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Myths of Graded Readers, Part 1

by Terry Phillips


I have been in language teaching for over forty years, working as a freelance ELT author for the last 30 years. During that time, I have written support materials for graded readers but never actually written any myself. I did not think there was a need for any more graded readers.


In 2017, I joined Innova Press. Almost the first request from a potential client was to source graded readers for young learners to be used in class as part of a programme to improve reading skills.


Surely, no problem? A casual search of the websites of the big players in the field revealed that there are tens of thousands of readers on the market, although a closer examination revealed that only a tiny subset are aimed at young learners.


Nevertheless, I began my search confidently. However, I rapidly encountered several underlying myths which seem to militate against the sourcing of good graded readers for young learners for a class programme.


Myth 1: Readers for native speaker children are fine for non-native children

The vast majority of readers in the global market – principally from American publishers – were originally for native speaker children, but according to Paul Nation,

“A seven-year-old native speaker … knows at least 5,000 words.” (Nation, 2015)

The target population for our client was seven, but knew almost no words.


Myth 2: Readers can guess unknown words from context

This myth has powered sloppy vocabulary control for some time, but several leading authorities have stated that learners need to know around 98% of the words in a text in order to guess the remainder (e.g. Hu & Nation, 2000; Schmitt et al, 2011). For a non-native child, the number of known words in a reader originally written for native speakers will be more like 2%.


Check back in the new year for three more myths about graded readers!


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