Academic journal article Reading Improvement

The Effects of Narrow Reading of Authentic Texts on Interest and Reading Ability in English as a Foreign Language

Academic journal article Reading Improvement

The Effects of Narrow Reading of Authentic Texts on Interest and Reading Ability in English as a Foreign Language

Article excerpt

Fourth grade students studying English as a foreign language in Korea read and did activities related to the Clifford book series for twelve weeks. Subjects showed gains in English competence, increased enthusiasm for English, and showed evidence of understanding of the advantages of "narrow reading. "


Narrow reading means reading in only one genre, one subject matter, or the work of one author. The case for narrow reading was first presented over twenty years ago (Krashen, 1981). Narrow reading, it was argued, has the advantage of providing the developing reader with a familiar context, that is, familiar background knowledge that helps make texts more comprehensible. It avoids the discomfort and confusion less advanced readers often have adjusting to new characters and new settings in fiction, and allows them to take advantage of their own knowledge in reading in areas of interest in non-fiction. Narrow reading also has the advantage of repeated exposure to the same vocabulary (Kyongho and Nation, 1989).

There is evidence suggesting that narrow reading is beneficial. Lamme (1975) found a positive correlation between the percent of books fourth, fifth and sixth graders read by the same author and their scores on the reading comprehension section of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (r = .28, .42, .40); better readers tended to read more books by a single author. Cho and Krashen (1994, 1995) documented great success with adult readers who read the Sweet Valley series, novels written for adolescents and children. Narrow reading also appears to be motivating: Feitelson, Kita and Goldstein (1986) documented that children in Israel who were read to from the Kofiko series, stories about a mischievous monkey, were far more likely than controls to ask their parents to buy Kofiko books for them.

In this study, we examine the possibility of using narrow reading for beginning EFL students, using the popular Clifford (The Big Red Dog) series. Although students had limited competence in English, authentic books, books written for native speakers of English, were used. It was felt that previous familiarity with the character and the repeated context would insure that the stories were comprehensible.

We hypothesized that students doing narrow reading would show gains in reading comprehension, improved attitudes toward English reading, and an understanding of the benefits of narrow reading.


The experimental group consisted of 37 fourth grade students of English as a foreign language in Korea. All subjects began the study of English in grade three. There was no comparison group.

A preliminary questionnaire given before the treatment began revealed that 17 (46%) of the subjects said they had had no reading experience in English and only four subjects (11%) had read over 10 books in English.

The students followed the regular curriculum for one 40-minute period per week for 16 weeks. This curriculum was textbook driven, and communicative. It focused on activities thought to be of interest to children that age, e.g. holidays, but provided practice on particular grammatical structures. In addition, another 40 minutes period per week was devoted exclusively to narrow reading.

Reading Materials

A series of "Clifford" books was chosen as narrow reading material for the study. Informal questioning by the teacher at the beginning of the term revealed that most of the students (30 out of 37) were familiar with the character, thanks to the fact that the Clifford TV program appeared regularly on Korean TV in Korean.

The books used for the study were Clifford the Big Red Dog, Clifford Goes to Hollywood, Clifford's Christmas, Clifford's' Kitten, Clifford's Puppy Days, and Clifford's First Snow Day. The Clifford books range in readability from 1.2 to 1.9 (ALTOS formula).


Students were read to from Clifford books each period, and students were allowed, but not forced to follow along in the text as the teacher read the story. …

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