What is Extensive Reading?


Learning to read in English is not only a vital part of learning the language, it also makes a huge contribution to writing skills, vocabulary, spelling, comprehension, fluency and general confidence.

The extensive reading approach is based on the principle that people become good readers through actually reading, where the focus is on meaning rather than language. The goal is the ‘immersive’, enjoyable experience that flows with little apparent effort and defines pleasurable reading.

For teachers, 'Extensive reading’ is an approach to helping learners to read in English. The aim is for students of English to read as widely as possible about topics that interest them. This means being able to choose an article or story themselves. It often refers to reading done outside the classroom, although it can include ‘free reading’ sessions in class time.

Because extensive reading is for pleasure, it is important that students read articles or stories that they will find easy. The Extensive Reading Foundation recommends that learners should know about 98% of the words they are reading because then they can read quickly with high levels of comprehension. The reduced frustration of having to look up words helps to develop an enjoyment of reading. This means they are motivated to read more, which means they benefit more and so on. It’s a virtuous circle.

Extensive reading contrasts with intensive reading, where the teacher chooses texts to illustrate new vocabulary or grammatical structures and often assesses students' performance in completing reading tasks. In other words, extensive reading aims to allow students more control over their own reading, both in terms of selection and how they want to deal with texts. Intensive reading has more specific, narrower objectives related to mastering specific elements of learning the language.

The aim of extensive reading is to get students reading for pleasure, which is an objective not many teachers would argue with. They might have difficulty, however, prioritising it over other demands. The benefits though are very tangible and important and research has shown that they feed directly through to results, they include:

  • Develops vocabulary as students meet words and word patterns again and again in different context
  • Helps to develop a better understanding of grammatical patterns
  • Builds reading speed and enhances ability to process language automatically
  • Helps develop good reading habits and a positive attitude towards reading
  • Helps to develop writing ability and better spelling
  • Develops fluency through enabling learners to ‘practice’ what they have been taught
  • Builds confidence

Extensive reading is good for students and teachers alike, so if you're interested give it a try!