The classroom library is an integral part of any world language classroom. Telling stories is so dramatic and compelling that reading can be treated as the ugly cousin of language teaching, but it shouldn’t. When done right, reading can invigorate your program and save your sanity. And doing reading right is free reading. In too many classrooms, we act as if the kind of reading that we all love to do does not even exist. We act as if the only kind of reading that counts is plodding, over-analyzed dissection of texts, rather than joyful consumption. We want to be serious about this stuff, so we force an entire class to slog through a novel for weeks. My friends, it does not have to be that way.
The best kind of reading, the kind that sticks with us all, is free reading. This is the kind of reading you probably did last night. The kind of reading where you pick up a book because it looks interesting and you keep reading it as long as it holds your attention. When your interest in it fades, you set it down and pick up something else. Doesn’t sound too rigorous, but this is where acquisition happens and joy grows.
How do we promote this kind of reading? What has worked for me is to provide students with books and turn them loose on the library right away, even in level I (for easy Spanish, look at wilbooks.com). I find that I have to get students accustomed to going to the classroom library, selecting a book and sitting down to read it, and it helps to form this habit during the honeymoon period–that means during the first week of school. Once they understand the procedure and get that we are going to sit and read quietly, then they can actually start reading.
Here is what my classroom library looks like at the beginning of the year. There are about 30 different novels in stacks of five or so, arranged from easier reading level to more advanced, from left to right. This arrangement can help the newbies until they get their confidence up a bit. Once they realize that they can actually read in Spanish (mainly because they know enough of the core verbs), the general advice is to read anything that looks interesting to them. There are so many easy language learner novels now that students even in the earliest levels can begin to read within a month.
Behind the stacks of novels are all kinds of books organized in discarded library boxes by subject, that I rotate out with other such boxes throughout the year. Those boxes contain favorite children’s books, bilingual books, student-made books, baby board books, Scholastic magazines, People magazines, National Geographic magazines, Muy Interesante magazines and Zoo Book magazines (a student favorite).
Works for me. What do you do?