This introduction to reading skills is best discussed and worked through with two or three colleagues. It aims to generate discussion on the key issues in reading we need to consider as well as giving readers the opportunity to pick one another's activity closets for those real gems we all have tucked away.

Reading is an active skill which involves inferencing, guessing, predicting etc. It also has, more often than not, a communicative function. We rarely answer questions after reading a text except in a language class, but we do write answers to letters, follow directions, choose restaurants and holidays, solve problems and compare the information to our previous knowledge or the knowledge of others.
Do you think your students are effective readers? Why?
Or are they ineffective readers? Why?

A familiarity with effective and ineffective reading strategies can help the teacher look for effective reading behaviours in learners, encourage wider use of these strategies, and be on the lookout for learners using less effective strategies. An effective reader is one who can select the correct strategy for the purpose and text. Studies have shown that most effective readers:
discover the distinctive features in letters, words and meaning
try to identify meaning rather than letters or words
use their knowledge of the world
eliminate unlikely alternatives through inference and prediction
have a clearly defined purpose
locate topic sentences
distinguish main points from subordinate ones, and fact from opinion
are aware of cohesion and reference
are aware of explicit and implied relationships between sentences and paragraphs
are aware of the importance of argument, tone and function
are able to work out the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary from context
have confidence in their own ability and take chances
Which of the above do your students do well?
What activities do you use to develop these strategies?

On the other hand, ineffective reading is often caused by:
word-by-word reading
inappropriate translation
inaccurate linguistic analysis
paying attention to unfamiliar words which are not relevant to the purpose of reading
and therefore these students do not take chances.
Which of the above to you see in your classes?
How do you help your students overcome these tendencies?

Match the column on the left with the definition on the right and decide which are most applicable to the above categories.

Skimming reading shorter texts to extract accurate detailed information
Scanning quickly reading a text to get the gist of it
Extensive reading quickly going through a text to find a particular piece of information
Intensive reading reading longer texts, usually for pleasure


Look at the following subskills, consider each at two different levels (e.g. advanced and beginners) and then number the ten most important skills for each level.
* Recognising the script of a language.
* Deducing the meaning of unfamiliar lexical items.
* Understanding explicitly stated information.
* Understanding conceptual meaning.
* Understanding the communicative values of sentences and utterances.
* Understanding relations within the sentence.
* Understanding relations between sentences through grammatical and lexical cohesive devices.
* Interpreting text by going outside it.
* Identifying main points in a discourse.
* Extracting salient points to summarise.
* Basic reference skills (contents, index, abbreviations, ordering).
* Skimming.
* Scanning.
* Transcoding written information to tabular or diagram form and vice versa.

One of the most influential models of reading in recent years has been the Psycholinguistic Model described by Goodman and drawing heavily on top-down processing. It is based on a consideration of schema theory which says that comprehension depends on the activation of schemata. These are pictures or frameworks of a situation which help us to understand the situation. In other words, as soon as we begin to read, we form a schema triggered by the title, format, first sentence etc. and based upon our previous knowledge. This schema will be reinforced, adapted or discarded as we continue to read. This model has profound implications for the process of reading. It is essentially a selective process which involves a minimal sampling of the text. The confirmation of the schema chosen may render much of the language redundant.

This process reflects the old models of reading as a simple process of decoding words into thoughts. However, it accepts that words must first be recognised and, having been decoded, the thoughts must then be remembered. It is an approach which works from the parts to the whole, building up gradually in a process of growth.

This model states that readers begin with expectations and ideas about a text, based on its title, format and style, before they begin to look for words that will substantiate or refute these expectations. It is an approach which begins with a picture of the whole and deals with the parts in terms of this.
Are your students primarily top down or bottom up processors?
Or is there a healthy mixture? Why? Why not?
Should we make students aware of their own reading processes? Why? Why not?
How can an awareness of the theories above help us as teachers?

There are basically three positions in the literature of today.
1. The Processing Problem - argues that L2 learners may be proficient in the language, but they still have problems reading. Therefore, the core of the problem is the failure to transfer reading strategies from the L1 to the L2.
2. The Language Problem - states that L2 reading is very different from L1 reading. It argues that the L2 reader has problems with memory span, mistakes are likely to lead to hesitation, and there is a possibility of L1 interference.
3. The Short Circuit Problem - aims to strike a balance between the first two and states that L2 readers bring a great deal with them to help in the reading process, but it concedes that the language problem is of fundamental importance. In other words, good L1 readers are theoretically able to transfer their reading skills, but when language competence is limited there is a short circuit. There is no conclusive evidence for this theory as yet, but the idea is intuitively appealing. Readers, who do not know enough of the language, cannot transfer skills from their L1 because they need to be more proficient in the L2 to activate the skill.
What problems do you find your classes have?
What activities do you use to overcome these problems?
Share your favourite and most successful reading classes.

* to introduce and stimulate interest in the topic
* to motivate students by providing a reason for reading
* to provide language preparation for the text
* to clarify content and vocabulary of the text
* to help students understand the writer's purpose
* to help students understand the structure of the text
* to consolidate and reflect upon what has been read
* to relate the text to the students' own knowledge/interests/views
* to provide a stimulus for other language activities

Below you will see a number of possible stages for a reading lesson. These stages are in a jumbled order. Please re-arrange the stages according to what you consider to be an appropriate order. (Note that in any particular lesson some of these stages might be omitted and/or other stages added.)
a Students ask the teacher about unfamiliar vocabulary.
b Students work very quickly in order to work out the answers to one or two general questions.
c Students work out the meaning of selected words and expressions from the context.
d Students predict the content of the text from the title/picture/first line.
e The teacher draws attention to some of the grammar in the text.
f Students complete a detailed true/false exercise.
g Students locate topic sentences in some paragraphs.
h Students discuss topics related to the content of the text.
i Students scan the text to pick out proper names.

- Scanning
- Skimming
- Comprehension Questions (e.g. "wh-" questions)
- Jigsaw Reading (jumbled and re-order)
- Information Transfer (e.g. draw diagram/graph/map/plan; complete a table)
- Directions / Instructions (e.g. follow directions, complete a task, arrange something)
- Cloze
- Disappearing Lexis
- C-Test
- Reference Identification (pronouns, anaphoric, cataphoric)
- Inference
- Write Headlines
- Write/Complete Summaries
- Make/Complete Notes (e.g. tree diagrams, mind maps)
- Integrated Skills activities (e.g. oral summary, paraphrase text, re-write in own words)

We should decide if we are going to use narrow-angle texts or wide-angle texts before we look for a specific passage. Narrow-angle texts are those which are drawn from the student's specialist field. They are prepared, authentic and require intensive reading. They tend to be highly motivating, good for vocabulary and integrate naturally with other class work. Wide-angle texts, on the other hand, offer a greater range of choice and flexibility. They are authentic, often require less preparation and can be used effectively with extensive reading exercises. However, we need to know our students well to choose appropriately. Studies have concluded that the teacher can encourage effective reading through the careful selection of texts and setting of tasks. Panic can be minimised through the use of concrete, realistic tasks and groupwork.
How do you select texts for your classes?
Which texts do you find work best?
Which texts do you find fall flat?
Are there any particular sources you find especially useful?

You could use the two lists below to jog your memory.

Tick the categories you feel apply to your students and number them in order of importance. Add any further categories or examples you feel should be included.
* Novels, literary texts (e.g. essays, biographies etc.)
* Plays
* Poems
* Letters (postcards, telegrams, notes)
* Newspapers and magazines (different articles and features)
* Reports, technical and specialised articles, pamphlets etc.
* Handbooks, textbooks, guidebooks
* Recipes
* Adverts, brochures, catalogues
* Puzzles, problems, rules for games
* Instructions, directions (e.g. how to use ..), notices, warnings, rules and regulations, signs, forms, tickets, price lists, menus
* Comic strips, cartoons
* Statistics, diagrams, charts, tables, maps
* Telephone directories, dictionaries, phrase books, food labels

Here is a summary of key questions we need to ask ourselves as teachers.
Why do people read?
What do people read?
Why do we teach reading?
Why do students need to read?
How do we read?
What skills do students need in order to read effectively?
What difficulties do students face when reading?
How do we teach reading?

This technique for teaching reading is based on a top-down processing model and involves the following steps:
K for 'Knowledge of the World'. This means that before reading a passage students should be given the chance to activate their background knowledge of the topic.
S for 'Survey'. Students should look through the passage to find out how long it is, what charts, pictures, headings etc. it contains, and think about what they can learn from it, how useful the information might be and how it relates to them and their class.
Q for 'Question'. Each heading is turned into a question.
R for 'Read'. Students read purposefully to answer the questions. They also underline the main ideas and put a question mark beside any sentence they did not understand.
R for 'Recite'. After reading a paragraph, the student covers it and checks if the main idea can be expressed in their own words. If not, it is marked with a question mark to show rereading is necessary.
R for 'Review'. After finishing the passage, the student looks back at the markings and reviews the main ideas noted. Any sections question marked are reread.
R for 'Reflect'. After reading the whole passage, the student reflects on how useful the information will be, paying attention to the connection between the passage and the student's own knowledge.