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The Use of Graded Readers for English Language Learning

Some books have been produced that have been graded so that students are able to choose the degree of difficulty of the English language they are reading.


What is so special about graded readers? 


Most of my previous English language teaching was in the UK concentrating on English as a foreign Language (EFL) students, the majority of who were only interested in passing their Cambridge examinations by completing their course books as quickly as possible.


Teaching in Thailand gave me the opportunity to experiment with graded readers and I found them to be an extremely useful tool in English language teaching and learning as long as the teachers and students know what they are doing.


The idea behind this methodology is that publishers have produced books, some of them are well known titles, and have adapted the English language used so that a perspective teacher or reader can choose the level of difficulty and decide if it is the right choice for them.


Macmillan for example, has six levels ranging from starter, which has about 300 basic words to Upper, which has about 2200. The publishers state that the, “information, structure and vocabulary are controlled to suit the students’ ability at each level.”


This enables students and teachers alike to choose not only the subject that they would like to read about, but also the level of language. Some of the readers come with free CDs which contain a professional performance by a native speaker reading the same book word for word.


As in all things connected to education, there is always some form of financial constraint which limits the use of chosen resources. This effects the way that teachers can use the graded reader resource; however, it is up to the teacher concerned to use their imagination and seek out the relevant methodology from colleagues and published resources.


Students can be allowed to read the books in their own time if they wish. They can take the books home and after two weeks they must return them. There is no need for tests and comprehension exercises, they just read because they want to.


Some teachers like to give class time to this activity and spend the last 20 minutes of their lesson with students reading quietly to themselves. They can all be reading the same book, but at different speeds, or they could be reading different books it doesn’t matter.


Other teachers prefer to use the questions that are contained in the reader and ask students to answer the questions as well. There are always extra resources on the internet supplied by the publishers, with teachers’ notes and lesson plans.


Teachers can also use the CDs that accompany some of the books. Students can listen and read at the same time, or listen first and read later. It really doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t hurt to ask the students how they would like to use the resource.


Reading aloud activities can be conducted and pre service teachers can practise the setting up of this type of activity as is the case with my university.


It is always important for teachers to remember that all teaching activities need to be introduced so that students understand what they have to do. This is especially the case when students are undertaking new activities that they have never attempted before.


Once they have been introduced and scaffolded (supported) it will be possible for students to conduct their own activities with the minimal of supervision. Autonomous learning in a student centres environment is included in the 1999 Education Act and will benefit students and teachers.


In my opinion, whilst the use of graded readers is a useful tool in the teaching of English, it is not the saviour that results in teachers being made redundant. It is just one more way that teachers can make the learning of English more enjoyable for their students and possibly give them some freedom in how and when they learn.


If students are motivated, you will be pleasantly surprised at what they can do and how they do it.  

English language teaching materials

Teachers are spoilt for choice when it comes to the selection of graded readers.

(Unedited article published in The Bangkok Post, 27th May 2008)

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