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 that 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.
For many teachers, there is only one way to teach reading which involves the teacher taking their students through a reading passage. The passage is usually short and the instruction is focused on carefully checking comprehension, teaching the grammar and/or vocabulary, or developing a reading skill.
However, there are some limits to this type of reading:
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.
Extensive Reading gives students chances to select their own graded readers 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 promote both. Intensive Reading can teach new things, while Extensive Reading gives lots of extra practice in using it. 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 which aids reading fluency.
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 but these often don’t occur frequently enough 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.
In an Extensive Reading approach, selecting appropriate reading materials is important. Language research shows that learners need to meet words and grammar patterns many times for them to learn them well. Typically, a new word needs to be met 10-20 times for it to be learnt forever, and grammar structures such as the tenses need to be met thousands of times before they are mastered. A textbook presents language one item at a time, with new language occurring in each unit. Therefore, textbooks cannot present words and grammar patterns often enough as they aren’t usually repeated enough in the following units. Extensive Reading fills this gap by providing opportunities to deepen and enrich language taught in textbooks. Thus, textbooks and Extensive Reading must work together. Therefore, Extensive Reading is a necessary part of a language curriculum.
There are many kinds of ER program
Purist ER program
Lots of self-selected reading at home with no or little assessment or follow up. Often is a stand-alone class.
Integrated ER program
Lots of self-selected reading at home and in class. Follow up exercises / reports which aim to build the 4 skills.
Class reading – study
Students read the same book and work through it slowly. Lots of follow up / comprehension work and exercises.
ER as ‘literature’
Students read the same book and discuss it as if it were a work of literature.
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