Archiv der Kategorie: Literature

Literature Bunch Pt. 2

In part one I described the concept of a Literature Bunch. Now I want to give an example of one I’m doing with my students at the moment.


The students are 3rd formers (Swiss grammar school), 15 years old, and in grammar school since two years. Their level is pre-intermediate, and they are a really strong class in every possible sense.

Teaching goal:

My foremost intention was to get them reading. To show them, that reading can be fun even if the books are written in English. They should learn not to look up every single word they didn’t understand/weren’t able to translate immediately into their native language.


Because of my set teaching goal, I decide to chose „fun“ books – books that might not be usual for an English classroom.

I actually didn’t plan on using „Uglies“ and „WWW: Wake“ but rather „The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had“ by K. Levine and „Purple Heart“ by P. McCormick. However, it is not always easy to get English books in Switzerland on short notice, so I had to improvise and get other titles.

What happened so far:

The students grabbed their – more or less favorite book – and started reading, and reading, and reading…. (I allowed them to use two lessons because we did a lot of grammar stuff the week before). Well, first lesson was over and they already were discussing their books. At the beginning of the second lesson one student approached me and casually mentioned: „I’ve already finished my book, what shall I do?“ I was shocked… pleased… helpless. Luckily, she had a book for German class with her, so I allowed her to read that one (and swore to be better prepared the next time – but who would have guessed that a student finishes a book in one evening?). During the following week I saw my students wandering around the school with the books in front of their noses and other teachers asked me how I managed this („Simple. Just chose books that they like!“). Then, another student approached me wondering if the sequel to „Hunger Games“ was available in the library because he wanted to know how the story continued. I wasn’t sure, so I gave him my copy and wrote an urgent message to our school-librarian. Another one wanted to know if he could borrow the second book of „WWW: Wake“, unfortunately, it hasn’t been published yet.

So, after the appointed time for the first book, half of the class had read more than one book and they were eager to swap themto get the one they’ve already heard so much about. Before exchanging books we discussed what we liked/dis-liked about the stories (e.g. „I have to wait for the sequel to be published“) and what the message might be.


Next week they’ll have finished their second offical book and we’ll talk about the characters and how to write a character description. Exchanging books again, the class will read the third book over summer vacation and in the second/third week of the new term we’re going to talk about book reviews and how to write them. Afterwards I plan to read something in class, though not sure yet as to what. If you have any tips, please contribute to the google-docs list „Literature in ESL classroom“ – thank you in advance!

To be continued…


Literature Bunch Pt. 1

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.


As an ESL teacher and a major bookworm, I tend to torture my students with books from the early stages on. However, I found it usually hard to find good up-to-date YA literature for the different pre-intermediate abilities. The Amazon lists were ok but I just never seemed to find a lot of good books there. (The next English bookstore is about 1.5 hours drive away!)

While hunting for books for my 15-year old students, once again frustrated by Amazon, I remembered a Facebook app I used half-heartedly a while back: Goodreads ( I came, saw and conquered!

Basically, Goodreads is a virtual bookshelf; a place to organize your books and share your likes and dislikes with other book-a-holics. It is also an awesome tool for teachers looking for new inputs, especially when it comes to YA books. Browsing over the different lists started by other users, I always end up adding books to my personal „I need to read that“-list. Sure, there are some weird lists too, but you don’t have to look at them for they are labelled coherently. Another nice feature is the possibility to create and name your own bookshelves where you can store and sort your books virtually; a task I never accomplished in the real world. On Goodreads, however, I have my books (well, not all of them yet) sorted and tucked into their right place or places – and I’m pretty sure I’ll find them in my rl booshelf too…. somewhere… probably.

The virtual bookshelf offers more niceties of which I’ll just mention two for the moment. Goodreads is in a way like Facebook a social network – without demanding all those private informations – and, therefore, you can not only make friends with like-minded people from all over the world, but also follow most authors and stay updated on their news and even blogs. …Just crossed my mind that such a blog might come in handy in a literature lesson…. Well, back on track. The last feature I just love: quotes! I really tried to keep track of my quotes. Wrote them into this tiny little book I have where I also kept my favourite poems. Or at least underlined them with pencil in the books with the intention of copying them later, never doing it. So I have this little notebook with a few of my fav quotes, lots of pencil marks in my books, but when I’m searching that quote…. you know the one where the main character talks about… uhm….. pink roses… no daffodils…. damn where the hell is it??? Now, when adding a book to my virtual shelf or mark it as read, I can search the author or title for the most prominent quotes and add them to my quotes-page. Isn’t that just mag? You’ll never have to hunt quotes for essays again!

I hope I stirred a bit of interest…. if I did, come and join me on Goodreads!

PS: Don’t judge me on my private books…. I love a good classic, but a thriller is nice too! 😉