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Reading for pleasure – setting up the class library

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Young boy in libraryVerissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, outlines the steps involved in setting up a class library to encourage reading in English for pleasure.

Having talked the talk, it is time to walk the walk. In other words, having challenged my students with the class library, it was time to put books in their hands and have them start reading.

The first consideration is choosing the right level. Reading at the right level is very important for the success of the library. As their teacher, I knew what level was right for them, or at least I thought I did. But it was important for them to see this too.

I choose two readers from what I thought was their level. Then, I chose two readers from the level above and the level below. Finally, I choose one page from each of these readers and put them up around the class. I ask my students to stand up and read the texts. Their aim is to choose a text they enjoy. They cannot use a dictionary or ask for translation from me or another student. They should read as if they were reading in their first language. Based on this, they choose a text. In this way they have also chosen their level.

When reading for pleasure students should read at one level below the level they are studying. In this way, they can focus on enjoying the story, rather than worrying about the language. Their reading will also act as revision for the English they have already learned, showing them grammatical structures and vocabulary in context. They will not necessarily be aware of this. It is like going to the gym that I mentioned in my previous blog post: you don’t need to know anatomy to benefit from going to the gym. Likewise, you don’t need to know the grammatical tenses to be able to benefit from reading.

Now they are ready to choose the book they want to read. Choice is very important for a student. It helps my students believe that they are an integral part of the class library.

My favourite activity is to use the readers’ catalogue to allow them to choose the reader they want. I give each student a catalogue and ask them to turn to the pages for their level.  They are surprised by the number of readers they can choose from. Their task is to read the brief summaries and choose two they would like to read. They write their titles on the board. They check that there are few or no duplicates and each student decides which reader they will buy.

Writing the titles on the board is to avoid two students buying the same reader. As the readers will be part of our class library, students will be able to read them all, if they want. So a class of 30 students could have 30 different titles. Once they have agreed on the list, I send the order in.

At this point I also send a letter to parents to explain our class library. You can find this letter as part of the Oxford Big Read. Getting support from parents will greatly motivate a student to read.

Then, the day comes when the books arrive. Each student writes their name in their book, as they will get it back at the end of the school year. Every book will now become part of the class library. Using a large poster with a grid, I ask students to write their name along the top of the grid. Then, I ask them to write the title of their book along the left hand column. As students finish reading their books, they will draw a happy or sad face, depending on whether they liked the story or not. This poster is very important. It motivates the class to read by recording what each one is reading and what they feel about it. It is student to student communication.

As students read their stories, the first reaction in almost all of my classes is surprise that they were able to enjoy a story in a foreign language. Their sense of achievement is evident, and most important, contagious. They start talking to each other about the stories. Students who have not yet begun are motivated to pick up their books and read. Smiley faces start appearing on the poster, further encouraging more hesitant students to get involved and pick up their books.

As the class library begins to take shape, I begin to focus on the next stage – keeping their interest. We establish a goal for the term, as well as for the school year. This goal will largely depend on your students’ expectations and the amount of time you have. In my classes we usually set a goal of reading 10 books during the school year. That comes to about a book a month.

My next posts will focus on the different activities that will keep my students reading. In the meantime, learn more about getting your students passionate about reading with the Oxford Big Read.

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Author: Verissimo Toste

Veríssimo Toste is a teacher trainer working in the Professional Development Department at Oxford University Press in Oxford. He has taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) for over 25 years, having taught students from 3 to 93 years of age. He has completed a Master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from the University of Edinburgh. Veríssimo’s interests include using readers to learn English, and how students learn a language naturally. Although he enjoys teaching young learners, he finds teaching adults challenging – and he loves a good challenge.

7 thoughts on “Reading for pleasure – setting up the class library

  1. Pingback: Reading for pleasure – setting up the class library | Merit Teacher's Digest | Scoop.it

  2. Pingback: Reading for pleasure – setting up the class library | Oxford University ... | All things ELT | Scoop.it

  3. I think reading for pleasure in the class is an excellent idea and always go down this route when I can. I like the way the students choose their own book from the catalogue; more control to them which is great. Do you have set times in the class when you read or is it strictly at home?

    This is our take on this subject: http://tinyurl.com/dya5emw

    • Hi, thank you very much for your comments. The time my students spend reading in class depends how much time I can devote to the library and how much they need to read in class in order to get interested in the story. In general about 15 – 30 minutes of class time per week is enough to encourage more reading outside of class.

  4. Pingback: Reading for Pleasure – Making Triangles, Sharing Opinions | Oxford University Press

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