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Topic 16 – Children’s literature in English. Techniques of didactic application to access the listening, initiating and strengthening reading habits and sensitize in the poetic function of language.

This essay deals with English literature for children, its use in English class, and encouraging students to read and to appreciate the poetic function of language.

Defining children’s literature. First of all we would need to define what is meant by “children’s literature”. In general, the term refers to books which adults — teachers and schools, parents, librarians, award committees, publishers, scholars, etc,– consider appropriate for children to read. This implies that some books may or may not be considered appropriate for children, such as the fairy tales of Charles Perrault (17th century). Some of his tales are Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.

Defining children’s literature is not easy because many books that originally were not written for children are now considered children’s literature. An example of this is The Prince and the Pauper, or the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, both written by the American author Mark Twain. The opposite is also true: fiction books that were originally written or marketed for children have recognition as adult books. For example, Philip Pullman‘s The Amber Spyglass, and Mark Haddon‘s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, were originally written and marketed for children, and both won Whitbread Awards, which are typically awarded to novels for adults. The Nobel prize for literature has also been given to authors such as Selma Lagerlöf and Isaac Singer who made great contributions to children’s literature. Often no consensus is reached as to whether a given work is best categorized as adult or children’s literature, and many books are multiply marketed in adult, children’s, and young adult editions; a prominent example of this is the Harry Potter series, which was published in separate editions for children and adults. The difficulty in categorising these books lies in that much of what is commonly regarded as “classic” children’s literature speaks on multiple levels, and therefore can be enjoyed by both adults and children. For example, many people will reread Alice in Wonderland as adults and appreciate aspects of the book that they failed to appreciate when they were children. (ESTE PARRAFO SE PUEDE RESUMIR COGIENDO LO QUE MAS FACIL OS RESULTE DE APRENDER).


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

The stories of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter who was both writer and illustrator.

The Happy Prince and The Canterville Ghost, by Oscar Wilde

The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling

The Lord of the Rings, J.R. Tolkien

From the other side of the Atlantic, America, we have many famous writers and works. Some examples are: Louisa M Alcott and her novel Little Women , Mark Twain and his works The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures or Huckleberry Finn by Mark.

More recently, Roald Dhal wrote very popular children’s books like Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. British author, J.K. Rowling is probably the best-known children’s author today and also the most successful. She is the author of the extremely successful, Harry Potter series, and her books have been sold in more than 300 million copies worldwide and are translated into more than 60 languages. She is also the first billionaire-author.

Since the middle of 20th Children’s literature has become an important part of the publishing industry. Although traditional books are still very popular, children’s likes and tastes have changed, and so have adults’ ideas on what children should read. Today’s children’s literature pays attention to different aspects of human rights and ecology. An example is Annie on My Mind (1982) by Nancy Garden, which is the first children’s book about homosexual characters with a non-tragic conclusion. Comics are also a very popular form of children’s literature today.

So far (hasta aqui), I have dealt mostly with stories and novels for children, but children’s literature includes other genres, such as nursery rhymes and riddles, which belong to a much older ORAL tradition of children’s literature, but which because it is ORAL is of great use for us teachers of English as a second language in Primary Education stage.

We will now look at CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN RELATION TO THE FOUR BASIC SKILLS –listening, speaking, reading, writing.

When we talk about Literature in the mother tongue, or native language, or L1, we are mainly talking about the READING skill. But in the setting of the FL classroom the predominant skill is LISTENING. This is so ( Es asi) for two reasons:

The first one is that the English level of students in Primary Education is at the “beginner” stage, so they are not ready to read literature that was written for children who have English as their first language. In other words, their ability to read Spanish is much greater than their ability to read English in a comprehensive way.

The second reason is that our National Curriculum for the Foreign language area advises teachers not to introduce the reading skill in the FL until children have learnt to read in the first language, in Spanish.

So, when we talk about using English literature in Primary Education we are mainly talking about ORAL SKILLS. First, LISTENING to tales, stories, rhymes, songs, etc, and then SPEAKING, as students can sing the songs we have taught them, or role play a story that we have told them.

READING literature is also possible if we present the students some very simplified version of a story. This simplification would mean reading single words or very short and simple sentences with the little ones in the first cycle; Sentences and very short paragraphs in the second cycle; and easy and simplified version of stories, such as we can find in Graded Readers Editions in the third cycle And all of this, of course, with illustrations to accompany all written text, especially in the first and second cycle. Children in the third cycle and also read simple comic strips.

(INTEGRATING THE FOUR SKILLS) It is possible to work with children’s literature in such a way that we integrate the four skills. An example of how we can integrate the four skills would be as follows. The example relates to students who are in the 2nd cycle of Primary Education.

As a first approach and after a warm-up activity, we can tell the story of The Gingerbread Man or any other children’s classic using visual aids, such as a Big Book, flashcards, or realia. This would be the LISTENING stage of the activity.

We tell the story a second time, or even a third time (children never get tired of listening to stories), and this time we interact with students making them SPEAK, asking them questions like…What’s going to happen now? Or What animal is this ? showing them a flashcard of one of the characters, and so on… in this way we cover the SPEAKING skill. Another way of introducing the speaking skill is by having the students do a role-play of the story after they have listened to it several times.

Later we can write for them a very simple version of the story dividing it into several parts and writing each part on a separate piece of paper. The students would have to READ the different slips of paper containing the different parts of the story and put them in the correct sequential order. This way they would be READING the story.

And finally, we can ask the students to draw pictures for the different parts of the story and label the pictures using the written model that we have given them. They would simply have to copy. In this way they do WRITING.

Integrating the four skills has many advantages, one of the main advantages is that working one a particular content using two or more of the skills reinforces the learning of the content.

The heading of this topic mentions “techniques that help students in the listening comprehension”. (Técnicas de aplicación didáctica para acceder a la comprensión oral) I have already mentioned the use of visual aids that should accompany the telling the telling a store. We can also use gestures and miming to help students understand how a character in a story feels or what actions the character performs (or does). Our voice plays a very important role. We can use our voice to convey such things as excitement over what is happening in the story, or a sense of being frightened, etc. Another very obvious technique is to adjust the difficulty of the language to the particular level of the students. All these techniques are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary by combining them all we can help students understand an oral text or oral literary texts.

As for (En cuanto a) Types of Activities, we can mention the following (escoge unas cuantas):

  • Listen to the story on tape/as read by the teacher without looking at the text.
  • Listen to the story and read along.
  • Listen to the story and put illustrations depicting parts of the story in order.
  • Read the book silently.
  • Read the book to a partner, then switch.
  • Write your favorite words/new words/words starting with A from the story in your notebook.
  • Write a portion of the story in the workbook.
  • Answer (or practice asking) simple who, what, when, where, and why questions about the story.
  • Play pictionary.
  • Speed reading game. Call out a word from the text, then let students race to find it. The first one to find it reads the sentence aloud. A word of caution: this game is rather hard on books.
  • Have students display the flashcards they made, let them be the teacher and ask the class, “What is this?”
  • Make up a dance or do actions to the words of the story.
  • Have students “freeze” a moment of the text by acting out exactly what is described in the text at some specific moment, and holding perfectly still.
  • Do a verbal fill-in-the-blank exercise. As you read, stop at random and have students shout out what word comes next.
  • Check comprehension of key concepts by asking students to draw pictures.
  • A lot of students really do enjoy memorizing the books. Allow them to recite what they’ve memorized in teams. Many students love to show off their English, and feel very proud of being able to produce a minute or so of non-stop English.

We will now look at Children’s literature in relation to the socio-cultural subcompetence.

Children’s stories are often shared by the different European cultures. For example the tale of the Three Little Pigs, or Pinocchio, etc, are common to Spain, the UK, and the rest of Europe. The fact that tales for children are part of our common European culture is interesting from the point of view of foreign-language teaching, because it means that children are already familiar with the story when they hear it, and this helps them with LISTENING COMPREHENSION.

Not all stories, however, are common to Spain and the U.K.. For example , Spanish children are not familiar with The Gingerbread Man unless they have heard it in English class. But in this case, the children would be learning about a socio-cultural aspect of the FL, which is one of the communicative competences that they need to acquire. What we have said for stories applies very specially to childrens’ literature of ORAL TRADITION: rhymes and songs.

(SELECTING LITERATURE) When selecting literature we must bear in mind a number of things: (1) The text itself –or our oral version of the text– is of central importance. It should not be too difficult or too easy for the particular group we are teaching. (2) Our pupils should genuinely interact with the text, their classmates and the teacher, and not be mere recipients. (3) Activities should be designed to enable pupils to share their personal experiences, perceptions and opinions.

Our activities should be varied and interesting. Duff and Maley give a list of general procedures that we can use in our classrooms: reconstruction reduction expansion replacement

Matching ranking comparison analyzing

And finally, a few words on fostering reading habits and developing which is the last part of the heading of this topic (potenciar los hábitos lectores y sensibilizar en la función poética del lenguaje)

The best way to foster good reading habits is probably by making students realise that reading can be a source of great pleasure. As I have already said, the students’ level of English in Primary Education is not enough to allow them to read English literature that is not been simplified for second-language learners. Nevertheless, in order to help our students become better readers, we can help them acquire a series of subskills, such as the following:

Predictive skills. Predicting what will come next.

Extracting specific information, by paying attention to detail. This is called scanning.

Getting the general picture, by quickly reflecting on what they are reading. This is called skimming

Inferring opinion and attitude. For example, understanding humour in a text.

Deducing meaning from context, since children will often encounter words that are unknown to them.

Recognising function and discourse patterns and markers. This includes, for example, knowing that a new paragraph starts a new idea, or new information.

Since our pupils will be able to read in Spanish before they start reading in English, what we need to do as English teachers is to re-activate the reading skills that they have acquired in their mother tongue.

CONCLUSION 1 As a conclusion I would say that Literature is a source of enjoyment in the FL classroom. It helps us teach socio-cultural aspects of the target language and offers the possibility of many different types of activities that children enjoy and that can be of great help in the foreign-language learning process

Conclusion 2. To conclude, I would like to point out that including Literature in the English classroom contributes to the students’ general knowledge and their intellectual, aesthetic, social and moral development. Vocabulary and structures are registered and learned without conscious attention, and concepts are reinforced by their discovery in a different context. Motivation is probably the most important contribution. It is doubtless that using children’s literature can be an effective and enjoyable way to teach language.

Mi tema termina aqui. A partir de aqui son cosas relacionadas con el tema que podeis utilizar si quereis.

Using Children’s Literature in the ESL Classroom

Students can benefit in many ways from reading children’s literature. The stories are contextually whole and inherently meaningful. They provide an authentic source of comprehensible English language input and can lower inhibitions, or the “affective filter”. Reading aloud to learners is effective during the silent period of second language (L2) acquisition, because they can just listen and focus on understanding, without needing to produce language. After a book has been enjoyed and understood, numerous speaking, reading, and writing opportunities can emerge. The teacher can adjust reading materials to learners’ interests, needs, and levels of L2 proficiency by carefully selecting
appropriate books and by modifying the language during oral readings. Picture books offer the advantage of illustrations to explain much of the vocabulary. Repeated patterns provide an additional aid for language learning.

Questions to ask ourselves regarding the use of literature in the English classroom:

1. Do I have a curricular objective in mind or will this be a book for pleasure?

2.     If I have a curricular objective in mind, does this book meet that objective?

3. Does the book feature characters that approximate one or more of the following: the age, gender, culture of your target ESL population?

4. Are their quality illustrations which aid in telling the story?

5. Does it contain predictable language patterns? (Books of poetry and songs can be esp. useful)

6. Is there a cultural perspective?  And if so does the book seem to accurately depict the cultural group – avoiding sterotypes?

Using Children’s Literature with Young Learners

The biggest practical challenges in using English language children’s literature rather than readers created specifically for EFL/ESL students are:

· choosing an appropriate book

· preparing to teach, from writing lesson plans to developing supporting teaching materials

· brainstorming creative teaching ideas 

Typically, in an EFL/ESL context, literature is associated with advanced university students or other high level adults. However, children’s literature is an important part of English language literature as a body of work, and using it for EFL/ESL teaching has many benefits for students.

Given a creative teaching approach and suitable supplementary activities, children’s literature can be used successfully as the content base for an integrated-skills EFL/ESL classroom. Appropriate selections give students exposure to new, illustrated vocabulary in context, provide repetition of key words and phrases that students can master and learn to manipulate, and provide a sense of accomplishment at the completion of study that finishing a single unit in a textbook cannot provide. Turning to the last page of a well-read book is a pleasure, and students feel a sense of accomplishment when they have mastered a piece of literature written in English, regardless of whether it is The Cat in the Hat or Ulysses.

Choosing a Book

Choosing the right book may be the most difficult, and most important, part of teaching literature. In a study of the increasing popularity of using literature in the second language classroom, Radhika O’Sullivan (1991, Selecting Literature) observed that, “It is all very well to point out the advantages of teaching literature but the key to success in using literature in the ESL classroom depends primarily on the works selected.” If the selection is too easy, students will feel bored and we will have difficulty designing enough activities. If the selection is too difficult, students will feel frustrated and we will be overwhelmed. The following guidelines may help narrow down the field of choices.

When evaluating potential books, we should look at:

  • The length and complexity of the story. Simple, short stories with repetitive language work best for young EFL learners.
  • Does the book look overwhelming? Type (letra impresa) that is too small, or too many words on a page, can intimidate young students.
  • The level of vocabulary. How much of it will be review for our students? If students know less than 75% – 80% of the vocabulary, they may lose confidence in their ability to understand the story.
  • Illustrations should be interesting and should help students understand both the vocabulary and the story.
  • Finally, we should select a book that we think our students will enjoy. It will be difficult to convince students to be enthusiastic about a story they don’t like.

Preparing to Teach

Lesson Planning. Before we start designing worksheets and wordlists, we have to make sure that we know where you’re going. We need to think about our teaching objective, consider how much time we have to spend with the book, and then create a plan so that we have a systematic approach in mind as we design materials.

Allow Enough Time. Spending enough time with the book is very important. In order for young students to fully absorb an English language book, they must interact with it extensively. Dr. Seuss’s The Foot Book, for example, contains about 130 words, one third of which are the word feet or foot. Yet spending five or six hours on a simple book like this is appropriate with young, beginning learners. Even more advanced young learners need plenty of time. Children love stories, so if the story is engaging enough, they will never get bored, and, in fact, their enthusiasm for the book may increase in proportion to the time they spend studying it. This observation is supported by Sabrina Peck (2003, p. 141), who advises teachers of young learners that, “Many children do not tire of practicing a repetitive and rhythmic text several times a day, many days a week.”

Use What You Find. When choosing a literature book it is a good idea to look for features of the book that we can highlight in the classroom. For example, The Foot Book uses opposites and counting, so we can work these two concepts into our supplementary activities. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is a great springboard for teaching vocabulary about nature (forest, river, cave, mud, snowstorm) and prepositions (over, under, through). Inside a Barn in the Country provides an obvious focus on animal names and sounds.

Developing Materials. Developing our own materials is something challenging and time-consuming, but it can also be very rewarding. Not only is it a good learning experience which may help give us insight into our teaching, it also allows us to target the types of activities that will be most valuable to our students, and to tailor them exactly to fit their needs. To go a step further, Brian Tomlinson (1999), asserts that the most meaningful learning takes place when students are “involved intellectually, aesthetically, and emotionally” in their own education. When teachers choose to use student-created materials, instead of pre-fabricated ones, they can begin to accomplish goals like these.

Workbook Young students need hands-on activities. A teacher-created workbook can act as a basis for one of those types of activities. The workbook need be nothing more than a collection of papers stapled together. On the first day of teaching a new book, we should allow students to illustrate the covers of their own workbooks. This can provide a personal connection to the story at the outset of their study. We can use the pages as a place for students to draw artistic responses to the story. For example, if they’ve learned “house/mouse/train/rain” in class, then the lesson wrap-up may include time for them to draw a picture featuring the vocabulary words and label the pictures in English.

Flashcards. Again, materials do not need to be professionally produced to be effective. Assign different key vocabulary words to different students and have them help make flashcards. You can collect and laminate the drawings and use them for various activities in follow up lessons. It is amazing to see the rapt attention students are willing to give materials they created themselves.

Cassette Tape Many books are available with a companion cassette tape, which often includes versions of the story set to music or with sound effects. These tapes are well worth the investment and, if possible, students will benefit from purchasing their own copy as well so they can listen at home. The story set to music is more entertaining for our students.

If no tape is available, we can ask the more advanced students to read the story and record it as a class project. It may also be possible to enlist precocious young ones to make drumming sounds at pre-determined intervals or, if we have truly musical students, we could find some way to use their talents.

Teaching Ideas

Sequencing Activities. Young learners in particular need a very active classroom and variety throughout the lesson. Ten minutes is probably the maximum length of time one can expect students of this age to focus their attention before we need to change gears (cambiar de marcha…en un coche). One guideline that works well with young learners is to assure that, in any given lesson, there is always a little enthusiastic singing, a little quiet listening, a little enthusiastic dancing, and a little quiet artwork.

The following approach is one that works very well:

  • Sing. Students sing, recite, or read a passage from the story in teams.
  • Listen. Students listen to the story from beginning to end.
  • Dance. Students get out of their chairs for some physical activity. Often, this can be acting out the actions from the story, but there are unlimited possibilities.
  • Draw. Students sit back down and illustrate new vocabulary.

While considering how we will allocate (divide) class time, we mustn’t underestimate the students’ enthusiasm for listening to a story again and again. In fact, according to Anne Burns (2003, p. 22), a surprising result from her study of second-language learner attitudes toward literacy learning included the insight that “students were almost unanimous in their desire for teachers to read aloud to them.” She credited the value of hearing fluent reading in English, listening to the written words, hearing correct stress and intonation patterns, as well as providing a model for imitation as possible reasons.

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