Top 5 tips for successfully teaching extensive reading to Secondary to college students

Extensive reading is becoming more popular in Japanese ELT industry – thanks to the growing evidence that shows benefits and necessity of extensive reading, reported in numerous publications and academic conferences. Nowadays extensive reading program (ERP) as part of the curriculum is not only offered in private schools, but also it’s being implemented in more public schools.

It’s been widely observed that extensive reading has an affective effect on English learning. In particular, it motivates learners by alleviating aversion to English and inspiring self-confidence. Needless to say, that helps them develop overall language skills. Studies have proven that extensive reading improves reading speed, reading comprehension, listening, speaking skills as well as vocabulary and grammar.


Some of you may feel skeptical if your experience with extensive reading in classroom hasn’t always been positive. It’s not surprising to see an ERP works less effectively with reluctant readers, and there are always some students who don’t improve their English from it as much as we expect. To help you maximize the effect of extensive reading on more students, I’m going to share top 5 tips for teaching extensive reading based on my 25 years of teaching extensive reading to learners of various age groups in schools and 40 years altogether with private lessons in Japan.

1. Provide greater choice of readers

Choice of readers is by far the most important element of successful extensive reading. In order to see its effect, reading a few graded readers is not enough. We’re talking about 50-100 readers to complete per student, and for this to happen, you need to target their interests and reading levels so they actually read on. Students need to be able to understand 80-90 percent of the book without using dictionaries or translating into Japanese. You also need to provide a broad selection to choose from.

I usually present a collection of readers that I think are highly engaging to the student group and lower than their reading levels. I invite them to pick any book they like on a first-come-first-served basis. When I tell them that they can only take one at a time, they hunker down and try to get through their book to move on to the next one.

At the first 2-3 months into the ERP, I have the students read a large quantity of very easy readers (*YL 0.3-0.6), between 50-100 titles, so that they stop translating the text into Japanese, because translation not only prevents students from improving their reading speed, but also their listening skills, which is one of the biggest benefits of extensive reading. 
 *YL: Yomiyasusa Level, readability scale called optimized for Japanese EFL learners by Akio Furukawa

2. Set aside quality reading time in class for sustained silent reading

The next step is to create 10-15 minutes of reading time in your lesson timetable for students to read quietly on their own in every single lesson until they become comfortable reading in English. Slot in the reading time either at the beginning or end of every lesson for them to complete a very short reader or readers – between 100 to 1,500 word count, depending on the learners’ level – short enough to get through within the designated time period. Make it competitive by challenging them to finish their book before the time is up. Try using a stopwatch and it works like a charm to help improve their concentration.


If you are a class teacher and can afford to create a 10-15 minutes’ slot for reading every morning and make it a daily exercise, that will accelerate the learning so you’ll see its effect faster. If you have a bigger library of readers, lend them for students and have them take another 10-15 minutes to read at home, giving as many students the chance to read more books as possible.

3. Read at the same level within the same reader series

As students continues to read and get closer to completing 50-100 readers, they’ll eventually stop translating text into Japanese and improve in reading speed. You can first aim at 100 wpm (word per minute) then 150-200 wpm, gradually increasing the level of readers. When adding books, I recommend sticking to the same range of readers from the same publisher for 5 to 10 titles because within the same series students tend to come across the same words in different books.

The more they read on, the easier it becomes to read, having a positive impact on their reading speed, leading to a smooth transition to the next levels as further acquisition of vocabulary happens along the way. By reading within the same reader series, some students get hooked on specific authors who have written many books in the series since those stories often have similar ways the plot develops.

Whilst exploring different books in order to discover their favorite series or types of story at the get-go, I don’t recommend picking books from different series of different levels haphazardly as based on my observation it’s not as effective or efficient as reading and moving up levels within the same reader series.

4. Encourage self-assessment through reading diary

In my ERPs, I make sure my students keep record of the books they’ve read in a reading diary. This record gives them great motivation from a sense of accomplishment as they see the growing count of books and vocabulary they’ve read. The reading diary also helps them look back in a year’s time to analyze their own reading performance.

Furthermore, they can review their reading history and revisit books they previously found difficult. They will almost always notice that they’ve improved because the same books now feel easier to read. With this self-assessment process, students start reading spontaneously for themselves, not as part of the curriculum where they are forced to read. At this point, they will be reading for pleasure to improve their English, not dragging their feet to read because they have to in order to pass the grade.

5. Practice extensive reading yourself

Successful ERP doesn’t only hinge on methodologies. The practitioner should also experience extensive reading themselves to build expert know-how of ER. Otherwise, it will be difficult to know which books to recommend to what types of learners, when to move them up to the next level, what advice to give to struggling ones, and so on.

This is similar to studying textbooks and teaching materials in any subjects you teach, but the biggest difference is that you can and should do it for your own pleasure. This exercise might come with a byproduct of improved language skills of your own, which helps teach other general English classes.


ERP may ostensibly look like cushy, effortless method of teaching to outsider, where the teacher doesn’t need to do anything while students are reading. In reality, it takes a lot more preparation and planning and is a considerably more energy-intensive way of teaching English compared to traditional, grammar-translation-based instruction. With ERP, the teacher needs to always keep observing and exploring how to individualize their approach in order to help everyone in the class. It’s more learner-focused instruction requiring more learner autonomy as opposed to teacher-led lesson that the teacher needs to “teach.”

The key to make it successful is learner motivation, which is the hardest part. Just like any other teaching methods, successful extensive reading program is not without its challenges specific to every classroom and every student, but if you keep at it, you’ll reap the rewards that match the efforts you’ve put in. When used right, extensive reading does contribute to development of English proficiency as it provides learners with a lot of good quality input that paves the way to natural output to happen. Wherever possible, enjoy extensive reading yourself to set example, and share the enjoyment with your students.

About the Author

Atsuko studied in the U.S. as an AFS (American Field Service) exchange student during her high school years, where she came to see the flaws in the English education system in Japan. After returning home she started teaching extensive reading privately. Atsuko holds Ed.D. in TESOL from Temple University, publishing “Teaching Manual for Extensive Reading and Listening in English” from Taishukan Shoten. She introduced extensive reading at Baika Junior and Senior High School, Osaka International University, Kansai University, Kinki University and Konan University and currently teaches part-time at Kwansei Gakuin University and Iwano English School. She serves as board member of ERF (Extensive Reading Foundation) and JERA (Japan Extensive Reading Association).

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The Effectiveness of Reading Stories Based on Movies

Japanese English language learners at my school are hooked on reading stories based on the Marvel movies. These are available in the newly published Marvel readers series. Introducing these stories based on movies (“movie stories”) into your reading program will add variety to your classroom. A.S, a high school second-year student, states that the movie stories that she already knows are fun to read and boost her motivation to read English books.
Movies are a major source of entertainment. Each movie director has his or her way of expressing ideas through film. Whether you are an expert on movies or not, movie materials are beneficial to, and most of all, interesting to the learners. Let me introduce some of the ways I use them in teaching.

Learning English from movies

The four skills of English can be acquired through watching movies. Actors and actresses express their feelings through their facial expressions, and their actions together with the music convey the entire atmosphere of the movie to the audience. If you can enjoy the movie fully without the help of translation, that would be ideal. However, if you want to understand the English expressions, jokes, and cultural references, movie stories will help you clarify any vagueness in your understanding. A.S says that it takes her several days to read the book based on a movie, whereas she can watch the movie in a single day.

How students learn from movie stories

If you read the book before you watch the movie, you will have to use your imagination fully to understand the story. In order to understand the story, you need to understand the characters and their relationship, imagine the scenery and follow the chapters one by one. If you read the book after watching the movie, it can be fun to read the parts which you could not understand well enough, or the parts which you liked a lot. A.S says that as a movie fan, she wants to know everything about her favorite movies.

Using movie stories in your class

Here are the three steps to follow when you use stories in your class.

  1. Ask students if they have watched the movie.
  2. Tell students to take a close look at the illustration and read the caption.
  3. Check you are reading books in the best order.

If your students have not watched the movie, please have them check the relationships between the characters beforehand. In the Pearson English Readers Marvel series, you will find a “Who’s Who?” page.

Reading the captions of the illustrations will make it easier for students to imagine the story.

The order of reading sometimes matters. Choosing a book like Avengers (Level 2) for the first book will enable the students to get to know the characters. In Avengers you will meet the characters Captain America, Hulk, Thor etc. These characters appear in the second and third books, which is attractive for readers.

Movie stories will broaden your students’ world

Topics which students have an interest in are attractive to English readers who are in the extensive reading program. Even people with no confidence in English will enjoy the materials from the movies.

Pearson English Kids Readers offer books which elementary schoolers with a knowledge of phonics can read. Pocahontas (Level 6) tells you about native Americans of the colonial period. Give the background information of the movies accordingly.

Movie stories basically contain conversation. However, unlike in the movie, you will also encounter descriptions of scenery and gestures. This will be good practice for learners to learn about the way to describe a situation.

How to promote English Extensive Reading

Classifying books into categories will attract the interest of learners. We assign one category monthly to read. Here are some tips for categorizing the books:

  1. Heroes (e.g. Thor, Superman, Spiderman)
  2. Disney stories
  3. Adventure
  4. Authors
  5. Family
  6. Environment
  7. Reading the same titles from the different publishers.

Students can read at their own pace. They can read regularly every day, and increase the time that they are exposed to the English language. Through reading and watching movies, they will become acquainted with foreign cultures and will get to know the ways to communicate with people around the world.

Let us educate the students to be people who can be successful in this global world.

About the Author

Miyashita-senseiIzumi Miyashita works at Musashino University, Jissen Women’s University and Den’en Chofu Futaba Senior High School. For more than 30 years she has been practicing the expansion of intellectual capacity through English education in order to nurture global human capital from elementary school to university level. Miyashita has published books such as the Eunice English Tutorial and co-authored titles such as Doraemon English Dictionary for Kids and How to Enjoy Learning English Using British Elementary School Materials. Her column “Omotenashi Kaiwajutsu” is frequently published in the Nikkei Shimbun.

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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.

Presentations

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.

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