Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Book Review: "Bookworms Club - Stories for Reading Circles" Editor Mark Furr

Bookworms Club
Stories for Reading Circles
Edited by Mark Furr
Oxford University Press 2007/2009
ISBN 9780194720007 (Bronze)
ISBN 9780194720083 (Diamond)

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: "In these seven short stories there are marriages and murder, mistakes and mysteries. People fall in love, and fall out of love; they argue, and they talk, and laugh, and cry. They go travelling, they go dancing - they even see ghosts. Oll of human life is here..." (from the Bronze edition).

"In these stories we find the strange and the familiar, the comfortable and the chilling - the friendship between a boy and his grandmother, cheating men, unhappy women, cold-blooded murderers, and a man who flies in a shadow-land of ghostly spirits..." (from the Diamond edition)

It sounds mind-blowingly obvious but it's the first time I've seen the principle applied so rigorously: activities to turn the usually solitary process of reading into a truly participative and interactive classroom activity.

Admittedly, there is still solitary reading to be done, and this isn't intended to take up class time but is given for homework or free time. What's innovative is the assigning of clear roles to groups of six students to allow them to discuss the stories they have read in a constructive and engaging way in class.

The roles are shown here. The Discussion Leader guides the discussion and makes sure everyone has a chance to speak. The Passage Person finds interesting passages and asks the group questions about them. The Word Master looks out for new words or key phrases from the story. The Connector looks for connections between the story and the outside world. The Summariser identifies the key points necessary for understanding and remembering the tale. The Culture Collector looks for similarities and differences between the story's culture and that of the reading group.

As you can see, each student has a clear role to play in the discussion and role sheets with notes and questions help the learners prepare beforehand.

Various other worksheets encourage the students to understand and appreciate the stories fully, including the main theme and context, the key events, important vocabulary and narrative structure, and the author's background. These are all available for free download from the Oxford website, and there are even badges to allow students to fully slip into their roles.

The stories, as suggested by the blurb above, are engaging and despite being adapted or 'retold' as Oxford put it, from various sources, they are thankfully free from any cringy over-simplification, which can spoil the teacher's enjoyment of them, and possibly the student's too.

There are five levels covering 'stages' 1 to 6, which seem to be roughly pre-intermediate to fairly advanced. Each collection has seven stories and if you thought Bronze, Silver and Gold would pretty much tie things up, think again. The series also has, slightly confusingly, Platinum, Diamond, Coral, Pearl and Ruby members, but not necessarily in increasing order of difficulty.

The stories are short and pleasant enough to actually make quite good bedtime reading, even for native speakers, and the variety and scope is admirable.

For a class where reading, vocabulary building and understanding story structure is important but the teacher wants a far more communicative approach than usual, the Oxford Bookworms Club Stories for Reading Circles will be ideal.


Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Oxford Bookworms Club - Stories for Reading Circles"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

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