Easy books and minority learners part I

by Eleonora Pannacci

Teaching English

Foreign language education is my passion. This means that I love teaching English and Italian as foreign languages and I love even more designing learning activities, which permit people to learn without getting bored.

My experience with Easy to Read books started a few years ago. I went to Bulgaria as a volunteer, helping minority pupils to learn English through new teaching approaches.

We got along quite well and that is why I decided to go back and do research about teaching English to minority students by using Easy to Read books as the main teaching material.

Research milestones

At the end of June 2018 I arrived in a village in north Bulgaria. My timeline was clear: I would teach in the school in this village during the summer and the next winter. Also another school in the same area was waiting for me during this period.

First of all, any research needs a research question to investigate and to answer. I asked myself two questions:

  • What are the most challenging factors when teaching English to minority students in Bulgaria?
  • Can Easy to Read books and the didactic activities designed for them be effective English teaching materials for minority children in Bulgaria?

Research also needs participants. There were three categories:

  • Roma and Turkish children, who speak Turkish as first language
  • English teachers, mainly Bulgarians
  • myself with two roles: the researcher and wannabe English teacher

The setting

The language of instruction at school is Bulgarian. The minority pupils inevitably face difficulties with learning any subject, English included.

The pupils I worked with belonged to the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, but their age varied: there were repeating and adult pupils and children with special needs, a situation creating highly heterogeneous classes. I could understand their language proficiency simply by attempting to talk to them or asking them to write and I quickly found that they hardly had any training in English.

The English teachers tried to help me, but also their English proficiency was not very high due to lack of opportunities to use the language. As a result, I felt unsure if I would be able to do anything useful. Despite my doubts I dived into the Easy to Read books…

Why Easy to Read books?

Going to Bulgaria was easy, but finding the right materials was a bit more complicated until I became acquainted with Bokpil’s Pedagogical Easy to Read books. Why would I use these books for my teaching?

  • The books contain short sentences, easily comprehensible words and brief chapters; vocabulary is simple and clear.
  • They contain a linear plot, a personal voice and action and events, which totally involve the readers.
  • The books are able to raise reader’s interest and motivation to learn and developing language skills at the same time.
  • Each book has black-and-white illustrations supporting the text. I thought that such illustrations are a perfect foundation for designing creative language activities.
  • Since the books are easily comprehensible, they enhance the readers’ feeling of success, self-esteem and self-efficacy. Readers realise they can do it – they can read and understand. This is what my pupils strongly needed.
  • These are non-conventional and out-of-the-box teaching materials that the learners have never used before. The books could ignite their curiosity and the initial motivation to learn.

The books foster receptive skills, such as listening and understanding in the foreign language, which imply the development of cognitive abilities. In this way, learners with low English proficiency are not required to speak or write in the foreign language.

So, can you think of a better teaching material?

Continue reading about my approaches and methods here.