Visualisation and the Implications for Writing Extensive Readers
by Jo Appleton
What is Extensive Reading?
This article focuses on the importance of visualisation
when reading extended texts, and discusses the implications
for materials writers, teachers and learners. The research
I conducted looks at an Extensive Reader and how content,
style and genre which encourage visualisation can provide
greater pleasure and therefore motivation for the language
learner to read in the L2.
What is Extensive Reading?
The literature provides numerous definitions
for Extensive Reading. For example, 'Pleasure Reading ' (Krashen
& Mikulecky) and 'Free-Voluntary Reading' or 'Sustained
Silent Reading' (Krashen). For me Extensive Reading is 'to
willingly engage with extended texts for pleasure'.
What is Visualisation?
Through my own reading and teaching experience
I have discovered how vital the role of visualisation can
play. Not only is visualisation widely used in the world of
Sport Psychology, Therapy, and Counselling, it is used in
our everyday lives as a kind of water-colour of the mind's
eye. It is to me what speech is to audio communication as
visualisation is the language of the processing of thoughts.
In this article I use visualisation it to refer to both visual
images and aural images, but others such as touch, hearing
and smell are also important. A mass of data can be found
confirming the prevalence of visualisation in first language
(L1) reading (see Thompson, 1987). Tomlinson (1996: 255) reports
' among 80 L1 teachers of English at seminars in England,
Japan and Spain revealed that 95% of them saw images in their
minds (varying in detail and vividness) when reading texts
such as 'River Station Plaza' by Sheldon Flory (1990)'.
Theoretical Benefits of Extensive Reading
A mass of documentation provides us with the
theory explaining the benefits of Extensive Reading. For example:
Reading begins with the automatic recognition of words. Students
become able to do this with lots of practice (Koda 1996; Paran
1996). By experiencing language in context, students deepen
their knowledge of vocabulary use (Coady 1997; Nation 1997).
Successful individual reading experiences promote learner
autonomy that leads to success and enhances motivation (Dickenson
There is also a substantial body of research
that supports the claim that Extensive Reading has significant
impact on language learning.
" Longer concentrated periods
of silent reading build vocabulary and structural awareness,
develop automaticity, enhance background knowledge, improve
comprehension skills and promote confidence and motivation".
(Grabe, W. 1991: 380)
Tomlinson goes as far as saying other gains
when reading extensively can include: Affect, Visualisation,
and use of the Inner voice (speaking to yourself in your mind).
(See also Hafiz and Tudor 1989, Robb and Susser 1989, Elley
1991, Krashen 1989. for more discussion on the benefits).
I believe that all the mentioned benefits are possible and
that there is significant evidence to show the potential of
extensive reading for our learners.
Theoretical Benefits of Visualisation
Through reading literature in the field, personal
research and existing research data on the benefits of visualisation
I tend to agree with Tomlinson (1998; 267,269) when he states
"For many L1 readers visualisation
plays a major role in helping them to achieve involvement
comprehension, retention and recall"…. therefore….
" There is little doubt that visualisation is functionally
significant in L1 reading and there is a strong possibility
that it could therefore play a beneficial role in L2 reading
As suggested above there have been many claims
put forward for the functional significance of visualisation
in L1 reading. It is claimed, for example, that L1 visualisation
- to achieve tolerance of ambiguity by enabling
the reader to make hypotheses which can be retained visually
until they are confirmed or revised as new information becomes
available from the text (Tomlinson, 1993);
- to achieve affective impact ( Esrock, 1994 & Arnold
- 'to create images endowed with a descriptive power capable
of representing more upper levels of discourse, such as a
paragraph, or a chapter, or general theme'
- to increase comprehension of a text (Tomlinson 1997, 1998)
- to achieve 'the "experiencing" of a text, not
just the comprehension of information' ( Esrock 1994 &
Tomlinson 1997, 1998)
Tomlinson's claim of benefit to the L2 reader
seems to be logical and I, therefore wanted to test part of
the theory that visualisation can aid reading and maybe even
encourage learners to read more extensively.
Introduction to the Action Research
My interest in Extensive Reading came about
when I had struggled to get learners on an International Foundation
Programme at Leeds Metropolitan University to make use of
their reading week in semester 1 by reading extensively.
So, I decided to investigate by finding out from the learners
what they read in their first language, how and when they
did this etc. This gave me a useful insight into what they
enjoyed reading. I then participated in an 'Extensive Readers
Workshop' run by the Materials Development Association (MATSDA)
in the summer of 2001 led by Brian Tomlinson, Alan Maley and
Hitomi Masuhara in North Yorkshire. This then in turn inspired
me to write an Extensive Reader named 'Jungle Fever' based
on my own experiences of travel and tips from my own classes
Action Research setting
The research undertaken was conducted
in the School of Languages at Leeds Metropolitan University
at the beginning of 2003. There were roughly 30 learners and
6 teachers involved in the process.
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