Extensive reading: why it is good for our students and for us

In this, the first of two articles for TeachingEnglish, Alan Maley considers the benefits extensive reading can bring to English language learners and teachers.

What is Extensive Reading (ER)?

Extensive Reading is often referred to but it is worth checking on what it actually involves.  Richard Day has provided a list of key characteristics of ER (Day 2002). This is complemented by Philip Prowse (2002). Maley (2008) deals with ER comprehensively. The following is a digest of the two lists of factors or principles for successful ER:

  1. Students read a lot and read often.
  2. There is a wide variety of text types and topics to choose from.
  3. The texts are not just interesting: they are engaging/ compelling.
  4. Students choose what to read.
  5. Reading purposes focus on: pleasure, information and general understanding.
  6. Reading is its own reward.
  7. There are no tests, no exercises, no questions and no dictionaries.
  8. Materials are within the language competence of the students.
  9. Reading is individual, and silent.
  10. Speed is faster, not deliberate and slow.
  11. The teacher explains the goals and procedures clearly, then monitors and guides the students.
  12. The teacher is a role model…a reader, who participates along with the students.

The model is very much like that for L1 reading proposed by Atwell (2006).  It has been variously described as Free Voluntary Reading (FEVER), Uninterrupted Silent Reading (USR), Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), or Positive Outcomes While Enjoying Reading (POWER).

What are the benefits of extensive reading?

Both common sense observation and copious research evidence bear out the many benefits which come from ER (Waring 2000, 2006). There are useful summaries of the evidence in Day and Bamford  (1998: 32-39) and The Special Issue of The Language Teacher (1997) including articles by Paul Nation and others, and passionate advocacy in Krashen’s The Power of Reading. (2004). The journals Reading in a Foreign Language and the International Journal of Foreign Language Learning are also good sources of research studies supporting ER. (see references for websites) And there is the indispensable annotated bibliography, http://www.erfoundation.org/bib/biblio2.php

So what does it all add up to?

Extensive reading develops learner autonomy

There is no cheaper or more effective way to develop learner autonomy. Reading is, by its very nature, a private, individual activity. It can be done anywhere, at any time of day. Readers can start and stop at will, and read at the speed they are comfortable with. They can visualise and interpret what they read in their own way. They can ask themselves questions (explicit or implicit), notice things about the language, or simply let the story carry them along.

Extensive reading offers Comprehensible Input

Reading is the most readily available form of comprehensible input, especially in places where there is hardly any contact with the target language. If carefully chosen to suit learners’ level, it offers them repeated encounters with language items they have already met. This helps them to consolidate what they already know and to extend it. There is no way any learner will meet new language enough times to learn it in the limited number of hours in class. The only reliable way to learn a language is through massive and repeated exposure to it in context: precisely what ER provides.

Extensive reading enhances general language competence

In ways we so far do not fully understand, the benefits of ER extend beyond reading. There is ‘a spread of effect from reading competence to other language skills ~ writing, speaking and control over syntax.’ (Elley 1991) The same phenomenon is noted by Day and Bamford (1998: 32-39) but they even note evidence of improvements in the spoken language. So reading copiously seems to benefit all language skills, not just reading.

Extensive reading helps develop general, world knowledge

Many, if not most, students have a rather limited experience and knowledge of the world they inhabit both cognitively and affectively. ER opens windows on the world seen through different eyes. This educational function of ER cannot be emphasised enough.

Extensive reading extends, consolidates and sustains vocabulary growth

Vocabulary is not learned by a single exposure.  ER allows for multiple encounters with words and phrases in context thus making possible the progressive accretion of meanings to them.  By presenting items in context, it also makes the deduction of meaning of unknown items easier. There have been many studies of vocabulary acquisition from ER (Day et al 1991, Nation and Wang 1999, Pigada and Schmitt, 2006). Michael Hoey’s theory of ‘lexical priming’  (Hoey  1991, 2005) also gives powerful support to the effect of multiple exposure to language items in context.

Extensive reading helps improve writing

There is a well-established link between reading and writing.  Basically, the more we read, the better we write.  Exactly how this happens is still not understood (Kroll 2003) but the fact that it happens is well-documented (Hafiz and Tudor 1989) Common sense would indicate that as we meet more language, more often, through reading, our language acquisition mechanism is primed to produce it in writing or speech when it is needed. (Hoey 2005).

Extensive reading creates and sustains motivation to read more

The virtuous circle - success leading to success - ensures that, as we read successfully in the foreign language, so we are encouraged to read more. The effect on self-esteem and motivation of reading one’s first book in the foreign language is undeniable. It is what Krashen calls a ‘home run’ book : ‘my first’! This relates back to the point at the beginning of the need to find ‘compelling’, not merely interesting, reading material. It is this that fuels the compulsion to read the next Harry Potter. It also explains the relatively new trend in graded readers toward original and more compelling subject matter. (Moses)

So why don’t teachers use extensive reading more often?

A good question. When I conducted an inquiry among teachers worldwide, the answers came down to these:

a) Insufficient time.

b) Too costly.

c) Reading materials not available.

d) ER not linked to the syllabus and the examination.

e) Lack of understanding of ER and its benefits.

f) Downward pressure on teachers to conform to syllabi and textbooks.

g) Resistance from teachers, who find it impossible to stop teaching and to allow learning to take place.

Oddly, the elephant in the room: the Internet culture of young people, was not mentioned. There is work on the non-linear reading required by Internet users in Murray and Macpherson (2005), and articles on hypermedia by Richards (2000), and Ferradas Moi (2008) and some interesting reflections in Johnson  (2006).  The ‘non-reader’ issue will not go away but it is too important to deal with here and needs a separate article.

Extensive Reading for Teachers

My contention is that reading extensively, promiscuously and associatively is good for teacher, and for personal development. ‘The idea of the teacher having to be someone who is constantly developing and growing as a whole human being as a prerequisite for being able to truly help his or her pupils to be able to do the same, is such a core truth of teaching, yet it is typically ignored in FLT. (Peter Lutzker)

Extensive reading helps teachers to be better informed, both about their profession and about the world. This makes them more interesting to be around – and students generally like their teachers to be interesting people. For our own sanity we need to read outside the language teaching ghetto. For the sake of our students too.

It also helps teachers to keep their own use of English fresh. As we saw, the research on language learner reading shows how extensive reading feeds into improvements in all areas of language competence. (Krashen 2004) If this is true for learners, how much more true for teachers, who risk infection by exposure to so much restricted and error - laden English or who only read professional literature? Regular wide reading can add zest and pleasure to our own use of the language.

Teachers who show that they read widely are models for their students. We often tell students to ‘read more’ but why should they read if we do not? Teachers who are readers are more likely to have students who read too.

Furthermore, the books we read outside our narrow professional field can have an unpredictable effect on our practice within it.  So much of what we learn is learned sub-consciously. Its effects spread more by infection than by direct injection. And it is highly individual.  Individuals form associative networks among the books they read. This results in a kind of personal intertextuality, where the patterns form and re-form as we read more different books. This gives us a rich mental yeast which we can use to interact with others, while still retaining our individual take on the texts and the world.

So Extensive Reading has a lot to offer - both for our students and ourselves. Read on!.


  • Atwell, Nancie. (2006)  The Reading Zone: how to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers.    New York: Scholastic
  • Bamford, Julian and Richard Day.  (2004)   Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Day, Richard, R. (2002) ‘Top Ten Principles for teaching extensive reading.’   Reading in a Foreign Language.  14 (2)
  • Day, Richard, R , Omura, Carole, Hiramatsu, Motoo.  (1991) ‘Incidental EFL vocabulary learning and reading.’  Reading in a Foreign Language.   7 (2)
  • Day, Richard, R  and Bamford, Julian.(1998)  Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Elley, W.B  (1991)  ‘Acquiring literacy in a second language: the effect of book-based programmes.’   Language Learning.  41.  375-411
  • Ferradas Moi, Claudia.  (2003)  ‘Hyperfiction: Explorations in Texture’ in  B.Tomlinson (ed)  (2003)  Developing Materials for Language Teaching.  London/New York: Continuum,  pp 221-233
  • Hafiz, F.M and Tudor, I. (1989)   ‘Extensive reading and the development of language skills.’   ELT Journal 43 (1)  4-13
  • Hoey, Michael  (1991) Patterns of Lexis in Texts.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hoey, Michael  (2005)  Lexical Priming.  London: Routledge
  • Johnson, Steven (2006)  Everything Bad is Good for You.  New York:  Riverhead.
  • Krashen, Stephen  (2nd edition. 2004 )  The Power of Reading: insights from the research.   Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Kroll, Barbara (ed) (2003) Exploring the Dynamics of Second Language Writing.: Chapter 10 Reading and Writing Relations.  New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Maley, Alan (2008)  ‘Extensive Reading: Maid in Waiting’ in B. Tomlinson (ed)  English Language Learning Materials: a critical review.  London/New York: Continuum  pp133-156.
  • Moses, Antoinette, (2004)   Jojo’s Story.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Murray, Denise and Pamela McPherson  (eds) (2005) Navigating to Read – Reading to Navigate.  Teaching in Action (series)  Sydney: NCELTR, McQuarie University
  • Nation, Paul  (1997)  ‘The language teaching benefits of extensive reading.’  The Language Teacher.  21 (5)
  • Nation, Paul  and  Wang Ming-Tzu, Karen  (1999) ‘Graded readers and vocabulary.’ Reading in a  Foreign Language.   12 (2)
  • Pigada, Maria and Norbert Schmitt  (2006) ‘Vocabulary acquisition for extensive reading.’  Reading in a Foreign Language.  18 (1)
  • Prowse, Philip.  ‘What is the secret of extensive reading?’ http://www.cambridge.org/servlet/file/store7/item620590/version1/CER_LALL_ART_PhilipProwseExtensiveReading.pdf  (accessed 4 April 2007)
  • Prowse, P.  (2002)  ‘Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading: a response.’ Reading in a Foreign Language.  14 (2)
  • Richards, Cameron (2000)   ‘Hypermedia, Internet communication and the challenge of re-defining literacy in the electronic age.’ Language Teaching and Technology.  4  (2,) 59-77.
  • Schmidt, Ken   Lower level Extensive reading Opportunities for Lower-level Learners of EFL/ESL.  on http://tesl-ej.org/ej13/int.html
  • Waring, Rob  (2000)  The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Using Graded Readers. Oxford University Press, Japan http://extensivereading.net/docs/tebiki_GREng.pdf
  • Waring, Rob  (2006)  ‘Why Extensive Reading should be an indispensable part of all language programmes’.  The Language Teacher  30 (7): 44-47

Useful Websites








Submitted by Neli Kukhaleishvili on Sat, 12/12/2009 - 15:08


Hi Alan!

1.  I experienced  the benefits of extensive reading on myself  when I was a student. It  gave an immense boost to my vocabulary  and broadened my  outlook . Unfortunately , I don't read  fiction  much these days being busy with methodology and     I  feel its negative impact on my vocabulary  and the need to read more . Students learn the language not only from books , but from their teachers where the exposure to the language is great . They   remember    the words they pick up from their teachers   much better than the words they are forced to learn  which is another advantage of extensive reading.

( Here    we might compare it with "effects of an injection and infection"--   thanks for  the comparison)

2. Why are we unwilling to teach  extensive reading ?

I agree with the reasons given by teachers and   will  expand on one of them. You can hardly find  a modern  novel  which is provided with different interesting activities and which might help you to   get feedback from your students and keep up their interest throughout the reading course.Teachers have a hard time of making up  and improvsing activities that might keep the students on the track.




Dear Neli,


1. I do so agree with you about the power of extensive reading as a way of building vocabulary incidentally.  Also the effect on students' self esteem when they realise that they can actually read a whole book in the foreign language.  That's what Krashen calls a 'Home Run' book, that is a kind of psychological milestone on the road to learning the foreign language.


2. Where I have some doubts is your contention that students need 'interesting activities' to accompany the books they read.  If the books are chosen by studenbts foir their intrinsic interest, there is no need for activities. (Please see the list of characteristics of ER above)  There are now plenty of such books, written specifically for FL learners, with rivetting story lines and accessible language.  I think it was Krashen again who made the point that any time spent doing activities is time taken away from actual reading.  Of course, teachers alwasy feel they have to have activities but they mmay not always be right...activities may come inb the way of reading rather than fostering it.


Best wishes





Submitted by georgejacobs on Sun, 12/13/2009 - 14:21

In reply to by Alan Maley


Hi Alan

Thanks for the timely reminder of the value of extensive reading.

One think that I've come to appreciate as both a language learner and a language teacher is the value of repetition. I used to see it as boring to reread a book, but especially for learners, there can be great value.

One benefit is that  on a second or third reading, we may understand something that we missed earlier. Additionally, sometimes a repeat encounter with a language item in a natural context deepens our understanding. Furthermore, we can read with different purposes each time.

One twist on rereading is to read the same book again in our second language. I did that with 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre' by B. Traven, reading first in my native language and then in a second language. Without the first reading, i probably never would have made it through the second.

All the best --george



Dear George,

Thanks for this.  I couldn't agree more that re-reading a book in the new language nearly always reveals new layers of meaning...like peeling an onion, you get closer to the core each time.

Your second point is a wonderful way of enhancing control of the second language.  If you read a familiar book in an unfamiliar language, much of the burden of following the story is lifted, leaving you only with the issue of interpreting the new language.

Thanks for making both points.





I think that many teachers are unwilling to try extensive reading because the orthodox form, using graded readers, requires that a large variety of readers to be available to suit the various interests and levels of the students.  Obtaining and managing such a collection is something that takes true dedication.  Now, if the school adminstration can be convinced of the merits of ER, so that the school library purchases and maintains the collection, it then becomes much more do-able.  So perhaps the biggest challenge is to convince those with power within your school administration of the essential worth of ER.

One argument that I have found useful, is that to improve in overall English proficiency, a large number of contact hours with the language is essential -- much more than the students will ever get in their classes alone.  Extensive reading affords them extra time outside of class hours to get a good deal of that extra practice that they need in order to consolidate what they have already learned, and to experience English grammar and vocabulary in new contexts so that they can get a firmer hold on how it is actually used in the living language.

Dear Tom,


Many thanks for your helpful observations.

Getting the school administration and leadership on side is a key to developing an ER programme. And, as you say, it requires tremendous determination.  ER is not sexy, like some other teaching resources.  It's just, well, books... That may be one of the reasons that make it less appealing to administrations.  We simply have to keep plugging away to convince the powers that be that what looks like such a humble and unspectacular activity has the potential to achieve astounding results.


And you are absolutely right that ER is a wonderful way of extending learning out of class time.  And without this, the students will never have enough exposure to the language in context to acquire it.  Most learning takes place outside the classroom anyway, so we should capitalize on that fact.


very best wishes




     Dear Alan,


1. Thanks for the ideas of hooking students which are excellent ways of attracting students to reading . I agree with you that sometimes activities might distract students from  reading    and  turn it into a routine.

But when you have extensive  reading in your curriculum  and there are time- constraints   and pages , we have to think of activities   , testing and  the program.

2. On the other hand ,  I feel we have to change  the program or do something so as to turn extensive reading into exciting and attractive reading , something that might make them want to read , share and re-read.

        With best wishes,



Submitted by Dinh Huu Nguyen Thuy on Mon, 12/14/2009 - 04:19


Extensive reading - reading in quantity and in order to gain a general understanding of what is read. It is intended to develop good reading habits, to build up knowledge of vocabulary and structure, and to encourage a liking for reading. (Richard & Schmidt, 2002, p.193-194, 443)

Most of the authentic materials for extensive reading can be compiled from newspapers, magazines, or unabridged novels or fictions together with hypertexts from websites, which can cause frustrations and discouragement for readers who don't have enough background knowledge required for comprehension. Unsimplified texts include texts written for native speakers who read for pleasure and information rather than in order to learn a foreign language with pedagogical purposes. No one can deny L2 learners can have a chance to get exposed to the real world of L1 language via authentic materials.

"Good L2 readers can compensate for a lack of English proficiency by increasing awareness of reading strategies and how to use these strategies while reading to enhance comprehension". Mokhtari & Sheorey (2002)

Among the 3 groups of reading strategies classified by Mokhtari & Sheorey (2002, p.4), Support strategies not Global Reading Strategieis and Problem Solving Reading Strategies are explicitly aimed at L2 learners.

Non-native Teachers are also the ones who need support in giving instructions and motivations to L2 learners to read more in the classroom as well as outside.

Giving assignments for L2 learners to read more at home and following up with their work is so tough if teachers cannot inspire students or make them interested in extensive reading.

But How can I inspire my students and get them involved in extensive reading voluntarily?

Dear Thuy,


Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments on ER.

One thing I would say is that unsimplified material would have to be very carefully chosen if it is to be useful.  'Authentic' is a double-edged blade.  undoubtedly, authentic texts have a role to play but exposure to accessible authentic texts may not be itself enough.  For ER, we need texts which learners will find easy so that they can read a lot, and fast.


There is also quite a lot of counter-evidence on the value of explicitly teaching reading stategies.  (see some of the other blog entries in this site.)


As to how to inspire your students to want to read, there is no single answer.  However, I suggest that some of these things will help:


- show your own enthusiasm for reading.  Bring books you are reading yourself into class and talk a bit about them.  You are a roole model for your students, never forget that.

- make an attractive display of books in the classroom and talk about each one briefly.  Then allow students to choose one they think they might like, and to browse through it.

- with students help, choose a book they think they might like.  Read aloud to them for a short time in each lesson.  Once they are hooked, they will never let you stop!


There are many other ideas to stimulate ER in Julian Bamford and Richard Day's book 'Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language (Cambridge University Press).  It is a highly practical book with lots of clearly-explained activities drawn from teachers all over the world.

Enjoy your reading!


Best wishes


Submitted by jvl narasimha rao on Mon, 12/14/2009 - 12:30


Dear mr Alan Maley,

                            I agree that extensive reading is a must for all teachers for their professional development. But the present generation has lost the habit of reading good books because of technological explosion like internet, e-mail, twitter and so on. Nobody even cares to write letters these days. Thanks a lot for referring to good books and websites on extensive reading.. I hope you will refer to my two poems 'two angels from the west' and 'My dear bard' which are published as my blogs under the name of jvl narasimha rao. I am eagerly waiting for your precious comments on the 2 poems very soon.

With kind regards,

jvl narasimha rao

Dear Mr Narasimha Rao,

Many thanks for your comments again.  Although reading may not be as fashionable as some other more trendy forms of communication, it is far from dead.  And when teachers manage to enthuse their students for reading, the results are spectaculart.  All the resaerch available points to the fact that ER is the single best way to acquire, reinforce and extend language acquisition.


I have read you two poems but I do not think this is the right forum for offering comments on them.  But I would encourage you to continue to write in the poetic genre.


Best wishes



Submitted by Vishnu S Rai on Mon, 12/14/2009 - 14:26


Dear Alan

I learned English mostly by reading. I still read a lot and the more I read, the more I learn. This gave me an idea to find out how other teachers learned English. I did a survey with 100 English teachers from Asian countries. They all said that they learned English by reading in general and by extensive reading in particular. This shows the power of ER. Sadly, ER is seldom practised in schools because of the reasons you mentioned in your article.

In my experience, many teachers (particularly in my country Nepal) do not read. They can use ER in their classroom only if they realise how it helps them develop their own English. I think, teachers should be made aware of this fact in their training courses. ER is probably the most pwerful tool for teacher development.

Dear Vishnu,


Thanks so much for your confirmation of the importance reading has had and continues to have for you in both your language and personal development.

I agree that much more emphasis might be put on the role of ER in  training courses.  ER is good fopr the students but, arguably, it is even better for the teachers.


Best wishes,



Submitted by sueleather (not verified) on Tue, 12/15/2009 - 00:42



Hi Alan

Thank you for your article. I'm glad to see this topic on the agenda, as it's one very close to my heart!

You bring up lots of thought-provoking questions here. And I have to say that I feel that your call for teachers to read themselves is absolutely right. How can we hope to get learners to read if we don’t do it ourselves?  Today, though, I want to make my main comment on the teaching/learning question.

The reasons you give why ER isn't used more often in classes all ring true to me from my experience of working with teachers in many different cultural contexts. The last reason you give: 'Resistance from teachers, who find it impossible to stop teaching and to allow learning to take place,' interests me particularly, on a number of levels.

There are a range of factors which influence teachers’ focus on teaching to the detriment of learning. We know that there are issues of cultural and classroom context and issues of training, among others. The contention made by Krashen and others that ER does such magical things for the learner’s language development is actually bewildering - even threatening- to many teachers.  Teachers are supposed to teach, aren’t’ they? What can they teach with readers in the classroom?  When confronted with the topic of using readers, they become preoccupied with what they can do, when in fact, the focus might better be on what they don’t do.

So what should we be doing or not doing?  Well, as a teacher myself, as well as a writer and editor, I think there are some really great things you can do with extensive readers that exploit the full potential and benefits of ER. Those things are generally activities which harness the real excitement that students get once they start reading a book of their own. They are generally not to do with vocabulary and grammar!

For example, very recently I got an email from a 13-year-old Dutch girl. She had read one of my readers, at level 1. This girl’s English was really very limited, and at first I actually found it hard to read her message. But her teacher had got her class to read the book, then to each do a  little speaking and writing project on it. This girl had decided to draft some questions to ask the author, and then to try to find the author on the internet. She succeeded, and we exchanged about ten or twelve emails. She had lots of interesting questions about why I wrote it, and when and who..etc. She gave her presentation and  apparently it was a success. Apart from which she very ably managed an email correspondence with me during which we exchanged information about ourselves, our families, our pets and our lives.

I describe this little project because I think it’s an excellent example of how a teacher can really make full use of the ‘power of reading’ and allow learning to take place.


All the best




Hello all,

I would just like to make a brief comment regarding extensive reading, learning English and using classroom time to this end. They can all come together with literature circles. I teach in Hanoi, Vietnam at the British Council here and although I am new to the country, I something I noticed straight away was that reading is still a major favourite pastime of many and desperately wanted to capitalize on this with my classes. I was introduced to literature circles just last year and have been eager to put it into practice to see if the potential there was real.

It is. In a literature circle, each learner is given a specific role to play while and post-reading. The group joins together in class and discusses what they have read from the many view points dictated by their individual role preparation. In my experience, the result has been overwhelmingly positive. The students are motivated by the reading and especially by being given the responsibility to carry out a particular role within the circle. They engage in discussing what they have read using language you might be surprised they had at their disposal and they conduct the discussion on their own, without any input by the teacher. The teacher's role is more evident in setting up the experience and reflecting on it afterwards. Creating interest in the text before students tackle it, conducting a round-up session after the students have conducted their own circles and involving them in post discussion work, such as creating a story pyramid summary or a fleshing out a poem skeleton to portray a chosen character from the story are but a sample of where the teacher can be more instrumental. I have had nothing but positive experiences with literature circles and have seen its benefits as students gain confidence in themselves and really come alive.

Here's the link that sparked my interest. http://www.eflliteraturecircles.com/ I encourage everyone to give it a try.

Good luck


Dear Scott,

I apologize for the delay in responding to your posting.

Thanks so much for drawing our attention to the power of reading circles, and for recommeding that useful website.  Those who have used literature circles can testify to their effectiveness, so I hope more people will give the idea a try.

For anyone interested in getting started there is also a free (I think!) booklet tirtled Bookworms Club Reading Circles : Teacher's Handbook, published by OUP. This specifies in some detail the roles each member of a circle has to play.

With best wishes



Convincing a school to install ER books in the library is tough, as I know Thom understands!  It may actually take years!


I would like some additional advice on how to do that, especially when the library claims not to have any space.  Remember that ER books are best used if they are in large multiple copies.  Just saying it will  help students to learn English because they can read them outside class is hopeless in some cases because here in Japan, students just don't read anything except comic books (Japanese ones).  Japan, in fact, rates near the bottom of the list of countries where the general public itself (or was it teens?) reads even one book per year.  (I forget where I got that fact, but I show my students that every reading class opening day, followed by the data that shows 70% of Japanese teens read comics.)


So, no space, no motivation.  How do you convince a school?  Thanks in advance.


Dear Glenski,


Many thanks for your posting and apologies for the delay in replying.

I wish I had a simple, straightforward answer to your question.  Noi space, sounds like a bureaucratic obstacle.  When something is important, as ER is, then space can usually be found, given the will to find it!  Is there a way of cosying up to the librarian, so as to persuade her/him?  It is difficult to give firm advice not knowing the precise context (especially the hierarchy) within which you work.

One possible way around it would be to abandon the notion that ER books are best used in class sets.  Of course, that is one way to use them (though it flouts the 'free-choice' criterion I cited in my original article.)  but there are plenty of cases where teachers have managed to persuade students each to buy a different title, that appeals to them.  Students then read their own book, mainly out of class.  When they finish, they exchange it with another students.  This way, you do not need storage space, and students get to read more books.

This kind of system is not easy to operate, i agree, but it can also contribute to solving the second problem you mention: motivation.  One feature many teachers use with a 'free choice' option is to ask students to give regular book reports on what they are reading.  This tends to make students want to read what others have found interesting.

Other ways of motivating students can be found in the Bamford and Day book I mentioned in an earlier blog: Extensive Reading Activities for Teaxching language (CUP)

I am sorry if I have not responded fully to what you asked.  Deep-seated, complex problems, like the ones you have raised,  rarely have simple, clear-cut answers, and it would be foolish of me to pretend otherwise.  But usually, given persistence and a willingness to try a number of options, yieds at least some dividends.


Best wishes,





Dear Sue,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful and practical comments.

As you say, there is a risk that teachers may feel they are being sidelined if ER simply involves letting students read.  In fact, of course, teachers who really want to implement ER have a tremendous amount to do in terms of persuading the powers that be that this is a worthwhile direction, in resourcing the books to read, in organising the reading, in monitoring and keeping records, in enthusing the students.  And, as you pointed out, in finding activities which do not interrupt the reading but which add value to it.  Your example of your e-mail correspondence with the Japanese student is an excellent demonstartion of what can be done.  Small-scale personal projects like this can give added value and meaning to the reading itself.

Thanks again for your contribution.


best wishes



Submitted by philip prowse on Tue, 12/15/2009 - 12:33


Hi Alan

Greatly enjoyed the article on Extensive Reading - it's good to see all arguments laid out so clearly. Just wanted to pick up on a couple of things in the Comments.

Under Activities you wrote to Neli:

"2. Where I have some doubts is your contention that students need 'interesting activities' to accompany the books they read."

I think the key word here is 'accompany' - activities or questions whether in the books or accompanying them in my view only distract the learner from the story. In ER we are using the power of narrative to facilitate learning and it is in the nature of good story telling that the text itself stimulates thoughts and questions in the reader's mind. In other words a well-written story will contain within itself 'comprehension activities' which get the reader thinking.

In Sue's excellent Comment she refers to an email exchange with a Dutch student who had read one of her books. Email is such a powerful medium for direct contact between authors and readers. Here I must declare an interest as Series Editor of Cambridge English Readers. On our website we have a facility called Ask the Author where students can email the writer of a book they are reading or have read and get an immediate reply. It's predictably popular and in my view brings a new immediacy to ER. The website also has an article describing how the Ask the Author feature came about.

Hoping this is useful


Very best wishes



Dear Philip,

Many thanks for supplementing the point being made by Sue Leather.  I hope it will send teachers (and students) running to access your website - and similar ones run by other publishers of graded readers series.

Direct contact with an author can give learners a real 'frisson' - 'wow!  look at me.  I am actually talking to the person who wrote this book!'  There can be few more motivating ways of keeping the interest in reading going.

Other possible small personal 'projects' might include: finding out more about an author (living or dead) from internet searches, finding another book by the same author and reading that, finding another book on the same topic or theme and reading that, finding out more about the topic or theme the book focussed on (eg. without mentioning titles, which would be invidious (!), topics like the Bosnian war, AIDS, espionage, or whatever.)

The main point both you and Sue were making was that such activities come about as spin-off from the reading; they do not come in the way of it.


Thanks again, Philip.



Submitted by Shef on Wed, 12/16/2009 - 08:18


Dear Alan,

Thank you for the great article on ER and also for the extensive reference list!

'Students choose what to read.' You have added this to your list of principles for successful ER.

I would like to share some of my observations at the local library for the past three years. Two of the shelves at the library are devoted to children's literature and often there are a lot of children picking up books from there. After they have chosen the books the accompanying adult vetoes certain books usually comics and picture books and  instead pick up other books (ones without any pictures) and sign them out.

So many a times, the child may not read the book picked up by someone else for him/her. This I am sure also stymies the teacher's effort to encourage ER.


Dear Shefali,


How true that adults all too often feel they know what is best for the children.  Yet having the right to choose is so important in stimulating an interest in reading.

And, as Krashen points out in his book, 'The Power of Reading', (the section on 'Light Reading') - comics, graphic novels, and teen romance may not be regarded as 'good' reading material.  However, they do get many young readers started, and the evidence tends to show that such readers fairly rapidly move to more 'serious' forms of reading.


With best wishes



Submitted by Chris Lima on Wed, 01/06/2010 - 21:34


Dear Alan & All

Coming back from the Xmas break when I have been blissfully 'disconnected'! Even arriving a bit late for the discussion I just would like to say that it seems to me that improving levels of extensive reading among English language teachers has been something that is very close to my heart and something we have been working with in the ELT e-Reading Group for over 2 years now.

Besides all the reasons you've mentioned, I remember Wolf's book 'Proust and the Squid', when she says that reading literary - in both senses I suppose - changes our brains and that it shapes what we are. If we want to create new paths for understanding, reasoning and language development, reading extensively is more than a matter of giving extra reading activities to our students. It is a matter of becoming  a better 'linguist', a better thinker, a better language user and, why not, a better person. We all want to be knowledgeable, competent and creative ELT professionals, however, I can hardly see this happening without reading and reading extensively, especially literature.

A Happy New Year to all!


Submitted by Rajendra Vottery on Sun, 01/17/2010 - 05:40


I find Alan Maley's article facinatingly enlightening !  Appreciation of the benefits of ER in the teaching/learning of FL cannot be emphasized enough. I'd be waiting to read more from him on the 'non-reader' issue.

I wish to thank the British Council for bringing Guest authors of eminence regularly to us, the non-native speakers of English, teaching English as a second/foreign language ; this is a great help to us in understanding/performing the complex tast of teaching English as SL/FL.

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