In May 2014, while volunteering at the TESL Toronto spring conference, I was lucky enough to see a presentation by Chris Harwood and Tracy Manning about their experiences implementing a Facebook-based Book Club in their EAP program.
Inspired by their talk, I decided to try this out with my students. It took some weeks of planning, and some trial and error with different books, but in the end it’s become a successful and popular part of my course!
What is it?
Basically, for each 4-week module, my students must read an assigned book and discuss it in the class Facebook group. At the end of the module, they are given a quiz on the book. Their posts on the Facebook page count for 6% of the final mark, while the quiz is a further 4%.
Chris and Tracy mentioned in their presentation that having the assignment based on Facebook (rather than another platform like Moodle) translates into greater participation and enjoyment by the students. I also found this to be true. Compared to my Moodle site, students are much more likely to follow the discussions on Facebook and participate more often.
How does it work?
On the first day of class, students are given the month’s book and are walked through the registration process for the Facebook group. When given the assignment, students are told not to use dictionaries or to worry too much about vocabulary – the point is simply to read the book. I tell them that as long as they understand who the main characters are, and most of what is happening, that’s perfect!
Throughout the month, I post discussion questions on Facebook, which the students then discuss with each other.
At the end of the month, I count up their comments, and students are given 10% for each ‘significant’ comment they make (meaning they can’t just write ‘yes, I agree’, but must write at least 3-4 lines), for a total of 100% for 10 comments.
I tend not to get involved in their discussion in order to allow them to feel more independent.
The quiz at the end of the month consists of 2 or 3 long-answer ‘opinion’ questions, asking for their thoughts and feelings on the assignment and the book, with one or two questions based on the events at the end of the book. So even if students aren’t able to finish the book, they can still answer most of the quiz.
What are the benefits?
The greatest benefit of this assignment is getting students to read! We read a lot of material in class, but it’s hard to get students in the habit of reading for enjoyment. By giving them interesting and short-ish novels, they get valuable reading experience, as well as the sense of accomplishment from having read a book!
A first for a few students – one student came up to me at the end of the month and told me excitedly:
“Teacher! When I read, I have pictures in my head! This is amazing!”
What books do you use?
After half a year of trial and error, I’ve found a good group of books that are well-liked by the students, and of a good length for them to read in 4 weeks (on top of all the other assignments they have). They are
- Holes by Louis Sachar,
- The Giver by Lois Lowry, and
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
The first 2 work well as they are actually written for 13-14 year-olds, so the language and ideas are simple, and the stories are interesting for the students. The Alchemist is probably the most popular book. Although it’s the most difficult vocabulary-wise, the story is quite inspirational for many, and they’re very happy to read it.
I’m always on the lookout for new books and would love to introduce some non-fiction into the mix. I’d love to hear any suggestions!