How to Successfully Implement the Response Process in Your ESL Class?

First of all, we need to choose a novel that is motivating, relevant and accessible to our learners’ proficiency level. I often select novels that have universal themes such as overcoming challenges, determination, loyalty, acceptance, identity, courage, heroism, coming of age, power and corruption, and individual versus society because I know that my students will be able to relate to these ideas. 

When teaching a piece of literature, there are some models we might want to consider:

  1. cultural model

  2. language model

  3. personal growth model

The language and personal growth models are student-centered approaches; therefore, they are more appropriate for ESL classes because, on the one hand, we want to expose our learners to language. On the other hand, we also wish to encourage them to draw on their opinions, feelings and personal experience. Nonetheless, we should not forget that providing the context of any of the assigned novels is also important to help our learners to construct meaning. 

I admit that I favour the personal growth model. Last Fall, I had the chance to experiment with a new kind of approach to teaching The Outsiders and The Giver. I didn’t know what to expect first, but my experiment turned out to be successful as my students appreciated it a lot. This strategy is extremely easy to implement during independent reading periods if you do not have time to create teaching materials for your chosen text. In addition, it is also a good alternative to boring worksheets that your students might dread completing. 

Reading Journal Entries

When using reading journal entries, students simply need to keep a reading journal, a notebook, in which they take notes while reading. Before each reading period, the teacher indicates what learners need to focus on in a particular chapter or section of the novel. These could be: theme, tone, narrative point of view, setting, characters’ values and principles, symbols, character growth, conflict situations, so on and so forth. For instance, when I was teaching The Outsiders and The Giver, I asked my students to concentrate on the following concepts while reading (See the chart below). I also expected them to form opinions and connect with the text by drawing on their own experience.

Concepts/themes to focus on while reading The Outsiders and The Giver:

The Outsiders - Focus on:

  1. Ponyboy’s character

  2. Ponyboy’s relationship with Johnny and his brothers

  3. the differences between the Socks and the greasers

  4. Ponyboy’s loyalty

  5. Ponyboy and Johnny hiding

  6. heroism, friendship so on and so forth.

The Giver - Focus on:

  1. Jonas’s world/community

  2. the things that are missing from Jonas’s world

  3. the importance of the Ceremony of twelve

  4. the freedom of choice

  5. the concept of the family unit

  6. utopia/dystopia 

  7. Jonas’s evolution, so on and so forth. 

However, before requiring my learners to keep a reading journal in which they record their reactions, opinions, feelings, and comments based on the above prompts, I needed to show them how to engage with a text in a meaningful way. That is why I created a How-to Guide to Reacting and Responding to Fiction and Nonfiction to make sure my students were able to ask the right questions while reading, so they could critically approach the text and build relationships and connections about a given theme or concept to construct meaning. You may find this guide in my TpT store.

The Response Process – Developing Learners’ Higher-order Thinking Skills

Although this activity is very easy to implement, yet, in its simplicity, it requires students to complete a quite complex task as they need to show their understanding of the text, think critically, and establish a personal connection with the text by drawing on content knowledge and personal experience. 

During the response process, you may target the following reading skills and strategies:

  1. predicting

  2. reading for details

  3. determining vocabulary using context clues

  4. drawing conclusions

  5. comparing and contrasting

  6. determining character motive

  7. reflecting on reading

This semester, however, I have used both models of teaching literature. This is the first time I have incorporated both the language and personal growth models because it has made more sense to teach grammar concepts in context while reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In order to engage my students in the response process, I have included more open-ended questions requiring them to think critically and to form opinions about the characters, situations, and events. Needless to say, teaching grammar in context while reading the novel has been a real piece of cake.

This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde novel study guide

features the following types of activities:  text-dependent and open-ended questions, a set of novel study task cards to be used as conversation or writing prompts, graphic organizers and separate grammar worksheets (the Simple Past tense, adjectives, expressing possession, zero, first, second and third conditional sentences, modal auxiliary verbs, and degrees of comparison). If you love teaching The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as much as I do, you might like to take a look at this classroom-tested unit here: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Novel Study Guide with Answer Key.

Final Thoughts

Teaching the response process is not difficult. I have successfully implemented this reading strategy in ESL classes where learners were used to completing reading comprehension questions without knowing how to connect with the text.

For years, I’ve been committed to developing and implementing effective reading strategies to improve my learners’ performance and, in my professional opinion, the most successful way of doing it is using direct instruction (modeling) and offering plenty of opportunities for your students to practice. If you need a quick study guide and practice worksheet to help your learners to become familiar with the active reading model, you can download this free Active Reading Strategy Task Cards and Worksheets resource from my TpT store by clicking here.

Do you have some favourite novels and activities that are super easy to implement in an ESL class? I cannot wait to read about your tips in the comments section. 

Happy teaching!

Kynga C. 

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