Student-created reading reference tools

Catherine Cheetham, Tokai University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Peer work, vocabulary, reading, translation
  • Learner English level: Beginners and above
  • Learner maturity: High school and above
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: 30 to 60 minutes for each part of the activity depending on the length or difficulty of the selected reading
  • Materials: Required reading, personal dictionary worksheet, blank A4 paper, story strips, and matching translation worksheet

When testing demands difficult or advanced reading passages, demotivation often sets in. Reading a text hardly resonates with learners who often struggle to answer comprehension questions. When understanding is minimal, teachers too often resort to verbal translation, or learners painstakingly take it upon themselves to translate the whole reading. It is impossible to discredit the need for or reliance on the native language, but how it is incorporated into the classroom needs to be beneficial to the learner. By effectively applying the right tools and support with student-created dictionaries and peer-supported translations, students are able to gain confidence and meet the challenges of required readings. 



Step 1: Choose a reading or passage from the required textbook. Compile a vocabulary list of about 20 words from the reading. Prepare a personal dictionary worksheet (Appendix A) for each student. 

Step 2: Copy, divide, and cut-up the chosen reading into sections of three to four sentences to create story strips (Appendix B). In addition, give each strip a random number. Prepare two sets of the story strips. For each story strip, prepare a blank A4 paper marked with the same number as the strip.

Step 3: Format a matching translation worksheet (Appendix C) that divides the reading into sections just like the story strips while maintaining the correct textual order. Provide spaces or boxes for each section so students can later number the sections.



Part 1

Step 1: Write the selected vocabulary from the reading on the board. Give each student a copy of the personal dictionary (Appendix A). Arrange students in groups. Assign each group a set of four to five words to define in Japanese and reference within the text. Instruct students to find the target word within the text and use their dictionaries to find the Japanese meaning. 

Step 2: Have groups write the meaning and textual reference (the original sentence from the text) on the board to share with the rest of the class. As a class, check the meaning and understanding of the words. Have each student copy the information from the board into their personal dictionary.

Step 3: Have students complete their personal dictionary individually by providing their own sentence for each entry. At this point, it is advisable for students to close their textbook, dictionaries, and devices to compose a truly original sentence.


Part 2

Step 1: Divide the class into groups of two to three students. Provide each group with a story strip (Appendix B) and corresponding numbered A4 paper. Ensure that two groups sitting at opposite ends of the classroom have the same story strip. Have groups translate their story strip. Encourage students to use their personal dictionary (Appendix A) when translating.

Step 2: Have groups translating the same story strip meet to compare and discuss their translations. Following the collaboration, have groups make necessary corrections or rewrites. Have students turn in one final copy of the translation to check.

Step 3: Give each student a matching translation worksheet (Appendix C). Place a copy of each A4 translation sheet (no duplications) at the front of the classroom. Have students come to the front of the classroom to match the translations to the corresponding worksheet passages and number the worksheet sections accordingly.

Step 4: Compile and paste the student translations together to make a complete translation. Make a copy for each student.



After using this process, my students are more confident and prepared. The translation that they have produced generates not only discussion, but also a classroom environment of peer learning and support. Furthermore, students have less need to check their electronic dictionaries and devices throughout the remainder of the unit. The reference tools that they have created as a class are useful study aids.



The appendices are available below: