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Strategies for ‘swimming’ safely in a text


Boy swimming underwaterFollowing on from his previous post about not drowning in a text, Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English, now suggests strategies for moving learners from the shallow to the deep end of a reading text.

In my last blog post I used the image of a swimming pool to represent a reading text. A swimming pool is full of water and a text is full of language: it is possible to drown in both! In this post I’d like to stay with that image and think about how we can take the learners from the shallow end to the deep end of the text. I’d also like to ensure they are never in danger of drowning in the language.

My teaching aim is to develop different swimming strokes or reading strategies so that they learn to move comfortably through the water/text.

What are the reading strategies that competent readers bring to a text? They can:

  1. Predict content. We don’t usually read a text without some idea of its content.  A headline or a title or pictures usually gives us some idea about the content of the text.
  2. Skim a text for an overview of what it’s about.
  3. Scan it and pick out specific information or detail.
  4. Read from beginning to end of a selected passage, drawing out the author’s message and intention.
  5. Read carefully to understand how that message has been constructed and the language used.

In points 1, 2 and 3 my learners are in the shallower end of the swimming pool. In 4 and 5, they have moved into the deep end. (You may have noticed that I have dropped the terms extensive and intensive reading. Do you use these terms or something different? Leave a comment and let me know).

When I was at school and learning a foreign language, we were not guided towards these strategies. Actually, come to think of it, when I was at school we were never really given a variety of text types, so to some extent it was not relevant! A postcard, a menu, a poem? No! We were given a short text and we always read it in the same way: carefully and word by word and having our pronunciation corrected by the teacher. Was your experience at school the same or different?

I believe that my job as a teacher is to help my learners avoid drowning by developing the reading strategies that I listed above. To do this I need to look at my material carefully.

First, I look at the tasks that go with the text. Do they guide the learners into the text, taking them from the shallow end to the deep end with a series of graded tasks? Or do I feel that the children are into the deep end too quickly, having to read carefully, word by word? This may mean they are in danger of drowning in the language. The best way of evaluating a task is by doing it yourself. And remember, you know best what the children are capable of.

As a minimum I look for two tasks: one to take them into the shallow end and a second task to take them into the deep end.  A skimming task or a scanning task will help them into the shallow end of the text. The second task , which takes them into the deep end, will require the children to read the text from beginning to end.

Sometimes, I feel that the children may be dropped into the deep end of the text. They have to read carefully from the outset. And they don’t even know if the water is nice yet! Do you ever worry about this? (For me it is a major worry but you may think I’m being neurotic!) If I feel that this is happening, I will often provide an extra task myself to take the children into the shallow end first: a skimming or scanning task. Then I will use the task provided by the coursebook to take them into the deep end. What extra tasks have you designed?

In my last blog post I talked about time limits. Remember that using time limits will encourage the children to skim and scan. Time limits will also help to scaffold the task and the text when the children are reading from beginning to end.

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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4 thoughts on “Strategies for ‘swimming’ safely in a text

  1. If I can leap onto your metaphor, there is another addition to your list of strategies, namely “floating on your back” in the water. In other words, reading for pleasure or just reading with no purpose other than to enjoy oneself. It’s a strategy that’s often overlooked in TEFL because, I think, it doesn’t have any obvious or immediate gains.

    http://teflworldwiki.com/index.php/Reading_for_Pleasure is a quick article on the subject exploring this a little more.

  2. Pingback: Strategies for ‘swimming’ safely in a text | Designing lessons for EFL classes | Scoop.it

  3. Hello and thank you very much for joining in. You make a very interesting point and one which you fit into the analogy of swimming very neatly. My long-term aim is to get my learners comfortably moving around the swimming pool (text). The tasks I provide are designed to help my learners deal with the text type appropriately. At the same time, I want them to become confident. I think the type of reading you describe requires a specific strategy. It is a strategy suited to the text type. Could you write again and say what type of text you are thinking of? I think you are opening up an area of discussion that could be very fruitful. I hope you have the time to respond.

  4. Pingback: Strategies for ‘swimming’ safely in a text | TeachingEnglish | Scoop.it

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