My school has had a extensive reading program since 2009 (which I realise is not all that long). We dedicate 3 hours of classroom time a week to reading and extension activities, although we primarily try to use a vast majority of the time for just plain old reading. Still, over the course of a high school student’s three years in our International Program, there are moments–or strings of moments which sometimes threaten to turn into days–where a student just doesn’t feel like reading. They can’t seem to find the right book, they can’t concentrate or finish a book when they do find one they are interested in, and the walk from their desk to the bookshelves looks oh so far.
Over the course of the past few years, when there just seems to be a general malaise during an ER session, I will sometimes (but not very often), try and do something to let the air and sunlight back into the room again so reading feels fresh. Asking students to set 2 or 3 of their favourite books around the room and going for a “Book Stroll” with a partner can often help students connect with each other and with the books around the room. Just encourage the students to pick up a book, leaf through it, talk with their partner about if they think it’s interesting or not. It’s a small 10 minute activity which can have a large impact on how students feel about reading.
In general though, I try not to push students into reading. They will have their moments when they don’t want to read. But so do I. And for the most part I would like to honour how they feel. Knowing that they aren’t always in the mood to read, but giving it a shot anyway, is, I think, also part of becoming a reader. But like the “Book Stroll,” I do have a few activities I use to try and energise students about reading as well as a handful of other activities I use to help build a sense of a reading community in the program. One of my favourites is, “Did you read it or not?” Which is pretty much exactly what the name implies. A student picks a book off the bookshelf (It can be a book they have read or not). They give a short summary of the book and the other students can ask up to three questions. The class has to figure out if the student who introduced the book has actually read it or not. Students learn what books other people in the class are reading and at the same time, in a light hearted game-tastic kind of way, students also get a chance to show off their knowledge of the books that they have read…or their skills at lying.
A lot of the activities I use I came up with during moments of blind panic; a kind of oh-my-god-ER-is-drying-and-is-never-going-to-work-again-in-this-class feeling. I don’t have those feelings so much anymore. But I do have a notebook of activities that I first tried at those times and I had a chance to share some of the ones I still use in an article I cowrote with Phil Keegan for Modern English Teacher. The magazine has been kind enough to let me put up a PDF of the article here:
And while I find myself letting my students simply read for longer and longer periods of time in my Extensive Reading sessions, once in a while these types of extension activities are exactly what my students want to do. Because even the highly personal and private act of reading a book sometimes leaves us overflowing with joy or sadness or even just a clever idea that we would like nothing more than to share with the person sitting right besides us.