Teaching Reading

By Jenny Hardacre
TEFL teacher and trainer with 30 years experience

My last couple of blogs have dealt with predicting content vocabulary pre-teaching and skim reading. Now you have reached the stage where less successful reading lessons tend to begin – reading for more detailed understanding.

Encourage students to react to the text

Again, set the questions before students begin to read so that they know what they are looking for while they read.. The questions don’t have to be just aimed at picking factual information out of the text, such as ‘How long has Anna been doing her present job?’. While this type of question may be appropriate for lower levels, the answers are often easy to find, not particularly interesting and don’t necessarily indicate overall understanding.

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By Jenny Hardacre
TEFL teacher and trainer with 30 years experience

The first thing to do in a reading lesson is introduce topic of the passage in an engaging way. This is to get students interested and help them form expectations about content. So, if the passage describes different people’s jobs, get students to talk about their jobs, or to make a list of all the different jobs they can think of. Then elicit some work related vocabulary (e.g. part-/full-time, shifts, holiday pay, promotion).  Plan in advance any word/phrases from the text that you could elicit at this stage.

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By Jenny Hardacre
TEFL teacher and trainer with 30 years experience

Converting squiggles on the page or screen into meaningful messages

There are two types of process involved in reading; bottom-up and top-down.  Bottom-up is the process of decoding the symbols on the page or screen starting with the smallest unit, so that C-A-T is converted to the sounds /k/ /æ/ /t/ and the word is understood, the words are combined to understand the sentences and so on “…the reader first processes the smallest linguistic unit, gradually compiling the smaller units to decipher and comprehend the higher units (e.g., sentence syntax).” Emerald. 1991. (Quoted on Lingualinks )

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By Jenny Hardacre
TEFL teacher and trainer with 30 years experience

As a teacher trainer I’ve seen quite a few awful reading lessons. (To tell the truth, as a teacher, I’ve probably given quite a few awful reading lessons, too). A typical unsuccessful lesson goes like this; the teacher starts the lesson with something like “Today we’re going to do some reading. Open your books on page 67.” The students are then told to read the text. A  few words in, some students come across a word they don’t know and reach for their dictionaries or ask their neighbours. The teacher either allows this or says cheerily, “Don’t worry about the unfamiliar words. You don’t need to know all the words to understand the text.”

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By Yolande Deane
DELTA qualified EFL teacher with 5 years’ teaching experience

Mohan Rana poemWhen introducing a poem, I believe it is important that you set clear outcomes for each stage – similar to task based learning. You do not want it to turn into a poetry workshop, and the student goes away thinking “Oh that was different/interesting but what exactly did I learn?”  That would be a missed opportunity, and the point is to encourage a feeling that poetry is worthwhile reading in the classroom.

Space to digest the poem

Students need to be given space to digest a poem, whether they are of a low or higher level, so give them a good ten minutes to read and re-read a poem and make notes on unknown words.  Make sure they know that they are all expected to contribute to a discussion with one other student after the ten minutes, and encourage them to take notes.  A clear outcome for the reading helps them to focus, as does giving them questions to think about.

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By Yolande Deane
DELTA qualified EFL teacher with 5 years’ teaching experience

As someone who likes to read and write poetry, I am always excited by the “challenge” of trying to work out what I think the poet meant by their words.  However, what I may see as a journey into words, others may just view as inaccessible language. Even though I read and write poetry, I know how frustrating it is at times to try and decipher what is being conveyed. In addition, poetry can often be culturally specific and any symbolism used may be very culturally bound.  This could be the reason why many avoid or never even think about using poetry in an EFL classroom. Furthermore, you may have to admit to yourself that you do not quite “get” poetry, so how on earth will the students cope?

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