We report on a measurement of thermal neutrons, generated by the hadronic component of extensive air showers (EAS), by means of a small array of EN-detectors developed for the PRISMA project (PRImary Spectrum Measurement Array), novel devices based on a compound alloy of ZnS(Ag) and (LiF)-Li-6. This array has been operated within the ARGO-YBJ experiment at the high altitude Cosmic Ray Observatory in Yangbajing (Tibet, 4300 m a.s.l.). Due to the tight correlation, between the air shower hadrons and thermal neutrons, this technique can be envisaged as a simple way to estimate the number of high energy hadrons in EAS. Coincident events generated by primary cosmic rays of energies greater than 100 TeV have been selected and analyzed. The EN-detectors have been used to record simultaneously thermal neutrons and the air shower electromagnetic component. The density distributions of both components and the total number of thermal neutrons have been measured. The correlation of these data with the measurements carried out by ARGO-YBJ confirms the excellent performance of the EN-detector. (C) 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.