Of all the courses I have written, Reading Keys is my favorite for two main reasons. First, with a reading course comes the freedom to cover a vast range of diverse topics. Moreover, the driving force is the content itself rather than language, which for a textbook writer makes a refreshing change! The topics and themes have to be interesting to a broad range of readers. Yes, it is possible to include some quirky topics on offbeat themes, but actually far more interesting in my view is the need to cover familiar topics in new and exciting ways, by finding different angles and perspectives to explore. This is what I tried to do across each of the three levels in Reading Keys. The journey it took me on was fascinating, and I believe this comes through in the course itself.
The second reason why I like this course so much is the challenge it posed at the very start. During my research, I interviewed hundreds of students and teachers (discussing which reading books they used, what they liked or didn’t like about them, what they wanted more of, or less of, etc.) and one thing became very clear: teachers in reading classes were finding it difficult to feel they were actually ‘teaching’, and their students were struggling to feel they were actually ‘learning’. Even if the topic was interesting to them, students often couldn’t see how answering the comprehension questions was necessarily helping them become better readers. However much they read, they found it hard to feel a sense of progress.
That’s why I decided to base my approach on a single principle: Reading doesn’t make a better reader. To become a better (i.e., more efficient and fluent) reader, students need to draw on a broad array of skills. These include skills such as skimming and scanning of course, but also more specialized skills, such as how to separate fact from opinion, how to infer meaning, and how to identify text organization. Learning to read more fluently also requires not just text-attack skills, but word-attack skills as well, such as recognizing parts of speech, guessing meaning from context, using a dictionary, and dealing with words with multiple meanings. I felt that what was missing from many reading courses was a clear and thorough approach to these skills. By focusing on ten key text-attack skills and ten key word-attack skills in each level, I aimed to help teachers ‘teach’ and students ‘learn’. These are the keys to successful reading. Hence the title, Reading Keys.
Crucially, it is not sufficient to simply list and explain what these key skills are. Students need to be shown how each skill works, and how best to put each one into practice. They need plenty of targeted practice in using each skill, and ultimately they need to be tested on their ability to use a combination of skills across both intensive and extensive texts. The Key reading skills and Key vocabulary skills study sheets at the back of each level in Reading Keys provide a solid foundation of practical guidance and support that students can refer to. What’s more, these study sheets are woven into focused skills practice in each main unit.
As for the new edition, each level is now reorganized into 16 units (eight themes, each with two units that take a different angle on the topic). The lower level is simplified slightly, and the upper two levels raised in difficulty. There is also broader vocabulary coverage (including collocations), a new focus on structure, and greater recycling. Importantly, extensive reading texts are now at the back of each book, allowing students to apply the skills they have practiced to longer texts – which leads me to my conclusion; reading is itself the key to learning a language. Whenever students ask me what they can do to improve their English, my answer is always the same: Keep calm and carry on reading!