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Seven Steps to Teach Intensive Reading to Primary Students

There are two kinds of reading. We can call them Intensive and Extensive.

In Extensive reading, the reader is satisfied to get a general picture of the topic of the text, or simply to extract those details which he/she requires.

In Intensive reading, the reader is aiming for a thorough comprehension of the text.

Each kind of reading has its place and should be developed.

Extensive Reading

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 practised at home and form part of the background to a course.

Extensive reading increases passive vocabulary – that is words that 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.

Intensive Reading

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

Teaching intensive reading is easy if the following steps are done:

1. Introduce the topic

It is the “lead-in” stage where you present the topic to students and activate their background knowledge related to it.

2. Split the text into sections

Divide the text into sections of a few lines each or paragraphs if possible. The length of the section should take into account the number of new words to be introduced rather than the number of lines in the section. For average students, each section should be a short paragraph.

3. Introduce and drill the target language

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 the students’ levels of learning. It is also the most difficult part of the lesson and the part generally most neglected.

4. Read the section with the students

It can be highly profitable if done in the following three stages:

  • Firstly, the teacher reads the section to the students.
  • Then he re-reads it phrase by phrase and the students repeat.
  • Finally, the students open their books, read the section themselves and then close their books again.

5. Ask comprehension and deduction questions

If the teacher has done as suggested in the previous steps, the students have been through the text three times and should be able to remember the essentials. If they have just read it through, they will certainly require a further silent reading to memorize it.

I mention deduction questions as a reminder that some phrases give more information than a student may realize. For example, if a passage were to include the phrase “Peter used to smoke.”, a simple comprehension question might be, “Who used to smoke?” 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 realized 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. Only an “I don’t know.” answer confirms that the student fully understands the expression.

Questions should, of course, be designed to get the students to use a wide range of tenses as they are capable of in the context of the passage being studied and the new vocabulary should figure prominently.

6. Get the students to give you a summary of the section.

Some poor students attempted summaries rapidly based on 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.

7. Get the students to ask you questions about the text.

In this step 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 students are 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: “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 students 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?”

However, opportunities to get a past perfect passive in a question are only too rare and if you have come up with a good example you will want your students to benefit from it and use it and certainly not to get away with some simple substitute.

Move on to the next section, do it in the same way, continue like that to the end of the text.

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