Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Extensive Reading

I have been reflecting much on my Fluency Fast experience from last summer with the absolutely incredible Linda Li. I am amazed at the amount of Mandarin which I acquired through numerous activities and readings during those four days. Something which stands out to me from that 4-day class is that although we did lots of reading, Linda did not have us do any embedded readings. Instead, we focused on lots of various extensive readings - different stories which had much of the same limited vocabulary. Extensive reading allowed us to "circle the plane a bit" in various readings to focus on vocabulary/structures which we already knew; hence, we received continued reinforcement and repetitions of vocabulary/structures. Because there were different stories, it allowed for the readings to be compelling. As a class, through these extensive readings, we were receiving continued understandable messages through repetitions of vocabulary without being repetitive.

This is NOT to say that embedded readings do not have their place, because I firmly believe that they do. I am NOT saying that one is better than the other, as both do indeed serve their purposes in the delivery of understandable messages. However, in doing these different extensive readings in Mandarin, it helped keep things from becoming stale, instead of focusing on different tiers of the same story. And I can tell you that it got in the necessary repetitions which I needed.To quote Carol Gaab, "The brain craves novelty."

Reading (not translating/decoding) plays such an important part in language acquisition. As Krashen writes:
“Our reading ability, our ability to write in an acceptable writing style, our spelling ability, vocabulary knowledge, and our ability to handle complex syntax is the result of reading.”
Allow me an excursus here to define terms and to distinguish between extensive readings and intensive readings:
  • extensive readings - tend to focus on the use of limited known vocabulary but not necessarily the grammatical use of this limited vocabulary. These types of readings are not typically found in textbooks but tend to focus on pleasure reading.
  • intensive readings - tend to focus on a limited use of grammatical structures but uses an overwhelming amount of vocabulary (usually with lots of glossed words). This is the type of readings commonly found in textbooks, since textbooks usually are grammar/structure-dictated. How many times have we asked students to read a passage or story in the textbook which is way overloaded with vocabulary, which in turn results in student frustration? That is the result of most intensive readings.
Even if you think that extensive readings would be too easy for your students, since they have already acquired the words, consider that when we read for pleasure, we tend to read material which is BELOW our reading level; rarely do we read material at or above our reading level for pleasure. Plus, one can NEVER get in too many repetitions of acquired vocabulary/structures if the reading is compelling.

In my Latin 2 classes, we are reading the Perseus myth (level-appropriate reading), so last week, I introduced the fourth part of the story (as a screencast video) as an extensive reading without any new vocabulary (there were a few "icing" words/structures which were glossed but not necessary for students to know yet). I was surprised at how quickly students were able to read it and to comprehend what they read. When I asked students why, they replied "It was not that hard - we knew all of the words." I felt like responding, "Then master plan is working."

How to create extensive readings
Extensive readings are actually not that difficult to create, but they require having a set list of vocabulary from which to draw and a good eye from you as the teacher for lesson planning.
  1. Determine a point in your curriculum where you want to "circle the plane a bit" and to focus on a set amount of acquired vocabulary/structures. Sometimes, it may be necessary to gloss vocabulary if needed for the reading, but do not go overboard with this.
  2. Just start writing a story using words from the list. It is possible to be compelling with a set amount of sheltered vocabulary words. Dr. Seuss proved this with Green Eggs and Ham, which only has 50 unique words in the entire book. Yet, it is still incredibly compelling, and consider how many repetitions there are in the story!
  3. Extensive readings do not have to be long, i.e., they do not have to be novellas! They just need to be comprehensible and compelling! I do not think that I could ever write a novella, because although I can write in a compelling manner, I cannot maintain it beyond a very short vignette. I truthfully tell my students that if the reading ends with someone exploding, it meant that either I became bored while writing it or I could not figure out where to go next.
  4. Extensive reading can actually serve as great supplements for textbook readings, since textbooks have a set list of words for each chapter. Just do not feel the need for students to acquire every single word on that list - pick high frequency words, and implement Carrie Toth's Chuck-It Bucket process.
  5. Latin teachers, if you are using a reading approach textbook with stories, extensive readings are GREAT for creating new stories involving those characters. When I was using Cambridge Latin Course, I would write up short extensive readings about various characters, such as what really happened to Grumio after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius; a short, "Hannah Montana-inspired" 3-part story called Stella Metella; and a story about why Quintus drinks so much in the triclinio and how the family eventually holds an intervention. Just be careful about putting these readings on the web, since that is a violation of textbook copyright...
  6. To me, extensive readings would be great for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)/Silent Student Reading (SSR) if you had a library of these types of readings from which for students to choose.
John Piazza, a fellow CI Latin teacher in CA, just recently had an article published in Teaching Classical Languages which addresses Beginner Latin Novels. In it, he also discusses extensive reading vs. intensive reading. Even if you are not a Latin teacher, it is a very good read!


  1. I like the idea of introducing the story with a screencast. Is there any way you'd share what that looked like for us, or at least explain what you did to introduce it? - Thanks!


    1. Here is a link to a post which explains how I have created and used screencasts of Powerpoints.