Changing the Focus in Extensive Reading

Something I nearly always try to include in my lessons is a “Book Club” – a fancy word for the simple activity of choosing a graded reader for my class and reading it in the lesson, chapter by chapter, as well as listening to the audio version provided on the MP3.

I can’t really explain why this is so poplar with my students and can only guess that Czechs generally love reading books. It’s also simple enough, provides a sense of achievement and if you have the right book, it is a pleasant activity.

Recently I have been experimenting with adding a little more variety to the reading. I enjoy tweaking the activities slightly and observing the effect the change makes. At first, when the class and I are still getting to know one another, we only just read and listen to the next chapter, which is followed by a short Q&A session or a brief discussion.

Later on, as the book progresses, or perhaps with our second or third book on the course, I design questions for each chapter. I put them on a ppt slide for everyone to see. I try to include a variety of questions, which require the students to react to the text in various ways. For instance, for the first chapter of Billy Elliot, Level 3, the questions were:

  • What does Billy think about his: brother/father/Nan/boxing/mother?
  • Why did he open the letter from his mother early?
  • Tell the story of how Nan escaped from home in your own words.
  • What does the word “HIM” in the second paragraph from the end refer to?

As you can see, they are very basic questions, but just the simple fact that they are written down makes them somewhat “official” and the students seem to work harder that if I ask them myself.

Today in my Upper Intermediate class, I decided to change the focus entirely and create a listening task from the chapter (no reading allowed). The book is John Grisham’s The Firm, level 5 and we were to read Chapter 17. I had made the following questions based on one of the listening task types in the FCE examination. It’s the one where you reword the sentences around a word and have the students listen out for the particular 1-3 words/numbers in the story. I really enjoyed writing it last night. This sort of a question is just so much fun to create because it is like a puzzle both to the author and the student.

These are the questions and if you have the book, you can see for yourself what you think of them:

  1. Abby and Tammy put the mountain of photocopied documents in a __________________ in Georgetown.
  2. Tammy had to list and describe the documents because it was _______________________
  3. Abby was as ____________________ as Mitch when dealing with Tarrance.
  4. Tarrance was ____________ when he heard about the dirty files.
  5. Abby will show Tarrance the files once the FBI get Ray ____________________________
  6. Terry Ross’ nickname was ___________________
  7. The Palumbo family decided to help the _______________________
  8. The Palumbo family rule was to always say ____________ at first.
  9. Vinnie wanted to know if Mitch __________________________ to the FBI.
  10. Ross can do the job in __________________________.

The interesting thing was that the students were fairly well able to answer the questions on the first listening, but then requested a second listening, so that they could “focus on the story”.

It was at this point that I realised how much the instruction changes the focus of the students’ attention. It became so obvious that one can only focus on one thing or the other and this little revelation has been a great reminder for me to be very careful in choosing and designing listening and reading tasks for my students in the future.

How do you play with texts and instructions writing? As always, happy to hear from you.


2 thoughts on “Changing the Focus in Extensive Reading

  1. Hiya, Kamila.

    When I do extensive reading at one workplace, it usually involves the learners taking an MReader quiz to ‘prove’ they read the book. There is a target for outside class reading that students are expected to get to. But to me, it would seem to be one of those things that might kill the joy of reading, especially for those who read nothing aside from Facebook posts (which is not a bad thing, just different).

    Instead, getting students to trade opinions about books with reasons is often more helpful for me.

    I do like your gap fills here. Not obvious answers so actually useful to check listening.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Marc,

      Thanks for reading and for the comment. Glad you like my gap fill. I spent years teaching for the FCE so I guess I got the hang of it somehow. The students enjoyed it, but for me, it did take away the joy of reading a bit, as you mention. As for checking whether the students read the book, yes, a tricky one. A quiz sounds much like a test. Reading journals… well I know what my children go through when writing them. Basically, if you don’t like reading, you like writing journals even less. I like your idea about trading opinions – it’s what people do, naturally, isn’t it?


      Liked by 1 person

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