Helping Upper intermediate level learners to read for detailed understanding Part 1

Helping Upper intermediate level learners to read for detailed understanding


Why reading?

We live in a “print-dominated world” (Read 2007:48) where reading is a fundamental skill. Reading deserves an important place in the EFL classroom because it meets learners’ communicative needs; to construct meaning and understand text.

Text is often used by teachers as merely a vehicle for presenting grammar or exposing students to new vocabulary. Although I think that can be a valid approach, it ultimately short changes learners by not giving them opportunities to develop reading strategies and transform those strategies into skills. (Anderson 2003:77)

Why reading for detailed understanding?

If we approach reading as communication resulting in comprehension and as a relationship between the reader, the text, and the writer, (Anderson 2003:68) we have to be aware of the numerous skills learners need in order to reach a detailed understanding of text. In my experience with upper intermediate level learners in Spain, these skills need to be developed to help learners reach “a state of zero uncertainty” (Smith 1987:86).

Classroom experience

I have observed upper intermediate level learners in Spain change their minds about reading in class and enjoy it once they start developing their reading skills and truly comprehend texts. When learners reach “a state of not having any unanswered questions” (ibid) after reading, they become more confident readers and are motivated to tackle longer and more difficult texts.


What is reading comprehension?

Grabe offers a more detailed definition of reading comprehension and says that is “meaningful…rapid, purposeful, interactive, comprehending, flexible, and gradually developing.”(1991:378) Reading is meaningful because it communicates a message; it is purposeful because we always have a goal when we read; it is interactive because we understand text through the prism of our own knowledge of the world. We adapt how we read according to what we read and why. We develop ideas based on what we read and react to text. Smith says that “comprehension is relative.” (1987:86) In the end, only the reader knows if he has understood or not based on his purpose for reading. Meaning lies in the reader.

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