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Some Background

I’m teaching a foundational reading and writing course this year, and last semester, we used a Reading Lab assignment to fulfill Extensive Reading requirements for the course. Students chose texts to read each week and completed reading reports using Google Forms. However, instead of continuing that this semester, I wanted to integrate a novel into our course instead.

One reason I wanted to go this route is that my course doesn’t use a textbook, so all of the materials we use are teacher-developed, either by someone else or by me. The course is also organized using a genre-based approach, so each unit that we do in the class involves reading and writing texts in target genres.

By using a novel, I hope to bring some context and cohesion to the course. I hope that I can weave elements and themes from the novel through each unit and the example texts we use during the semester.

Extensive Reading?

The Reading Lab assignment we used in the previous semester aligns more closely with the strict definition of Extensive Reading. According to Bamford and Day (1997), “Extensive reading is generally associated with reading large amounts with the aim of getting an overall understanding of the material. Readers are more concerned with the meaning of the text than the meaning of individual words or sentences.” Students choose texts based on their reading level and interests with the goal of reading as much as possible in the time they have.

With the Reading Lab assignment, students were asked to set aside 30-60 minutes per week for extensive reading. Students could choose how much time they spent reading each week. They could also choose the texts they read.

However, since my course doesn’t use a textbook, I thought that integrating a novel into the course might be one way to encourage extensive reading (asking students to read quite a bit) in a meaningful way. Throughout the term, I integrated content from the novel into other areas of our course, and it served as sort of the backbone of the course content.

This type of course organization, around an authentic text and content, might fall within the realm of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). With a CLIL approach, the subject matter determines the language learned in class. Language is functional, and the content and language work together to build both understanding of the content and the target language. I am rather new to CLIL, but I think it may have some merits for the type of course in which this project was implemented.

The course is based on outcomes related to genre analysis, so students work through units related to different academic genres (informational texts, persuasive texts, etc.). Without a textbook assigned to the course, teachers are free to adapt the content of the course as they see fit, and this seemed like a great opportunity to integrate the novel into the course. For instance, I developed informational texts for intensive reading assignments related to topics and themes from the novel.

The Novel

I started looking for novels to use with my students last semester, and the book I ultimately chose was one of the first ones I looked into. I chose to develop materials for the novel Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.

The cover of Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

I decided to use this text because it is written in vignettes. I thought the text would be accessible to most students without a ton of stress and effort. Even if students didn’t understand much of what they were reading, the text uses images, graphs, tables, and other content to tell the story.

The Materials

I broke the text into chunks based on the storyline as well as the number of pages, and every week students would be asked to read one section of the book and take notes using a reading guide. On Fridays, we would get into small groups and discuss the section of the book we read. Students could ask questions, compare notes, and check their understanding. Students were also asked to keep track of new vocabulary from the novel in a vocabulary log.

Every 2-3 weeks, we had a reading and vocabulary quiz. Students could use their reading guide notes, novels, and any other resources they had collected until then to help them with the quiz. The quizzes included vocabulary, reading comprehension, genre analysis, and open-ended questions that asked students to connect events in the story to their own experiences.

Near the end of the semester, we began preparing for a timed writing assignment using prompts related to the novel as well. We talked about strategies for timed writing and did some timed writing practice with prompts related to the novel. The final assessment was a timed writing assignment that asked students to write a response to a prompt related to the novel.

Impressions

While any conclusions are anecdotal, the integration of a novel into my foundational reading and writing course this semester seems to be successful. Comments from students during class discussions included both positive and negative sentiments. Some students found the text challenging to work through, and other students said they loved the story.

Additionally, some students expressed a sense of accomplishment that they had successfully read an authentic English novel over the course of the semester.

My general impressions of how students perceived this semester-long activity is that while challenging, focusing on a single text with an engaging story throughout the term helped students maintain motivation to read. However, choosing one text for the whole class means there is a risk that not all students will find the content engaging. One possible way to work around this challenge is to offer a number of texts from which students could vote or choose to use during the term.

Conclusions

Extensive reading is one way students can build reading fluency and an appreciation for reading in the target language. Choosing to integrate a novel as a part of extensive reading may be a viable option for courses that lack the cohesion of a textbook or assigned readings. Using a novel as a basis for the content of the course can allow instructors to employ a CLIL approach to language learning, which may suit some learners and learning contexts.

Challenges related to this type of activity and content are primarily related to the distribution of workload throughout the term. It can take a considerable amount of time to choose an engaging text that will be accessible to most students. It takes even more time to read through the text and develop relevant materials for the course. However, over time, instructors and materials developers could use feedback from students and adapt content from term to term.

If anyone would like to chat about integrating a novel into their courses or any of the materials or ideas I’ve written here, please feel free to contact me. I’m happy to connect!

References

Bamford, J. & Day, R. (1997). Extensive Reading: What is it? Why Bother? The Language Teacher, 21(5). https://jalt-publications.org/tlt/articles/2132-extensive-reading-what-it-why-bother.

Darn, S. (n.d.). CLIL: A lesson framework. British Council. https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/clil-a-lesson-framework