What is Extensive Reading?

Extensive Reading (ER) is an approach to second language reading. When learners read extensively, they read very easy, enjoyable books to build their reading speed and fluency. Another way to say this is students learn to read by actually reading rather than examining texts by studying the vocabulary, grammar and phrases. It is instructive to compare Intensive Reading (IR) with Extensive Reading.

Intensive Reading

For many teachers, there is only one way to teach reading which involves the teacher walking the whole class through a reading passage. The passage is usually short and the instruction is focused on carefully checking comprehension, studying the grammar and/or vocabulary, or developing a reading skill. Here is an example.

The above reading for elementary learners is short and introduces vocabulary and grammar. The reading is followed by comprehension questions and other activities. Using a passage like this is useful when teaching students new language. This type of reading is called Intensive Reading because the learners study the reading and check their comprehension. Typically these types of text are used by the whole class with the teacher guiding them.

The limits of Intensive reading

    • However, if learners only use reading passages like these:
    • The reading is difficult, so learners have few chances to build reading speed and fluency.
    • The reading is short and because it is difficult, the learners read slowly and they cannot meet a lot of language.
    • The whole class reads the same material, which is too easy for some and too difficult for others.
    • All the students have to read at the same pace as they do the tasks together.
    • The reading is interesting to some learners but not others.

The benefits of Extensive Reading

Extensive Reading gives students chances to read longer pieces of reading, which they choose, which they can read at their own speed and at their own ability level. This can be done with Graded readers.

Intensive Reading and Extensive Reading are complementary and teachers should use both. A balanced reading program uses Intensive Reading to introduce new language, and complements this with Extensive Reading which consolidates and raises awareness of this language leading to reading fluency.

Why do Extensive Reading?

There are many reasons why Extensive Reading is good for language development.

Extensive Reading builds vocabulary. When learners read a lot, they meet thousands of words and lexical (word) patterns that are not taught in textbooks. Extensive Reading allows the learner to develop an awareness of collocations (common word partnerships) and thousands of lexical phrases.

Extensive Reading helps learners understand grammar. In textbooks learners meet hundreds of grammar patterns. However, textbooks do not provide enough meetings with grammar for real acquisition to occur. Extensive Reading provides opportunities to see grammar in context so learners can deepen their understanding of how grammar is really used.

Extensive Reading helps learners to build reading speed and reading fluency. In particular, developing reading speed is important because it helps learners to understand language faster and better.

One objective of Extensive Reading is reading for pleasure. This builds confidence and motivation which makes the learner a more effective user of language.