As teachers we know that free reading can have many benefits for students. Some of these are:
Developing independent learning skills
Reading is something students can do anytime, anywhere. It’s a flexible, portable learning activity. Students who develop an interest in reading are well on their way to becoming independent learners.
Reading materials that are not too far beyond a student’s level will provide reinforcement of new vocabulary, and the presentation of vocabulary in context. Students will benefit from greater exposure to the English language.
Increasing general knowledge
Reading provides students with exposure to new information and ideas. An increase in general knowledge expands students’ background knowledge, which helps with comprehension of new ideas in the second language.
How to Encourage Extensive Reading
Let students choose their own reading material
Give students choices about what to read. While you need to provide them with a range of materials that are not too frustratingly difficult, the goal is for students to be engaging with materials that are meaningful and interesting to them. If you have an in-class library, try to have a wide range of materials available in different genres.
Don’t turn it into work
As teachers, we often have a tendency to turn everything into an assignment. Don’t make your students fill out extensive logs about what they’ve read, or write regular book reports. Let them read for the pleasure, and trust that it is a valuable process (even if they don’t complete a checklist for it).
Encourage students to share what they are reading
While you don’t want to turn reading into a chore, you can encourage students to share what they are reading by allocating 5 or 10 minutes every so often to have students volunteer to give some brief information about what they are reading and whether they are enjoying it. You can do this as a whole class or with students in groups. You can also have small voluntary book review notes available for students to fill in and post on the class bulletin board.
Where to Find Resources for Extensive Reading
You can find a wide variety of reading resources online, but many of these will be more accessible to higher level learners. The Baldwin Project has some public domain resources for younger readers that could be useful for ESL teachers. Many of the books by James Baldwin could be used with intermediate level students.
You can develop a class library with materials you find at second-hand bookstores. Many of the books in the children’s/young adult section can be appropriate for ESL students. Popular series are often very useful, as the content is often predictable and there is repetition of vocabulary and themes.
All the major publishers now publish graded readers for English language learners. They are available in a wide range of levels and topics.
Find additional resources on extensive reading on your TESOL account!