Following on from his previous post about reading aloud, Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English, teacher trainer and ELT consultant, considers how to encourage successful reading in language students.
In my last blog post I questioned the value of reading aloud around the classroom. I suggested that the main aim for this seemed to be spoken pronunciation and not reading skills. In this blog post I would like to think about how you can get children aged about 9 and above to read successfully in a foreign language.
Let’s start with an image. Think of the reading text as a swimming pool. A swimming pool is full of water and a text is full of language. If I’m not careful and throw my students in at the deep end (for example, by getting them to read aloud word by word), my learners may drown in the language. I want them to dip their toes in the shallow end and then, as they grow more confident, move them towards the deep end.
To begin with they need something to aim for: an objective or task. The tasks I set will guide them into the water at the shallow end and gradually move them to the deep end.
To complete these tasks successfully they will need to read efficiently. In other words, they will need to use reading strategies. These strategies are the swimming strokes, which will help keep their heads above water so that they don’t drown in the language of the text.
Before teaching the strategies or swimming strokes, I need to make sure basic pool safety, or methodology, is in place.
1. Task before text
Most of the time we need a reason to read. We infrequently read a text with no purpose – without a reason. To give our pupils a reason to read I need to set a task. This for me suggests a logical order to my procedure: they need to know what the task is before they read the text. Have you noticed that some coursebooks put the task or questions after the text? They often seem to be dictating a procedure of text before the task, which I think is in the wrong order! What do you think?
2. Using time limits
The text is often recorded onto a CD. Often, students are instructed to listen and read at the same time. Why? What is the purpose of doing this? Maybe it’s to manage their reading speed. But, it is reading at one speed only and most people don’t read like that. Don’t rely too heavily on the CD. Instead use time limits! If you want them to read quickly, set a short time limit. If you want them to read carefully, set a longer time limit.
3. Teacher reads the class
Now that the CD is no longer controlling their reading speed, you need to be more alert to the children and how they are reading. Watch them carefully and gauge how they are doing. If you set a time limit of 1 minute and they are still reading after that time, one of two things is possible. Either you’ve have miscalculated how long they need to do the task, or they are not reading very efficiently. Can you think of any other possibilities for this situation?
4. Compare their answers
When the children complete the task, get them to compare their answers in pairs. Then do feedback on the answers. Can you think of a good reason for getting them to compare their answers? What do you think they do if they have different answers?
5. Checking their answers
Once they’ve compared, check the answers. I usually get the answers from around the classroom and if necessary write them up on the board. Try not to be too quick in confirming the correct answer or saying the answer is incorrect. Asking, “do you agree?” usually gets a brief response from the group and keeps all the children engaged in the feedback process and on their toes.
In my next blog post I will look at how we can take the children from the shallow end of the swimming pool to the deep end.