Alternative reading formats are often overlooked in English classes. There have always been a lot of forms of literature and reading material to choose from when picking what to include in our curriculum — poetry, short stories, novels, biography, nonfiction, etc. Today those choices are even wider.
Most teachers have a certain level of familiarity with the traditional options, so today let’s talk about some of the less traditional formats and genres, and ways that they might be included in a literature class. While there are many out there, let’s focus on four popular alternative reading formats – audiobooks, eBooks, graphic novels, and podcasts.
Most of us are familiar with the “books on tape” concept. We have listened to them when we are on road trips or making dinner, cleaning the house, or going for a run—times where the reading would otherwise be difficult or even impossible. For many of us though, audiobooks are seen as a second-tier choice (“I can’t carry the book, so…”).
For some students, however, the actual act of reading carries a whole host of difficulties comprehending and internalizing the text. For these students, giving them a break from the difficulties of physically reading and asking them to just listen to the story is a wonderful gift. It allows them to get much more out of the material than they would if they were expected to physically read it, internalize texts at a much higher level than their own reading level, and move reading out of the dreaded chore column to something much closer to enjoyment while focusing on internalization, interpretation, and critical response.
Audiobooks are NOT just for struggling readers. All students should be given the option of using this format.
For many readers, the physical aspects of reading are an important part of the undertaking—the act of holding a book, the smell of the paper and ink, the feel of the pages between our fingers, and even seeing the progress we make toward the final page all contribute to the experience. For many students though, especially those who have never known a world without personal computers and smartphones, digital methods of consuming literature are just as or even more comfortable than more traditional formats.
Additionally, there are some students who find digital texts much easier to navigate. Allowing students to use digital forms of texts, making these available and normalizing them in your classroom, allows students who prefer digital formats to participate and enjoy without the roadblocks and self-consciousness that they might otherwise experience when using “analogue” texts.
eBooks are NOT just for struggling readers. All students should be given the option of using this format.
Graphic novels have traditionally been labeled as “not real/serious reading” because of their surface similarities to comic books and the idea that “serious” or “advanced” literature does not involve pictures. But graphic novels are not comic books, and the very nature of their formats can open doors for students that might have otherwise remained closed.
For some students, the very existence of the pictures and the format of the storytelling make them much more accessible than the traditional novel. Consider these factors, what you can teach, and which students you might reach that you might otherwise not before you write off the place graphic novels have in your classroom.
Graphic novels are NOT just for struggling readers. Many students of various reading abilities and interests enjoy reading them.
Another one of my favorite alternative reading formats is podcasts.
To call something a podcast is a lot like calling something a book —accurate but not terribly specific. Podcasts can range from the latest conspiracy theories and how to cook the best cuisine to a complete narrative series that is similar to an audiobook.
While not traditionally thought of as literature, podcasts might have a place in your classroom—they can be a fun and different way for students to engage with the material. There is such a vast array of podcast material out there, you might look to incorporate them in anything from a poetry unit to a research paper writing unit to even a look at debate and opinion.
As always, it is important to vet the materials you ask students to access and give direction to their listening, but by giving students an opportunity to absorb the material in a way that is academically and culturally relevant as well as possibly new and exciting allows you to be that much more effective as an educator. Read the article How To Use Podcasts In The Classroom to learn more!
Traditional reading options are great. I love books. A library is still a magical place for me. But as teachers, one of our tasks is to encourage reading engagement in all students. By looking at alternative reading formats and genres of literature and including them in our curriculum, we can reach that many more students and be that much more impactful.
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Are you interested in learning more about reading engagement in the middle school classroom? I have created an online course all about this topic. Teachers can learn about this important topic right from the comfort of their couch. Click here to learn more.