Saturday, 3 August 2013

Oxford Big Read - an introduction to setting up a class library and using readers

This was the title of a recent webinar hosted by Oxford University Press and presented by Verissimo Toste.  He based his talk on his experience of setting up a class library for 25 - 30 teenage students.  The idea was that students chose the books they wanted to read and did so at their own pace. They were encouraged to use readers as a tool to learn the language; the scheme was supposed to appeal to them as language learners, not as readers.  What follows is a summary of what Verissimo had to say.

The importance of reading to learn English
  • Remember to tell your students regularly how important reading is.
  • If you go to the gym and do exercise, you will get fitter.  You don't need to know what the muscles are or what anatomy means.  In the same way, if you read, you will learn - you don't necessarily need to know how every grammatical structure works.
Reading needs to be:
  • voluntary
  • routine - i.e. 15 minutes a day, not one hour once a week.
  • beyond the classroom
Comfort leads to routine
  • Stories must interest students from the beginning - they must choose the book.
  • Stories must be appropriate for the level - that is, knowledge minus one. No more than 2 or 3 words per page should be new or difficult.  The student shouldn't need to use a dictionary.
  • Establish a reading routine of 15 minutes per day.
Selecting stories
  • There is a huge amount of choice out there!
  • A library needs about 1.5 books per student.
  • Get catalogues from publishers and use them as a reading comprehension exercise.
  • Allow the students to choose the books.  Tell them to:
    • look at the cover
    • consider the title
    • read the back cover
    • look through the illustrations
    • sit and read a page comfortably
  • Use the 'find your level' page of the OUP website.
Reading in class
  • Create a social environment.
  • Use reading as a five-minute activity at the beginning of a class whilst you're setting up the room.
  • Encourage students to pick up their readers if they finish an activity early
  • Have ten or fifteen minutes of reading at the end of every class.
  • Build a habit where reading becomes a part of every class - this routine may take up to three months to establish.
  • Encourage students to talk about their books and share ideas - because everyone is reading a different book, they will want to talk to each other about them.
  • Make students aware that these books have been written for them.
  • Talk to students about where and when they read outside of class.
  • Focus on the students who are reading and build the numbers up month by month.
Enthusiasm leads to involvement
Here are some reading related activities aimed at generatingi students' enthusiasm which will get them involved and lead to more language learning.
1. Posters
This is a good first activity.  Students make a poster of the book they are reading, to include the title, an illustration and a sentence or some key words. The posters are displayed in the classroom in order to help other class members decide which book to read next.
The posters don't have to be done on paper - they could be digital (using Glogster, for example) or they could be powerpoint slides.
2. Make a film poster from the book
  • Give the book a new title?
  • Who would be the stars - celebrities? classmates?
  • What images could be used to best illustrate the book?
  • How about making a trailer?
This is a very engaging activity which allows students to use their imagination.
3. Wordle
Make a word cloud from a text from the book.
4. Snap
  • Students choose ten sentences from the story and copy them into their notebooks.
  • Students decide which is the keyword in each sentence and underline it.
  • Students write each sentence on a card without the keyword (like a gapfill).
  • They write the keywords on different coloured cards.
  • They play the game of 'snap' in pairs.
  • The games relating to each book can be kept and re-used.
5. Speaking and interviewing a character
  • Students choose a character from the book they are reading.
  • They write questions to ask that character.
  • They role-play interviewer and interviewee with a partner who has read the same book.
  • Students can make up answers if all the information they need is not in the book.
6. Write a postcard to a character in the book
  • Students read and reply to each other's postcards.
These activities create enthusiasm.

To conclude

Why should students read a lot?
  • To extend their contact with the language
  • To reinforce classroom language
  • To contextualise language
  • To increase motivation
  • To expose students to new experiences
  • To give them a feeling of achievement


  1. Thank you. This is a great resource and I will certainly be sharing it with my colleagues. We teach English in an adult setting.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Christina - I really appreciate it.