Setting Up a Free and Voluntary Reading Program

If we know that students gain so much by reading in another language, how can we make that happen as much as possible in our world language classrooms? Setting up a free and voluntary reading program can be an excellent way to allow for student choice, give students an opportunity to read at their level and a way to make connections with the language in authentic ways. Use this guide to make the most of an FVR program. This post is designed to be more of a compilation of resources already out there, not necessarily totally new ideas.

Step 1: Get some books or reading materials!

Here are some great resources to find a variety of reading materials:

  • Fluency Matters – This publisher has an amazing variety of comprehensible novels according to student levels, focused on the most commonly occurring words in a language. This is the best place to start as it has a great variety of resources!
  • TPRS Books – This is also a great option to select from a variety of titles and levels, all made comprehensible for students studying a foreign language.
  • Mike Peto’s My Generation of Polyglots– Mike Peto has an amazing list of resources, book reviews and other great suggestions for how to create or find engaging texts appropriate for different levels.
  • Other sources and independent authors – This is a growing list of resources that includes more independent authors and titles, many of which can be purchased from Amazon.
  • Scholastic’s ¿Que Tal? and Ahora – For those students who just aren’t into reading novels, or aren’t quite ready for them, it can be great to have them start out with a short magazine instead. ¿Que Tal? Includes a variety of interesting articles that are very comprehensible for lower level language learners.
  • Martina Bex’s El Mundo en Tus Manos – Martina has done an excellent job writing comprehensible summaries of current events in the Spanish speaking world. Students can easily understand the articles while also learning about what is happening around the globe.
  • Martina Bex’s Revista Literal – This is an e-zine compiled by Martina Bex that includes authentic learner created stories. It is designed for students to be able to get comprehensible reading outside the classroom!
  • Reading A-Z – While this resource is designed for younger learners, I still find it engaging and many titles are still appropriate for the high school level. It’s a great way to provide more options for non-fiction reading at students’ reading levels, as it has many non-fiction and fiction titles.

In addition to purchasing materials, I find books from the public library or my school library.

Our public library provides a service to the schools where a courier delivers us a new book box each month. I email the librarian what kinds of books I want in Spanish, she compiles the box and it gets delivered to my school. Sweet! Our local library also donates old Spanish magazines to our classroom. Even if they are a year or two old, they are still engaging articles that my students find interesting.

Our school library has a variety of titles, but we can also get books from other schools or districts. I have requested book sets from other schools with dual language programs for my upper level classes before. Much better than buying my own book sets of Cajas de Cartón!

If you’re looking for funds to purchase books, seek out grants from your parent organization, district, language teacher association, etc. Some teachers send letters home asking parents for a donation to purchase books as well.

Step 2: Set up your classroom library

Here are some of the most important things you should think about when displaying books.

First of all, be sure to display books with titles facing out. You can use bookshelves, rain gutter bookshelves, Velcro on the walls, book titles laying flat on desks, or anything else that makes books stand out.

Step 3: Motivate students to read

I start each class with 10 minutes of FVR. I have a quote on the board with a reason it is important to read and students start out. Check out some great compilations of quotes from Brett Chonko and Mike Peto.

At the beginning of the year, it can be a great idea to do a “book pass” where students each have a title in their hands, read the back, flip through it to make sure it’s the right level and see if it looks interesting. If it looks interesting, they write it on their “new books to read” list.

Step 4: Follow up reading with choice activities

After students read for 10 minutes, they write the date, the pages they read and a quick summary in English. This helps students remember what they read the previous class, especially because sometimes we have 4-5 days between classes. It also helps them identify how much they understood of the reading. It is helpful to remind students to write their summaries at the end of each reading period, not during, as they should use the whole time for reading!

I also find these questions from Grant Boulanger to be very helpful for follow up with student reading

As students are finishing up their summaries, they can talk about one of the following topics with a partner:

  • What happened in your book?
  • What surprised you?
  • What did you like?
  • What didn’t you like?
  • What did you learn?
  • What new words did you discover?
  • What would have happened in this part if you were the author?
  • What kind of novel are you reading?
  • What do you know about the author?
  • What is one connection you can make to the world based on your reading?
  • How can you compare this novel to other novels?
  • How can you compare what is happening in this novel with your own life?
  • Would you recommend this novel? Why or why not?

As students work on writing their summaries and talking with their partner, I try to engage in a mini-conference with a couple of students. I ask them what book they are reading, whether they like it or not and why, and what kinds of books they like to read. If a student is having a hard time finding a book at the correct level or of interest, I can help him/her personally to find a book to enjoy. If a student is demonstrating problem behavior during reading time, this is a perfect time to address this as well.

After students finish up their writing summaries and chit chat about their books, I follow up with one of the following:

  • A book talk about the book I am reading or another one I find interesting
  • A reader’s theater of a scene in a book
  • A quick video clip of the author of one of the books or a theme that is mentioned in one of the books
  • An interview with a student asking the questions above
  • A snake game of each student going around the room and saying one word they learned and the definition in English

Another idea I think I might implement this year is having students complete book projects to help promote the books. This might include some of the following ideas:

  • A movie trailer for the book
  • A sketch or drawing to demonstrate what the book is about
  • A quick summary of the book in the form of a comic
  • A book review on a blog where other students can comment about the same book

It would be great to be able to share student work as part of promoting books within the classroom! I hope you find these strategies useful as you implement your own free and voluntary reading in your classroom!

Be sure to check out this FVR Starter Pack that includes a beginning of the school year questionnaire, classroom signs, reading logs, book projects and more!

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