Extensive Reading and English for Academic Purposes

IEP – Intensive English Program | EAP – English for Academic Purposes | ER – Extensive Reading

Some may argue that extensive reading does not have an appropriate place in an IEP, especially one that focuses on EAP. ER is based on easy texts that don’t demand the rigor and intensiveness that academic reading entails. However, ER can play in building reading skills. Research has shown that it builds reading speed, proficiency and motivation. It fosters fluency skills, makes reading an enjoyable habit, can act like a bridge to more complicated texts, and is a breath of fresh air in a sea of difficult texts.

Yes, ER does have a place in IEPs/EAP. However, envisioning how it fits in is not an easy thing. A number of questions come to mind: What will students read? Should it be authentic? How much class time will it take? Will it overwhelm students when they also must read intensively for homework and in class? Will there be clear benefits?

I have written about these questions before, and I have been interested in ER for some time, even though I have never tried to implement a program at my IEP (yet). So, it was with great pleasure that I attended a presentation at SETESOL in New Orleands called “Can extensive reading be effectively used in EAP programs?” presented by Matthew Peel and Jarrod Borne of the University of New Orleans. (Click these links to download the powerpoint and presentation handout.)

During this presentation, they discussed the principles of ER and how these principles can be applied to IEPs/EAP. What’s more, they also showed practical and real examples of how they had implemented ER at their university. This was the most intriguing part – to see how such a program works on a day-to-day basis. The takeaway was that it can be implemented, and it can be implemented without taking away much from the intensive reading classroom experience. They also offered hands-on experience with several ER reading activities and explained what they do in their classes. This post will offer a summary and discussion of their ideas, intermixed with my own thoughts and feelings.

Principles of Extensive Reading
(based on Day and Bamford/Extensive Reading Foundation)

The principles presented below are all used to help students to mimic the natural act of reading in an L1. For each one, imagine a student curled up with a book, reading uninterrupted – as many of us do.

  1. The reading material should be easy.
  2. There should be books on a variety of topics.
  3. Learners should choose their own material.
  4. Learners should read as much as possible.
  5. The purpose of reading is for pleasure, information, and general understanding.
  6. Reading should be its own reward.
  7. Reading speed should be fast.
  8. Reading is individual and silent.
  9. Teachers should guide their students.
  10. The teacher should be a model.

Implementing Extensive Reading in EAP/IEPs

Let’s take a look at some of the principles above and see how they can work in EAP.

Principle 1 – The reading material should be easy.

Reading material should be easy to aid in reading fluency. Most teachers follow the five-finger rule: if there are more than five unknown vocabulary words on a page, then the book is too hard. How do you solve this problem when you are expecting students to read authentic or semi-authentic texts? Graded readers. While not authentic, they offer engaging content at a variety of levels suited for students.

Some may argue that the effort is not worth it unless the material is authentic. Why? Just because it isn’t authentic doesn’t mean it is not useful or enjoyable. Being able to read authentic texts requires a large breadth of vocabulary and grammar, and well as cultural knowledge. This is best left for intensive study. You don’t want your students curled up with a book only to stop every few sentences and check dictionaries or scrunch up their faces in confusion.

Principle 3 – Learners should choose their own material.

It’s important to have a wide range of materials so that you can find a book that suits each student’s interests. A “home run” book that hooks the student on reading. This has as much to do with skillful teacher guidance as it has with library building (see below).

An alternative, which somewhat breaks this principle, is to assign the same book to everyone. This can serve to scaffold and guide the ER experience, especially in the beginning. In addition, it builds a stronger sense of classroom community if students are reading the same book. More choices and free choice can come at later stages when students are more comfortable with ER.

Principle 5 – The purpose of reading is for pleasure, information, and general understanding

Unlike intensive reading, their are no vocabulary exercises, comprehension questions, or quizzes. The goal of reading is to read and enjoy it. When we read for pleasure, it is rare that someone will come up to us and test our comprehension of the material. If the material is at the right level of the student (i.e. it is easy), then they should have no problems understanding it anyway.

Some teachers (including me) may be worried about accountability: how can you insure students are actually reading the material. While their are no tests involved, the presenters explained a number of reading activities they do that serve to check accountability, progress, and even appropriateness of the text.

One example was the gallery activity. In this activity, students completed a small worksheet that asked students to write new words, their favorite line, explain their feelings or opinion, and then draw a picture of what they read. This is displayed around the room and students are encouraged to peruse the work in a art-gallery fashion. The purpose of this activity it get students to reflect on their reading as well as see what others are reading. If students are reading the same book, it can build a strong reading community and makes the activity more interesting.

The presenters recommended the book “Extensive reading activities for teaching language” by Bamford (2004) for a wealth of activities.

Principle 8 – Reading is individual and silent.

In incorporating ER into an EAP classroom, we may be tempted to have students read together or read aloud. However, keeping in line with trying to mimic natural reading, ER should be individual and quiet. The presenters giving students 10-15 minutes of DEAR a few times a week. DEAR means “drop everything and read”. This ensures that students are reading while provides a practical preface to using reading activities. It also gets students ready for class by providing them with an easy and meaningful (if the principles have been followed) reading task. DEAR need not take up a majority of class time, and it needn’t be everyday. As will be explained below, DEAR may be heavy at first (1-2 hours a week for the first few weeks) but light towards the end of a term (30 mins a week).

Principle 10 – The teacher should be a model.

What does the teacher do during DEAR? No grading. No facebooking. No daydreaming. The teacher, like the students, should also be reading. The teacher serves as a model reader and should help inspire students and know that you are serious about reading. If you are doing something else in class, it may send the wrong message or that this is just quiet busy work. So, model the behavior and enjoy the free time!

Examples and Explanations

Matthew Peel was nice enough to allow me to share his presentation on this blog. The presenters explained two different approaches to actually organizing ER in their IEP/EAP classes. Below are the two examples. The point of these example schedules is to show one possible configuration that can incorporate ER without eating up too much instructional time. They serve as good examples.

Extensive Reading SETESOL2Extensive Reading SETESOL

While some class time was utilized for either DEAR or reading activities, in general most of the class time was still dedicated to intensive reading work. In fact, intensive reading was solely done in the classroom while extensive reading and vocabulary work was mostly done for homework.


I’ll conclude this post with Matthew’s own words, which sum up quite well the point of his presentation and this post: “My biggest takeaway from this project – one that I use to “sell” the idea to skeptical teachers – is that ER can be incorporated into an existing reading program with minimal impact on teacher preparation and use of classroom time while still realizing benefits.”


Web Resources

Blog Posts/Online Articles

Books and Articles

  • Bamford, J. (2004). Extensive reading activities for teaching language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Carrell, P. L., & Carson, J. G. (1997). Extensive and intensive reading in an EAP setting. English for Specific Purposes, 16(1), 47-60.
  • Day, R. (2011). Bringing extensive reading into the classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Day, R., & Bamford, J. (1998). Extensive reading in the second language classroom. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jacobs, G., & Farrell, T. (2012). Teachers sourcebook for extensive reading. Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Pub.
  • Krashen, S. (2011). Free voluntary reading. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Krashen, S. (2004). The power of reading: Insights from the research (Revised/Expanded ed.). Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Macalister, J. (2008). Implementing extensive reading in an EAP programme.ELT journal, 62(3), 248-256.
  • Nakanishi, T. (2015). A Meta‐Analysis of Extensive Reading Research. TESOL Quarterly, 49(1), 6-37.
  • Peel, M (2015). Implementing an extensive reading program in an intensive university EAP curriculum. MA TESOL Collection. Paper 706. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.sit.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1710&context=ipp_collection.
  • Soliman, N. A. (2012). Integrating extensive reading and reading circles in ESL.International Journal of Global Education, 1(1). Retrieved from http://www.ijge.net/ijge/v1_i1_article3.pdf.
  • Wang, G. H., & Wang, S. D. (2013). Extensive Reading in the Korean EAP University Context: A Reconsideration of Its Goals. Journal of Arts and Humanities, 2(10), 1-7. Retrieved from http://theartsjournal.org/index.php/site/article/download/227/188.
  • Waring, R., & McLean, S. (2015). Exploration of the core and variable dimensions of extensive reading research and pedagogy. Reading in a Foreign Language 27(1), 160-167. Retrieved from here.

One thought on “Extensive Reading and English for Academic Purposes

  1. Matthew Peel says:

    Hi Anthony, thanks for attending my presentation and writing this great post about your takeaways. My strategy to implement an ER program into my EAP was to start with the 10 Principles of Extensive Reading by Bamford & Day and modify them to accommodate the goals and stakeholders of my EAP program, which you’ve nicely summarized.

    Through this experience I Iearned two important things. First, vocabulary is the determining factor to finding ER appropriate text for students. This is easy to do by using the 5-finger rule and by incorporating graded readers.

    Second, once students have access to ER appropriate texts and buy in to the ER concept, they have a great ability to significantly increase their reading rate. At the start of each session I explain the ER program and I always get moans and concerns from the students. However, after a week or two the students realize that ER is easy and the texts and follow-up activities are interesting. Once they are on board with ER I ramp up the number of pages they must read at home while decreasing the amount of time for both in-class reading time and ER follow-up activities. This progressive approach has worked well, and is a key selling point for other teachers who may be skeptical of the ER program.

    Overall, this experience has been very positive. We piloted our ER program with one class, then expanded to three classes, then expanded it to all classes and levels (except for our level 0 class that caters to students that have no English experience). Students reported, via questionnaires, an improvement in vocabulary and affinity for reading. I personally feel that the ER program is working when students, during the semester, ask for extra books on top of their current reading load, and when students, at the end of the semester, wished they had more to read during the semester. This shows me that students are beginning to read for pleasure while also understanding the benefits of reading more.

    For anyone interested in starting their own ER program, I’d recommend going to the Extensive Reading Foundation website first. (http://erfoundation.org/wordpress/ertoolkit/) It has lots of resources on the what’s, why’s, and how’s of extensive reading. I wish everyone best of luck in implementing your own ER program!

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