The ER method

No, ER doesn’t stand for emergency room. It stands for the Extensive Reading method. 

The ER method is catching on in Japan as a key method to English language acquisition in Japan.

The term “extensive reading” was first used by H.E. Palmer in 1917. It was encouraged by English educators like Soseki Natsume in the early 20th century but did not take off then.

“Extensive reading” is a method of language acquisition distinguished from “intensive reading”.

Intensive reading, which focuses on the detailed examination and study of a somewhat challenging foreign language passage in order to learn and practice reading skills. In intensive reading, the class usually begins with a pre-reading exercise. Then the passage of about 150 to 300 words is studied as a class. It is usually followed by various exercises in order to give the students an opportunity to interact with the material, classmates and the teacher.

ER, on the other hand, involves the reading of large amounts material from any subject matter
that the student may choose. ER has gone through various modifications and has been called
reading for pleasure, voluntary reading and Sustained Silent Reading in which the teacher and
the students read silently for a set amount of time (Bamford & Day, 1997). Bamford & Day, (1997) provided ten elements that characterize extensive reading.

Two of these elements are particularly important to our understanding of ER:
“(1) Students read as much as possible, perhaps in and definitely out of the classroom.”
“(6) Reading materials are well within the linguistic competence of the students in terms of
vocabulary and grammar. Dictionaries are rarely used.

The SEG (Scientific Educational Group) which publishes books to support ER method (see The SSS (Start with Simple Stories) website (Japanese) ( has the following definition of the ER method.

What is Extensive Reading?

Extensive Reading, often called “Graded Reading”, is reading for pleasure in a second language.
We have to learn basic vocabulary and grammar before we can understand a written or spoken language.
Once we have learned the basic vocabulary and grammar, we need to read and listen to the language used in different contexts to learn it deeply.

The easiest way to do this is to read and listen to simple stories.
Graded Readers are a great way to do this.
They are called “graded” because they are written for levels or “grades”.
These levels are defined by the number of “headwords” and by the level of the grammar.

Very simply, “headwords” are simply individual vocabulary words.
For example, in the basic level of most graded reader series, there are about 250 headwords.
The books or stories in that level are mostly written using only the vocabulary from that group of words.
The grammar at each level is also limited.

The goal is to read a million words in English in a year.
To do this they have three guidelines or 「多読3原則」:

1. 辞書は引かない => Don’t use a dictionary
2. 分からないところは飛ばす => Skip over parts you don’t understand
3. つまらなくなったら止める => If it’s boring, stop reading it

You won’t need a dictionary if you are reading a book at your level.
If you do come to a part you don’t understand, skip over it and keep reading.
Remember, Extensive Reading is reading for pleasure so if it’s boring or too difficult, stop reading it!
There are many interesting graded readers for you to choose from!

SEG (Scientific Education Group) or SSS英語学習法研究会 in Japanese, publishes a series of books about Extensive Reading.
They call it めざせ100万語! “Toward One Million Words”

In today’s Daily Yomiuri paper is the full story on the ER method.


Happy Reading! The best way to learn English

The term “tadoku” (extensive reading) is now very popular in the field of English language in Japan. Like the Japanese craze “sudoku” that has spread worldwide, tadoku will probably become popular among English learners across the globe. SSS (Start with Simple Stories) Extensive Reading Study Group, which promotes tadoku nationwide, is happy to announce its 2008 campaign at schools and bookstores cosponsored by the Japan Extensive Association.

Acquire foreign Languages as you learn your native tongue

SSS was founded in 2001 as an institution for research and promotion of an innovative method of extensive reading. In 2002, Kunihide Sakai, associate professor at the University of Electro-Communications, published his book “Kaidoku Hyakumango” (Toward 1 Million Words and Beyond) on Extensive Reading. It helped increase the number of students studying the English language with the extensive reading method that “Start with Simple Stories” promotes at private English schools, middle schools, high schools, technical colleges and universities. (some content that repeats information in previous paragraphs is omitted here)

Tadoku reading common 100 years ago

More than 100 years ago in 1906, Soseki Natsume, the foremost novelist and English teacher at Tokyo Imperial University, now Tokyo University, stated that “in reading a book, even though there are some phrases you do not comprehend, you will get to know the meaning if you read on by skipping those parts.” He also mentioned that “the theory vocabulary buildup sentenses are like circus exercises. The assessors fancy those sentences to save time, but those would be the cause of attending many evils.” The Japanaese word “tadoku” existed even 100 years ago.

A quote from neuroscientist Mogi

Neuroscientist Kenichiro Mogi, professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, states in one of his books that “from the viewpoint of neuroscience, there is only one way to make progress in acquiring the English language. “That is, to read as many English sentences as possible and listen to English conversations. In prewar high schools, students read the original books to learn English, which is meaningful in the sense that you will be able to pile up the memories of episodes and stimulate your brain. Now is the time to revive this method English education.”

Why tadoku did not spread until now

Tadoku had not been considered a method for advanced learners until recently inspite of suggestions made by famous English educators like Natsume and even though it was a practical way to learn foreign languages. The main reason for this was that the books recommended by English teachers were far too advanced and difficult than the levels of learners. Kazuo Ito, former chief teacher of Sundai Yobiko prep school, criticized the situation in his book “Yobiko no Eigo” (English in prep school), suggesting there were few English books relatively easy for high school students to read. He wondered whether “those who said that extensive reading would help learners did not think about how much learners should read.” This criticism was persuasive enough for many high school students. They still believe translating English into Japanese by analyzing the grammatical structures is the fastest and the most appropriate way to acquire English language ability to pass university entrance examinations. However, reading easy books to acquire more than 300,000 English words per year using the tadoku method will surely enhance their grammatical knowledge and increase their English vocabulary.

Choosing a starting level

The first priority in tadoku is to begin with books at a level that can be read comfortably. SSS recommends Oxford Reading Tree Stage 1, very easy books, as first choice.

In the tadoku classes I run, beginner-level middle school first grade students listen to the CDs and read those books from the start of the school year in early April. Students gradually raise their level of the books as they read more.

The number of words the students read

At SEG, the juku I run, the target figures of the words the students read per year are 100,000 words for middle school first graders, and 300,000 for middle school second- and thrid-grade students. On average, the first graders actually read 200,000 words and the second graders read 400,000 yearly. This enables the students to read English books without translating them into Japanese first. All of the first graders are able to read the Foudnations Reading Library Level 7 ( each book has more than 2,000 words) by the end of the academic year, which is only a year after they started learning the English language.

Moreover one third of the students enjoy reading books like “Rainbow Magic”, the “Magic Tree House” and “My Father’s Dragon”. The students who learned English without translating into Japanese achieve an understanding of the English language by ignoring the parts they don’t uderstand and concentrating on the part they do comprehend. After a year or two of learnign English using the tadoku method, students accomplish the task of reading at a level that had generally been considered impossible.

2 years of tadoku education gives second grade middle school students an equivalent reading comprehension and listening ability to third-grade middle school students

SEG launched an Extensive Reading Program with grammar and conversational practice for junior and senior high school studetns in 2006. Middle school students who started extensive reading inMarch 2006 have read an average of 500,000 English words in two years. They are now reading Penguin Readers Level 2, Oxford Bookworms Stage 2 naturally and fluently.

Here are the results of the examination A. C. E. (Assessment of Communicative English) which those middle school second-grade students took at the end of January 2008. This mutiple choice examination evaluates high school students. SEG second-year middle school students in tadoku classes, no matter whether they are in standard or advanced classes, have a command of English that is 10 per cent better than that of third-year middle grade high school students in vocabulary and grammar and when it comes to listening and reading, their scores are much higher than those of the third-grader high school students. The data of these A.C.E. examinations clearly show the great difference in reading skills resulting from extensive reading.

The SSS method is the best way of acquiring the English language. Toyota National College of Technology, Tokyo National College of Technology, Oyu Gakuen Girls’ Junior And Senior High school, and Mukogawa Women’s University Junior and Senior High school have introduced tadoku programs, which are greatly appreciated by the students. Many middle shcools, high schools and tehnical colleges that have introduced the tadoku program report the scores of their students taking eaminations like Gtec and TOEIC have improved greatly.

Students read various kinds of books under the tadoku system, which tends to ensure that students don’t become bored. Choosing their own books promotes and stimulates their motivation for reading and learning foreign languages. Choosing the tadoku system is the right way to learn English. STart now. Have your school introduce the tadoku program in your curriculum.

Please see details at the following website

**** end of Daily Yomiuri excerpt

The Benefits of the ER method (source)

“the benefits of ER and found many studies that reported gains in language skills. Increases in linguistic proficiency were reported by six studies. Seven studies found improvements in writing. One study reported improvements in spelling. Nine studies described improvements in vocabulary. Five studies reported that ER played an important role in developing a positive attitude toward reading and motivating students to read more. One study found that extensive reading improved oral proficiency.
In another study that was not included in Waring`s list, Huang and van Naerssen (1987) related that reading practice was the primary element in determining oral proficiency. However, the main advantage of ER is that it allows the student to become an independent learner which will benefit the individual throughout life. These benefits may relate to many areas of a person’s life whether the goal is professional, educational or social.”

The input hypothesis is said to be “one of the most convincing arguments for the use of extensive reading. The input hypothesis is described as follows: “…the learner improves and progresses along the ‘natural order’ when he/she receives second language ‘input’ that is one step beyond his/her current stage of linguistic competence.”


Problems with the ER Method:

“[M]ost educators focus on the `i + 1` formula. The result is that teachers attempt to increase learning efficiency by guessing where the students` `i+1` level
might be and providing materials that might meet this criteria. This is a common mistake since it is impossible to determine what the student’s ‘i+1’ is. The end result is that overly difficult or inappropriate materials are being used in the classroom. Because of the difficulty encountered by the students, the students lose interest and avoid interacting with the language in the amounts that are necessary to acquire the language. In most of Krashen`s articles concerning ER, he rarely mentions this formula and states in general terms that comprehensible input should be used. The need for comprehensible input is generally accepted in principle, but as mentioned before, it is often ignored in practice.”

Websites on extensive reading:

The SSS (Start with Simple Stories) website (Japanese) ( supports individual learners to improve their communication skills in English through extensive reading. Our research shows that web-based communities can help remote learners to continue their learning in several ways. Although, in the real world, reading is an individual activity, readers need fellow learners to share their own experience or information about reading materials. The website provides the learners with the opportunities to get information about easy-to-read English books and provides advice on how to select appropriate books in the community. From the analysis of conversations between the learners posted on the website, we have found the website has an important role not only to supply useful information, but also to connect learners who are encouraged by others with similar experiences. The SSS website seems to attract individuals to the learning community and to enhance their learning of English. It also has a ripple effect to improve the learning environment in the real world.

On the Yomiyasusa 100 Levels, the newly established way to measure the reading level of English books for learners of English as a foreign language in cooperation with Japan Extensive Reading Asociation refer to the website

Extensive Reading: A Simple Technique with Outstanding Results

Introduction to Extensive Reading blog (in English) blog

Eigo Tadoku Kanzen Book Guide
[A Complete Guide to Reading Books in Simple English].
book in Japanese. See also the author’s work available online

2 thoughts on “The ER method”

  1. I agree with all the ideas in this article. I speak five languages and owe three to Graded Reader Method. It is well ahead of all Language learning methodologies. Its not promoted. Maybe it is not very lucarative for language Industry.

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