English Language Learning Blog

Reading Groups

  • Reading Groups

The following blog post was written by Renee Pearson, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.

I teach learners with interrupted formal education. If you’re like me, you want to provide your learners with different opportunities to read narrative. You bring in reading passages with comprehension questions, reading strategy practice, books for free reading and so on. In the last year, I’ve added reading groups or a sort of book club idea to the mix. It’s been a successful addition to my classroom - so I thought I’d share.

I use Grass Roots Press Biographies for the reading groups. I chose them because even though they are at times challenging for my learners, the stories are still accessible. There are a lot of interesting biographies to choose from. I started by ordering four copies of eight different biographies. That way the students could potentially read eight different books.

I introduce the books by showing the whole class the covers of some of the books on power point slides. We discuss what the covers tell us about each person or story; for example, if it is a modern story or from the past. We discuss what biographies are. Then I give three or four learners the same biography and have them sit together as a reading group. I invite them to look at the pictures in the book and talk about what they see. Of course they start reading together as well. My job is to circulate and answer questions that come up. We do this for about 20 minutes. The learners keep the books and can take them home.

The next day the learners break into their groups again and read aloud with each other. A note here - I am fortunate in that I have student mentors who come in, circulate and spend time reading with the groups. I’ve also done this with only one volunteer to help out. The groups read together for about one hour. They go through vocabulary, share ideas about the book, and if they have time go through the discussion questions at the end of the biography. Sometimes the learners need to get into their groups once more to discuss the book. There are no comprehension questions and nothing gets written down!

I encourage learners to reread the biography at home, and to have it with them in class to reread if they finish an activity before others. After they have had the same book for a week, learners exchange biographies with each other, form new reading groups and go through the process again. Each time they read aloud together and discuss the book. Then, the learners exchange books again. We read seven to ten books in a 15 week term this way.

I’ve noticed that learners read more quickly and the groups operate more independently as they read more books. They also get more and more comfortable with discussing the biographies. These are good results, but I’ve had even better results in other ways:

  • Learners form opinions about books!  I hear them tell each other if a book is good, boring, easy or hard. When it comes to exchanging books, they try to get the “good” ones.
  • Learners seem to know the basic stories before they get the next book. That means they must be talking about them.
  • I had one learner who didn't want to give up one of the biographies after a week. He said that he wanted to read it again with a new group.
  • Another learner went to the library to look for other biographies in the series, so he could read more books in a week. Others have asked if I have a spare copy, so they can reread a book after we’ve done the exchange.
  • Last term one student spoke up and said that though the book she had was hard, she read it five times and then she understood it better. She told her classmates to do the same.
  • Learners often tell me about how they connected with a biography - or the person’s life. They all have a favourite.

These are the comments that make all the difference to me. They show that my learners are becoming Readers (with a capital R). I couldn’t hope for any better results.

 I would love to hear about how other instructors are helping their learners become Readers.

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