Extensive reading in theory and in practice (Modern English Teacher, January 2015)

Extensive Reading in Theory and PracticeMy school has had a extensive reading program since 2009 (which I realise is not all that long).  We dedicate 3 hours of classroom time a week to reading and extension activities, although we primarily try to use a vast majority of the time for just plain old reading.  Still, over the course of a high school student’s three years in our International Program, there are moments–or strings of moments which sometimes threaten to turn into days–where a student just doesn’t feel like reading.  They can’t seem to find the right book, they can’t concentrate or finish a book when they do find one they are interested in, and the walk from their desk to the bookshelves looks oh so far.

Over the course of the past few years, when there just seems to be a general malaise during an ER session, I will sometimes (but not very often), try and do something to let the air and sunlight back into the room again so reading feels fresh.  Asking students to set 2 or 3 of their favourite books around the room and going for a “Book Stroll” with a partner can often help students connect with each other and with the books around the room.  Just encourage the students to pick up a book, leaf through it, talk with their partner about if they think it’s interesting or not.  It’s a small 10 minute activity which can have a large impact on how students feel about reading.

In general though, I try not to push students into reading.  They will have their moments when they don’t want to read.  But so do I.  And for the most part I would like to honour how they feel.  Knowing that they aren’t always in the mood to read, but giving it a shot anyway, is, I think, also part of becoming a reader.  But like the “Book Stroll,” I do have a few activities I use to try and energise students about reading as well as a handful of other activities I use to help build a sense of a reading community in the program.  One of my favourites is, “Did you read it or not?”  Which is pretty much exactly what the name implies.  A student picks a book off the bookshelf (It can be a book they have read or not). They give a short summary of the book and the other students can ask up to three questions. The class has to figure out if the student who introduced the book has actually read it or not.  Students learn what books other people in the class are reading and at the same time, in a light hearted game-tastic kind of way, students also get a chance to show off their knowledge of the books that they have read…or their skills at lying.

A lot of the activities I use I came up with during moments of blind panic; a kind of oh-my-god-ER-is-drying-and-is-never-going-to-work-again-in-this-class feeling.  I don’t have those feelings so much anymore.  But I do have a notebook of activities that I first tried at those times and I had a chance to share some of the ones I still use in an article I cowrote with Phil Keegan for Modern English Teacher.    The magazine has been kind enough to let me put up a PDF of the article here:

MET Jan15 Keegan_Stein.

Extensive Reading in Theory and Practice

And while I find myself letting my students simply read for longer and longer periods of time in my Extensive Reading sessions, once in a while these types of extension activities are exactly what my students want to do.  Because even the highly personal and private act of reading a book sometimes leaves us overflowing with joy or sadness or even just a clever idea that we would like nothing more than to share with the person sitting right besides us.


7 thoughts on “Extensive reading in theory and in practice (Modern English Teacher, January 2015)

  1. Pingback: Extensive reading in theory and in practice (Modern English Teacher, January 2014) | Evelyn Izquierdo

    • Thank you Steven,

      Nice to see you here. Would like to know more about how ER might work in your context. An academic angle?

      Stephen Krashen has an interesting advance course going on right not over at iTDi (http://itdi.pro/itdihome/stephenkrashen.php) and he has mentioned ER as a bridge to academic language and the need for compelling, self-selected texts even in a program for academic English (as well as the central role of narrow readings). When you have a moment, if you can share a bit (here or email or anywhere else on the internets) about how you might use ER in your context, I would be very happy to hear about it.



  2. Thanks Kevin. I’m trying to use it in a legal ESL program with international students who are preparing to spend a year in a masters program at a US law school. The more I’ve learned about extensive reading, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that it is key for improving the students’ performance. They are being asked (or going to be asked) to write a significant amount. And I believe their writing suffers because they are unable to read and sufficiently comprehend what they are reading.

    So far, my extensive reading “program” has consisted of explaining the benefits of ER to the students (and periodically reminding them); asking them to read one article each week from NewsELA.com at the lowest setting, and then read two higher versions of the same article, and then comment briefly on it on our electronic blackboard program (so I know they read it.) (The students are also reading other materials in connection with this and two other classes, so I haven’t wanted to give them too much additional reading.)

    In the past two weeks, I also gave them graded readers (which are not law related) and asked them to read as much as they can or want to and then comment online by Sunday night. The books are Penguin level readers I’ve found on more adult topics such as Barack Obama, Muhammed Ali, a story about a former Microsoft employee, etc. (I’ve only found one graded reader on a law-related topic, btw. An out-of-print, only-published-in-the-UK version of “Barbarians at the Gate” which is about the corporate takeover of RJR Nabisco in the 80s/90s. I think there might be some John Grisham novels that used to be in print in graded form in the UK as well. Would love to get my hands on those somehow.)

    My next step is to have them start reading a novel called The Buffalo Creek Disaster, a lawyer’s account of representing a large plaintiffs’ group in one of the worst mining disasters in West Virginia history. In addition to being a great “law story,” the book is written in a relatively simple style which I hope will be understandable enough to keep them moving forward. However, my strategy has been to heavily gloss the reading, providing a list of vocabulary and explanation of certain references to help them read without having to use a dictionary too much. This is a step away from extensive reading, but sort of a compromise since they want law-related materials.

    The students are also watching different law related movies each week and doing other “extensive” activities in an effort to build up cultural fluency as well.

    But going forward, I think I’m going to try devoting time to reading in class each week and modeling it myself, as you describe in your article.

    I hope this description is somewhat helpful. It’s very much an experiment and work in progress from my perspective, but all things considered so far, I think the students are enjoying the topics, which is perhaps half the battle.


  3. Pingback: WondERing about Extensive Reading | Anthony Teacher.com

  4. Thanks, Kevin! I have shelves and shelves of books in my school, yet no extensive reading program in place. It’s something I’m bound and determined to implement, and I appreciate the insights and practical tips. I’ll click on the PDF, read the article, and get some more ideas…..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Extensive Reading and English for Academic Purposes | Anthony Teacher.com

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