Getting Students to Read Online

“Come fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame”
William Butler Yeats

It’s time to let your students harness the wild winds of the web and immerse themselves in the extensive reading opportunities available online. If you view the internet as a tree branching out and interconnecting ideas and information,  you can begin to glimpse at the potential of reading online.

But, really, why should our students read online? Isn’t it better to use hard copy books?

These questions are real and understandable. I would never want to replace my tangible library; the books I hold, touch and carry around in my bag wherever I go. Yet it would be very unwise not to tap into the vast resources and educational content online. We now have access to information and books that would have cost a fortune years ago. I grew up with school libraries and books but it was never enough. My parents would have had to buy me a new book every day to satisfy my reading needs.

It’s up to educators to guide learners online, help them to follow their special interests, delve deeper into their subject areas, and do the kind of research that stretches the imagination and sharpens insight. This can be done in line with course objectives and/or as extra-curricular, fun projects with the aim of building learning skills for life.

Supporting Online Courses

I believe in guiding student towards self-discovery by giving them online reading tasks or projects to complete before live online lessons. This is very effective as they will take it seriously and then be surprised by the fun they have reading. I have already mentioned in previous articles how important it is to read the news. In the past, it was often difficult to encourage language learners to read Newsweek or the New York Times, but nowadays there are wonderful news portals online that have excellent, engaging, educational articles. My students use English Addicts by Edulang or Breaking English News. These articles are also written for lower intermediate students so they can get used to reading from early on in their language learning journey.

Collaborative Reading and Writing

One great advantage of the internet and reading online is the social aspect that involves collaboration. In the past, reading was viewed as mainly a solitary activity and associated with being ‘nerdy’ and unsociable. These days, reading online is cool. Social networks are springing up around reading websites and students get to talk about their favourite books or ideas with other book lovers.

One impressive place to read online about interesting topics is Storybird. This is a beautiful website where art meets interactivity within a social hub of creativity. Not only can students read and comment, but they can also begin writing their own stories. The stories are categorized according to genre and age groups.

I have also seen how some language learners on facebook read a lot by following their interests and teachers in certain language groups. They also write poetry and make their own creative multi-media videos. The point is that they are digital learners, they have smart phones, ipads, and they know how to use them. They are also motivated and want to do it. We teachers should think about how to use facebook or how to channel the enthusiam of students for best results.

Using Wikis for Reading, Writing, Sharing

Teachers can help students to set up online reading clubs. I strongly recommend this for schools that would like to implement more direct blended learning approaches. Students could be assigned various responsibilities and the teacher could facilitate a lot of creative team work. I would create a bank of suitable books or short stories which can be accessed on line for free. One great example is the BritLit series of stories. If students had their lists on the wiki they would not need to surf the internet or be put off by information overload. Once the reading materials are on the wiki, the learning space becomes a collaborative playground for reading, sharing and connecting with international students online. This could lead to meeting in virtual classrooms for ‘live’ poetry readings or book meetings.

Mr. Bean Should Try Reading Online

There is a very funny movie clip where Mr. Bean tries to enter a library and goes through all kinds of fidgety manouveurs to try and be civilised in a silent zone.
In traditional libraries, everything is ‘hush,hush..shhh’. Online it’s social, interactive fun without the noise or need to tiptoe. You can make creative noise or silently contemplate great ideas. The fact is that reading online opens up new outlets for the imagination and new possibilities that didn’t exist before the digital age. Teachers have got to embrace the new digital literacies and train students to mindfully use online reading opportunites to ‘magnify themselves and multiply the ways in which they exist’, in the words of Aldous Huxley.

Multiple Opportunities for Creative Noise

  • Create a network of citizen journalists online by utilising news resources and collaborative workspaces for students.
  • Host chat shows online based on findings from online news lessons, or hot topics in society and current affairs.
  • Have advanced English students read Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element’, and then create their own online projects where they explore their own talents and do online research to zoom in on their future goals and ambitions. They then present their projects online in the virtual classroom.
  • Set up journalling workshops for creativity, careers, goal-setting and so on. Students would journal about some new goals, ideas or techniques they have researched.

Theme-based Webquests for Reading and Student Activities

A literature Webquest uses books as a basis for exploration. They might focus on themes, plots, characters or settings. I believe that literature Webquests can also be adapted for language learners, and they might focus on writing skills, reading comprehension and vocabulary. In fact, as I write, more and more ideas flood my mind. Business English students, who need to read up on leaders or cutting-edge developments in their field could also make great use of such reading quests. As could exam students, if teachers set it up to ensure that they will deepen exam-related language skills. You can explore literature-based Webquests at Eduscapes.com and Webquest.org.

Finally, a great place to access 42,000 free ebooks is Project Gutenburg. Reading has never been easier.

“The reading of all good books is like a converstaion with the finest minds of past centuries.”
Rene Descartes


is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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