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Encouraging Extensive Reading
by Scott Shelton
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How to go about it

In my experience, it can be quite difficult to convince adult learners, in an EFL or ESL environment, with an already tight work and school schedule, to make the time to read if they do not already have the habit. Christine Nuttall (1996) rightly points out that teachers have to create the right conditions for reading to become a valued part of every student's life. They first have to ensure that attractive books are available and second, use every trick available they know to persuade students to 'get hooked on books'. If a school has a class library, and teachers purposely take their students into it and actively promote reading, the chances of people beginning to read are greatly improved. Nuttall offers an attractive acronym to aid teachers and administrators in putting together a collection of books to be made available:

SAVE. S for short. A for appealing. V for varied. And E for easy.

Four essentially important points to keep in mind if we want our readers to be successful and want to continue reading, which is the primary goal of any extensive reading program.

In line with a learner centered approach, a 'needs and interest' questionnaire could be circulated among the students of the school on a periodic basis in order to ensure that there are materials on offer to cover a wide range of interests and needs.

In order to keep up interest and encourage people to take reading seriously, time can be set up either in class or outside class time (as part of an extra-curricular 'conversation' class) to allow students to discuss what they are reading and promote interest in others to continue on. In my class survey mentioned earlier, by far the most popular method of choosing a book to read was by recommendation from a friend.

The teacher plays an important role model too. By bringing in books to share with the class and being seen with books he or she is seen as an active member of the classroom reading community and helps to promote reading as an expected norm. I always take my new classes into our school library and ensure that they know what is available and how to access the materials there. In a recent effort to promote learner autonomy, I have been stressing reading as an important tool, at the fingertips of every student, to be used as a complement to regular classroom attendance.

As well as student libraries, there is the immense resource of the Internet. In one of my advanced classes we have been focusing on reading and part of what we have been working with was the urban myth or legend. Daniel Linder (2001) points out, in an article on the subject, many good reasons for using them with learners. Among them are; short and neat plots, elements of humor and irony, being an active part of both the culture of English speaking countries as well as EFL countries, and they exist in almost any subject area. I was able to leave my class with several web sites dealing with urban legends at the end of the class in which we had listened to, read, and re-told a few examples of them. They all quickly copied them down. This is a good example of available out-of-class reading sources for most students world-wide.

What to read

As mentioned above, Urban legends are one possible genre and the Internet is one possible place to look for reading material. But if we are to take into account of what has been said on the subject of learners reading extensively, whatever they choose to read must be largely understandable to them to be able to afford any of the benefits that this sort of pleasurable reading can incur.

In their article on extensive reading, Bamford and Day (1997) make several interesting points to consider. As a result of the Communicative Language Teaching movement, authentic reading material for real communication has largely replaced the step by step, focus on form approach to reading that was commonplace in traditional language teaching and it was suggested that students should read authentic texts by and for native speakers.

Honeyfield (1977) demonstrated that artificial, simplified texts lacking features of authentic texts were less-than-useful preparation for students learning to read in the real world. This may well be true for developing reading skills in the classroom and analyzing functions of discourse, though have less to do with extensive reading purposes. Although extensive reading can be regarded as a communicative meaning-oriented approach in contrast to form oriented or translation approaches, it is pointed out, however, that it is the very communicative insistence on authentic text that makes extensive reading all but impossible for less than very advanced students. Perhaps the distinction between intensive and extensive reading and the purpose for which we are reading needs to be considered before we throw the balance too far in one direction when deciding on criteria for choosing a text. That would bring us to the question of just what makes "authentic" reading material authentic. Janet Swaffer offers an explanation:

"For purposes of the foreign language classroom, an authentic text… is one whose primary intent is to communicate meaning, In other words, such a text can be one which is written for native speakers of a language to be read by other native speakers…or it may be a text intended for a language learner group. The relevant consideration here is not for whom it is written but that there has been an authentic communicative objective in mind." (1985:17)

Bramford and Day (1997) go on to suggest that artificiality in texts that have been simplified occurs when the writer is more concerned with using particular words, or telling an entire story in the present perfect and less concerned with communication.

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