The benefits of extensive reading in EFL

As it is World Book Day on Thursday 4th March, this week’s blog will look at extensive reading (ER) in the context of the EFL classroom.

Firstly, let’s consider what extensive reading is. Well, put very simply it is reading for enjoyment. Compare this with the intensive reading that is often done in class, where a short text is read slowly and carefully and dissected for comprehension, grammatical structure, vocabulary and discourse. A fixed amount of time is alloted to this reading task in the class. When students are encouraged to read outside of class they can read at their own pace which gives them more autonomy. They can choose what they read themselves and it can include different genres such as, magazine articles, blogs, newspaper articles, graphic novels, poetry, non-fiction not only books in the conventional sense.

Day and Bamford, influential writers on the research and promotion of ER in second language (L2) contexts, produced a list of 10 principles that they felt summed up its key tenets:

  1. The reading material is easy.
  2. A variety of reading material on a wide
    range of topics must be available.
  3. Learners choose what they want to read.
  4. Learners read as much as possible.
  5. The purpose of reading is usually related to
    pleasure, information and general understanding.
  6. Reading is its own reward.
  7. Reading speed is usually faster rather than slower.
  8. Reading is individual and silent.
  9. Teachers orient and guide their students.
  10. The teacher is a role model of a reader.

Bearing these 10 points in mind I won’t be recommending Ulysseus, War and Peace, anything by Salman Rushdie or any classics. Unless of course the students express an interest in such works of literature. Again, by knowing your students and their likes and dislikes and building up rapport you can recommend books that will appeal to them personally. As a teacher you could always have a book in your bag and talk about it at the beginning of the class. Students can ask each other about what they are reading at the moment. It could be a show ‘n’ tell session held regularly. Sometimes students struggle to know what to talk about so the regular discussion of what the class is reading provides another speaking topic for class. Talking about a book you have read is also a common theme in many official exams such as the IELTS speaking exam.

There are many benefits to ER. Day and Bamford (1998) list the benefits as improvements in reading and writing proficiency, oral skills and vocabulary, an increase in motivation and positive affect.

Setting up an ER programme should not only help your students to improve their reading skills (invaluable for higher education study), but it will also allow them to enjoy reading for pure enjoyment. They could join Good Reads which can provide them with recommendations. They can also write book reviews of what they have read, thus practising their writing skills. You could even encourage them to join a book group or set up their own. ER is great way to Foster learner autonomy also.


Day RR & J Bamford (1998) ‘Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom’ Cambridge:CUP

Watkins, P. (2018). Extensive reading in ELT: Why and how? Part of the Cambridge
Papers in ELT series. [pdf] Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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