Extensive reading to improve fluency in English

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Ideas and activities to encourage our students to read


What can we do to improve students reading fluency and encourage our students to read more? Find out some practical ideas and activities to introduce Extensive Reading into the classroom!

by Donatella Fitzgerald

Extensive reading is an approach to second language teaching and learning which can help students to read more. Successful Extensive Reading means that students read very easy and enjoyable books for pleasure to build their reading speed and reading fluency below their level of English. To ensure that students read quickly and fluently (150-200 words per minutes for beginners) the reading must be accessible and easy. Too many unknown words or grammar forms on a page create problems which will slow down the natural movement of the eye and affect reading comprehension and understanding and hinder fluency. Choice is also important, and students choose the books they read, facilitated by the teacher who provides a selection of books at the appropriate language level. If the chosen readers are at the right level students will not need a dictionary to help their reading and they will read faster as a consequence.

Stephen Krashen– Emeritus Prof Linguistics Uni. S. describes Extensive Reading as ‘ The reading of any book newspaper or magazine that students have chosen for themselves and is not subject to follow up work e.g tests or a summary…..It is the most powerful educational tool in language education. It serves to increase literacy and to develop vocabulary.
(California 2009)

Why is Extensive Reading important?
Extensive reading is important because:

  1. It helps students build vocabulary and revisit words they have learnt in class in a different context.
  2. It helps students to build reading speed and reading fluency which helps process language more automatically.
  3. It can help improve motivation and confidence and help reading skills in L1
  4. Reading graded readers often introduces non readers to developing a positive attitude towards reading in L1 and also improves competences in other language skills.

What is the difference between Extensive Reading and Intensive Reading.
Intensive Reading is described as ‘Reading to Learn’ and Extensive Reading is ‘Learning to Read’. These two forms of reading are both important and have different objectives. When you ‘read to learn’ you are reading a text to find out information in the content or the language. This is called study reading. When you Learn to Read you are practicing the skill of reading for information and enjoying reading. This is often called reading for pleasure. With Intensive Reading students are introduced to new language items and with Extensive Reading the students practice these new items and get deeper knowledge of them.
In order to practice Extensive Reading, students read graded readers. These are simplified texts which have different levels of difficulty. Using graded readers have many benefits to language learners. They allow students to improve their reading step by step and through them students meet lots of accessible language. They offer students the possibility to choose titles they are interested in and can be a bridge to reading an unabridged text in the future.

The Extensive Reading Foundation in the Guide to Extensive Reading 2011 reports that ‘ in order for students to benefit from their Extensive Reading, they should read at an appropriate difficulty level and at a good speed (150-200 words per minute for a beginner). Research indicates that if the students know about 98% of the words on a page, they can read it quickly and with high levels of comprehension. This means they can read the text very quickly and it can help build reading speed and their natural reading ability’. The Extensive Reading Foundation in the Guide to Extensive Reading 2011

Alan Maley (British Council 2009) lists the following as benefits of Extensive Reading:

  • Develops learner autonomy
  • Comprehensible input
  • Enhances general language competences
  • Opens windows on the world
  • Consolidates and sustains vocabulary growth
  • Improves writing
  • Motivation

It is important that a class library has books that interest all of the students and that the level of difficulty of the books are based on the average level of the students in the class with some below and some above.
Extensive Reading can take place in or outside the classroom and it is important that an Extensive Reading program is accompanied by teacher training. This ensures that teachers are given the possibility to learn techniques and strategies to encourage students to continue reading.

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Donatella Fitzgerald is a Pearson ELT Sales Manager, a teacher and a teacher trainer.