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Setting up an Extensive Reading Program

It is important to first understand that any ER program cannot sit by itself.

bulletAn ER program needs to fit within the goals, aims and objectives of the school, and not be outside of this, otherwise the ER program may fail from lack of direction or purpose.
bulletAn ER program needs to be part of a larger reading program because reading extensively is only one type of reading practice. There also needs to be instruction and practice in Intensive reading and the development of reading strategies and skills.

The key to a successful reading program is balance, Too much intensive reading leads to not enough work on developing a fluent reader. Too much ER can lead to a learner not noticing certain language, and too much work only on reading skills will not practice the skill of reading. Not enough vocabulary support leads to learners who cannot develop their reading fast enough.

I would advise the following.

Intensive Reading 20% (working on grammar, vocabulary etc)

Independent vocabulary practice 5-10% (at home study of words, phrases etc)

Reading skills and strategies 10-15%

bulletDictionary use
bulletrecognizing word families
bulletguessing from context / co-text
bulletdevelopment of word part-knowledge (advanced only)
bulletUnderstanding of text types/ structure
bulletpromotion of background knowledge
bulletdevelopment of speed reading / timed reading
bulletdevelopment of inferencing skills
bulletdeveloping sight/sound relationships especially for beginners.

Extensive reading 55-65%

bulletReading for fluency, language and skills practice
bulletReading for pleasure to get the habit of reading.

Setting up an ER program

Before an ER program can be set successful you need to plan carefully, prepare well and be prepared for things to not go so smoothly.

Planning an ER program

One vital thing to do is to ensure that all the people involved are involved.  Make sure everyone is involved in the setting up / that group decisions are made/ that all understand it (difficult to do, so double check you understand the whys and what's first - see the more reading page or the ER FAQ) or it will become 'John's reading thing' only to disappear when John leaves. Be careful of over-zealousness on someone's part. It can lead to frustration and anger if things do not go well, or resentment if it is felt that something is being pushed upon them - especially something that they do not understand nor care about.

There is often no need to have hard and fast rules for all teachers to follow.  For example individual teachers may decide to require different reading amounts, or different length of reading reports.

If the ER program impacts others they need to know about it, what its aims, goals and objectives are. Communicate these to the learners.


Preparation


A sage piece of advice is to "Start small, think big". This means employ management systems that can be expanded or contracted with minimal pain.

Getting materials

You need to beg, borrow or steal at least 3 readers per student. These can be rotated between the learners. NOTE: They MUST be at or slightly below the students' current reading levels. You will need variety of topics and variety of reading levels.  It's amazing the disparity even in classes which have only ever studied together! Don't assume that because the class is labeled Intermediate, that they will all be Intermediate readers.

It's always wise to go to language conferences and book fairs in preparation because then you can see what is available and even be given a few free samples! Ask for other published support materials such as worksheets, vocabulary lists, games and extensions based on the series etc. Most publishers have a wealth of support material at hand only to give away.

Here is a list of Graded reader Publishers.

Here is a scale of Graded readers so you know which level to put each series.

Getting funding

In the initial stages you will need a large amount to get enough books to start off. Bulk-buying is cheaper. Funding may be internal (from the school) or it may be external (parents or students).  Some teachers ask each student to buy one book they like and then share them. Some teachers use their research budget if they are lucky enough to have one. Some even buy them out of their own pocket!

You will  need a constant source of funds for replacing lost and damaged books, updating and improving the stock and so on.


Managing the stock

(Tip: think really hard to anticipate problems before they happen).

To do this effectively needs a lot of forethought and planning specific to your location.  Some schools and colleges are lucky enough to have their library keep the books. This is the best option if available because the library will know which books are missing. However, many libraries either are too lazy  or too under-resourced to deal with an additional load of books to check-out, check-in and restock the shelves. If there are 200 learners each changing a book every week and each book takes 2 minutes to check-in, check out and restock that's a full day's work for someone.  One library I know of refused the books because it would be embarrassing to have so many small easy books in the library!!!!  In the absence of support from the library you'll need to set up your own systems. Again they should be simple and transparent.

The first thing to do is to number each book. If you have multiple copies of a book it is much easier to identify it.

The second is to grade the books in some way. Fortunately, the publishers publish the book levels. For example, some books are written within a vocabulary of the 400 most frequent words (400 different words, not 400 words in total) and with only simple syntax. Others use a larger vocabulary and more complex syntax. But be careful when assuming that publisher A's 500 word level book corresponds to publisher B's 500 word level. Also note that Intermediate means VERY different things to different publishers and even between series' of one publisher. It's best to use your own judgment.

Color code the books

I use colour coding to create easy to identify levels. I stick a piece of coloured tape on part of the spine for easy identification.. Brown is the easiest (<400 word level), then yellow (400-750 word level), then blue, green etc.  Stock can be easily managed if you put all the books of one colour in individual boxes. There's no need to put them in author or book number order. Just drop them in a box.

Stock Check-out systems

The simplest check-out system for an individual class is that all students borrow and return books at the same time. At the beginning of class they put them in the 'drop box'. In a quite period in class the teacher checks off which books have not been returned by looking at the check-out sheet. Books are only returned to the book collection when all books have been crossed off the sheet. This means write the number in easy to find places.

One sheet for the class

Name April 1 April 8 April 15 April 22
Akio Murai 345 453 232  
Hu Win 785 121 778  
Sammy 352 99 435  
Roberto 543 547 444  

When a book is borrowed the student writes the book number against that week's column. The teacher crosses off those that are returned. We can see that Sammy hasn't returned two books, and Roberto still has last week's book out. Note that you may need several sheets if you have a big class all checking books out at the same time as there will be a queue and they may be anxious to get to the next class. I use 10 names per sheet and use different coloured sheets for easy identification.

If you have 23 books borrowed and 23 returned be careful to assume that all last week's books were returned as it may be a book not returned the previous week and one may still be missing from last week..

Alternatively, you could instigate an 'honour' system where you have a check out sheet like this.

Name Book number Title Date Borrowed Date returned
Jun 234 Jane Eyre 14 June 23rd June
Maria 548 Elephant man 16 June (at)

In my experience, this is a good way to lose many books. It also takes a long time for students to find their name if there are several sheets.

One sheet for each learner

An alternative is a check sheet per person.  It may look like this

Name  Margaret Ko
Book number Title Date Borrowed Date returned
234 Jane Eyre 14 June 23rd June
548 Elephant man 16 June (at)
       
       

Whichever system you use, NEVER let them swap books without putting them through the check-out system. It's a recipe for a headache and lost books.

Weekly Summary sheet (optional)

If you decide to let students take books when they wish and they read different amounts then you may wish to see where each student is in relation to the course page target. This form can help. It also functions as an attendance record.  Each week the teacher passes it round and the student indicates how many books and what stage in each book she is. In this way the teacher can easily see who is keeping up.

Record Reading Summary Sheets

At some time you will need to know which books each student read, how many pages and at which difficulty levels so that you can monitor (or assess) them. I use a student Record Reading Sheet.  They keep this until the end of the course and hand it to me with their reading reports. It provides the teacher with a quick overview of what has been read.


Make a placement test

You need to make a placement test so that the student can easily work out what reading level (colour) she is. The easiest way is for the teacher to copy one page from readers at each level and put them on a piece of large paper. The student is given a copy and she decides what her comfortable reading speed is. (About 8-10 lines per minute with only 1 or 2 unknown word on a page).  I advise the learner to start one level easier than her recommended level because it builds confidence.

Note that if you set an objective for the learner to improve by say 2 reading levels, tell her this only after she has self-assessed her level and told you what it is, otherwise some students may cheat and say their reading ability was lower than it is.

Make a Reading Report outline

In order to check that the reading was done and for the reading to be extended to writing, you will need to make a sample reading report for them. They can keep this in a journal (wasteful if not all the pages are used) or on individual pieces of paper.

Beginners can complete sentence heads

bullete.g. I (didn't) like this book because.....
bulletMy favourite scene was .....

Intermediates write independent summaries of the story
Advanced learners can write lengthy summary and reactions to the story

Take these in at the end of the course (unless you feel the students will be copying each others). I advise the students to take no less than 10 minutes for the report. If they have more time I'd rather they were reading.

Communicate with others

If you are sharing a library, then you will have to

bulletdecide when students change books (Tip for small programs: all change at the same time every week). You don't suddenly want 3 classes wanting access to the library at the same time.
bulletdecide how many books they can borrow at once (and set reading goals within student reach).
bulletdecide how you will evaluate the reading program and how changes will need to be made.
bulletdecide if the students have access to the library out of normal class time.  Initially I'd advise against this as it means having to set up stock management systems to cope with it. (How would you cope with a student borrowing or returning a book when you have the check-out system suggested above?).  If the school library has the books, them all well and good.

First class

Explain the system to the learners


Explain to the students the difference between ER and IR and WHY they must read extensively and practice vocabulary at home and work on developing their reading skills and strategies. I have found the following table very helpful.

 Intensive Reading    Extensive Reading
 Analysis of the language

 LINGUISTIC FOCUS
 Fluency, skill forming
 Usually difficult

 DIFFICULTY
 Very easy
 Little

 AMOUNT
 A book a week
 teacher selects

 SELECTION
 Student selects
 All students study the same material

 WHAT MATERIAL
 All students read different things (something interesting to them)
 In class

 WHERE
 Mostly out of class
 Checked by specific questions

 COMPREHENSION
 Checked by reports / summaries

Explain the Aims, goals and objectives to the learners

Assign reading page goals.

Some teachers suggest that it is best to set a page goal (e.g. xxx pages per term / semester). Others recommend a number of books. Either way there should be consideration for the level of the students and the time they will have available. Note that easier books tend to have bigger print, more picture support and are shorter, but more difficult texts are denser, with fewer pictures and are longer.

Research has suggested that learners read "a book a week at their level". This will provide enough opportunities for the learners to meet, revisit and practice recently learned vocabulary and structures within a period of time where it is less likely memory loss will be a factor.  Of course more is better, but not always practical.

bulletGive out word lists for independent learning - to support and introduce words to be met in the Extensive reading.  ER gives a meaningful back-up for independent decontextualized learning.
bulletAdminister the self-checking placement test. Remember the difficulty level - one or two unknown words (excl. proper nouns) per page, and 8-10 lines per minute or more. The learner tells you her level.
bulletStudents select a reader at their level (or easier) that they like.  They read the first few pages. If they find it too difficult or boring they should change it immediately.
bulletStudents record their book on the Check-out sheet

Explain the features of the readers

bulletShow the learners that the books are appropriate for them (adult material not for children)
bulletShow them that there are different levels and a huge variety of texts
bulletShow them the questions in the back (of many books)
bulletPoint out the glossary in the back (of many books)

At home

bulletStudents read their books
bulletStudents learn their vocabulary
bulletThey write their Reading reports and prepare to speak about their reading in class. I prefer that the report take no more that 10 minutes.  If they have more time, I'd rather they read.

Subsequent classes

bulletStudents return their readers and check them off the check out sheet. (I have found it best to collect all the books at the same time with no excuses because this focuses the students on a date and allows the teacher to identify non-returned books. )
bulletReturned readers are placed in a 'drop' box so the teacher can double check books were returned. Return these books to the library after the teacher checks all is OK. Honesty is not always the best policy.
bulletStudents select another book(s)
bulletLearners discuss their books / read their summaries in class to make the connection between reading and speaking.  (You may wish them to put the books in a drop box after this part of the class so they can use it for support)
bulletYou may wish to ask the student to answer the questions at the back of each reader to check comprehension. Check tests are provided for free by many publishers.  Be careful not to do this too much or the reading becomes less than enjoyable for them as it is the same as Intensive reading (Read test, read test).
bulletTeacher collects reading reports / summaries for checking / grading. (I usually leave this until the end of the course)
bulletLearners select this week's reader and check it out
bulletSustained silent reading (if time allows)
bulletStrategy training as above e.g. exercises in Reading Power (Mikulecky and Jeffries -
by Addison Wesley / Longman)
bulletPeriodic short tests to ensure vocabulary is being learned

Last class

bulletEnsure all books are returned
bulletCollect Reading Journal / Reading reports and the reading record sheet summary.
bulletFind which books the learners did not like. Consider posting them back to the publisher with a note!
bulletAssignment of vacation reading targets

Assessment

There are two types of assessment that need to be done.

  1. Assessment of learner performance against the aims, goals and objectives
  2. Post-class evaluation of the ER program

Assessment of learner performance

There are many ways to assess the learner's performance.  Here are some ideas from which you may wish to select.

bulletAllocate pass/fail according to whether minimum page goals have been met
bulletAllocate higher grades to more that is read
bulletGrade the reading reports (say by length, quality etc.)
bulletGrade each student on performance in in-class or Intensive reading and skills building exercises.
bulletGrade the students on performance in discussions of the books
bulletGrade students on their improvement in reading speed

There are many more ideas.

Post Class evaluation of the ER program

So often forgot. As with any class, the ER program needs to be reviewed and amended in light of any insights drawn from having conducted the class. Ensure all those involved are involved.