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The importance of extensive reading – “Red Dog”




Statue of Red Dog in the town of Dampier

Jenny Bassett, Series Editor of the Oxford Bookworms Library (OUP), stresses the importance of extensive reading to improving language proficiency.

The new Bookworm just out is Red Dog by Louis de Bernières, an adaptation at Bookworms Stage 2. It’s a true story about a Red Cloud kelpie, an Australian sheepdog. There’s a life-sized bronze statue to him (left) in the town of Dampier, put there by his friends after his death. When Louis de Bernières was in Western Australia, he came across this statue and felt he had to find out more about this ‘splendid dog’. So he collected all these tales about Red Dog and published a book about him. ‘But I hope,’ he wrote, ‘that my cat never finds out that I have written a book to celebrate the life of a dog.’

Red Dog was a real character – I got to know him quite well while I was retelling the story and researching the background. Here’s a bit about him from the story introduction in the book:

Red Dog front cover - Oxford BookwormsRed Dog had many names. At different times he was called Tally Ho, Bluey, the Dog of the North-West, but mostly he was called Red Dog, or just Red. Everybody in the north-west knew Red. He never really belonged to anyone, but he had many friends. He was never without a place to sleep, or a good meal, before he moved on – because he was also a great traveller. It is a hard, hot country, up in the Pilbara region, but Red knew how to get around. He rode on buses and trucks, in people’s cars, and on trains. If people saw Red Dog on the road, they always stopped and gave him a ride.

But there was one thing about Red Dog. You really, really didn’t want to travel with him in a car with the windows closed…

Yes, you guessed it – Red Dog had a problem. Or rather, it wasn’t his problem, it was a problem for other people! As a friend of mine put it, it’s the only book she knows that begins with a king-size fart! So it’s a story that makes you laugh, but also cry – when the inevitable end comes.

In fact, Liza, the graphic designer who worked on the book, was so moved by the story of Red Dog, that she felt she must have a Red Cloud kelpie herself. And now Chico, six years old, from the Blue Cross in Southampton, gets all the best places to sleep in Liza’s home. And I was delighted to hear from Liza recently that Chico, like Red Dog, also has the ability to clear a room of people in ten seconds!

Brunette woman and Red Cloud kelpie dog lying on sofa

[With permission from Liza Whitney, Graphic Designer on Red Dog in Oxford Bookworms]

The whole point of extensive reading — and how it achieves improvements in language proficiency — is that students read as much as possible, as often as possible, and with as much enjoyment as possible. So we should never underestimate the power of story to affect people’s lives – Red Dog, Liza and Chico are the proof of that!

Do you think story has the power to engage students and broaden their understanding of a language? Why not share your thoughts here?

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  1. Here at our school we agree about the importance of graded readers and extensive reading. And something really positive for us teachers is that when there is a “culture” of extensive reading in the language school, pupils learn faster and we have less work while teaching and much more about what to talk, like the wonderful stories from the Oxford Bookworm Collection!

    I’ll try that book out. Although my 9-year-old daughter kept crying for days everytime she remembered that film with Richard Gere, Hachiko: A Dog’s Story…

  2. Hi Marcos. That’s marvellous to hear that you have a “culture” of extensive reading in your school, and that you and the pupils are reaping the benefits. Very encouraging for other teachers to know that it IS possible to get over the lack of motivation to read in students, and establish such a culture. And crying is good as a response to a story! It shows that the reader is focussing on the meaning, not on the language, which is the whole point of extensive reading. So I hope, if your daughter does read ‘Red Dog’, that she does cry – just a little bit!

    • I’m SO sorry I missed your Plenary Discussion “Cinderella Meets Dracula” at the BRAZ-TESOL in São Paulo in July.

      Sérgio and Maristela (from Oxford Brazil) told me that it was amazing!

      I wonder if you could possibly allow us here at our school to study the PowerPoint presentation.

      I hope you had a great time here in Brazil and have had a nice return to England!

      All the best!


      • Hi Marcos. Yes, I would be happy to send my PowerPoint presentation for your school to study. Let me have your email address and I’ll send the slides handout. Where are you based in Brazil?

      • Dear Ms Bassett

        My email is [email protected]

        We are based in Lavras, Minas Gerais, north of São Paulo, where the BRAZ-TESOL was held.

        Our lessons are about to start and we are deciding what books to adopt.

        Thank you very much for your attention and help.

        Marcos A. Schinke
        YOU Idiomas e Intercâmbio

  3. Keep Proficiency Development Strategy Simple « Epicenter Languages

    […] read a great post over at Oxford University Press English Language teaching blog, and would like to share a quote which I think sums up the way great teachers should go about their […]

  4. On behalf of epicenterlanguages via Twitter (@epicenterone):

    “ESL Teacher mantra for developing fluency in reading and general: practice often with GREAT enjoyment.

    It’s pitiful how often ESL classes forget the importance of ENJOYMENT. Fun often leads to or equal to student engagement.”

    • Very true. Having fun and getting enjoyment from a language learning activity can be hugely motivating for students. Students are far more likely to want to repeat an experience they enjoyed the first time, such as successfully reading a whole story. Success and enjoyment lead into that magical circle of positive reinforcement … and the road to autonomous learning.

  5. Picture of Dorian Gray (Bookworm Series, Stage 3)) Reviews Books | The Books Stores

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  6. Through stories we can experience new worlds, new points of view. We can travel long ways and we can learn life lessons.

    Through stories, students can construct language.

    Bits and pieces of language get together to be transformed into a magical experience of laughter and discovery.

    It all happens in their brain. Stories ARE powerful indeed.

    • You are absolutely right, Graziela. And for many students, when they begin extensive reading and read a whole story from beginning to end, it is the first time they are experiencing the target language for a real communicative purpose, and are focussing on meaning, not language. The language thus becomes a means to an end, not an end in itself, and this can be a liberating and empowering moment for students.

  7. Today at Cultura Inglesa. We are going to share some of our best presentations at ABCI.
    I am going to talk about YOU and your wonderful talk.
    I hope I am able to have the teachers reflect on the importance of Extensive Reading, but I am sure won’t be as GOOD as you.
    Do you have a tip?
    ( :
    Hope you have great week!

    • My only tip, Graziela, is to have enthusiasm for stories, storytelling, and reading stories — and you have great enthusiasm already! I hope you all have a great day at Cultura Inglesa. Please give everyone greetings from a storyteller in England!

    • Dear Graziela,

      There is a very interesting talk from Mr Bill Bowler, the editor of the Oxford Dominoes Series that is SUCH a lesson on the use of them, along with the Power Point presentation that can inspire an iliterate to at least see the pictures as a start! The link in this very blog is:


      Why don’t you give it a try?!

      YOU Idiomas e Intercâmbio
      Lavras MG – comendo pão de queijo!!! lol
      (Trying to become a Cultura Inglesa Venue…)

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