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Extensive Reading and Listening

Massive language practice

January 07, 2010

Types of ER

Happy New Year to you all.

On my travels, I often hear people apologize for not doing Extensive Reading (ER) ‘properly’. They say things like, ‘Well, I only have all my students to read the same book …’, or ‘I do lots of follow up questions, I know it’s not what I should be doing …’ (my italics), and so forth.

Let’s be clear, Extensive Reading is not just one thing. Extensive Reading is about building reading speed and fluency so the students can build a sense of how the language works while enjoying their reading (or listening). In order for this fast fluent reading to happen, there are some minimum conditions that need to be met. The students have to READ:

Read quickly and …
Enjoyably knowing …
Almost all the language so they …
Don’t need a dictionary.

If one of these is missing, then the students might be reading slowly because the text is too hard which means they stop reading for communication (i.e. understanding the message), but read to understand the language itself – the words the grammar and so forth. In other words they are ‘study reading’ not READing.

The following four versions all require the students to READ the material for them to be labeled types of ER. All of which are legitimate forms of ER.

‘Purist ER’
This version of ER involves the students only in READing massive amounts of self-selected comprehensible input at their own pace with no tests, and little if any follow-up work.

‘Integrated ER’
This flavor of ER exists as part of an existing class or curriculum whereby students would probably READ their self-selected materials but may follow this up with discussions, reports or do other follow up class work all with the aim of building the four skills.

“Class reader ER’
In this mode, all the students READ the same book and work though it slowly, often over a period of weeks stopping to predict, check comprehension and discuss the story. Often there is some language work developing vocabulary, reading skills and grammar.

‘ER as literature’
Here, students READ the same book usually slowly and treat it as a work of literature examining the plot, character and various literary aspects of the book.

Thus we can see there is no one type of ER provided that the 4 READ conditions are met when they actually are reading. If we wish to see ER grow, then it’s important to understand that not all curriculums have the same focus, the same amount of time, or the same commitment to ER. And that’s fine. There may be curricula, resource, staffing, or budgetary constraints which only allow for a limited ER program.

Moreover, not all programs wish to adopt ER across all their classes but prefer to provide different types of ER to meet various student needs. Therefore, it behooves us to be aware of these types so we can select the most appropriate flavor of ER which would best suit our program’s needs, or those of others.

I’ve seen many times practitioners suggest ER to others only within their own view of ER and incorrectly assuming that type is the one or only type of ER. However, if this type doesn’t match the needs of the program where it might be adopted, then it is doomed to low use, or even failure. Therefore, when helping others develop an ER program, we have to be aware of the program’s needs, their budget, their long term aims, the amount of time available, the program size, their library facilities and so on. Knowing these things can help people select the right flavor of Extensive Reading that suits their program.

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Thanks, Rob, for the article.
I really like the acronym READ, especially as it's something that can easily be shared with learners.

After asking my learners about what they read in English (to which they often only say 'the textbook' - and that's been true in several different contexts), I ask my learners if they've seen or heard of grader readers and/or extensive reading or tadoku (多読). Next I ask them how they choose their books, especially for the minority who read graded readers. This then provides a good starting point from which I then share the following (if not already mentioned by the students):

1) Choose books that look INTERESTING and are EASY to read.
2) Try READ one or two pages to check. Change the book if it is too hard or not interesting.
3) Read books with (a) 100% known words - focus on fluency, or (b) 98% known words - so you can guess new words.*
4) No dictionary needed (although some words maybe in the glossary at the back of the book)

*I also point out that less than 95% known words can be difficult even for native speakers! This is often an eye-opener but it might be interesting and more effective to take a Japanese newspaper article and blank out 1 in every 20 words. Just a thought...

thank's rob. now I know what should I do in teaching my students.



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