Reading turned into Speaking

As promised in my previous post, I'm going to give you the skinny on the excellent teacher-training workshops I attended at the ELTAF 2008. I'll be posting here and there, in between classes so they will unfold gradually.

BTW: Sabine (I think you're the anonymous commenter from the previous post - YES! I attended a great workshop on Intercultural competence in business English and have much to say on Comfort's workshop but am hoping to get the handouts emailed from Heinle before blogging about it...)

Anyway, let me kick off without boring you guys - you know I talk too much - the training session I learned the most from:

Duncan Laing of Oxford University Press (OUP)'s:

"Magic" formula for getting your students reading.

The blurb for the workshop read "Classroom time is limited and we need techniques to extract the maximum benefit from students' reading."

Super title.

In the initial moments of this workshop we watched as he fiddled around with the Smartboard and his powerpoint presentation & my heart sunk.

He seemed young, not so confident of his materials, kept double-tapping the screen (how fast we all learn, few of us had ever seen a SmartBoard before but after two previous sessions we were all experts "Tap once, Duncan" we said, feeling as frustrated as he must have done that he hadn't done a prior run through of the technical equipment).

Plus his first slides seemed to indicate this was actually a workshop for teachers of kids or teenies. I teach mainly adults.

Man, I love to be proved wrong!

Duncan introduced the Bookworms club, a Reading Circles system. After going through the teachers'handbook, he split us up into groups and got us to become his reading circle.

ReadingCircleIt was brilliant - AND I've tested out the materials in two classes so far, it works (not just in a workshop!;-).

My role was to be the culture collector and it was my job to read the story, looking for differences and similarities between my culture and the one in the text. I also had to think of some questions to ask the group.

Our story, from Bookworms Bronze, was called Little Hunters at the Lake.

This role led me to recognize the religious and/or philosophies within the story, to acknowledge the universal love for animals, no matter the culture, and how in my own culture they'd be really little chance of boys finding a gun in the house to go hunting with!

We had a dynamic conversation about the boys' emotionality and whether boys in Germany (or wherever else) would be capable of the same depth of feelings as the two little boys, Ali & Hikmet.

The other roles were just as exciting, the word master extracted words and we discussed them and their significance, the connector found relationships to his own experience, and the passage person found areas she thought most central to the story.

My feedback, on the down side, would be that you really need to know what you're doing.

The discussion leader's role sheet does not clearly provide guidelines to help him/her lead nor notes on the other roles in his group - although it does provide a framework for asking questions of the other participants.

My suggestion to the teachers deciding to try out this system, would be read through the teachers' handbook thoroughly before stepping into class and doing it. Because, honestly, once your students understand what's required of them, reading pretty seriously and suddenly becomes speaking. And that's our goal, isn't it!

Here's my rough summary of the system based on the teachers' handbook:

What are Reading Circles?

  • Small groups of students who meet in the classroom to talk about stories.
  • Language learners are encouraged (by having a defined purpose) to have 'real-life' discussions about the stories they've read.
  • In each Reading Circle, each student plays a different role in the discussion.
  • The six main roles (each with a specific icon) are:
1. Discussion Leader
2. Summarizer
3. Connector
4. Word master
5. Passage person
6. Culture collector
There's also the possibility of extending the roles, adding, for example an illustrator and background investigator.

At the back of the book, there's a very exciting further activity called "plotting the pyramid" and it gives students the opportunity to examine the construction of a story, breaking it down into different sections: exposition, complication, rising action, climax and resolution.

Supportive role icon badges (perhaps a little "young" -it'd be sweet if OUP could make a series and icons for adults and perhaps a business reader series) and photocopiable role sheets can be downloaded from the OUP website, free of charge.

Why use Reading Circles?

They motivate students to acquire both the habits of reading extensively and of working autonomously. They make talking about texts interesting and provide a framework for having a good discussion in English.


The OUP website is truly a minefield - now why is it that British websites so often are?

Both the British Council and BBC's are also very complicated. sigh. BUT after a fifteen minute search - yes, I'm determined, I finally found the links you need to get sample pages and downloadable sheets.

So that's it for today, I'd better go teach!!! However I'll leave you with a little zen quote to make you think:

"Conversation is a game of circles" Ralph Waldo Emmerson


p.s You may also be interested in my supportive conversation materials for students who love talking about books and reading.

3 Responses to “Reading turned into Speaking”

  • Anonymous says:
    September 23, 2008

    Hello there! I am so happy I stumbled across your blog. I was in the same workshop as you at ELTAF (felt the same way about the presenter too!) and immediately ordered 3 Bookworm Bronze books for my class. Then Amazon cancelled my order saying they couldn't supply. Thank you for providing the links to the sample pages etc. Yours gratefully, Stephanie

  • This comment has been removed by the author.
    September 24, 2008

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    September 24, 2008

    Hi Stephanie,

    Wrote a quick note to OUP and found out that in Germany you can also get the book from Cornelsen:

    Here's the link:


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