Clive Lovelock
Vocabulary Development Prior to Extensive Reading
Nov 23rd 2002
Wind Hall
Presentation number 271


By Clive Lovelock

Henceforth, “Extensive Reading” will be referred to as E.R.


        1. Part A* (largely complete)
        1) Thumbelina
        2) Rapunzel
        3) Hansel & Gretel
        4) Jack & the Beanstalk
        5) The Elves & the Shoemaker

        2. Part B** (partially written)
        6) The 3 Little Pigs
        7) The 3 Billy Goats Gruff
        8) Goldilocks & the 3 Bears
        9) Heidi
        10) The Pied Piper

        * First version more or less complete ­ now piloting
        ** To date, only 6 and 7 are being piloted ­ still writing 8~10

      2. COMPONENTS The material is still being developed, so my ideas on this may evolve further..
        1. Illustrations without Text These are essential for comprehension at this level. At present, they are completely separate from the text in the form of flash cards with text removed or OHC projection straight from a Ladybird book, with the text covered. They can also be presented as sets for individual students, but that may raise copyright problems at the moment.
        2. Student’s Textbook, including:
          • notes for the student on how to use the book (should be translated into Japanese ­ otherwise too difficult for self-access);
          • a similar section for the teacher;
          • Up to 10 story units consisting of the story; and then practice activities;
          • every third unit, a revision section (still planning)
          • a reference section at the back.
        3. Cassette Tape or CD of readings of the stories, for teachers who may be shy about story telling. To date, the first 5 stories are recorded
        4. Test Booklet Not yet produced, but there will probably be two- one after the first 5 units and one at the end.


        1. Low level college students
        2. Low level high school students
        3. More mature adult beginners

        Are fairy tales too childish for such readers? Experience shows not. [See section F4].

      4. LEVEL OF STUDENTS Pre-EPER * reading level G (starter level), linguistically students are at the level of experienced beginners. That is to say they are below the lowest level of most internationally published oral textbook series for adults, but have normally attended English classes at school for several years studying, rather than learning, the language. Many of them may have quite a lot of passive knowledge but lack the ability or confidence to make use of it.Oral utterances, if any, are usually of 1 to 3 words in length, with or without verb. If a verb is used, it is uninflected for tense or subject. They may have a productive vocabulary of up to about 100 words and perhaps fifty to a hundred additional words at the receptive level. ‘Known’ words include many English loan words **’used in Japanese, but students may not be aware that they know them in that form. They tend to be very slow “readers”. In fact, they don’t read, but translate word-for-word. As a result, concentration and global reading comprehension are poor and the students are not yet ready to begin E.R. Therefore, they are not yet ready for E.R.. * EPER: the Edinburgh (University) Project on E.R.
        ** I have a list of 360 such loan words (gairaigo) 
      5. PROBLEMS
        1. Students have insufficient English and / or reading fluency to be able to read extensively in English. If their knowledge of English is too weak, they encounter too many unfamiliar words in the simplest texts. They therefore have to resort to a dictionary. Reading is supplanted by translation, and becomes a slow chore rather than an enjoyable experience.
        2. Students may be content to understand through pictures without text Students may find they can understand a great deal by just looking at illustrations for a story. They may believe that, just by passing their eyes over each page and guessing the meaning primarily from illustrations, gradually they will understand more words, without paying much attention to reading the text actively. This may give them a false sense of their own proficiency. Recent research on learner strategies has shown that guessing is not a very effective strategy for learning new vocabulary or grammar, if it is not followed up by checking a dictionary, after reading is finished.
        3. The main gain from ER: increased fluency ­ not new vocabulary
          There is reason to believe that, since graded reading requires about 95% comprehension, students cannot gain much new vocabulary from it, though they will gain some. What they can gain though is better and faster sight recognition of words and phrases that they already partially know. This leads to more efficient reading and therefore to more efficient comprehension
        4. Students need to be focussed on acquiring new language rather than on fluent reading
          • 1. Students should be focussed on the idea of learning, or acquiring new language, of being committed to this as a personal goal and of the need to process new language systematically.
          • 2. This book will provide short- and long-term learning targets for students through built-in recycling of grammatical structures and vocabulary.


        1. To improve English students’ vocabulary repertoire preparing for ER
          The aim is to reach, or go beyond, the point where they can begin reading graded readers (200~300 word level). This is the primary objective.
        2. To activate passive knowledge
          This means students should develop quick sight recognition and understanding of most of the selected items, and possibly other items incidentally (i.e. without focusing attention on them).
        3. To develop students’ confidence when reading English
          Students need more confidence in their ability to understand written English. This is a corollary of aim 1.
        4. To make reading a satisfying activity and motivate students to read more in English at a suitable level for them.
          This will probably not be the same kind of satisfaction as can be gained from reading graded readers. E.R. is an activity that can be focussed entirely on the pleasure of reading a good story, or of getting information on an interesting topic.Here, the initial listening to the story while looking at the pictures, and then reading it through once, is normally intrinsically enjoyable, or at least, interesting. However, the amount of unknown vocabulary is likely to be too great to allow full appreciation of the story, if it is unfamiliar to the reader. Moreover, the activities which follow the first exposure to the story focus the student’s attention on conscious vocabulary learning, so work is definitely involved.It is hoped, however, that the student’s curiosity will be piqued initially, to make the task of finding out meanings of unfamiliar words enjoyable. Then, through the materials, satisfaction will be derived from being able to remember many of the items. In the case of familiar stories, students are usually interested in comparing them with the Japanese version that they know. They also enjoy the nostalgic evocation of childhood memories, which they get from these stories. Of course, there is also the big carrot of getting steadily closer to being able to read whole books, without having to work consciously on much vocabulary.


        5. To help students evaluate their own command of vocabulary
          This is done, by completing the activities and supplying self-administered tests.
        6. To motivate students to improve their reading efficiency
          We can do this by helping students to increase their vocabulary, thus giving students a sense of progress.
        7. To give students specific learning objectives and structure the task for them
          Each unit focuses on specific vocabulary items ­ some of which are recycled from previous units and again in successive units, some ‘new’.
        8. As far as possible, to make materials suitable for self-access
          The reasons for this are as follows.

          1. Reading is an ideal medium for this.
          2. Students may be frequently absent.
          3. Large classes with mixed levels.
          4. The differences between students in one class are not only ones of level, but also of which L.I.s are known or not. Therefore students in any class will probably have different reading levels.


        1. Easily understandable contexts through the familiar and nostalgic genre of well-known children’s stories
        2. Strong visual support to further aid comprehension.
          A good deal of the vocabulary is made comprehensible by the pictures.
        3. Simplification of the language in already simply told stories
          The telling of these stories is based on the illustrations for those stories in the Ladybird “Read It Yourself” and “Favourite Tales” series for English native speaking children. Though the stories are conceptually simple, linguistically, they are too difficult for the intended foreign readers, so they have been simplified. They are told almost exclusively in the present tense, complex grammar is avoided, sentences kept short. Nevertheless, I plan to go through the stories again looking for language that could be further simplified. With few exceptions, the vocabulary is selected as explained below.
        4. Recycling of the language in each story through a variety of activities, involving a variety of skills
          1. Listening to the story while looking at the pictures
          2. Writing down key words heard
          3. Reading while listening
          4. Discussing the story with a partner (in English or Japanese)
          5. Reading a list of vocabulary items from the story that may be new to them; ticking off those they think they “know”. Gairaigo are pointed out to them. Translations are given.
          6. Miming a part of the story with a partner
          7. Testing their own comprehension of about 25 targeted words in each unit, by matching English words to Japanese and vice versa.
          8. Recording difficult words on index cards.
          9. A gap-fill activity for many of the same targeted words as those highlighted in f), involving re-reading most of the story.
          10. A dictation of the remainder of the story, requiring students to write phrases or short sentences including targeted words.
          11. Review of the targeted words
          12. Retelling the story to and with a partner
          13. Various further suggestions for working on still unacquired targeted items.

          The same general pattern is followed in each unit to make it easier for students to understand procedures.

        5. Recycling of language in successive stories
          1. Items are introduced in a story but not necessarily focused on, if they don’t recur at least three times in a story.
          2. Items from previous stories are retained as targeted items in successive units to ensure regular recycling.
          3. It is assumed that a certain amount of vocabulary ­ especially gairaigo ­ is already known
          4. It’s also assumed that some language will be learned incidentally (through the illustrations or frequent repetition in a story), without being focused on
        6. Integration of skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking, looking)
        7. Revision units to be eventually added
          These will aim at getting students to use the targeted items in context other than those of the stories
        8. Students encouraged to share knowledge
          This helps to increase the scope of their individual potential for understanding each text, and also to generate a friendly learning atmosphere.
        9. Or the materials can be used for self access
          This is to encourage students to take their learning beyond the point reached in class.
        10. Drawing students’ attention to their successes
          This is to build confidence and therefore also motivation


        1. Based on “Waystage” (Council of Europe) but modified for Japan
          The choice of words is originally drawn from the Council of Europe’s “Waystage” Level lexical inventory of about 800 headwords. “Waystage” includes over 150 items, which have become Japanese “gairaigo” (i.e. words assimilated into Japanese from English)The “Waystage” list has been modified by adding words or replacing some with others more familiar to Japanese learners. This provides a list of about 300 commonly known, and useful gairaigo, plus a further list of about 350 particularly useful and frequently occurring other words. From this list of 650, most of the vocabulary for the stories has been selected.In each story, there are a few words that are essential for the story, but otherwise of low priority. These are glossed, but not targeted for active learning.
        2. “Gairaigo” ­ a confidence booster and word-count booster
          Many of these are not actually targeted for students to learn, as they will already be known to the majority of students. However, even at this very low level, it is assumed that they will not all have picked up the same gairaigo and are unlikely to know all of them. Saragi et al. (1978) have pointed out that of words commonly known collectively by a class, about 40% are known by all the students. In the case of that particular research project, the word list consisted of 1000 most frequent English words. It is probably not possible to know with absolute certainty how many words are “known” by any given student. Conclusions will vary a great deal depending on the type of test(s) used to arrive at this figure. However one can make a guess that in any given class of Japanese students, all may know the same 100 words or so, out of a list of 300 gairaigo. Furthermore, according to Saragi’s research, at least half the learners are likely to know most of the remaining words on the list. (Reported in Nation “Teaching & Learning Vocabulary”, Heinle & Heinle 1990)
        3. Targeted items
          The number of items targeted in each story varies from unit to unit, from about 20 to 30, but only about half the targeted items are likely to be new to most students. Other items are being targeted in learning activities for the first time after incidental introduction (introduction in a story for the first time without having been included in previous earning activities) in a previous unit. Others have already been targeted for practice in one or more previous units. Yet others may be known to students even before they read these stories. As with gairaigo, students do not all know the same English words.
        4. The choice of targeted items is based on a number of principles:
          1. Economy in terms of offering a wide communicative range with a limited number of items to be learned
          2. Immediate relevance to students’ most likely general English needs as low level learners.
          3. Flexibility and adaptability to the specific needs of any group of readers of children’s stories, which have typical vocabulary items of their own (witch, prince, live happily ever after, etc.), which are unlikely to be needed for everyday conversation survival purposes.
          4. Learnability ­ whether students are likely to be able to learn an item without too much difficulty.
          5. General frequency of occurrence in everyday conversation, but Š.
          6. However, in each story, it is necessary to include a few words not included in most Beginners’ materials, These are the sort of words that are integral to a particular story (thumb in Thumbelina, tears in Rapunzel, stepmother in Hansel & Gretel, beanstalk in Jack & the Beanstalk, elves in The Elves & the Shoemaker). Such words are glossed with a Japanese translation, or their meaning is obvious from the illustrations. All glosses are written in upper case roman letters. This is done mainly to avoid the appearance of Japanese characters (kanji) on the page ­ a distraction from focussing on reading in English..
          7. Uncommon lexical items are excluded by replacing them with more common ones, wherever possible.


        1. Guide for teachers
          1. Rationale
          2. Objectives / Goals
          3. How to get students to understand these
          4. Classroom procedures (with options)
          5. When & how to give tests
          6. Keeping records of test results & other management points
        2. Orientation message to students
          If possible, this should be in Japanese, and also printed in English for the benefit of teachers who don’t read Japanese. If not in Japanese, students will only be able to understand what to do if this is explained by the teacher, as students’ English is not good enough to understand many instructions.
        3. The pictures
          These are vital to the whole concept. Without the pictures, understanding of the context, and therefore of much of the language, will not be possible and students will rely on translation. There are already plenty of vocabulary books wasting bookshelf space, or classroom time, which are based on translation.
        4. Story-units.
          Used with a whole class, each unit takes about two, sometimes three, 90-minute lessons. Most colleges have about 24 lessons in a year. If used as supplementary material in class and less time is available, selected units can be used. Some stories can be assigned as vacation homework, so that students are not completely out of touch with English. If used wholly or partly for individual study outside of class time, study time may be shorter. Some activities do not lend themselves easily to private study and students working at home may well spend less time on activities than a teacher would in class. Also, the large number of activities in each unit was provided with the expectation that teachers ­ or students – will select those which they find the most helpful, and by-pass others. The main elements are currently as follows:

            1. Short list of story-specific, but untargeted lexical items About 6 to 10 items presented briefly together with schema activation through viewing 20 to 24 pictures. Students then predict what key words that they know will appear in the text.
            2. “Look and listen” exercise where students are instructed to read the story (5 below) while listening to a recorded reading ­ to familiarize students with the sound of words.
            3. “Remember & write” exercise, where students add to the list of items that they predicted in 3.1 above
            4. The story itself, with (after unit 1) words introduced in previous stories highlighted. Students read it silently, quickly underlining unknown vocabulary, then, if done in class, practise asking “What does Š mean?”
            5. List of previously encountered L.I.s (after unit 1)
            6. List of L.I.s (chronological order) including all potentially unknown items not previously glossed, with Japanese translations
            7. List of (about 25) targeted lexical items for the unit in alphabetical order with Japanese translations also in alphabetical order. Students write each Japanese word next to its English translation , then each English word next to its Japanese translation.
            8. Gap-fill exercise ­ second appearance of the entire story with one (late) occurrence of each targeted lexical item blanked out for students to fill in..
            9. Intensive listening

          Dictation of one segment of the story including about 10 sentences or phrases including targeted items. And/or listening while reading an unpunctuated section of the story and marking boundaries of meaning “chunks”

            1. Vocabulary Review: Students check which words on the target list they now think they “know” and which they still need to learn.
            2. Recounting a story to a partner.
            3. Students use targeted words in their own true sentences This helps them to understand better how the words function grammatically and collocationally.
            4. Creating oral variations on a story

          Students have fun inserting deliberate “mistakes” into the content of the story while retelling the story orally to a partner. The partner tries to identify the mistakes

          1. Expressing opinions (in L1) of a story

          The use of L1 is permissible here if English is not possible. Students recommend, or warn their partner against, reading the story.

        5. Revision Units
          Not yet written, but I have concluded that some revision units are needed ­ perhaps after each unit, from the end of unit 2, or every two units. The targeted L.I..s for previous units are recycled for different contexts but with the same meaningE.g. a selection (not all) of the following in each revision unit:

          • personalizing items to relate it to the student’s experience;
          • grouping items according to parts of speech
          • grouping items according to rhyming
          • writing collocations with target items
          • spelling puzzles
          • true/false comprehension checks on target items
          • hierarchical relations between words or semantic grouping (fruit ­ apple, pear, Š – clothes ­ suit, hat, Š)
          • semantic clines for adjectives (wonderful ­ good- OK ­ bad ­ terrible)
          • word stress / counting syllables
          • recognizing gairaigo and related gairaigo
          • inflection (sing-plural / 3rd person sing. Verbs / subject  ­object)

          Possible additions at or near the end of the book:

          • transformation (rewriting) stories into past tense
          • matching words to English paraphrases/ definitions
          • attaching affixes and roots together (creating different parts of speech from the same root)
        6. Test Units (under development)
          Progress test after after 5 and 10 units.
        7. Back of the book ­ reference section
          1. Answer key for review units.
          2. Topic-, or notion-related word lists
          3. Full vocabulary index of all items appearing in stories (not just those targeted in activities) showing parts of speech, page references, and indicating “gairaigo”



I will be happy to supply copies of this material to any teacher who is willing to try it out and provide feedback on the results. Initially, a sample unit will be provided on request. Interested teachers can then ask for a set of stories included recorded readings. Send requests to Clive Lovelock:

Telephone/ fax: 0743-79-5515