The Magic of Extended Reading

For me, an extended reading is a crowning achievement in a TPRS unit. It’s a chance to bring together all the different words and structures students have learned, and it’s amazing how much reapplication you can get out of one extended reading. Best of all, it’s content that students have already mastered, so they get the reward of reading an extended passage with ease.

The hardest part about creating an extended reading is finding inspiration for the story. These stories have to be the most captivating, because a high level of student interest will keep the extended reading from becoming a chore. This is a time to pull out all your knowledge of your students. If you find just the right topic, students will be reading the story before you even ask. For this reason, I like to stick with characters and stories that students already know, like the Harry Potter example above. Familiar and popular names and places will draw students in, and an original twist will keep them reading.

You can even get great inspiration from the students’ own stories. One year’s skits and personalized compositions can become the next year’s extended reading storylines. Crossovers are great too. One of the best class stories we ever told incorporated all the various vampire shows that different students watch, bringing all these characters together at a party in New Orleans. We all learned a little more about each other’s interests and we had a great time figuring out what would happen with so many strange characters in one place!

Once you have your inspiration, following the guidelines for a good extended reading isn’t so hard. You’re looking for about 300 words in length with no more than 10% new vocabulary. That can be a challenge if your students’ interests go far beyond your curriculum, but it’s also a way for them to see how circumlocution works; you can express a lot of entertaining ideas with a fairly basic TPR- and TPRS-based vocabulary.

When it comes to calculating that 10% maximum of new vocabulary, I prefer to be conservative. Most of my students will recognize words like liberté or géographie immediately, but there are students who just don’t see cognates and the expectation that they will goes against good brain-based teaching. The footnote feature in programs like Word makes it easy to incorporate new words while maintaining comprehensibility, and adding footnotes as you go makes it easy to keep track of how much new vocabulary you’ve put into a story. If you work hard to recycle these new words throughout the reading, you can even add a bit of extra vocabulary to students’ mastery skills.

Most importantly, an extended reading needs to be bizarre, exaggerated and personalized like any other TPRS material. Your students’ interests and ideas provide the personalization, but you have to do something unexpected with them. Translating a familiar fairy tale or movie scene into the target language isn’t enough. You have to tell a story that students have never heard, and one they want to read. But again, you don’t have to be an experienced novelist to accomplish that goal and you don’t have to be the one doing all the work. Have your students write all their favorite things on little scraps of paper and toss them in a bowl. Choose two or three of those things at random to put into an extended reading, and you’ll probably end up with a bizarre situation. Now exaggerate all the details — times, prices, characters’ reactions, and so on — and you have all three elements of a good TPRS story!

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