These activities can be used with any text from magazines, newspapers or short stories.
- The Art of Giving
Aim: Practice skimming for global understanding. Practice scanning to find specific information. Increase reading speed.
Procedure: Learners look at the title of the article and the photo. They discuss the question in the subheading in relation to Catalonia. Learners scan the text to find four countries mentioned then skim the text to divide it into sections according to country. Students then skim the text to answer these questions: Which countries seem to have the strictest rules about gifts? In which country are gifts least important?
Commentary: This activity starts with activating learners’ prior knowledge by responding to the title. The skill of scanning is practiced by getting learners to move their eyes quickly over the text. This encourages them to avoid reading every word and only look for information they want to find. The activity raises awareness of the skill of scanning and skimming and aids in the transfer of these skills from Spanish or Catalan to English.
- A Lamp in a Window (Music for Chameleons, Truman Capote)
Aim: Practice prediction strategies.
Procedure: Learners discuss what makes a good short story and tell their partners if they have any favorites. Board the title of the story and get learners to predict what it is about. Read the story out loud paragraph by paragraph. Ask comprehension questions and allow learners to read the paragraph again and discuss. Stop at different points and ask learners to predict what will happen next in pairs. Learners read and compare their predictions.
Commentary: This activity works best with stories that are short and suspenseful and have relatively easy lexis. By reading the story aloud, learners are encouraged to increase their reading speed. The interspersed questions keep learners focused on comprehension and aid prediction of possible outcomes thus decreasing uncertainty or ambiguity. (Smith 1987:85) Learners find reading a short story for detailed understanding very motivating and are left with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This particular story lends itself to follow up questions that get learners to imagine what they would have done if they were in the narrators situation.
- A Framework for Guessing Meaning
Aim: Practice the strategy of guessing the meaning of new words from context and syntax.
Procedure: Establish a process of working out the meaning of new words in text based on context and syntax. Have learners participate in creating steps they follow when they encounter a new word:
· Is it important to understand the word? If not, continue reading.
· Can you guess the meaning from the context?
· Is the word defined in another part of the text?
· What part of speech is the word?
· Can you continue reading without looking up the word in a dictionary?
Commentary: This framework allows learners to “monitor their comprehension processes” (Anderson 2003:75) and share ideas around the classroom. It gets them to use both bottom-up and top-down processes to try and work out the meanings of new words first from context and then by looking at syntactic clues when they feel it is necessary. In my experience, learners that use this framework become less dependent on using dictionaries and feel more confident about inferring the meaning of new words. The goal of the framework is to help learners use strategies so that the strategies become skills. (Anderson 2003:77)
- Carry on Learning (Expert)
Aim: Practice bottom-up processing to reach a detailed understanding.
Procedure: Have learners examine bottom-up features of a text. Set questions related to grammatical and lexical items. Questions that explore cohesive devices like linkers and sequencers can also be set. For the text above, set questions like “What does ‘one’ in line 46 refer to?” or “What does the word ‘clinched’ in line 30 mean?”
Commentary: The questions outlined above require learners to use bottom-up processing to reach a detailed understanding of text and can be used as a post-task to get learners to extract more meaning from text and extend their comprehension. I have found that my upper intermediate learners expect this type of closer scrutiny of text and that by examining bottom-up features such as cohesion, learners’ awareness is raised. This awareness is helpful to students when they encounter these textual features in future.
- Danger! Sense of humor failure
Aim: Practice inferring meaning.
Procedure: Students say if they think there is a difference between British and American humor and then read a text about the topic. Learners answer inference questions that are interspersed throughout the text in pairs. Questions set might be: “What’s the difference between British and American humor?” or “Why did he feel like hugging the cab driver?”
Commentary: The questions learners answer about the text get them to “read between the lines” and think about what is implied by the writer but not obviously stated. (Nuttal 1996:188) My upper intermediate learners find these questions challenging because they are required to sometimes look at the whole text to construct meaning or look behind the words to understand what the writer is communicating. (Harmer 1998:283) Comprehending humor often requires us to infer meaning so Bryson’s article is perfectly suited to the skill.
As teachers we can motivate students to read in English by helping them transform strategies into skills and ultimately become better readers. Having students practice skimming, scanning, predicting and inferring in order to reach a detailed understanding of text addresses their need to communicate and understand.