There are two kinds of reading and there are two ways of teaching from texts. We can call these Intensive and Extensive.

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 developed.

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 the language.

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 advanced levels.

Intensive reading of a text requires a full comprehension of the vocabulary, grammar and expressions involved.

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.)

  1. Split the text up into sections of a few lines each - paragraphs if possible.
  2. Introduce and drill the new vocabulary and grammar in the first section.
  3. Read this section with the student(s) (see reading technique hereafter).
  4. Ask comprehension and deduction questions about the section.
  5. Get the student to give you a summary of the section.
  6. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 stages:
    a) Firstly the teacher reads the section to the student.
    b) Then he re-reads it phrase by phrase and the student repeats.
    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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 positive reaction.

For more on Role Plays see Role Play Activities

© Mark Yates 2000