Successful extensive reading
Helping students to become comfortable with reading faster
TIMOTHY CORNWALL, PHD, DTM
Extensive reading plays an important role in improving language skills as it provides exposure to vocabulary and helps to develop reading fluency. However, if students lip read and finger point, speed and comprehension will be limited.
To help students gain confidence in reading faster and to increase chances of success with extensive reading, I provide them with proof they can read quickly while comprehending at a level expected with extensive reading.
Selecting a reading passage
Many classroom textbooks include reading selections throughout the book. I look ahead through the material and select a decent length of reading passage that I have not covered in class. The length and difficulty will vary depending on the level I teach. This is fine, as the selected reading should match students' abilities and limit new vocabulary.
While it might be tempting to include questions and exercises provided in the book, the key to success with this exercise is to ensure students can answer all my questions. For example, if the selected reading is fiction, ask about the story. Did you like it? Why did you like it? Did you like character A or B? What would you do? If the selection is non-fiction, ask about content. Is it interesting? Why did you like it? Do you want to read more about this topic?
I then provide a basic or general introduction about the topic or content of the reading. Pre-reading questions in the text could prove useful and will save preparation time.
If I do not like the questions provided, a few preliminary questions of my own are usually enough to ensure students have understood the passage.
I begin by explaining that I am going to read aloud and tell them how boring it is when someone does this in English. "I do not know anyone who can read English aloud as fast as I can read quietly. This is one reason why I find so many PowerPoint presentations to be boring. By the time a speaker has finished reading a slide, I am impatiently waiting for the next one. Depending on the content, it can be a very long, impatient wait."
If possible, I get students to agree that this is also true in Thai.
Once I have let them know I plan to read as quickly as I can and that, while I am reading aloud, I want them to follow the text using only their eyes, I make it very clear that I do not want to see any fingers or pencils near books and that I do not want students to read aloud with me.
When the students are ready, I read the selection as quickly as I can without sacrificing the pronunciation. When I finish, I ask the students to think for a minute and then I reread the passage at the same speed.
After reading aloud two or three times, I ask students to close their books and answer post-reading questions. It is important that most of the students are able to answer most of the questions. When they are, I congratulate them.
I take a few minutes to explain that this clearly demonstrates that for some types of reading, they are able to read quite quickly. Again, it is important to emphasize that the questions must reflect those asked after an extensive reading and not those typically used with intensive reading. There might be a great deal they cannot answer or do with the reading selection, which I will deal with when it is studied later in the course, perhaps to practise different reading skills or for different purposes.
Finally, I discuss with students whether they felt I had read too quickly and whether they had been able to keep up with the speed. If they answer that it was too fast, which is most likely, I remind them about their answers concerning Thai. The key is to have them recognise that with extensive reading, in particular for pleasure, as with Thai, they can and need to read quickly.
In repeatedly reading the passages aloud and quickly to students, they begin to gain confidence in reading faster than they would have experimented on their own.
More importantly, if they can see a measure of success, they will begin to appreciate that they can - depending on the reading selection and exercises that follow - read quite quickly.
Dr Timothy Cornwall has been teaching EFL for almost 30 years and is the co-founder of Thailand Educators Network, at thaiednet.org . He can be reached through his web site speechwork.co.th , at
firstname.lastname@example.org or on 081-834-8982.