martes, 9 de mayo de 2017

The four elements of reading comprehension

It happened in my English class at Héroes de Malvinas high school, a couple of weeks ago. I had to introduce them to reading comprehension strategies and I decided to try something new. I went to school with four objects in a bag and started taking them out, one by one.  

Disney - Club Penguin
First, I took out a pair binoculars

I emphasized the fact that binoculars can help them see something from a distance. And that’s exactly how they should “see” the text before they start reading. Seeing the text from a distance means that they have to look at it before they read words. They should look at the heading and layout. They need to see the whole and try to identify the type of text it is. They can have a look at pictures and graphs that may come with it. Is it an article from a newspaper? Does it look like a definition from the dictionary? Is it a letter? A poem? A recipe? We must help students learn to read different kinds of texts and as authentic as possible. Knowing the kind of text they’re going to read helps a lot.

Disney - Club Penguin
Second, I took a camera out of the bag. 

I emphasized the fact that cameras are great to get the whole, and also focus on something in particular. This is what comes next when reading a text. They need to look at the words, but not read yet. They can identify the words they know and check for words that are repeated or similar to their mother tongue. They should try to see if those words relate to a semantic field and, thus, decide what the text is about, the topic. The text we read in class at high school that day was about the walk-out demonstration known as #NiUnaMenos. Students were able to understand many words before reading: gender violence, crime, femicide, legislation, law, statistics and Argentina. They knew they were going to read about femicide in Argentina and the role of legislation. Identifying the semantic field of a text is a must.

Disney - Club Penguin
Third, I took a magnifying glass out of the bag. 

This shows that, after having a look at the text from a distance and in general, they need to focus on the specifics. They need to know what each paragraph is about. This is the moment when they can focus on proper names, numbers, quotes, punctuation, italics, bold type, acronyms and other details that may help them understand without a dictionary. This is when they go deeper into the text. That day, we went over each paragraph together and they managed to say what the main idea was. And they did so quite fast and without using the dictionary, except for only one word. I have the feeling that, most of the time, most of us jump to this moment too soon. We start reading or ask students to read texts before being aware of the type of text they are reading and what the text is about.

Disney - Club Penguin
Finally, I took a mirror out of the bag. 

This time I encouraged them to relate the text to themselves, to what they know about the subject, to what it means to them. It is necessary to teach our students to relate texts to prior knowledge, to associate, to compare and to go beyond what is written. What they know about a topic will help them understand vocabulary they don’t know, this is how they can infer much of the meaning of the text.

When we design reading comprehension activities for our students, we need to focus on these four moments of reading. We need to ask them to identify the type of text they are going to read, the topic of the text, the main ideas, the specific ideas, the language and grammar, and we also need to ask them to relate what they read to what they know. We may not be able to do everything with every text, but we must make sure they understand that reading is much more than just decoding and looking up in a dictionary.

Most ELT books deal with these moments: prediction, activation of prior knowledge or schemata, top-down and bottom-up processing, skimming and scanning, pre-reading and post-reading. I thought the metaphor would be more suitable for my students, to help them be aware of the process and become strategic readers.

What about you? How do you deal with reading comprehension in the classroom? 

7 comentarios:

  1. This is really nice! I'd love to come with things like these some day. I think that pre-reading activities are essential if we expect our students to get interested in the text as well as to understand what it is about. The one that I like the most is the 'mirror' element, because they are able to relate concepts and adapt the information to their environment, and that makes it meaningful.

  2. I liked the way you presented! I think each step is important but as always people want to get to the "most important" thing and they don´t realise that reading has also a process that must be follow in order to get better results, in this case, a better reading comprehension.

  3. I liked it very much. It's an interesting and engaging way of motivating students to pay attention when you are talking. Reagarding the reading process, it is very important to activate students' prior knowledge in order to they enjoy reading and get the real meaning and not just the required information.

  4. Thank you Camila, Luciana and Cintia for your comments :)
    I'd love to learn about your way of introducing reading strategies!

  5. Awesome, I liked the way you did it. I consider that we have many ideas in our minds but we must learn how capitalize them. And that 's what you did. Thanks for sharing. It is a good example for us.

  6. Thanks for sharing! It is really helpful not only for us at the moment of reading any text, but also at the moment of choosing an interesting text especially if we want to focus on catching the students’ attention. Besides, I consider that each step you presented must be applied for a successful reading!

  7. I found it very graphic to understand each step and to remember them. Something else that I use when dealing with reading comprehension activities is an aim for the first silent reading, in order for the student to find specific information, and then discuss a bit about that to check comprehension.
    Generally, in the after-reading stage, I like to do some follow-up questions related to the student's reality, fostering the use of the vocabulary or grammatical structure being studied. Therefore, they can make connections and associations to grasp what is being read.

    I will have these ideas in mind next time, I found them very useful! Thanks!! :)