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Reading Comprehension‏‎

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How sweet is this!?!

Reading Comprehension is one of the basic lessons often given by TEFL teachers. It simply consists of presenting a class with a text, have them read and analyse it, then check for understanding. There may be a few follow up activities based on the subject.

This article looks at simple, solid methods of presenting this type of lesson.

Presentation

The text you present to the class is the foundation of this lesson. You need to choose a text which is the right level and subject matter for the class. For more on this, see the article, Reading.

You can present the text to the class in several different ways. Ideally you should vary the presentation method so the class do not become bored or complacent. Here are a few presentation ideas:

  • Quick Fire. Hand out the text to the class face down then give them 30 seconds to read as much as they can, as fast as they can, before they cover the text. Follow this up with a general Q&A with the class about the text. Who can remember something? Keywords? Ideas? Names? Work with the class in building up a general idea of what the text is about.
  • Pre-Questions. Before letting the class see the text, ask a few questions to them relating to the text to see if they can come up with some ideas. For example, suppose the text is a biography of Barack Obama; ask them what they know about him, ask them if anyone can tell you his policies, etc.
  • Title Only. Write up the title of the text on the board and have the class brainstorm some ideas about what the text is likely to be about.
  • Keywords. Write up some key words from the text (including likely unknown words) and go through them with the class. A picture of what the text is about might emerge.

The idea here is that before the class get to grips with the details of the text they will have a good idea of what to expect. In other words, they will have some solid knowledge about the text so that they won’t suddenly be presented by a mass of new information which is difficult to comprehend. Instead they will recognise various words and ideas in the text as they read it and thus be able to understand it more effectively.

Deeper Reading

Once the class has a good general idea about the text you can then move on to more detailed study. This can happen in various ways. What should always be remembered, however, is WHY the class is reading a text. Are they reading for specific information or for enjoyment, for example?

When it comes to deeper reading you’ll need to give the class some specific questions to answer. You could therefore give them a list of questions and have them work in pairs or small groups to come up with the answers. For example, if the text was a biography of William Shakespeare:

  1. Where was Shakespeare born?
  2. What was his first play?
  3. Where were most of his plays first performed?

And so on. The students will then have to go through the text in more detail to find the answers to these questions. The questions can be varied of course:

  1. True/False answer, e.g. Shakespeare never married, true or false?
  2. Single word/phrase answer, e.g. In what year was Hamlet written?
  3. Short answer, e.g. Why did Shakespeare travel to London?
  4. Long answer, e.g. How did Shakespeare’s work reflect the political environment of the times?

Of course just giving the students a list of questions is a simple idea. There are more inventive ways you can use to have them read deeper:

  • Jigsaw reading. The text is split into several parts and a student only reads one of them; they must then come together with other students to work out the whole text.
  • Have the students work in small groups to prepare reading comprehension questions for other groups.
  • Cloze testing; present the text with various words missing which the students have to complete. This can be combined with jigsaw reading above.

Comprehension

Once the class is familiar with the text you need to check their understanding further. Obviously the questions above will go a long way towards this, but there are more extended activities which can be used.

  • Concept Checking. When checking comprehension, always remember to use the idea of concept checking. This means (basically) not just asking the class yes/no questions, but getting them to prove to you that they understand what they have read.
  • Vocabulary comprehension. Any new words found in the text can be explored by the students. Understanding can be checked with multiple-choice type questions, for example.
  • Freer work: get the students to use the text as a jumping off point for their own work. If they read about Shakespeare, for example, you could have them write a short piece about a popular writer from their own culture. In this way they use the text as a kind of template from which they can derive a new piece of writing.
  • Debates. If the topic lends itself to the idea of a debate, have the class prepare a debate on the subject.

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