Written by Patricia Ielmini
I have been a teacher of English as a foreign language for over 20 years and when I look back on my teaching background and ask myself which activities helped my students more to develop this second language effectively, I point out, undoubtedly, reading tasks but mainly storytelling in class or extensive reading for pleasure. I have taught for many years at different primary levels and from my own experience, I can affirm that young children really love and enjoy stories. Once, I wrote an article about one of my best experiences https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/storytelling-young-learner-classes
Telling your students a story in class, reading it from a book or even making up your own story, creates a positive and lovely atmosphere, the kids get involved in the facts, not in the language itself and they become highly motivated. Once you develop the habit of reading aloud to them, students will definitely borrow the short stories from your library or book-shelves; that is what happened to me.
Reading has always been the most efficient way of language learning, including foreign language learning because children develop themselves as readers while reading or listening to stories. In fact, it is by reading that they build their world of meaning and imagination.
Also, the advent of digital technology has helped us, teachers, to trigger off new practices in the reading skill. The use of ICT is a valuable teaching and language resource to strengthen the reading skill and to enlarge motivation for reading. At school, we also worked on a project in which first, students were asked to read selected different stories in class and secondly, they were asked to do a more detailed comprehension task on a web-based tool that aimed to help our students develop the reading skill more deeply. In this way, our blended-learning context provided students with the possibility to share, read and enjoy everybody’s opinions and answers.
It is known that in the process of learning a new language, learners begin with receptive skills to move on later to productive skills. Thus, building reading skills will contribute to the development of writing. I will enumerate some of the written tasks our children did after reading; new endings of the stories created on a website, dialogues among characters, short summaries, description of a favourite character, cartoons, etc.
To sum up, reading and writing in a second language may be a challenging task for learners but in my opinion, if teachers are highly motivated to develop a love for reading, they will be able to identify a number of appropriate and meaningful activities that will enhance students’ motivation to carry out reading and writing tasks. Last but not least, I think that the idea behind reading is that a lot of reading of interesting material that is slightly below, at, or barely above the full comprehension level of the reader will foster improved reading and writing skills.