Developing reading skills

Main part: Reading skills. A Writing Approach to–Reading Comprehension–Schema Theory in Action. The nature of foreign-language teaching. Vocabulary teaching techniques.

1. Introduction

2. Main part:

a) Reading skills. A Writing Approach to – Reading Comprehension – Schema Theory in Action.

b) The nature of foreign-language teaching. Vocabulary teaching techniques.

3. Conclusion.

4. References


Composing and comprehending: two sides of the same basic process. The National Assessment of Educational Progress reveals that eighty-five percent of all thirteen-years-olds can correctly complete a multiple choice check on comprehension, but only fifteen percent can write an acceptable sentence summarizing the paragraph read.

Such conditions, too frequent in most of today’s schools, stem inevitably from a failure to recognize that composing and comprehending are process-oriented thinking skills which are basically interrelated. Our failure to teach composing and comprehending as process impedes our efforts not only to teach children to read and write, but our efforts to teach them how to think.

Comprehending is critical because it requires the learner to reconstruct the structure and meaning of ideas expressed by another writer. To possess an idea that one is reading about requires competence in regenerating the idea, competence in learning how to write the ideas of another.

This aspect of the relationship between comprehending and composing explains Graves and Hansen report early success in their exploratory project encouraging first grade children to write about their reading ( and to verbalize about the process) (1982). The relationship and the absence of adequate interaction about ideas also explains why preschool children learn little from the 5,000 or more hours they spend watching television (Schramm 1977). Activity without language does not become experience. The work of Ann Brown and others with their studies of metacognition (1977, 1978, 1982), Duffy and Roehler’s explorations in reading (1981), and Perry Lanier’s work in mathematics at the Institute for Research on Teaching, Michigan State University (1982), are demonstrating how thinking about the process of comprehending, that is, consciously considering the reconstructions that one composes, can enhance the basic process itself.

The skills required to read science must acquired through reading science. The skills required in writing science can be learned only by writing science. Basic reading and writing instruction can provide children with a rudimentary vocabulary and certain basic skills of literacy, but application to higher levels of processing requires specialized uses. We have long since learned that unless children are taught to apply basic comprehension skills to a variety of subject mutters – and experience guided practice in applying the skills – they will not easily transfer their skills. Instances of ability, say, to apply academic reading skills to life situations have been widely reported. See, for example, the Adults Functional Literacy Project (Murphy 1973).

One reason, of course, is that the skills have unique and particular relevance to every discipline. Reading for sequence in a short story, for example, is very different from reading for historical sequence, or reading for sequence in a process article. Direct attention to skill applications in reading (and writing, too) appears to be mandatory and is one reason why content area selections must be introduced in basic reading programs. Restricted only to reading poems, plays, and stories, children can too easily find their competence restricted to literary activity as well.

Reading skills

The art of reading is mainly a matter of concentrating on the import of the written words, and not on the words themselves. Words are merely the medium whereby the massage of the writeris conveyed to the reader.

A pupil is said to have acquired correct reading habits when he can focus his attention on the massage and not on the form; when he treats the text as a familiar form of discourse and not as a task in a deciphering. He is reader in the true sense when he ‘ sees through a window to the view outside without consciousness of the glass.

It was difficult to arrive at this stage under the old translation method which concentrated on the single word and made the pupil conscious of its association with the corresponding word in the mother-tongue. Reading by word-concentration is a pernicious method corresponding to typing with one finger; it can by practice lead to a certain proficiency, but not to the required skills.

Training technique. There appear to be two schools of opinion on the technique to be adopted for the training of the pupil. One favours silent reading from the outset, the other oral reading.

Silent reading. The case for silent reading as both an end and a means might be stated as follows:

1. This is modern reaction from the traditional form of language lesson in which oral reading predominated.

2. Oral reading on traditional lines virtually converted a collective lesson into a series of short individual lessons.

3. Silent reading is claimed to be eye- as opposed to lip-reading. The eye movements are rapid and can skip across the written pages by concentrating on key words.

4. Silent reading keeps the whole class active and enables the teacher to assist the weaker pupils.

5. It enables the pupils to work at their respective paces and thus solves the difficulties of extreme types.

6. The practice of silent reading in class prepares the pupils for library on their own.

7. In introduces the pupils to the art of skimming.

8. Oral reading is a specific skill which it is not essential for all the pupils to acquire.

Oral reading. The arguments in favour of oral reading are:

1. Reading aloud is a form of speech prompted by written symbols; it is an aid to speech fluency, correct pronunciation and intonation.

2. If correct silent reading implies the application of a particular technique (eye movements over word-groups) the children must first be shown how achieve it by example.

3. The words on the printed page are inert symbols which come to life when read out by a good reader. The teacher’s rending of a text is too valuable to be dispensed with.

4. As vocabulary is an important consideration, it ought to be presented to the ear as well as to the eye.

5. Concert reading (in the early stage) is an alternative means of achieving general activity.

6. Silent reading may be carried on at home, but the classroom is the only place for controlled oral reading.

7. Oral reading provides a means of testing comprehension and checks superficial study resulting from attention to content and not to details.

8. Intensive reading is more important than extensive reading in the early stages and for the greater part of the course, indeed. ‘Skimming’ is not a desirable habit, particularly for school-children.

Progressive stages. As reading is a skill for which the pupil must be trained, it is advisable to proceed in series of progressive stages with each serving as preparation for the next. The ultimate aim is free reading by pupil unaided by the teacher but with the occasional aid of the dictionary. The end, however, need not also be the means; the early stages may have objectives of their own differing from that of the ultimate aim.

There is a tendency to regard writing as synonymous with written composition, and proficiency in this skills as ability to discuss any topic in writing.

In the foreign-language course, however, the writing skill must be interpreted more broadly as the ability to represent words by means of written symbols.

Translating children’s everyday uses of print into classroom practice. In the early 1970s, a generally accepted definition of reading seemed to be that it was the meaningful interpretation of written or printed symbols. At that time, researchers in reading moved away from curriculum research which compared methods in the teaching of reading to theory-based research which focused upon the process of reading (Gibson and Levin 1975). The emphasis in the field was upon the discovery of the underlying cognitive process of reading behavior as researchers struggled for recognition of their work as a legitimate scientific endeavor. Reading had become a complicated psycholinguistic process, a solitary effort which took place somewhere between the reader and text. In turn, learning to read in schools became a series of diagnostic events as the finding of theory-based research were linked with the criterion referenced testing movement of the 1970s and decade’s strong desire for accountability.

A Writing Approach to – Reading Comprehension – Schema Theory in Action

In the elementary schools, many lessons designed to develop children’s reading skills have their origins in basal-reader materials. In addition, some lessons have their beginnings in firsthand experiences. Working from a common experience, children dictate sentences that the teacher records; later they read what they have composed.

The almost exclusive reliance on basal readers and experience charts for teaching reading skills has an unfortunate outcome. Because stories and poems predominate in basal reading books and because expository pieces, when included in these texts, often lack the main and subheads that characterize conceptual and relational content, young readers have little opportunity to develop an understanding of how expository prose is structured. Expressed in more technical terms, they have little opportunity to refine the schemata they hold in their minds as to how, conceptual and relational content is organized on paper and thus to build the skills necessary to comprehend lengthy or complex passages.

Even when children draft story charts together and they use these to build reading skills, the content young writers compose is typically stories, poems, and paragraph that describe personal experiences. This is equally true when elementary youngsters write independently; stress is on drafting stories, poems, and descriptions of firsthand experiences. Only infrequently do children compose on relational topics from science and social studies. As a result, students have little opportunity to develop their ability to organize expository content on paper. Yet this learning basic, for it relates to reading as well as to writing. In learning to organize informational content for writing, students gain insight into how authors handle complex ideas on paper; in so doing, they are refining their schemata for comprehending this kind of content.

This lack of attention to building schemata for interpreting and composing informational content seems to occur even though study in science and social studies is part of elementary programs and children read from content area texts as early as first grade. An analysis of teacher’s guides to science and social studies text hints at the reason for this lack. Few series suggest ways to encourage young learners to perceive the structure within which ideas are organized in a chapter, to gather data systematically based on their comprehension of that structure, and to organize points gleaned into an original structure for writing.

A basic strategy for introducing students to the structures through which informational content is expressed in written form is factstorming. Factstorming is the process in which students randomly call out phrases that come mind on a topic while scribes record these on chart paper or the chalkboard in the order given. To be productive, of course, factstorming must be based on a data-gathering activity. For example, students may view a film or filmstrip or listen to an informational passage shared orally by their teacher. They may read in several references on the topic. or they may collect data through a combination of approaches that are part of unit study. In any event, students must have informational background to bring to the factstroming.

The next category in the instructional sequence is categorization, or the systematic organization of facts “stromed”. This can be achieved in several ways, depending on the sophistication and previous experience of students with the process. One way is for the teacher to select an item of information laid out on the board and ask students to locate a second item that is in some way like first. Students tell how the two items are related, circle them. and locate other items that share the same relationship, circling them in the same manner. Having developed one cohesive category of facts in this way, students proceed to organize the remaining facts into other categories according to shared relationships, indicating related items by circling them with different colored markers.

Dittoed lists of terms and points “stromed” are helpful when students have had little experience categorizing. Youngsters factstorm one day, perhaps listening on a chart points recalled from an informational film viewed or from a series of paragraphs read. These points are reproduced on a ditto, so that each youngsters the next day has a copy and can circle related points on it with different colored crayond.

Once students grouped related points into labeled categories, they can take the next step - drafting shorts paragraphs based on each of the categories. Again there are several ways of proceeding. With youngsters who have had little experience drafting informational paragraphs based on one main idea, a good introductory strategy is teacher-guided group writing. Guiding either the total class or a small writing team, the teacher focuses attention on one category on information previously charted and encourages children to compose sentences on this topic. The teacher or a student scribe records sentences suggested and then guides the students is revising what they have drafted. The teacher may also ask students for a general statement to use as a summary at the beginning or the end of the paragraphs – a topic sentence, so to speak. He or she may ask students to reorder the sentences drafted so that they flow more logically, to combine two sentences into one, to substitute a more expressive word for one used, to write another sentence that supplied added information. In short, children and teacher together mark over, cross out, insert, reorder, and finally title their paragraph.

Now in small writing teams, students work in the same way with other categories of information they have charted. If each group drafts a paragraph on a different subtopic, the result is several titled paragraphs, each on a main idea that relates to a broader area.

With sophisticated students who have had considerable experience composing informational paragraphs based on categorized lists or data charts, of course the teacher can offer the option of individual writing. Each youngsters composes a titled paragraph on one category information. Later those who have drafted paragraphs on the same category can pair off to talk about how they organized the given points into paragraphs and to help with the editing of each other’s papers.

Having drafted and edited paragraphs, students can share them by recording copies on a chart or the chalkboard. Now the task is to decide on the order in which the individual paragraphs can be combined into a composite report. Students reach a consensus by talking about possible orders and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

After students have sequenced their collaborative report, they can talk out the content of an introductory paragraph, cooperatively frame a beginning sentence, and dictate several supporting sentences that can be part of the introduction to their report. Again, this work can be handled as a teacher-guided group writing activity; the teacher asks questions that encourage students to think of a good beginning sentence and to identify key content that is to follow in the body of the report. In the same way students can formulate either a summary paragraph or one that proposes generalizations based on the content included in the report.

The nature of foreign-language teaching

The belief is prevalent that the teaching of a foreign language is a comparatively simple subject. This follows the assumption that the process is solely that of providing language experience; for every lesson in which the language is spoken, read or written must inevitably contribute to the extension of the pupil’s acquaintance with the language. If this were the true character of the process the only qualification for the role of instructor would be an adequate knowledge of the language. Closer examination, however, proves that the efficient teaching of a foreign language, far from being a simple process, is probably the most difficult and complex of all subjects in the curriculum.

For all subjects the initial considerations are what to teach and who. In this case of all other subjects there is no appreciable difficulty about the first, as the syllabus is usually clear and indisputable. Even for method there are guiding principles which meet with more or less general acceptance. Foreign-language teaching, however, has not yet attained the stage of universal agreement even as to what is to be taught, still less as to how.

This may be taken as an indication of the complex character of the subject, wherein content and method are curiously involved. What appears to be a single subject is really a group of associated yet distinct branches of study; for language is a generic term covering all or any of the following features; speech, reading. composition, grammar, literature, commercial, technical and scientific activities. Therefore courses must differ widely if reading or speech is made the sole or major purpose, and if the syllabus is extended to literature or commerce; the extent and choice of vocabulary too will depend on whether instruction is given on Translation or Direct Method lines; and presentation of grammar will vary considerably if taught formally or functionally.

It is difficult even to qualify the general character of foreign-language teaching. All other school subjects may be broadly classified as either knowledge or skills. Thus History and Geography are undoubtedly knowledge subjects, whereas Mathematics and Drawing are skills. Strictly speaking none is purely one or the other. History is certainly more than the mere absorption of data, and Mathematics call for the memorizing of tables and formulae; but the predominant feature is clearly one element, with the other as incidental.

In which category is foreign-language learning to be included& The answer is more than academic interest, as the respective point of view will determine the whole character of course.

If it is thought of as predominantly a knowledge subject, efforts will be concentrated on giving the pupils as large a vocabulary as possible and supplying them with many grammatical data. The value individual lessons will probably be assessed by the number of new words taught or the point of grammar elucidated.

On the other hand, if language is thought of as essentially a skill, or a series of skills less attention will be paid to extent of vocabulary, and progress will be measured instead by the degree of fluency attained by the pupils. The conflicting views possibly arise from different interpretations of the function of memorizing in the learning process. This question has implications which warrant discussion.

That learning by the heart ought not to be lightly dismissed as a deplorable feature of obsolete methods may be gathered from the opinions of leading authorities.

Thus Handschin, a leading American Specialist, writes:

“One of the best exercises of the will is memorizing. We know there is a tendency in some quarters to make school tasks easy by omitting memory work in former periods. But, of course, there must be memory work,... although to overdo it is just as bad… For instance oftentimes a course in elementary language is so conducted as to acquire nothing but memory work.”- Methods of teaching modern languages, p.77.Word Book Company, New York, 1923,

Harold Palmer, one of the most stimulating of modern authorities, asserts that ‘ the study of language is in its essence a series of acts of memorizing; whether we are concerned with isolated words, with word-groups, with meaning or with the phenomena of grammar, the fact remains that successful memorizing is the basic of all progress.’- The Oral Method of Teaching Languages, p.20.Heffer,1023.

Elsewhere he elaborates his interpretation of the teaching process by analyzing language psychologically as comprising what he call (a) Primary matter and (b) Secondary matter.

He explains primary matter is an appreciable part of language may be seen from the list of categories it comprises. Summed up they are

1. All vocabulary (simple, compound and derived).

2. (a) All word-group used like single words, e.g.

of course, would rather, in spite of, had better.

(b) Verb phrases, e.g. go out, come back, get up.

(c) The association of prepositions with nouns, adjectives and verbs, e.g. on Sunday, made of, averse to or from.

3. Idiomatic sentences.

4. A large number of regular sentences for use as model in substitution tables.

It must be admitted in the light of Palmer’s formidable list of categories that there is a considerable amount of language is virtually an act of recall, for all constructed sentences conform to conventional patters. Indeed one of the chief causes of error may be (as Palmer points out) the attempt of pupils to construct secondary matter freely before they have absorbed and mastered sufficient primary matter. Memorising therefore is undoubtedly an essential part of the learning process.

Nevertheless it would be incorrect to interpret Palmer’s assertion that ‘ the study of language is in its essence a series of acts of memorizing ‘ as implying that the process is necessarily that of rote learning.

The essential characteristics of language in use are the speed and facility with which the language is received and produced. To be effective there should be little conscious effort but rather the spontaneous use of familiar words and forms. Fluent speech and rapid reading are not simply the application of knowledge; they imply the possession of specific habits; they are in effect a series of unconscious acts of memory. The inculcation of correct language habits is therefore the teacher’s chief concern. For this purpose extent of vocabulary and grammatical knowledge are not the most vital factors. Fluency is a quality attainable within any range of vocabulary and may be absent despite the knowledge of all the words and forms in the language. It would be right therefore to conclude that foreign-language learning is essentially a skills, or a series of skills, calling for the assimilation of a considerable amount of language matter for reproduction and adaptation without conscious effort.

Vocabulary teaching techniques

There are numerous techniques concerned with vocabulary presentation. However, there are a few things that have to be remembered irrespective of the way new lexical items are presented. If teachers want students to remember new vocabulary, it needs to be learnt in context, practiced, and then revised to prevent students from forgetting. We can tell the same about grammar. Teachers must make sure students have understood the new words, which will be remembered better if introduced in a "memorable way".

Bearing all this in mind, teachers have to remember to employ a variety of techniques for new vocabulary presentation and revision.

Gairns and Redman (1986) suggest the following types of vocabulary presentation techniques:

1. Visual techniques. These pertain to visual memory, which is considered especially helpful with vocabulary retention. Learners remember better the material that has been presented by means of visual aids. Visual techniques lend themselves well to presenting concrete items of vocabulary-nouns; many are also helpful in conveying meanings of verbs and adjectives. They help students associate presented material in a meaningful way and incorporate it into their system of language values.

2. Verbal explanation. This pertains to the use of illustrative situations, synonymy, opposites, scales (Gairns and Redman ), definition (Nation) and categories (Allen and Valette ).

3. Use of dictionaries. Using a dictionary is another technique of finding out meanings of unfamiliar words and expressions. Students can make use of a variety of dictionaries: bilingual, monolingual, pictorial, thesauri, and the like. As French Allen perceives them, dictionaries are "passports to independence," and using them is one of the student-centered learning activities.

Using games

The advantages of using games. Many experienced textbook and methodology manuals writers have argued that games are not just time-filling activities but have a great educational value. W. R. Lee holds that most language games make learners use the language instead of thinking about learning the correct forms. He also says that games should be treated as central not peripheral to the foreign language teaching programme. A similar opinion is expressed by Richard-Amato, who believes games to be fun but warns against overlooking their pedagogical value, particularly in foreign language teaching. There are many advantages of using games. "Games can lower anxiety, thus making the acquisition of input more likely" (Richard-Amato).

They are highly motivating and entertaining, and they can give shy students more opportunity to express their opinions and feelings (Hansen). They also enable learners to acquire new experiences within a foreign language which are not always possible during a typical lesson. Furthermore, to quote Richard-Amato, they, "add diversion to the regular classroom activities," break the ice, "[but also] they are used to introduce new ideas". In the easy, relaxed atmosphere which is created by using games, students remember things faster and better (Wierus and Wierus ). Further support comes from Zdybiewska, who believes games to be a good way of practicing language, for they provide a model of what learners will use the language for in real life in the future.

Games encourage, entertain, teach, and promote fluency. If not for any of these reasons, they should be used just because they help students see beauty in a foreign language and not just problems .

Choosing appropriate games. There are many factors to consider while discussing games, one of which is appropriacy. Teachers should be very careful about choosing games if they want to make them profitable for the learning process. If games are to bring desired results, they must correspond to either the student's level, or age, or to the material that is to be introduced or practiced. Not all games are appropriate for all students irrespective of their age. Different age groups require various topics, materials, and modes of games. For example, children benefit most from games which require moving around, imitating a model, competing between groups and the like. Furthermore, structural games that practice or reinforce a certain grammatical aspect of language have to relate to students' abilities and prior knowledge. Games become difficult when the task or the topic is unsuitable or outside the student's experience. Another factor influencing the choice of a game is its length and the time necessary for its completion. Many games have a time limit, but according to Siek-Piskozub, the teacher can either allocate more or less time depending on the students' level, the number of people in a group, or the knowledge of the rules of a game etc.


1. The ability to read silently and rapidly is the ultimate aim.

2. Oral reading is a specific and useful skill but not a major objective; therefore it is not essential for every pupil to acquire proficiency in it.

3. Oral reading is a useful means in the early stages to train the pupils in the technique of rapid reading.

4. Oral reading is useful throughout the course for the purpose of intensive reading in which attention is drawn to vocabulary, idioms and grammatical forms.

5. Oral reading is an auxiliary speech exercise.

6. It is the reading aloud of the text and not the oral reading practice of the pupils that is most important.

7. Silent reading is a valuable form of collective activity and ought to be practiced in class. The class should be called upon (beyond the initial stages) to read a section rapidly and then answer questions on the contents. This method forced the slow readers to accelerate their reading pace.

Progressive stages. As reading is a skill for which the pupil must be trained, it is advisable to proceed in series of progressive stages with each serving as preparation for the next. The ultimate aim is free reading by pupil unaided by the teacher but with the occasional aid of the dictionary. The end, however, need not also be the means; the early stages may have objectives of their own differing from that of the ultimate aim.