The Internet TESL Journal

Teaching Second Language Reading Strategies

Takako Kawabata
takakok [at] psis {dot} aichi-gakuin {dot} ac {dot} jp
Aichi Gakuin University (Nisshin, Japan)


This article describes a program that can be used for EFL classes to teach reading strategies.  The objectives of the program are that the students should be able to understand the text structure of a particular genre, find the main idea in the text, learn new vocabulary and learn effective reading strategies to develop their reading comprehension.  

In classroom interaction, a shift between teacher and learner focus is made to provide the teacher's support and guidance at earlier stages and gradually withdraw the teacher's focus to assist students in becoming more independent learners.  As some students may be shy when speaking and afraid of making mistakes in front of the class or peers, whole class, groups, and pair discussion are implemented at the earlier stages to minimize their anxiety.


Teaching materials used in the program are articles from newspapers graded-down for non-native speakers.  Texts printed on large sheets are used for whole class activities, and handouts are provided to the students for group, pair and independent activities. 

Pre-reading Activities

1.  Setting the Purpose of Reading (As a Whole Class)

Firstly, the teacher clarifies the purpose of reading to the students.  The purpose of reading is to get an overall idea of the text, to learn new information, to learn some vocabulary and to become familiar with the style of a news article.

After that, the teacher introduces what kind of reading strategies are necessary for reading newspaper articles and achieving the above purpose; such as skimming, scanning, and close reading.  This activity assists the students in selecting appropriate reading styles for a particular genre.  These strategies also help the students to acquire skills to deal with unfamiliar vocabulary without depending on dictionaries.

2.  Signpost Questions (As a Whole Class)

The teacher asks questions to motivate the readers and activate their background knowledge.

3.  Prediction Activities (As a Whole Class)

The teacher shows only the title of the text (and photographs if available) at this stage, and asks the students to predict the topic based on the previous questions, prior knowledge, and the title of the text.

Based on the learners' prediction, some questions will be asked by the teacher to focus on the main point when reading the text. 

Questions such as these might be asked:
Then, the teacher asks the students to predict the style/tenor of language and the schematic structure of the text. 

Questions such as these might be asked to identify and clarify textual information:
Active participation of the students is encouraged to draw on their background knowledge to assist reading comprehension.  Therefore, to raise as many ideas as possible, the above three activities are conducted as a whole class.  Oral interaction with the teacher and peers could assist reading as giving and sharing background knowledge.

4.  Skimming in Groups

At this stage, the teacher shows the whole text printed on a large sheet put on a board to the students.  Firstly, the teacher models skimming strategies to assist the readers. 

After the modelling, the teacher asks the students some questions such as:
Next, the teacher asks the students to skim through the text and discuss the above questions in groups.
The skimming strategies are introduced to get an overall picture and to ascertain the genre and field of the text.  Discussion with peers and the teacher at this stage might provide general information about the topic and structure of the text, and the students might be able to predict further what the text is about.

5.  Scanning  (In Groups)

Scanning activities are introduced to teach strategies of finding appropriate information in the text that would be necessary for successful reading comprehension.  With this exercise, the students might be able to locate specific information about the topic of the text.

To assist the scanning, the teacher asks the students to answer the questions designed at stage three of prediction activities, then, write down the responses on the board.  Answering the previously designed questions confirm or disconfirm the readers' prediction.

6.  Breaking Up the Text  (In Groups)

The teacher provides handouts, which is the text broken up into each section, to each group and asks the students to summarize the texts in the groups.  After finishing the summarizing of the texts, the students are encouraged to present their summaries to the other groups of students.  This activity allows the students to analyse more detail in each section, obtain specific information more closely, combine information of the sections, and understand the main idea of the text.  Moreover, reporting the summaries to the class provides the students opportunity to speak English.

Skimming, scanning, and breaking up the text are introduced as groups activities to develop and confirm the readers’ understanding further.  Reading strategies and language use by the teacher and students who have higher proficiency in English might work as a model and suggest ways of using vocabulary, explaining, classifying, comparing, exemplifying, questioning, and pronouncing words.  

7.  Brain Storming  (As a Whole Class)

By conducting this process, the teacher is able to confirm the students' understanding by checking responses answered at the fifth stage and summaries reported at the sixth stage.  If more ideas arise after summarizing each section, write these responses on the board.

8.  Pre-teaching Important Words  (As a Whole Class)

Before moving into actual reading activities, teaching new and important words for reading comprehension is necessary.  The readers are able to prepare and acquire the new vocabulary or terminology which would be necessary to understand the text before tackling reading practice.  Vocabulary items are categorized as those which could be or could not be guessed from the context, and essential or less important to understand the text.
By introducing and explaining the above language features of the text, the students are able to expand and relate their current knowledge and gain new knowledge of the genre.

During Reading Activities

9.  The Text (As a Whole Class)

This activity shows the students how the text is structured to achieve its genre.  At this stage, the teacher guides the class in discussing the feature of the text; the genre of the text (recount of an event in the newspaper article), the social purpose (to inform readers about events which are considered newsworthy and interesting), schematic structure and language features of the genre.  
Finally, the teacher informs the students that language features typical of the genre are as follows:
By introducing and explaining the above language features of the text, the students are able to expand and relate their current knowledge and gain new knowledge of the genre.

10.  Stop and Think  (In Pairs)

After the modelling, the teacher asks the students to read the text in pairs.  In each paragraph, the students are encouraged to talk and discuss what they have just read, paraphrase it, identify the main ideas, and generate questions in pairs.  This activity offers the students more opportunities to practice listening, speaking, and helps them to activate background knowledge and relate it to the new information, and confirm their understanding of the text.

11.  Reciprocal Teaching  (As a Whole Class)

At this stage, the whole class has a discussion to generate questions, make summaries, predict and clarify the text.  This is to clarify the purpose of reading, direct attention, activate background knowledge again, and also to evaluate content, monitor predictions, and draw conclusions.  The teacher is able to monitor the students’ performance and confirm whether the students are able to use new vocabulary, express ideas and concepts and link ideas.

12.  Finding the Main Idea  (As a Whole Class)

The teacher asks the students to find the main idea in a paragraph or whole text.  This activity is to identify and distinguish the important information from the less important information in the text, summarize the concepts, confirm the understanding of the content, and as a review of the previous activities.  The students are able to avoid misunderstandings about the topic by sharing the idea with peers.

13.  Signal Words  (As a Whole Class)

Signal words used to indicate a particular text pattern are taught to show how these words function in the text.  For instance, 'so' indicates a cause and effect, and 'after' indicates sequence of events in the text.  Teaching these words and the function might give the readers new or different ideas to approach the text.

14.  Key Words  (As a Whole Class)

The teacher asks the students to identify key words to distinguish the important words from the less important words in the text. 

The students are asked to identify the words by asking:

15.  Developing Data Banks (As a Whole Class)

Words and discourse markers which are useful, important and frequently appear should be added to individual or class data banks to assist the students’ vocabulary development.  Writing these words on a sheet on the wall or students’ notebooks assists the students’ reading practices in future classroom activities.

Post-reading Activities

16.  Cloze Passages (As a Whole Class)

This activity is designed to assist the readers in developing vocabulary, understanding cohesion in the text, and investigating the text further.  Reading abilities might be improved by identifying chains in the text and recognizing how the chains are used to make the text coherent.  Showing how the teacher or the readers who have higher proficiency complete the passage works as a model of good reading strategies and assists the learners who have difficulties in reading comprehension to deepen and expand knowledge of the context.

17.  Comprehension Questions  (Individual)

Comprehension questions are asked to the students to confirm their understanding of the content of the whole text and to monitor the understanding of each student.  Question sheets containing various questions are provided for each student to work on individually.

True or False Questions
Alternative Questions
After the students complete the activity, the teacher checks their answers with the class to confirm their understanding of the context before moving onto the next activity.

Information collected at the stage is used not only to find the learners’ language proficiency but also to present evidence of their advancement to various stakeholders.  The teacher is able to improve the curriculum by using the information collected at the stage in the future course.

18.  Compare Ideas  (In Pairs)

Charts are provided to the students to ask questions to his/her partner and fill in their answers.  By questioning, conferencing and sharing their ideas with peers, the students are able to practice listening, speaking and writing, relate personal experiences with the topic, and focus on their ideas before the final discussion stage.



Your partner                          

What kind of transportation do you usually use?



What time do you usually travel on trains/subways/buses?



What do you usually do on trains/subways/buses?



Do you want to study language on trains?  Why?



Do you think language training on trains is a good idea?  Why?



What kind of lessons can we offer other than language?  Why?



What else can we do on trains?  Why?



Do you want to take lessons on trains?  Why?



19.  Discussion  (As a Whole Class)

Discussing about the topic helps the readers to relate the theme of the text to their experience, and develop their understanding.  Questions such as the following are designed to lead the discussion in the class.  
The answers are not in the text, therefore, the students have to think of their own idea about the topic.  


On completion of the program, the students are expected to be able to read and understand newspaper articles, on topics familiar to them, without depending on dictionaries.  These activities help the students to reflect on written texts critically and to progress from an intermediate to an advanced level of proficiency.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIII, No. 2, February 2007