The approach to building basic vocabulary involves identification of the most basic vocabulary, the benefits of extensive reading, the strengths of explicit instruction in vocabulary and the importance of using word notebooks and dictionaries. English-language learners (ELLs) face a learning paradox: on one hand they need vocabulary to be able to read effectively; on the other hand, the best way for them to acquire vocabulary is through reading.
Identification of the Most Basle Vocabulary
Researchers have identified vocabulary that occurs very frequently and recommended that English-language teachers give it priority in their classroom practices. Coady (1997) believed a group of 2,000 to 3,000 high-frequency words should be studied until they become sight words. This is also the range of the colloquial language for listening and speaking (Nation, 2005). The General Service List of English Words (GSL) contains 2,000 high-frequency words and covers 87% of a general text. It also provides information about the relative frequency of the meanings of each entry (Schmitt, 2000). Out of these words are 270 function words which carry grammatical meaning and account for about 44% of words in a general text (Macaro, 2003). Other basic words that ELLs need to know later on can be found in the Academic Word List by Cox-head (2000) and the University Word List by Xue and Nation (1984). The former consists of 570 words and accounts for about 10% of words in academic texts; and the latter, 800 words, about 8%.
The Appropriateness of Simplified Materials
The basic vocabulary is used with high frequency in simplified reading materials. According to various research findings, syntactic simplification is one of many factors that can enhance foreign and second language reading comprehension. Simplified texts also save learners from struggling unnecessarily with difficult vocabulary. According to many linguists, the graded readers are useful to ELLs because they provide learners with repeated exposure to vocabulary.
The amount of vocabulary and grammar learners have, determines their language proficiency. Extensive reading enables learners to attain competencies in language skills. Graded readers are essential materials for doing extensive reading. They are particularly designed to enable learners practice reading skills and provide an opportunity to reinforce known vocabulary. Through multiple exposures learners become familiar with grammatical structures and vocabulary. Moreover, learners experience how they function in texts and they are motivated to use the vocabulary and structures they have learnt in their communication. Graded readers motivate learners, help them gain reading fluency, enhance their vocabulary and grammar knowledge development.
Graded readers or ‘readers’ are books that have had the language level simplified to help second language learners read them.
The language is graded for vocabulary, complexity of grammar structures and also by the number of words. They are made to cater for all levels from beginners through to advanced.
Why use graded readers
For most language learners, reading a book in English would be a daunting task. They would find too many unknown words and be presented with language way beyond their level which would make understanding the book very difficult. If learners start with graded readers they won’t have to stop and look up lots of unknown words in the dictionary. Research has shown that students who read in English improve in every area of language learning at a faster rate than students who don’t read. Readers can be an excellent way to motivate your students and they should be a really enjoyable part of the course.
If your school has a library or a collection of graded readers, you could bring a selection to the class. Students should choose their own book according to their personal preferences. If you have a large selection of books and students are keen to read why not start some sort of reading club?
Readers can be a starting point for hundreds of different types of project work. Here are a few tried and tested ideas to get you started.
Pre reading activities
Guess the story from the cover
Show the cover to the class and elicit as much vocabulary as you can. Students then guess the story and write short summaries of the imaginary plot. These could be kept until you have read the book to see which one was closest to the real story.
Jumbled chapter titles
Give strips of paper with the chapter titles on to students in pairs or groups. They decide the best order for the chapters and think about the possible story. Compare the answers with the other groups and then look in the book to see who was closest.
Find out about the author
Ask students what they know about the author. Ask students to write some questions about the author that they would like to know the answers too. Then use the internet to search for the answers to the questions. You could try the site www.biography.com which has over 250,000 concise and clear biographies.
Choose a suitable chapter or chapters that can be broken down into chunks to make a comic strip. Encourage students to be creative with the characters and give them examples of the type of language to put in the speech bubbles. This can also be done when you have finished reading the book.
In groups students select part of the book to make into a radio play. Students are assigned character roles and one is the narrator. Plays can be recorded and listened back to. Encourage students to really get into the roles of the character they are playing. For younger students the tapes of all groups could be listened to and students could vote on the best radio play. If you are into podcasting it would be great to publish their plays on the internet afterwards!
Students become journalists and report on part of the story. Choose a piece of action and students write it up as if it were to be published in a national or local paper. Focus on writing good headlines and prepare the articles in the format of a newspaper story.
In the characters’ shoes
Students role-play an interview with one of the characters. Take a couple of the main characters ‘out’ of the book and bring them into the classroom! Assign students the roles of the characters and the rest of the class prepare questions they would like to ask them. The students playing the roles of the characters must try to put themselves in the characters’ shoes and give suitable answers. Time and support must be given by the teacher to both the interviewees and the interviewers in order to make this successful.
Post reading activities
The most obvious post-reading task is a book review. Get students to give the book a star rating from one to five. Before doing this it would help to look at the style and language of book reviews. Have a look on the websites of the publishers of your reader. They have lots of simple book reviews that can be used as models for the students’ work. For children’s classes take a look at www.kidsreads.com for some ideas.
In teams students prepare questions about the book’s plot and character’s. Questions would be used in an inter-team quiz to see which group is the most knowledgeable. This may involve students re-reading parts of the book.
All the publishers of graded readers have materials on their websites to accompany the books. Check out the sites for some ready-made downloadable material.•