Students often find it difficult to engage with reading and writing instruction and practice, particularly when large, intimidating texts are involved. This is the first in our series of insight blog posts, aimed at helping teachers to overcome this problem. Here are the Top 10 Tips for Reading, from teacher-trainer Zarina Subhan.
What does reading really mean? To your elementary students it involves letter recognition and decoding the letters so they can decode words. To your advanced students it’s a process of decoding ideas which may be stated directly, or a process of ‘reading between the lines’. Either way, your students are practising a form of decoding.
This decoding is a perfect way to expose them to vocabulary because it’s embedded in a context. This technique is similarly useful for grammar study, but whether it is vocabulary or grammar that we highlight, this is a chance for students to see models of language that they can then put to use in conversation or writing tasks.
In our L1 we read for information, whether it’s following signs at an airport, or doing an internet search to find a relevant article online. When reading in English, it’s important to maintain a purpose for reading the information. We need to remind ourselves as ELT teachers that our students are not English language specialists; 9 out of 10 are very likely studying English because it’s on the school timetable, or someone has decided for them that it’s best they take English classes. So don’t treat reading as the teaching of vocabulary and grammar structures, because that won’t be what persuades them to read.
So what can we do to encourage our students to read? Try these top 10 tips:
- Get that schema warmed up Always warm up students’ background knowledge (known as ‘schema/schemata’) first. We cannot guarantee that our students all have the same knowledge on a topic or theme, so it is important to get everyone to the same point. Images are an ideal way to gather together what your students know – and allow time for a quick brainstorm where they can discuss their thoughts first.
- Get them using all the clues, in true Sherlock Holmes style Focus on headings, images and subheadings (if there are any) to help students to predict what the topic or content might be about. This stimulates ideas further and prepares them to read, allowing for a subconscious awareness of what type of vocabulary might be found. This also illustrates that a handful of words can help us understand and that we don’t need to know every single word to appreciate a piece of text.
- Peer checking After their first reading of a text, get students to discuss it with each other. Speaking about something you have just read helps to clarify your understanding because you can’t explain something until you’ve understood it. You’ll also find that students voluntarily re-read sections to make sure they’re explaining their thoughts correctly. It also allows them to get help with sections they may not have understood well when they read it themselves.
- Question their understanding To reinforce the main ideas of a text, ask questions that check understanding of the context, rather than finer details. If we focus on overall comprehension, we encourage students to skim the text to find areas that are relevant to questions, rather than them reading in detail.
- Word recognition The quicker we learn to read, the more efficiently we can get information, so it is helpful to encourage this in L2 as well. Have a competition to train students to ‘see’ a word/collocation/phrase in the text. Project a text onto your whiteboard and bring a group of students to the front of the class. You say a word that is in the text and they have to point to it.
- Speed them up Get students to time themselves reading a text so they have a record of how many words they read per minute. Then, at intervals throughout the academic year, give them a similar text, in both length and complexity, to see how they progress. In each instance, ask questions that bring out the main points of the text after, so you know that they are not simply glancing at the words, but actually reading them!
- Recall and highlight words Once the context has been understood, highlight vocabulary by using flashcards. Use different coloured cards to differentiate between different parts of speech – main verbs could be on a green coloured background; auxiliary verbs on yellow; nouns on blue, etc. If students are in groups, get them to take turns to give a definition, synonym or antonym.
- Recall and highlight structures Take sentences from the text and write each word on a separate card, jumbling them up into the wrong order. Then, get students to place them in the correct order. This could be done in groups or on large flashcards at the front of the class. Do these with useful sentences, or ones that include important phrases so that they are subconsciously reinforced.
- Lure them into reading Have lots of reading material available – pamphlets, brochures or graded readers for students to pick up and read. This can play on students’ curiosity and encourage reading in L2 for pleasure as well as for information.
- Nurture a love of reading Finally, get students to find a piece of text on a topic of their choice and have them talk to you about it and why they chose it. If you don’t have time to do face-to-face interviews with each student, they could record themselves talking about it and send it to you as an mp3 recording, along with a link to the text.
As Krashen said, “Reading is good for you…Reading is the only way we become good readers, develop a good writing style, an adequate vocabulary, advanced grammar and the only way we become good spellers.” (1993:23)
With all these benefits, reading is something we need to ensure is developed, but without necessarily making students aware that all the above is going on. It’s like enjoying a meal – who wants to be told about all the nutritional value of everything you eat when you can enjoy the taste?!
Krashen, S. (1993) The power of reading: Insights from the research. Englewood, Co.: Libraries Unlimited.