Krashen’s comprehensible input theory has always appealed to me. It seems to make sense. Lots of exposure to language that is understandable and a little language that is new. The new information can be understood in context without the overt teaching of grammar or vocabulary. It encourages the learner to join all the dots and to develop confidence in doing that.
I’ve never explicitly taught a graded reading class, but I have recommended them to my students, particularly those who have done little or no reading primarily because they say it’s boring. In my view, it’s not that they found the process of reading boring, it’s that they simply chose the wrong books.
If you walk into a library, not every book there will be of interest to you. You need to take your time to find books that you are interested in. This is clearly also true for a language learner, but with the added requirement that the level of the language in the book must within range of comprehensibility. If the book is too easy, no language development happens, and if it’s too difficult, motivation will suffer. Graded readers are the solution.
With a graded reader, learners can read relatively effortlessly, with just the occasional bump along the way. This is vital in order to build confidence and also to cement in their memory those high frequency words, collocations, and grammatical structures.
Vocabulary is a key issue for my students. They have large gaps in their vocabulary – there are quite basic words that they are not familiar with, but they occasionally pull out some very high level vocab at times. This clearly doesn’t lead to effective or natural communication. The fundamental reason for this mishmash of vocab is how the students learn vocabulary.
Most of their vocabulary us learned for tests, especially entrance tests for high school and university. This is usually done using word lists and vocabulary books. Needless to say, these approaches don’t lead to a deep understanding of the words being ‘learned’. More on this in my next blog post.