What is intensive reading?

elt intensive reading reading reading comprehension Oct 22, 2021

By Dr Jeremy Koay

A limited view

As the name suggests, intensive reading refers to reading short texts thoroughly and with clear goals, such as to answer reading comprehension questions or to identify how sentences are linked. Unlike extensive reading, the goal of intensive reading is not to read many texts for fluency, but rather to read a shorter piece of text to gain a deeper understanding of that text.

Although reading comprehension can be one goal of intensive reading, its goals may include learning subject matter, vocabulary learning and studying the authors’ intentions. In other words, the goal of intensive reading is not limited to reading comprehension.

A holistic view

In intensive reading, learners usually read texts that are more difficult, in terms of content and language, than those used for extensive reading. To help learners make sense of texts that may present a significant challenge in terms of vocabulary, grammar and/or concepts, teachers should focus on reading skills, such as identifying main ideas and guessing the meaning of unfamiliar words from context (Macalister, 2011).

The four learning goals for intensive reading are (Macalister, 2011):
1. Focusing on new language such as vocabulary and grammar
2. Focusing on ideas such as themes and topics
3. Learning new skills such as making inferences and identifying main ideas
4. Paying attention to text features such as genre structure and cohesion

Theory and practice

Reading comprehension instructions can focus on understanding the content/topic or on reading strategies (Liang & Dole, 2006).

Teachers can use images or videos as a means of introducing learners to the reading text topic. An alternative pre-reading activity is to have students complete a true/false statements activity and then have them discuss their responses in groups. The goal of this activity is to prompt learners to think about and explore the topic, drawing on their background knowledge.

When focusing on reading strategies, teachers can introduce the idea of skimming (reading rapidly for overall idea) and scanning (reading rapidly to find specific information). Before reading a text to practise these skills, teachers can ask students to speculate about the content and confirm their speculations after reading the text. The speculation activity provides a sense of direction and purpose for the reading practice.


Liang, L.A. & Dole, J.A. (2006). Help with teaching reading comprehension: Comprehension instructional frameworks. The Reading Teacher, 59(8), 742-753.

Macalister, J. (2011). Today’s teaching, tomorrow’s text: Exploring the teaching of reading. ELT Journal, 65(2), 161-169.

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/RimDream