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How to Plan Extensive Reading Lessons

Extensive reading lessons are useful to supplement the ESL textbook with authentic material for a meaningful, integrated, and long-lasting language learning experience. Extensive reading differs from intensive reading in that students do not get tested on all the details of the plot and they do not stop on every new word they learn. The aim of extensive reading is for students to be exposed to new language in a context they enjoy reading to improve their reading fluency and develop their communication skills more naturally.

Very often students feel a little at a loss with this kind of activity because they expect to be tested more and to be asked to learn all the new vocabulary in the book. They are so used to intensive reading activities that their reading fluency does not always reflect their actual ability to read or comprehend the new language.

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Benefits of Extensive Reading Lessons

1- Developing independent learning skills

Extensive reading is something students can do anytime, anywhere. It’s a flexible, portable learning activity they can pick for their own entertainment. Students who develop an interest in reading are well on their way to becoming independent and successful English language learners.

2- Improving vocabulary

Reading materials that are not too far beyond a student’s level will provide reinforcement of new vocabulary and the presentation of vocabulary in context. Students will benefit from greater exposure to the English language.

3- Increasing general knowledge

Extensive reading provides students with exposure to new information and ideas. An increase in general knowledge expands students’ background knowledge, which will further support students with their comprehension of new ideas in the second language.

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Extensive Reading Lessons Should Be Fun!

Let students choose their own reading material!

Give students choices about what to read. While you need to provide them with a range of materials that are not too frustratingly difficult, the goal is for students to be engaging with materials that are meaningful and interesting to them. If you have an in-class library, try to have a wide range of materials available in different genres.

Don’t turn it into work!

As teachers, we often have a tendency to turn everything into an assignment. Don’t make your students fill out extensive logs about what they’ve read, or write regular book reports. Let them read for the pleasure, and trust that it is a valuable process (even if they don’t complete a checklist for it).

Encourage students to share what they are reading

While you don’t want to turn it into a chore, you can encourage students to share what they are reading by allocating 5 or 10 minutes every so often to have students volunteer to share some brief information about their book and whether they are enjoying it. You can do this as a whole class or with students in groups. You can also have small voluntary book review notes available for students to fill in and post on the class bulletin board.

Where to Find Resources 


You can find a wide variety of reading resources online, but many of these will be more accessible to higher-level ESL students.

Second-hand bookstores

You can develop a class library with materials you find at second-hand bookstores. Many of the books in the children and young adult section can be appropriate for ESL students. Popular series are often very useful, as the content is often predictable and there is the repetition of vocabulary and themes.

Big publishers

All the major publishers now publish graded readers for English language learners. They are available in a wide range of levels and topics.

Helping Students Choose a Good Book

Make sure your students choose a book that they want to read. If they are interested in the book, they will feel more compelled to finish it. Depending on your teaching situation, you can offer students a small selection of books for them to choose or you can even take them to the library.

Ask your ESL students to select anywhere between 4 and 10 books just according to their title and book cover. Then, ask students to check them one more time to see if they are appropriate for them. If they understand the title, the blurb in the back cover and most of what they read on any random page in the book, then the level of the book is good for them. The book should be easy or slightly challenging, but not hard for them.

Remind your students that understanding a book does not mean understanding every single word in it. If necessary, remind them of reading in their own language and how sometimes they also encounter words they have not heard or read before. Once they have narrowed their selection, ask them to pick the book they are most interested in.

When Should Students Read?

Depending on how often students come to your ESL class, and how much time they have available during and/or after class, you can decide when to ask students to read. You can give them 15 to 30 min in class for them to read silently, or you can assign reading a certain amount of pages or chapters per day, week or month.

With lower level ESL students, it is better to have them begin their reading during class so that you can monitor their work and remind them not to look up every word in their dictionaries. It is important to give students a clear schedule and an expected completion date.

Assessing Extensive Reading Activities

Bear in mind that if you assess extensive reading in a rigorous way, it turns into an intensive reading exercise and loses many of its advantages. It is ideal for students to feel that extensive reading is fun, so their learning becomes easier and more natural.

A good strategy is to give students completion marks for having read different parts of the book and simple activities that do not involve testing their comprehension of plot details.

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3 Extensive Reading Activities to Teach Integrated Skills

Even though extensive reading should be done mostly for fun and general language development, giving the students a choice of activities or tasks to complete while and/or after reading their book will help you keep them accountable for their reading and will let you know if they understand the gist of what they are reading as well.

1- Questions While Reading

It is important to encourage students to interact with the book while they are reading it. These questions help students connect with the book and develop their overall literacy skills. You can ask students to answer these questions in writing or orally.

If two or more students are reading the same book, they can even have a discussion based on these questions as well. Remind your ESL students not to reveal plot events that other students haven’t read about yet though, so as not to spoil the story for them.

  • What is the protagonist fighting against?
  • What emotion most clearly dominates the main character? Why?
  • What motivates the antagonist? Why?
  • Which character would you least like to be? Why?
  • What one piece of advice would you offer the main character?
  • Which character do you most closely identify with? Why?
  • Which character would you like to meet or know in real life?
  • What do you think will happen next in the novel?
  • Would you want any of the characters in your novel as siblings, parents, friends, or partners? Who? Why? / Why not?

2- Questions After Reading

Once your students have finished reading the book, you can ask them to answer the following questions in oral presentations or in written form.

  • Who was the most interesting character in the book?
  • Has this book increased your interest in a particular subject? Which one? Why?
  • What do you think happens to the characters after the book ends?
  • Would you change anything in the story if you were the author?
  • How could the conflict have been resolved differently?
  • Did this book reaffirm or change the opinions you hold? Which ones? How?
  • What part of the plot did you enjoy the most? Why?
  • What part of the plot did you enjoy the least? Why?
  • Which theme or themes in this novel are similar to your own life?

3- Writing Tasks

The following list of writing tasks can be used as practice or assessment either while the students are reading the book or after they have finished it.

  • Write a letter to your main character, commenting on what you think of what s/he did in a significant event in the story.
  • Think of an event that is talked about, but not described, in your book. Write the dialogue following the style of the author.
  • Write a letter from one character in your book to another. Then write a response.
  • You are a psychologist. Write a dialogue between you (as the psychologist) and one of the main characters in your book, discussing how to resolve one of the character’s issues.
  • Choose someone you know well and compare the character to this person. How are they alike or different?
  • “There’s more than one side to a story” is an old saying. Write about one incident in your book from another character’s point of view.
  • Illustrate a scene in the novel. Write a description of your illustration, including why you chose to illustrate this scene (One page for the illustration, one for the description).
  • Draw or create a portrait of the main character. Write a description of your illustration, including an explanation of the features you chose for him/her (One page for the illustration, one for the description).
  • Find the “heart” of your story. This can be a word, line, passage, image, or event. Write this in your notebook; then tell why it is so significant.
  • Imagine that you are the main character looking back on the events in the story. Tell me how you feel about what you did, your struggles, and your motivations. How have you changed? What are you doing now?
  • Create a written description of a musical score for different situations in your book. What types of music would be appropriate for different events in your story? Write any particular songs you would use and why.

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