by Sophia McMillan
(Shane training Centre, Japan)
Reading is a very important element in our everyday lives and learning (83% of our learning is visual) and it is important to consider that we never stop learning to read.
How do you read the following text styles?
Poetry, stage dialogue, a cinema listings page, a web page, a text message, a train timetable, information on an air ticket, an instruction booklet, a recipe, an academic text, the news bar that runs under newscasters on television, fictional genres (Sci-fi; thrillers etc.)
You have learnt, through exposure and practice, to read all of the above and each of them requires a different application of reading strategies. To understand these texts the reader needs a good grasp of language, knowledge of the writer’s culture and appropriate strategies to read the information. With all this in mind we can help our learners become better readers.
First, we will look at how we read and then look at some practice activities.
We read things that interest us
Obvious when you think about it. Readings should be based on relevant and interesting themes. We need to make learners read and think by making the presentation of the texts and the activities that precede and follow readings interesting.
Process of learning to read
• At primary level all learning is a game. Rules of language and culture are internalised, motivation is high as learning is fun. Reading develops from word shapes and letter combinations, it’s very visual and dynamic – reading has a purpose – associating words and pictures, following a story, completing a puzzle. Most importantly, reading helps us learn new things and once children realise the power that reading gives them (through new words and expressions) they do not want to stop.
• At Elementary level learning is a measure of achievement, we start to learn for marks. Rules of language become more complex and have to be learnt through exposure to structures and context. Motivation is more external and therefore attention is sometimes low.
• For adults we learn for change, to improve our qualifications, to experience new things, to improve our understanding of the world around us. We begin to apply our own values to the world around us so rules are learned with more difficulty but motivation is high.
Extensive and intensive reading
We predominately read in two ways extensively and intensively.
Extensive reading is done usually at leisure and involves reading at length. Word recognition is largely passive and reading is more pleasurable because we have a choice in what we read. Development is automatic through exposure to text types. Extensive reading involves things like reading letters, newspapers, novels, magazines etc.
For us extensive reading is focused on a development of overall reading skills and strategies, for example reading and then commenting on the content of an article.
Reading for skills development
To improve learner’s ability to read authentic texts
To enable learners apply appropriate strategies to particular texts
To expand and extend learners range of reading skills and strategies
To develop learners ability to predict
Develop skimming and scanning
Intensive reading is more concentrated and usually related to a task or the information is to be applied in some way. Sometimes the reading is done in a set timeframe and there is often a study goal related to this. Readings are selected and organised by the teacher and so the reader expresses no choice in the subject matter of the text. As a result activities for intensive reading needs careful setting up and interest needs to be stimulated.
Intensive reading however, is based on reading for linguistic development, for example, a comprehension text where learners have to identify types of verb form, items of vocabulary or other morphemes.
Reading for language development
To improve vocabulary
To comprehend course texts
To improve all-round language ability
Examples of language in context
As a model for writing
Develop linguistic skills (e.g. passive vocabulary recognition)
Use traditional texts with comprehension questions
What can the teacher do?
Firstly, ensure that there’s a balance of both extensive and intensive reading. It’s widely believed that intensive reading doesn’t develop reading skills at all because the focus is on the linguistic content rather than the message content. Intensive reading is fine for checking understanding of language then but isn’t helping develop reading skills.
To develop reading skills we need to expose learners to different text types and focus on the message rather than the language. Strategies change according to text, for example locating textual information on a web page will require different skills from reading a narrative, the first you may skim read (read all the information briefly until you can locate what you want) and the latter text you may possibly scan (read the text more intensely, looking for detail or particular information).
We have, of course, the course text readings, which are often used to present language, in particular vocabulary, and are often supported by controlled practice activities. As such these are language-based readings, and while used to develop skills such as scanning and skimming we need to adapt these texts in order to develop more extensive reading activities.
Using readings from the course book
• Photocopy the text and remove a sentence from each paragraph, jumble the removed sentences and ask your learners to read the text looking for appropriate places to put the removed sentences back.
• Remove a sentence from each paragraph of the text and transpose it to a different paragraph randomly. Ask learners to read the text, locate the inappropriate sentence in each paragraph and replace it with a correct one.
• Photocopy the text and cut it into different sections. Make sure it isn’t easy to purely match ‘shapes’ up! Jumble the text and get learners putting it back in the correct order.
Exposing learners to authentic texts is important so they get as much exposure as possible to ’language in use’. Be careful, however, on the appropriacy of the material you choose. Many magazines write exclusively for their genre, e.g. film magazines cross-reference other films and directors that your learners may not be aware of. Also the language of magazines is often colloquial and ‘specialist’ and this again may cause problems. Choose newspaper articles that are not too long and be careful not to choose a report with a topic or containing information that may offend.
Graded readers are a good source for developing reading skills. These have interesting topics and have been abridged and graded to suit the level of different learners. Using graded readers also means learners can read in their own time and at their own pace.
Pre-reading and post reading
Before learners read it’s important to stimulate their interest get them thinking about what they are going to find out. Grab their attention. Get learners making predictions about texts to generate interest in the topic, pre-empt vocabulary that will come up and add to the purpose of reading the text.
It’s very important that we support extensive reading with interesting post tasks. This could be a debate based on the text topic, asking learners to summarize the text or tasks, which involve the learners finding out more about a topic.
Some other ideas for post task activities following a reading – remember these are more about developing skills than developing language.
• Book or text reviews – Learners can write their own reviews of a text.
• Learning journal – Learners keep a journal recording their feelings and opinions about texts
• Comment sheets –learners can write comments on a text and then compare what they have written in class.
• Biographies – Learners can write biographies of people involved in the text / reader or write follow-up articles (e.g. what happens next etc.)
There are many activities to help develop reading skills rather than purely focus on the linguistic content of a text. Encourage learners to read in their free time, as there isn’t always time for it in class.