Saturday 14 April 2012

Extensive Reading – An #ELTchat

This is a summary of the #eltchat which took place at 12 noon BST on Wednesday 11th April, 2012.  The full title of the chat was:

How can we introduce, implement and evaluate an extensive reading programme and convince administrators of its value?

The chat was, as usual, expertly moderated by @Marisa_C and @Shaunwilden.
I voted for this topic and was particularly interested in taking part in the chat because I am currently trying to set up an ER programme for a course I am coordinating at my university.  As always, I picked up lots of useful ideas and links to articles for further reading.
What is ER?
Extensive reading involves students reading long texts or large quantities of texts for general understanding, with the intention of enjoying the texts.

Using graded readers
I am going to try using graded readers, one chapter at a time, in our Edmodo online classroom and was keen to get ideas and feedback from my PLN.  The consensus was that graded readers are a good choice when launching a reading programme, but there was a difference of opinion as to whether you should have a class reader or whether students should be allowed to choose their own titles.  I intend to start with a class reader in the hope that students will then be inspired to read more, an idea supported by @Marisa_C.  As was pointed out, though, the trick is to find something that suits the whole class. 
@Books4English suggested that the best low level reader is Penguin K's first case by L.G. Alexander, a whodunnit with suspect interviews.
Graded readers are good because it is easy to the organise materials by level. This is particularly important at the beginning of an ER programme when getting the right level is crucial to its success.
It was pointed out by @daveclearycz that, whilst there are excellent alternatives to graded readers, these can be hard to source, although @cioccas told us that she often prefers using children's books, such as titles by Roald Dahl.  Obviously, it is easier to use original adult texts with higher level students.  Alternatively, you could write your own level-appropriate material!
Ways to implement an ER programme
  • Use class libraries - whether with graded readers or other texts, the disadvantage here is the start-up cost, though if considered a long-term investment, the cost is negligible.
  • If no library is available, a class box can be equally worthwhile.
  • Have a dedicated reading class or book club - students read their text and then meet to discuss and do language and skills work.
  • Have reading stations, as a follow-up to reading a novel, with short texts (for example, comics) related to the main theme.
  • Have a class blog or wiki with links to articles about the reading material.  Use it as a platform for written book reviews which generate interest in the texts, give writing practice and build a reading community.  These reviews could also be recorded as interviews as a pairwork speaking activity or collected in a binder for use with future classes.
  • @cioccas suggested that, instead of having a formal ER programme, it might be just as effective to talk to individual students about favourite books that you think they might be interested in and able to manage.
  • Have a swap programme where students exchange books after reading them.
  • Have a silent reading programme in class time - for example, 15 minutes where students just read - either the class text or something of their own choice.  By doing this, students really get the message that reading is important.  On the other hand, though, 'forcing' students to read like this might actually demotivate them.  Also, @Shaunwilden suggested that class time should be used to encourage reading, but not necessarily to do the actual reading.  Reading can be done at home - class time should be for talking.  @reasons4 told us that if his Czech teacher did this, he'd complain!
  • You could have the students listening to the text whilst reading.  Although not strictly an ER programme, it might encourage reluctant readers, especially if it is a text which lends itself to evocative sound effects or if the story is read by a famous name (Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter or Tony Robinson reading Terry Pratchett books, for example) .  It might help dyslexic students in particular.  It could, though, turn students into slow, voice-dependent readers.
  • Use the set texts with Cambridge ESOL exam students.
  • Have a lot of short articles available for students to read - they read as many as they can and fill in a form about them.
  • Use blogs or RSS readers as an alternative, non-fiction ER programme.
  • A suggestion from @llea_dias - set up a Facebook group where students post as characters from a book they are all reading.
Why should we use ER in our teaching?
  • It's the best way for students to consolidate their grammar.
  • It's the best way to acquire vocabulary.
  • It's a great way to access the wider world of English.
  • It accelerates students' progress in second language acquisition.
Overcoming problems
The main problem when trying to introduce an ER programme was felt to be the reluctance by some students to get involved.  If students don't enjoy reading in their L1, they are unlikely to be engaged in reading in English.  Whilst teachers generally agreed on the benefits of ER, we had to accept that it cannot be forced on our students.  We can lead the horses to water, but we cannot make them drink!  @hartle suggested giving students a choice between listening and reading projects.  In her experience, most students choose listening, but some opt for the reading.  @Marisa_C proposed giving some incentive, especially for YLs or teens - a chart with prizes, for example.  Engaging pre- and post-reading tasks, such as giving presentations on what they have read, also help to motivate students to read, as does allowing them to change texts if they are not enjoying what they're reading.  Dramatising scenes from a story or book can be engaging and might also help with pronunciation and intonation.
A success story to finish
Gentle persuasion might work on even the most reluctant readers, though!  @kevchanwow told us about a student who read her first book in any language only two months ago and is now an avid reader.  She started at level 1 (400 headwords) and is already reading level 3 (1000 headwords).  For her, it was all about confidence!

Suggested by @Marisa_C:
Other links:


  1. i missed this chat so glad to read a great summary of it.
    i recently discovered this site, which could be a novel way of getting some ideas about books to read for students?

  2. Thank you for reading and for commenting!
    The Small Demons site looks really interesting - thanks for the link!

  3. Hi Andrea, thx for an excellent summary. I also voted for ER, but missed it due to some technical problems. I really enjoyed reading the post and what I liked the most is PLN sharing lots of excellent websites. I usually try to do 1 or 2 ER during the year. Have both pre-reading and post reading activities, and I know my school collegue motivates students to read for an extra grade by also having a presentation of the book to the rest of the class, something also suggested by Marisa, I think. So, there are ways, we just need to find them and see what works for our classes. :)

  4. Thanks for the comment, Marijana - I completely agree with you! I hope to report back here about the success or otherwise of the ER programme I'm trying to implement.

  5. Thank you for the useful summary Andrea and I wonder if I could ask anyone reading this for a favour? I'm actually doing some research about the barriers to extensive reading programmes for my Trinity Diploma and I'd love your opinion. The survey takes about 5 mins. Thank you!