TEFL Q and A, Chapter 8: Teaching Reading Skills

Q: So, we've covered listening and speaking. What's next?

A: Reading.

Q: And how important is this compared with listening?

A: As a general rule, it's not quite as important as listening, but it really does depend on why a student needs to learn English. For example, some students might need to be able to read long, intricate books in English for their postgraduate courses. For such students, reading is of the utmost importance.

Q: What kinds of texts are useful for working with different groups of students?

A: Well, to cite a few examples, a group of teenagers from various European countries might want to read articles about sports stars or film stars; a group of German sales representatives from an engineering company might want to read a very technical description of a mechanical product; a group of students from all over the world who are about to study at various British universities might want to read a social sciences article that contrasts two different solutions to the same social problem.

Q: So you're saying that I have to be absolutely sure that the type of text I use is appropriate for my students?

A: Exactly.

Q: And the interest arousal stage? I'm guessing that this applies, as always?

A: You've guessed correctly, even if this just amounts to a 2- or 3-minute conversation.

Q: And setting a task?

A: Indeed. As with listening, you need to make sure you set a task that is appropriate for the text you're using. For example, if you give your class an article on the growing use of mobile phones, I'd probably recommend a gist task.

Q: One thing I don't understand is the timing issue. When students listen to a tape, they can't control the speed, but when they read, they can surely do so at any speed they want. Isn't that potentially disruptive as far as the management of the lesson is concerned?

A: That's right, and that's why it's always important to give your students a time limit. If you don't set a time limit, you'll find that the students will not read efficiently. They will spend too much time looking words up in the dictionary, which will not help them improve the speed and accuracy of their reading.

Q: So is that it? Or can I do anything else to help students read more effectively?

A: After you've done all the above, it's a good idea to focus on key bits of language in a text.

Q: What key bits?

A: Signpost words such as although, however, and but. These words appear very frequently, and they are used to link sentences. If students understand what they mean, they'll be able to read texts much more efficiently.

Q: But what can I do exactly to help them understand these important words?

A: Well, imagine that line 5 of the text contains this sentence: "Although the gross domestic product increased by 5% last year, exports fell by 1%." You can say to your students, "How much did the gross domestic product increase by last year? OK, and would you expect exports to go up or down? OK, and did they in fact go up? What word tells you to prepare yourself for a surprise? So, if you see the word although, what should you expect? That's right, a surprise." You need to do this nice and slowly for each signpost word.

Q: If I've got a group of students who want to study in the United Kingdom, won't they need to be reading quite long academic texts?

A: Yes, they will.

Q: And do these students get to do anything more elaborate than what we've talked about so far?

A: Yes. Such students will undoubtedly be very serious about reading, they will not get bored easily, and they will appreciate having large amounts of time to read in class. In this case, I'd suggest the following procedure. First, the students simply read the text all the way through (trying to grasp the general meaning). Second, they read the text again, this time writing a mind map of the text. Part of it could look like this:

Third, they rewrite their mind maps in the form of linear notes. As they do this, they throw out less important information and rearrange what's left in a well-structured way. Part of the linear notes could look like this:


1. Definition

2. Types

3. ________

This process should help students read academic articles and books much more systematically and effectively than they did before.

Copyright © 2005 by Paul Bress. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, or any informational storage and retrieval system, without permission from the author. Permission is hereby granted for one download for personal use only.