Extensive Reading for Intermediate English Learners

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Book Tips for Intermediate English Learners

My 3 Guidelines for Choosing Books

I take 3 things into consideration when I’m picking books in a foreign language. 

#1. Genre, reviews and recommendations

I choose books I’ve already read (for comprehension), books recommended by other language learners OR books found on GoodReads above 4.0 stars in the 4th-6th grade level (10-12 year olds).  Apart from novels written for 10-12 year olds, I look for non-fiction books written in the first person (to improve the way I talk and think about myself and my life), novels by authors who write simplistically (ex. Paulo Coelho) or crime books (to improve conversation).  

#2. Extensive Reading: Look up max. 4-5 words per page or fewer.

When I’m in a bookstore and want to know if a book is a good choice, I flip to the middle of the book, read one page and count the number of words I don’t know. If I need to look up more than the 4-5 words to understand the context, reading is not fun, it’s work. Being able to immerse oneself in a story can improve the learning experience. Flow = Fun = Learning. Intensive reading should be left for articles.  

#3 Limit the Length of the Book to 250 pages.

Every time I finish a chapter in a foreign language a great sense of accomplishment sweeps over me. Unfortunately, if a book is very long the likelihood of finishing it decreases due to lack of time, loss of interest, etc. As a result, I feel bad about myself. Therefore I don’t risk it; I normally choose books under 250 pages. 

My 10 Favorite Books / Authors for Intermediate Learners

#1: The Alchemist / The Pilgrimage / 11 Minutes 

Paulo Coelho

Talk about an easy author to read! I read his books in German, French, Spanish and Portuguese at an intermediate level and I felt like I was fluent:)

#2: Eat Pray Love / Big Magic / City of Girls / Commitment 

Elizabeth Gilbert 

She writes in the first person in a very natural way, talking about everyday life and situations. This style of writing can help you express yourself in everyday life or even start your own journal in English!

#3: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and James and the Giant Peach 

Roald Dahl 

Roald Dahl books helped my reading ability drastically when I was at an basic-intermediate level in Spanish. I read the three books above and learned very useful words for everyday life.

#4: The Chronicles of Narnia (The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, etc.) 

C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia are great although I must admit a little bit more difficult to understand than Roald Dahl due to extravagant vocabulary. Still a very good recommendation.

#5: The Giver, Number the Stars, etc.

Lois Lowry 

Great books. The Giver was my favorite book when I was in 5th grade and Number the Stars was the favorite of many of my friends. These are great for ANY age level. 

#6: The Secret Life of Bees 

Sue Monk Kidd

I read this book in 5th grade and really liked it. Apart from great character development, it reflects on relationships between women and race in the South during the 1950s.

#7 Outliers, Blink, The Tipping Point 

Malcom Gladwell 


Malcom Gladwell is a journalist who packs his books with stories and interesting perspectives on life. A few of my students have read his books and found them interesting and understandable. 

Other journalistic works: Tim Ferris Books, 4-hour work week, Lean Start-up etc.

#8: Ella Enchanted 

Gale Carson Levine

I was obsessed with this book as a child. I don’t know how many of you will pick it up, but if you want to expand your “fairy tale” vocabulary, this is the book to do so!

#9 Bridge to Terabithia 

Katherine Paterson 

Many kids liked this series at school. It’s well written and can be read at any age level and enjoyed from my opinion. Afterwards, consider watching the movie in English to repeat vocabulary (on Netflix).

#10 Belle Prater’s Boy 

Ruth White 

Hard to say why I remember this story so well, I read it when I was 11! The unique storyline and thoughts of the narrator made it an unforgettable read.

Recommendations from my friends:

I asked my friends what their favorite books were when they read from 10-12 years old. Here is what they recommended: 

Reading Effectively

There are ways to read effectively in foreign languages. Learn about how reading in foreign languages helps you build your vocab and speak more naturally by  Luca Lampariello or “how to read effectively in a foreign language by Olly Richards”. Olly’s six step reading process is how I’d recommend reading.

Luca mentions you should “personalize the book” – make it your own.


The languages you’re likely to be best at are the languages that you’ve read the most in. The more you read, the more vocabulary you have at your disposal.

When in doubt, the best way to pick a book when reading at an intermediate level is to read about a topic or story you know and in a genre you love. You’ll not only enjoy reading more, but you’ll remember vocabulary as a result!

The Author

Shana - ESL Teacher

Hi Everyone! I am an ESL teacher from California and the host of the American English Podcast. Learn more about me and my teaching experience here.

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