TESOL 2000 - Setting Up and Running
Extensive Reading Programs
R. Day, M. Helgesen, B. Mason, T. Robb, K. Schmidt
Friday, March 17, 2000
Incorporating Extensive Reading (ER) into a Course not Focused
Specifically on Reading
- Context: I employ ER as a supplement to my university English
Conversation courses in Japan.
- Why bring ER into a course not specifically focused on
- Skills and knowledge areas don't exist in isolation. A
greater knowledge of vocabulary, syntax and usage gained
through ER aids not only reading and writing, but listening and
speaking, as well.
- Reports by Elley (1991) and Gradman and Hanania (1991)
suggest with Krashen and Terrell (1983) that written input,
as well as aural input, can "contribute to a general
competence that underlies both spoken and written
performance" (Krashen and Terrell, 1983, p. 131).
- Gradman and Hanania (1991) conclude that it is "likely
that extensive outside reading helps to improve the level of
proficiency in a global sense, enhancing acquisition of
grammar, vocabulary, and rhetorical structure" (p. 45).
- ER can support course goals and classroom activities.
- ER can be a resource for communication in the classroom,
providing a whole new range of topics and ideas to share
beyond the confines of our own lives and experiences.
- Book discussions, reviews, book games, oral
For a number of examples, link
to the supplemental handout:
Classroom Activities for
- Books can provide points of entry to important topics
and themes (e.g., relationships, changes in society,
gender roles in society, stereotypes/prejudice,
definitions of success). My students often discuss these
in their written reports, and they come out in class as
we discuss the books we have read.
- Books can offer examples of language to be covered. At
Miyagi U., Japan, a "soap opera" novel set in a hospital
introduces nursing students to target language that will be
worked on in class. A reader of this type could be used for
the "class-reader" portion of an ER program.
- ER can be used to support content area courses,
especially courses on culture, society or literature. In
Japan, many college programs in English or International
Studies offer English-medium courses such as "Survey of
British Society & Culture," "Women in Society" and
"Third World Issues." Standard texts on such subjects can be
a real struggle for lower level learners of English. An ER
program based on a reading list of appropriate titles can be
a valuable component of such a course--helping students
develop background knowledge, explore important issues, and
build overall English abilities. Some possibilities: Jane
Austen's novels and the British class system, Achebe's works
and societal change in modern Africa, many works exploring
the place of women in society.
Of course, the more narrow or
technical the field, the fewer choices are available in
- ER programs can provide a rich source of extensive,
enjoyable, out-of-class language input without necessarily
consuming great amounts of class time. For example, in my
English Conversation courses, most of our in-class time is
spent on language and themes coming out of our course text. All
reading is done out of class, with occasional in-class
- Courses don't exist in isolation. They are typically parts
of a larger program with a common aim--helping students
increase their overall English ability and/or knowledge in
certain fields. ER programs might be employed in this or
that course, but the effects would hopefully be felt in
a variety of different contexts.
- If ER helps students become faster readers, the reading
teacher won't complain.
- If ER provides a background in the classics of English
Literature, students will be helped in following their
English Literature course.
- Clearly explaining the rationale for the program--both its
connection to specific course goals and its potential contribution
to broader skills and knowledge--can help students participate in
the program with confidence and purpose.
Materials for Extensive Reading (ER)
- Authentic vs. unauthentic (oops! I mean simplified/graded)
- Most educators seem to mean by "authentic" anything
written for an L1 audience. These materials are used in
language teaching "because they are considered interesting,
engaging, culturally enlightening, relevant, motivating, and
the best preparation for reading authentic texts" (Day &
Bamford; 1998, p. 54). Indeed, the term authentic at
times seems almost tied with concepts such as worthwhile,
- Day & Bamford (1998), however, draw on a number of
sources to make a strong case for a different definition of
authentic as material representing a genuine attempt
to communicate with the intended audience. Authors don't
write the same way for adults and children, although the hope
is that children will eventually be reading adult literature.
Similarly, it seems reasonable for an author writing for
language learners to do so at a level comprehensible to his/her
audience, with the well-founded hope that, in addition to being
informative and enjoyable in its own right, this literature
will be an aid in the language development of readers (Day
& Bamford, 1998; Nation, 1997; Paran, 1996). Just as
children's literature is recognized as authentic, doesn't it
make sense to allow for language learner literature as an
- To bring the point closer to home, imagine that you want to
write a letter containing a very important message to one of
your low-level students. Do you adapt your language to his
ability to comprehend, or do you write something at the level
of Newsweek magazine? Which would represent a genuine,
authentic attempt to communicate? Which might be in danger of
becoming little more than a linguistic exercise?
- An important point to stress here is that this is not an
either or situation. No one suggests that learners
should be satisfied with a perpetual diet of graded materials.
They are merely a bridge on the way toward accessing the
unlimited variety and utility of L1 literature. A number of my
higher level students reach the point where they are able to
appreciate and enjoy unsimplified works by writers from around
the world--to their pleasure and mine. Both kinds of
literature, in a whole range of levels would ideally be
available to students.
- Sources of materials.
- For information on graded materials, a good first step
might be the Edinburgh
Project for Extensive Reading (EPER)
<http://www.ials.ed.ac.uk/epermenu.html>. They can
provide a host of information on just about every graded reader
published, including quality ratings, reading (difficulty)
level, book length and more. Other resources are Extensive
Reading in the Second Language Classroom (Day &
Bamford, 1998), and the May, 1997 issue of JALT's The
Language Teacher V20, #5
particularly the article by David Hill (1997) from EPER, with a
guide to combining series from different publishers into an
integrated reading level system.
- Major publishers of graded materials are Oxford U. Press,
Macmillan-Heinemann, Penguin/Longman (Pearson), Cambridge U.
Press and Falcon, to name several of the more prominent.
- Children's and juvenile L1 literature may be well-suited
for many English learners (Krashen, 1993), and doesn't
necessarily come off as condescending to adults. It can be
helpful in having less technical vocabulary and making fewer
assumptions about general background knowledge. However, all
literature assumes some background, and I know from reading
with my children that great knowledge of, for example, school
practices, dating customs and current slang, may be assumed. If
looking for recommended young people's literature, you might
try these web sites: ALA
Resources for Parents, Teens and Kids
<http://www.amazon.com> or Scholastic
<http://www.scholastic.com>, which include
information on appropriate age/grade level. Tom Robb's list of
books recommended by his students at Kyoto Sangyo U. is also
available on the ER
- Don't neglect different kinds of materials, for
- Reading textbooks such as Jamestown Publishers' Critical
Reading Series. These are reading skills course books, but
they are also useful for extensive reading. Don't do the
exercises, just enjoy the fascinating articles.
- (In Japan) Japanese publishers reprint many unsimplified
famous works with helps in Japanese (chapter introductions
& summaries, glossaries, footnotes). These can be
particularly useful in making the transition from graded to
unsimplified literature. Many students tell me they use the
helps as needed and greatly appreciate them.
- SRA materials
<http://www.sra4kids.com/> are successfully used
in some ER programs, especially for in-class reading
& Susser, 1989).
- Magazines and newspapers targeting an English learner
audience, such as New
English Digest <http://www.learning-bug.com>
or the Mainichi
can be subscribed to as a class or by individual students.
Publications for an L1 audience, such as Reader's
Digest (Japanese friends report that much of it is quite
accessible) can also add helpful variety to a program.
- Obtaining/paying for materials.
- Students pitch in $5 to $10 dollars a year. This can be
done informally or formalized as part of the materials fee or
- Each student purchases one or two books, and these are then
shared around the class over the course of the term.
- Support from school administration or academic
- Support from school library, self-access lab, etc.
- Materials can often be bought quite cheaply at library
sales or second hand shops.
- Apply for volume discounts from distributors.
- General Principals and Comments.
- Appropriacy. The main issue is not L1 literature
(authentic) vs. language learner literature
(graded/simplified); the issue is one of appropriacy for our
students and goals:
- This is extensive reading. What are my
students capable of reading extensively--in large
- From a processing point of view--materials students
are able to decode and comprehend efficiently enough to
read significant numbers of pages per hour.
- From a motivational point of view--materials learners
can read with enough interest, enjoyment and success to
spur maximal reading.
- Appropriate variety is also key. Learners need a good
range of materials, both in content/genre and reading
- Materials in a class library must allow for learners'
present levels, as well as their future attainment
- A good range of content and genre is needed to allow
for widely varying student tastes. Some of my students
are dedicated to particular genres (e.g., science
fiction), while a few others consider any fiction a
complete waste of time.
- A well told, interesting story takes precedence over
slavery to overly restrictive linguistic guidelines. Poorly
written works hurt the reputation of any body of literature,
and this has unfortunately been the case at times with
graded readers. Fortunately, however, there are many good to
excellent titles available.
- Many simplified retellings are good reads, but be
careful with versions of novels and movies that are simply
play-by-play summaries of the originals; event and character
density can be so high as to make them almost
incomprehensible (Hill, 1997). However, some of my students
who have previously seen the movie or read a Japanese
translation report being very satisfied, and these titles
can be quite popular. Consider using a warning label: "Best
if you already know the story."
- Sturdily constructed books last for more than a few
readings and protect your investment.
Reading on the WWW
- With increasing availability of computer lab facilities and
more and more students going online from home, reading on the web
can become a useful supplement to an extensive reading
- At TESOL99 I tried to give a reasonable summary of what was
available in the way of simplified/simple/sheltered materials
designed for English learners on the web. That still has some very
useful links and is available from TESL-EJ
(Schmidt, 1999) and can also be reached through the
- This year, though, that is no longer practical. A wealth of
new material has come online, more than I can keep up with.
- There is also a great deal of material intended for young, L1
readers that can be appropriate, even for adult English
- In light of the amount of material continually coming on- and
off-line, instead of trying to keep up with everything on your
own, I recommend a two-pronged approach:
- 1. On your web site, point students toward the
reading areas of established TEFL/TESL and young people's link
- 2. The tens, hundreds, even thousands of sites
available through link and search sites can be overwhelming.
Students might just give up; they might try a few unprofitable
things and give up; they might surf, surf, surf, and never stay
at one site long enough to actually read anything. Some
students, though, will thrive on finding new things and
exploring them in depth. Others may need more support, so I
also recommend keeping a personal list of favorites--sites you
know can offer a positive reading experience to a large number
of your students. Have links to these on your site and be sure
they work. Don't worry about having everything; these are just
a few for people who want to be guided and be sure of finding
Day, R. R., & Bamford, J. (1998). Extensive reading in the
second language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Ken Schmidt -
Tohoku Bunka Gakuen University, Sendai, Japan
Elley, W. (1991). Acquiring literacy in a second language: The effect
of book-based programs. Language Learning, 41 , 375-411.
Gradman, H. L., & Hanania, E. (1991). Language learning
background factors and ESL proficiency. Modern Language Journal,
75 (1), 39-51.
Hill, D. R. (1997). Graded (basal) readers--Choosing the best. The
Language Teacher, 21 (5), 21-26.
Krashen, S. (1993). The power of reading: Insights from the
research. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. Go
Krashen, S., & Terrell, T. D. (1983). The natural
approach. Oxford: Pergamon/Alemany.
Nation, P. (1997). The language learning benefits of extensive
reading. The Language Teacher, 21 (5), 13-16. Go
Paran, A. (1996). Reading in EFL: Facts and fictions. ELT Journal,
50 (1), 25-34.
Robb, T., & Susser, B. (1989). Extensive reading vs. skills
building in an EFL context. Reading in a Foreign Language, 5
(2), 239-251. Go
Schmidt, K. (1999). Online extensive reading opportunities for
lower-level learners of EFL/ESL. TESL-EJ, 4 (1). Go
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