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Teaching reading as a second language


Classroom activities: skills needed for reading different texts-types


A. Prediction:

  1. What is coming next?
  2. Anticipation questions (Give title: "Women in Africa". Ask students to anticipate the questions they think the article may answer.
  3. Pre-questions focussing on global function / most important aspect
  4. Surveying a book using index, chapter, paragraph headings (read topic sentences)
  5. Completing sentences: It was a lovely day so/but

B. Skimming (Rapid reading for overall gist and to extract specific information)

C. Scanning (a passage for specific information) - timed activities with specific questions.

D. Cohesion The way in which the forms of the language are used to tie ideas together, to build up stretches of text. Cataphora, Anaphora, Logical Connectors, Substitute words (different ways of saying the same thing), Related words

Related words (Lexical sets = collocation), questions about reference words, jumbled sentences, invent paragraph jigsaws (leave out one paragraph), Cloze tests are a good way of testing cohesion links within a text.

E. Coherence The way in which arguments are linked and developed in terms of the ideas they convey. See "From Paragraph To Essay". Organisation is * Chronological * Problem/hypothesis *Experiment/conclusion

F. Inference & interpretation: students apply their knowledge of real world to what is stated as well as what is implied (but not stated).


Questions for consideration


Rules to bear in mind when planning the teaching programme

The challenge is to produce an interesting lesson respecting the maturity level of the student. Note: failure of many reading schemes to interest adults.

Among the better reading schemes are Oxford Bookworms, Cambridge English Readers, Penguin Readers, Macmillan Readers. These respect the maturity of adults who, while being proficient in their native language, may be just beginning to learn English. Links to well judged titles at different levels:


Graded Readers - levels [A1 to C1 Common European Framework]

A1:-----[300-600 headwords]----------beginner-------------------------places-----people-----stories-----plays-----topics

A2:-----[600-1000 headwords]---------elementary----------------------places-----people-----stories-----plays-----topics

B1:-----[1000-1400 headwords]----lower intermediate----------geographical----human interest-----crime-----adventure-----horror-----topics

B1:-----[1400-1800 headwords]-------intermediate--------------geographical----human interest-----crime-----adventure-----horror-----topics

B2:-----[1800-2500 headwords]-------upper intermediate-------geographical----human interest-----crime-----adventure-----horror-----topics

B2-C1: [2500-unadapted headwords]-upper int - advanced ----geographical----human interest-----crime-----adventure-----horror-----topics


Articles on the design concepts of graded readers


  1. Adapted Readers: How are they Adapted by Aud Marit Simensen, University of Trondheim, Norway [Reading in a Foreign Language, 4(1). 1987

  2. Graded readers: How the publishers make the grade by Gillian Claridge, International Pacific College New Zealand [Reading in a Foreign Language, April 2012, Volume 24, No. 1 pp.106-119]

Does the publisher's headword count relate accurately to the benchmarks for levels provided by the Common European Framework?

The suggestion here is that publishers' correlations between headwords and CEF levels reflect the huge demand for readers at intermediate levels - a demand which the publishers wish to meet.

A true "upper intermediate" level would need to correlate with 4,000 or 5,000 headwords if "advanced" is really to mean "advanced", which would anyway be well below the level of proficiency of educated persons reading in their native language.

However, in their Cambridge English Reader Series, Cambridge University Press equates their "upper intermediate level" (FCE Exam level) to between 2800 and 3800 headwords. Oxford University Press, which offers the Oxford Bookworms series, starts its upper intermediate band at 1800 headwords. Its top level ranging from higher up the upper intermediate spectrum to advanced starts at 2500 headwords.

Cambridge English Readers series equate their "upper intermediate

Books on the teaching of reading as a second language


Prediction, skimming and scanning

Developing Reading Skills by Francoise Grellet (Cambridge University Press 1981)
Teaching Reading Skills (in a foreign language) by Christine Nuttall (Macmillan ELT - 2006)
Practical Faster Reading: an Intermediate / Advanced Course in Reading and Vocabulary by Gerald and Vivienne Mosback (Cambridge University Press 1976)
Reading in The Language Class by Eddie Williams (Macmillan Educational 1986)
Reading and Thinking in English - Discovering Discourse TB - by Tom McArthur (Oxford University Press 1979)

Cohesion and coherence

Developing Reading Skills by Francoise Grellet (Cambridge University Press 1981)
Cohesion in English by M.A.K. Halliday and Hassan Ruqaiya (Longman 1976)
From Paragraph To Essay - Developing Composition Writing by Maurice Imhoof and Herman Hudson (Longman 1975)

Inference and interpretation

Reading in a Foreign Language edited by J. Charles Alderson & A. H. Urquhart (Longman 1984)
See especially chapter 3 (Cultural Knowledge and Reading - by Maragaret S. Steffersen and Chitra Joag-Dev) and chapter 12 (Case studies of ninth grade readers - by Carol Hosenfeld)


Questions for consideration


For script-related issues, see this website's section on Basic Literacy

For the laws of experience and frequency read the chapters on the behaviourist and cognitive approaches to language learning in
Julian Dakin's The Language Laboratory and Language Learning (Longman 1973). Alternatively, read about the same approaches in
Henry Stern's Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching: Historical and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Applied Linguistic Research (Oxford University Press 1983) or consult the relevant chapters in Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (3rd edition) by Jack Richards and Theodore Rodgers (Cambridge University Press 2014)

For the law of recency, consult books on memory and study skills such as
Tony Buzan's Use Your Head.

For the law of relevance, ESL or ESP curriculum planners should be familiar with works on functional syllabus design:
John Munby's Communicative Syllabus Design: A Sociolinguistic Model for Designing the Content of Purpose-Specific Language Programmes (Cambridge University Press 1981) and T.C. Jupp's and Sue Hodlin's Industrial English - an Example of Theory and Practice in Functional Language Teaching for Elementary Learners (ELT/ESP) (Macmillan Heinemann ELT; 2nd edition: Dec 1978)

Two more landmark publications in functional syllabus design were the Waystage 1990: Council of Europe Conseil de l'Europe: Council of Europe Conseil De L'Europe and Threshold 1990 syllabus specification, by J.A. Van Ek and J.L.M. Trim (originally published by Pergamon Press in 1979/1980; revised and corrected edition Cambridge University Press 1998).


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