Many English teachers are surprised when I tell them just how many books my ESL students have to read. They usually just manage about two each schoolyear. I would too if I went for the chapter-by-chapter approach. So, how do I get my students to read about four novels during a school-year?
Instead of reading one book chapter by chapter with lengthy discussions on details etc., I order a choice of books. If I have a class of 20 students, I choose five novels and order four copies of them. As soon as they arrive, they will be displayed on a table in the middle of the classroom and the students can come up, look at the books, read the cover text and decide which book they want to read first. Sometimes there is a little fight if too many students want to read the same book, but that doesn’t happen as often as one might expect.
The students usually have six till eight weeks time to read the book in private, though I occasionally give them time during lessons too (e.g. if it’s a double-lesson and they take a test the first hour). After the allotted time I plan some activities, discussions, tasks etc. about/on the novels. Those lessons might range from one till six hours. Having done this, the books are swapped, each student reads a new one and the cycle begins anew. Using this method, the students get to read three novels (more cycles would be too much – but that is my personal opinion). I still do the chapter-by-chapter approach too; one term the students read a bunch of books, the other term we do it the traditional way.
Sure, there are disadvantages to this approach. The students are on their own, not many teachers feel comfortable with this. „Clever“ students buy the book in their native language or just read a synopsis on the Internet – though an even cleverer teacher knows how to test/prevent/punish this strategy. The teacher gives away a lot of control – did the students truly understand the importance of chapter xyz?
However, there are advantages too – have to be, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it! A class only has three English lessons a week and literature is just one (smaller) part of the curriculum. Reading a novel in-class takes away one third of the lessons the students might need to deepen their understanding about the past perfect. Now, I have all three lessons for the course-book – though because they have to read the book at home, I don’t give as much homework – and only spend a few lessons every second month on literature. Another advantage for me – some might see it differently – they get to read: what better way is there to learn a language, apart from living in a country where it is spoken, than reading? The students pick up vocabulary, grammar and constructions on-the-go. And even if they only have it stored in their passive knowledge, it still is in their knowledge base.
So far I worked with this method three times. It was a (huge) success, especially with my pre-intermediate students (age 15/16). What they were „forced“ to read, what other bunches I did/am planning, what kind of activities we do in-between cycles will be in the next parts.
To be continued….
PS: The idea for „Literature Bunch“ isn’t mine, it was part of my teacher training courses by H.B.