Today I am going to introduce a new activity I have been doing with extensive reading classes here at Tohoku University this semester. Our ER classes consist of approximately 45 minutes of silent reading and 45 minutes of supplementary activities including speaking, listening, and writing.
The Choose Your Own Adventure books (CYOA from now on) were popular when I was in school. They consist of books where the reader is given choices and the story develops differently based on those choices, up until an ending is reached. Some endings are good and some are bad. It’s kind of like a computer or role-playing game.
The CYOA readers are published by McGraw-Hill Education, and consist of 30 titles over three levels (500, 700, and 900 headwords). I used this in-class reading activity twice, once with Mystery of the Maya, and once with Cup of Death. Both are at the 500 headword level.
The activity takes 30-35 minutes. First, introduce the concept of gamebooks to the students and walk them through the ‘read a page, decide on a course of action, go to the next page’ dynamic.
Assign the students to random groups (we found pairs and groups of three work best, as larger groups mean each student has too little to do). Explain that each group member will in turn read a page, the group will make the decision, and the book will be passed to the next member. This will continue until an ending is reached. If groups finish early they should go back and try to get another ending.
The teacher then reads the first page to the class before distributing one book to each group. Once a group has their book, they can start.
We did this activity twice with about a dozen classes. Students actively read, listened, and discussed options for the whole time the activity went on. Many students enjoyed the activity and were clearly happy when teachers introduced the second book (three weeks after the first one). The highly structured nature of the activity makes it easy for students to participate.
This is a great activity to do two or three times a semester. It would be possible to base an entire course around reading CYOA books, but I suspect the novelty might wear off. Of course, as with any activity, not all students enjoyed it to the same extent. In terms of materials, one class set can be shared among several teachers.
The best thing about this activity is that it really brings out the meaning in the books: students have to understand the text in order to choose their next action.
1. The content of each book in the CYOA series varies considerably. Our students had some trouble with the Mayan setting, so it might have been useful to pre-teach some of the background, the geography, and the history. This could be done in a few minutes. Going through the proper nouns in the book would also help students read more smoothly.
2. Doing the exercise in pairs gives more reading/speaking time to each student.
3. It is not necessary to have class sets of each book: the same activity could be done with each group/pair reading a different book (of course, pre-teaching and having the teacher read the first page would not be possible in this case). This would allow students to choose which book they wanted to read, possibly making it more interesting for them.
This was a very positive experience for my colleague and I, and for the students. It is likely to become a regular activity in our ER classes.