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Teaching Reading

Teaching Reading

We encounter a great variety of written language day to day -- articles, stories, poems, announcements, letters, labels, signs, bills, recipes, schedules, questionnaires, cartoons, the list is endless. Literate adults easily recognize the distinctions of various types of texts. This guide will not cover instruction for learners with little or no literacy in their native language; you will need to work intensively with them at the most basic level of letter recognition and phonics.

Finding authentic reading material may not be difficult, but finding materials appropriate for the level of your learners can be a challenge. Especially with beginners, you may need to significantly modify texts to simplify grammar and vocabulary. When choosing texts, consider what background knowledge may be necessary for full comprehension. Will students need to "read between the lines" for implied information? Are there cultural nuances you may need to explain? Does the text have any meaningful connection to the lives of your learners? Consider letting your students bring in their choice of texts they would like to study. This could be a telephone bill, letter, job memo, want ads, or the back of a cereal box. Motivation will be higher if you use materials of personal interest to your learners.

Your lesson should begin with a pre-reading activity to introduce the topic and make sure students have enough vocabulary, grammar, and background information to understand the text. Be careful not to introduce a lot of new vocabulary or grammar because you want your students to be able to respond to the content of the text and not expend too much effort analyzing the language. If you don't want to explain all of the potentially new material ahead of time, you can allow your learners to discuss the text with a partner and let them try to figure it out together with the help of a dictionary. After the reading activity, check comprehension and engage the learners with the text, soliciting their opinions and further ideas orally or with a writing task.

Consider the following when designing your reading lessons.

  • Purpose 
    Your students need to understand ahead of time why they are reading the material you have chosen.
  • Reading Strategies 
    When we read, our minds do more than recognize words on the page. For faster and better comprehension, choose activities before and during your reading task that practice the following strategies.
    • Prediction: This is perhaps the most important strategy. Give your students hints by asking them questions about the cover, pictures, headlines, or format of the text to help them predict what they will find when they read it.
    • Guessing From Context: Guide your students to look at contextual information outside or within the text. Outside context includes the source of the text, its format, and how old it is; inside context refers to topical information and the language used (vocabulary, grammar, tone, etc.) as well as illustrations. If students have trouble understanding a particular word or sentence, encourage them to look at the context to try to figure it out. Advanced students may also be able to guess cultural references and implied meanings by considering context.
    • Skimming: This will improve comprehension speed and is useful at the intermediate level and above. The idea of skimming is to look over the entire text quickly to get the basic idea. For example, you can give your students 30 seconds to skim the text and tell you the main topic, purpose, or idea. Then they will have a framework to understand the reading when they work through it more carefully.
    • Scanning: This is another speed strategy to use with intermediate level and above. Students must look through a text quickly, searching for specific information. This is often easier with non-continuous texts such as recipes, forms, or bills (look for an ingredient amount, account number, date of service, etc.) but scanning can also be used with continuous texts like newspaper articles, letters, or stories. Ask your students for a very specific piece of information and give them just enough time to find it without allowing so much time that they will simply read through the entire text.
  • Silent Reading vs. Reading Aloud 
    Reading aloud and reading silently are really two separate skills. Reading aloud may be useful for reporting information or improving pronunciation, but a reading lesson should focus on silent reading. When students read silently, they can vary their pace and concentrate on understanding more difficult portions of the text. They will generally think more deeply about the content and have greater comprehension when reading silently. Try extended silent reading (a few pages instead of a few paragraphs, or a short chapter or book for advanced students) and you may be surprised at how much your learners can absorb when they study the text uninterrupted at their own pace. When introducing extended texts, work with materials at or slightly below your students' level; a long text filled with new vocabulary or complex grammar is too cumbersome to understand globally and the students will get caught up in language details rather than comprehending the text as a whole.

ESL textbooks are a good place to look for reading activities that include pre- and post-reading exercises. If you choose to select your own reading material, the following sites may be helpful.

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