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Myths of Graded Readers, Part 2

by Terry Phillips


Continued from Part 1


Myth 3: You only need to control for vocabulary level to make a reading text comprehensible

So let’s forget adapting native speaker readers. Graded ESL/EFL readers from UK publishers are certainly strictly, almost pathologically, controlled for vocabulary. But English is a syntactic language, so unless there is equally strict control of syntactic patterns, the chances of comprehension are reduced, even of known words in a particular sentence.


Myth 4: Graded readers should only be part of an extensive reading programme

Our potential client wanted to use the graded readers in class once a week, an excellent idea. But graded readers are not, apparently, designed for this use, but for ‘extensive reading’. This idea hides, to my mind, an even more pervasive myth – that there is a qualitative difference between reading a short text in a coursebook, and reading a short story in a graded reader. Reading is extracting the communicative value from a text, so whether it is a coursebook text which students have to read to find information to enter into a table (intensive reading, supposedly) or a story, which students have to read in order to understand who did what and why (extensive reading, so they say), the same basic processes of decoding are involved. Perhaps this myth arises because of the elephant in the room about coursebook texts. They often don’t have any communicative value at all. They exist only as a vehicle for a particular grammatical structure or, more rarely, a vocabulary set or an exemplar of a discourse structure. Readers are ‘purer’ in this sense and therefore, somehow, get a classification all their own. As I see it, all reading text should be graded in a way which will assist the reader to make subconscious patterns of structure and to present, then reinforce new vocabulary.


Myth 5: Reading for pleasure just involves providing interesting texts

This is fine as far as it goes but what makes a text intrinsically interesting? We can try to ensure that topics are interesting but we all ‘read on’ to the next page of a text because we want to know the answer to a question (in our heads or on the page) or to find out what happens next. There is no intrinsic pleasure in simply turning the pages of a reader. The pleasure comes from making predictions about what comes next and then having them confirmed or confounded. So graded readers need ‘hooks’ at the end of every page to get the reader – especially, perhaps, the young learner – to turn it over and check predictions.


So what was the result of my research for our potential client?  I found all the myths above were alive and well and made the graded readers I was able to source completely unsuitable for the use required by the client.


And so, reader, I wrote some myself.


Find Innova Press Readers and other ways to get children reading and enjoying it at!


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