Seven Keys to a Successful Extensive Reading Program

 

Akio FURUKAWA

SEG, JAPAN

fakio@seg.co.jp

 

We have implemented an English program based on extensive reading (ER) and listening for students from grades 7 to 12. In our program, students read an average of more than 500,000 words per year. Some students, starting from the reading level of Oxford Reading Tree Stage 1, reach the reading level of the Harry Potter series in two years. The seven keys to building a successful ER program are: 1) the SSS (Start with Simple Stories) method, 2) in-class reading and listening, 3) out-of-class reading and listening, 4) teacherfs advice on choosing books, 5) teaching grammar and vocabulary, 6) opportunities to speak and write, and 7) support from parents and administrators.

 

Introduction

 

SEG is a juku, or tutorial school, in Tokyo for 7th to 12th graders who would like to learn English or math in addition to their ordinary school lessons. We started an ER-based English program in 2002. The number of our ER class students has been increasing since 2004, as the following table shows.

 

Table 1: Number of Students in the ER Program 

@

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

7th Grade

6

12

55

68

106

177

247

211

8th Grade

@

@

@

49

77

118

199

262

9th Grade

@

@

@

@

52

76

129

181

10th Grade

@

@

36

33

21

79

131

183

11th Grade

@

14

4

@

@

21

91

112

12th Grade

@

@

@

@

15

8

19

77

Other

40

36

47

48

58

36

@

@

TOTALS

46

62

142

198

329

515

816

1,026

 

Outline of the SEG English Programs in 2011

 

Our English programs are one-year programs for 7th to 12th graders. Most of our students start our program in March, but every month some students join the program. Some take only seasonal 4 or 5 day classes, and some skip these seasonal classes because of school club activities or study-abroad programs. Here are some facts about our school:

 

- The number of students on April 30, 2011 was 1,024.

- The number of classes on April 30, 2011 was 106.

- The average number of students per class is 9.67.

- There are 48 lessons in an academic year: 29 weekly lessons and 19 seasonal intensive lessons.

- Each lesson is 160 minutes long. Half of the lesson is extensive reading and listening conducted by Japanese teachers, and the other half is grammar, oral communication, and writing, mainly conducted by native English speaking teachers.

- There are three levels in each grade: basic, standard, and advanced.

 

Environment

 

Here are some additional facts about the ER program:

 

- There are 18 classrooms dedicated to the ER program.

- Each classroom has a class library with an average of 20,000 books.

- The total number of books in the ER program is about 400,000.

- The book budget is 40,000,000 yen ($500,000) per year. This represents about 12.5% of the      

  total income from the ER department, which generates about $4,000,000 annually.

- 24 Japanese teachers and 14 foreign teachers work in the program.

- 3 staff members maintain the ER library.

 

Average Total Number of Words Read in the Program

 

Table 2 below shows the number of students who handed in a reading record (N), the average total number of words they read in our ER program (Words), the average number of months that the students have been enrolled in the ER program (M), and the average number of words they read per month (W/M) for all the students. The table shows the data for the top 25% and bottom 25% of students (in total number of words) for each grade.

 

Table 2: Average Numbers of Words that Students Have Read in the Program (Aug, 2011)

 

 

Whole

Top 25%

Bottom 25%

 

N

Words

M

W/M

Words

M

W/M

Words

M

W/M

Grade 7

198

145,584

5.3

27,457

296,369

5.7

52,306

43,192

4.6

10,365

Grade 8

246

582,009

14.5

39,753

1,188,460

17.6

68,180

176,140

10.0

22,785

Grade 9

173

985,645

20.7

48,170

2,236,922

26.5

93,330

199,418

9.8

25,641

Grade 10

178

991,991

18.7

49,833

2,202,633

33.7

71,296

172,635

5.6

30,690

Grade 11

113

1,173,924

23.8

61,553

2,936,262

40.5

96,633

1,063,040

7.7

36,529

Grade 12

76

1,176,535

29.3

43,255

1,360,072

32.8

51,100

264,577

27.3

33,273

 

Note that even the 7th graders who started learning English in March read an average of more than 130,000 words within 6 months. Our students in grades eight to twelve read an average of more than 500,000 words in one year.

 

The diagram at the right is a scatter plot which shows the relation between the total number of words our ER students had read by August 2011 and their scores on the ACE test in July 2011, where the unit for the number of words read is one million.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Goals of a Successful ER Program

 

What are the goals of a successful ER program? I believe the characteristics of a successful ER program are as follows:

1 At least 50% of the participants in the program read 600,000 words in just 2 years.

2 At least 50% of them reach the reading level of Oxford Bookworms Stage 1  in just 2 years.

3 At least 5% of them reach the reading level of Harry Potter in only three years

 

What are the Keys to a Successful ER program?

 

We are still developing our ER-based English program and we have a long way to go, but with respect to the total number of words our students have read, we believe that our ER program is the most successful one in Japan.

 

We will briefly describe the keys to our program. They are 1) the SSS (Start with Simple Stories) method, 2) in-class reading and listening, 3) out-of-class reading and listening, 4) teacherfs advice for choosing books, 5) teaching grammar and vocabulary, 6) opportunities to speak and write, and 7) support from parents and administrators.

 

1 The SSS (Start with Simple Stories) Method

 

The Start with Simple Stories Method was first advocated by Mr. Kunihide Sakai and myself in 2001. Before then, it was widely believed among English teachers that students should start extensive reading at one level below their intensive reading level. For example, if students were using a course book at the level of Penguin Readers Level 3, it was believed that they should start their extensive reading with Penguin Readers Level 2.

 

In Japan, course books in high schools and universities are generally extremely difficult for students to understand without translation. So I believe that we should start with simpler stories like Oxford Reading Tree, Foundations Reading Library or Building Blocks Library.

 

If we start with very simple stories, our students can read quickly and easily without translation, and they will develop confidence in being able to read English materials without using dictionaries.

 

My Advice about the SSS Method

 

1@Oxford Reading Tree is the best series for beginners because it starts with very short stories of less than 50 words. Because of the illustrations, even complete beginners in English can understand the content very well. However, there are many other series that complete beginners can read easily. So you don't have to start with Oxford Reading Tree in your program.

 

2@Although Oxford Reading Tree appeals to most beginners, some of them do not like it. For these students, you should recommend another series such as Longman Literacy Land.

 

3@Oxford Reading Tree is becoming very popular in Japan, so some students may have already read it before entering your ER program. In this case, you should have them read other book series.

 

4@If every student can read Penguin Readers Easystarts easily, you do not have to start with Oxford Reading Tree in your classroom.

 

5@In Oxford Reading Tree, there are large gaps between stages 4 and 5 and between stages 6 and 7. To bridge these gaps, you need to use other readers, such as Springboard, Building Blocks Library, I Can Read Books, Rookie Readers, and Welcome Books.

 

6 Your goal is to enable your students to read authentic readers such as Harry Potter, Eragon, Twilight, Percy Jackson, etc. To have the students reach this reading level, you should have them read at least 100,000 words before finishing Oxford Reading Tree Stage 9.

 

2 In-class Reading and Listening

 

Japanese students these days are extremely busy from their schoolwork and afterschool club activities. Therefore, it is impossible to have all our students read on their own at home every week. To be honest, only about one-third of the students in our program read English books at home. Therefore, it is essential to have them read in class. We allow our students at least one hour for reading in each lesson. This means that they have at least 48 hours for reading per year. The students who have had more than six monthsf extensive reading experience can read English at a rate of at least 80 words per minute, which amounts to over 4,800 words per lesson, or 230,400 words per year. Most of our students can read more than 160 words per minute, which translates to over 460,800 words per year in class. If we do not provide sufficient time for reading, it is clear that students cannot read enough to reach a high reading level.

 

My Advice about In-class Reading and Listening

 

1 Provide your students with enough books so that they can read for a continuous period of at least 20 minutes. This will allow you to observe their reading, which is quite important.

 

2 Observe their speed of reading. If it is too fast or too slow, there is a problem.

 

3 Share your comments about the books with the students. They will feel encouraged if they know you are also a reader of the same book.

 

4 Ask your students if they enjoy reading or feel that reading is hard.

 

5 Ask your students which genre they would like to read.

 

6 Have the students maintain reading records and ask them for comments about books they have read.

 

7 Advise your students about which books they should read next. To give them appropriate advice, you need to be familiar with the books in your library.

 

8 Have your students read books while listening to any accompanying CDs as much as possible. This helps the students to read books without translation. Portable CD players are a very useful and inexpensive tool for just this purpose.

 

3 Out-of-Class Reading and Listening

 

During the school year when classes at junior and senior high schools are in session, two thirds of the students in our extensive reading program do not have time to read outside the ER class. However, consider the following two significant facts: First, the other one third of the students are highly motivated and read a lot outside class. Second, almost all the students read on their own when there are no classes at school. It is obvious that we should lend as many books as possible to all our students. In our experience, some 7th graders read more than 100 titles a week and some 9th and 10th graders read more than 100,000 words a week. If the students are provided with a sufficient library of books, they can achieve significant progress in their reading milestones.

 

Let us now examine the reading records of three highly motivated students from our ER program.

 

This student started ER with Oxford Reading Tree Stage 1 on March 1, 2009, when she was in the last month of grade 6. She reached the reading level of Harry Potter in December 2010. After that, she read more than 400,000 words every month. She read more than 800,000 words in May 2011. In August 2011, she reached a total of 6,071,242 words. She was able to reach this level even though she had never lived overseas.

 

Table 3: Reading Record after 27 months (May 2011)

 Grade 9, Female, Started ER on 01/Mar/2009

Date

Title

@

YL

Length

Total Amount

1-May

Girls Under Pressure

JW

5.0

44,752

4,337,873

2-May

Girls Out Late

JW

5.0

46,000

4,383,873

5-May

Girls in Tears

JW

5.0

32,000

4,415,873

6-May

Hunters of the Dusk

DS7

5.0

38,132

4,454,005

9-May

Inkspell

IKH2

7.0

182,079

4,636,084

11-May

Allies of the Night

DS8

5.0

39,000

4,675,084

14-May

‚sraveling Pants

TP1

4.5

54,763

4,729,847

16-May

House at Pooh Corner

PO2

5.0

25,312

4,755,159

18-May

Killers of the Dawn

DS9

5.0

40,000

4,795,159

21-May

Second Summer

TP2

5.0

76,677

4,871,836

23-May

Inkdeath

IKH3

7.0

188,944

5,060,780

29-May

Lake of Souls

DS10

5.0

39,000

5,099,780

TOTAL

@

@

@

806,659

@

 

This next student started ER with Oxford Reading Tree Stage 2 on March 25, 2010, when she was in the last month of grade 7. She reached the reading level of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in October 2010 after reading 1,532,833 words. In August 2011, she reached a total of 5,702,412 words. She first started to learn English when she entered junior high school.

 

 

 

 

 

Table 4: Reading Record after 15 months (May 2011)

 Grade 9, Female, Started ER on 25/Mar/2010

Date

Title

 

YL

Length

Total Amount

1-May

Prisoner of Azkaban

HP

7.0

107,253

4,304,414

2-May

Toothpaste Millionaire

Merrill

4.0

17,067

4,321,481

3-May

Otherwise knows as Shelia

FDG2

4.0

26,519

4,348,000

5-May

Number the Stars

Lowry

4.5

21,000

4,369,000

7-May

Nelson's Dream

CER6

6.0

29,299

4,398,299

8-May

Tales of Fourth Grade

FDG1

4.0

23,394

4,421,693

9-May

Four Weddings and a Funeral

PGR5

5.0

17,678

4,439,371

10-May

An Education

SCE3

3.8

14,553

4,453,924

15-May

Great Blue Yonder

 

6.0

59,000

4,512,924

21-May

Leaving Microsoft

PGR3

3.2

14,017

4,526,941

22-May

House at Pooh Corner

YHL

5.0

25,760

4,552,701

22-May

Rachel Carson

RKR

1.0

483

4,553,184

22-May

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath

BK

1.7

2,211

4,555,395

28-May

Romeo and Juliet

BCT2

3.0

5,500

4,560,895

28-May

When You Reach Me

Stead

4.0

39,247

4,600,142

TOTAL

 

 

 

402,981

 

 

The following student started ER with Foundations Reading Library Level 1 on March 25, 2010, when he was in the last month of grade 9. He reached the reading level of Deltora Quest in August 2010 after reading 2,378,471 words. In August, 2011, after finishing The Hobbit, he reached a total of 12,679,912 words. He first started learning English when he entered junior high school.

 

Table 5: Reading Record after 15 months (May 2011)

 Grade 11, Male, Started ER on 25/Mar/2010

Date

Title

 

YL

Length

Total Amount

8-May

Sherlock Holmes

Doyle

7.0

703,080

9,501,632

10-May

Momo

Ende

6.5

67,000

9,568,632

13-May

Little Charo 2-1

NHK

3.0

18,000

9,586,632

13-May

Barcelona

FPR7

4.5

1,721

9,588,353

15-May

A Faraway Island

Thor

5.0

52,706

9,641,059

19-May

Leaving Microsoft

PGR3

3.2

14,017

9,655,076

26-May

Glass Castle

Walls

7.0

99,409

9,754,485

27-May

Book of Shadows

SWP1

4.0

44,209

9,798,694

30-May

Coven

SWP2

4.0

45,507

9,844,201

TOTAL

 

 

 

1,045,649

 

 

Note that most of the books the students read are authentic readers. Authentic readers are more popular with our students than graded readers and 70% of the books in our library consist of authentic readers, including picture books and graphic novels.

 

We recommend that our students read as many easy books as possible and that they read a variety of books. When students have not yet reached 2,000,000 words, half of the books they read are graded readers from ELT publishers and the other half are authentic readers for native English speaking children. But when they read more than 2,000,000 words, most of the books they read are authentic readers.

 

Ultimately, we would like our students to reach the reading level of authentic books for young adults such as Harry Potter as soon as possible, although in many cases, it may take at least one and a half years to reach that goal. This clear and attractive objective in our program motivates our students to read more. The following is a list of authentic book series that are popular in our classroom, arranged in increasing level of difficulty:

 

(1)   Oxford Reading Tree, Curious George, Winnie the Witch, Henry and Mudge

(2)   Usborne Young Reading, Nate the Great, Ricky Ricotta Mighty Robot

(3)   Magic Tree House, A to Z Mysteries, My Weird School, Zack Files

(4)   The Secrets of Droon, Dragon Slayersf Academy, Geronimo Stilton

(5)   Full House, Gifted, Alex Rider, Mates Dates, Princess Diaries

(6)   Girl 15, Traveling Pants, Deltora Quest, Darren Shan, Haruhi Suzumiya

(7)   Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Twilight, Eragon, Demonata

 

Although authentic readers are more popular among high level students, we recommend that they also read a graded reader every two months. Completing a graded reader fairly easily will contribute to their sense of achievement.

 

The following tables are from a 7th grade student who started learning English and extensive reading at the end of March 2011. The numbers in the first column indicate the number of books he has read, and the underlined numbers show that they were read out of class. It is not uncommon for students at our school to read extensively at home, especially when their regular school is not in session.

 

Table 6: Reading Record of the First Day of ER (March 2011)

 

Makoto had almost no experience learning English when he was in elementary school. He read 13 books, or 281 words, in class and 10 books, or 317 words, at home on the first day of the ER program.

 

In 2011, the last day of our first term was July 2, which was one week later than in previous years because of the Great East Japan Earthquake. At the end of the term, Makoto spent two weeks preparing for his end-of-term exams at his junior high school. After he finished his exams on July 17, he restarted his reading as follows:


Table 7: Reading Record after 6 months of ER Experience

 

Grade 7, Male, Started ER on 25/Mar/2011

 

Date

Title

 

YL

Length

Total Amount

449

2-Jul

The Lost Key

ORT7

0.7

1,050

79,902

450

19-Jul

Collection FRL1

FRL1

0.6

3,361

83,263

451

20-Jul

Danger! Keep Out

BBL6

0.6

593

83,856

452

29-Jul

Collection FRL2

FRL2

0.7

4,294

88,150

453

31-Jul

Collection FRL4

FRL4

0.8

8,076

96,226

454

31-Jul

Ski Race

MMR1

0.8

448

96,674

455

31-Jul

The Well

MMR1

0.8

948

97,622

456

1-Aug

Collection FRL3

FRL3

0.8

4,719

102,341

457

1-Aug

Madagascar

SPR1

0.7

560

102,901

458

1-Aug

Collection FRL5

FRL5

1.0

9,271

112,172

459

2-Aug

Flying Home

PGR0

0.8

974

113,146

460

2-Aug

The Motorway

ORT7

0.8

883

114,029

461

2-Aug

The Bully

ORT7

0.8

852

114,881

462

2-Aug

The Hunt for Gold

ORT7

0.8

916

115,797

463

2-Aug

Chinese Adventure

ORT7

0.8

880

116,677

464

2-Aug

Roman Adventure

ORT7

0.8

600

117,277

465

2-Aug

Roommates

CPT1

1.2

4,217

121,494

466

3-Aug

John Cook 1,2

JC

1.2

1,409

122,903

467

3-Aug

Magical Animals

UYR1

1.4

1,600

124,503

468

3-Aug

Mr Cool

IAR

1.2

1,520

126,023

469

3-Aug

Small Bad Wolf

IAR

1.2

1,300

127,323

470

3-Aug

Noisy Neighbours

IAR

1.2

1,580

128,903

471

3-Aug

Scaredy Dog

IAR

1.2

1,400

130,303

472

4-Aug

The Lost Wallet

FRL6

1.1

2,590

132,893

473

4-Aug

No, You Can't

FRL6

1.1

2,345

135,238

474

4-Aug

Does He Love Me?

FRL6

1.1

2,633

137,871

475

4-Aug

The Jigsaw Puzzle

ORT7

0.8

854

138,725

476

4-Aug

Stories of Robots

UYR1

1.4

1,600

140,325

477

4-Aug

The Clumsy Crocodile

UYR1

1.4

1,600

141,925

478

7-Aug

A Helping Hand

FRL6

1.1

2,590

144,515

479

7-Aug

Trouble at Sea

FRL6

1.1

2,301

146,816

 

E
E
E

E
E
E

 

 

 

E
E
E

485

9-Aug

The Dinosaur Next Door

UYR1

1.4

1,600

170,534

 

E
E
E

E
E
E

 

 

 

E
E
E

496

10-Aug

The Evil Genie

ORT8

0.9

1,294

183,066

 

My Advice about Out- of-Class Reading

 

1 Motivation levels at the beginning of the course are usually high, so it is crucial to lend the students as many books as possible during this period. For this reason, you should purchase at least three copies of each popular title for your library. In fact, we have purchased 100 copies each for our most popular titles.

 

2 Purchase as many books as possible. If you have n students and you would like to lend x books to each student, you need at least 2nx books in your library. At SEG, about 1,000 students borrow an average of 10 books every week, so at any one time almost 10,000 books are in the possession of the students.

 

3 Choose appropriate books for each student. During in-class reading, students can change books, but they cannot change books at home. Therefore, you should lend the students books that are easy for them to read. It is also a good idea to lend them an upper level book, a middle level book, and a lower level book simultaneously. 

 

4 Do not test your students on their reading. Instead, let them share their feedback on their reading with you. If students feel that their teacher doubts that they have really read a book, this may demotivate them.

 

5 Make plans to improve the reading level for each student. Your students will be motivated if you give them a clear goal and show them a way to reach it.

 

4 Teacherfs Advice for Choosing Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


This shows that although the scores and the total number of words read have a positive correlation, it is not a strong correlation, and there are some students who did not get good ACE scores despite having done a lot of reading.  In [1], I presented Furukawa's Hypothesis:

 

The increase in English ability is proportional to (Number of words) ~ (Level of understanding)4

 

This claims that if a student reads a book with 10,000 words with 80% understanding, then his/her increase in English ability is proportional to 10,000~(0.8) 4 = 4096, and, if the same student reads another book with 20,000 words with 50% understanding, then his/her increase in English ability is proportional to 20,000~(0.5) 4 = 1250.

 

Therefore, it is very important to give appropriate books to each student, so that every student is able to read the books with high understanding.

 

Besides, even intermediate level students who can read B1/B2 level readers are unable to choose appropriate books on their own. Even if they have read more than 3,000,000 words, they still have fairly little experience reading in English. When choosing books in their native language, people can get information from newspapers, magazines, TV and radio programs, and friends and family members. If our students read English newspapers, magazines, books, watch English TV dramas, and talk with friends in English in their everyday life, they can choose appropriate books on their own. But most students are not in this situation, so the teacherfs advice for choosing books is one of the most important keys to a successful ER program.

 

To recommend appropriate books for each student, we have to know the reading level of each title and some basic information about it. It is impossible to read every title in our library, but we should read at least 5% of the titles in our library to confirm the content and the reading level of each title. To indicate the reading level, at the SSS group we created the Yomiyasusa Level (YL) system. The Japanese word yomiyasusa can be translated as greadabilityh. There are many reading level systems, such as the Lexile Level, but we think they are not reliable for Japanese learners of English. For example, according to Scholastic Counts (http://src.scholastic.com), Ruby the Red Fairy in Rainbow Magic has a Lexile Level of 520L, and Dinosaurs Before Dark in Magic Tree House has a level of 240L. But most Japanese learners of English, both students and adults, feel that Ruby the Red Fairy is easier than Dinosaurs Before Dark. Based on their feelings, we assigned a YL of 2.0 to Ruby the Red Fairy and a YL of 2.5 to Dinosaurs Before Dark.

 

The YL system is becoming a de-facto standard for bookstores and libraries in Japan. You can get YLs for many titles at http://www.seg.co.jp/sss/reading_level/A/index.shtml.

 

 

My Advice about Choosing Books for Each Student

 

1 Choose several books from the same reading level and have your students choose the one they wish to read. In this way, they feel they have the freedom to choose, but there is no risk that they might select books that are too difficult.

 

2 Select books from the r +1, r, and r -1 levels, where r indicates the appropriate reading level for each student, r+1 a slightly higher reading level, and r-1 a slightly lower one.  Students can challenge themselves with the higher level r+1 books, read comfortably with the r books, and read confidently with the r-1 books.

 

3 In the case of out-of-class reading, you should be more careful in choosing books for the students, as they cannot change these books until they return to class. Therefore, you should choose easy books for them to take home or use the technique mentioned above.

 

4 Check the students' reading records. Have the students write down their favorite books in their native language. Talk with your students about the books they read. Choose titles whose themes might interest the students. In our ER program, some students mainly read otaku books translated into English, while others mainly read historical books. Some students prefer books about weapons and war, and others enjoy books about celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. Every individual is different, and it is important to realize this when recommending books to the students. Reading is for the students, not the teachers, so you should not force your students to read your favorite book.

 

5 Teachers should be familiar not only with graded readers but also with authentic readers.  If you have children of your own, ask them which books they like. Go to bookstores or libraries to find appropriate books for your students. Also, ask publishers or booksellers about books that are popular among young readers.

 

 

5 Teaching Grammar and Vocabulary

 

There are some Japanese teachers who are against teaching grammar and vocabulary in an ER program. But knowledge of grammar helps students read English more accurately, and it helps the students guess the exact meaning of unknown words in many contexts. Both extensive reading and learning grammar and vocabulary accelerate acquiring a foreign language. Besides, they both help students get high scores on English exams in a short time. Although I am against giving reading comprehension tests to students right after they read a book, I do not deny the necessity of tests to measure the students' proficiency in English.  I do not think tests such as the TOEIC, TOEFL, ILETS and entrance examinations should be the main focus of English education for high school students. However, most of our students have to get high scores on an entrance exam to enter a reputable university, or on the TOEFL or ILETS to study abroad, or on the TOEIC to get a good job with a company. If our method did not enable students to get high marks on these tests, only a few students would want to learn English through ER, even though it is a good way to acquire English in the long term.  So we have designed an ER program that can help the students both acquire English and get high scores on tests.

 

In addition, I know there have been some ER programs that have failed because the students had little knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. If your students cannot reach the reading level of Oxford Reading Tree Stage 6, this is probably due to weaknesses in the students' grammar and vocabulary skills.  In this case you must change your grammar and vocabulary lessons.

 

In my experience, there have been some students who could not get high scores on tests even after they have read more than 1,000,000 words. In my observation, the reason was that when they read they only paid attention to the nouns in the text and skipped all the prepositions and most of the verbs.  It is possible to get the basic idea of a book by only paying attention to the nouns, but reading in this way will not help a student acquire grammar and vocabulary.  For example, these students cannot understand passive sentences; therefore, you can easily identify who they are.

 

My Advice about Teaching Grammar and Vocabulary

 

1 Quite a few university students, especially in Japan, lack basic grammatical knowledge and simple vocabulary.  If your students know less than 300 basic headwords, it is hard for them to participate in an ER class in the usual way.  Talk with your colleagues, and make your grammar and vocabulary lessons easier.  For example, if your students can't reach Oxford Reading Tree Stage 6, this means that your school's English syllabus is not suited to your students.

 

2 Do not teach grammar and vocabulary that is too difficult. If the level of grammar and vocabulary in your English lessons is too high, this will not help the students in extensive reading.  Only grammar and vocabulary at an appropriate level promotes extensive reading, and vice versa.

 

6 Opportunities to Speak and Write

 

The weakest point of ER is that ER does not provide opportunities for students to speak and write. Many Japanese students are accustomed to not expressing their opinions in the classroom, even in Japanese, because in many schools teachers do not appreciate students who speak out in class.  However, in order to acquire a foreign language it is necessary for students to speak and write in the target language. Speaking and writing helps the acquisition of grammar and vocabulary.

 

 

My Advice about Speaking and Writing

 

1 Have the students speak and write about topics that interest them, that are relevant to their daily lives, and that they would be likely to want to talk about even in their native language, for example, what they did last weekend or what kind of music they like.

 

2 For speaking activities, have the students speak in pairs or small groups as much as possible.  Many students who are too shy to speak in front of the whole class are willing to speak when they are in a small group.

 

3 Try to match the speaking and writing topics to grammar points.  For example, in a lesson on present simple, have the students talk and write about their daily activities, and in a lesson on past simple, have the students talk and write about a trip that they once took.

 

4 Help build the students' confidence by giving them speaking and writing assignments that are within their ability.  Start off with easy tasks.  If you give assignments that are too difficult, the students may not say or write anything at all and will begin to lose confidence in their English ability.  Also, if you give students a reading or writing task that might be slightly difficult for them, help them do it by first giving a clear example to follow. With a good example, students will be able to accomplish speaking and writing tasks in a foreign language that might be beyond their ability otherwise.

 

5 Always give the students lots of positive feedback about their progress in English.

 

7 Support from Parents and Administrators

It is important for your program to have support from both parents and administrators. In fact, as a juku, we would go bankrupt if we were to lose the parentsf support. The best way to obtain their support is to show them the effectiveness of the program. We have three different approaches for getting their support.

 

First, we use the Assessment of Communicative English Test (ACE Test) every half year. The ACE test is conducted by the Association for English Language Proficiency Assessment. The level of the ACE test is almost the same as that of the National Center Test in Japan, and the ACE test is widely used in high schools nationwide. Therefore, with the ACE test, we can compare our ER students to senior high school students nationwide. The following table shows the average ACE test scores of our ER students and of students nationwide.  The maximum possible score for the total test and for each section is given in parentheses in the first row.

 

Table 8: Average ACE Test Scores

 

ACE 039 / Administered in July of 2011

Number of Students

Total
Score
(900)

Vocabulary

Score

 (150)

Grammar
Score
(150)

Reading
Score      (300)

Listening
Score
(300)

A

Grade 8 ER Students/ average

205

496.4

73.7

65.7

163.7

193.2

B

Grade 8 ER Students/ top 25%

52

628.3

90.1

81.8

219.3

237.2

C

Grade 8 ER Students/ bottom 25%

52

388.0

60.7

51.7

120.7

154.9

D

Grade 9 ER Students/ average

149

612.9

89.6

85.8

207.3

230.3

E

Grade 9 ER Students/ top 25%

37

771.5

111.0

104.8

270.1

285.6

F

Grade 9 ER Students/ bottom 25%

37

472.6

74.2

67.8

153.2

177.5

G

Grade 10 ER Students/ average

119

656.5

96.2

95.9

227.6

236.9

H

Grade 10 ER Students/ top 25%

30

793.9

115.0

111.2

288.6

279.2

I

Grade 10 ER Students/ bottom 25%

30

520.7

79.9

83.3

169.4

188.1

J

Grade 11 ER Students/ average

74

729.2

114.2

104.8

257.7

252.6

K

Grade 11 ER Students/ top 25%

19

840.7

130.2

119.3

298.6

292.6

L

Grade 11 ER Students/ bottom 25%

19

581.4

91.3

86.8

200.2

203.1

M

Grade 10 Nationwide Students/ average

1023

439.7

71.8

70.5

141.5

156.0

N

Grade 10 Nationwide Students/ top 25%

256

518.0

83.6

79.7

174.0

180.7

O

Grade 11 Nationwide/ average

1103

469.0

75.8

74.6

154.3

164.0

P

Grade 11 Nationwide/ top 2%

22

725.1

113.7

108.5

255.3

247.6

Q

Grade 11 Nationwide/ top 10%

110

630.4

98.7

95.0

219.3

217.3

R

Grade 11 Nationwide/ top 25$

276

575.6

91.5

88.9

198.1

196.3

S

Grade 11 Nationwide/ bottom 25%

276

376.6

60.5

59.8

116.9

139.1

 

The data shows that our 8th grade ER students, who have only been studying English for one and a half years, get an average of 496.4 points, which is higher than the nationwide average of 469.0 points for 11th graders, who have studied English for four and a half years.

 

It is also instructive to compare rows B and Q.  The average total score for the top 25% of our 8th graders is 628.3 points, whereas the average total score for the top 10% of eleventh graders nationwide is 630.4.  Although these two averages are almost the same, which is impressive in itself, it is especially impressive when you look at the listening comprehension section of the test.  In the listening comprehension, the average score of the top 25% of our 8th graders is 237.2, which is higher than the average score of 217.3 for the top 10% of 11th graders nationwide.  This clearly shows that not only do ER students perform better on the ACE test than students several years older, but their listening comprehension is superior as well.

 

We also have a standard English course taught with the traditional grammar translation method. The following table is a comparison between the average scores of students in our ER class and the average scores of the students in our traditional class.

 

 

Table 9: The Ratio of Differences of the Scores between 2010 and 2011

@

ACE 039 / Administered in July of 2011
ACE 038 / Administered in July of 2010

Number of Students

Total
Score
(900)

Vocabulary
Score
 (150)

Grammar
Score
(150)

Reading
Score      (300)

Listening
Score
(300)

A

Grade 10 ER Students
in Group B/ 2011.07

49

638.3

93.1

94.3

216.5

234.5

B

Grade 9 ER students
(ACE<600)  2010.07

49

502.6

77.9

76.5

167.9

180.4

C

Difference/ A-B

49

135.6

15.2

17.8

48.6

54.1

D

Grade 10 TR students
in Group E /2011.06

6

608.5

83.0

87.7

208.7

229.2

E

Grade 9 TR students
(ACE<600) 2010.06

6

498.0

76.3

76.8

174.8

170.0

F

Difference  D-E

6

110.5

6.7

10.8

33.8

59.2

G

Difference  C-F

@

25.1

8.5

7.0

14.9

-5.1

H

Ratio C:F

@

1.23

2.27

1.65

1.44

0.91

I

Grade 11 (Nationwide)

709

535.4

86.7

87.3

181.3

180.1

 

Rows B and E contain the data for the students whose ACE scores in 2010 were less than 600 points. It is hard for students who earned nearly full marks in 2010 to get higher scores in 2011. Therefore, we only consider the difference in ACE scores from 2010 to 2011 for students who scored less than 600 points on the 2010 ACE test.

 

The average difference between total ACE scores in 2010 and in 2011 for students in the ER class is 1.23 times greater than that for students in the traditional class.  In the grammar and vocabulary sections, the difference in scores for students in the ER class is over two times greater than that for students in the traditional class. This data clearly shows the greater effectiveness of the ER class compared with a traditional class.

 

Another way we get support from parents is to show them comments from students who have graduated from our ER program.  We have some graduates who entered top-level universities such as Waseda University, Keio University, and the University of Tokyo. These are comments from our graduates:

 

-When I entered the ER class, I was asked to read very simple picture books, which were definitely written for infants. I was very doubtful that I could develop English proficiency through reading such easy books. But such worries proved to be groundless. I was amazed that English, which used to be my weakest subject, turned out to be my strongest subject.

 ( I.S. Kaisei High, Chiba University Medical Department)

 

-Because of ER in English, I was always good at reading comprehension tests.

 (O.Y. Kaisei High, Keio University Medical Department)

 

-I became accustomed to enjoying reading in English through ER class. Reading English books was a chance to have some fun while studying for entrance exams.

 (N.Y. Shirayuri High, University of Tokyo)

 

-ER class was a wonderful class. I entered it to study English for the entrance exams. But I found that it was fun to read English books in class.

(Y.N. Shiba High, Waseda University)

 

-Through reading books and watching DVDs, I learned English not as a subject for an exam, but as a language.

 (A.C. Gakugeidai Fuzoku High, Keio University)

 

My Advice about Support from Parents and Administrators

 

1 Collect data that shows the effectiveness of ER from your classes and from magazines and books. Give it to the parents or administrators with a clear explanation.

 

2 There are many gtadokistsh, who are doing ER on their own in Japan. In fact, there appear to be more than 10,000 tadoku teachers in Japan. Find some in your town and ask them to speak in favor of ER. If you are not able to find one, ask the SSS Extensive Reading Study Group at sss@seg.co.jp .

 

3 Find parents who work at an international company or a company with an international department and ask them to speak about what level of English ability is needed in their company. They know the importance of extensive reading because of their work experience.

 

4 Find some excellent students in your class. Encourage them to join some contests. In our program, a smart student who read more than 3,000,000 words got the gold medal in the 2008 International Geometry Olympiad. He is still the only Japanese gold medalist in the Geometry Olympiad, and he is very cooperative about promoting our ER program. There are also many speech contests all over Japan. If one of your ER students wins the contest, more parents, students, and administrators will become interested in your ER program.

 

5 Persuade someone important in a parentsf association or an alumni association to help your ER program. They have great influence over opinions about English teaching at your school and also have some power over the budget.

 

 

Conclusion

The motivation of the students is the most essential component of a successful ER program.  For this reason, I am against giving reading comprehension tests to students after they finish a book.  The best way to motivate your students is for them to have fun while reading in an ER environment.

 

Your job as an ER practitioner is to help your students read more easily and to help them reach the reading level of the Harry Potter books within a few years of ER practice.

 

You need a substantial budget to buy a variety of books so that your students can read a lot.  There are many ways to get this budget if you are able to persuade administrators, parents, and alumni that this program is right for the students.

 

It is really fun for you to see your students develop a high proficiency and confidence in English.  Observe a successful ER class and pick up ideas to use in your own programs.  And remember, ER is not only for students; people of all ages and skill levels can enjoy reading.

References

 

[1] ŒÃìº•v(FURUKAWA, A): u‰pŒê‘½“Ç–@v(gExtensive Reading in Enlishh), ¬ŠwŠÙ(Shogaku-kan), Tokyo,

 2010, pp.89-96.

[2] Scholastic Inc: http://src.scholastic.com, August 2011.

[3] SSS Study Group: http://www.seg.co.jp/sss/reading_level/A/index.shtml., February 2009.