Bringing Those Books Back to the Classroom: Tasks for Extensive Reading

Marc Helgesen, Miyagi Gakuin, Sendai


  • Key Words: Extensive reading, Speaking, Fluency tasks
  • Learner English Level:False beginner to Advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level:High school to Adult
  • Preparation Time:None, except buying toothpicks (story telling sticks)
  • Activity Time:15 - 30 minutes each

Throughout this issue, teachers have given a variety of reasons to have students read extensively. Many of us have suggested much of the learners' reading should happen outside the class. Still, it can be useful to do in-class fluency tasks based on what the students read as homework. It gives the learners a chance to share what they've been reading -- and, just as significantly, their reactions to it. It also provides encouragement for reading (and even a bit of pressure --if you aren't reading, you don't have anything to talk about). The following are four quick ideas for bringing the students' reading back into the classroom.

Instant Book Report

I've always hated prepared oral book reports. I'd rather have the learners reading than spending a lot of time getting ready to talk about the books. Instant Book Reports are quick and effective. Once or twice per semester, walk into class and write the following on the board:

I read a book called ______________.

It's a _______________

mystery, science fiction book, love story, detective story

It's about ______________.

In the story, there was a problem. ____________.

The main characters are ____________.

I liked/didn't like it because ___________.

In class, students work in pairs. They simply talk about what they are reading. The sentences on the board give them enough support to be able to talk about a book. You may want to require partners to ask two or three follow-up questions (e.g. ³Why did she go there?² When did that happen?²) to encourage interaction and to make sure the partner is really paying attention. Although no preparation time is required, it can be useful to give the students one or two minutes to mentally prepare. One way to do this is to have them close their eyes and, in a gentle, relaxed voice, ask questions and give the sentence forms (e.g., You're going to talk about a book. What's the title of the book? "I read a book called (blank)." What kind of story was it? A mystery? Science fiction? etc.). This preparation time lets them think about what they want to say and how they will say it. It can make their instant book reports go more smoothly.

Draw a Picture

Many students are very good at drawing. Communication about books can be as simple as asking the students to draw a picture. They think of any book they've read. Give them five minutes to draw a picture of a scene from the story. Then, in pairs or small groups they show the picture and explain it. It's interesting to notice that pictures often get students to go beyond the level of literal comprehension to make responses at higher emotional and affective levels. Hint: If your students are good at drawing, they may take too long to draw. This is English class, not art class. Forbid erasers. Once they draw a line, it is there to stay. This forces the artists to work faster. They don't have the option of redoing a line until it's perfect.

How Many Questions?

How Many Questions? is another art related activity, but one based on the illustrations in the books the students have been reading. Students bring to class a book they have read. They each select one picture from their book. Learners work in groups of three. One person shows the chosen picture and explains it. Partners listen and ask as many questions as possible (What's this person's name? Where is she? Why did she go there? etc.). The goal is to ask as many questions as possible in a given period of time (usually about three minutes per book). To do this as a game or to introduce competition to encourage reluctant speakers, students get one point for each question they ask.

Story Telling Sticks

Story Telling Sticks is an unusual but very effective follow-up activity. Teachers familiar with the Silent Way, Islamabad, and other Cuisenaire rod (Algebrick) techniques will recognize the idea behind it: If you have something to manipulate as you tell a story, your listeners have something to look at. They aren't looking at you so you don't get nervous. Also, the rods serve as manipulables which make the story more concrete. "Story telling sticks" could be done with rods, but in large classes having to buy several sets of Cuisenaire rods is expensive. Instead, use toothpicks. Begin by telling the student that, although these look like toothpicks, they are actually storytelling sticks. The sticks will help them retell any story they have read. To help the students understand what to do, start with an OHP and a few toothpicks (actually, for the OHP, you might want to use pieces of disposable chopsticks as they're more visible). Create a kind of shadow play using the OHP light to tell a story, using the sticks to represent the people, places, etc. Short sticks are for children and small animals, longer sticks for adults. Sticks can also represent anything from houses to mountains. The key is that they are watching the sticks (symbols) rather than the storyteller. If you (or some of the students) are shy, this is a refreshing change of pace for a speaking activity. After you've told your story, divide the class into groups of two or three. Give each group about 10 toothpicks. Learners tell the story from a book they recently read. A useful follow-up is to have the listeners see how much they can remember about each stick.