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Reading - Identifying Skill Requirement

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Reading Types

Teaching reading can be an arduous task as it is often difficult to know how to improve student skills. One of the most obvious, but I have found often unnoticed, points about reading is that there are different types of reading skills.

  • Skimming - reading rapidly for the main points
  • Scanning - reading rapidly to find a specific piece of information
  • Extensive - reading a longer text, often for pleasure with emphasis on overall meaning
  • Intensive reading - reading a short text for detailed information

These different types of skills are used quite naturally when reading in a mother tongue. Unfortunately, when learning a second or foreign language, people tend to employ only "intensive" style reading skills. I have often noticed that students insist on understanding every word and find it difficult to take my advice of reading for the general idea, or only looking for required information. Students studying a foreign language often feel that if they don't understand each and every word they are somehow not completing the exercise.

In order to make students aware of these different types of reading styles, I find it useful to provide an awareness raising lesson to help them identify reading skills they already apply when reading in their native tongues. Thus, when approaching an English text, students first identify what type of reading skill needs to be applied to the specific text at hand. In this way valuable skills, which students already possess, are easily transferred to their English reading.

Aim: Awareness raising about different reading styles

Activity: Discussion and identification of reading styles with follow-up identification activity

Level: Intermediate - upper intermediate

Outline:

  • Ask students about what types of reading they do in their own mother tongue(s).
  • Write different categories of written material on board. i.e. magazines, novels, train schedules, newspapers, advertising, etc.
  • Have students describe how they go about reading each kind of material. You may want to prompt them by asking the following questions:
    • Do you read every word in the tv schedule?
    • Do you understand every word you read when reading a novel?
    • What kind of clues can the presentation of the material give?
    • How much time do you spend reading the newspaper? Do you read every single word?
    • What kind of assumptions do you make when you read the first few lines, or a headline? (i.e. Once upon a time....)
    • How much time do you spend reading the various types of materials?
  • Based on students' answers to such questions, ask them to identify the type of skills they are using in the various reading situations.
  • Divide students into small groups and give them the skills summary and short worksheet.
  • Have students discuss their opinions about the various skills required for the listed materials.
  • Present various "real world" materials (i.e. magazines, books, scientific materials, computer manuals etc.) and ask students to identify the necessary skills required.
Reading Styles

Skimming - Reading rapidly for the main points

Scanning - Reading rapidly through a text to find specific information required

Extensive - Reading longer texts, often for pleasure and for an overall understanding

Intensive - Reading shorter texts for detailed information with an emphasis on precise understanding Identify the reading skills required in the following reading situations:

Note: There is often not a single correct answer, several choices may be possible according to your reading purpose. If you find that there are different possibilities, state the situation in which you would use the various skills.

  • The TV guide for Friday evening
  • An English grammar book
  • An article in National Geographic magazine about the Roman Empire
  • A good friend's homepage on the Internet
  • The opinion page in your local newspaper
  • The weather report in your local newspaper
  • A novel
  • A poem
  • A bus timetable
  • A fax at the office
  • An advertising email - so called "spam"
  • An email or letter from your best friend
  • A recipe
  • A short story by your favourite author

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