Make your students love reading in English with easy English books.

Reading in English

As a foreign language English teacher, I think that reading in easy English is good for my students. There. I said it. And I stand by it. Reading easy English books is important if you’re learning English. Just like actual running is important if you’re training for a marathon.

We know that extensive reading – reading easy English books or graded readers  – is all about the pleasure of reading and not about analysing a text. Would you want to sit down and read a book that had you reaching for the dictionary every two minutes? I know I wouldn’t. I’d lob it over my shoulder and reach for the latest Nicci French in a New York minute.

So, how can you help your students choose an easy English book at their level that will ensure they:

  • want to read a lot
  • read at a high speed with fluency
  • read with pleasure and with understanding
  • read for the sake of it because it’s fun and entertaining
  • become independent long-term readers

Basically, what you want is for your English students to read in English the way they would read in their mother tongue – fluently, for fun and forever. And here’s how.

Your students must know 98% of the words in the easy English book they’re reading. I will repeat that. They must know 98% of the words in a book they’re reading in English for them to be reading extensively. I kid you not.

Extensive reading and easy English books

I’m sure you’re thinking, “I want my students to be challenged, not pampered” or “Well, there’s a waste of our time”. But, studies have shown that extensive reading can:

  • improve fluency
  • teach vocabulary in context
  • introduce high-frequency grammar in context
  • encourage confidence, motivation and autonomy

And as English teachers, what more can we ask for?

Extensive reading should not be focused on specific language or grammar or be used to help students prepare for an exam. That’s intensive reading and it’s a whole different blog post.

Testing easy English levels

You’re probably thinking that there’s not much difference between 80% and 98%, but there is. A lot. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself. Read the following text naturally without concentrating on the words you don’t know.

Tessa saw two people on a grulf in the park. An elderly couple was sitting with their backs against the wall. They were holding hands and the man was talking. The woman laughed and put her head on his shoulder. Tessa was sure that neither of them was her mysterious messenger. She sat down on a grulf opposite the memorial wall and waited. Then a handsome, young Indian man walked into the park. He looked the same snork as her, about twenty-one, and he was dressed in a tight black pullover and grey jeans. His clothes were simple but stylish.

This excerpt has 98% of known words in it for a native speaker. It’s easy to read and easy to understand. You can probably guess from the context that grulf is a bench and snork is the word “age”. Easy, isn’t it?

Now let’s try 95% of known words…

Tessa saw two people on a grulf in the park. An elderly couple was sitting with their backs krondle the spinx. They were holding hands and the man was talking. The woman laughed and put her head on his shoulder. Tessa was sure that neither of them was her mysterious prudl. She sat down on a grulf opposite the memorial wall and waited. Then a handsome, young Indian man walked into the park. He looked the same snork as her, about twenty-one, and he was dressed in a tight black pullover and grey jeans. His clothes were simple but stylish.

A little bit more difficult, but you can still understand a lot, can’t you? Now let’s try 90%…

Tessa saw two bloos on a grulf in the park. An elderly couple was sitting with their backs krondle the spinx. They were holding dwees and the man was talking. The woman laughed and put her head on his shoulder. Tessa was sure that neither of them was her mysterious prudl. She sat down on a grulf opposite the memorial wall and dingt. Then a handsome, young Indian man walked into the park. He looked the same snork as her, about twenty-one, and he was dressed in a tight plouf blep and grey jeans. His cran were simple but glump.

It’s getting confusing, there isn’t much fluency but I’m sure you can still extract some meaning from it.

I, however,  am reaching for my Nicci French.

For foreign language English students, 90% of known words is starting to seem less like fun and more like work. But, let’s try 80% just for kicks…

Tessa saw two bloos on a grulf in the park. An elderly plun was sitting with their backs krondle the spinx. They were holding dwees and the man was skwinnd. The woman mool and put her head on his hofl. Tessa was sure that nool of them was her mysterious prudl. She sat down on a grulf osni the memorial wall and dingt. Then a handsome, young Indian man walked into the noij. He looked the same snork as her, about glin-glun, and he was dressed in a tight ploufblep and grey lipol. His cran were simple but glump.

And….we’ve lost them forever.

Levels for easy English books

Graded readers / easy English books are divided into different learner levels. The levels I use for my books are based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). There are 6 levels:

  • A1 = beginner (level 1)
  • A2 = elementary (level 2)
  • B1 = intermediate (level 3)
  • B2 = upper-intermediate (level 4)
  • C1 = advanced (level 5)
  • C2 = proficient (level 6)

As a foreign language English teacher, you know the levels of your students. Guide them towards choosing the right levels of easy English books and they’ll not only learn to love reading in English, but will also learn English from reading.

What do you think, teachers and homeschoolers? Are you sceptical about the benefits of extensive reading? What about getting your students to love reading in English? Do you think that it’s not possible?

 

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