Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task-Based Approach – Week 5

Before reading Week 5, why not check out the previous weeks:

This week focused pretty much entirely on extensive reading, which I thought was really interesting. We did look at TBLT towards the end (and more in a way of extending extensive reading), but the main objective really was to delve deeper into what extensive reading is, why it is awesome, and some ideas for how to implement it in our courses.

What is extensive reading?

In class, we generally engage in intensive reading, which is usually with shorter texts that have been chosen by the teacher and that include some kind of task. Intensive reading in most classes also involves more of a TALO approach to reading as opposed to TAVI or TASP, which may or may not be negative depending on your point of view. But what about extensive reading?

Extensive reading means reading in quantity and in order to gain a general understanding of what is read. It is intended to develop good reading habits, to build up knowledge of vocabulary and structure, and to encourage a liking for reading.

Richards and Schmidt, 2010, p.212

As you can see, Richards and Schmidt make the distinction that extensive reading is reading at length for enjoyment. This leads us nicely onto the ten principles for extensive reading (Day & Bamford, 2002):

  • Reading materials are easy: Extensive reading should not be diffiult; rather, texts should be at or almost under the leareners’ level so that they find it enjoyable and can understand the text. 
  • Variety of materials and topics is important: Learners need to be given the choice of what to read, including types of reading materials (e.g. books, magazines, etc.). It is very important that these are interesting to the learners. 
  • Learners choose what they want to read: Learners are more likely to want to read if they invest in the decision of what to read. 
  • Learners read as much as possible: For extensive reading to be effective, learners need to read as much as possible, anything from 10 – 15 minutes a day. This may not be possible, however, and so they should be encouraged to read as much as they can when they do have time. 
  • The purpose of extensive reading is related to pleasure and general understanding: It is important to remember that extensive reading should not be tested! Learners read for enjoyment and then share their exeriences. This is another reason why the level of the text is important. 
  • Reading is its own reward: This extends the previous point, but it is important to realise here that nothing ‘needs’ to be done with the text from a purely pedagogical perspective (e.g. assessment). 
  • Reading speed is usually faster than slower: When texts are at the right level, learners are able to read faster, which is more motivating. It also enables them to read more words quicker, thus increasing their chances of strengthening word knowledge and automatising word processing. 
  • Reading is individual and silent: This is not to say that texts cannot be read aloud; however, the majority of reading that is conduted is done by the learner in their head.
  • Teachers orient and guide their learners: In essence, we need to ensure that they undersatnd the benefits as well as that they are motivated to learn, i.e. we listen to their needs and wants and help guide them through the process, especially when they have difficulties. 
  • The Teacher is a role model of a reader: Pretty self-explanatory here. We need to talk the walk, practice what we preach, and go through the process with the learners. 

What are the benefits of extensive reading?

The benefits are very siginifcant in my mind, but only if extensive reading is done right. I suppose you could say that about many aspects of language teaching, but I do think it is especially important to get extensive reading done right otherwise I feel our learners are going to be put off from engaging in extensive reading. Some of the benefits include:

  • Vocabulary knowledge: It is important to note that current research states that extensive reading has its limits regarding the learning and uptake of new pieces of vocabulary – it cannot substitute explicit vocabulary instruction (which was a surprise for me!). This being said, it does allow for learners to deepen their knowledge of words, thus supplementing instruction.
  • Automatisation: As mentioned, extensive reading may have its limits with learning new words – it does, however, really benefit the automatisation of current words in the second language lexicon.
  • Reading rates, attitudes and habits: Probably the most important point in this list (and really it could be extended to multiple points), and this really connects to what I mentioned previously. If extensive reading is carried out effectively, learners attitudes towards reading in general can be changed positively, and this then has a positive effect on the amount of words they read, which then helps the previous two points, which then helps learners see they can really read quite quickly, which then encourages them to read more, which then helps them be more successful… you see where I am going here?

What was heavily emphasised on the course is that for extensive reading to be effective, it cannot be a short-lived endeavour, and this is why it is important to implement it at the start of a course and have it roll over to future courses.

Use easy, short texts

This may sound strange, but it is important that we use easy texts such as graded readers that are even at a lower level then our learners’ proficiency. It sounds counter-inutitive, right? But hear me out. By using easy texts, we ensure that learners know roughly 95% – 98% of the words, which is what it takes to really understand a text. This was extensive reading does not become difficult, learners can really strengthen their word knowledge of the lexis they have already, and they can read a lot more words quickly. As well as texts being easy, it is recommended that learners be encouraged to read short books – mainly for the motivating factor. That is, if you finish one book easily, you are more likely to pick up another!

Extensive reading and tasks

When we started to look at tasks and extensive reading, we were presented with two activities: An end-of-text quiz and a book report. Now, whilst the book report is more task-ish than the end-of-text quiz, they both failed to meet the criteria of a task. Let’s revisit the criteria here:

  • meaning is primary 
  • there is some communicative problem to solve 
  • there is some sort of relationship with real-world activities
  • the assessment of the task is in terms of task outcome

So, it’s pretty clear that the quiz does not meet a lot of these, but why the book report? Well, it fails to provide a clear communication problem and, whilst it is slightly meaning-focused, this meaning is not created by the learner, rather it is dictated to them by the report format. From a reading perspective, I still view the book report as a good idea, but from a TBLT perspective, perhaps there are other things we could do. Here are some ideas:

  • Design a new cover for the text
  • Choose the best design from among existing covers
  • Ask learners to write a summary of the book or of a chapter, and incorporate a mistake in it (then another learner can identify this mistake!)
  • Ask learners to come up with THEIR OWN idea for reporting about the book
  • Ask learners to come up with a summarising activity (and no, it does not have to only be writing!)
  • Write a diary entry for one of the characters of the book
  • Illustrate part of the book

Reading circles: An interview with Sam Duncan

This week we got to see Amos Paran speaking with Sam Duncan, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Education at UCL. In the interview, Sam spoke about her experience with reading circles, which are times when people get together to discuss what they have read, their opinions, thoughts, etc. In short, the interview focused on the positive effect this socio-cultural approach to reading had on learners. That is, they helped each other co-construct meaning and they were able to engage in a variety of discussions and debates about the content and the meaning behind what they read.

I think the idea of reading circles is great, and I would really like to incorporate something similar in my classes. Time is the enemy, however, so perhaps it could be a 20-minute endeavour every week or two weeks. Not too sure, but will certainly try something similar out during the next academic year.

Assignment

This week we had to create a presentation in which we talk about two of the major points from the week. I have to admit that I felt like I was ruching when completing this. I had a lot on over the weekend and so it is not my best work, but I got the assignment in and I hope that it goes well. I chose to summarise the principles of extensive reading and include a list of possible tasks that could accompany an extensive reading programme.

Final notes

A really interesting week. Not as much TBLT as I had hoped, but it certainly solidify my understanding that extensive reading has a major role to play in learners’ language learning. I’d love to know how you incorporate or would incorporate extensive reading in your courses? Is this something you do a lot? Feel free to comment or get in touch by email!

References

Day, R. & Bamford, J. (2002). The Ten Principles for Teaching Extensive Reading. Reading in a foreign language, Volume 14, 2.

Richards, J. & Schmidt, R. (2010). The Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

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