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Submitted by Alan Maley on 8 December, 2009 - 14:41 In this, the first of two articles for TeachingEnglish, Alan Maley considers the benefits extensive reading can bring to English language learners and teachers.
What is Extensive Reading (ER)?
Extensive Reading is often referred to but it is worth checking on what it actually involves. Richard Day has provided a list of key characteristics of ER (Day 2002). This is complemented by Philip Prowse (2002). Maley (2008) deals with ER comprehensively. The following is a digest of the two lists of factors or principles for successful ER: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. Students read a lot and read often. There is a wide variety of text types and topics to choose from. The texts are not just interesting: they are engaging/ compelling. Students choose what to read. Reading purposes focus on: pleasure, information and general understanding. Reading is its own reward. There are no tests, no exercises, no questions and no dictionaries. Materials are within the language competence of the students. Reading is individual, and silent. Speed is faster, not deliberate and slow. The teacher explains the goals and procedures clearly, then monitors and guides the students. 12. The teacher is a role model…a reader, who participates along with the student s. The model is very much like that for L1 reading proposed by Atwell (2006). It has been variously described as Free Voluntary Reading (FEVER), Uninterrupted Silent Reading (USR), Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), or Positive Outcomes While Enjoying Reading (POWER).
So what are the benefits of ER?
Both common sense observation and copious research evidence bear out the many benefits which come from ER (Waring 2000, 2006). There are useful summaries of the evidence in Day and Bamford (1998: 32-39) and The Special Issue of The Language Teacher (1997) including articles by Paul Nation and others, and passionate advocacy in Krashen’s The Power of Reading. (2004). The journals Reading in a Foreign Language and the International Journal of Foreign Language Learning are also good sources of research studies supporting ER. (see references for websites) And there is the indispensable annotated bibliography, http://www.extensivereading.net/er/biblio2.html So what does it all add up to? ER develops learner autonomy. There is no cheaper or more effective way to develop learner autonomy. Reading is, by its very nature, a private, individual activity. It can be done anywhere, at any time of day. Readers can start and stop at will, and read at the speed they are comfortable with. They can visualise and interpret what they read in their own way. They can ask themselves questions (explicit or implicit), notice things about the language, or simply let the story carry them along. ER offers Comprehensible Input. Reading is the most readily available form of comprehensible input, especially in places where there is hardly any contact with the target language. If carefully chosen to suit learners’ level, it offers them repeated encounters with language items they have already
ER creates and sustains motivation to read more. the better we write. There is a well-established link between reading and writing. There is ‘a spread of effect from reading competence to other language skills ~ writing. speaking and control over syntax. as we read successfully in the foreign language. if not most. By presenting items in context. the answers came down to these: a) Insufficient time.met. c) Reading materials not available. world knowledge. (Moses) So why don’t teachers use ER more often? A good question. It is this that fuels the compulsion to read the next Harry Potter. Vocabulary is not learned by a single exposure. (Hoey 2005). The effect on self-esteem and motivation of reading one’s first book in the foreign language is undeniable. students have a rather limited experience and knowledge of the world they inhabit both cognitively and affectively. Nation and Wang 1999. through reading.success leading to success . 2005) also gives powerful support to the effect of multiple exposure to language items in context. So reading copiously seems to benefit all language skills. The only reliable way to learn a language is through massive and repeated exposure to it in context: precisely what ER provides. ER helps improve writing. In ways we so far do not fully understand. Basically. so we are encouraged to read more. ER extends. not just reading. ER allows for multiple encounters with words and phrases in context thus making possible the progressive accretion of meanings to them. not merely interesting. b) Too costly. This educational function of ER cannot be emphasised enough. This helps them to consolidate what they already know and to extend it. It is what Krashen calls a ‘home run’ book : ‘my first’! This relates back to the point at the beginning of the need to find ‘compelling’. There have been many studies of vocabulary acquisition from ER (Day et al 1991. When I conducted an inquiry among teachers worldwide. . 2006). ER helps develop general. Pigada and Schmitt. reading material. consolidates and sustains vocabulary growth. The virtuous circle . There is no way any learner will meet new language enough times to learn it in the limited number of hours in class.ensures that. the benefits of ER extend beyond reading. more often. our language acquisition mechanism is primed to produce it in writing or speech when it is needed. It also explains the relatively new trend in graded readers toward original and more compelling subject matter. the more we read. ER opens windows on the world seen through different eyes.’ (Elley 1991) The same phenomenon is noted by Day and Bamford (1998: 32-39) but they even note evidence of improvements in the spoken language. ER enhances general language competence. Michael Hoey’s theory of ‘lexical priming’ (Hoey 1991. Many. Exactly how this happens is still not understood (Kroll 2003) but the fact that it happens is well-documented (Hafiz and Tudor 1989) Commonsense would indicate that as we meet more language. it also makes the deduction of meaning of unknown items easier.
(2004) Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language. while still retaining our individual take on the texts and the world. Julian and Richard Day. who find it impossible to stop teaching and to allow learning to take place.laden English or who only read professional literature? Regular wide reading can add zest and pleasure to our own use of the language. passionate. For the sake of our students too. Nancie. g) Resistance from teachers. was not mentioned. Its effects spread more by infection than by direct injection. Atwell. promiscuously and associatively is good for teacher. Individuals form associative networks among the books they read. habitual. f) Downward pressure on teachers to conform to syllabi and textbooks. how much more true for teachers. The ‘non-reader’ issue will not go away but it is too important to deal with here and needs a separate article. and Ferradas Moi (2008) and some interesting reflections in Johnson (2006). There is work on the non-linear reading required by Internet users in Murray and Macpherson (2005). . So much of what we learn is learned subconsciously. Teachers who show that they read widely are models for their students. who risk infection by exposure to so much restricted and error . and articles on hypermedia by Richards (2000). It also helps teachers to keep their own use of English fresh. the elephant in the room: the Internet culture of young people.both for our students and ourselves Read on!. Extensive Reading for Teachers My contention is that reading extensively. (Krashen 2004) If this is true for learners. the books we read outside our narrow professional field can have an unpredictable effect on our practice within it. This gives us a rich mental yeast which we can use to interact with others. both about their profession and about the world. And it is highly individual. This results in a kind of personal intertextuality. As we saw. and for personal development. e) Lack of understanding of ER and its benefits. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ‘The idea of the teacher having to be someone who is constantly developing and growing as a whole human being as a prerequisite for being able to truly help his or her pupils to be able to do the same. the research on language learner reading shows how extensive reading feeds into improvements in all areas of language competence. New York: Scholastic Bamford. This makes them more interesting to be around – and students generally like their teachers to be interesting people. References. For our own sanity we need to read outside the language teaching ghetto. So Extensive Reading has a lot to offer . Furthermore. critical readers. is such a core truth of teaching. (2006) The Reading Zone: how to help kids become skilled. (Peter Lutzker) ER helps teachers to be better informed.d) ER not linked to the syllabus and the examination. Oddly. We often tell students to ‘read more’ but why should they read if we do not? Teachers who are readers are more likely to have students who read too. where the patterns form and re-form as we read more different books. yet it is typically ignored in FLT.
Portsmouth.com www. New York: Riverhead.net/er/whatis. (2002) ‘Top Ten Principles for teaching extensive reading. 7 (2) Day.(1998) Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom. R . Richard. London/New York: Continuum pp133-156. W. Rob (2000) The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Using Graded Readers. Cameron (2000) ‘Hypermedia.’ Reading in a Foreign Language.’ Language Teaching and Technology.jp/teachers/tebiki/tebiki. R and Bamford.edu/rfl/ . P.Tomlinson (ed) (2003) Developing Materials for Language Teaching.M and Tudor. Richard.extensivereading.org/elt/readers/prowse 1. Denise and Pamela McPherson (eds) (2005) Navigating to Read – Reading to Navigate. (2003) ‘Hyperfiction: Explorations in Texture’ in B.) 59-77. NH: Heinemann.htm (accessed 4 April 2007) Prowse. Internet communication and the challenge of re defining literacy in the electronic age. Japan. Teaching in Action (series) Sydney: NCELTR.hawaii. (1989) ‘Extensive reading and the development of language skills. Paul and Wang Ming-Tzu. Motoo.co.net/er/biblio2. Oxford University Press. Richard. 18 (1) Prowse. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tomlinson (ed) English Language Learning Materials: a critical review. Michael (2005) Lexical Priming. Hoey. ‘What is the secret of extensive reading?’ http://www. Ken Lower level Extensive reading Opportunities for Lower-level Learners of EFL/ESL.com http://ijflt. Moses. Stephen (2nd edition. (free publication accessible on www. Barbara (ed) (2003) Exploring the Dynamics of Second Language Writing. Claudia. 375-411 Ferradas Moi. I. Carole. Alan (2008) ‘Extensive Reading: Maid in Waiting’ in B.nflrc. Karen (1999) ‘Graded readers and vocabulary. McQuarie University Nation.org/ej13/int.shtml) Waring. R. Paul (1997) ‘The language teaching benefits of extensive reading. Omura. Scmidtt. Murray.extensivereading.’ The Language Teacher. 41. on http://tesl-ej. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (2002) ‘Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading: a response.html http://sdkrashen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Antoinette. 14 (2) Day.: Chapter 10 Reading and Writing Relations. 21 (5) Nation.’ Reading in a Foreign Language. Maria and Norbert Schmitt (2006) ‘Vocabulary acquisition for extensive reading. New York: Cambridge University Press. F.oupjapan. Steven (2006) Everything Bad is Good for You. The Language Teacher 30 (7): 44-47 Useful Websites http://www.’ Language Learning. Kroll. Philip.’ ELT Journal 43 (1) 4-13 Hoey. Michael (1991) Patterns of Lexis in Texts. 2004 ) The Power of Reading: insights from the research. Maley. 12 (2) Pigada.html Waring.B (1991) ‘Acquiring literacy in a second language: the effect of book-based programmes.’ Reading in a Foreign Language. Rob (2006) ‘Why Extensive Reading should be an indispensable part of all language programmes’.’ Reading in a Foreign Language. Krashen. (1991) ‘Incidental EFL vocabulary learning and reading. Hiramatsu. Elley. Day.html http://www.’ Reading in a Foreign Language. 14 (2) Richards. pp 221-233 Hafiz. (2004) Jojo’s Story. Julian. 4 (2.cambridge. London: Routledge Johnson. London/New York: Continuum.
org/articles/art_index.asp?HREF .extensivereading.readingonline.erfoundation.http://www.net www.org http://www.
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