different comprehension questions relating to books in open class. Then, learners write three comprehension questions with an answer key for the selected pages in a story. The questions are then photocopied and given to students to complete in the computer room by finding the relevant book and pages. Another approach would be for the whole class to read the book in lockstep on the projector and to answer the questions in pairs.
Task 4: Write a Book Review
The teacher shows the learners a review of their favourite book as way to create interest and give learners an example of the task. Learners are then provided with questions such as the ones below:
- What’s the title of the book?
- Who’s the author?
- What’s the story about?
- Who do you recommend this book to?
- How many stars do you want to give this book?
Once learners have completed their review, in pairs, they present their book to different groups. Alternatively, the teacher blue-tacks these around the wall and learners walk around deciding which top three books they’d liked to read, with the aim of finding out which one is the most popular.
Task 5: Favourite Scene – True or false
When students have read several pages or finished the book, they choose their favourite scene from the story. They write two false and two true sentences about their favourite scene. Then the true or false sentences are given to different pairs and they have to go onto the appropriate page in the book to identify the true or false sentences in another computer session. This gives learners an opportunity to share what they’ve enjoyed with their classmates, as well as making the tasks more engaging because they are learner generated.
As young learner teachers, it is important to strive to spark learner interest and give learners the confidence to use English outside of the classroom. Training learners to use the Oxford Owl resource throughout the school term gives them the tools and motivation to use the website at home. It sets learners up with the appropriate mindset to motivate them to read in English in the long term.
Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford : Macmillan Education
Link Oxford OWL, 2017, Find A Book. [online]. Available at: https://www.oxfordowl.co.uk/for-home/reading-owl/find-a-book/library-page?view=image&query=&type=book&age_group=&book=1&book_type=&series=# [Accessed April 2017].
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