Problem (Tech) Solved: Budget Restrictions 1

Once upon a time, it was determined that a book we were using in one of my classes, selected before my arrival I might add, was not a good fit. The goal of the class was to prepare students for college, and the class set that we had available was a graded reader, so it was true. The students should definitely be reading at the high school level. Evaluation of materials is a good thing and I was completely willing to make a change. The twist? We did not have the funding to purchase new materials at the time and the semester started the following week.

Fortunately, there are a lot of free materials available for online. Some resources are completely free and others have free basic accounts. In the past, I have used Project Gutenberg, Newsela, Breaking News English, Voice of America, News in Levels, and TIME for Kids for supplementary reading materials. For younger learners, there is also Children’s Storybooks Online. Being able to find good resources for free can really help you stretch your budget while providing your students with access to a wide range of materials.

To finish my story, I discovered Project Gutenberg and, with the help of my colleagues, selected The Picture of Dorian Gray. That was many years ago; I am certain I would do things differently now. My thinking at the time was that the book was available in its entirety from Project Gutenberg for free, it is considered suitable high school reading material, and it is not terribly long. The semester, on the other hand, was very long, but students were up to the challenge and we managed. After that, we switched to The Glass Castle, which is far longer and not free, but that book has been a much better fit. The avid reader in me is thrilled that Project Gutenberg exists and I truly do hope to use it again in the future. For students and schools with limited resources, it is a treasure trove of classics.

When I taught at a high school in China, I used the articles available on TIME for Kids and Faze Magazine as free reading material. Students were able to choose topics that interested them and, as a result, were more motivated to read on their own. Although I am sure that everyone structures free-reading activities differently, the main purpose is to increase the amount that students read in English, and that can be a challenge when you have limited physical materials available to you. In China, I did not have a library full of English books that students could peruse, so I had them read a certain number of articles. They would choose articles from the websites and we would print them out. Their task was to create various types of questions about the articles they read. We would keep the student questions with each article so that if another student read the article, he/she would have questions to test comprehension and the additional challenge of thinking of less obvious questions. This also helped make a glossary for each article that students added to over time. It has been a long time since I have used free reading this way, but I may have to revisit it because it worked out well.

More recently, I have used Newsela, Breaking News English, Voice of America, and News in Levels to find short articles to supplement the content in our textbook. Between these four sites, I have been very successful at finding articles appropriate for various topics and many of them have content available at multiple levels, which makes differentiation far easier. The articles and their associated images have served primarily as introduction or extension activities, but I have also used them as primary reading materials in short-term classes that do not require any textbooks. Regardless of your intended use, I highly recommend these materials because the articles are so adaptable.

Someone somewhere might have an unlimited budget for the classroom, but I have yet to meet that person. Until funding issues become a thing of the past, turn to online resources to help you through. I cannot promise it will be without its challenges, but students need to read and this is one way you can provide them with the opportunity to do so.

Where do you find reading materials online? Share your secret by leaving a comment below.

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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