Steps to unlock the challenges of reading and writing in second language

You learn to write better by reading. You learn to read better by writing. Reading and Writing work together to improve your ability to think!

Written by S.Akilandeswari

Reading will definitely improve vocabulary, expressions and perhaps the correct use of language, but it is not everybody’s cup of tea. As English language teachers, we need to create the atmosphere for reading. Our students mostly do what we do. Let them see us reading, especially reading for pleasure.

My 5 minute rule would be – every day the first five minutes of English class is set aside for reading, writing, speaking and listening – topics must be from outside the curriculum. On Saturdays, the time can be extended to 10 or 15 minutes.

During the days set aside for reading the English language teacher must be seen reading – it can be newspaper, a magazine or a novel. It must be understood that the time is for reading for pleasure. While reading, if you come across something eye catching or relevant, you can read it aloud. If the teacher finds the students reading diligently, (s)he can have an individual discussion. Once in a fortnight, this time may be utilized for class discussion where the students can rate whatever they had read and recommend things to read to their classmates.

A chart with students’ names and a common list of things to be read and time period to complete the task can be displayed in the class. This can be updated regularly and students who complete the reading list can encourage others to read by speaking about their experience. They may also discuss what they enjoyed in the material.

As second language teachers we expect our students to be able to use correct language structures and they need to know the different genres of writing. As teachers, we need to introduce different genres of writing. Even the young ones can start writing in different styles.

Showing and discussing samples of good writing in different genres is the first step. These samples maybe displayed in the class for ready reference. Format, paragraphs, linkers, sequence markers are important for coherent writing. Students need to practice these earnestly. The 5 minutes set aside for writing may be utilised for this.

Showing-off their writing is one the best positive reinforcements for students. There can be a class blog where students can post whatever they write (after the teacher’s thumbs up). This can be shared with others for comments. A class online newsletter can also be an option for ‘publishing’ students work. Reading sessions of their writing can be a fun way for students to showcase their writing.

All these activities are to create interest in writing correctly. Once the students are hooked to it, the teacher can give them tips to make their writing colourful. Use of synonyms and antonyms, adjectives, adverbs, idioms, quotations, reference to others’ writing (reading comes into picture) are all ways to improve writing. Again the 5 minutes can be helpful.

As English language teachers, we need to constantly give our students opportunities and platforms to read and write followed by genuine appreciation for every single, small effort.

A word of caution: Our students are netizens. Whatever ideas/ information they need, are available instantly with hundreds of options to choose from. It may be tempting to ‘use’ good language structure / excellent expressions used by others. Students must be taught about plagiarism and why it is not good practice to use others’ efforts. Train students to be wonderfully original and unique.

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