Reading was always one of the most difficult things to teach during my ESL lessons. Not only were the lessons too short to allow any time for reading instruction, but the ability range within each class easily spanned two to three years, making group instruction impractical. One can hardly imagine the relief when I finally found out about an internet-based reading instruction site. I went on a thorough tour and was immediately hooked. I soon convinced my director of the need for this material, and she readily agreed to pay for a number of classroom subscriptions. Why was I so enthusiastic? Let me share a few reasons with you, dear reader. But be aware, before you continue: you just might become an avid enthusiast of this on-line material and find yourself subscribing to raz-kids.
Why is this the perfect material for the ESL class? Here is a list of reasons, in no particular order.
Reason one: it allows the child to work at his own pace, at his own level. The teacher can easily adjust the given level, or “assignment” for each child. Children who are more advanced readers can be given a higher level assignment, and children needing a lower level of reading instruction can be given a lower-level assignment. The easy books start with simple one picture, one word, per page. The difficulty increases to two- and three-word sentences, then gradually makes its way to short chapter books.
Reason two: the books are read aloud to the children. As the story is read aloud, the accompanying text is highlighted. The easier books are read one word at a time. As the stories develop in difficulty, the highlighted text increases to short phrases, short sentences, then finally it highlights a paragraph at a time, as it is read aloud, reflecting how the reader views the text as he develops. The animation provided is instrumental, illustrating and clarifying the text.
Reason three: the books are complemented with quizzes and worksheets. The quizzes provided cover a wide range of comprehension skills and levels of thinking. The child’s progress is recorded, and teachers can easily see how each child has been progressing and what reading skills need extra training.
Reasons four and five: for the children, there are free apps available, so they can access their raz-kids account from anywhere, at anytime. For the teacher, there are lesson plans, worksheets, reading assessments and smartboard materials. What a time saver!
Reason six: there is a wide variety of topics, fiction and non-fiction, so that every child can find a book that interests him or her. And with this, the only drawback I have managed to find so far after years of use: many of the books include topics covering American history and culture. For those of us outside of the United States, it’s a bit strange to read about Thanksgiving, George Washington, and the Fourth of July. However, raz-kids is constantly updating its material and adding new books about current topics such as President Obama and space exploration.
Raz-kids goes further than just reading, however. For the online materials enthusiast, there is writinga-z, sciencea-z, vocabularya-z, Headsprout…. and the list grows longer with each passing year. Normally, I’m not one to give free advertisement space to other folks’ material, but this stuff really is the best thing since the invention of sliced bread. But you don’t have to take my word for it…