Using these worksheets in the EFL classroom

This is a site I set up expressly to share reading activities. Perhaps it might be a good idea to talk about how I use them in my classroom, to give you some ideas for yours.

The content in this blog post builds on and condenses a more general post on reading in the EFL classroom on my more general EFL teaching blog.

The problem with mandatory homework

These are bad worksheets to use as ‘mandatory homework.’ For a certain kind of learner (the I-look-up-every-word-new-to-me type) they can take a lot of time, and students will feel bad if they don’t do the work you ask them to do.

Even more, I believe in checking any mandatory homework that you give. At least for comprehension. And, really, you won’t have time to check each story for comprehension. (Much less translate it line-by-line — though you can do that for a random story, if you have students who are into that kind of thing.)

The problem with voluntary homework

If you tell your students “you don’t have to do this, but I think it’s a good idea,” you might find they never do it. You’re not really helping them then, either. (And reading is a good way to train your ‘inner ear’ for what sounds good — so you want them to do it often.)

How I walk that fine line

My strategy is to introduce each block of lessons in class time. That is to say “We’re going to start reading about the O’Malley family. They are a big family that lives in a small apartment. What problems could a family with five children have in a tiny apartment? Did you ever live in an apartment too small for your family?”

Then, the worksheets that have questions on the second page are mandatory homework. We will review the questions in class.

For the other worksheets, I make it clear why they are helpful and why I think the students should do them. “But,” I say, “if you don’t have time, it’s okay. The next time you miss an English lesson, read your stories instead and try to not translate in your head. It’s also a kind of practice.”

Then, in my notes for each lesson, I include one line on what happened in the story I handed out. That’s enough for a five-minute conversation between other activities if time permits. I start with “what happened in the story we read last week?” And then, instead of discussing the story in detail, I discuss the students’ opinion of what they did. “Do you take your family to a park for a picnic? Is that a good idea? Is it okay that the oldest daughter played with her phone the whole day?”

Then I move on to the next thing.

My students tend to be proud of doing all the work and like a chance to show off to the teacher. I give them that chance because I think it keeps them motivated. Even if they’re working for their own benefit, it’s nice when the work is noticed.

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