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Summertime reading

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When I am teaching a class that extends over a number of months, perhaps with a break in the middle, I like to ask the students to undertake an extensive reading assignment. 

The book

The first step is for the students to pick a book. The book must have been published in the last two years. I want them to read something new and exciting, and I hope they will not be able to find a translated version. Second, I want them to read something well-written, so I reject any movie books.

I make a list of all books selected to assure that two students do not read the same book. It is first-come, first-served. That in itself is a strong motivation for the students to begin their assignments in a timely manner and not wait till the last minute.

The assignment

When the students have finished their book, I ask a few questions in writing. Did you like the book? Who was your favourite character? Did you like the ending? Why or why not? The aim is to introduce ways for students to talk about the reading, and it gives me the opportunity to see if they have read the book or are just faking it.

Book reports

When I feel that most students have finished their book and we have spent a bit of time in class discussing the different books, I give them the real assignment.

I want students to have purchased the book they need to read and not borrow it. I tell them that in this way they can read the book more than once or to make notes as they go through it.

However, the truth is that when they complete their oral book report, a key aim is to present the book in such a way that other students will become interested in it and are willing to buy it.

This requires each student to think about the book and find a way to describe it. They are welcome to copy ideas from book reviews and other sources, but the aim and their success in presenting their book report is the price someone is willing to pay for it.

This is not easy. If students try to explain too much of the story, other students quickly become bored and lose interest. They need to think of ways to tantalise the audience to take the story and embellish it or to tease students with what the book is about _ the characters, the plot, sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, if need be.

This requires an insight into the book and the audience and how to motivate someone to buy it. If students do it properly by providing a teaser about the book without giving away too much detail but at the same time enough to get someone to make an offer, they need to have read and understood the book.

In class

Students are given one minute, two at most, to "sell" their book. After each student has finished this task, we see if there are offers to buy, or even trade. If there are, as a class discussion we will examine why people were interested and willing to buy.

If no one expresses any interest, look into why there wasn't any interest. Perhaps the story was not clear, exciting bits were not mentioned, or the audience misunderstood it. There are many reasons, but all of them give a chance to discuss the presentation and how the next one should be better. Which, of course, means that the earlier students find it easier to do the exercise as students speaking next are expected to incorporate all the ideas that have worked before.


Dr Timothy Cornwall has been teaching EFL for 30 years and is part of the Shinawatra University faculty. Co-founder of Thailand Educators Network, he can be reached through thaiednet.org , through his website speechwork.co.th , at

tim@speechwork.co.th or on 081-834-8982.

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