26Extensive Reading for Statistical Learning


Introduction to extensive reading

Harold Palmer (1917/1964, cited in Day and Bamford 1998) is credited with first using the expression extensive reading (ER) to refer to “an approach to language teaching in which learners read a lot of easy material in the new language” (Bamford and Day 2004, p. 1). Palmer contrasted this with intensive reading, by which he meant the close study of texts using dictionaries and grammars to ascertain and retain the meanings and language of the text. While it seems uncontestable that to become a good reader one must read a lot, Williams and Moran (1989) point out that most class time is spent on intensive reading – reading relatively short teacher‐selected texts, which are surrounded by pre‐ and post‐questions, vocabulary work, and strategy building activities – and very little time on allowing students to read self‐selected texts for general understanding without additional activity. As a result, instead of disliking reading because it is hard and thus doing less reading, what Christine Nuttall (1982) called the “vicious circle” of reading, students have successful experiences with texts that, with encouragement and opportunity, lead them to read more (p. 127).

ER has been defined and operationalized in many different ways. Sometimes it is defined as the reading of longer texts and sometimes as reading a lot in one subject area. These would be more accurately described as “extended ...

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