Types of Reading
In this Page:
Aims of the web page:
Several types of reading may occur in a language
classroom. One way in which these may be categorized , as suggested by
Brown (1989) can be outlined as follows:
The first distinction that can be made is whether the reading is oral
or silent. This web page will not deal with oral reading, only silent reading.
Within the category of silent reading, one encounters intensive and
extensive reading. Intensive reading is used to teach or practice
specific reading strategies or skills. The text is treated as an end
in itself. Extensive reading on the other hand, involves reading
of large quantities of material, directly and fluently. It is treated
as a means to an end. It may include reading reading simply for
pleasure or reading technical, scientific or professional material. This
later type of text, more academic, may involve two specific types of reading,
scanning for key details or skimming for the essential
meaning. A relatively quick and efficient read, either on its
own or after scanning or skimming, will give a global or general
This web page then will first examine intensive reading. The second
part will deal with extensive reading, with a focus on how it results in
a general or global meaning. The fourth part gives a short comment on how
intensive and extensive reading may operate in the same class. The fourth
part examines scanning and the fifth, scanning. A final sixth part comments
on how scanning and skimming may be used in the same reading.
In this section:
What it is
How it looks
When it is used
Role of the teacher
Questions sometimes asked
What it is
Brown (1989) explains that intensive reading "calls attention to grammatical
forms, discourse markers, and other surface structure details for the purpose
of understanding literal meaning, implications, rhetorical relationships,
and the like." He draws an analogy to intensive reading as a "zoom lens"
Long and Richards (1987) say it is a "detailed in-class" analysis, led
by the teacher, of vocabulary and grammar points, in a short passage."
Intensive Reading, sometimes called "Narrow Reading", may
involve students reading selections by the same author or several texts
about the same topic. When this occurs, content and grammatical structures
repeat themselves and students get many opportunities to understand
the meanings of the text. The success of "Narrow Reading" on improving
reading comprehension is based on the premise that the more familiar the
reader is with the text, either due to the subject matter or having read
other works by the same author, the more comprehension is promoted.
How it looks
usually classroom based
reader is intensely involved in looking inside the
students focus on linguistic or semantic details of a reading
students focus on surface structure details such as grammar and discourse
students identify key vocabulary
students may draw pictures to aid them (such as in problem solving)
texts are read carefully and thoroughly, again and again
aim is to build more language knowledge rather than simply practice the
skill of reading
seen more commonly than extensive reading in classrooms
usually very short texts - not more than 500 words in length
chosen for level of difficulty and usually, by the teacher
chosen to provide the types of reading and skills that the teacher wants
to cover in the course
rapid reading practice
interpreting text by using:
-word attack skills
Intensive reading exercises may include:
looking at main ideas versus details
understanding what is implied versus stated
looking at the order of information and how it effects the message
identifying words that connect one idea to another
identifying words that indicate change from one section to another
Munby (1979) suggests four categories of questions that may be used
in intensive reading. These include:
Note that questions may fall into more than one category.
Plain Sense - to understand the factual, exact surface meanings in
Implications - to make inferences and become sensitive to emotional tone
and figurative language
Relationships of thought - between sentences or paragraphs
Projective - requiring the integration of information from the text to
one's own background information
Assessment of intensive reading will take the form of reading
tests and quizzes.
The most common systems of questioning are multiple-choice
Mackay (1968) , in his book Reading in a Second Language,
reminds teachers that the most important objective in the reading class
should NOT be the testing of the student to see if they have
understood. Teachers should, instead, be spending most of the time
training the student to understand what they read.
When it is used
when the objective of reading is to achieve full understanding of:
pattern of text
symbolic or social attitudes and purposes of the author
means to an end
for study of content material that are difficult
Role of the teacher
The teacher chooses suitable text.
The teacher chooses tasks and activities to develop skills.
The teacher gives direction before, during and after reading.
The teacher prepares students to work on their own. Often the most difficult
part is for the teacher to "get out of the way" .
The teacher encourages students through prompts, without giving answers.
It provides a base to study structure, vocabulary and idioms.
It provides a base for students to develop a greater control of language
It provides for a check on the degree of comprehension for individual students
There is little actual practice of reading because of the small amount
In a class with multi-reading abilities, students may not be able
to read at their own level because everyone in the class is reading the
The text may or may not interest the reader because it was chosen by the
There is little chance to learn language patterns due to the small amount
Because exercises and assessment usually follow intensive reading, students
may come to associate reading with testing and not pleasure.
Questions sometimes asked
- Nuttall (1986) suggests that if the teacher reads the text aloud before
starting work on it, they have assumed part of the students' job.
Should the text be read aloud first or some explanation given?
- Others argue that without some help some students could not understand
- Still others argue that it is easy to underestimate students. they
may actually understand more than is thought. If students cannot
make any progress, the material may be unsuitable.
In this section:
What it is
How extensive reading may appear
in a language class
- Types of programs
Role of teacher
Role of student
What it is
Brown (1989) explains that extensive reading is carried out "to achieve
a general understanding of a text."
Long and Richards (1971, p.216) identify extensive reading as "occurring
when students read large amounts of high interest material, usually out
of class, concentrating on meaning, "reading for gist" and skipping unknown
The aims of extensive reading are to build reader confidence and
Extensive reading is always done for the comprehension of main ideas,
not for specific details.
- Students were
to read in the second language without a conscious effort to translate.
Harold Palmer (1917) in Britain and Michael West (1926) in India were the
first to pioneer the theory of extensive reading as an approach to foreign
language teaching and to reading, in particular. Palmer chose the term
"extensive reading" to distinguish it from "intensive reading".
the 1929 Coleman Report on "Modern Foreign Language Study", introducing
the Reading Method , recommended the inclusion of extensive reading
in its Method (as distinct from inclusive reading).
- Emphasis was
placed on developing independent silent reading and
increasing reading rate of individual students.
word counts were developed and used as a basis for graded readers.
Although research strongly suggests that extensive reading can boost second
language acquisition, few second language learners engage in voluntary
reading at their own initiative, ( i.e. Reluctant Readers) and require
guidance in the form of Extensive Reading programs.
Broughton(1978) argued for the important role Extensive Reading could
play in second language programs.
Nuttall (1982) wrote that the idea of Extensive Reading should be "standard
practice" in second language learning. She suggested the following "slogan":
"The best way to improve your knowledge of a foreign language is to go
and live among the speakers . The next best way is to read extensively."
Krashen (1984) supported Extensive Reading because he felt it automatically
gave rise to competence in writing. In 1993, he termed it "free voluntary
Krashen (1995) argued that 'free voluntary reading" could be used a a "bridge"
from communicative language competence to academic language
David Eskey (1995) drew the analogy of reading instruction to teaching
swimming strokes to people who hated the water. It would be only through
their discovery of the rewards of reading by actually doing it, that they
would become people that can and do read.
Elley (1996), in his report on a study involving 210,000 students
and 10,000 teachers in 32 educational systems around the world, concluded
that "instructional programs that stress teacher directed drills and skills
are less beneficial in raising literacy levels than programs that
try to capture students' interest and encourage them to read independently."
Dupre's research (1997) in French supported the theory that Extensive Reading
is more pleasurable and beneficial for language acquisition than grammar
instruction and practice.
Nuttal (1998) argued the case for Extensive Reading programs citing research
studies that showed "impressive" gains in reading ability,
motivation and attitude, and overall linguistic competence. There was also
evidence of gains in vocabulary and spelling.
Several theories come into play in Extensive Reading:
Krashen's Input Hypothesis (1982) made a distinction between acquisition
and learning. For Krashen, the dominant mode of language learning is in
acquisition, the largely subconscious "picking up of the language"
which characterizes language in informal settings and which is similar,
if not identical, to the way children develop ability in their first language."
( p.10) Language acquisition represents unconscious learning which
takes place when attention is focused on meaning rather than form. In order
to acquire language, Krashen suggested the learner must be exposed to large
amounts of second language input that was "meaningful" , interesting,
relevant, not grammatically sequenced, and in a low anxiety setting.
It is felt that Extensive Reading programs provide such an environment.
The L1=L2 Hypothesis suggests that second language learning, like
the first, follows a highly predictable pattern. If the conditions of first
language acquisition are approximated by extensive second language reading,
the second language learner can achieve native like competence in a classroom.
An extension of this suggests that reading for pleasure from appropriate
second language texts provides subconscious and progressively
more difficult second language input much like that essential for first
Rumelhart (1980) proposed an "interactive model" of the reading
process in which reading is a complex task of simultaneously combining
"bottom-up" processes (in which the reader analyzes text in small pieces
and builds meaning from these) and "top-down" processes (in which the reader
makes "guesses" about the content of a passage). It is thought that
Extensive Reading programs provide the quantities of reading practice necessary
for the automaticity of the "bottom-up" (word recognition) process.
How extensive reading may
appear in a language class
Types of programs:
Extensive reading may appear as any of the following:
a complement to an intensive reading program
an extra-curricular activity where students read out of class
the main focus of a reading course (termed an Extensive Reading Program)
where students work with a class set of books, individual reading of material,
of their own choice, with follow-up activities such as reading logs, reading
journals, book reports or projects. Although it is less common for extensive
reading to form an entire reading course, there are
well-established Extensive Reading Programs operating around the
world. They have been carried on in many countries, at varying levels
of education from Elementary School to College, and in different
Day and Bamford (1980) put forward ten characteristics identified
in successful Extensive Reading Programs. They are duplicated (in abbreviated
Students read as much as possible.
A variety of materials on a range of topics is available.
Students select what they want to read .
The purposes of reading are usually related to pleasure, information and
Reading is its own reward.
Reading materials are well within the linguistic competence of the students
in terms of vocabulary and grammar.
Reading is individual and silent.
Reading speed is usually faster than slower.
Teachers orient students to the goals of the program.
The teacher is a role model of a reader for the students.
Bell (2001), in his article "Extensive Reading : What is it? Why
bother?" gives ten pieces of practical advice on running Extensive Reading
With demands for both simplicity and authenticity, the teacher
must choose from the following:
Graded Readers available by major publishers (e.g..
Cambridge University Press , Heinemann, Oxford and Penguin
-These are readers with specific levels of word frequency and idiom
counts and the
introduction of new vocabulary at a planned rate.
-Broughton (1978) favors using graded readers where less than one word
hundred is unfamiliar.
-These are a good choice for students whose second language proficiency
difficult for them to read texts written for native speakers.
Texts on the same topic
-Reading more than one text on the same topic allows students to
bring more background knowledge to each new text read.
Authentic materials such as newspapers, magazines, that
are related to the second language culture
- These should we chosen from suggestions by the teacher so that students
do not choose those that are too overwhelming
Stories and articles chosen by the teacher, with the following
The style should include repetition, without being monotonous.
New vocabulary should not occur at the same place as difficulties of structure.
The text should break in sections that are not too long. This is to give
the reader a
feeling of accomplishment when completed.
Authors should be chosen with less complex structure and less extensive
The subject matter should be of real interest to the students and
suitable for their age level. Rivers (1981) suggests the subject matter
should be as close as possible to the type of material the students would
read in their first language.
Some thought may be given to socio-cultural issues. Should there
be an attempt to match materials to students' cultural background? Students
bring different knowledge of text types from their first language. Is it
feasible to include these in the materials?
Annotated reading lists are available, suggesting books that can be
read for pleasure and a minimum of frustration for new language learners.
Books that are recommended for English as a Second Language include the
-Brown, D.S. (1988) A World of Books: An Annotated Reading
List for ESL/EFL Students (2nd ed.) Washington, DC: Teachers of English
to Speakers of Other Languages.
-Brown, D.S. (1994) Books for a Small Planet: A Multicultural-Intercultural
Bibliography From Young Young English Learners . Alexandria, VA: Teachers
of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Materials should be chosen that are at or below the reading
ability of the student. They are usually at a lower level of difficulty
than those chosen for intensive reading. This is for several reasons:
It builds automatic recognition of words
It allows the reader to see words in "chunks" of language, allowing for
Activities that may occur:
1. a reading log (recording number of pages read and at what level)
2. a reading journal (reflections on the text read)
Reading may be combined with a speaking component. For example, they may
interview each other about their reading.
Reading may be combined with a writing component. For example, after
reading the newspaper, students may be asked to write a newspaper report.
Class time may be included for book exchange, if there is an in-class
Students may set their own goals for their next session.
Students may progress from reading graded reading material to authentic
text . It should be expected that students will "slow down" in their reading
then, it it becomes more challenging.
Students may complete any of the following:
A reading journal may take the following format:
- date, title of book and author
- the category of the book if known by the student
- a brief statement on what the book is about
- a summary of each part as it is read
- student's reactions to each part
Often teachers will respond to the students and if so, the student should
room in the journal for this.
3. a reflection on what they noticed about their own reading
4. a book report or summary - Helgesen (1997) recommends
not spending more
than 20 minutes on a report
5. a retelling of part of the text
6. book project
In some Extensive Reading Programs, teachers will allow their students
to report on their reading in their native language so as not to make the
"proof" of reading more difficult than the reading itself. This, of course,
only works if the teacher understands the student's first language.
Extensive reading programs are often cited as being more "pleasurable"
because there are no "tedious" exercises to complete.
there are no reading comprehension exercises or formal assessments
in Extensive Reading programs.
Course grades for an Extensive Reading program may be determined by marks
given for reading reports, reading journals, book reports and projects.
Role of Teacher
teacher guides students in choosing appropriate levels of material, beginning
The teacher gives recommendations on reading materials, based on student's
teacher guides students in choosing a variety of materials of their interest.
especially be necessary for students that choose the same type over and
The teacher guides students in setting specific goals for amounts read.
The teacher provides modeling. If class time is given for reading,
the teacher reads at the same time.
The teacher overlooks if students are not aware of the exact meaning of
each word. The teacher should not jump in and explain.
The teacher leads pre-reading activities to build interest in the text,
such as in the characters, places, themes, and actions. The teacher must
be careful to provide just enough to stimulate curiosity but not
so much that the need to read is removed.
Role of Student
The student assumes total responsibility for developing reading ability
The student reads without the use of a dictionary.
The student usually chooses their own material and moves along at
their own pace but must push themselves in order to show greater progress.
- develop a "reading habit"
- gain more confidence in reading
-improve their attitude towards reading and become more motivated to
- feel more autonomous over their own learning and more likely
to take more initiative.
- become more " independent readers", being able to read for different
purposes and being able to change reading strategies for different kinds
- become more aware of what's available to them to read and how to
- expand sight vocabulary
- acquire "incidental" grammatical competence - that is, it may be
acquired even though it was not directly taught
-build background knowledge
- increase reading comprehension
- improve overall language competence
- be more prepared for further academic courses because they have read
An Extensive Reading program may be combined with writing or combined with
speaking practice in a meaningful way (such as when students discuss with
each other the books they have been reading.
Broughton (1978) suggested that "It is by pursuing the activity of
extensive reading that the volume of practice necessary to achieve rapid
and efficient reading can be achieved." (p.92)
Krashen (1993a) suggested that the benefits of free voluntary reading included
"enhanced language acquisition and literacy development, more ideas and
information, greater success in life, loss of verbal memory, and more fun."
An Extensive Reading program may be costly and time-consuming to set up
if materials are not already available. It may be difficult
to get support from Administration.
Students need to have easy access to texts within their language proficiency
level. An Extensive Reading program is easiest to establish when the students
have a high level of second language proficiency. For intermediate levels,
students require a specialized library within their language proficiency
range. They need texts they can read without great use of a dictionary.
It may be difficult to keep students challenged to read more difficult
texts as the program continues. Some established programs use a "weighing
scale" for students to record materials read, giving more "marks"
for materials read at a higher level. Although this has proven to be a
motivating or competitive factor in some cases, in others it becomes counter-productive
if students try to read texts that are more difficult than they can manage
and consequently become discouraged.
Reading each student's journals and reports can be very time-consuming
Students who come from a culture in which literacy is not valued may be
unwilling to participate in pleasure reading or may not get support at
Some teachers prefer a skills based program and do not feel comfortable
with Extensive Reading.
Some teachers are unaware of how to use Graded Readers and so, provide
a limited range of activities for students, limiting their responses.
Some teachers feel that time spent on Extensive Reading will take away
from time that could be spent on learning language skills. Others will
argue that Extensive Reading provides a "richer context" for practice.
Some people feel that if graded readers are used, they can give a false
impression of the level of reading that has been achieved. They feel that
some students may try "ungraded" materials too soon and may revert
to using a dictionary to translate.
Some people feel that students may place too much emphasis on the number
of pages read instead of on the understanding achieved.
Students that have only been exposed to Intensive Reading programs may
not believe that Extensive Reading is a "proper" way to learn.
Aeberscold (1997) reported that feedback from students in an Extensive
Reading program indicated that they liked the "choice" but not the "load"
What is the impact of extensive reading on attitude and motivation to read?
How does vocabulary acquisition while reading compare to direct vocabulary
What is the relation between amounts of reading and growth in reading comprehension?
What are the students' perceptions of their reading, their habits and difficulties?
Do students that have an extensive reading component of their program
show greater improvements reading than students who have no such component?
Do the use of simplified authentic texts actually increase comprehension
or simply confidence?
Past studies have shown that extensive reading leads to gains in students'
second language proficiency as measured on cloze tests. Would the use of
cloze exercises in addition to extensive reading be more effective
than intensive reading alone?
What other improvements in the area of language uses and language knowledge
may result from Extensive Reading?
Intensive and Extensive Reading Together
It is common for both approaches to reading to be used in the same class.
For example, where extensive reading is encouraged, the teacher may have
all the students read the same text so they can discuss the topic
together or learn a specific skill such as as writing an outline.
In a class where intensive reading is mostly used, students may be
asked to read texts of their own choosing to report back on, in either
an oral or written format.
In both approaches, it is not the nature of the skills that
are of most interest but rather, the results.
In this section:
What it is
When it is used
Role of Teacher
Role of Student
What it is
Scanning ia a quick reading, focusing on locating specific information.
Scanning involves quick eye movements, not necessarily linear in fashion,
in which the eyes wander until the reader finds the piece of information
Scanning is used when a specific piece of information is required, such
as a name, date, symbol, formula, or phrase, is required. The reader
knows what the item looks like and so, knows when he has located
what he was searching for. It is assumed then, that very little information
is processed into long-term memory or even for immediate understanding
because the objective is simply matching.
When it is used
Scanning is used often with technical, scientific or professional materials
to locate specific information.
Scanning is a valuable skill for second language learners to develop
because often they do not require a detailed read of a text. There are
many everyday uses for scanning, relevant to a purpose, such as reading
Role of Teacher
The teacher selects passages that do include specific information.
The teacher may use authentic materials that are commonly scanned in real
life, such as the telephone directory, menus, bus schedules.
The teacher may ask students before they scan a text to note how the information
is organized in the text.
The teacher needs to remind students that as they read carefully to find
the required information, they should pay particular attention to titles
Role of the Student
The student forms questions before reading. What specific information
are they looking for?
The student looks for contextual clues. The student tries to anticipate
what the answer might look like and what sorts of clues would be useful.
The student is aware of the graphic form that the answer may take, such
as a numeral, a written number, a capitalized word or a short phrase that
includes key words.
- make predictions and guesses
Activities may include exercises that are devised by the teacher in which
students scan for a single word or specific text .
Activities may include exercises that are often carried on as a competition
so students will work quickly.
Students use skills of prediction and anticipation. Students may do any
of the following:
- use titles and tables of contents to get an idea of what a
passage is about
- activate prior knowledge about the topic of the passage by
answering some questions or performing a quiz
- anticipate what they want to learn about the top
- use titles, pictures, and prior knowledge to anticipate the
contents of the text
- use key words, that may have been given to them by the teacher,
that do not appear in the text, that allude to the main idea
It is an accepted view today that efficient readers are not passive. They
react with a text by having expectations and ideas about the purposes of
the text as well as possible outcomes. They reflect on expectations as
they read, anticipate what will come next. In other words, they "interact
with the text".
Does the skill of scanning transfer from the first language to the second?
In this section:
What it is
When it is used
Role of the teacher
Role of the student
What it is
- to know the general meaning of a passage
- to know how the passage is organized, that is, the structure of
- to get an idea of the intention of the writer
Skimming is a quick reading to get:
Skimming is a more complex task than scanning because it requires the reader
to organize and remember some of the information given by the author, not
just to locate it.
Skimming is a tool in which the author's sequence can be observed, unlike
scanning in which some predetermined information is sought after.
When it is used
Skimming is used when reading some some general question in mind.
Skimming is used in making decisions on how to approach a text such as
when determining if a careful reading is deserving.
Skimming is used to build student confidence and an understanding that
it is possible to gain meaning without reading every word in a text.
Skimming is used as part of the SQ3R method of reading, often for speed
reading. This method involves the student in surveying, questioning,
reading, reviewing and reciting. Skimming is used for
the initial survey and for review.
Skimming is a skill that a student may want to develop if they are
planning to continue with academic studies. It is often used in reviewing
for a test.
of the teacher
- What kind of audience was the text written for? Was it, for example,
the general public,
technical readers, or academic students?
Before the students start reading, the teacher should guide students to
ask themselves the following questions:
- What type of text is it? Is it, for example, a formal letter, an
advertisement, or a set of
- What was the author's purpose? Was it , for example, to persuade,
to inform or to
The teacher should make the following clear to students before assigning
a skimming exercise:
the purpose of the exercise
how deeply the text is to be read
Role of the student
Students read through the text in the following manner:
Read the title if any.
Read the introduction or the first paragraph.
Read the first sentence of each of the following paragraphs.
Read any headings or sub-headings.
Look at any pictures or phrases that are in boldface or italics
Read the summary or last paragraph.
Students must locate facts that are expressed in sentences, not single
Although speed is essential and the teacher often sets a time limit to
the activity, skimming should not be done competitively. Students
should be encouraged individually to better themselves.
To improve skimming, readers should read more and more rapidly, to
form appropriate questions and predictions and then read quickly
Pugh (1978) suggests that to assess skimming, after the students have read
and completed the assigned questions, further questions may be asked, "beyond
the scope of the purpose originally set" (p.70). If students can
answer these questions correctly, it indicates they have read the
text too closely.
Does the skill of skimming transfer from the first language to the second?
Skimming and Scanning Together
Skimming and scanning are sometimes referred to as types of reading
and at other times, as skills.
Skimming involves a thorough overview of a text and implies a reading
competence. Scanning is more a limited activity, only retrieving information
relevant to a purpose.
Brown (1994) suggest ed that "perhaps the two most valuable reading
strategies for learners as well as native speakers are skimming and scanning."
Pugh (1978) suggested that since scanning is a less complex style of
reading it can be introduced first. Skimming requires greater fluency and
more practice is required, so it should be introduced later.
Often skimming and scanning are used together when reading a text. For
example, the reader may skim through first to see if it is worth
reading, then read it more carefully and scan for a specific piece of information
Students need to learn that they need to adapt their reading and techniques
to the purpose of the reading.
By practicing skimming and scanning, the individual learns to
read and select specific information without focussing on information that
is not important for meaning.
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