Catching up with native speakers: Preparing to read the text

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.

Now pre-teach the key vocabulary items.  Going through the meaning of each item individually is time-consuming. A quicker way  is to write the items and simple definitions on cards – one set for each small group.  Divide the class into groups to work together matching the words and definitions – you can go round to help where needed. Go through the answers quickly – don’t forget to look at pronunciation.

Reasons for reading

When we read in ‘real life’ we generally have a reason for doing so – we want to find something out: What has the Prime Minister said about this issue? Was anyone killed in that explosion? Have I got an overdraft this month?
So we have effectively set ourselves a reading question. We also tend to think we know what the  answer will be: I know what David Cameron’s stance will be on this issue, I’ve already heard it was a big explosion – it’s likely people were killed,  I’m usually overdrawn by this date in the month.

It might turn out my predictions are wrong, but it makes reading into a process of confirming or disproving my expectations.

The next part of the lesson is aimed at giving students this confidence about what they are going to read. Get them to look at the pictures and title. Ask them what the text will be about – put their predictions on the board.  Set a simple global task which will encourage students to read through quickly for a general understanding (gist reading). A convenient gist task is to see if their predictions were correct. You need to set the task BEFORE they read; this gives them a reason for reading. Set a specific task, not just ‘Read for gist’ or ‘Read for general understanding’ – students read more effectively when the task is more focussed. Emphasise that you want to them read quickly just to find an answer to the question you’ve set (you might set a time limit of 2 or 3 minutes). Reassure them that you will read in more detail later.

I’ll talk about how to do the more detailed reading in my next blog.

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