Essential Reading
by Scott Miles

High interest reading passages

I still remember as a child taking my first swimming lessons. Our class was early in the morning and at that time the pool’s heater was broken, so we had to learn how to swim in cold water. The only thing I remember while taking the lessons is that I just wanted to get out of the water as quickly as possible. Needless to say, I didn’t learn much from the class.

 

Teaching our students to read using boring texts is quite similar to this experience; the only thing our students want to do is finish the reading as quickly as possible and not much learning takes place. Unfortunately, this happens far more often than not with most course books.

 

Thus, the foremost goal of our series is to provide reading passages of high interest for Asian university students. Too often course books aimed at an international audience contain content that is either uninteresting or simply irrelevant to Asian students, making it difficult for teachers to keep students engaged in the material. I don’t mean to criticize other textbooks too harshly, as I think there are a lot of very good course books out there. The problem is that when you are putting together a textbook for students ranging from Asia to Europe to South America, it’s just impossible to find texts that will appeal to everyone. Fortunately, Macmillan allowed us to create the series solely for the Asian market and we tried to take full advantage of this.

While creating or choosing passages for our texts, we asked ourselves the following questions:

1. Is the topic typically interesting to young adult Asian students?

2. Does the content provide new information for the average Asian student?

3. Does the content evoke some kind of emotional response from Asian students?

 

All three issues are crucial. The first question is rather obvious, but the other two questions are often missed in many current reading course books. Even if a given topic is generally of interest to readers, if the text does not provide new information then the reading will not stimulate much interest. Often I find that course books include Asian-related content but the information is so general that all my students already know it. As for the third question, good readers already know the power of a good book to stimulate interest and move emotions. We tried to put in passages which would evoke many possible emotional responses, including ones that might even make the reader a bit angry or concerned. Naturally, we avoided putting in content which would be completely offensive, but we wanted the texts to get the students thinking and feeling.

 

Promoting extensive reading

In addition to emphasizing reading skills and strategies students need to become more efficient and successful readers, Essential Reading also promotes extensive reading practices. Extensive reading is simply reading a large amount of high interest material that is simple enough to comprehend without any assistance (even a dictionary). People do not become good readers just by hearing lectures on reading and even practicing isolated skills. Fundamentally, we learn to read by reading a lot and through this series we aim to help teachers encourage the reading habit in their students. To be clear, the Essential Reading series itself is not an extensive reading course book (no such book could possibly exist!).  However, by providing information on the practice and introducing selections of Macmillan graded readers, the series gives students the opportunity to see that reading in English at their level of difficulty can be an enjoyable and effective way to develop reading skills (and overall language skills as well!).

So did we succeed in making reading course books that will engage Asian students and help them develop the reading habit even after the course is finished? We hope that you’ll take a look at some of the books and try to judge this for yourself!