70% of a literate person’s vocabulary in her first language comes from reading. Do you want to increase SAT or ACT scores? Read. Do you want to increase your breadth of vocabulary and enable better writing? Read. Do you want to increase grammar knowledge? Read. But does this transfer to second language learning? Can we increase our students’ vocabulary and innate understanding of the language just by allowing them time to read? Alone and anything they want? According to many Comprehensible Input teachers and SLA experts, the answer is YES! The more time spent reading, the better. Here’s a great article that summarizes some research on the topic.
Knowing this, I’ve been building a library of books, magazines and readers for my classroom and until this year, I was trying to have my students read once a week (I had a hard time being consistent). I didn’t have enough books to read more often and I still felt our time was better spent elsewhere. Over the course of the last 3 years, I discovered that children’s books in the L2 were to hard, as were children’s magazines. What really captured my students’ interest were the novels and readers written for language learners. The kids were able to comprehend them and there was a plot to follow and hold their interest. So I began to focus on gathering more titles by turning to these great resources here, here, and here. But consistency was an issue, I was not good at carving out that one time slot each week.
This semester I decided to commit 10 minutes of class to daily reading with my level 2+ classes. The only way I can accomplish this is by starting each class with reading. So I set the expectation on day one; they would come in, get their books, and begin reading, EVERYDAY. We are 6 weeks into our semester and here are my observations: 1. Beginning class with 10 minutes of reading is so calming for us and yes, I read too. 2. The kids have 10 minutes to get their heads into the language slowly and without stress. 3. I am starting to see new vocabulary creep into their writing and speaking. 4. They are writing much better. Their grammar is improving, their ability to express themselves is growing, as is their confidence and comfort levels. 5. My self-identified “non-readers” are reading and enjoying themselves! 6. Since I am reading with them, I am also growing in my confidence and comfort levels. I cherish this time each day, as do most of my students and I can’t wait to see where we end up in June!
The research that I have read emphasizes that reading is less enjoyable, when we place requirements on the students. In order to keep requirements low and interest and enjoyment high, I ask the kids to do only one thing. When they finish a book, they rate the book (1-5) and write a 2-3 sentence review on a Post-It. We then post these reviews on a chart in the room, so others can use them when choosing a new book. They are very willing to do this and use the chart more and more each week.