What is intensive reading and why should you do it?

English language learners often practice reading in textbooks and language guides, but overall, many learners of English do not regularly practice reading as much as the other skills – listening speaking, and writing. This is a shame, because reading is probably the best way to expand your vocabulary in English. Building a large vocabulary is important if you want to reach a high level of English. If you are learning another language, there are two main types of reading you should be doing. In the last post, I talked about extensive reading. In this post, we’re going to have a look at intensive reading.

As you know if you saw my last post, extensive reading is quickly reading books or other materials that are easy and interesting. Intensive reading, on the other hand, is slow, careful reading of short, difficult texts.

Intensive reading is the type of reading that you probably do in your English language classes, particularly in a reading course. It’s very helpful if what you read is interesting. However, in a reading class, all students do the same reading, so it’s possible that not everything you read will be interesting to you. If you do intensive reading by yourself, you should definitely read topics that appeal to you, because it’s more motivating.

Ideal reading materials for intensive reading are not long books or novels. Instead, you should read newspaper articles, journal or magazine articles, short stories, short book chapters, Wikipedia articles, blog posts, or materials supplied by your English teacher. These are all much shorter than materials for extensive reading. Depending on your level of English, you might be reading the same materials as native English speakers when you do intensive reading.

Intensive reading materials need to be short, because the goal with this type of reading is to understand all the language and details of what you’re reading. Intensive reading should be more difficult for you, because you want to learn new grammar and vocabulary. If what you’re reading is too long, you’ll quickly become very tired. You need to concentrate when you’re doing intensive reading. Unlike extensive reading, intensive reading is not relaxing. You probably shouldn’t do intensive reading more than 30 minutes at one time.

The best time to do intensive reading is when you’ve had enough sleep or when you’re well rested. Otherwise, you won’t be able to focus. You need lots of mental energy to do intensive reading.

When you do intensive reading in a class, there are often many tasks you may be required to do. You may have to preview the text. You may have to discuss the topic a little before you start reading. You may have to answer comprehension questions. To answer these questions, you’ll have to skim the text to find the main ideas, and scan the text to find specific information. You may have to paraphrase and summarize parts of the text. You might have to put events into chronological order. You may to do fill-in-the-blank or matching activities. You may have to create your own sentences with new language. Finally, you may have to discuss the contents after you read.

Many English language learners take CLIL courses (CLIL stands for Content & Language Integrated Learning). Or they may take EMI courses (EMI is English-Medium Instruction). In these courses, learning the content of what you’re reading is as important as learning the language in the text – maybe even more important. Watch my video on the SQ4R method if you want tips on reading to understand meaning.

Of course, doing intensive reading alone can be challenging, because you don’t have tasks that your teacher made for you to do. You’ll also have to research the meaning of certain patterns and words by yourself, since you don’t have a teacher to explain them to you. Skilled language learners know how to do these things on their own, though. Becoming an independent learner should be one of your goals if you want to reach a high level of English.

When you are doing intensive reading, another tip is to read the short text many times. The first time and the last time should be very different. The first time you read the text, you might not understand much. While you’re completing all the related tasks, you’ll have to read various parts of the text again and again. After you study and practice the new vocabulary and grammar, read the text a final time. You should be able to understand everything. It’ll probably feel very satisfying.

To summarize, then, Intensive reading texts are short and difficult. The goal in intensive reading is to learn new language. Another goal might be to learn the content. Intensive reading takes time, but also concentration. Therefore, you should only do it for shorts periods of time. You’ll probably have a variety of tasks to do if you do intensive reading in an English class. Ideally, like extensive reading, the content should be interesting to you.

Intensive reading takes a lot of your effort and energy, but it’s worth it. Don’t forget that extensive reading is another style of reading that you should be doing regularly to improve your English as well.

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