Ideas for reading aloud to your children

For parents

Just because your children are growing up, this doesn’t mean you have to stop reading to and with them. But perhaps what you read can change.

What you can read to your children

  • Older children enjoy having chapter books read to them.  Nine-year-olds, for example, who cannot read Harry Potter independently are very happy to listen to a parent’s reading.  Involve your child in the choice of book and establish how and when you will read.
  • Older children who have not ‘taken’ to reading independently often prefer to be read non-fiction books on a topic that interests them.  Science and nature books, and books on sports, are often popular with boys, for instance. And when you talk together about the book content, you are also encouraging the development of their oral and thinking skills.
  • Reading need not be confined to books.  Many older readers are reading material on the Internet.  You can explore a website with your child, helping him or her to recognize hyperlinks and to navigate around the website in a useful  way.  Since navigation of websites often involves  ‘wrong’ choices and the need to backtrack in order to find information, exploring a website together is a good way to demonstrate how this is done in a meaningful rather than a random way.
  • Don’t overlook picture books.  There are lots of picture books that are suitable for older readers and which will stimulate a great deal of discussion.

How you can read to your children 
Read in a way that provides your listening child with extra clues to help him or her  understand what you are reading.

  •  Read at a moderate pace to give the listener time to absorb what you’re reading.
  • Pause at full-stops.
  • Read with intonation that indicates, for example, the mood of a speaking character.  If the character is angry, use a tone that expresses this.
  • Raise your voice at the end of a sentence that asks a question.
  • If reading a book with pictures, photographs or diagrams, stop to ask questions and discuss.
  • If reading a story, perhaps change your voice to reflect the character who is speaking.
  • Ask questions about what you’re reading:  ‘What do you think will happen next?’  ‘Why do you think he did that?’
  • If reading a chapter book, try to stop at a suspenseful point, one that leaves them wanting to find out what happens next.  Create a sense of anticipation.

Teaching grammar in context: nouns, pronouns and noun groups

Following on from yesterday’s post, here are some practical ideas for teaching grammar in context.

  • Use picture books to teach nouns and noun groups. A very useful annotated collection, with examples suitable for all year levels, can be found at
  • Demonstrate for students how the choice of noun in a narrative can convey extra information and create a fuller picture for the reader. For example, what is the impact if a character, a very large man, has a chihuahua as a pet rather than a German shepherd? Or the dog next door that I’m frightened of is a rottweiler rather than a labrador?
  •  Develop vocabulary by asking students to suggest alternative, more specific, nouns for ones that are more general. For example, how many more specific nouns can you find for the words ’man’, ‘house’, ‘tree’, ‘car’? How does the more specific noun create a more detailed picture?
  • Select an appropriate narrative text and ask students to change the nouns and/or noun groups to make a different story. Discuss the effect of their choice of substitute nouns and/or noun groups.
  • Annotate excerpts from a text onscreen using arrows to indicate the relationships between the nouns and the pronouns.
  • Design questions about a text which specifically require an understanding of the pronoun references. Be explicit with students about how an understanding of pronoun references helps them to understand the text.
  • Select a descriptive passage from a text that students are reading and remove all of the noun groups. Read the passage with students, ask questions to ensure that they understand it, and then ask them to visualise what is described. Have them describe what they ‘see’. Then provide them with the original text, with noun groups intact, and ask them to visualise and discuss once again, making comparisons with the first version and commenting on relative effectiveness.
  •  Have students work in pairs on Googledocs or similar to add noun groups to each other’s writing and share the revised writing with another pair for their feedback.
  •  When revising shared writing, look for opportunities to compress the text by nominalising verbs and adjectives and be explicit about the process.

Do you have other ideas to share?

OTISA and Grammar

The approach to the teaching of grammar that we have adopted in this resource reflects a current pedagogical approach.

We start from the premise that the purpose of grammar is to facilitate effective communication with others.  For this reason, a knowledge of grammar rules on their own is not sufficient.  Rather, students need to know how the grammar looks and behaves in context and to understand the grammatical choices made by writers and the intended purpose and effect of those choices.

Moreover, if grammar is taught in the context of students’ own reading and writing, the learning is more likely to be both relevant and engaging.

However, we also need to be sure that students are assisted to transfer their learning from one context to another.

For this reason the OTISA resource offers opportunities for students to consolidate the learning that has occurred in their classroom, and then to apply it in other situations.  The instructional introductions that occur in each element are intended to remind students of their prior learning and to reinforce the metalanguage that becomes the basis of the dialogue between teachers and their students.

We are currently developing Professional Learning modules that explain the grammar basics for teachers and suggest ways in which these can be taught in context in the classroom. The modules will be ready for the 2013 school year.

Should students read more non-fiction?

An interesting education debate is occurring in the USA at the moment.

The new Common Core State Standards require the teaching of more non-fiction texts, ostensibly aimed at improving standards.

Apparently reading scores for 17 year-olds have not improved significantly since 1980, and it is the opinion of some experts that an increased emphasis on the teaching of non-fiction texts in subject English is the key to changing this situation. According to the Standards, in fourth grade there should be a 50/50 mix of fiction and non-fiction, while by Year 12 it is recommended that 70% of the texts studied should be non-fiction.

Other experts argue that there is no evidence that the study of fiction, rather than non-fiction, is linked to lower reading scores. Likewise, they say there is no evidence that significant improvement will result from an increased emphasis on the study of non-fiction.

They argue that literature – of the ‘great and good’ variety, rather than the dumbed-down kind that sometimes prevails in schools these days – is a perfect vehicle for developing students’ critical skills.

In addition there are some claims that English teachers lack the necessary training to teach non-fiction texts anyway, and further professional learning will be necessary.

I wonder what we think about this debate here in Australia? Would we like to see an increased emphasis on the teaching of non-fiction texts?

OTISA and self-assessment

For teachers

You will be aware of the research that identifies student self-assessment as an important aspect of formative assessment. To be a successful learner, students need to know how they learn as well as what they learn.

We have structured OTISA so that your students have multiple opportunities to consider their learning and reflect on what they are doing.

As they complete each activity, if they have errors, students are asked to think about and reconsider their answers before checking the explanations.  This is a graduated process that first offers them the opportunity to go back and ‘have another go’ without any extra assistance.  Then they can choose to see which answers are correct before they make another attempt. As they make each decision, they are challenged to engage with the learning.

If you explain this process to your students you will be encouraging them to take responsibility for their own learning, a key ingredient for success.

At the end of each Taking it Further section, students are asked to rate their understanding of the element.  This rating is submitted to you, and can be used formatively by you. As part of your feedback to the students you might confirm their personal rating or question them about it.  Students who rate themselves too severely might need reassurance about their performance, while those who rate themselves too highly might need help in order to assess their performance more realistically. The performance summary to which you have access as part of the teacher reporting functionality could be useful here, and could be shared with students.

Students are also asked to identify aspects of the element that they don’t fully understand, and to consider where they might get assistance to improve their understanding.  This latter question is designed to encourage students to be active participants in the learning process.  You will encourage your students to value the process of self-assessment and to take it seriously when you comment, (via the electronic comment facility) on what students write in this section

OTISA and parents

We’re interested in all things educational, and if you’re reading this blog then you probably are, too.

Our first blogs will concentrate on telling you how to get the most out of your OTISA subscription.  (Check out the resource at if you haven’t already.)

Subsequent blogs will bring you news from the world of education as well as classroom teaching tips and info for all those parents who are actively involved in their children’s learning.
If you’re a parent, here are some ways in which you can help your child use OTISA.

  • encourage your child to use the grid to select the element they want to learn about.  Make sure that they are the ones who choose, so that they are more engaged and interested.
  • when your child first begins to use OTISA, it would be helpful if you could be there while they read or listen to the Introduction screens.  This will give you the opportunity to make sure the child understands the instructional aspect before they start on the activities.
  • do a couple of the activities together.  (It may well be the case that your child shows you how it’s done, which is of course very good for their self-esteem.)
  • encourage your child to use the following process, which is designed to make them think about their answers and to fix the ones that are incorrect:
    a.  have a go at an activity
    b.  select How did I do?
    c.  If there are errors, go back and try again.  If there are no errors, read Check   the  Explanation.  It’s important to do this so that the learning is confirmed.  Getting correct answers doesn’t necessarily mean that understanding has occurred.
    d.  if there are still errors after a second attempt, select Which ones are correct?  This helps students to identify where they are wrong and to have a final go at getting the correct answer.
    f.  After this attempt, whether they still have errors or not, they select Check the Explanation.
    Because there are lots of activities of the same kind, students can always have more than one attempt at the learning.
  • if the child has difficulty with the activities, encourage them to go back to the Introduction and to listen to the instructional aspect.  You could also go through the Explanations with them.
  • use the resource frequently for short periods of time – say 10 minutes at a time – unless, of course, the child decides otherwise and wants to continue.

Using OTISA in the classroom – developing metalanguage

For teachers

If your students understand grammatical terms – that is, they understand the metalanguage – they are then better able to make a conscious decision to employ those grammatical features in their own writing to add depth and interest.

In addition, if students know and understand the metalanguage, you will be better able to provide them with feedback that is focussed and specific.  You could, for example, suggest that they might make their writing more engaging, or provide extra information, by adding noun groups.  This kind of feedback gives students something specific to work with.

OTISA can be of assistance to you in this regard in that it provides students with the opportunity to consolidate their understanding of the metalanguage.  As part of your feedback, if you think there is a need for students to revise understanding of the way in which a particular grammar feature ‘works’, then you can refer them directly to the relevant element and activities. (If you use the Teacher Reporting functionality, you can send students  an electronic message to this effect. This message will be available to them when  they next log in to OTISA.)