If you are like many teachers, you may feel that if you aren’t talking the whole time in class, your students aren’t getting their money’s worth from you.
While that may be true is some places (if only in your students’ minds), that’s not the case in the language classroom. When students are learning a foreign language, such as English, the time they spend using that language on their own is even more important than the time you spend talking about it from up front. One such way your students should be using English in class is in free reading time. Though it might not show up on your syllabus, free reading time in class has plenty of benefits for the ESL student. Here are some reasons you should be including it in your lesson plans.
6 Benefits You Can Reap from Free Reading Time in Class
Giving your students time to read in class gives them freedom to choose their own material, freedom they might not get at any other time in class. If you have a classroom library or a library in your school, let your students choose what books or magazines they would like to read. This is a chance for them to embrace their individuality. Your students don’t all have to read the same thing for it to be useful for your lesson plans. If you want to use the material they are reading for other assignments, you can still talk about the same topics – character, setting, plot, writing summaries, learning new vocabulary, etc. Just let the application of each be unique to what your students have chosen to read. Once you explain the topic and give the assignment, students can use the reading material they chose themselves to complete the assignment. That way everyone does the same work, but students still have freedom in what they study in class.
You can use your students’ free reading time in class to develop everyone’s vocabulary. Explain to your students how you as a class will create a vocabulary wall. As students read and encounter an unfamiliar word, they should write that word in large letters on an index card in black marker. Then, they should go to a dictionary and look up the definition of the word in English and write that definition on the back of the card. Have students post their words on a designated bulletin board in your classroom using a push pin. Then choose words from that collection for your next vocabulary unit or to supplement words you already plan to teach. Or simply let students peruse the words on the wall and check out the definitions on the back. Not only will everyone be learning new vocabulary, your students will have been the ones to choose those vocabulary words giving them more of a hand in what they learn in class.
Reaching the Learning Styles
Solitary learners (one of the seven major types of learner styles) need independent activities to reach their full potential. Independent reading time gives this time to them so they can learn on their own, which isn’t always easy to do in a foreign language classroom. While these students are relishing in their learning style, other students are getting some well-deserved down time in class. The time will benefit this other group by reducing their stress. And no doubt you can benefit from the down time too as you meet with students who need some one on one help or do individual assessments while the rest of your class reads.
Time for Research
When you are studying a particular topic in class, be it sports or freedom of speech, giving your students independent reading time gives them a chance to do some independent research on the topic. By collecting some books on your current subject, you can have resources at the ready for your students. They can take notes on what they read, note other people’s opinions on the topic, and answer some of their own questions about the topic. They can also learn additional vocabulary related to the topic as they read.
It is well documented in language research that reading improves one’s writing abilities. This is true for both first and second languages. But in addition to giving students’ writing a boost, independent reading also improves other areas of language. Researchers haven’t yet determined exactly why or how it happens, but reading does improve student ability to express themselves verbally and understand what others are saying to them. So give your students a language lesson without even trying by letting them do some reading in class.
Classroom Book Share
One great opportunity you have by setting aside in class time for reading is setting up a classroom book share. A book share is somewhat like a classroom library. You have a shelf or two of books that students can borrow and read during their free time or take home to read. But a book share is more than that. Think of it as your very own classroom Goodreads. Near your library, make sure you have a collection of sticky notes. When a student finishes a book, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a picture book or the latest installment of Game of Thrones, ask your student to do a mini book review on the sticky note. Have your student rate the book on a scale of one to ten or give it a number out of five stars or however you want to have students rate what they read. Then have them write a sentence or two about what they liked, if they would recommend the book, or any other thoughts about it they want to share, but just what fits on the post-it. Then when another student is considering which book to choose, he or she can look at the sticky notes collected at the beginning of a given book, see what their classmates thought of it, and make an informed decision for their next read.
I hope I have given you enough reasons to try independent reading time in class.
If possible, encourage your students even further by setting up a comfortable reading spot in your classroom complete with floor pillows and comfortable chairs. And don’t forget that you are the best example for your students, so feel free to do some reading of your own while your students are devouring their next piece of literature.