How Comprehensible Must Reading Be?

Marcos Benevides’ Slideshare PPT has been floating around for over a year now. It’s a powerful illustration of how unknown words affect reading fluency (speed + accuracy), especially for anyone who thinks students will be OK reading anything that’s less than 98% comprehensible.

Still, the syntactical clues in Marcos’ PPT helped native speakers. In order to simulate a student’s reading experience more accurately, I removed those clues. Here’s the result (download, here, for sharing):


“School isn’t even close to an L1 environment:” Why reading is KEY

I’ve heard the argument that “it’s impossible to replicate a native language (L1) environment, so why bother with all this CI stuff in the classroom?” I used to counter this with “we’re trying to get as close to that environment as possible while lowering expectations to a realistic level given how little time (~400 hours) students have with a language in high school.” Sure, that’s all true, but we can do better.

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Read, don’t Translate: Speed Reading

Reading without consciously translating into one’s native language is assumed to be a part of language acquisition, yet is taken for granted and difficult to assess. Through a Speed Reading program, students are encouraged to read chunks of words rather than individual word-for-word-translation. This aligns with how we focus on teaching the most frequent structures rather than isolated word lists. In addition, students find this reading program compelling due to the personal competitive nature.

Take a minute to read the Speed Reading Process (my adaptation of Blaine Ray’s adaptation of Paul Nation’s program).

If you like the idea, all that’s needed to begin is a set of reading passages (perhaps parallel class stories), accompanying document with 10 comprehension questions, and a table showing reading speed per passage. You will need the following files:

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