Thursday, January 13, 2011

Workshop outline


Teacher qualities/Teacher strategies

Good teacher exercise (workshop)

Good teacher supplement
Our compiled list: A good teacher:

Teacher strategies

A good reading teacher:
What do we want? What are we aiming for? (our goals defined)

Motivation of students

We must not only teach how to read, but also why to read.
Choosing your materials well is probably the most important thing you can do; it will give students motivation to read whatever they want. Two ideas: Choose the kinds of things everyone likes (crime, pop, MJ, etc.), or, go to truly inspire them. What are they interested in? Who do they want to become? What part of themselves
would they like to develop?

Choosing topics
Choosing articles

Incorporating principles of Extensive Reading into classes

When you are tied to a textbook
When your students have an attitude about all reading
When your students have no patience for novels

Making Exercises / Assessment

Open-ended questions/what we strive for

rephrase reading; ensure understanding
develop active use of important vocabulary

Multiple choice questions/what we strive for

rephrase important ideas; increase reading load

no tricks; just develop straight reading skills
main ideas? make sure they are covered

Writing multiple-choice questions, Practical Assessment

Wiki People Exercise

These biographies have been copied from Wikipedia.
Make reading exercises out of them. We will put them on the Wiki people reader blog. Study the way we make multiple-choice exercises. Choose the people your students would like to read about.

Our wiki people exercises

*Feel free to continue this project or to join us. It is considered an ongoing project. The purpose is to not only collect as many of these as possible, but to be able to compare, and work on, exercises that accompany them, so that we get better at distilling interesting information from readings, presenting it in simple language, testing comprehension, provoking discussion, etc. At this blog, we will link to all and any others that you make and put on the web; the agreement is that any contributing teacher can print and use them.


Cloze/ Grammar Cloze

Cloze test home page
Luecky- create a cloze test

What goes wrong in assessment

Methods of cheating
Methods of doing well in assessment w/out reading
People who always get everything wrong

Putting quizzes on the web

Hot potatoes
CESL Reading Quizzes
Example reading & Quiz: Three Friends

Assessment links

Practical Assessment online

Student Skills (list from Mikulecky, below)

Context clues
Pronoun Reference
Using text organization
Using topic sentences

Previewing and predicting
Identifying genre
Identifying main topics and details
Stating the main idea

Drawing inferences
Reading critically
Reading faster
Adjusting reading rate

Word-attack skills

Lesson Plans

Lesson Resource page, CESL

funfonix, copyable lessons on phonics

phonics worksheets,

other sources
Agendaweb, free exercises


Teachers' reading site, CESL

Extensive Reading materials page
Tom Robb's online Reading lab
ESL Reading site



Literacynet story archives (RealAudio versions)


Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary: Why vocabulary is the most important consideration
Vocabulary (workshop handout)

The translation plateau: Problems as students reach higher levels

Translation Plateau, article

Lower level & upper level differences

Ways to teach/ways to test
Vocabulary Game (see blog post)

Vocabulary links
Voycabulary- allows you to link to any dictionary

ESL Study Hall-vocabulary
ITESL-J Vocab. links

Reading theory

Reading research: Conference handout

Extensive Reading Theory

Extensive Reading site
Presentations on Extensive Reading

Phonics vs. Whole language

Phonics vs. Whole language

Content-based vs. Skills-based

Content-based programs (workshop handout)

Components of reading skills

Identifying and handling LD

LD Online
What makes a good teacher, LD online

Blogs, Social Networking, and Chat

Reading in the new millenium, conf. handout

Using Blogs

Teaching Writing in Online Worlds (Weblogs)

Using Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo, Chat

Edmodo workshop (conference post)
Annotated bibliography: TESLEJ
Using Chat in the Writing Class (TESOL '09)

Being involved in the field

Electronic Village Online
Webheads online convergences

General links

TOPICS online magazine

News for You Online, now available only to subscribers

Vance Stevens' Reading site
Reading Matrix Journal


Farhady, H. and Fard, P.D. (2007). On the scalability of the components of the reading comprehension ability: A progress report. SCALAR 2007. Abstract online.

Folse, K. (2004). "Myths about Teaching and Learning Second Language Vocabulary: What Recent Research Says." TESL Reporter 37 (2), 1-13.

Folse, K. (2004). "Limitation of Context Clues in Real-World Comprehension: A Case Study" Nexus: A Journal for Teachers in Development 7, 1.

Llinares, G., Leiva, B., Cartaya, N., & St. Louis, R. (2008, September). Acquisition of L2 vocabulary for effective reading: Testing teachers; classroom practice. The Reading Matrix, 8, 2.

Mikulecky, B. (2009, Mar./Apr.). Teaching Reading in a Second Language. ESL Magazine.

[ Tom Leverett's weblog ][ E-mail ]

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reading strategies for teachers and students of the new millennium


Reading strategies for teachers and students in the new millennium

The following was written in preparation for a presentation in Arequipa, Peru in October of 2009, at the Universidad de Santa Maria. It appeared on the CESL website at, but was restored here in 2011. -Thomas Leverett, CESL, Southern Illinois Univ., Carbondale IL USA 62901-4518.

[ Workshop outline ][ Workshop weblog ][ Wiki people weblog ][ Edmodo ]


This workshop stresses clear elaboration of the tools and strategies ESL/EFL readers will need on their way to fluency, along with the conditions and environment that can make this possible; it then focuses on the tools and strategies teachers can use to make this possible and measure student progress. Ideally good teachers can use their time effectively to the best benefit of any group of students, while students know they also are using their time in ways that will most effectively teach them while encouraging their independence along with improving their reading skills.

The workshop reviews traditional strategies taught by teachers, and forms of assessment used to measure them; however, it stresses an approach based on student interest and involvement, and stresses the way readings and accompanying exercises and assessments appear to students in terms of what motivates them to read more, read faster, and read better. Given the new environment of instant access to internet and oversupply of sources, it helps both teachers and students evaluate what they find and helps both groups manage their involvement in the information age.


Farhady, H. and Fard, P.D. (2007). On the scalability of the components of the reading comprehension ability: A progress report. SCALAR 2007. Abstract online.

Folse, K. (2004). "Myths about Teaching and Learning Second Language Vocabulary: What Recent Research Says." TESL Reporter 37 (2), 1-13.

Folse, K. (2004). "Limitation of Context Clues in Real-World Comprehension: A Case Study" Nexus: A Journal for Teachers in Development 7, 1.

Llinares, G., Leiva, B., Cartaya, N., & St. Louis, R. (2008, September). Acquisition of L2 vocabulary for effective reading: Testing teachers; classroom practice. The Reading Matrix, 8, 2.

Mikulecky, B. (2009, Mar./Apr.). Teaching Reading in a Second Language. ESL Magazine.

[ Tom Leverett's weblog ][ E-mail ]

Monday, January 4, 2010

EVO 2010

Announcing the Electronic Village Online 2010

The CALL Interest Section of the international TESOL professional association is pleased to offer the opportunity to participate in the Electronic Village Online (EVO) 2010 sessions. This is a professional development project and virtual extension of the TESOL 2010 Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. The intended audience for this project includes both TESOL 2010 participants and those who can participate only virtually.

You do not need to be a TESOL member to participate in a free, six-week, wholly online session of the EVO, Jan 11 - Feb 21, 2010.

Please visit our Announcement Web page to select one among the various offerings:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reading Research

It would seem that people who teach reading a lot, over many years, would be in the best position to see what works and what doesn't, in that they operate in a kind of laboratory, and can see, in the long term if not the short term, the success of their actions. Much of what scientific research proves is based on what teachers suspect in the first place, through teaching, but in fact real life puts barriers between teachers and researchers, so it's not that simple.

As a teacher I have always found it necessary to both keep up on the research and carry on rigorous in-class research on what works and what doesn't at least for my own students. My own classroom habits have shown me that it's not hard to distinguish the students who actually work through a reading from the ones who don't; and, it's rare for students who work hard on a reading to not want to tell you how they feel about it. So, a teacher who pays close attention to readers over the years can improve reading choice, tailor it to students' needs, and get readings to fit readers better with time. From this experience I judge the current state of research.

Extended Reading controversy

Krashen once said that all standardized tests, such as the TOEFL, should be abolished and replaced with programs in which students are simply given time to read, and good books to devour. The philosophy of extended reading rests on the fluency one gets simply from reading a lot of anything, starting with a good novel, and is based on the premise that since most good first-language readers became good readers by reading and getting pleasure from a number of novels, second language readers should be able to do the same. This is because fluency and confidence are necessary building blocks; the pleasure that comes from novels is a reward; and reading is really really fun if you get a good novel and a soft chair. Extended reading programs have had varying success worldwide, but the followers of the system basically devote countless hours to researching variations of Krashen's advice and hoping to turn the world's classrooms into reading libraries with soft chairs.

Here are my problems with the extended reading camp. We have tried to make students read novels and noticed that there is no such thing as "pleasure reading" in a second language. Without tests, etc., students are more likely going to fall asleep in a soft chair, than read a novel. Since novels are deliberately written for enjoyment, the more serious textbook readers consider novel-reading a painful diversion that doesn't even take them where they want to go with their reading; they feel an enormous burden (sometimes 10 pages/day), and don't ever get the pleasure out of it that they would if, for example, they were a young schoolchild.

From these programs and from experience I can say they are right about some aspects: first, volume, pure volume of reading, is the crucial variable. Students can and do make themselves read large quantities, since that's what they need, and teachers can help and reward them by noticing their hard work and passing them to a higher level (this can't be done without tests, though, since some students can pretend to read or read poorly and still look a lot like they are reading; such students skew the results and make all efforts appear to be fruitless). But, extended reading would work better if all learners were young, with plenty of time on their hands, and getting pleasure was the main reward they would expect from any given venture; they aren't, and it's not. Second, careful attention to pleasure students do get from any reading is not wasted; whether it is a textbook, news article, or low-level newspaper.

Context clues controversy

A few years ago a friend of mine got fed up with the "context clues" camp and the exercises they put into reading texts, and pointed out that if students don't know much vocabulary, they can't very well apply that skill to what they read. He knew, instinctively, that it's a skill all readers know and use all the time, but mostly when they know 90% or more of the words they are reading; it doesn't work when they are facing more than 10% of unfamiliar words. He suspected that that limit was quantifiable, and went about finding it; he set about proving his theory, and soon did.

I learned several things from this controversy, somewhat by accident. First, using context clues is something that any sentient reader does naturally; we don't have to teach people how to do it. Second, calling it "guessing" is offensively incorrect and is likely to be misunderstood by the vast majority of learners; if it's truly guessing, why bother? Third, there are some "clues" that are genuinely new to learners, such as using text organization to predict topic sentence and support; but, successful use of these skills relies more on being able to do these things as one reads, in other words, not so much being aware of the skill, but being able to practice using it while decoding language simultaneously. Thus I concluded that practice, practice, practice was a better strategy than doing context clues exercises. It is worthwhile to point out that one can use context clues, but students already know that; it's often more productive to point out where they could have done it, but didn't because they were too busy translating.

Folse, K. (2004). "Myths about Teaching and Learning Second Language
Vocabulary: What Recent Research Says." TESL Reporter 37 (2), 1-13.

Folse, K. (2004). "Limitation of Context Clues in Real-World Comprehension:
A Case Study" Nexus: A Journal for Teachers in Development 7, 1.

P.D. Fard

She is a friend of mine who set out to do research on the component skills of reading. She figured that if the testing companies (ETS, etc.) quantified and measured these skills separately, they ought to at least play out as statistically discrete. But they didn't. The essence of her research showed that, at least as far as discrete skills go, reading in its essence is an intermix of skills relying on grasp of vocabulary, such that as vocabulary grows, the skills begin intermixing rapidly, but never developing discretely. People therefore don't tend to be imbalanced in the skills; nor do they show any particular favoring of one skill over another.

(SCALAR 2007)

Vocabulary research

I used to have much more, but have only this to share. Given the importance of vocabulary, what do we do to help our students remember it, and have it available for use whenever they wish? Much has been written; it has been studied, and here's a place to start.

Llinares, G., Leiva, B., Cartaya, N., & St. Louis, R. (2008, September). Acquisition of L2 vocabulary for effective reading: Testing teachers’ classroom practice. The Reading Matrix, 8, 2

A good reading teacher:

Finds readings that will motivate students to read

Represents English as a gateway to a world of information and opportunity, and shows that to students

Finds or makes readings that are the appropriate level; works with curriculum designers to provide textbooks that aren’t limiting or narrow

Knows about students’ native language, background experience, reading experience, overall goals, and ability to put time in outside of class…

Knows what aspects of the English sound-spelling correspondence are most difficult and frustrating, and helps students overcome this barrier

Knows what in a reading will be difficult for students

Maximizes the amount students read, in class and outside of class

Is aware of different learning styles and how to maximize student learning by reaching students in different ways

Assesses regularly and effectively, using different methods, giving students different ways to learn

Integrates reading with other skills effectively, so that students spend as much time “in English” as possible

Holds students accountable for learning vocabulary steadily, accurately and effectively over time, keeping in mind their changing needs as they reach upper levels

Notices and handles effectively students with reading disabilities and other reading problems

Uses new technology effectively, keeping in mind what students will need, as well as giving them new opportunities to learn

A good teacher:

Gives good simple directions for activities
Is imaginative, cooperative, expressive, open-minded, and optimistic
Inspires both creativity and analytical ability
Makes students enthusiastic about learning
Puts himself/herself in learners’ shoes daily
Develops and nurtures students’ confidence
Pays attention to what motivates students and uses it
Sets high standards and helps students meet them
Teaches students to be independent
Makes himself/herself available to students
Varies activities so that each concept is taught in more than one way
Knows how to correct mistakes without crushing student egos
Is well organized about grading and paperwork
Keeps the class focused on the topic
Uses a variety of teaching methods
Uses visual aids or technology to make the class more interesting
Tries new lessons to add to the repertoire
Is receptive to questions, listens to students’ concerns
Treats students equally & fairly, doesn’t abuse power
Tries to create opportunities for real communication in English
Has patience and a good sense of humor
Returns assignments quickly, begins and ends class on time
Remembers students’ names
Knows his/her own learning styles and preferences as well as students’
Is aware of cultural differences, strives to learn enough not to offend
Makes a clear syllabus and sticks to its promises
Is willing and open to suggestions from peers or students
Keeps the level of anxiety down in the classroom
Deals with both more and less advanced students in ways that help both
Is student-centered
Never gives up hope on students
Broadens students’ perspective
Promotes cooperation and good relations among students in a class
Admits to limitations, isn’t afraid of not knowing or of making mistakes
Understands what the students need
Gives examples before requiring students to present
Controls time effectively
Keeps the purpose of teaching clear
Speaks well and carefully
Evaluates students’ performance throughout the course
Challenges students, but doesn’t expect perfection
Can predict students’ mistakes
Can advise students on future studies
Always upgrades himself/herself professionally, keeps learning
Can keep personal life out of the classroom if necessary

Friday, October 30, 2009



I always start with a couple of observations:
1. Vocabulary is the single most important element of a student's language learning. It is underneath all of the reading skills, listening, grammar, speaking, etc. It's basic. And they need to not only know the meaning of the words; they need to know the grammar, and the forms, the sound, and how words are used. They need to be totally familiar with the words. One proof of the central nature of vocabulary is that in any given term, students can do well on vocabulary, listening, reading or grammar separately, but those who do well on vocabulary are most likely to do well in the others, and to pass the TOEFL. Vocabulary is a better overall predictor of the other kinds of success than any other single predictor (I know this from experience, but I also heard it someplace long ago, and haven't been able to track it down).
2. Most students need a system to study vocabulary. Some teachers believe that enough exposure alone will be enough, but my experience is that it won't be. I encourage students to take responsibility, to have a system, to make sure their system is all in English, and to recognize that systems for studying vocabulary must change from lower level to higher level. The system I recommend has room for a word, definition (in English) and a sentence using the word. Simple sentences can be found from their readings or from an ESL dictionary. Students should study by reading the sentences, and looking at the definitions only if necessary.
3. At the intermediate levels, students have trouble not translating every word. In other words, if they translate as they read, their grammar gets confused; it takes too long; and they lose track of word forms or things that don’t make sense from one language to another. Staying in English, in their minds, is harder at first, but ultimately beneficial and more efficient. Their vocabulary system should help them with this process, not reinforce the habit of translating every word. I always ask them: what is your system? Is it working? Are you able to stay in English as you read?
4. I encourage a number of other habits. Grab words from many sources and put them on the list. Mark the bilingual dictionary whenever you must use it (this puts a price on using it). Study vocabulary as often as possible. Revisit the question of what system is working and how well it’s working as often as necessary: it is, after all, their business, not ours.

Vocabulary game

In class, I follow a simple process. Every word that we see or read is testable, but we're only interested in the more important ones, the ones that everyone has trouble with. If they have trouble with one, or if it's important, it goes on a list which is then given to the students with plenty of time. When the list is over 24 (or about 3 per student in groups of 8), it is time to play the game. I have access to English-language definitions of the words which I generally don't show to students, though I could. Words are written, half-sheet of paper each, in magic marker on large colored paper; definitions are written on much smaller stripped paper which students can then pass along to each other. I start by giving each student three; if a couple of them have four it doesn't matter unless there are serious prizes for winners.

As the game starts I show each half-sheet and say the word; students, who are in a circle, can all see the sheet and hear the word at the same time. The game is fast; I give them no more than three or four seconds to get the definition. If students get it (they call out "mine", "got it" or the definition), they are rewarded by having that definition taken from them (when they run out, they win). Students then pass one definition to the right (students will take this advantage to pass along a definition that has been rendered useless, but that's ok; it's part of the game). The game proceeds until a player runs out; that player is the winner and gets some favor to be determined by the teacher. On a larger scale, I remember which words are gotten first-time by the students, and when that happens twice, the word is removed from the game, as new words are added on to it.
Thus the game is a regular, every-day activity that takes no more then 5-10 minutes, allows me to rearrange the chairs, and reinforces the general idea that vocabulary learning is a constant, everyday kind of activity.

I then put the vocabulary into simple quizzes, that test only the meaning, but in which the sentence given to them does not give away that meaning. The point of the quizzes is simply to see if they can carry that meaning around with them, though, in the lower level classes, I give them warning thus letting them study.

I make no restriction on how they study; I don't collect the list, or look at their sentences, or enforce the way they go about it. That's personal, I tell them; all I'm concerned about is that they know the meaning when the term is over, or at any given time in the term. By the end of the term, however, my list generally has hundreds; they are responsible for them all. And they need the English-language definitions for them. Generally those who study using native-language translations have trouble with this; I often see their study sheet as it is out right before the quiz. I can tell who studies, who doesn't and how they study, so I see patterns in students who succeed and those who don't.

I often point out, when I see an English-native list, that this kind of list is appropriate for a lower-level learner (what else could they do?) but is not appropriate for an upper-level learner. I leave it up to them; I don't want them hiding their study sheet from me; but, I tell them that their way of studying will be a constant issue in their learning and that of course I am interested in what they are doing and how well it's working.

I explain that teaching oneself to always translate every word as one reads is counter-productive; thus it's necessary to use one's system to teach oneself not to. I often explain the translation plateau (see note), and why, at an intermediate level, one should take control of vocabulary by using it often without translating. People who can't, read too slowly and have problems with word form.

Still, I don't pressure them, aside from ensuring that they put away their study list before they take the quiz. Then, I also notice the correspondence: students who do well on the grand vocabulary, at the end, do best in the class, and, especially, on the TOEFL. That end-of-term vocabulary score is the best overall measurement of their level as a student, of all the other measurements they are subject to.

Assure your students that their vocabulary acquisition is the most important element of their learning.

Assure them that there is no way you, as a single teacher, could give and test enough vocabulary to ensure their success.

Hold them responsible for every word they encounter; recycle them if possible; make sure they know each one, the second time around.

Keep tabs on their personal vocabulary learning; either they are picking it up as they go, or they aren't. If not, why not?
Students need a balance between deliberate memorization and active use of words. Too much of an imbalance will not work and will cause them to waste some of their effort.