There are two kinds of reading and there
are two ways of teaching from texts. We can call these Intensive and
In Extensive reading
the reader is satisfied to get a general picture of the subject of the
text, or simply to extract those details which he requires. In Intensive
reading the reader is aiming for a thorough comprehension of the text.
Each one has its place and should be developed.
Extensive reading, for a language learner,
is largely a matter of guesswork; learning to work out the probable
meaning of a text from the context.. It should be practiced at home
and form part of the background to a course. Teacher's interventions
should be limited to whatever explanations the student requires (preferably
in the target language) and encouragement to continue. Extensive reading
increases passive vocabulary - that is words which are known but not
actually used in speech. Obviously native speakers have a passive vocabulary
many times greater than their active vocabulary (the words which they
actually use in conversation) and it would seem normal that any learner
of a language should also have a much wider passive than active vocabulary
at any given stage of his acquisition of the language.
Students certainly will not be getting
much practice at intensive reading which requires a teacher and this
should form a major part of classroom activity at medium to advanced
Intensive reading of
a text requires a full comprehension of the vocabulary, grammar and
In the classroom intensive reading is
by far the most valuable. It is also the most satisfying to all concerned
as it's practice conforms to a well defined teaching cycle in which
the tasks the student is faced with are varied frequently, which maintains
interest. It's practice is easy if the following steps are observed:
After a "lead in" to the subject
of the text in which the subject is approached in general terms (this
will depend on the student and the best way to relate the subject to
- Split the text up into
sections of a few lines each - paragraphs if possible.
- Introduce and drill the
new vocabulary and grammar in the first section.
- Read this section with
the student(s) (see reading technique hereafter).
- Ask comprehension and
deduction questions about the section.
- Get the student to give
you a summary of the section.
- Get the student to ask
you questions about the text.
Move on to the next section, do it in
the same way, continue like that to the end of the text. At the end
of the text try to work in a rôle play of one kind or another.
- The first step is simple enough. The
length of the section should take into account the number of new factors
to be introduced rather than the number of lines in the section. In
a rich text it may be less than a paragraph, in a section of dialogue
it might run to several short paragraphs. For a weak student the section
would be shorter than for a strong student.
- The second step, introduction and
drill of vocabulary and grammar will probably take up at least half
of the time spent on text work and is certainly the part of the lesson
which will vary most according to both the teacher's and the student's
personalities and interests. It is also the most difficult part of
the lesson and the part generally most neglected. A later section
will be devoted to idea asociation, themes, homonyms and the kinds
of practice appropriate to this part of a lesson.
- Step three might seem obvious: the
student reads the text. However it is worth spending a little time
and trouble over this and even with advanced students it can be highly
profitable to do it in three stages:
a) Firstly the teacher reads the section to the student.
b) Then he re-reads it phrase by phrase and the student repeats.
c) Finally the student opens his book, reads the section himself and
then closes his book again.
Note the bit about opening and closing the book - it means that in
the first and second stages the student has to rely entirely on oral
comprehension and also that, in subsequent steps, he will have to
rely on his memory of the text and not be able to consult it for the
answers. Repeating phrases after the teacher is a simple exercise
but easily upgraded to any students capacity by increasing the length
of the phrases given to repeat. It can bring out certain auditive
comprehension problems that would certainly not appear if the student
merely read the text through. "They meet for lunch." I said
to one student "They eat meat for lunch." he repeated. He
was quite advanced and would probably not have believed he could make
such a simple mistake had it not actually occured.
- Step four, comprehension and deduction
questions: If the teacher has done as suggested in the previous step
the student has been through the text three times and should be able
to remember the essentials. If he has just read it through he will
certainly require a further silent reading to memorise it. I mention
deduction questions as a reminder that some phrases give more information
than a student may realise. For example if a passage were to include
the phrase "Peter used to smoke Camels.", a simple comprehension
question might be, "Who used to smoke Camels?" but a deduction
question would be, "Does Peter smoke?". If the student says
"Yes, he does." he probably knows that "used to"
indicates a habit but has not realised that the habit must be finished.
If he replies "No, he doesn't." it would be interesting
to ask him why he doesn't think Peter smokes. Probably he hasn't realised
that Peter may have changed brands. Only an "I don't know."
answer confirms that the student fully understands the expression.
Questions should, of course, be designed to get the student to use
as wide a range of tenses as he is capable of in the context of the
passage being studied and the new vocabulary should figure prominently.
- In step five, a summary of the section,
some poor students attempted summaries rapidly degenerate into question
- answer and this, of course is not the aim of the exercise. If a
student has to be prompted a lot in his efforts, or a lot of correction
is involved then he should repeat the whole thing until a reasonably
satisfactory result has been achieved.
- In step six, if the teacher simply
asks "Ask me some questions about the text.", the chances
are that the resulting questions will be low grade ones using the
structures the student is already very familiar with, and largely
neglecting the most relevant new points in the passage being studied.
In fact the simplest way to get students questions is probably the
indirect question (see chapter - pge -). "Ask me whether John
had been asked to finish the job that day or the next day." This
kind of instruction is clear and gets quick results. Do not underestimate
the difficulty of reconstructing the information into a direct question
form - most students have considerable difficulty in providing exactly
the question required. It goes without saying that the teacher would
not accept from his student something like, "Did they ask John
to finish the job that day or the next day?" or "Did he
have to finish the job that day or the next day?" Opportunities
to get a past perfect passive in a question are only too rare and
if you, the teacher, have come up with a good example you will want
your student to benefit from it and use it and certainly not to get
away with some simple substitute.
Rôle plays are often neglected when the
basis of a course consists of a series of texts. In most texts there
is an opportunity for a Rôle Play if you look for it - even if the text
is of an abstract nature and contains no dialogue as such indirect reference
to dialogues may be made or these can be imagined (concealed Role Plays).
In many programmes, especially business oriented ones, illustrative
material such as forms, graphs, memos, studies, can be used as raw material
for Role Plays. It is enough to imagine the same information being transmitted
by telephone, in an interview or as part of a presentation. Role Plays
are always best when adapted to the student and the situation, the situation
being virtually anything which has cropped up in the lesson to which
the student has had a positive reaction.
For more on Role Plays see Role Play Activities