This past year my wife, Sue Parminter, and I have been busy editing the new edition of the Dominoes graded reader series. This has led to many a conversation over the dinner table on extensive reading, and the challenges both teachers and learners face in doing it with confidence.
I’ve also had lots of chances to discuss the topic with teachers in various countries that I’ve trained in recently, and there seems to be a definite general concern about how to capture the interest of today’s teenage ‘digital natives’ in reading books, when they’re far keener to participate in chat, or play online games.
Ideas to foster book-reading that I’ve been talking about with English teachers in North Cyprus – my most recent port of call – are:
- making graded readers more interactive – with puzzle-type activities between story chapters – to cater to the shorter attention span of today’s youngsters;
- making graded readers more sensually appealing – with full-color visuals and good quality paper – to counter the idea that a book has to seem ‘bookish’ and less fun or valuable than a digital reading environment;
- including in-class digital components in graded reader lessons – video clips, CD-ROM activities and games, and dramatized audio – to make book-reading more ‘up-to-the-minute’ from a student’s point of view;
- using graphic organizers to help visual students organize their thoughts about what they’re reading in preparation for follow-up discussion or writing;
- offering varied kinds of follow-up projects which might involve webquests, powerpoint presentations, poster displays, roleplays, drama productions – instead of “write a summary” – a task teachers so often set post-reading (which is very likely to bore the pants off most students, and can easily turn them against extensive reading as a whole); and,
- using intensive reading ‘textploitation’ tasters in class to awaken students’ interest in story characters and situations, and to arouse their curiosity to read the rest of the stories available in a graded readers library.
In my view, extensive reading schemes so often fail reluctant readers because they are not sufficiently scaffolded, and seem too daunting or undoable from a student point of view. A teacher – armed with suitable graded reading materials – can luckily do a lot to turn the situation around. Ideally I think we need to start building an enticing bridge into extensive reading in the classroom, to show students that the virtual world of literature (entering into the thoughts and lives of other characters) can be just as satisfying as the world of computer avatars. Once students have “caught the reading bug,” we can gradually reduce close teacher support, whilst still providing an overall framework within which independent reading can – and will – take place.
Doubtless many of these preliminary thoughts will find their way into my IATEFL workshop, and I’m really looking forward to leading it. In the meantime, if anyone has any comments to make on this blog post, or any experiences to share regarding ‘bridge-building’ into extensive reading, I’d be very interested to hear them.
By Bill Bowler.