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Hooked on Books: Extensive Reading with Jack Scholes

November 15, 2021 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

In this series of interviews we talk to teachers, ELT writers, visual artists and researchers about the importance of using literature in the language classroom. Together they have hundreds of years of experience in teaching and writing so they can definitely give us plenty of advice and insight into the best practices. We talk about the importance and transformation of literary texts in education, we ask for genre and title recommendations as well as personal stories.

This month we talk to Jack Scholes, who has over 40 years' experience in the field of English language teaching anf training in many different countries around the world including England, Germany, Nepal, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Jack is also author of our popular reader The Coconut Seller

You can join Jack this month in the Helbling Webinar "Good readers make good learners!" The free webinar will be on Thursday 25 November and he will practical ideas and activities to help you make extensive reading an integral part of your language-learning programme. You can register on our website.

Interview with Jack Scholes

Jack reading

Hi Jack, your talk is about extensive reading. Can you tell us a little about your own reading habits?

I’m an avid reader and devote time to reading every single day. I ‘devour’ around 50 books a year. I also have reading plans beyond the book I’m currently reading, so reading for me is not just a casual improvised pursuit, but a habit that I carefully plan out. I like to read a variety of books from many different genres. During the recent lockdown, I enjoyed several novels from the new literary genre ‘UpLit’. These are uplifting and life-affirming stories of hope, humour, and kind human connections, look for books by Matt Haig, Gail Honeyman, Mike Gayle, etc. 


How has extensive reading influenced your teaching?

I discovered the power of extensive reading early on in my teaching career and I’ve always tried to make graded readers an integral part of every language programme I’ve been involved in. Apart from improving all language skills and fluency, graded readers greatly increase learners’ motivation and confidence and can often change students’ attitudes to learning another language. Since the focus is not on studying English, but on the message, students enjoy the stories as readers, not language learners. They get drawn into the story and their enjoyment helps overcome ‘perceived’ difficulties while reading in English. I’ve also found that graded readers are a wonderful way to develop awareness of other cultures and they can often become a stepping stone to original, ungraded fiction and non-fiction.

You have travelled to many places and have seen different approaches to reading in the English class. Have you noticed any differences in student’s reading habits around the world? 

Definitely! I have seen examples of some of the best and also some of the worst approaches. The worst would be killing the idea right at the start by stipulating the number of pages students have to read (often by a certain date), from a set book chosen by the teacher, followed by a graded test, based mainly on grammar, vocabulary and comprehension details. The best approach is where the teacher is a role model as a reader, showing passion and excitement for reading. In this approach the teacher always explains the aims, methodology and importance of graded readers and guides the students to get the most out of reading, encouraging them with motivating before, during, and after reading activities. In many countries I have visited, teachers often complain that students don’t even read in their own language. Again, it is the teacher’s job to arouse curiosity and get students ready and eager to read. The sooner this process starts the better.  When primary teachers instil the joys of reading in English in their young learners, they cultivate lifelong reading habits.

Immersing students in book-oriented environments at school, and especially a home filled with books, has an immediate and direct impact on students’ reading habits. I come from a working-class background and we had no books whatsoever at home and I never saw anyone in my family reading a book! It was only at secondary school that enthusiastic teachers celebrated the enjoyment of reading and showed me the pleasure and importance of reading. At university I studied Modern Languages and read lots of the European classics in the original language, including some in medieval German! I absolutely loved it! So, the role of schools, teachers and parents is crucial to developing students’ reading habits.

Do you have any tips for teachers who would like to make reading an integral part of their teaching programme?

First of all, read all books you suggest for your students yourself, then allow the students to choose the book they want to read from as wide a variety of titles possible. Remember that extensive reading is reading for pleasure where the aim is a general understanding of the story, so encourage the students to avoid using dictionaries and explain how they can glean meaning from context without interrupting the reading process.

What are you reading now? Any nice book recommendations for teachers?

Here are three books which I’ve read recently and would highly recommend  

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  2. West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge
  3. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman