Starting with the experts:; This is a Internet site article discussing the theories of Stephen Krashen, Phd, teacher and lecturer at USC and expert on reading. The article is The Power of Reading: Insights from Research 10/04 and discusses Free Voluntary Reading programs:

  • is effective in increasing and improving reading
  • is pleasurable
  • results in superior general knowledge
  • improves spelling, writing, grammar
  • helps ELL learners dramatically
  • Improves scores on reading tests and other subject matter tests
  • Results in better reading comprehension, writing style, and increased vocabulary
  • Develops better thinkers
  • Works when students truly have choice, when the program is consistent and continued, and when teachers are also reading when students are reading

What we can do:

  • School-wide SSR (Silent sustained reading)
  • Individual classroom SSR
  • Have a variety of books available for low-level readers—comics, series books, etc.
  • Publicize suggested reading lists
  • Survey kids about their reading interests
  • Librarian put out list of kids’ favorite books and their interests
  • Encourage teachers to develop in-class libraries
  • Solicit books through newsletter, civic groups
  • Establish a reading-as-reward system
  • Encourage reading aloud in class
  • Read aloud to Special Ed and ELL students
  • Talk about reading with colleagues and students
  • Extend library hours—talk to Kiwanis and other groups about providing funding or volunteers.

So, what’s not to love about free-reading programs, nothing! Now, how do we get these programs started? Ah, that is a horse of an entirely different color.  Teaching in Korea, the students have libraries but highly limited access to books in English. The major book stores do sell books in English and often at a  high price. A few months ago, one of the new JK Rowling books came out in hardback and was sold at Koyobo Bookstore. The price was 42,00 Won which is the equivalent to $40! I had to think long and hard if I wanted the book that badly. It was about that time that all the eBook readers were coming on the market and I was able to get the same book on eBooks for a much reduced price.

Most of my students don’t have the money for a lot of expensive books and their parents don’t want to pay for them either.  It is important to establish a low cost alternative. All of my students  have cell phones and most have smart phones. For high school/college I am moving to promoting eBook readers. I just got The Maze Runner online for $6.00, a very reasonable price. I will be promoting these readers to my students in an effort to get them to read.


ROUND-ROBIN READING : In Elaine Garan’s book Smart Answer to Tough Questions, 2007, Scholastic, Inc., NY, NY,  she addresses the issue of Round-Robin or popcorn reading.

Quoting from The Voice of Evidence to Reading Research and The Report of the National Reading Panel their findings are:

Round robin is counterproductive and not a good use of class time.

Only one student pays attention at a time and that is the one who is reading. Faster students are racing ahead to read and the slower students can’t keep up.

Round robin forces struggling readers to perform in front of their peers and to get laughed at.

Basically, it is boring.

The workbooks that I use in class are the Oxford University Press Smart Choice series. The workbooks do not have extensive text reading in them. However, there is a page or two of reading in each chapter and a list of questions that follow. Since I don’t want to do the Round Robin anymore in class; what I will probably do is to have the students read these pages as homework and then answer the questions for reading comprehension.

Most of the passages in the workbook come with a CD component that can be played either before doing the exercise or after. I think I will assign the passage as homework; then, when we get back to class, play  the CD track. Thereafter, I will call on the students to read their answers and I will work around the room and read a couple of their written responses. Of course, a certain number of students will never do the homework or will just copy the answers off someone else. I have to accept that this will happen and their motivation to do the work will depend on how much they really want to learn English, or not.

Lastly, as non-native speakers, I have to evaluate each student at the mid-term and final spots in the semester on their speaking abilities. I have been using Round robin to allow me to hear them reading and speaking. You may say, just ask them some questions and make the evaluation based on that. The problem is that any number of low level students answer all questions with “yes” or “no” or other monosyllabic answers that make it difficult to judge their actual fluency.

For example the question in the book is ‘Which movie did Victoria see? Who also saw it?’ The answers will be uniformally “Avatar,” and “Dan”. Students rarely if ever answer in complete sentences. Since they would rather mop the floor than write, the effort to get them to do that is pretty great.


GETTING STUDENTS TO READ: I liked what Regie Routman (Writing Essentials, 2005, Heinemann, Portsmouth, New Jersey.)had to say about making students accountable for their own comprehension and having them writing in small spiral notebooks and answer questions posed for their silent reading time. As indicated before, my class is highly divergent meaning that the levels go from very low to very high. My low students struggle every week to keep up and the high students are bored silly. Students meet two times per week for the semester. How can I, during this really short time period, effectively help both groups? Stephan Krashen, Phd and expert in the field of language learning has said time and again that reading is key to learning the language. That means learning the language to both speak it and to write it. On our campus we work out of workbooks each week, we teach to the test and there is exactly one English Literature class at the school. So, what can I do to create a bridge to reading which is key to life-long learning of the language and their becoming better readers and more fluent? I think putting responsibility into their hands is really key; there is just so much I can do. This week I will start to show the Good Reads Listopia of Young Adult Reading books. Three of the books on the list are actually coming out in movies very soon. Those are Mockingjay (of the Hunger Games series,) The Hobbit and the Maze Runner. I can show a trailer from the movie (isn’t that interesting?) and then show the book on the Good Reads list. These books can be got from eBook reader sources like, ITunes and others. Also, Koyobo book will usually stock books when a movie is coming out. Well known books are often translated into Korean and then also sold in English. I want them to read the books in English but if they have to start in Korean to ‘get the plot’ maybe they will eventually move into English readers.  ///I may ‘showcase’ a book a week and then go backwards to Harry Potter and The Lightning Thief which came out a few years ago. The Giver, Divergent and Twilight are all sold here too. I am not that hot on Divergent or Twilight series but if it gets them to read, it’s all good!

PUBLISHER MATERIALS: HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE LEVEL: My current school is using Oxford University Press textbooks (Smart Choice, 2nd Edition, Ken Wilson, 2011, New York, NY) and they are pretty good as they cover a lot of basic material and have many ‘interactive tools’ that come along with the book. For example, they have created a site that is all the lesson plans that the students can access from their home computer and hear the lessons again in audio. In the back of the book Oxford has created a whole series of tests that can be used at mid-term and at finals. Also, there is a complete ‘teacher’s copy’ that comes along with the program so that I can put up all the answers to homework on the board for students to check it. The problem with the book really isn’t a problem with the book. The admin here is in lockstep to teach to the test and is hysterical about students not doing well on the midterms and final exams. Apparently they have had experience with bad teachers in the past.  This leads to a whole lot of regimentation in the classroom and situations occurring up to and including teachers feeding test questions or answers to students prior to the big exams just to get the high scores.

 ELEMENTARY LEVELS: I taught 5th grade Korean students and really liked Oxford University Press books. We did read aloud with Princess and the Pea. I created crowns for the King, the Queen, the Princess and the Prince. Volunteer readers (sometimes I picked the volunteers) got to wear the crowns and then read their part of the script. They really liked doing that and many times the kids would really get into the roles. I have sometimes had the whole class read out loud together, but I am not so sure how effective that is. Reading out loud in front of class is not very effective for low level readers as they tend to get embarrassed and other kids make fun of them. What seemed to work best for them seemed to be read aloud with easier material in groups of their own level.

Also, Oxford publishes a workbook to go with each of their level readers. Within the workbook, worksheets are organized into low, medium and high levels. They are not clearly marked that way, but that is okay, I would rather the publisher Not put words like that on the materials. I can figure it out myself. Then, knowing my classes and their levels, I would have copies of each of the worksheets and would pick the one appropriate to that group.


DEALING WITH STUDENT PSYCHOLOGY: Many Korean students  feel like complete failures in learning English and have lost all confidence. Therefore, I also concentrate on macro skills and try hard to make a point to not focus excessively on the low-end students. I have done read-aloud in class with my students and find that many of them make the same mistakes over and over. I can usually hear these mistakes after several readings. For example, students will mix up the words Place and Palace and call everything Place because that word is the most familiar. So, then, when I see that several people do it, I go to the board and tell everyone the difference in the two words. So, correcting the group as opposed to the individual seems to help most particularly with low students. Also, I match low to high students and have them work together as much as possible to allow the higher students to help the lower ones. 

I teach at a University in Daegu, South Korea. Most of my students are about 20 to 21 years old. They can be as young as 19 and as old at 27 or 28, but they are mostly sophomores.  This University is not the lowest in the region nor is it the highest. I teach all Engineering students and their abilities range from very high to as low as developmentally disabled.

One of the quixotic and frustrating things about teaching in Korea (for Western teachers) is the lack of levels for different students. In other words, low, intermediate and high students are all mixed together. My explanation of this is that Korea has a shame based culture. In Western societies, if a person does something wrong and he has to fix that thing. Here if, a person does something wrong and he has to fix himself.

These differences are subtle yet produce significant differences in the society and then the schools.  To place a student in a ‘remedial’ group would be so publically shaming  as to be completely unbearable. So, they just don’t do it. As a result, students who need remedial help, mostly don’t get it and frequently do badly.  I can’t really help a low student when I have 20 students in class and we have to march to the beat of an incessant curriculum.

So, giving these basic difficulties, what can I as a teacher do to ‘help’ the top and the bottom? Comparing the two groups, (A students and F students,) there is a huge difference between the average A student and the F student. However, there is much less difference between the various A students. Frequently,  F students either bail out of class and stop coming because it is ‘too hard’ and A students are bored senseless.


I am really enjoying the Nancy Akhavan book on ‘Accelerated Vocabulary,’ 2007, Scholastic, Inc., NY, NY.  Since my students are non-native speakers, many things that apply to American elementary students apply in the same way to English learners. The majority of Korean students read at about the 2nd grade American level.

Akhavan indicates that a student has to have exposure to a word 12 different times to actually ‘own’ the word or really ‘know’ it. That is an interesting fact I didn’t know. She talks about limiting the amount of content words and focusing only on the most important words. I had learned that previously in my ESL studies. However; she goes on to discuss the importance of expanded vocabulary to allow students to develop into advanced readers and more advanced speakers.

She recommends engaging the class in brain-storming to come up with more meanings for a single word and also, similar words that link to the original word. Then, students can take 3×5 cards and write the word and the expanded meaning of the word. I really like that. It allows the student to create his or her own card catalogue  they can take with them anywhere and practice whenever they want.

As I said, in many classes, the A students are bored silly and the F students give up. However, when scratching a little deeper below the surface, many A students get their grades because of years of repetitive grammar drills in schools and after-school academies. These students can do grammar drills blindfolded. However, instruction that actually focuses on expanding the vocabulary and increasing reading and speaking ability is often absent.

What I plan to do, is to expand on the vocabulary exercise that we do in the book. Instead of handling it as a rote drill exercise, I will try a) brainstorming to develop expanded meanings of the words. b) looking for words with similar meanings to the ones on the list c) getting students to buy a pack of ‘Easy to Memorize Words’ to write down the words. These are 3×5 cards with a little hole punched in the corner that are bound with a metal ring. Students can then easily shuffle through the cards and practice their vocabulary words.

This practice has significance for both the A’s and the F’s. For the F’s, it allows them to carry around the basic vocabulary and to look at it over and over again and get the repetition they need. For the A’s, it allows them to go beyond the basic text and to grab hold of new words,  thereby expanding their vocabulary and stretching them.


Courtney Webb