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★Tips to implement an extensive reading program at secondary level


Research has shown that extensive reading is one of the best ways to increase competence in a foreign language. For extensive reading to work students have to understand and enjoy the reading, and have to read in large amounts. If students have access to books that are at their level, with topics that interest them, and teachers provide reading time in class (Sustained Silent Reading), students will read. In the long run, reading will have a positive impact on their language skills and their self-confidence as language learners will rise.

The positive impact of reading at the secondary level was confirmed in a study we carried out for one academic year at the high school level (4 and 5 grade) where 39 students read books of their interest for 15-20 minutes every other day in class, making a total of approximately 1350-1800 minutes of reading. The library used in this project contained a total of 47 books. The 39 students read a total of 238 books making an average of 6 books per student. Results showed that, at the linguistic level, students improved their language performance showing significant gains between the pre and post cloze tests that were administered. Also, students reported enjoyment, interest, and understanding of the reading material. So, their improvement and enjoyment was real, and so was the success of this reading program.

Since we really believe in the power of reading, we would like to share some tips we found useful in the setup and implementation of an extensive reading program. These are some tips that can help teachers to set up a successful extensive reading program. They relate to how to put together the library, how to introduce the project to your students, how to implement the program, and what to do after students have read the book.

Putting together the library

  1. Review the material available for your classroom library.

    1. Go to the publishers’ webpages and browse material.

    2. Request catalogues (it is easier to see all available options).

  2. Survey your student’s interests before buying the books:

    1.Survey your students about what books would interest them. Allow them to browse selected catalog pages that include appropriate readers and ask the students for their opinions about the books.

    2.Give students a list of popular movies or books representative of different genres to see what they like (e.g. Harry Potter: drama and fantasy).

  3. Ordering books:

    1.Once you have made your book selections, buy only one copy of each book. Once you begin your extensive reading project, if students like a particular book, then you can order additional copies.

    2.Keep track of your books by using a spreadsheet, such as Excel, with titles, levels of the book, publishers, price and ISBN. This will help you for future ordering and you can add comments about the popularity of each book.

  4. Getting the books ready

    1.Cover them with clear contact paper so they are more durable.

    2.Mark them as school property.

    3.Place them by level (easy, intermediate, and advanced) using color-coded stickers. This method will make it easier to organize them.

  5. Set the pace of reading for your students

    1.To help with pacing, add a recommended number of pages to read each day to finish that book within a predetermined time period. To do this, divide the number of pages in the book by the number of days they have to complete the reading.

    2. As a general rule, students were given one week to read a book with 50 pages or less, two weeks for 50-100 pages, and three weeks or more for a book with 100 or more pages.

Introducing the project to the students

  1. Have a lesson on what extensive reading is. During this lesson give students guidelines and reading strategies that can aid them during the project. It is important to differentiate extensive reading from the intensive reading that students are accustomed to in a foreign language classroom. Have a discussion in which they compare the way they read in their native language versus the target language, and then emphasize that during this project they will be reading more like how they read in their native language.

  2. Set the expectation that they will not understand every word, and that is ok. They have to become more accustomed to ambiguity and using context than they have been in the past.

  3. To organize the project, have each student make a folder with the reading log, book report template, and grading rubric. Explain book selection questionnaire and how they will select books. Explain the procedures and grading.

  4. Give students a pre-test (cloze-test) that they can later compare with a post-test at the end of the semester. This allows students to see a concrete example of how the reading has assisted in their language acquisition.

Implementing the project

  1. Student book selection:

    1.Allow and encourage the students to pick any book that interests them.

    2.If they start reading it and it is too hard, allow them to return it and choose another one.

    3.If a book is at a particular student’s level, he or she should be able to read and understand the text without using a dictionary.

  2. Check-in/check-out day:

    1.Exchange books at the end of class. This will keep students from spending too much class time deciding on which book they would like to select. You can also allow students to come before or after school if they would like more time to decide on a book.

    2.Devise a check-in/out process that works for you. Whatever your system is, be strict about it and enforce it with your students. If check-in/out procedures are not followed it is easy for books to get lost.

    3.A very helpful site for organizing your classroom library is default.aspx. Here you can keep a record of all of the books in your library and easily check them in and out to your students. It also has a reporting feature that you can use to assist with grading.

    4. Below is the check-in/out procedure used during our extensive reading project:

    a. Check out:
    I. All books were laid out on desks in the classroom and students were allowed to browse before deciding on a book they wanted to red.

    II. Once students selected a book, they completed the Book Selection Survey and gave this to the teacher, who would assign the book that student in Classroom Booksource. The teacher would then place the survey in the student’s folder.

    b. Check in:
    I. Students return the book to the teacher, who would mark the book as returned from that student in Classroom Booksource.

    5. Having a check-in/out procedure is essential. Whether using an online resource such as Classroom Booksource, a basic spreadsheet, or even a paper/pencil system, your procedure allows your to know that students are following the correct check-out procedures and aids in grading and keeping track of your resources.

What to do after students have read the book

Students were required to turn in a very simple and general report containing very basic information about the plot, characters and setting of the book they read, together with a reading log showing their opinion about the book.


  1. During our project, students were graded once every nine weeks using a basic rubric that evaluated the following for each book they read:
    a. Completion of the Reading Log

    b. Completion of the Book Selection Survey

    c. Book Reports

    d. Number of books/pages read during the grading period

  2. It should be noted that the students’ grades should reflect students’ effort. We did not want to make the reading task seem like a chore or homework assignment, but attaching a grade to the project adds validity and importance to the project for the students.
The authors
Victoria Rodrigo is a professor of Spanish and Second Language Acquisition at Georgia State University in Atlanta where she teaches at undergraduate and graduate level. Her area of research is receptive skills, reading and listening, as a means of enhancing language acquisition.

Jana Ferguson has taught Spanish at the high school level for five years. She was inspired to implement an extensive reading program in her classroom while completing her masters in Spanish Language and Literature at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
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