What is extensive reading?

elt extensive reading Oct 22, 2021

By Dr Jeremy Koay

A limited view

Trying to improve my English as a secondary school student in Malaysia, I tried to read as many English books as I could. I went to the school library and borrowed books that interested me. Because I hadn’t developed a reading habit in my teens, this involved quite a bit of effort and discipline. However, not knowing how to select books that would improve my English proficiency, I often ended up with books that were too difficult for me. This experience was frustrating and demotivating. It would have been a positive experience if I had chosen books that were easier to read.

A holistic view

Extensive reading involves not only reading as much as possible, but also at a level that readers are comfortable with. Research shows that extensive reading increases reading speed (Bell, 2001) and vocabulary learning (Pigada & Schmitt, 2006).

It is important to have a variety of books that readers can choose from (Day & Bamford, 2002), given that one of the goals of extensive reading is to promote reading for pleasure. The books made available to learners should vary in topic and level.

In extensive reading, learners read their books individually and silently (Day & Bamford, 2002). They explain that reading silently allows learners to experience a personal interaction with the text. This approach allows individual readers with different levels and interests to read a book that they like anytime and anywhere.

Theory and practice

Ideally, there should be a wide range of book selection in school libraries that learners can choose from. If a school library is not well-equipped, teachers, librarians, and parents can come up with ideas to build up the stock. This may involve financial support.

Graded readers are books that are simplified or adapted for language learners. These books are graded according to the level of difficulty. Directing learners to an appropriate level will ensure that they are not reading something beyond their level.

In order to encourage reading for pleasure, teachers should let learners know that they do not have to read a book from cover to cover. If they do not find it interesting, they do not have to plod through the whole book.

If extensive reading is incorporated into the curriculum, what do teachers do when their students are reading silently? Teachers should be reading a book too, because they play an important part as role models of good readers.


Bell, T. (2001). Extensive reading: Speed and comprehension. The Reading Matrix, 1(1), 1-13.

Day, R. & Bamford, J. (2002). Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading. Reading in a Foreign Language, 14(2), 136-141.

Pigada, M. & Schmitt, N. (2006). Vocabulary acquisition from extensive reading: A case study. Reading in a Foreign Language, 18(1), 1-28.

Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based Independent Researcher and a Research & Development Consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

Image source: shutterstock.com/Tom Wang