Reading is an active process of constructing meaning in which the reader incorporates textual information into his existent system of knowledge.
The Reading Situation
- Interest/ Motivation
- Previous knowledge
- Cultural background
- Personal reading style
- Reading culture
Strategies (Skimming, Scanning, First sentence of a paragraph, titles, etc.)
Making hypotheses/ predictions
Checking hypotheses/ predictions
Guessing the meaning of unfamiliar word, expressions, grammatical structures, ...
Using a dictionary
Writing a summary
Finding the main idea(s)
Underlining unknown words
Answering different kinds of questions about the text
Adult learners are more than capable of reading adult texts and should be expected to do so. Students or teachers should not tolerate either syntactically simplified prose or simplistic topics. "Simplifying" a text often makes it more difficult: the system of references, repetitions, and redundancy as well as discourse indicators are often removed, making the reading process even more difficult if not impossible.
In the real world, reading plays many functions. Readers use information to form opinions, to write papers and reports, to guide them in making decisions. In other words, reading materials should be related to specific tasks so that reading has some purpose. Therefore, any instructional reading unit needs to be contextualized. We encourage students to learn from what they read.
Teachers need to learn to take a facilitative not a directive role in the initial phases of reading instruction and a directive role in later stages of reading instruction.
The Prereading or Previewing Process (Brainstorming)
Show students the reading text
Increase studentís interest in the texts
Establish a purpose for reading
Preview the text
Have students predict the content of the text by
studying the layout (title, subtitles, summaries, pictures, graphics, etc.)
making hypotheses about the contents and function
checking these hypotheses with existing knowledge and information from the text
skimming through the passage and
adjusting oneís guesses
making further predictions
presenting new key vocabulary
Demonstrate and practice the appropriate reading strategies for this text
Different texts lend themselves to different previewing activities. One of the jobs the reading teacher is to find the right match between the text and the most useful previewing activity.
Should I do the prereading at beginning and low-intermediate level in English or in the target language?
You have always the option to use English for some prereading activities, allowing the students to use their native language to access their topic knowledge. In order to facilitate the reading in the target language, you must interject the target language as the discussion progresses. For example, when there is an opportunity to introduce a relevant phrase or word in the target language, you should present it and immediately reinforce it in the studentís memory. You can ask to
- repeat the new word or phrase,
- write it on the board and have the students scan the reading for it, noting where it appears
- have the students copy the language on a sheet of paper for future reference
The Reading Process
Teaching Reading means understanding the reading process. This process and reading strategies can be taught explicitly through teacher modeling and through activities.
During reading, readerís minds repeatedly engage in a variety of processes, seemingly all at once. Using top-down and bottom-up strategies,
- readers use prereading information to make some predictions about the text they are going to read;
- using bottom-up strategies, they start by processing information from the first sentence;
- as they process the information that each new sentence gives them, they check to see if and how that information corresponds with their expectations and the previous information until they come to the end of the paragraph;
- they formulate the main idea of the paragraph; (If they thought they recognized a main idea sentence at the beginning of the paragraph, they will now check if the early prediction is still valid.)
The following is a list of specific reading strategies and activities:
- Note the key words in the first sentence of the paragraph;
- Decide which word announces the main topic of the paragraph;
- Decide which words announce the specific aspect of this topic of the paragraph;
- Note if there is a sentence that states a probable main idea;
- Note the most important words for each sentence as you read;
- Ask yourself how this information relates to the information that came before it;
- Look for examples that illustrate the idea stated before;
- Look for details that provide more specific information on the topic;
- Look for a sentence that concludes this particular aspect or this topic;
- Look for words that indicate a change in the kind of information;
- Look for a sentence that provides information about a new aspect of this topic.
Reading is a constant process of guessing and what a reader brings to the text is often more important than the text itself. Students benefit from learning to use what they know to understand unknown elements through a global approach to the text.
PROCEDURES FOR GUESSING MEANING FROM CONTEXT
- Look at the unknown word and decide its part of speech.
- Is it a noun, a verb, an adjective, or an adverb?
- Look at the clause or sentence containing the unknown word.
- If the unknown word is a noun, what adjectives describe it? What verb is it near? That is, what does this noun do and what is done to it?
- If the unknown word is a verb, what noun does it go with? Is it modified by an adverb?
- If the unknown word is an adjective, what noun does it modify?
- If the unknown word is an adverb, what verb does it modify?
- Look at the relationship between the clause or sentence containing the unknown word and other sentences or paragraphs. Sometimes this relationship will be signaled by a conjunction like but, because, if or when, or by an adverb like however or as a result in English.
- Use your knowledge gained from steps 1 Ė 3 to guess the meaning of the word.
- Check that your guess is correct.
- Break unknown words into its prefix, root, and suffix, if possible
The most important step of this skill is teaching students when to use the dictionary and when not to use it. Students need to be able to read with and without a dictionary. As a rule, students should look up a word only
- when they have encountered it several times and do not have a general sense of its meaning or
- when they think that a word is vital to their overall comprehension of the text.
There are several types of dictionaries for the foreign language classroom:
- At early stages of proficiency, students may rely on bilingual dictionaries.
- As their proficiency grows, teachers should require students to use foreign language learners dictionaries (with a limited number of words, defining a word by using simple, high frequency words, providing clear explanations of concepts and their relations to other words, giving examples and listing idioms using this word.
- At the advanced level students should use a regular native-speaker dictionary so that they can enlarge and refine their understanding of the vocabulary that they look up.
Postreading Activities/ Questioning
In the foreign language classroom we use planned activities to get students thinking about what they read, causing them to react to it and to evaluate it. Postreading activities have the following objectives:
- Identify the topic of the reading;
- Have a general idea of what the text says about its topic;
- Understand they main ideas of the text;
- Establish the relationship between the main ideas;
- Understand the detail to support the main idea(s);
- Recognize the information that the text implies but does not state;
- Recognize the structure of the information in the text;
- Identify the language used to show the organization of ideas;
- Assess the value of the information presented in the text;
- Recognize language use, such as irony or satire;
- Personalize information learned and put it in the context of the class or chapter theme
One of the most frequent activities to teach the reading process and to see if students understood what they were reading is the use of comprehension questions. The answers can by given by writing (at home) or orally (individually or in groups) in class. Questions that focus on language or low-level cognitive skills might best be done individually and at home. Questions that deal with analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are more demanding and might better be done in class, in small groups.
Forms of questions:
- Yes/ no questions
- Alternative questions (Is a wale a fish or a mammal?)
- Wh-questions (Who, what, which, when, where, ...)
- How/ why questions
- Multiple choice questions
- True/ false questions
- Cloze tests
- Completion tasks
- Contextualized or authentic task
- Short answer or open-ended questions
- Recall protocols
Types of questions:
- Questions of literal comprehension
- Questions involving reorganization or reinterpretation
- Questions of inference
- Questions of evaluation
- Questions of personal response
- Questions concerned with the form in which a writer says what he means
Another postreading activity to review reading is to have students write a quick, closed-book summary in class. A popular and useful prereading activity at lower levels of language proficiency are organizing activities in which students receive pieces of information from a text and are asked to put them in order.
Jo Ann Aebersold/ Mary Lee Field, From reader to reading teacher. Cambridge University Press 1997.
Elizabeth B. Bernhardt, Reading Development in a Second Language. Theoretical, Empirical, and Classroom Perspectives. Ablex Publishing Corporation Norwood, New Jersey, 1991.
Swantje Ehlers, Lesetherorie und fremdsprachliche Lesepraxis aus der Perspektive des Deutschen als Fremdsprache. Tübingen: Narr, 1998. (Giesener Beiträge zur Fremsprachendidaktik)
F. Grellet, Developing reading skills. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
Christine Nuttall, Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language. Heinemann English Language Teaching. Oxford 1996.