Stephen Greene

10 Top Tips to Encourage Extensive Reading

Top Tips for Encouraging Extensive Reading

I once had the great pleasure to see the funniest comedian ever doing his stand-up routine live at my university.  I was only a few weeks into my first term when I saw the flyers going around advertising Bill Hicks in the student union.  I persuaded a couple of new-found friends to go with me and we sat on the floor of the sports hall and just laughed for two hours.  Pure comedy gold.

One of the many routines that he did last night and that I often find myself re-watching on youtube when I have more important things to do, was one where a waitress asks him ‘What you reading for?’  This question stumps Bill.  He’s been asked ‘What are you reading?’ many times, but not ‘What are you reading for?’ (Warning: The following video contains strong language.)

It’s a question I often ask my students.  Unfortunately, the answers are often along the lines of ‘Because my teacher told me’ or, worse still, ‘I don’t read’.  I am lucky to have a few classes at the moment with book lovers and it is amazing how quickly our classes go by, and the language that emerges, as we talk about favourite books.

Reading in a foreign language is something of a holy grail to me.  I find it a problem reading in Portuguese because I love reading so much.  When I try to do it in a different language it isn’t as pleasurable or rewarding; in fact, it can be bloody hard work.  However, I know there are real benefits so I try and I also try to get my students to read in English outside the classroom.

I am not going to claim anywhere near a 100% success rate, but I have developed a few strategies to get my students reading more than they were before.

Clean the House1 Include students in choosing the book

It isn’t always possible, but if students feel they have been included in the decision making process, instead of having a book foisted upon them, they are more likely to at least give it a go.

2 If possible, allow students to choose different books

Again, this isn’t always practical, but everybody has different tastes, so why should they be forced to read the same book?

3 Encourage your students to read, but don’t force them 

Many students already have enough negative experiences of reading for school without you adding another one.

4 Be flexible in what you count as reading

I once read somewhere that young boys are more likely to read non-fiction, but schools try to force them to like fiction.  Don’t make this mistake.  Any reading is good reading.

5 Have pre-, while and post-reading activities

We use these activities in class to pique an interest, focus students and check for meaning.  The same should be done for reading outside the classroom.

Read and sit6 Refer to any films of the books that might exist  

Students often feel more comfortable with a book if they already know the story.

7 Be a role model

Accidentally leave the book you are reading hanging around so students ask you about it.  Be seen in the canteen with your nose in a book.  Be ready to talk about anything associated with books.  Often, people who don’t read don’t actually see others reading and so don’t even consider it as something which can be pleasurable.

8 Allow change

If a student doesn’t like a book help them to find a different one, don’t make them finish the one they have.

9 Length is important

If a student isn’t used to reading, then try to find short books for them to start with.  The feeling of accomplishment they will get might just encourage them to pick up another one.  Alternatively, a long tome can be intimidating and never-ending.

10 Explore graphic novels

Graphic novels allow readers to focus on direct speech instead of all that setting of the scene business.  Students also find it easier to understand because they are other clues they can follow to find meaning.  And don’t think that comics are just for kids or super-hero nerds, some of the most challenging books I have read in the last 5 years have been graphic novels.

Some examples include:’V for Vendetta‘ by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, ‘Maus‘ by Art Spiegleman, ‘Logicomix‘ by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitrou and ‘Persepolis‘ by Marjane Satrapi.

If you’d like some more ideas about how to encourage extensive reading and why it is useful, try these links:

Extensive Reading

Top Ten Principles for Teaching Extensive Reading

The Reading Matrix



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Stephen Greene

Stephen is a freelance teacher, trainer and editor. He has been teaching for over 20 years all around the world, but has been living and working in Curitiba, Brazil for the last 6 years. He writes self-indulging articles about all things associated with languages at

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