Helping Children Learn To Think in English Through Reading Storybooks

Patricia F. Neymani !"
#lso published in the $nternet TESL %ournal& ' (') *++* (http,--itesl..com)

Introduction /y interest in using storybooks 0or teaching English began 1hen $ 1as teaching middle2school students in 3orea. /y search 0or material 1hich could pro4ide a basis 0or con4ersation and 1riting in my classes led me to try some o0 the many all2English storybooks a4ailable. Later $ began using them to teach English to t1o elementary2 school students 1hom $ taught on the telephone. The latter e5perience has been so success0ul that it moti4ated me to 1rite this paper. The middle2school students had been e5posed to a lot o0 English 4ocabulary. Ne4ertheless& 1hen $ presented them 1ith a page o0 English 1riting 1ith no or 4ery little ne1 4ocabulary& $ 1as surprised to 0ind that they seemed to ha4e great di00iculty 1ith it. 6Teacher& 4ery di00icult78 they 1ould say to me. $ concluded that they 1ere lacking in ability to process English. Their English training has 0ocused mainly on the le4el o0 single 1ords (4ocabulary lists) and translation into their nati4e language. Reading selections in their elementary and middle2school te5ts are short and usually accompanied by nati4e language support. Perhaps this is 1hy the students had not mo4ed to the point 1here& upon encountering 1ords memori9ed& they 1ere able to instantly connect them to the mental concepts embodied. Their processing probably 1as mainly occurring in their nati4e language.. The ability to interconnect 4arious mental constructs 1ithout re4erting to nati4e2 language processing is essential not only to reading comprehension& but to con4ersation as 1ell. The pro.ect described in this paper 1ith the elementary school children con4inced me that early introduction o0 longer selections could be e5tremely bene0icial in EFL training. Rather than 1aiting until the later grades& e5tensi4e reading should be introduced as early as possible& in order to take ad4antage o0 the 0acility 1ith 1hich children under the age o0 !* ac:uire language. The key to the success o0 such reading& ho1e4er& is to keep the number o0 ne1 1ords or idiomatic phrases per page do1n to a ma5imum o0 one or t1o.. This point can;t be o4er2emphasi9ed. The 1hole idea o0 such reading is to keep the reader engaged in the story. $t re:uires that the reader be able to get the meaning 1ithout stopping o0ten& i0 at all& to 0ind out the meanings o0 ne1 1ords. $0 ne1 items seriously impede understanding& students get discouraged< and it may turn into another grammar2translation e5ercise. Tutoring project using readers =hen $ began teaching them& >o2kyung 1as ' (=estern age)& and in *nd grade< Chang2.un 1as ?& in @rd grade. Chang2.un 1as getting an hour a 1eek o0 English in regular school& and both had had some other e5posure to English 0rom another pri4ate teacher. Ho1e4er& neither kne1 any English to speak o0. From September *+++ through February *++! each child logged around A+ hours 1ith me. Buring this period& each child;s daily hal02hour on the telephone 1ith me 1as

=e started out by going through one basic phonics book. They read& and $ corrected their pronunciation. Thirty o0 these C+ hours 1ere 1ith me (@ days a 1eek)& the other *+ 1ith another teacher (* days a 1eek). =e also had t1o personal 4isits& in the conte5t o0 outings 1ith the 0amily. The kind o0 1ord or phrase translation $ ha4e described abo4e is the only translation that 1as done.spent largely in reading te5ts like Let’s Go and Up and Away with English& 1ith storybooks used 0or 4ariety. #s soon as they began spontaneously speaking to me& $ changed the routine and started ha4ing them retell me the stories in their o1n 1ords. Elementary * is listed by E50ord as ha4ing a head1ordii *" count o0 @++ 1ords& Elementary @& a count o0 D++ 1ords. =e employed English2NL& English2English& and picture dictionaries.t see. Buring the latter period $ 1as tutoring them using e5clusi4ely readers& 1hile the other teacher 1orked 1ith them using standard te5ts. Ence they got it& $ only had to re0er to 6yesterday8 or 6tomorro18 to remind them. # list o0 1hat books 1e used is gi4en belo1iii @". Ethers& especially those o0 certain publishers& 1ere 0illed 1ith untranslatable idioms or 1ords 1hich are in0re:uently used. #0ter the !!+ hours o0 tutoring described& they could easily read and understand the E50ord Classic Tales books at Elementary Le4el *& and 1ere beginning on an Elementary Le4el @ book. =hen 1e came to the past tense and 0uture tense& e5planations 1ith simple English 1ords 1ere used (yesterday& tomorro1). $n addition >o2kyung started to get one hour a 1eek o0 English in school 1hen she graduated to @rd grade& and Chang2. #t 0irst Chang2. This 1as 0ine at the beginning& but items not literally translatable and-or not 0indable in dictionaries appeared 4ery soon< and then $ turned to NL speakers 1ho could also speak English. #0ter that& $ s1itched to ha4ing them read& 1hate4er book 1e 1ere using& and that became the basic procedure.i4 D" . They repeated a0ter me. Ho1e4er& $ did use some e5amples 0rom the little NL $ kne1 to get the time ideas across. $ say 61e8& because $ and they each had the same dictionaries.t like the story itsel0.un continued to recei4e the same in Dth grade. Then 0rom /arch through September& *++! each logged another C+ hours. E0 course& there are many other possible combinations& and many other books that $ didn. =hen they had 9ero English 4ocabulary& they got meaning 0rom pictures and my translations o0 1ords into their NL obtained 0rom dictionaries. Later $ began checking comprehension by ha4ing them do the e5ercises pro4ided in the readers& or by asking them to gi4e me the meaning o0 a 1ord in 3orean. $ spent hours and hours in bookstores looking at beginning2le4el readers.un progressed 0aster than >o2kyung& but 1hen he 1as absent 0or a short period& she caught up 1ith him< and since then the t1o ha4e been reading the same materials. Some readers $ re. Fortunately& the children had already been trained to use a dictionary in English& and 1e increasingly looked up 1ords in these. This se:uence is roughly graded in 4ocabulary& and $ pro4ide it only as a possible ser4ice to others. #gain& lessons 1ere daily. They read a total o0 !' books 1ith me during this period.ected because $ didn. Some seemed too e5pensi4e 0or the amount o0 reading they pro4ided.

$ think it is 0air to say that Chang2. $ belie4e that many teachers 1ho use predominantly the grammar2translation method in EFL teaching 1ould be surprised that such young children could understand 1hat these children 1ere reading. Perhaps the 0re:uency o0 classes a00ects the results& or the moti4ation pro4ided at home.8 >oth spontaneously produced se4eral respectable English sentences ri4aling 1hat some o0 the uni4ersity 0reshmen $ 1as teaching at the time could produce a0ter years o0 English training. 6=hen the prince sa1 Cinderella& he thought& 6She is the most beauti0ul girl in the 1orld78 He 1ent to her and said& 6=ill you dance 1ith meF8 6Hes8& she said& 6$ 1ill.s 0irst such utterances 1as. E0 course& this little trial run should be replicated 1ith more children and some controls. Here are a couple o0 sentences 0rom one o0 them. =hat isF8 (=hat.8 (Cinderella& E50ord Classic Tales). Ene o0 Chang2.s that at the top o0 the page on the le0tF) #round that time& >o2 3yung said& 6$ 0ind book and bring tomorro1. =hat about results 1ith regard to speakingF Chang2. $t can de0initely be said& ho1e4er& that this set o0 obser4ations sho1s that a graded series o0 readers can pro4ide a 1ay 0or children to rapidly increase their ability to handle English te5t< and that translation is not needed i0 the stories are correctly graded.s 1illingness and ability to use 1ords mastered in reading at 0irst lagged noticeably behind their comprehension o0 them in te5t.un and >o2kyung achie4ed& reallyF #0ter around !!+ hours o0 instruction& they are easily reading books that E50ord rates as @++2D++ 1ord le4el.ust e5ceptionally bright children. .moti4ation. $ actually belie4e the 1ork 1ith me 1as a primary 0actor& based on 1hat $ kno1< but be0ore these results 1ith regard to speaking can be taken as anything but promising& the method ob4iously re:uires systematic testing.4i A" Reading stories or literature can greatly a00ect one 0actor kno1n to be critical in learning a language. For :uite a 1hile& they resisted talking& and pre0erred to get right to reading.un. From the beginning& lessons began 1ith greetings and a little con4ersation. They may be listening to English on TI. >ut there came a point 1hen they began to really try to acti4ely use their limited @++2D++ 1ord 4ocabulary to get close enough to the meaning they had in mind so $ could get it. Perhaps Chang2.un and >o2kyung are . Naturally it 1as di00icult at 0irst 1ith no 4ocabulary at all& and all o0 us 1ere 0rustrated at times. Current ESL theory and storybooks $0 correctly chosen& storybooks 1ould correspond to the 6comprehensible input8 1hich ESL theorists say should be emphasi9ed in the communicati4e classroom.Results =hat ha4e Chang2.un and >o2kyung had gained the capacity to process a lot o0 0airly comple5 English at this point& and to do it rather easily.4ii G" =hen beginning readers can read a 61hole book8 it is a source o0 pride and it also sho1s them that they actually ha4e a use 0or the language they are learning. 6Teacher& up page& le0t. =hat about the length and comple5ity o0 te5t they can handleF =ell& the E50ord Elementary * (@++ head21ords) te5t has around G+2!++ 1ords per page& and !' pages4 C" o0 te5t.un and >o2kyung.

Take Po-po& 0or instance (E50ord Start =ith English Readers). # big point in 0a4or o0 storybooks is their 4ocabulary. $t is 1ell2documented that 1hat is read is re0lected in the syntactic structure and style o0 1hat children 1rite< and that it can impro4e 1riting more than 0ormal grammar instruction 54i !A" 54ii !G" Factors 1hich in0luence ease o0 comprehension o0 a book by a reader go beyond 4ocabulary& idioms& and synta5 (the primary criteria 0or the books selected here). Storybooks could be used e4en by teachers 1ith poor English& because they can use the tapes that come 1ith a book. Re0erences to things the reader is unac:uainted 1ith (including culturally2speci0ic ones)& the presence o0 0igurati4e language& and s1itching bet1een narrati4e and e5pository style make comprehension more di00icult.E5tensi4e reading has been ad4ocated as a means o0 building 4ocabulary 4iii '" i5 ?" and in ESL training 5 !+" 5i !!" #lthough Seal& !??!&5ii !*" cautions that the idea that ESL learners can e00ortlessly ac:uire large amounts o0 4ocabulary through conte5t is 6largely untested8 & some studies do indicate that reading and listening to stories positi4ely in0luence learners. This simple book has AD head21ords& including !! 4erbs& *C nouns (not including proper names)& and G ad.t) occurs A! times& 6look and 4ariants *G times& 6his8 *D times& 6it8 !? times& 6at8 !' times& 6this ' times& and so on. Ho1e4er& e4en in simple step2one stories& the amount o0 language pro4ides an impressi4e amount o0 English practice. For e5ample& the 1ord 6is8 and 4ariants (is not& isn. They 0ound that a0ter ' months in the program& the Dth and Cth graders sho1ed progress in reading at t1ice the usual rate. That is& they are common in ne1spapers& maga9ines& and TI broadcasts and discussions.54iii !'" 5i5 !?" Patterned language (repetition) and predictability o0 structure make it easier 0or beginning readers. >ut the @CC21ord te5t typed2out 1ould occupy a block about G cm long (single2spaced& !*2point type) on a page !G cm 1ide.ung at Stockholm Jni4ersity comparing the 4ocabulary o0 te5ts intended 0or S1edish high schools 1ith the general 0re:uency o0 1ords in English (using a corpus compiled at the Jni4ersity o0 >irmingham).ecti4es and ad4erbs.i. Discussion and Conclusion To some people& stories read 6. 4ocabulary and comprehension 5iii !@" 5i4 !D". He reports that in the TEFL te5ts many 1ords are under2represented< and that the under2represented 1ords are& in general& 0re:uently used 1ords. Story book dialogue and 4ocabulary o0ten is 4ery close to . $n other 1ords& the amount o0 English practice is :uite signi0icant< and it is practice that encourages 6thinking in English8 $n non English2speaking countries& using story books in the classroom could be a 1ay to greatly increase the e5posure o0 children to English during that early critical period be0ore the age o0 !*& 1hen they ac:uire language so easily. =hen you look at indi4idual pages& 1ith an a4erage o0 only around !! 1ords per page& it seems like 4ery little language. #0ter *+ months& the gains had not only continued by had spread to other language skills. L. Elley and /angubhai 54 !C" documented the results o0 a literature2based reading program in ' schools in Fi. The amount o0 repetition 0ar e5ceeds 1hat a student 1ould tolerate in a normal class lesson.ust 0or 0un8 might seem like a 1aste o0 time. He4er55 *+" reports on a study by /.

$t might be 0easible& ho1e4er& 0or schools to o1n sets o0 readers 1hich 1ould be 6borro1ed8 by a teacher 0or use in a class 0or a period o0 time. There are a se4eral series o0 readers produced by 3orean publishers (reprinted English stories)& and they are much cheaper than the 0oreign2produced te5tbooks. True& notes are pro4ided in 3orean on e4ery page 0or e4ery 1ord or phrase that might cause a problem< but this 0ormat isn. Each child 1ould use the copy 1ith his or her number 0or e4ery book the class read. Cost could be a consideration.1hat is used in ordinary con4ersation. The teacher keeps a record o0 1hom each copy is issued to. Three small beginning books cost more than one te5tbook o0 the kind usually used in schools& and 1ould pro4ide only a 0e1 hours o0 reading and talking at most& 1hile the te5t 1ould last 0or a semester. =hat 1ould really be help0ul is to establish standard 4ocabulary corpora o0 increasing le4els o0 di00iculty& like the ones E50ord has done. $ ha4e pro4ided the list o0 1hat $ used because it can be challenging and 4ery time2consuming to establish a se:uence o0 graded readings& unless you buy all o0 one publisher. E4ery child could ha4e a gi4en number 0or the duration o0 the term& and this 1ould eliminate the problem o0 book2issuing 0or e4ery ne1 book read by the class. There has been one attempt to re4ie1 and to classi0y a large number o0 graded readers according to one scale 55i *!"& although the scale. First& ha4e students repeat line2by2line a0ter a tape. .m sure the same is the case in many other countries. There0ore they are :uite rele4ant to programs 1ishing to produce students 1ho use English 0or oral communication. /any schools in the Jnited States do this. $. #ll o0 the English2only graded2series readers $ ha4e seen are being produced by publishers in English2speaking countries. =hat about using storybooks in the classroom& especially 1ith large classesF For 4arious reasons& it is impossible in a large class to ha4e each child heard as he or she reads& and to correct indi4idually. E4ery child 1ould kno1 1hich is 6his-her8 book& and get it o00 o0 the shel0 e4ery day& returning it there be0ore lea4ing.s series. The books currently being used could be kept on a shel0 in the classroom. E4ery 0e1 pages ha4e the children do comprehension and re4ie1 acti4ities that are also 0un and interesting. The readers 1e used are relati4ely e5pensi4e compared to regular te5ts. Each copy in the set bears a permanent number. This& o0 course& suits the publishers& but might not suit the indi4idual or school planning the program.t desirable because it thro1s the student back into translation mode. Ho1e4er& these series are not usable in the 1ay $ ha4e described 0or beginning readers.s criteria are not included in the re4ie1 articles. Then& read the 1hole passage again& out loud. There are not enough books o0 the same le4el& they are too long& they are not supplemented 1ith pictures& and the introduction o0 ne1 1ords and phrases is not gradual. $ think the solution might be tapes& and choral reading. Look 0or the books that ha4e these acti4ities included K there are some.

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