Extensive Reading and More with Graded Readers

Graded readers (“GRs”), such as those that Pearson offers, are an excellent tool for students to use in a myriad of ways. Many teachers when thinking of graded readers, associate them with “extensive reading”. While that is naturally one of the major uses for GRs, there are many more that we will explore below.

A brief overview of Extensive Reading

Extensive reading is an excellent way, perhaps the best way, for students who are not in an English-speaking area to improve their overall language ability. Despite its name, extensive reading (“ER”) is *not* simply a way to improve one’s reading. It has been shown to improve all skills to some extent, with even listening showing significant improvement when students read a lot.

While ER does improves students’ understanding of vocabulary, surprisingly its strength is not so much by adding new words to their vocabulary, but rather the way that it exposes learners to many more contexts of the words that they have already studied. It is this multiple exposure to the same words that allows them to develop a “feel” for how words are actually used in sentences.

The same can be said about grammar. Rather than extending the learner’s grasp of difficult syntactic structures, ER allows them to become familiar with how the basic grammar of English is used, and probably *not* used, as well.

Using Graded Readers

Graded readers can be used in many ways. Of course, the most common way is for students to read books individually. This allows students to select books that are of interest to themselves, but perhaps not to the other students. This kind of reading is normally done outside of class time since it does not require a teacher and needs much more time than is possible during normal class hours.

Class sets

The most common meaning of “class set” is to have multiple copies of the same book so that everyone in the class can read the same story. Having all of the students read the same book, does have its advantages. You may have them all take the book home to read “extensively” but then in class, you can use the text for close reading to illustrate specific grammar points, vocabulary usage, or delve into the literary aspects of the story, guided by the activities you prepare, or take advantage of the activities provided in the text, such as those in the new Marvel series. You might even ask the students select their own activity from the “after you read” activities to share with the class.

You may also make class sets of books that are all of the same level, such as a sufficient number of the Pearson English Readers “EasyStarts, ” so that everyone can select a different book, that can be read completely during class time.

Reading Circles

Students are formed into small groups of 4-6, and either assigned, or choose a book to read. Each student is assigned a specific role such as “leader,” “vocabulary master,” “character master,” “question maker,” “reporter” or “illustration commentator.” The students prepare individually and then in the next class, discuss what they have found with the others in their group. An extension of this activity would be for the reporter in each group to give a brief presentation to the entire class.


I have had great success with the students doing brief presentations on their favorite book using a “carousel” approach. I put them into groups of 4 to 5. One student in each group shows his/her book to the class and describes the basic plot, their favorite character and something new that they learned from the text. After 3 minutes or so, the presenters rotate to the next group (in a circle) and repeat their talk, thus getting additional speaking practice based on their reading. After they are done, they return to their original group and the second person in the group does the same thing. You may have the students talk to a third or fourth group, but you need to allow sufficient time for every one in each group to have a set of turns. The students can use an evaluation sheet with a rubric with such items as “interest,” “degree of preparation,” “speaking without reading,” etc. that they can turn into you at the end of the class, or if they all have mobile devices, perhaps use peereval.mobi that allows them to assess and comment on the other students' presentations based on a rubric that you devise.

Keeping track of your students’ reading

Charting your students’ progress, whether in number of books, pages or words allows the students to achieve more — either by challenging themselves or by competing with their classmates. You can track their reading by something as simple as a wall chart, or download a copy of the Google spreadsheet at https://tinyurl.com/er-recordsheet and use it to create your own online progress report system that your students can access and fill in themselves.

Perhaps the ultimate tool would be MReader, a free resource that allows students to take easy quizzes on the books that they have read and collect the covers of the books on their own personal home page. See the above website for further information.

Getting more information

See the Extensive Reading Foundation website, your one-stop site for more information on graded readers, how to implement ER with your class and many other topics relating to reading.

Thomas Robb recently retired from the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Kyoto Sangyo University and now divides his time between activities for the Extensive Reading Foundation, of which he is the Chair, and editing TESL-EJ, an electronic journal for language teachers. He is the second President of JALT, and then its Executive Secretary until 1990, and has been active in many academic societies. His main focus is how to use technology to improve language learning. He is the designer of the two software apps mentioned in the article, MReader and Peereval. In 2017, he was honored with the "Milne Innovation Award" for his contributions to Extensive Reading" by the Extensive Reading Foundation.

Related Links

Marvel's Reader Series
Marvel Readers Campaign
Pearson Readers Catalog