Reading: Lesson 2
Reading as a Process
Put yourself in the place of a beginning language student trying to read a foreign language text for the first time. Take a look at the first page of a Norwegian Online newspaper text about the most recent Batman movie and an English-language text from the New Yorker magazine on the same topic.
What meaning can you discern from the foreign language text? As you read through the text, think about the following:
• How might your students respond to such a text? Would they be overwhelmed by the amount of new vocabulary?
• What is an appropriate pedagogical goal for such a reading?
• How could you prepare students to tackle this reading?
The teachers discuss possible objectives and outcomes for this reading task.
Reading experts assert that only about half of what people understand when they read in any language has to do with knowing that language’s vocabulary and its grammar. The other half involves factors such as:
• background knowledge about the topic or the medium (e.g. what kind of a hero Batman is, and what an action movie looks like)
• knowledge of a genre (e.g. what information is in a movie review and what importance is attached to who writes the review and where it’s published)
• strategies for guessing and working with uncertainty (“I don’t know this term, but it has been mentioned twice so it’s probably important and I’ll continue reading to see if I can figure it out.”)
• strategies for identifying cognates and other textual clues (illustrations, subtitles, etc.).
Pre-reading activities cover a range of possibilities, all directed at helping learners engage in a process of discovery and to feel authorized to engage with the form and content of the text. What all successful pre-reading activities have in common is that they are student-centered. The instructor has to identify the potential problems of readability inherent in a chosen reading text, and then has to help students find ways to surmount those difficulties. Rather than just provide answers or summarize the content, the instructor can help learners identify the sources of their reading difficulties.
Two pre-reading activities are very commonly used in tandem:
• Brainstorming: Students pool what they know about the topic of a text and share their knowledge in the native or target language. The goal is to activate the learners’ horizon of expectation, and help learners identify what the text is about. Pre-reading exercises can take different forms, but ideally they are learner-centered rather than teacher-centered. For example, if the text is a film review, and only one student has seen the film, that student can tell the others about the plot or other notable features of the film.
• Skimming: The second pre-reading activity is skimming. In class, allot a short period of time (two minutes or so) for the learners to skim the first paragraph or page of the text, look at illustrations and subtitles, and identify the words in the text that explain the “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when” of the text content—to identify core vocabulary words that will help them work through uncertainties.
Let’s go back to the Norwegian Batman text introduced previously. Skim the first two paragraphs and identify core vocabulary words. Based on the vocabulary words, try to summarize what the text is about.
A pre-reading exercise using the Norwegian text.
What were your reactions to the pre-reading activity? Did you find some parts more difficult than others? Did you struggle with ambiguity or did you enjoy the challenge?
Reactions to the pre-reading exercise.
Overall, pre-reading helps students
• activate their horizon of expectation (background knowledge, syntactic and semantic resources, cognitive strategies),
• take charge of their own learning, and
• become willing to tolerate ambiguity.
• Initial Reading
• After pre-reading, learners need to be led through their initial reading of the text. While pre-reading deals with identifying the global issues that are shared among many readers and texts, reading, whether done in class or assigned, requires learners to move to textual specifics. Where the pre-reading activities stressed the “who,” “what,” “when,” and “where” of the text, initial reading adds details. It should also ask learners to apply the text’s genre to help structure their reading process.
• Before you watch the following video, brainstorm how the idea of “genre” or “text type” can help you understand a text. What changes when the “who,” “what,” “when,” and “where” of the text are identified, for example as belonging to a mystery novel?
• Using genre to frame initial reading.
• Duration: 02:43
• Knowing the genre of a text helps a reader engage with the details. The main characters in each text type will have different functions. Knowing that a text is a mystery or detective story will mean that there will be multiple moments of investigation and discovery. That makes it possible for learners to look for various stages in the investigation as their more specific task—to find the episodes that characterize the genre.
• In the discussion that follows the initial reading, teachers should help learners weigh the textual details they have identified. When they compare their work with that of their classmates, for example, teachers can ask students to discuss and justify their choices. At this stage, learners begin to move toward the “how” and “why” of the text—synthesizing concepts or engaging in problem-solving. For example, where is the mystery or reader interest in a detective story is told by the murderer?
• Initial reading leading to discussion.
• Duration: 02:16
• A guided matrix can be introduced after the in-class brainstorming and skimming activities. It requires readers to select phrases or sentences from the text that help readers reconstruct the logic of the text. In its most rudimentary form, a guided matrix consists of a table with two columns with headings that guide readers in making selections from the text.
• Guided Matrix Headings
• The headings used in a guided matrix reflect a pattern of logic. The following table gives some examples of logical relationships and headings.
Logical Relationships (Headings) Type of Text
Contrasts or Comparisons A text that contrasts two people or the “before” and “after” of an event or problem (differences in their characteristics)
Issues and their Features or Results A text that critiques a movie (what’s right or wrong with it and why)
Problems and their Solutions A text about an historical era (political, economic, social issues and how they were addressed)
Events and their Impact A news story about a current event (what happened/who was affected and how)
• The structure of a guided matrix requires precise cognitive and linguistic work; learners have to note the way the text expresses information according to the categories established by the matrix. Such precision helps establish a correlation between the learners’ horizon of expectation and semantic and syntactic elements of the foreign language texts.
• Let’s go back to the Batman texts introduced earlier in this lesson. Compare the English and Norwegian texts using the sample guided matrix.
• Sample guided matrix
• Description of a guided matrix.
• Duration: 01:49
• Advantages of a Guided Matrix
• The advantage of using a guided matrix as a task to structure reading is that learners are likely to reread parts of a text (or re-view sections of a film) in order to find the information they want to include. In so doing, elements of syntax and
semantics are reinforced in context, as part of values and expectations found in the given foreign culture. Such incidental contact will prepare learners for more detailed contact with the world from which the text stems, and help them make the transition from reading to writing.
[Module Instructor Janet Swaffar. ] 2010. [Reading]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.