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Encouraging Extensive Reading
by Scott Shelton
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The quality of adapted Readers or books written for language learners has improved in recent times and it is suggested that this is a genre in its own right deserving to be called language learner literature, just as there is children's literature and young adult literature. Brown (2000) cites 1,400 graded reader titles that are currently in print (EPER 1998) and suggests that fiction rather than non-fiction titles are superior for several reasons. The primary one being that non-fiction is generally harder to read than narrative intermixed with dialogue. Knowledge of the world presented in fiction is shared across cultures and there are a variety of settings so no two stories are the same. Reading fiction at the right level of difficulty does not require a high level of concentration so books can be read on the bus, the train, the park or in bed.

In my recent class survey, the great majority of students who were asked where they read, answered: on public transport, in bed, at work, in the park or in the bathroom. I would agree with the idea that the type of text chosen for intensive reading and subsequent skills work and the kind of text chosen for extensive, pleasurable reading should normally be quite different if we are to keep our students' needs and our aims in clear perspective.

As Brown (2000) asserts,

" If language learner literature is available in the language you teach, it is the most appropriate material for extensive reading by beginning and intermediate learners. It is important to differentiate extensive reading from other pedagogic aims, for example teaching students to cope with text that is above their linguistic level. In order for extensive reading to do its work - build automaticity of word recognition, build vocabulary knowledge and develop positive attitudes toward reading the reading material must be well within the students' linguistic ability."

The role of the classroom

Although reading extensively for pleasure is commonly considered an activity to be engaged in outside of the classroom, there is much to be done inside the classroom as well. Firstly, if students really do have a problem finding time outside of class to read, a specific period of time can be put aside for reading silently in class-for example, half an hour once a week to start with. This in turn may provoke enough interest in whatever they are reading to find time out of class to continue reading on their own. Christine Nuttall (1996) gives some other ideas for the classroom:

"The teacher may read aloud, stopping the story at a tantalizing point. Then encourage the class to speculate about what happens next and encourage them to read on by themselves. Buy cassette recordings of some graded readers and play parts of them in class (or make your own recordings!). Promote discussion of the practical or ethical problems faced by people in the books."

Other ideas which I have tried are: setting up pairs or groups to share what they are reading, thus integrating speaking and listening skills as well as promoting reading. Someone might become interested in what another person is reading and want to read it next or leave off what they are reading and start that one. Another idea is to have students take on roles of characters in the story and write a letter to one of the other characters in the story, thereby creating an authentic reason for both reading and writing.

As well as integrating other skills with reading, the classroom can also be used to hold regular conferencing between teacher and student as an additional spoke in the motivational wheel. The teacher reading aloud in class has proved popular in classrooms. In the article, Extensive Reading: Why and How? Bell makes reference to the British Council's reading project in Yemen and champions reading aloud, asserting that is should play a full part in motivating the emerging reader to overcome the fear of decoding words in an unfamiliar script. (Bell 1998) He states that the model of pronunciation provided acted as a great motivator, students gained confidence in silent reading because they were able to verbalize sounds they previously could not recognize and this resulted in wider reading by some of the weaker readers in the class. Student presentations on books read was also noted as playing a crucial role in the program and the subsequent oral work in class for exchanging information was valued by the students.

I find that by using class time to involve students in tasks that refer to their reading out of class is motivating in two senses. One, if a student has not read anything, they can a least participate in the discussion or comments by listening and might be motivated to read more in the future in order to have something to add. By setting aside class time for activities related to reading, students will take it more seriously and consider it a worthwhile activity. In the future, I plan to continue encouraging extensive reading for all of my classes and spend more class time dedicated to raising awareness of the potential there. I have got a trip to the school library planned for the very near future.

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