By the end of this section, you should  be able to:

  1. explain  what intensive  reading is.
  2. explain  what it means to do extensive  reading
  3. describe the nature of intensive  and extensive  reading
  4. practise intensive  reading effectively,  paying  attention  to signposts  as you read.
  5. distinguish  between intensive  reading and extensive  reading
  6. the benefits of intensive  and extensive  reading.

What is Intensive Reading?

Reading extensively  becomes necessary as one climbs  up the educational ladder. It has been found  that extensive  reading builds up a student’s confidence  because it is a means of acquiring knowledge across the curriculum.  Intensive  Reading is reading in detail with specific  learning objectives and tasks in mind.  In intensive  reading,  you read with extreme concentration  and great care, in order to understand  exactly the meaning  of what you read. This is particularly  necessary when, for instance,  one is preparing for an examination.

Intensive  reading helps you to deepen your knowledge in a specific  field  or vocation.  Therefore,it enables you to grasp the contents of legal documents,  financial  documents,  academic reports or anything  to do with business.  Intensive  reading may involve  skimming  a text for specific information  in order to answer questions.  To achieve these, it will be necessary to study minute details and try to squeeze out absolutely  every drop of information  in a given  passage.


Now, before we continue,  let us reflect over what we have discussed  so far. Do you remember the main ideas of the first part of our discussion  today? Find out by doing this short exercise. Take your jotter and quickly  do this in about five minutes:

1.   Write out in summary  four things  intensive  reading helps you to do: Intensive  reading is the reading strategy that helps you to:

(a) ……………………………………………………………………………… 

(b) ………………………………………………………………………………

(c) ………………………………………………………………………………

(d) ………………………………………………………………………………


Intensive  reading does the following:

  • It enables you to read with deep concentration.
  • It helps you to read with care and with close attention  to details.
  • It helps you to grasp the contents of legal documents,  financial documents  and academic reports, among others.
  • It helps you answer questions.

Now let us continue with the lesson.

When you are asked to read a short passage and put events from it into chronological  order, you are required to do intensive  reading.  In the classroom,  students may be asked to read a text for specific  information  to answer multiple choice questions  or fill in gaps in a passage. In all these, the student will be doing intensive  reading.

 Intensive reading, may involve  you 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 several opportunities  to understand  the meanings  of the text. The success of intensive  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 greater the comprehension  achieved.

 What are the Characteristics of Intensive Reading?

 The characteristics  of intensive  reading include  the following:

  1.   It could take place either in class or on personal level.
  2. The reader is intensely  involved  in looking  inside the text.
  3. The reader focuses on linguistic  or semantic  details of a reading passage.
  4. The reader focuses on surface structure details such as grammar and discourse markers.
  5. The reader identifies  key vocabulary.
  6. The reader may draw pictures to aid him (such as in problem solving).
  7. Texts are read carefully  and thoroughly  again and again.

How can you Understand a Text?

There are practical ways by which you can understand  any material  you read. It is necessary to grasp this skill because the essence of any reading activity  is to understand  what you read.

What is Meant by Understanding?

There are different  levels of understanding.  The first level of understanding  is recognition. When you recognize  an article of property, for example a mobile  phone, it means you know the type of mobile phone it is, the model, and its owner. In the same manner,  if you recognize  a word, it means you can spell it and explain  its meaning.  A complete recognition  of individual words will help you to achieve comprehension  when you read a text.

If there is a word in the text which is important  but which you do not understand,  look it up in the dictionary.  This does not mean that you must look out every word you feel you do not completely  understand.  In fact, it is always better to first deduce meaning  from the context of the passage. It is important  for you to understand  that, the meaning  of a word in a text is fixed  by the context or environment  of that word. This is the sentence in which the word is found, the sentence or immediate  sentences that precede the word or come after the word. The meaning derived is what we refer to as the contextual meaning of that word.

The second level of understanding  is comprehension.  When you comprehend  a passage, it means you are clear in your mind  about the ideas expressed in it. At this point, we are no longer thinking  about individual  words but of the text as a whole.

Interpretation  is the third level of understanding.  Any time you read, you recognize  words and comprehend  sentences. Expressions,  however, do not just have surface meanings.  They also have deeper meanings.  At other times the context determines  the meaning  of a word or group of words. As you read, you must make an effort to understand  these words in their different contexts and also read meanings  into them; these are meanings  that may not be directly expressed by the author. So then, interpretation  is a continuous  effort by the reader to rephrase and explain  the passage being read.

In addition,  interpretation  also involves  knowing  how parts of the text relate to each other and how the text relates to the outside world. The ability  to interpret depends to a large extent on the reader’s knowledge of the world. For a student,  interpreting  is the start of using  your knowledge. You will need your interpretation  of events, facts and arguments  to write your own essays.

Suggestions for Intensive Reading 

We will now focus on how to read intensively  and how to study what you read.

1.   Read actively: Reading  is an active process and not a passive one. What does this mean? Two things  are involved  in active reading:

a.   You must have a purpose for reading. To do this, you:

  • must have questions  on your mind  as you read, and actively  search  for the information  you want, with which to answer the questions.
  • must predict. You predict what you expect to find  in the text on the topic, so you read actively  to find  if your prediction  is true.

2.   Read with an open but critical and inquiring  mind. This means that: 

while  you read, have an open mind;  mark out the ideas you may not understand  or disagree with.  Continue reading and return to these unexpected  points in your recall stage.

3.   Read to understand,  not to memorize : Do not stop to memorize  facts as you read. Take down notes or summarize,  after every bit of reading.  Learn to read as rapidly as you can understand  the ideas.

4.   Mind your attitude : You must enjoy the task. Always remember that you do better in the things  you enjoy doing.  Try to understand  what the passage is saying.

5.   Check your physical habits : Take it easy. It is difficult  to comprehend  when you are either tired, feeling  sleepy, depressed or in pain. Ensure you are comfortable.  The reading posture you adopt affects your comprehension.  Sit alert and study in an upright  position.

6.   Organize what you read: If you are to understand  what you read, your mind  requires organization,  logical sequence and order. You need to organize  the ideas and the structure of the material in your mind.  Group the ideas and details into meaningful blocks. Link the ideas from the section you are reading now with what you read before. Make the material you read easy to picture.  Some people use sketches while others organize  the material through  the way they make their notes. Work out your own way of doing this.

7.   Take note of sentence signals : these are also called signposts.  Effective  reading will be achieved  if care is taken to pay attention  to certain words and phrases which  authors often use to indicate their line of thought  or the flow of their argument.  Such words often help the reader to organize  the ideas being presented and to make sense of the text.

Let us now look at examples  of what these sentence signals  are:

  • signals of addition

 besides, moreover, also, and, not only … but also, as well as

  •  signals of contrast

 however, nevertheless,  despite, in spite of, yet, but, notwithstanding,  although (though),  still,  even though

  •  signals of purpose

in order to, so that

  •  signals of alternative

else, on the other hand, better still,  another possibility,  either … or, neither  … nor

  •  signals of condition

 unless,  on condition  that, otherwise

  •  signals of result 

consequently,  therefore,  so, then, so then

  • signals of cause / reason

why, the reason, the causes

  •  signals of reinforcement

 above all, most important(ly)

 Besides the above, authors sometimes  use certain signposts  that appeal to our sight.  We call them

 visual signposts. Some of these are:

  1.  words in CAPITALS
  2. words underlined
  3. words printed in bold
  4. words printed in italics 
  5. words listed  in a column
  6. highlighted  items of text
  7. text printed with more space around it than is usual viii.   text in colour
  8. lines of special type across the page
  9. numbered  paragraphs
  10. Variation  in font sizes of printed items

8.   Write as you read: learn to do your recall stage on paper. The better you understand  and recall one idea, the more likely  you will understand  the next.

The benefits  of intensive  reading include  the following:

  1.  Helps to develop reading speed.
  2. Helps the reader develop the ability  to interpret  text.
  3. Helps develop the skill of critical thinking.
  4. Helps the reader develop a wide range of vocabulary.
  5. Helps to develop a high level of concentration.
  6. Helps to develop the attitude  of careful and critical reading.

What is Extensive reading?

Extensive  reading is another reading technique  done to achieve a general understanding  of a text. It takes place when students read large amounts of high interest material.  It is usually  done out of class, concentrating  on meaning,  reading for gist and skipping  unknown  words.  This type of reading is all-embracing  or all-encompassing.

In extensive  reading,  you read as much as possible, for your own pleasure, at a difficulty  level at which you can read smoothly  and quickly  without  looking up words or doing any translation  into English  as you read. In other words, instead  of spending  a half hour decoding a tiny part of one book (also known as intensive  reading),  you read many simpler  books that are at or slightly below the level at which you read fluently.  This makes it possible for you to get used to reading more complex sentences with ease, reinforces  the words you already know and helps you learn new words from context.

Extensive  reading is always done for the comprehension  of main ideas, and not for specific details.

What are the principles of extensive reading?

Let us now examine  some principles  we need to follow when involved  in extensive  reading.

First, it is advisable to begin with stories that are well below your fluent  reading level,  and while reading,  follow  these principles:

  1. Do not look up words in the dictionary.
  2. Skip over parts you do not understand.
  3. If you are not enjoying  one book, put it aside and get another.

Extensive reading strategy involves:

  1. Reading for pleasure more than reading for real study: This means that, while in intensive reading,  you are expected to read closely  for details,  in extensive  reading the aim is to acquaint oneself with the general theme and major events of the text. Hence the individual who does extensive  reading goes out of his way to read materials  on issues of wide variety.  These may usually  be subject areas from which some pleasure is derived.
  2. Broadening the reader’s horizon: This has to do with the need for a person to acquaint himself with a certain amount of knowledge  and make oneself valuable  to the society.
  3. Building  reader confidence and enjoyment: When students engage in extensive  reading, they read very easy enjoyable books to build  their reading speed and fluency.  The aim of extensive  reading helps you to become better at the skill of reading.
  4. Choosing your own book at or about your own fluent reading level: This means you have the opportunity  to read something  different  from what others may be reading,  and in your own ‘comfort zone’.
  5. Reading outside your domain of specialty. This is to say you need to read materials  on other subjects that may not be in your line of study. Read about science, geography  psychology, archeology,  medicine,  history,  politics,  sports and entertainment  and many more.
  6. Building  vocabulary. Your determination  to build  up a store of vocabulary  is very essential for extensive  reading.  The more reading you do on a wide range of subjects the more likely  you are to build  up a rich store of vocabulary.

The Benefits of Extensive Reading

  1. It develops learner autonomy.There is no cheaper or more effective  way to develop learner autonomy.  Reading  is, by its very nature, a private,  individual activity.  It can be done anywhere,  at any time of day. Readers can start and stop at will,  and read at the speed they are comfortable  with.  They can visualise  and interpret what they read in their own way. They can ask themselves  questions  (explicit  or implicit),  notice things  about the language,  or simply  let the story carry them along.
  2. It offers Comprehensible  Input.Reading is the most readily available  form of comprehensible  input,  especially  in places where there is hardly any contact with the target language.  If carefully  chosen to suit learners’ level,  it offers them repeated encounters with language  items they have already met. This helps them to consolidate  what they already know and to extend it. There is no way any learner will meet new language  enough times to learn it in the limited  number of hours in class. The only reliable  way to learn a language  is through  massive and repeated exposure to it in context. This is precisely what Extensive  Reading  provides.
  3. It enhances general language competence.In ways we so far do not fully  understand,  the benefits  of Extensive  Reading extend beyond reading.  The effect spread from reading competence to other language  skills  such as writing, speaking and control over syntax.   Besides, extensive  reading brings about improvements  in the spoken language. So reading copiously  seems to benefit all language  skills,  not just reading.
  4. It helps develop general, world knowledge.Many, if not most, students have a rather limited  experience  and knowledge of the world they inhabit  both cognitively  and affectively.  Extensive  Reading opens windows on the world seen through  different  eyes.
  5. It extends, consolidates and sustains vocabulary growth.Vocabulary  is not learned by a single  exposure.  Extensive  Reading  allows for multiple encounters with words and phrases in context, thus making  possible the progressive  accretion of meanings  to them.  By presenting  items in context, it also makes the deduction of meaning of unknown  items easier.
  6. It helps improve writing.There is a well-established  link  between reading and writing.   Basically,  the more we read, the better we write. It is quite obvious that as we meet more language,  more often, through  reading, our language acquisition  mechanism is primed to produce it in writing  or speech when it is needed.

Extensive  reading will definitely  help you acquire a wide range of vocabulary  and develop your reading,  speaking,  listening  and writing  skills  in the language.

We hope you will enjoy your extensive  reading from now on!

Let us now consider a comparison of the two kinds of reading: intensive and extensive reading. Take a look at this chart:

1.Helps you read with extreme concentration and careHelps you read widely,  vast amount of materials  for information
2.Helps you to develop reading speedHelps to develop reading speed
3.Helps you to develop the skill of critical thinkingHelps the reader organize  a store of relevantinformation  for future use.
4.Helps reader to identify  key vocabularyand develop a wide range of vocabularyThe reader develops a wider range ofvocabulary  on varied subjects
5.Readers focus on linguistic  and semanticdetails of materialsReaders are exposed to a variety  ofgrammatical patterns
6.Reading is narrow; a limited  amount ofmaterial is read.Reading is on a wider range of material.Numerous subject areas are perused by the reader
7.Usually,  it is classroom based.It is individualized,  since readers choose and read their own books.
8.There is repeated reading of text whichenables familiarity  with text.Several different  materials  are read,providing  a broader spectrum of knowledge
 It prevents boredomRemoves boredom; it is a form ofentertainment
10.Reader is intensely  involved  with the textReader reads vast amounts of materials
11.Builds  some confidence  based onknowledge obtainedBuilds  confidence  motivation,  enjoyment  and love for reading.  Students become more effective  language  users.


In this lesson, we learnt about the reading strategies called intensive and extensive reading. You saw that

  1. Intensive  reading involves  cautious reading to understand  and interpret ideas and opinions  expressed, in order to make an informed  evaluation  of the facts presented.
  2. Intensive  reading aids the development  of the skill of critical thinking. iii.  Intensive  reading will help you to acquire a wide range of vocabulary.

 You also saw that in extensive  reading,  you should:

  1.  read many different  materials  outside your subject area.
  2. read very fast: that is, skim and scan.
  3. select simple  interesting  books.



William Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.

Peer Reviewers

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.

John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.

 Modestus Fosu, Ph.D.