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Teaching Reading

Developing Reading Activities

Developing reading activities involves more than identifying a text that is "at the right level," writing a set of comprehension questions for students to answer after reading, handing out the assignment and sending students away to do it. A fully-developed reading activity supports students as readers through prereading, while-reading, and post-reading activities.

As you design reading tasks, keep in mind that complete recall of all the information in a text is an unrealistic expectation even for native speakers. Reading activities that are meant to increase communicative competence should be success oriented and build up students' confidence in their reading ability.

Construct the reading activity around a purpose that has significance for the students

Make sure students understand what the purpose for reading is: to get the main idea, obtain specific information, understand most or all of the message, enjoy a story, or decide whether or not to read more. Recognizing the purpose for reading will help students select appropriate reading strategies.

Define the activity's instructional goal and the appropriate type of response

In addition to the main purpose for reading, an activity can also have one or more instructional purposes, such as practicing or reviewing specific grammatical constructions, introducing new vocabulary, or familiarizing students with the typical structure of a certain type of text.

Check the level of difficulty of the text

The factors listed below can help you judge the relative ease or difficulty of a reading text for a particular purpose and a particular group of students.

  • How is the information organized? Does the story line, narrative, or instruction conform to familiar expectations? Texts in which the events are presented in natural chronological order, which have an informative title, and which present the information following an obvious organization (main ideas first, details and examples second) are easier to follow.
  • How familiar are the students with the topic? Remember that misapplication of background knowledge due to cultural differences can create major comprehension difficulties.
  • Does the text contain redundancy? At the lower levels of proficiency, listeners may find short, simple messages easier to process, but students with higher proficiency benefit from the natural redundancy of authentic language.
  • Does the text offer visual support to aid in reading comprehension? Visual aids such as photographs, maps, and diagrams help students preview the content of the text, guess the meanings of unknown words, and check comprehension while reading.

Remember that the level of difficulty of a text is not the same as the level of difficulty of a reading task. Students who lack the vocabulary to identify all of the items on a menu can still determine whether the restaurant serves steak and whether they can afford to order one.

Use pre-reading activities to prepare students for reading

The activities you use during pre-reading may serve as preparation in several ways. During pre-reading you may:

  • Assess students' background knowledge of the topic and linguistic content of the text
  • Give students the background knowledge necessary for comprehension of the text, or activate the existing knowledge that the students possess
  • Clarify any cultural information which may be necessary to comprehend the passage
  • Make students aware of the type of text they will be reading and the purpose(s) for reading
  • Provide opportunities for group or collaborative work and for class discussion activities

Sample pre-reading activities:

  • Using the title, subtitles, and divisions within the text to predict content and organization or sequence of information
  • Looking at pictures, maps, diagrams, or graphs and their captions
  • Talking about the author's background, writing style, and usual topics
  • Skimming to find the theme or main idea and eliciting related prior knowledge
  • Reviewing vocabulary or grammatical structures
  • Reading over the comprehension questions to focus attention on finding that information while reading
  • Constructing semantic webs (a graphic arrangement of concepts or words showing how they are related)
  • Doing guided practice with guessing meaning from context or checking comprehension while reading

Pre-reading activities are most important at lower levels of language proficiency and at earlier stages of reading instruction. As students become more proficient at using reading strategies, you will be able to reduce the amount of guided pre-reading and allow students to do these activities themselves.

Match while-reading activities to the purpose for reading

In while-reading activities, students check their comprehension as they read. The purpose for reading determines the appropriate type and level of comprehension.

  • When reading for specific information, students need to ask themselves, have I obtained the information I was looking for?
  • When reading for pleasure, students need to ask themselves, Do I understand the story line/sequence of ideas well enough to enjoy reading this?
  • When reading for thorough understanding (intensive reading), students need to ask themselves, Do I understand each main idea and how the author supports it? Does what I'm reading agree with my predictions, and, if not, how does it differ? To check comprehension in this situation, students may
    • Stop at the end of each section to review and check their predictions, restate the main idea and summarize the section
    • Use the comprehension questions as guides to the text, stopping to answer them as they read

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BACK TO STRATEGIES FOR DEVELOPING READING SKILLS

ON TO USING TEXTBOOK READING ACTIVITIES

 

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