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Visualisation and the Implications for Writing Extensive Readers
by Jo Appleton
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Steps taken in the Action -Research

The hypothesis:
'Extensive readers written in a particular genre can encourage visualisation'.

The pedagogic aims:
1. Extensive readers written in a particular genre will encourage visualisation
2. Extensive readers that use visualisation will increase the motivation for extensive reading.

Action research aims:
1. To find out how suitable 'Jungle Fever' is as an extensive reader for young adults at a pre -intermediate or intermediate level in the UK.
2. To help learners relate reading strategies in their L1 to L2.

The research project was conducted through the use of questionnaires and a mini-lesson. There were 3 stages to be followed one after the other beginning with Questionnaire 1, a mini-lesson and Questionnaire 2.

A Summary of Discoveries

Various discoveries were made from the research, but I will restrict the discussion to the areas of motivation, visualisation, and genre.

When asked the question, 'Do you enjoy reading in English?' the majority of learners had a neutral response to reading. Comments gave the idea that learners are very word bound by texts and therefore may lack motivation to read extensively.

When asked 'Which of these do you think is most useful when reading a story? Why?' Visualise (create pictures in your mind), Talk to yourself, Mouth the words, Translate, Follow the words with a pen, other, 30 learners said visualisation. This was reinforced by comments such as:

"Creating a play in your mind makes it easier to understand and follow". "It's like creating a picture is as if your are watching a film".

As suggested by Tomlinson, 98% of people visualise when reading in their L1. However, Tomlinson (1997) also suggests that most L2 learners do not automatically transfer their visualisation skills from the L1 when reading a text in their L2. However, my data contradicts this claim. In fact, it demonstrates that 100% of learners visualised in their L2 when reading this story 'Jungle Fever'. So, why is this so? It may be because the learner's minds were activated for visualisation with the readiness activities before listening to the text. Or it may be because the learners were already aware through their own learning and their teachers that visualisation can be an important tool. I feel that the learners were in some way influenced to use their visualisation skills but it is difficult to prove at this stage how and when this happened.

After reading a short section of 'Jungle Fever' the learners were asked to think about reading strategies they used. Again, 26 out of 30 learners said used visualisation techniques. Learners were also asked to think about the genre used in the story.

The results encouragingly revealed that email and diary genre are both popular choices. The learners' comments go on to reaffirm this. For example, "Emails are a good communication tool"; " I think a diary is more personal and we can see real feelings".

However, it was surprising to see that diary format was more popular than email. I had thought reading emails would be more popular.

Another question aimed to find out about learner's motivation for continued reading. They were asked if they would like to read more of 'Jungle Fever'.

The data clearly showed that learners would like to read more of the story 'Jungle Fever' with only a few objections. Motivation could therefore be linked to the genre, topic, plot, characters and accessibility of the writing to the learner corroborating other data collected in this research and supported by these comments:

"I want to know what happens".
" I would be great to read the whole story".
" The story leaves the space for the reader to imagine".

Response to the Action Research Process

The limitations of this research project are various. Firstly, a relatively small number of learners were involved. Secondly, there was limited time available to carry out this research project and a controlled amount of time language teachers could spend on this project. The questionnaires and mini-lesson had to be slotted into the teaching programme as a one- off, as and when the timetable allowed. Finally, the teachers themselves varied in beliefs, background and experience. More extensive research is therefore felt necessary in different locations for more detailed and reliable results.

Reactions to research

On a personal level, I was pleased with the data gathered and encouraged by their comments. I was even surprised by requests from teachers for more of the story for their learners to read.
The teachers were also given a questionnaire to complete. These have proved to be an invaluable source of ideas, comments, suggestions and observations from a different perspective.

Teacher's comments:

"I think the students related well to the theme of the story: young people going off on an adventurous trip - it's what they're doing themselves after all"
" As the students wanted to read it, it's the right sort of thing to motivate them".


The results from this action research reveal that learners reading in their L2 can and do visualise when reading extended texts. Providing that they are given prior exposure to visualisation in the form of pre-reading visualisation tasks or awareness raising activities. Through this learners may in turn become more motivated to read.

This then has important implications for materials writers and teachers in language learning. When we write readers and then introduce readers to learners in class we should encourage visualisation by the use of the following:

1. Topic
2. Genre
3. Tasks
4. Awareness-Raising Activities

The topics of readers available to the learners need to be of personal interest to them. It is important as teachers to find out what they enjoy reading in their L1 in order to provide suitable books for them. As writers we need to think of the literature available to learners in their L1 and then to try to provide either something similar or something very different that they may not have come across before. The majority of learners who took part in the action research were all happy to read about culture, cultural problems, romance, travel and adventure.

Readers using genres that provide a familiar and interesting angle to a story should be encouraged. These can help learners to relax making them more receptive to learning. The genres of diary and email style also lend themselves to a deeper insight into the characters, their attitudes and emotions. Many people gain more from this type of reading and can relate or compare it to personal experiences. This therefore can make reading more 'visualisation friendly'.

Pre-reading, whilst-reading or post-reading tasks can also lend themselves to visualisation. Tasks could be: A story begun in pictures, continued in words, continued further in pictures and ended in words (Tomlinson 1997); drawing tasks; shared writing tasks; physical activities; communication tasks about the topic, genre, culture involved; reading stories of which a version has already been experienced through watching a video or acting it out. (Tomlinson 1997).

Awareness-raising activities could be ones that provide learners with reasons why visualisation can help them. This can involve direct information, guidance and advice given to learners to help them to use visualisation effectively.

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