TESOL 2017 Highlights: Building Independent Readers

Each visit to the Electronic Village helps me fill my treasure box for teaching. Phil Rice of the University of Delaware put three gems in my box during his talk A Suite of Online Reading Tools to Enable Self-study. Let me share what I learned.

Readlang is clever web-app that helps readers with any online text. On Day 1 after my return from Seattle, I decided to install the Chrome extension and test it out. It’s wonderfully easy to use. Readlang is basically an online translator. Open a text, say an article from The New York Times. A student can begin reading, and when he or she comes across an unfamiliar word, a single click translates the English word into the L1. We can encourage students to guess from context before requesting the translation, but having the translation at one’s fingertips can conveniently confirm a student’s hunch. What’s more, the program remembers which words were studied and saves them on flashcards. When you choose to review the flashcards, you’re tested both ways: from L2 to L1 and vice versa. Above the flashcards is an excerpt from the text you read to remind you what the context was.

Lingro is a tool Phil recommends for more difficult academic texts. I went through a few bumps trying to enter a URL that would work, but I finally got an article from Fox News to open up. (URLs from NPR and NY Times didn’t work for some reason.) Like Readlang, Lingro makes all words clickable. Translations in the desired L1 appear and are saved. Not only is there a word history, but there’s also a sentence history to review the context. Flashcards are available, and the user can also create different word lists to study, deleting any word at any time from each list. However, I feel that Readlang has better flashcards because you can  flag them according to the degree of mastery (Prompt: Did you remember? Choices: Not at all. Almost. Yes.) Both apps allow you to edit the flashcards, and when I received five possible Russian translations for “incoming” via Lingro, I noticed I could hide the meanings that weren’t relevant.

One resource I’m definitely going to share with my private students is ReadTheory. Like Phil, I’m surprised and delighted that this site is free. It’s a robust collection of leveled reading passages (Levels 0-12). Check it out and discover the possibilities. Phil demonstrated how with a teacher’s account we can track student performance in reading. The site first asks students to take a pre-test to establish a baseline. The test is adaptive. Readings become easier or harder depending on how accurately students answer comprehension questions. Once students’ respective levels are identified, they can read at their pace as much as they wish. There are readings from different disciplines. Each reading is followed by a set of questions, from making inferences to recalling details. There are also questions about text organization. Students don’t have to wait for teacher feedback because automatic feedback is given for any incorrect answers.

boy-1986107_1920The true beauty of all three resources is that they encourage and support our students as independent readers. Phil noted that ReadTheory is mobile-friendly. Doesn’t that make it even easier to find time for independent reading? A big thanks to Phil for teaching me about Readlang, Lingo, and ReadTheory!

You can gain more ideas and resources by visiting Phil Rice’s website, which has a very memorable moniker: The ESL Commando: Top Secret Tips for English Success.

Photo credit: Boy, Break, Browsing, Casual, Computer by rawpixel. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/photo-1986107/

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