What is Extensive Reading?


The 5th March was world book day, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world.

There were lots of inspirational stories around about the huge benefits of reading with an understandable focus on children. Reading for pleasure of course benefits people of all ages and it is also of huge benefit to people learning English - EFL and ESOL learners. By this we don't mean reading for study purposes though, we really do mean reading for pleasure as part of an 'extensive reading' project.

ER Benefits'Extensive reading’ usually refers to reading done outside the classroom and outside an institution's ESL syllabus, although it can also include ‘free reading’ sessions in class time. The aim is to get students of English to read as widely as possible about topics that interest them in their free time. This means that they should have the ability to choose an article or story themselves but then to discard it if it does not live up to their expectations.

Because extensive reading is for pleasure, it is important that students read articles or stories that they will find easy and that their efforts and achievements in this area are not graded. The rationale behind this is that the more students read in English without obligation, difficulty or fear of grades, the better and the faster they will progress.

Extensive reading, therefore, contrasts with intensive reading done in the classroom, 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 elements of a syllabus.

Whilst the aim of extensive reading is to get students reading for pleasure, which is an objective not many teachers would argue with but might have difficulty prioritising over other demands, the benefits are actually very tangible and important and they feed through to results.

There's more information about how extensive reading helps people to learn English here