Free voluntary reading can be a great way for students to get the variety of comprehensible input they need to succeed. It’s also a great way to get students reading in the target language, period, so those long passages at higher levels seem much less intimidating.
However, building a FVR library is a huge task. You need a book for every student. You need a variety of books for them to pick from. You need books that are 100% comprehensible at your students’ current level. That’s a tough checklist that can cost tons of time and money.
There’s an easier way, though! It still takes time, but it’s time well spent. It comes at a fraction of the cost compared to buying pre-published readers, and gives you the opportunity to ensure that your library contains stories that your students actually want to read. The DIY FVR library is an idea that I’ve seen tossed around online, and here’s my take on it.
How do you make your own FVR library? Well, you’re going to do just that! You’re going to type and print copies of your own mini-novels that you can quickly and easily add to your classroom library. They’ll be perfectly tailored to your curriculum and your students’ needs.
I know that might sound daunting. This is a gradual, long-term project. Start simple, with stories you can crank out easily so you don’t get overwhelmed.
How do I make the booklets?
You can try out the tech end of things before you even write your first novella. In fact, I think it’s a good idea to really see what your finished product is going to look like before you try to create it. My method uses Word on Windows 10 and a printer with duplex (double-siding) capabilities, but I’ll offer some alternative ideas later.
- Find yourself a document: an extended reading, your syllabus, anything with multiple pages! Open the document in Word.
- Click on the File tab and select Export. Look for a button that says Create PDF/XPS. When File Explorer pops up, choose a location that you can find easily and save the document as a PDF.
- Now open File Explorer and open the new PDF file you created. Two things may happen:
- The file may open in Microsoft Edge. This is the new default in Windows 10. In that case, look for the Print button in the black bar across the top. (You may have to click somewhere on the text to get the bar to appear.) Click on the Print button and look for more settings in the dialogue box. Now set the Duplex to both sides (flip on long edge); manual options may appear if your printer doesn’t support duplex printing. Then scroll down to Output Options and set Document Binding to booklet. Now you can print, and voilà! Your printer will automatically produce a booklet that you can staple together.
- The file may open in Adobe Reader, which is a long-time standard. In that case, click on File > Print. Look for Page Size & Handling and click on the Booklet button. If you have a duplex printer, you can simply click Print and the printer will do all the work for you. Again, voilà! Your printer will output a booklet that you can staple together. Otherwise, you’ll need to experiment with the page subsets for manual duplex.
If you’re using other technology, keep in mind that most programs, including Google Docs, now allow you to export or save a document as a PDF. Adobe Reader is free to download, so once you have a PDF, you can use that program (see Step 3 #2 above).
One thing to notice: the text in your file will be shrunk down during this process. Keep that in mind when you type your mini-novel. Make all your text and pictures twice as big as normal, or perhaps bigger. At lower levels, think about how children’s books are laid out, with lots of space and large, clear fonts. At higher levels, you can reduce the font size and layout to create a more realistic look compared to published novels.
Another thing to notice: the file you started with had no special formatting in terms of margins or layout. You don’t have to create columns or figure out how to type your booklet in a way that looks like the printed version. You’ll start with a normal document in default portrait layout, and the printer will do the work for you.
How do I write the booklets?
Your first few booklets can be simple variations on main stories. Change a few names and details in a tried-and-true story, and you have a booklet ready to go! You can also:
- Do variations on extended readings, or use extended reading ideas that you never get to in class.
- Keep track of class versions of stories that you invent together, and turn those stories into booklets.
- Have students write their own versions of stories, which you turn into booklets for future use.
- Rip off stories from familiar fairy tales, cartoons and other media. These types of stories can make for good transitional material toward authentic literature.
Now, you want to students to want to read these booklets, so keep a few things in mind:
- Your story should be bizarre, exaggerated and personal. The plot doesn’t have to be complex, but it needs to be interesting and full of strange, over-the-top details. Use familiar or local places and characters (stars, cartoons, etc.). Think about your students’ interests and how you can capitalize on cognates to expand their current language to topics that they like.
- Keep the content 100% comprehensible. This rule starts with the content itself. FVR is not meant to be an opportunity to “expand vocabulary through reading”. You can add new words sparingly, but they need to be critical to the story. Have a system in place so students can manage any unfamiliar words — those they don’t understand, and those they may have forgotten. Make sure students have free access to you or some resource they can use to clarify meaning, and make sure that access will be immediate. Students will only be reading for about 10 minutes, and they don’t need to spend half that time looking up one word. Adding some clipart can help, but keep in mind that a picture doesn’t guarantee understanding. And if you’re relying on cognates, keep in mind that some students simply don’t see them. Can you guess the Gaelic words sutha and àmhainn? They come straight from English “zoo” and “oven” but are a far visual cry from their cognates.
- Your story doesn’t have to be long! Repetition is your friend. Think about the types of circle questions you ask in class, and how those questions explode into tons of content. When you tell what a character likes, remember to also tell what he doesn’t like. When you say that he’s funny, also say that he’s not serious.
- Typesetting is also your friend! A booklet needs to be seven pages long from cover to end. That’s a lot of pages for a story that might fill half a regular page! Enlarge the font and the line and paragraph spacing, and add clipart to fill up the pages of those simple stories.
How does FVR work?
FVR is a powerful tool that many teachers skip over because it can be complex and costly to implement. If you’re new to FVR or want to know more about how and why it works, check out this paper from Krashen.