You may recall the 80’s and 90’s reading phenomenon caused by series such as Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy. Those books launched an entirely new format, in which the reader—“You”—is the hero, and makes plot decisions within the story.
That format was a hit because it brought a new level of engagement and fun to the reading process. Over the years, several ELT publishers have tried their hand at multiple-path graded readers. Notably, Oxford University Press’ Bookworms series has included stories in the multi-path format, and McGraw-Hill Asia has published Choose Your Own Adventure, a graded reader adaptation of many of the original classics.
However, no one has yet found the magic formula for success in the ELT market—which is a bit surprising, given that multi-path stories have features that should be of great interest to language teachers.
For example, they encourage re-reading, since students are naturally curious to find out what might have happened if they had made different choices. This makes multi-path stories efficient at recycling key vocabulary in context, and thus at building up reading fluency and speed, without actually becoming repetitive.
After all, no one wants to read the same story again and again. But the same story with variant endings, that’s, um… well, that’s another story!
Multi-path stories also include excellent opportunities for classroom discussions and extension activities. When students read different branches of the same basic story, they are in essence setting themselves up for natural information gap activities. Rather than “Discuss the story”, the default task becomes “Discuss your story”, or “Decide which of your endings was the best or the worst.”
It’s undeniable that multi-choice stories are making a comeback these days. Apparently there is even a major Choose Your Own Adventure movie in the works. But will the format catch on in ELT?
This year—indeed, this very PanSIG—marks the launch of an all-new ELT multi-path series. Independently published in Japan, the Atama-ii series is written to match a 300 HW level of difficulty (‘High-Beginner’ on the ER Foundation scale), and is suitable for extensive reading. But that’s just the beginning.
Designed from the ground up by award-winning ELT author and editor Marcos Benevides, the Atama-ii series also has some unique features that make it even more useful for the language classroom:
A standardised story map. Each path through the story takes the same number of pages, which means that students can read separate branches of the story, yet finish at roughly the same time. This has no effect on individual reading, but is very useful for classroom and lesson management.
Standardised page lengths. Not including the choice text, each page of every story is between 100 and 110 words long. This also helps with lesson management, while making the stories suitable for timed readings.
High quality illustrations. Every text page (that is, every 100-110 words) is followed by a full-color, full-text illustration to aid comprehension.
Interesting subject matter. One criticism of graded readers, especially at low levels, has always been that they are not only simple linguistically, but also dumbed down in content. This is not the case with the Atama-ii series. Authors write to the story first, not to the word list; also, because Atama-ii Books is an independent publisher, they are not restricted by the type of self-censorship that plagues big publishers, for instance they cannot mention alcohol, dating, pork, evolution, religion, politics, etc. as these topics are often not allowed in fundamentalist countries such as Saudi Arabia or the United States.
Innovative formats. The Atama-ii series is currently available as ebooks, and will soon be offered in a variety of formats including print, PDF, and even YouTube. That’s right, a graded reader on YouTube.
Try it with your class, and let us know what you think.
Also, whether you’re interested in multi-path stories, or just want to chat about extensive reading in general, look for our series editor, Marcos Benevides, at the Atama-ii Books booth all Pan-SIG weekend.
See you there!