I would like to make a small contribution to a recent discussion in the Taipei Times, about reading in English during English language classes in Taiwan. All of the contributers seem to agree on the importance of reading for Taiwanese students and I could not agree more.
I have been teaching in Taiwan for seven years, including at several local colleges, although currently most of my students are working adults at beginner or intermediate level. I have had success in my classes using a variety of teaching methods, but I have found that reading in the classroom gives students a special feeling of worth and accomplishment. Assigned readings to take home are no doubt helpful, but I am referring here to in-class reading, done out loud, one by one (occasionally we will read along together).
Good readings immerse students in perfectly composed English and I can feel their enjoyment as they feel themselves enunciating the language -- not only the student reading out loud, but also others following along silently and even some reading along in low voices (seeing a whole class pleasurably intent on a reading, their lips moving in unison, is a real treat).
I sometimes read passages out loud to allow students to listen to a native speaker reading a work of literature (or other types of writing). They always like to listen.
Overall, in addition to the enjoyment of hearing themselves voice good English syntax, this activity is excellent for pronunciation work and is also a good quick study in new vocabulary.
Beneath the surface, it immerses students in correct grammar and sentence structure and overall composition skills.
I used to bring very brief readings into class, but recently have been using longer works, usually abridged novels. Usually these learner books have relatively short chapters that can easily be read in class and so a group can progress through a book in an orderly way over the course of several weeks or so.
I have found that students genuinely enjoy these longer, more full-bodied works of literature. After reading, teachers can decide how to further incorporate the readings into the class, whether through discussions, sentence, grammar and vocabulary practice, role plays or presentations and reports about the reading and its main themes.
"Read," I tell my students -- it is the high road to language learning. Many teachers and language experts have said this before and I follow their advice, along with my students. We have been happy to walk this path together.