Introduction to Extensive Reading

John Allan and Sepideh Alavi

Reading is important.  It helps us understand, learn and grow. In our role as language instructors, we include reading activities and resources to introduce and consolidate learning through vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and concepts. Usually, the instructor sets the parameters of these reading activities known as intensive reading.  Another approach that promotes further independent reading to familiarize students with their target language is called extensive reading (ER). Let’s have a closer look at these two reading approaches.

Extensive Reading vs Intensive Reading

Most of us use intensive reading methods in our classes.  This includes teachers distributing short passages, followed by comprehension checks for grammar, vocabulary and ideas.  Intensive reading is also characterized by students reading texts at the comprehensible input level (i+1) in the class. The focus of intensive reading is reading accuracy – reading for exact comprehension of details.

Conversely, the goal of extensive reading is to promote reading a lot of material for pleasure for language learners. This is achieved by offering learners the choice of reading content, schedule, pace and place.  Instructors guide learners to reading materials that are easy to read.  This removes barriers to fluent reading such as new vocabulary and difficult language structures. To ensure that students have read a text, a minor comprehension check must be passed. These comprehension checks are short and general.   

 Intensive readingExtensive Reading
Choice of contentteacherstudent
Pace of readingteacherstudent
Time of readingteacherstudent
Reading lengthshortlong
Reading materials levelteacherteacher
Reading leveli+1i-1
Assessmentteacher determined, mixgeneral multiple choice
Overall goalread to learnlearn to read
This table provides detailed comparisons between intensive reading and extensive reading.

Extensive Reading Background

Before the 1980s, extensive reading was considered to be one of several reading styles and strategies used by teachers to encourage more reading in their L2 classes. However, the focus changed after Day and Bamford’s seminal work, “Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom” was published in 1988. In this publication, they referred to ER as an approach, implying that it was more than just an isolated reading strategy, but rather an integration of reading activities based on ten important principles.  

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.

Their work has inspired researchers and classroom teachers to study and use ER in a variety of different contexts and see firsthand how ER created gains in their students’ linguistic knowledge and skills including vocabulary, grammar, listening, speaking, writing, knowledge, as well as improvement of their attitude towards reading, motivation to read and L2 learning self-confidence.

While many of these studies originated in Japan and were followed by other Asian countries, there seems to be a scarcity of studies in Canada. To the best of our knowledge, only a handful of studies have been conducted in Canada, leaving a huge gap in the research and practical implementation of extensive reading in language learning situations, especially settlement language learning.  

Benefits of Extensive Reading

It is not that extensive reading is better than intensive reading, but it provides the students with an additional reading activity and exposure to the second language.  Extensive reading potentially offers students more reading practice which can only result in more incidental learning, reading speed and fluency. This may include expanded vocabulary, language patterns and new cultural contexts.  It fosters a habit of lifelong reading in their target language.

Extensive Reading Foundation

Extensive reading is championed by the Extensive Reading Foundation. It is a non-profit organization that supports and promotes Extensive Reading globally by offering a guide to support practical applications of ER, supporting the annual Language Learner Literature Award for the best new English graded readers, purchasing reading materials and providing grants to support institutions embarking on ER programs, and maintaining a bibliography of ER research.

Avenue and Extensive Reading

We are moving forward with an extensive reading research project at Avenue. Its goal is to evaluate the efficacy of extensive reading at the CLB literacy and one levels.  It is also our intention to locate and promote Canadian graded readers.

We have already moved through the background research and technology selection steps of our project.   In January 2022, an Avenue pilot course with instructor and student support documents and videos will be ready for our first trial.  Interested instructors should attend the Introduction to Extensive Reading (Part 2) on Thursday, January 27, 2022 at 4 to 5 PM ET.


Our intentional outcomes of this research are to share findings based on data, surveys and observation, to revise technology if required, update support resources and launch an extensive reading feature within Avenue.


Extensive Reading Foundation

Day, R., & Bamford, J. (1988). Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.