Intensive and Extensive Readers

This is part of my series on Intensive and Extensive Learning.

  • Part I is Intensive and Extensive Reading
  • Part II is on Intensive and Extensive Listening
  • Intensive and Extensive Speaking
  • I was recently asked by a local school to talk about using IELTS and TOEFL exercises in the classroom, not only for students preparing for those tests, but also for those who are learning general English. It was sort of a strange topic and one that was difficult to address. Usually, I think that students who are preparing for standardized English language exams are served well by both test prep courses and general English courses, but the other way around didn’t make a lot of sense to me. However, in thinking about it and the difference between the TOEFL and the IELTS tests, I realized that more or less, they illustrate the difference between intensive and extensive learning, which are both important concepts for teachers to know. So I wanted to share some of my ideas here.

    For example, most textbooks ask students to do intensive reading. We give our students a text and ask them comprehension questions (Why did Billy go the store?), detail questions (What color was Billy’s shirt?), vocab questions (Find a word in the text that means the same thing as ‘unpleasant’) and even grammar questions (Underline the verbs in the past tense). It’s a very efficient way to squeeze a lot of learning out of one text and it also teaches grammar and vocabulary in context, in a real passage. The IELTS is full of texts with a variety of detailed questions, perfect for teaching students to be intensive readings.

    However, intensive reading not a lot of fun for students–they will never learn to love reading if they always have to analyze every text so intensely. Also, while the texts are often realistic, usually in order to be so productive, these readings have to be adapted somewhat or written by textbook writer. So we also should teach students to read extensively.

    The TOEFL, for example, tends to ask questions about the main idea of a text and the major supporting points. It might also ask about the structure of the text or rhetorical style. If it does ask about grammar or vocabulary, the questions can be answered by understanding the context, not just looking up a definition in the dictionary. In other words, extensive reading is closer to how we read in our native language. We don’t always get every detail or know every single word when we read a 19th century novel or a newspaper article about the economy. We don’t necessarily get every reference. But we understand the overall sense and what the author is trying to tell us and we use context clues to figure out what we don’t understand on the first try. Students need to be taught these skills so that they don’t go running for their dictionary every time they hit a new word or get frustrated because they don’t understand every single point of the text. So asking main idea questions about a text is a great way to encourage students to read more like native speakers.

    You can also give students book reports. Have them choose a book to read over some period of time and then write a report or review of the book. What is the book about? Who are the main characters? How does it end? What did they think about it? Or give them a newspaper article and tell them they have one minute to read it and 30 seconds to summarize it. That way they have to focus on the main ideas only. Also letting students read about topics they are interested in will encourage them to read more fluently because they will not want to stop to reread or check a dictionary. So giving students choices in readings can help them become more extensive readers.

    Next time, I’ll talk about how IELTS and TOEFL exercises can teach students to be intensive or extensive listeners.

    Teacher Tools

    I occasionally get asked by my fellow teachers how I organize my teaching materials and what kinds of tools I use. I’m not sure I am the perfect organizer but for what it’s worth, I’m putting down my method here.

    First, I keep big folders of material sorted by kind of lesson. Every Xerox, every print-out, every article I clip from the newspaper is in a 3-hole punch binder and organized into the following categories:
    Conversation Lesson
    Vocab Lesson

    You may have your own categories or organizational system.

    I also have seperators in with the name of the lesson on it so I can easily find my lesson on stereotypes or the describing people vocab sheet. Putting things in binders is good for being organized but it’s also good as a way to store extra copies. If I make 8 copies of a worksheet and only 2 people show up, I put away those 6 extra copies to use next time. Saves time, paper, and ink.

    I also have files saved on my computer, downloaded from the internet, or worksheets that I have typed up. Those are also organized into folders and for lessons that have a lot of files–like a lesson that has a teacher’s guide, a worksheet, a role play sheet and a vocab quiz, I make a seperate file. I also rename files to things I remember. And if I see something on the Net I like, I save it. Even if I don’t need it right away. I used to bookmark the page and try to remember to go back to it. That never happened. I prefer to have lessons I’ll never use to forgetting to save a really good lesson.

    And any worksheet I really like, or book pages I use a lot, I tend to scan and save away so the book binding doesn’t get worn out from endless copying. For books, it’s time consuming but I like to pick and choose what I scan. For example most TOEFL books have questions and then a lot of explanation. I scan the pages, and then use a snapshot program to pick and choose what I want to give my student. I can cut a 13 page lesson down to 5 pages. Saves paper. And obviously I tell them the explanations.

    I also really think it’s important to take time to rearrange worksheets you don’t like or to modify things. I teach adults and children and there are some conversation books I really like, but the lessons aren’t suitable for children so I retype them and save them. That way I always have the kids’ version ready.

    One huge help is a desktop search program like Yahoo Desktop Search. It’s much better than the Windows search because it’s extremely fast and I can easily find all my lessons that have the word “Christmas” in them. And you can easily refine the program to search only your lesson plan folder.

    The other big thing I personally recommend is saving CD files to your computer and using iTunes or another music program to organize them. Working off the computer instead of a CD player you have more control about starting at a particular place and you can name the files so you don’t have to keep checking the track list.

    Those are my brillant tips. What do you use to stay organized? Any good programs or toys out there that a teacher, or a student, must have?