Implementing an Extensive Reading Program and Library for ESL and EFL Learners in an Small Academic Setting within Japan

Darrell Wilkinson
Soka University, Japan


This paper describes how the author set about implementing an extensive reading program which was initially hampered by a number of administrative constraints and concerns. This program was implemented in the English department of a small, two-year, foreign language college in central Tokyo. The course is an elective course, but is a full credit-bearing one which can be used towards a final diploma and university transfer. Although it could only be offered as an elective course it was hoped that a high uptake would be seen. There are a total of eighty-four students within the English department, all of which have to take twenty hours of English study per week. Some courses are compulsory, while others, such as this one, are elective. After the first two weeks, sixty-nine students had signed up, all of whom will be taking part in the program. Twenty-seven of these students are Japanese, for whom English is a second language, and forty two are international students from China, Korea and Taiwan and for whom English is a third or fourth foreign language. At this stage the program is in its infancy and is very much an ongoing project. This is the first time such a program has been used within the school. In addition, it is the first time any of the students have been introduced to the concept of extensive reading.

The program is to include sustained silent reading, both at home and in class, book-based talk and discussions, as well as post-reading activities. The main points outlined in this paper are (a) how to get learners to understand the reasons for reading extensively, (b) how to make it possible for students to choose the reading materials themselves under the administrative constraints within the school, (c) how to incorporate the program into current intensive reading classes, (d) classroom activities and post-reading activities (e) the teachers role and (f) managing the library. This paper hopes to serve as a resource for other teachers or administrators interested in implementing an extensive reading program, which runs alongside extensive reading classes in an academic setting such as high schools, colleges or universities. This paper is not exhaustive and does not include all the step taken, or procedures followed but it is nevertheless hoped that it will be of use.

How to Enable Students to Understand the Reasons for Reading Extensively

It was the author's belief that most, if not all, of the students within the English department regarded reading in a foreign language as what is usually termed intensive reading. After carrying out some individual and small group interviews with the students, it became very clear that this belief was not unfounded. All of the students experience with reading in English involved in-class activities, where they read material that was above their linguistic level, and which was followed by various comprehension, grammar and vocabulary based tasks. Therefore, they have come to expect this type of reading and are surprised, skeptical and apprehensive about reading novels or other materials that are deemed as 'too easy'. This is compounded by the fact that the reading materials come with no comprehension questions or other activities, and which they are not tested on after completion.

Therefore, the question of how to convince the students that an extensive reading program is to their benefit seemed to be a key one. The approach taken was as follows;

  1. To prepare a simplified, two-page explanation and summary of the key points of extensive reading and give this to all students. Then the teachers involved in the program went through this handout with the students in introductory classes.
  2. At the end of the class students were given the same information translated into Japanese (all international students have at least the JLPT level two) along with links to various websites concerned with extensive reading.
  3. Time was allocated during the first week of term for students to ask any questions or get further information from the teachers.

After the following steps were taken, the course was opened for enrollment and as previously mentioned, 69 out of 84 students signed up for the program.

How to Provide Learners with a Wide Choice of Reading Materials Given a Number of Administrative and Financial Constraints

As can be seen from the literature on extensive reading, all leading authors feel it is imperative to give learners autonomy in choosing what they read; the more choice students have the more they are likely to enjoy what they read. However, one of the major constraints within the school context that this program is set was that all books for the first semester must be ordered within the first few weeks of the semester. An additional constraint is that the budget for each student only allows for approximately 3 books per student. Therefore it is impossible for all of the students to choose all of their own books, especially given the fact that it is hoped that they will read between thirteen to twenty books within the first 15-week semester. The procedure followed is outlined below:

  1. During the second week, all students took a vocabulary test designed by Paul Nation & Batia Laufer, adapted by Tom Cobb, which can be found at:
  2. All students were given both English and Japanese copies of a wide range of book blurbs for books, which wee deemed at the correct level for them, from a number of leading publishers of graded reading materials.
  3. Students were given access to the first chapters of a number of books from the above-mentioned publishers.
  4. Students then read the blurbs in the next two class periods and discussed the blurbs and chapters with their partners.
  5. All students then compiled a list of 10 books that they were most interested in reading. Many of the students, due to their similar ages and interests, had indicated similar books.
  6. This list was then tabulated and a book order, consisting of approximately 290 books was purchased.

The number of books, although not idea, was as many books as the budget would allow for. Multiple copies of some books were ordered but again not as many as would have been ideal. However, it was felt that the number of books in the library would allow enough free choice to the students and contained at least forty books at all levels. The order seemed to provide all students with at least 7 or 8 books of their actual choice plus a wide range of other books chosen by their peers. The students will not always be able to read the books of their choice in the exact order or at the time that they would like as they may be on loan, but they will eventually have had access to all of them. It is hoped that as the students played a large part in selecting the books and given that there is a wide variety of books on offer there will be enough materials for the students to read which they find interesting.

How to incorporate the program into current intensive reading classes

In addition to this program, all students take at least two intensive reading based classes and one or two exam preparation classes such as TOEIC or TOEFL. However, although the administration agreed to the implementation of this program, they did insist that at least part of the class involved some intensive reading. Therefore, in order to meet the requirements of the administration staff and to keep the extensive reading segment of the classes fun, interesting and fast paced it was decided that half of each ninety-minute class would be dedicated to extensive reading and half to intensive reading. The classes will begin with the intensive reading aspect and will incorporate a prereading stage, a reading stage and postreading stage.

Classroom activities and post-reading activities

Students will be expected to do most of their reading outside of class and then do a number of activities in class. However, another constraint laid down by the college administration staff was that the students should actively use (read) the books in at least part of each class. Therefore, it was decided that the students would carry out ten to fifteen minutes of silent reading in class. Although this is not necessary from a pedagogical point of view, it does allow the teacher to ensure the students are approaching the reading in an appropriate manner; not overusing dictionaries, choosing books at the correct level etc. In addition, the students also seem to enjoy some in-class reading and it provides some time to read new books in class and decide if they like the book or want to return it. Below is a list of some of the activities that have beeen incorporated into the classes:

  1. Silent Reading
  2. Book Talk; Students discuss the books they are reading using a book review form and a list of questions. If confident enough they are free to talk freely without using the form.
  3. Book review presentation.
  4. Interviewing a partner about their book.
  5. Designing posters that represent the books.
  6. Designing alternative, more representative book covers for the books.
  7. Writing brief book reviews that will be used to help other students decide if they want to read the book.

Activities 5 through 7 may be started in class but finished at home or in the school in the students free time.

The Teachers role

The role of the teacher in an ER program for adult literacy learners is crucial. The teacher needs to help learners understand the principles of ER along with the rationale behind what, why, and how the learners should read. After describing the methodology and pedagogy, the teacher should also become a role model for the learners. In much of the literature on ER it is recommended that during the silent reading stage of a class, the teacher read a book from the ER library at the same time as the student are reading. However, in this program, while the students read, the teacher will also read, but the teacher will read a graded reader in Japanese. It is hoped that by doing this the teacher will be almost exactly emulating what the students are doing. In this case, we were lucky to have teachers involved in the process that have a level of Japanese (albeit basic), and an interest in reading Japanese, which allows them to do this. The teacher will then take part in the classroom activities, for example he or she will talk about the book they are reading, make a poster or other activities mentioned above. The students have responded very well to this; they seem very interested in, and are motivated by, the fact that the teacher is doing the same thing as them.

In this program, the teachers also played a vital role in creating and managing the library; from deciding where to place the books, how to administrate the borrowing and returning of books, and sourcing other reading materials other than graded readers such as magazines, Internet resources etc.

Managing the Library

Another challenged faced was where to store the books and how to allow the students access to them. This was largely due to the fact that the school is quite small and does not actually have a library, or any room that could be exclusively used for the purpose. In addition, there are only a few teachers working at the school, most of whom are part-time and quite busy. The challenge was to place the books in an area where they are easily accessible to the students but where there will be a teacher available to sign the books in and out. The process followed is set out below:

  1. The best place was deemed to be the teacher's office and a bookshelf was set up.
  2. Then a simple form was designed whereby all students have their own lending record, which is kept on a shelf above the books. The form contains the following information:
Student Name Book Title Date Taken Out Date Returned Student Signature Teacher Signature
  1. A schedule was drawn up providing times when there is a teacher available and the students can come to the office to return or take out a book. Ideally the students would be able to borrow or return a book any time, but again under the constraints faced this was not possible. However, we were able to provide the students with one period of two hours every morning and every afternoon plus lunchtimes and it seems to allow every student ample opportunity.


In this article I have tried to explain some of the key challenges that were faced when planning the implementation of an ER program in my teaching context. Some of these challenges were pedagogical, others were administrative or logistical, and others were purely financial. With a strong belief in the value of both intensive an extensive reading I was very determined to add an extensive reading aspect to a curriculum which already heavily featured intensive reading. It soon became apparent that this was no easy task, and although it was at times daunting and time consuming, it has so far gone very smoothly. In addition, and more importantly, even with a somewhat limited selection of books and the lack of an actual library, it has proved extremely popular with the students, all teachers involved, as well as a previously skeptical administration staff. The students are making great progress, very much enjoying the materials, coming into contact with English much more often and are building schematic knowledge which is having benefits in other classes.


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