Building the Reading Habit

In our daily lives, we read so many things according to what we are interested in or what is useful for us to read. This category of interest includes reading for pleasure, enjoyment or personal development. In addition, we have a desire to read when there is the usefulness of the text that prompts this action. For example, if you wish to bake a cake for the first time it is a good idea to read the recipe. Sometimes, we may read something that is useful and find that it is interesting as well.

Another characteristic of readers outside the classroom is that they will have expectations of what they are going to read.  The reader who picks up a book in the store will have expectations about the book because of the title, the front cover or the summary of the book on the back cover.

What is reading, anyway? What is the essence of the reading process itself? According to Weaver (2009:xiii) “Reading is a process very much determined by what the reader’s brain and emotions and beliefs bring to the reading: the knowledge/information (or misinformation, absence of information), strategies for processing text, moods, fears and joys—all of it.”

As reading is one of the best strategies to enlarge one’s vocabulary knowledge and because it improves communicative competences, it is our role as language teachers to arouse students’ interest in extracting meaning from the discourse they read. In order to do it we should give learners a purpose for reading. When students have a purpose for reading, they find that purpose not only directs their reading towards a goal, but helps to focus their attention.

Comprehension requires the reader to be an active builder of meaning. Reading research has demonstrated that readers do not simply understand the meaning that is in a text, but they reconstruct meaning with a text. Reading is like a transaction in which the reader brings purposes and life experiences to cope with the text. This meeting of the reader and the text results in the meaning that is comprehension. Comprehension stands for what is coded or hidden in the text, but it is also closely connected with the reader’s background experiences, purposes, feelings and needs. That is why we can read the same book or story twice and it can have different meanings for us.

Reading texts provide good models for improving writing skills, because students need models of what we encourage them to do. Moreover, reading texts provide opportunities to study language: vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and the way structures, paragraphs and texts are constructed.  What is more, good reading texts can introduce students to interesting topics, can stimulate discussion and can help teachers create fascinating lessons. (Harmer, 2000)

It is also true that students can generally deal with a higher level of language in receptive skills (reading and listening) than in productive skills (writing and speaking). This is the case of roughly-tuned input for some students who might have difficulty with completely authentic writing and speaking. What is more, the students’ job will be to interact with the text in order to understand the message, and this is possible even where the text contains language that the students are not able to produce.

Authentic or non-authentic reading texts?

One aspect teachers take into consideration is whether we   should use authentic or  non-authentic texts in teaching. An authentic text is usually a text which has  not been  written for the language classroom, and which has not been changed  – it retains its original vocabulary and grammar, and bits of the text have not been cut out. In other words, authentic texts are written for any purpose other than language learning, and are intact rather than processed, adapted, or simplified.  They are usually designed for native speakers.  The English-language newspapers are composed of what we would call authentic English. A British advertisement is an example of authentic English so are poems or  chapters   from  novels  written for an English-speaking audience as well as magazines, leaflets, brochures, booklets or maps.

A non-authentic text in   language teaching terms is one text that has been written especially for language students. Such texts sometimes concentrate on the language they wish to teach so that students can concentrate on it. The ‘artificial nature of the language’ is not usually encountered in real life, according to   Harmer (2000:186) We find these texts in course books, activity books and auxiliaries especially designed to use in class.

Today, things have changed a lot. Course books may contain not only materials adapted from ‘authentic texts’, or  texts from English-speaking countries, but also texts written in English from anywhere in the world.  Nowadays, students “need to become aware of a diverse, international, cosmopolitan set of cultural customs, literature and art forms”. (Ur 2012:219-220)

Therefore, it is more important to encourage the development of multicultural awareness and to make them sensitive to the kinds of differences from their own cultures  that they may come across and to foster intercultural competence.

Obviously, the main reason for giving students reading material is to encourage them to be better readers. Students who read a lot seem to acquire English better than those who do not. They improve their general English level, their vocabulary and they become confident readers. But, of course, the language in the texts they read is acquired by them if the input is comprehensible. When teachers introduce texts that the students cannot understand, the effect is demoralising. As a result, teachers should choose the right kind of material so the students can understand the general meaning of, whether they are truly authentic or not. Texts should be realistic models of written English to arouse students’ interest. This is a real challenge because it is not enough for the  teacher to choose appropriate material to use in class, the teacher  should be inventive and creative  and he should adapt to the students’ needs to make the task of teaching a positive experience.

By raising students’ awareness of reading as a skill that requires active involvement, and by teaching them reading strategies, I try to help the students develop both the ability and the confidence to cope with communication situations they may encounter beyond the classroom. In this way, students build the foundation for communicative competence in the new language.

According to Harmer (1998:70), reading is not a passive skill  but an active ‘occupation’. In order to do it successfully, students should understand the text, should imagine the pictures the words are creating, they should understand the arguments and decide whether they agree with them or not.

Secondly, students need to be engaged with the reading text as they can really benefit from the text if they do so. When the students are fired up by  the topic  or the task they take advantage of what is in front of them.

Thirdly, teachers should use the content of the text not only the language and thus encourage students to respond to the content of the reading text.  It is important to encourage students to express their opinions and feelings about the topic and to establish personal engagement with the text and the language.

Furthermore, teachers should  use  prediction as  a major factor in reading. Before reading a book, its cover and also the title may give students  some hints of what is in the book. In the same time, photographs and headlines give them clues about articles before they read a single word.  When teaching reading, teachers should make  students  predict the content by giving them some hints in terms of a very short video, a song, photographs, pictures, postcards, podcasts on the topic. While the brain starts predicting what students are going to read, expectations are set up and the active process of reading is ready to begin.

Moreover, guessing words from context  is probably one of the most useful skills learners  can acquire and apply both inside and outside the classroom. A great deal of research has been placed on teaching vocabulary in recent years, and a major finding has been the overall importance of vocabulary knowledge, especially for reading comprehension.  No matter how many words learners are familiar with, they will always come across unfamiliar words. This is the reason why they will always need to be able to make intelligent guesses as to the meaning of unknown words. Teachers should encourage students to deduce meaning from the context without trying to understand every word.

1. Evans, V. and Dooley, J. (2011). Reading and Writing Targets, Express Publishing;
2. Harmer, Jeremy. (2000), The Practice of English Language Teaching, Longman
3. Harmer, J. (1998). How to teach English, Longman;
4. Nuttall, C. (1996). Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language, Oxford: Heinemann;
5. Ur, P. (2012). A Course in English Language Teaching,  Cambridge University Press;
6. Weaver, Constance (2009). Reading Process, Heinemann;


prof. Daniela Pribeanu

Colegiul Național Bănățean, Timișoara (Timiş) , România
Profil iTeach:

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