As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of students choosing their own books to read (see My Best Posts On Books: Why They’re Important & How To Help Students Select, Read, Write & Discuss Them and The Best Resources Documenting The Effectiveness of Free Voluntary Reading).

With my mainstream students, I begin each class with ten minutes of their silently reading a book of their choice. With my Beginner/Intermediate English Language Learners, I try to do the same thing, but the “silently” part is always tricky. Obviously, many of the Beginners and even the Intermediates don’t know what many of the words in their books mean and they want to learn them. Most have smartphones and can use the translate function on them, and many want to ask their classmates (I can’t be everywhere to help). Of course, I also want to encourage that kind of peer support and discussion. At the same time, beginning the class with a focused quiet activity can help students concentrate and get the class started-off well.

It’s a bit of a conundrum at times — I want students to read high-interest books and want them to engage with each other, but also want to have an environment where students who want to read and concentrate silently can do so and want to create a centering activity for a high-energy class of adolescents. It’s easy for some of those conversations about their books to go off-topic, and having fifteen of these kinds of conversations at once can get distracting.

One strategy I’ve chosen to use to deal with this issue is by telling students if they want to read the same book and talk, pairs can go outside and read. That works well, as long as the weather is warm (fortunately, being in California, we have a high percentage of those days).

Today, I tried another activity that I think will become a once-or-twice weekly event, and may also deal with this challenge. It provides student choice; reading, speaking, listening, and writing practice; an authentic audience; and immediate feedback.

Students came in to find these instructions on the board:

They were given a few seconds to find a partner with whom they wanted to read and then one minute to pick a book. I then explained that they would read to each other — a paragraph at a time — while both students were looking at the words. At the end of those ten minutes, they would pick three new words they saw, write them down on a piece of paper, and learn what they meant. They would also draw a picture representing the book, and write a sentence explaining why they liked or didn’t like the book.

Students were immediately engaged, and chose to take some notes while they were reading. At the end of ten minutes, they worked on that second part of the assignment while I used my phone to take photos of their books and the drawings-in-progress.

Some students were working faster than others, and I sent four pairs outside with a peer tutor and instructions to use the incredibly easy-to-use Shadow Puppet app (see Video: Here Is How I Used The Shadow Puppet App Today To Teach Verb Tenses) to record the pairs saying why liked or didn’t like their book and sharing the definition of one of their new words. It was incredibly easy and fast to use. The entire activity was done within twenty-five minutes.

They returned, it took me about a minute to upload the video to YouTube, and showed it to the class (it’s embedded below). Students love it!

I shared the experience with my colleagues, and they saw how this process could easily and successfully be used with mainstream students, too, perhaps as a quick-and-easy book trailer.

Let me know if you have ideas on how to make this activity even better!