When I found out I would be teaching ACCESS, a group of high school students receiving scholarships to study English from the U.S. Department of State, I was thrilled. I was also eager to do something I had always wanted to try with my classes: an extensive reading curriculum.
In case you aren’t familiar with the concept, extensive reading involves learners reading texts for enjoyment and to develop general reading skills. This is in contrast to intensive reading, which involves learners reading in detail with specific aims and tasks (SOURCE: The British Council).
When I examined our language center’s collection of graded readers, however, I was disappointed to find that we only had one copy per title. Despite this, I was determined to press on with a reading curriculum.
I did some research, and to my surprise, students reading different books in the same class was actually a thing. According to Dr. Diana Senechal, whose blog I fortunately stumbled upon, a Reading Class could be distinguished from a Literature Class due to its objective: while the former aimed to encourage students to read for pleasure, the latter’s goal was to facilitate student discussion of literary elements.
I was relieved that a Reading Class could be beneficial for students. What I didn’t know was that it would not only lead my students to fall in love with reading but also guide their understanding of basic literary elements – killing two birds with one stone.
Below is an outline of what I did and the results:
LEVEL: Lower Intermediate
AGE: 16 to 17 year olds
DURATION: 30 hours of instruction over a period of 2 weeks* (intensive summer session)
OBJECTIVE: Encourage a love of reading and expose students to some basic literary elements
STUDENT PROFILE: Most students had never read a book in English and had limited access to books in any language. All students went to public high schools, which provided very limited exposure to literary elements or devices within literature classes (in Arabic, French or English).
CULTURAL NOTES: In general, there is not a culture of reading for pleasure in Morocco. Most homes lack a library or bookcase, and the only books likely to be found around the house are religious texts. Books are expensive, and books in English are difficult to find – especially in Oujda, where I teach.
- Choosing Books in a Fun Way
On the first day of summer session, we played a game in small groups. The first-place group chose books first, the second-place group chose second, and so on. I guided the students as they chose, directing them to read the back of the book for a short summary of its content. Since we used graded readers, I was able to offer more advanced students more challenging books. As they finished their books, students picked a new book based on their interests.
- Assessment: Reading Journals + A Creative Presentation
2a. Reading Journals
I gave each student a small journal and explained it was their Reading Journal: anything and everything (drawings, writing, new vocabulary words, etc.) related to their reading would go in the journal. I had students do a variety of reflective writing assignments in class. At home, students were free to write or doodle as they wished – as long as it was related to the book. Although home journaling was optional, I encouraged them to write more (see #3: “Contests”). At the end of term, I collected their writing journals and offered feedback.
2b. Creative Presentation
Students were to do a creative presentation about their book on the last day of term. I gave them two options to choose from:
- Pretend to be a sales person. Give a sales talk to convince the class to buy and read this book. In your talk, mention:
- At least 3 reasons why we should buy and read the book
- What the book is about
- The most amazing or interesting things about the story
- The setting of the story
- The main characters (protagonist and antagonist)
- The conflict in the story
- Dress up as a character from the book. Act out a monologue pretending that you are the character. In the monologue, tell us:
- Your name/who you are
- Where you live
- What you like
- What you don’t like
- Who your greatest enemy is
- Who your best friend is
- Your thoughts and feelings
- Your biggest challenge
- What you want more than anything in the world
My goal was not only for students to demonstrate their understanding of the text and practice their oral skills but for them to encourage their peers to read other books.
To encourage students to go above and beyond in their reading, writing and creative presentations, I held three contests with prizes for the winners: Most Reflective Writing, Most Books Read, and Best Creative Presentation. I offered a rubric to guide students on how I would be judging each contest.
- In-Class Discussion and Writing
Each day, I began class with a reading discussion in which students worked in small groups to share what was going on in their books. I provided discussion questions which focused on different literary elements (main character, theme, conflict, etc.). Typically, I assigned students roles (“Discussion Director” and “Timer”) and changed the roles and mixed up the groups each day to ensure that all students participated. Then I assigned a reflective writing assignment that was related to the discussion topic. A sample small-group discussion and writing assignment went something like this:
- DISCUSSION: Who are the main characters in your story? Who is the antagonist? Who is the protagonist? What are they like?
- WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Do a profile of one of your characters (see below an example of student work)
- Literary Elements
As students discussed their books and wrote in their journals, some basic literary vocabulary naturally came up. I decided to regularly drill them on these concepts and included them on their quiz in order to ensure that they mastered them. The terms were:
- Third-Person Voice
- First-Person Voice
The reading curriculum was a success! Students couldn’t wait to read new books. In fact, the winning student read 10 books over a 4-week* period. On average, each student read approximately 3 books, exceeding the 1-book minimum. The reading journals and creative presentations were truly outstanding. Below are some examples of student journals:
Based on student feedback and my observations, book choice was a key factor that influenced student motivation to read. Further, the creative presentations enhanced students’ interest in other titles, encouraging them to read more books. The contests were also a strong incentive for students to go above and beyond what was required in their reading, writing and presentations.
Granted, each group of students is different. My group happened to be an incredibly motivated and bright group of scholarship students. They also faced some challenges (as low-income students) that your students may not. Therefore, you may need to tweak my plan to adapt it to your students. Overall though, I really feel that the concept of book choice is a powerful one that can make a difference in any classroom.
Try it, and let me know how it goes!
*After the initial 30 hours and 2 weeks of instruction, students had an additional 30 hours and 2 weeks of instruction (60 hours, 4 weeks total total) during which we focused on our standardized English language curriculum and did very limited in-class reading activities. However, students kept reading independently during that time in order to participate in the “Reading Contest.”