I love reading. I’m sure that’s not a surprise, as every time I write an article on ESL reading I feel the need to mention my love for it. I think it’s worth mentioning, though, because I am always searching for a way to share that love of reading with my students.
I would argue that the love of reading is cultivated through extensive, not intensive, reading. In other words, reading larger lengths of text that the reader can become invested in is more likely to produce a "reader" than reading small units of text in order to dissect them and learn.
Note: Intensive reading is incredibly useful for learning specific things or for accomplishing certain goals. I just don't find it useful for enjoying reading. :)
Extensive reading is almost never done in order to answer comprehension questions, meet a deadline, or fulfill a requirement. This is a habit that all learners, whether children, adults, native speakers, or nonnative speakers can benefit from.
If you're looking to include more extensive reading in your classroom, you should most definitely consider incorporating a book club into your weekly routine.
A book club can work well in a variety of settings. If you have a large class - try a book club. If you have a small class - try a book club. If you have 15 minutes to fill - try a book club. If you have an hour to fill - try a book club. You get the point
Keep reading to find out how to create your own classroom book club, which questions to discuss, and how to provide materials for your students!
Decide on Your Book Club Structure
One of the first decisions you have to make when implementing a book club into your classroom is how you want to structure it. It may take you a while to find a rhythm that works well, so try out a variety of groupings.
One option is to have students discuss their reading as a whole class, taking turns to share about the specific things that they read and their overall feelings about it. Make sure everyone has time to contribute, including yourself! Modelling reading behaviors and discussing your own experiences can be incredibly beneficial for your students.
If your class is too large or you feel like some of your students will get lost in a whole-class discussion, split students up into small groups or partners. Once your students are split up, you can keep them in those groups for every book club session, which will help build relationships. Or you can have them switch groups/partners every week in order to diversify their discussion.
If you work among other teachers and classes, coordinate with them in order to hold a book club across classes. Pairing up with students in other classes will allow your students to discuss materials with students who have different reading levels, cultural perspectives, and resources available to them.
When Will Students Read?
Reading during class time can be a controversial subject. Some find that it’s a waste of time, as students are working independently when they could be learning from their teacher. However, it can be really helpful to have a teacher present to offer assistance. Students can also benefit from the dedicated and distraction-free reading time, as life is chaotic and they may struggle to create that time on their own.
If you’re creating a book club, decide when your students will read upfront. If you leave this detail out of the planning stage, students will most likely come to class with nothing to discuss!
If your students are going to be reading entirely on their own time, make that clear. While you don't want to set a lot of strict requirements, your students should be aware of your expectations. How much should they read weekly?
If you don't feel like you can trust your students to read consistently, set aside time in class for this to happen. Students can read while they wait for their peers to arrive or you can set aside some of your class time for reading. Even if you're going to have students read in class, encourage them to read for fun outside of class as well!
Looking for More Activities to Increase Reading Comprehension?
Check out this Interactive Approach to Adult Reading Comprehension!
Create a Student Library
Next comes the question of what to read. Some students will not have reading materials available in their personal life. While you can certainly introduce your students to the local library, which will provide them with SO many resources, you may also want to create your own classroom library.
Your classroom library doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. It could be as simple as a file folder full of printed articles, essays, and short stories that you think your students will enjoy. You’ll want to make sure that the resources are at an appropriate reading level. Extensive reading isn’t about reading difficult texts in order to learn more, it’s about the act and exercise of reading.
You should also check out graded readers. They’re designed specifically for ESL students. Almost all of the major (and most minor) ESL publishers have created their own graded readers. In fact, a quick Google search for ‘ESL graded readers’ will bring up results from Pearson, Oxford University Press, and more! If you want to learn more about using graded readers in your classroom, check out this article from the British Council.
Choose a Few Discussion Questions
So, your students are paired up, you set aside time in class for your students to read, and you’ve curated a mini-library for your classroom, but what are you actually supposed to discuss?
I recommend leaving the discussion super informal. Let your students discuss what they want to discuss about the books. However, many students will struggle to know what to talk about, and there’s nothing worse than a silent classroom during a discussion.
Pick out a few questions to put on the board to help guide your learners when the discussion starts to lull. There are 2 different types of questions that I like to ask: questions that relate to the content and questions that relate to the process.
Content-related questions can be about the topic, opinions, or experiences within the novel, article, or short story. Ask your students what they enjoyed about the reading material, what the "lesson" was, if they agreed or disagreed, and if they'd read more work by this author. Another great question to ask is not only if they would recommend the article/novel, but who they would recommend it to.
Process-related questions ask your students about the actual reading process. You can ask them if they enjoyed reading, if they had any linguistic struggles while reading, and what strategies they used to read. These questions are great for reflecting on the reading experience, and they give you, as the teacher, a better idea of how the activity is going for your students and what they may need help with.
Creating your own classroom book club is quite simple, great for keeping your students accountable to read extensively, and a good tool for building relationships. All that you need to do is hold a weekly discussion to "check up" on your students' reading process.
Despite the simplicity of it all, your students will pick up on grammar, vocabulary, and maybe even some speaking skills (through reading dialogues). And they will hopefully develop an appreciation and love for reading, that will allow them to continue learning and being exposed to English in a variety of contexts.
I Want to Hear From You!
What are your favorite reading materials for English language learners?
Do you use extensive reading in your classroom? How?