Having students read aloud in class meets with varying reactions from teachers. Some have been trained to avoid it all together, based on the idea that it is embarrassing for students, is often done badly and does little to assist language acquisition. Others believe the activity has value, allowing students to practise pronunciation and intonation, providing an alternative to the teacher's voice and helping students embed knowledge of language through their "phonological memories".
I was not at all averse to giving pupils the opportunity to do some reading aloud for the reasons given above. I would use it specifically to teach intonation patterns, get feedback on students' pronunciation and give them a chance to show off how well they could do it, building their sense of confidence in using the language, their "self-efficacy" if you like.
For reading aloud to be successful it generally needs to be scaffolded, for example through choral repetition with texts in view, and needs to be handled sensitively, for example by not forcing a very shy or weak student to read until they are ready and by giving students quite short sections to read. Paired reading is, of course, a way to reduce the stress associated with reading aloud in front of the class.
Here are three ways I have used or come across to successfully practise reading aloud.
1. Choral reading aloud
This is an obvious one, but only occasionally used by teachers in my experience. You can display a text at the right level on the board and follow a sequence like this;
a) Read it aloud your self and allow pupils to simply listen.
b) Read it aloud in short sections getting the class to repeat all together. Insist that all take part and pronounce accurately. Don't accept second best.
c) Display another version of the text with a few gaps in and try choral reading again. Students use their memories to fill the gaps. You can tailor the gaps to the class in front of you.
d) Try the same again with more gaps. Students often like short term memory tasks like this.
e) Finally allow a few individuals to read the same text aloud or get them to read in pairs 9with or without the gaps).
Note how the above is structured from easy to hard and gets the students to use the same language multiple times. A really good class may be able to recreate the whole text from memory.
2. "Fingers in ears"
I observed this demonstrated by Barry Smith at the Michaela Community School in London. Once students are familiar with some text through repetition and other work such as question-answer or other oral drills, ask them to read aloud the text with fingers in their ears.
If you try this yourself you'll note that you can hear yourself well enough while blocking out other sounds. By doing this students are all working alone with no distraction. You could consider this the lowest tech version of listening to yourself!
There is not much point in doing this if the quality of reading is poor, so other activities would usefully precede fingers in ears.
3. "Read and look up"
I came across this in the book Breaking Rules: Generating and Exploring Alternatives in language Teaching (John Fanselowe, 1987). In a chapter called Oral Reading John explains how, quite often, pupils read aloud poorly because they read "one word at a time" rather than in sense groups. So he advocates getting pupils to do what actors and politicians do, namely silently read a short chunk of text, then look up and say it. The length of the chunk will depend on the reader's capabilities.
You could structure this task as follows:
a) Read aloud the short text to the class.
b) Do some choral repetition to the point where you think everyone can make a good fist of reading aloud on their own. You could display the text from the front, enabling you to pick out any awkward bits.
c) Tell students to work in pairs using the "read and look up" technique. Each partner works through the short text to the best of their ability, repeating the task a few times until they can read longer chunks from memory. Very able pupils may be able to do this so well they can recall nearly the whole text. You could even set this as a challenge.
d) At the end of the pair work section of the lesson you could invite individuals to try the task in front of the class.
Now, you may be uncomfortable doing any of these tasks and that's fine. I think that many classes would gain a good deal from them. The gains I see are these:
- Improvement in making sound-spelling links (phonics).
- Improvement in pronunciation and intonation.
- Almost no use of L1 with students hearing and seeing multiple repetitions of language.
- A degree of personal challenge and achievement leading to gains in confidence.
- Improved grasp of syntax as students learn to read in sense groups.
- Improved phonological memory of vocabulary (recall that we store vocabulary in many ways, e.g. by the sound of the word, its spelling, its meaning and its collocations - i.e. other words with which we come across the word).
- The opportunity to include reading aloud in a longer teaching sequence, adding variety.