In general, students learning to read in English do not like reading and they rarely read. This is partly due to the way reading is approached in the language class.

Extensive reading - reading article

The reading skill is most often taught by close study of short passages followed by analysis of language. 

  • Extensive reading: An alternative approach
  • Aims of extensive reading
  • The characteristics of an extensive reading approach
  • Motivation
  • The teacher's role
  • Conclusion


The value of this intensive reading procedure, with its focus on the teaching of discrete reading skills has been questioned by some, who claim that teaching students reading strategies does not necessarily make them better readers. It is widely believed that people become good readers through reading, and that learning how to read should mean a focus of attention on the meaning rather than the language of the text.

Extensive reading: An alternative approach
Another model for teaching reading exists. This is an 'extensive reading approach' and involves students reading long texts or large quantities for general understanding, with the intention of enjoying the texts.

Students are allowed to choose the books they read depending on their interests, and there is not always a follow-up discussion or work in class. In this way students are encouraged to read for pleasure and should become better readers.

Aims of extensive reading
The principal objective of undertaking an extensive reading approach is to get students reading in English and liking it. An increase in reading fluency should be another objective. Because of this, reading should be a pleasurable activity for the student, promoted as much as possible by the teacher.

The characteristics of an extensive reading approach

  • Reading material
    Reading for pleasure requires a large selection of books be available for students to choose from at their level. Here, teachers can make good use of graded readers (books which have been written specifically for EFL/ESL students or which have been adapted from authentic texts).

    Setting up a class library is a good way to provide material for students, and because the books are kept in the actual classroom, there is a greater chance that they will be borrowed, and teachers also have more opportunities to refer to them during class.
  • Student choice
    Students choose what they want to read based on their interests. If a student finds a book is too difficult or they don't enjoy it, they can change it for another one.
  • Reading for pleasure and information
    Often students are put off reading when it is tied to class assignments. In an extensive reading programme, the students are reading principally for the content of the texts. Teachers can ask students about the books they are reading informally, and encourage occasional mini-presentations of the books or book reviews, but these should not seem like obligations to the students.
  • Extensive reading out of class
    Teachers can do a lot to help students pursue extensive reading outside of the classroom. Having a classroom library and regularly encouraging students to borrow books to take home are some things which can help. If books are shelved in the classroom, students can also be given class time to browse and select books.
  • Silent reading in class
    Extensive reading should not be incompatible with classroom practice and methodology. There are teachers who set aside a regular fifteen-minute period of silent reading in class. This silent reading has been said to help structural awareness develop, build vocabulary, and to promote confidence in the language.
  • Language level
    The vocabulary and grammar of the books that students read should not pose a difficulty. The objective of an extensive reading programme is to encourage reading fluency, so students should not be stopping frequently because they do not understand a passage. However, the books should not be too easy as this may well demotivate students, who feel they are getting nothing out of the books.
  • Use of dictionaries
    Reading becomes a chore if students think they have to stop and look up every word they do not understand in a dictionary. For this reason, dictionaries should be avoided. Instead of interrupting their flow, students should be encouraged to jot down the words they come across in a vocabulary notebook, and they can look them up after they have finished reading.
  • Record keeping
    If the teacher takes an interest in and keeps record of what students are reading, then this can in itself encourage students. If a note is also made of which books the students like, then the teacher can also recommend other books to the students. The teacher should also be careful to explain the reasons behind the programme, and to highlight the benefits of extensive reading to them so that they know why they are doing it.
  • The teacher as role model
    If the teacher is also seen to be a reader by the students, then they will be encouraged to read. The teacher can talk in class about books that she or he has been reading, and if they are knowledgeable about the books in the class library, having read them, then they can make genuine recommendations to students about what to read. The teacher can also read aloud to students, as a way of introducing students to different genres or individual books.


One of the key factors to the success (or not) of an extensive reading programme is motivation. Capturing student interest is the key. If the materials available are interesting to the students, then they will be far more likely to want to read them. These books should also be at a level appropriate to their reading ability. As mentioned earlier, the texts should not be too difficult so students experience the frustration of not being able to understand the books.

Getting the extensive reading programme off to a good start is also vital. The aim is for an initial successful experience so that students discover they can read in English and that they enjoy it. This positive experience should stimulate them to read more, increasing motivation, enjoyment and a desire to read.

The teacher's role
The teacher encourages and assists the students with their reading, which the students undertake during and /or after class. Occasional summaries (oral or written) can help with this as they show both that the students are reading and also that they understand what their books are about. The activities can also help students improve their writing or speaking ability. Another activity teachers can become involved in is individual counselling - this gives the teacher an opportunity to ask students about their reading experiences and can be done by the teacher while the rest of the class are silent reading. Above all, however, extensive reading should be a student-centred and a student-managed activity.

Day & Bamford (1998) highlight the benefits that have been gained by the undertaking of extensive reading programmes. These include gains in reading and writing proficiency, oral skills and vocabulary, an increase in motivation and positive affect.

Setting up an extensive reading programme should not only lead your students to improve their reading proficiency and other language skills, but will hopefully enable them to take pleasure in reading for its own sake.

Further reading
Susser B & TN Robb (1990) 'EFL Extensive Reading Instruction: Research and Procedure' JALT Journal Vol No.2
Day RR & J Bamford (1998) 'Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom' Cambridge:CUP
Barnett, M.A. (1988). Reading through context: How real and perceived strategy use affects L2 comprehension. The Modern language Journal, 72, 150-162.

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Graham Stanley, British Council, Barcelona 


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