Why should I include extensive reading in my English classroom? (part two)

Extensive reading in the English foreign language classroom


In my first blog post on ‘Why should I include extensive reading in my English classroom’, I said that the Internet is inundated with many ingenious ways of teaching and learning English. In fact, there are more than 2,620,000,000 search results that pop up when you google the question, “How to teach English”. Many methods are tried, tested and true while others are….well, quite far out there and best left to someone else to sabotage their career path on.

The only reliable way to learn a language is through massive and repeated exposure to it in context

I mentioned this widely accepted concept in the first blog post and I’m sure you’ll agree that the more a person is surrounded by language, the easier it is to learn it. And, as luck would have it, extensive reading gives students massive and repeated exposure to the English language by:

  •  exposing them to language-learning opportunities that are multiplied the more they read
  • providing them with comprehensible input, allowing them to come across repeated encounters with language structures and vocabulary again and again and again
  • helping students to converse and engage with others in English

…and you can read all about it in that article. But, in this post, I’d like to add three more reasons why you should seriously consider using extensive reading with your students if you’re not already doing so.

Extensive reading promotes general language competence

Most teachers will tell you from their own experience that the benefits of an extensive reading programme reach beyond simple reading skills. Other language skills, like writing and speaking, also improve. Although I don’t really know why this is, I’ve noticed that the more my students read, the better they write. In a study by Day and Bamford (1998: 32-39), there was also evidence of improvements in speaking. It just seems good common sense to me that exposure to more language, more often keeps the language acquisition gears greased and ready to volunteer up information when students need it to write or speak.

Extensive reading is an excellent way to learn vocabulary meaningfully

We all know what an almighty flop the dreaded vocabulary list is. There’s just no good reason for asking students to learn a list of isolated words that have no relation to each other or to anything else. The time they take to learn them amounts to many a precious hour they’ll never get back. Ever. By reading extensively, however, your students will come across words and phrases in context giving them real and lasting meaning. And, seeing a word for the first time in context also makes it easier for your students to guess what it means.

Learner autonomy goes hand in hand with reading

Reading is an individual activity that your students can do anywhere, anytime. They can sit down in a field or lie in bed with their book, read it on the bus or between classes. They can read at their own pace and as much as they wish. They can let themselves be caught up in the story for hours or stop after fifteen minutes and think about it while they’re doing their shopping. The pictures they see in their head are their own to enjoy and the interpretations they make of the text can be discussed with friends or kept to themselves to shape their thoughts and opinions. They can spot new structures they’ve never seen before and ask you about them or go online and Google. Reading a book makes a story your own for a while, and that is a special sort of freedom. The pleasure that comes with it will also motivate your students to take charge of their reading and learning to become autonomous learners.

In the last blog post in this series of three, we’ll have a look at why more teachers don’t use extensive reading programmes in their language classrooms. After all, if it’s so wondrous, why aren’t more people doing it?

Can you think of a reason teachers may not use extensive reading with their students? Do you? If not, why not? Leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to add it to next week’s post.

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