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What is Extensive Reading?

Extensive Reading (ER) is one of many things a learner needs to do when learning to reading a second language. Typically ER involves reading massive amounts of very simple material so that the learner can read smoothly, confidently and pleasurably. The focus is on general comprehension, and not directly on language practice. Most of the reading is well-within the learner's current competence, is out-of-class and done with simplified books called Readers or Graded readers (sometimes Basal readers). ER is the corollary to learning to speak. You learn to speak by speaking, so you learn to read by reading. This is sometimes known as Graded reading. Note that all the students are reading different material, something they want to read because the learners select what to read.

Another aspect of ER is that the learner should be reading a wide variety of texts such as novels, mystery, poems etc.


Extensive reading strategies

If you're especially interested in extensive reading, an excellent comprehensive book is Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom by Richard Day and Julien Bamford in the Cambridge Language Education series- and look out for their forthcoming Extensive Reading Activities for Language Teaching in the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series.

* Build up a class 'library' (at the beginning it might just be a cardboard box in the corner of the classroom) of books in English, such as a set of graded reader titles at the language level of your class from the Cambridge English Readers series, and have every student choose a title on their own that they want to read for pleasure and fun in their free time.

* Have your students tell each other (probably first in small groups and later in front of the whole class) why they chose a particular title: because of the cover picture, the summary blurb on the back, or just because it's the type, or 'genre', of book they like - romance, science fiction, horror, mystery thriller.

* Set aside fifteen or twenty minutes of class time occasionally for silent reading in class. Have your students take out the book in English that they are reading and, well, just read - perhaps with some background music (soft jazz works nicely). And to set the example, don't forget your own novel!

* Studies show that to become a good reader, the best thing to do after reading one book is . . . to read another book! But in your teaching situation you might also want to ask your students to do post-reading activities:

- Design a poster or bookmark to advertise the book to the rest of the class.
- Share their views about their favourite characters or read favourite parts aloud in a small group of classmates.

* Have your students talk about their individual strategies when they come across a word or expression that they don't know: Do they try to guess the meaning from context? Do they use a bilingual or monolingual learner's dictionary? Or do they just go on reading because they're interested in the story? Whatever their personal strategy, ask your students to copy interesting and memorable words and expressions into their vocabulary notebooks - so they can help out a classmate who chooses to read the same book.

* To exploit the interesting topics in English in Mind, invite the whole class, or assign individual students who you know were interested in the subject, to look on the Internet for background on, for example, Culture in Mind topics and then to report back on sites and follow-up information they found while 'surfing' - and reading in English - on the Web.

Article source: Anderson, G. (2006). "Be sensitive… to both intensive and extensive reading". Cambridge University Press