5 ways to spark extensive reading

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sparking extensive reading

When students read for pleasure (aka extensive reading), they improve in all four skills areas. This makes intuitive sense. After all, what could be better for your English than getting lost in a book, absorbing language patterns without even thinking about it?

Unfortunately, we can’t just assign our students books and assume they’ll become bookworms. They’re busy. And reading in English is hard. So how can teachers spark the flame that gets students reading on their own? Here are five ways to get your students reading for fun.

Make reading easy

Yeah, reading in English is hard. But not all reading materials are equal. Dan Brown is easier to read than James Joyce. Your students might not have been exposed to things they can enjoy reading.

What’s easy? For one, your students shouldn’t need to read the dictionary as much as their book. In fact, students should know most of the words on each page. For second language learners, that probably means graded readers. There’s loads of good ones out there. (Here’s a good place to start.) You should also check out young adult novels and the various things on the web for ESL students. (Here, here, and here for starters.)

Get students to find stuff they like

When I started playing the violin in the fifth grade, I basically practiced as much as I needed to and no more. I’ve always wondered why my orchestra teachers didn’t ask us what songs we wanted to play. Because when we did play something awesome like Stand By Me or Orange Blossom Special, I would practice for fun. Instead of checking the clock every few minutes to see how much longer I had to practice, the time would fly by.

So, tip number two, don’t assume you know what your students will like to read. Ask them. Have them hunt for books online or at the library that look amazing. Then, without reading anything at all, have them give little presentations or reports about why they’d like to read what they found.

Use peer pressure

Imagine a class where all the students were not just reading, but loving some book. They talked about the book at lunch. Their social media feeds were filled with posts about the book. They went as characters from the book at Halloween. Now drop a new student into this environment. Can you imagine that student lasting one week without picking up the book? No chance.

The point is that peer pressure matters. So look for ways to leverage it to promote extensive reading. Instead of choosing books for your students, have students choose books for each other. Instead of having students read books on their own, put them in groups and have each group reading a particular book. Or have a contest where students try to get their classmates to read a book they’ve already read. If a classmate reads their book, they get points equal to the number of pages.

Use game dynamics

Game dynamics are the things that get us addicted to games. In a great Ted Talk, Seth Priebatsch describes four game dynamics. Here’s a quick overview: 

  • Appointment Dynamic. This means you commit to do something at a specified time. A game example is Farmville and tending to virtual crops at appointed times. A real life example is going to happy hour to get cheap drinks.
  • Influence/Status Dynamic. In a game, this could be badges for higher level characters. In real life, an example is special colors for better credit cards. (I need a black American Express!)
  • Progression Dynamic. We see this in games with slowly leveling up a character. In real life, think of setting up a profile online. That progress bar that you’re trying to turn all blue is the progression dynamic at work.
  • Communal Discover Dynamic. This could be a multiplayer game where you have to work together to kill a dragon. In real life, think of crowdsourcing to support a Kickstarter project. The fact that everyone is working together motivates you.

Now let’s think how we can use these same game dynamics to get our students addicted to reading:

  • Appointment Dynamic: Announce half-hour reading sessions that occur throughout the week. Tell your students they’ll get extra credit points if they come and read with you during the specified times.
  • Influence/Status Dynamic: Have students keep track of the number of pages they read. Students with more pages get rewarded with titles like “Awesometastic Reading Wizard”. (Have the class choose the titles to make sure they’ll like them.)
  • Progression Dynamic: Use Pearson’s Global Scale of English Learning objectives to show students their granular progression. The students who read more are sure to tick off GSE “can-dos” at an accelerated pace.
  • Communal Discovery Dynamic: Assign students specific pages from a book, which they must learn perfectly. Then, during class, they should talk with each other and describe their pages. As students discuss the book, they’ll reveal the full story to each other.

Link reading with a guilty pleasure

A friend of mine once said, “There’s no great novel I haven’t started.” He wanted to read. He liked reading. But he preferred video games. For some students, the problem isn’t convincing them that reading is awesome or that they’d like a particular book. Rather, they just have a tough time getting going.

For those students, you might introduce the idea of coupling reading with something they do enjoy. For example, maybe they only eat ice-cream while reading. In class, you could start by asking students to list their guilty (and not-so-guilty) pleasures. They could then brainstorm ways to couple those activities with reading.

We’d love to hear what you think! How can teachers inspire their students to read for fun? Do you have any success stories? Share your ideas in the comments.

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