Like everything in life, too much of a good thing can turn out to be a bad thing. The same principle applies to reading for learning a language or honing your skills in your first language.
My point is that there is too much of intensive reading in course books but not enough extensive reading.
Intensive reading can help focus on grammar issues and is useful when the teacher needs to assign a number of words which will be learnt and tested and hopefully added to the learner’s active or passive vocabulary. It is also useful when the teacher tries to introduce the learner to the subtleties of different styles of writing.
However, if intensive reading is not complemented by extensive reading – to the extent that the level of the students allows – it makes teaching and learning dry, unimaginative and, what is more to the point, slows down progress in and appreciation of the language taught.
A structure or a word that has been presented in a short text must occur in different contexts and registers before it is safely stored in the learner’s long-term memory. The teacher can achieve this by exposing the students to different kinds of reading material.
The choice of the material and the goals that will be set at the end of the reading activity depends on the students’ level and interests but also on the teacher’s expectations each time s/he engages the students in reading.
Personally, I use all kinds of reading material – songs, poems, readers, extracts from novels and newspaper and magazine articles on a multitude of topics.
I know my students quite well so I choose books or topics that will stimulate and maintain their interest. I sometimes stretch the students by giving them a text that is challenging for their level of English but my expectations are lowered accordingly.
I will illustrate with an example.
One of my favourite novels is School for Love by Olivia Manning. There is a part at the beginning of the book where the orphan boy Felix first meets the only relative left after his parents’ loss, Miss Bohun, who evidently tries to take advantage of him though he is too young to realise, but the reader does. The boy seems to instantly forge a link with the cat left there by an army officer and his wife before they left for England.
I gave this extract https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-JgIA9pNw-KSVJ2UVA5S3hVMWM/view?usp=sharing to B1- level students asking them general questions which elicit their understanding of the atmosphere and the relationships between the people.
Some of the questions I ask are:
· Who is the boy? (someone who has lost his parents)
· Who is the woman? (a relative who is offering accommodation but not for nothing)
· Whose cat is it? (Miss Bohun’s – left behind by an English couple)
· Do you think Miss Bohun buys the cat food in the Old City? (too mean for that kind of thing)
· Is it fair for Felix to share expenses with Miss Bohun?
· How do we know she is trying to exploit him? (She put down Telephone and Kerosene twice)
You could add questions to this list depending on your students and their response to literature.
After I had explained a few words I picked out as more important for my students and for understanding the extract, I asked them to imagine they were Felix and write a letter to a friend so as to explain how their circumstances have changed after the loss of the parents and how they feel about Miss Bohun and the cat.
Each student demonstrated a different approach to the task, which made the activity all the more rewarding.
Now for more advanced students I created a word-formation exercise and kept the number of questions down as you can see in the document below: