Every class when it comes to reading I feel hopeless, useless and desperate. How to teach reading in a way that doesn’t seem boring, difficult and frustrating? Am I the only one who faces this reading crisis?
Looking at the texts offered by the authors of popular communicative coursebooks for upper-intermediate students I always think of how those authors imagine they read the texts in class with their 12 students in a group. And I picture a silent classroom, all focused and tense, spending 15 minutes of a 90-minute class underlining the new vocab, trying to figure out the meaning, answering the questions or deciding if the statements are true or false… and I do understand that this is precisely the way I wouldn’t want to be taught reading.
Although I find it a fantastic source of grammar and vocab, as you know from my previous post, I still believe that reading texts and doing all the tasks based on them should be a home assignment. I have to say I used to always be lucky with my students who would prepare their hometasks with all the diligence and accurateness imaginable. However, if next time I am not that lucky…
According to clever methodologists, first of all, what should be done if the text is about to be read in class is a difficulties anticipation exercise, i.e. the one that would help students understand the content faster and easier (well, if there is any challenging vocabulary, of course). And that is usually after the topic of the text has already been introduced in a pre-reading discussion.
If the text is long, the most reasonable thing to do with it is split it into parts and make students read one each. When they are finished, they will have to exchange the information and if it is a coherent story, they will have to order the parts to get the story right again. When it’s done, working with the content goes according to “normal” plan: True-False exercises, answering the questions, vocabulary exercises etc.
This kind of exercises can be “spiced” by not giving the ending of the story to students. It provokes the discussion and makes working with a long text more dynamic.
If the text is reasonably short or consists of non-related parts under different headings, working with it can definitely be more entertaining. For instance, students can be asked to retell it as if they were a small kid, an inanimate thing from the text, a person suffering from toothache. The task of the partner is to guess who (what) the storyteller is. This method is great to practise the vocabulary. One and the same text is retold several times, which means that the words and word-combinations will be used several times, too. It enhances the chances of students to remember them.
Another good idea to make partners listen to the story attentively is to retell the story making logical mistakes. The number of the mistakes has to be pre-defined. The task of the partner is to spot these mistakes and make the story-teller correct them according to the text.
A student responsible for reading a text (or a particular part of the text) can be asked to write down the interesting (difficult, unusual) words. The partner will have to try and guess what the text is about.
Another example of focusing on vocabulary while working with texts is the following: a student retells the text and the task of the partner is to note down the key words on a card. Then the person who was writing retells this text according to the notes to a new partner. The story-telling cycle finishes when the text comes back to the person who started the story-telling process.
The same can be done with drawing figures and associations instead of writing down the key words. It makes the task more challenging. However, it might not work with skeptical students.
Whether we like it or not, reading remains the crucial skill, mastering which can open the secrets of grammar and boost our students’ vocabulary. Whether we like teaching it or not, our task is to make students love reading and show them how to get as much out of it as they can.