Teaching receptive skills (reading and listening) Reading is a process by which a reader
Reading is a process by which a reader gives meaning to text. The reader relies on a series of skills which they, depending on the age of the English language learner, may already possess in their native tongue. An older child or adult reader will read text knowing its purpose and meaning i.e. to give or request information, persuade, criticise, to give pleasure to or entertain. Further, they can make logical predictions as they read because of pre-existing experience or knowledge. All these skills are used by fluent readers, and as such, will be second nature to an older child or adult. A young English language learner may not have these skills or are developing them at the same time as learning a new language. This will necessitate the adoption of differing texts for reading.
Texts should be relevant, useful, interesting or practical for learners. This requires the teacher to have developed a rapport with learners and be aware of learners' social and cultural background, interests and life experiences as a prerequisite for appropriate selection. Authentic material must fulfil these criteria to be of any educational worth to the learner who is developing reading skills.
It is then possible to use the selected texts to develop activities addressing skills development in vocabulary, grammar, comprehension, spelling, punctuation and pronunciation. An excellent source for a range of activities can be found online at http://a4esl.org. This site includes pod casts that are useful for learners' listening skills. For the younger learner the teacher may have to rely on a narrower range of texts. Fables and stories, will not only entertain the younger learners but, will have the added benefit that they will learn the structure of story telling that can be used to engage in producing written creative language. The older or adult learner can develop their reading skills on any type of text created or authentic: exposure to a diversity of text genres is necessary to keep these learners interested as well as expediting the development of reading fluency.
What are some of the practical strategies that can be used to teach learners reading and listening' Reading together, which really involves the teacher reading a few syllables in front of the student, is one strategy. Learners are listening and following the words as they are being pronounced. Before this activity the teacher should explain the purpose of the text. Explain any new or difficult words to students to develop their vocabulary. When reading together the teacher should stop frequently to question learners as to the meaning of the text. Paraphrasing difficult paragraphs or sections of text should be a technique a teacher employs frequently. After reading the text the teacher should ask learners to explain in their own words what the text was about. This strategy involves close listening and concentration. A similar strategy is for the learners to have a copy of the text with words omitted. Whilst the teacher is reading the student fills in the missing words.
Oral modelling is a useful strategy. The teacher reads aloud whilst learners listen and silently follow the text. Discussion of the text should follow. Learners then read either together as a class or form pairs and each partner reads aloud to the other. Another strategy is echo reading: the teacher reads and the leaner repeats the sentence paying careful attention to stress and intonation. If the learners have access to a video or cassette tape recorder the teacher can tape readings so that the student can practice at home reading along with the teacher.
A motivating and student centred activity for reading is to use the learners' own experiences to compile a class booklet. Each learner could write a story about some aspect of their life. If the learner is not able to write the teacher can write it out leaving a couple of lines under each sentence so the learner can practise their writing skills. The teacher can read the story to the learner and amend or add further information as required. Every learner's story is to be kept confidential until final publication. The booklet should be typed by the teacher or learner with photos or pictures to illustrate their stories. To be able to read their own stories in English would be a different and, hopefully, rewarding experience. The teacher should include their own stories so that more challenging language can be included.
Although reading is classified as a receptive skill it requires an English language learner's active participation in listening, decoding, predicting, recounting, paraphrasing and analysing for meaning. It is crucial because it is only by becoming a fluent reader that the English language learner can develop their creative writing skills.