There are two kinds of reading and there are
two ways of teaching from texts. We can call these Intensive and
In Extensive reading the
reader is satisfied to get a general picture of the subject of
the text, or simply to extract those details which he requires.
In Intensive reading the reader is aiming for a thorough
comprehension of the text. Each one has its place and should be
Extensive reading, for a language learner, is
largely a matter of guesswork; learning to work out the probable
meaning of a text from the context.. It should be practiced at
home and form part of the background to a course. Teacher's
interventions should be limited to whatever explanations the
student requires (preferably in the target language) and
encouragement to continue. Extensive reading increases passive
vocabulary - that is words which are known but not actually used
in speech. Obviously native speakers have a passive vocabulary
many times greater than their active vocabulary (the words which
they actually use in conversation) and it would seem normal that
any learner of a language should also have a much wider passive
than active vocabulary at any given stage of his acquisition of
Students certainly will not be getting much
practice at intensive reading which requires a teacher and this
should form a major part of classroom activity at medium to
Intensive reading of a text
requires a full comprehension of the vocabulary, grammar and
In the classroom intensive reading is by far
the most valuable. It is also the most satisfying to all
concerned as it's practice conforms to a well defined teaching
cycle in which the tasks the student is faced with are varied
frequently, which maintains interest. It's practice is easy if
the following steps are observed:
After a "lead in" to the subject of
the text in which the subject is approached in general terms
(this will depend on the student and the best way to relate the
subject to him.)
- Split the text up into sections of
a few lines each - paragraphs if possible.
- Introduce and drill the new
vocabulary and grammar in the first section.
- Read this section with the
student(s) (see reading technique hereafter).
- Ask comprehension and deduction
questions about the section.
- Get the student to give you a
summary of the section.
- Get the student to ask you
questions about the text.
Move on to the next section, do it in the same
way, continue like that to the end of the text. At the end of the
text try to work in a rôle play of one kind or another.
- The first step is simple enough. The
length of the section should take into account the number
of new factors to be introduced rather than the number of
lines in the section. In a rich text it may be less than
a paragraph, in a section of dialogue it might run to
several short paragraphs. For a weak student the section
would be shorter than for a strong student.
- The second step, introduction and drill of
vocabulary and grammar will probably take up at least
half of the time spent on text work and is certainly the
part of the lesson which will vary most according to both
the teacher's and the student's personalities and
interests. It is also the most difficult part of the
lesson and the part generally most neglected. A later
section will be devoted to idea asociation, themes,
homonyms and the kinds of practice appropriate to this
part of a lesson.
- Step three might seem obvious: the student
reads the text. However it is worth spending a little
time and trouble over this and even with advanced
students it can be highly profitable to do it in three
a) Firstly the teacher reads the section to the student.
b) Then he re-reads it phrase by phrase and the student
c) Finally the student opens his book, reads the section
himself and then closes his book again.
Note the bit about opening and closing the book - it
means that in the first and second stages the student has
to rely entirely on oral comprehension and also that, in
subsequent steps, he will have to rely on his memory of
the text and not be able to consult it for the answers.
Repeating phrases after the teacher is a simple exercise
but easily upgraded to any students capacity by
increasing the length of the phrases given to repeat. It
can bring out certain auditive comprehension problems
that would certainly not appear if the student merely
read the text through. "They meet for lunch." I
said to one student "They eat meat for lunch."
he repeated. He was quite advanced and would probably not
have believed he could make such a simple mistake had it
not actually occured.
- Step four, comprehension and deduction
questions: If the teacher has done as suggested in the
previous step the student has been through the text three
times and should be able to remember the essentials. If
he has just read it through he will certainly require a
further silent reading to memorise it. I mention
deduction questions as a reminder that some phrases give
more information than a student may realise. For example
if a passage were to include the phrase "Peter used
to smoke Camels.", a simple comprehension question
might be, "Who used to smoke Camels?" but a
deduction question would be, "Does Peter
smoke?". If the student says "Yes, he
does." he probably knows that "used to"
indicates a habit but has not realised that the habit
must be finished. If he replies "No, he
doesn't." it would be interesting to ask him why he
doesn't think Peter smokes. Probably he hasn't realised
that Peter may have changed brands. Only an "I don't
know." answer confirms that the student fully
understands the expression.
Questions should, of course, be designed to get the
student to use as wide a range of tenses as he is capable
of in the context of the passage being studied and the
new vocabulary should figure prominently.
- In step five, a summary of the section,
some poor students attempted summaries rapidly degenerate
into question - answer and this, of course is not the aim
of the exercise. If a student has to be prompted a lot in
his efforts, or a lot of correction is involved then he
should repeat the whole thing until a reasonably
satisfactory result has been achieved.
- In step six, if the teacher simply asks
"Ask me some questions about the text.", the
chances are that the resulting questions will be low
grade ones using the structures the student is already
very familiar with, and largely neglecting the most
relevant new points in the passage being studied. In fact
the simplest way to get students questions is probably
the indirect question (see chapter - pge -). "Ask me
whether John had been asked to finish the job that day or
the next day." This kind of instruction is clear and
gets quick results. Do not underestimate the difficulty
of reconstructing the information into a direct question
form - most students have considerable difficulty in
providing exactly the question required. It goes without
saying that the teacher would not accept from his student
something like, "Did they ask John to finish the job
that day or the next day?" or "Did he have to
finish the job that day or the next day?"
Opportunities to get a past perfect passive in a question
are only too rare and if you, the teacher, have come up
with a good example you will want your student to benefit
from it and use it and certainly not to get away with
some simple substitute.
Rôle plays are often neglected when the basis
of a course consists of a series of texts. In most texts there is
an opportunity for a Rôle Play if you look for it - even if the
text is of an abstract nature and contains no dialogue as such
indirect reference to dialogues may be made or these can be
imagined (concealed Role Plays). In many programmes, especially
business oriented ones, illustrative material such as forms,
graphs, memos, studies, can be used as raw material for Role
Plays. It is enough to imagine the same information being
transmitted by telephone, in an interview or as part of a
presentation. Role Plays are always best when adapted to the
student and the situation, the situation being virtually anything
which has cropped up in the lesson to which the student has had a
For more on Role Plays see Role Play
© Mark Yates 2000