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What is ER?

What is ER? How to do ER ER Glossary ER Scale Graded Readers ER articles Online reading People in ER ER Links


What is Extensive Reading?

Extensive Reading (ER) is an approach to second language reading. When learners read extensively, they read very easy, enjoyable books to build their reading speed and fluency.  Another way to say this is students learn to read by actually reading rather than examining texts by studying the vocabulary, grammar and phrases. It is instructive to compare Intensive Reading (IR) with Extensive Reading.

Intensive Reading

For many teachers, there is only one way to teach readings which involves the teacher walking students through a reading passage.  The passage  is usually short and the instruction is focused on carefully checking comprehension, studying the grammar and/or vocabulary, or developing a reading skill. Here is an example.

                                    © Compass Media reading for the real World

The above reading for elementary learners is short and introduces vocabulary and grammar. The reading is followed by comprehension questions and other activities. Using a passage like this is useful when teaching students new language. This type of reading is called Intensive Reading because the learners study the reading and check their comprehension. Typically these types of text are used by the whole class with the teacher guiding them.

The limits of Intensive reading

However, if learners only use reading passages like these:

The reading is difficult, so learners have few chances to build reading speed and fluency.

The reading is short and because it is difficult, the learners read slowly and they cannot meet a lot of language.

The whole class reads the same material, which is too easy for some and too difficult for others.

All the students have to read at the same pace as they do the tasks together.

The reading is interesting to some learners but not others.

The benefits of Extensive Reading

Extensive Reading gives students chances to read longer pieces of reading, which they choose, which they can read at their own speed and at their own ability level. This can be done with Graded readers.

Intensive Reading and Extensive Reading are complementary and teachers should use both. A balanced reading program uses Intensive Reading to introduce new language, and complements this with Extensive Reading which consolidates and raises awareness of this language leading to reading fluency.



Reading in textbooks



Using graded readers

Learning new grammar, vocabulary, reading skills

What are the objectives of reading?

Fluency, confidence and pleasure

Usually a little more difficult than learner’s level

How difficult should they be?

Should be easier than learner’s level

Passages are usually short

How much do learners read?

As much as possible; usually a lot

The teacher

Who chooses the reading material?

Each learner

The same reading passage or text book, magazine article, newspaper clipping decided by the teacher

What do learners read?

Whatever they choose, usually graded readers.

In class or at home as homework

Where do learners read?

Out of class when and wherever they want

Comprehension questions, exercises, etc.

How is the learner’s understanding checked?

If at all, through book reports, sort summaries, discussion with teacher, etc.


Does the teacher give tests?

It is not always necessary

Often within the reading passage only

Is key language recycled?

A lot

Selecting appropriate materials is important.


Language research shows that learners need to meet words and grammar patterns many times for them to learn them well. Typically, a new word needs to be met 10-20 times for it to be learnt forever, and grammar structures such as the tenses need to be met thousands of times before they are mastered. A textbook presents language one item at a time, with new language occurring in each unit.  Therefore, textbooks cannot present words and grammar patterns often enough. Extensive Reading fills this gap by providing opportunities to deepen and enrich language taught in textbooks. Thus, textbooks and Extensive Reading must work together. Therefore, Extensive Reading is a necessary part of a language curriculum.

Research indicates learners reading or listening to a lot of English at or about their own ability level quickly develop a reading habit and higher levels of motivation for language learning overall.


Why do Extensive Reading?

There are many reasons why Extensive Reading is good for language development.

Extensive Reading builds vocabulary. When learners read a lot, they meet thousands of words and lexical (word) patterns that are not taught in textbooks. Extensive Reading allows the learner to develop an awareness of collocations (common word partnerships) and thousands of lexical phrases.

Extensive Reading helps learners understand grammar. In textbooks learners meet hundreds of grammar patterns. However, textbooks do not provide enough meetings with grammar for real acquisition to occur.  Extensive Reading provides opportunities to see grammar in context so learners can deepen their understanding of how grammar is really used.

Extensive Reading helps learners to build reading speed and reading fluency. In particular, developing reading speed is important because it helps learners to understand language faster and better.

One objective of Extensive Reading is reading for pleasure. This builds confidence and motivation which makes the learner a more effective user of language.


What types of ER are there?

Purist ER program

Lots of self-selected reading at home with no / little assessment or follow up. Often is a stand-alone class.

Integrated ER program

Lots of self-selected reading at home and in class. Follow up  exercises / reports which aim to build the 4 skills.

Class reading - study

Students read the same book and work through it slowly. Lots of follow up / comprehension work and exercises.

 ER as ‘literature’

Students read the same book and discuss it as if it were a work of literature.



Purist ER

Integrated ER

Class Reading

ER as literature


Individual - just reading for enjoyment


Lock-step. Comprehension questions and language exercises

Lock-step. It sees the book as a work of literature

Amount of reading








Slow - all students go the same speed







Language focus





Follow up assessment

Little or none


Lots - comprehension qs and language work.

Lots - discussions, reports, etc.




Class sets

Class sets

Skill work

Reading only

3-4 skills

3-4 skills / language

1-3 skills

Class time needed