Reading is one of the best strategies to enlarge one’s vocabulary knowledge and communicative competences. In order to do it we should give learners a purpose for reading. Reading for general understanding or skimming is one of the reading sub-skills in which learners get the general idea of a text by encouraging them to have a quick look at the text without stopping for every word or analyzing the text. A typical example of ‘speed-reading’ or reading for gist would be a task in which we use the class book corner. We ask each student to pick up a book they have not read before. They should quickly skim through the book for a general understanding of what it is about. They should look through the book, read the title, contents page, introductory paragraphs and summary or last page. This could be a very good example of an everyday life situation (before buying a book).
Reading for specific information or scanning in another reading sub-skill in which learners may quickly look through a tourist leaflet to find the opening time of a museum, almost ignoring all the other information. The main reason for giving learners practice in reading for specific information is to show them how they might read it in everyday life. Ask students to use the tourist leaflets about Barcelona and plan a day out tomorrow. The students will be reading the leaflets in order to obtain the information they need: opening times, prices, means of transportation.
Reading for detailed information or intensive reading requires reading the text carefully in order to understand everything in detail with specific learning aims and tasks. This is usually the case with written instructions or directions when we need to understand everything in detail.
Guessing words from context is probably one of the most useful skills learners can acquire and apply both inside and outside the classroom. 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.
Here are some examples:
1. Scanning and guessing unknown words
Main aim: to give students reading practice in the sub-skill of scanning for specific information (guessing unknown words from context)
Rationale: Students at this level often rely on their dictionaries too much. They need to realize that they do not need to understand every word and that they can often work out the meaning of words through their context
1. Teacher writes on the board My ideal job and asks students to write down any words they associate with job. Students check words in pairs and then teacher writes the words on the board.
2. Teacher asks students to work in AB pairs and then explains that they will have different texts with words missing. Students should not show their worksheets to each other. Students take turns to read their worksheets aloud, filing in the missing words as they go. Student A should start. When A reaches a gap, B reads the missing word so that A can write it down. When B reaches a gap, A takes over reading again and B writes down the missing word.
3. Students work in groups of four, so that each group has a different advertisement. Students check whether they have the same words written down, guessing their meaning from context.
4. Ask students to quickly scan the advertisement and find answers to the questions below. What is being advertised? What are the headlines? What is the name of the contact person? What is the phone number? Set time limit two minutes. Ask students to check answers in pairs.
5. Ask students to search for a candidate.
2. Reading for detailed information
Main aim: To provide the students with practice in reading for gist and in reading for detailed information
Subsidiary aim: To provide writing practice in the context of writing a letter of application.
Rationale: This activity focuses students’ attention on the layout of the letter of application, it helps them to focus on the information each paragraph should contain. It helps students understand that letters of application are short and simple and are written in formal style. The tasks reflect real-life situations and there is always a specified target reader to establish a purpose for writing.
1. Students read the advertisements. Ask them to underline the qualities an ideal candidate should have. Elicit from students if they think that they would be good candidates for the job and to say why or why not.
2. Give students a letter of application as a model and ask them to read the letter and answer the following question: Do you think this person is a good candidate or not? Why? Make a list of reasons for your answer.
3. Discuss with the students that a letter of application is formal and that this affects students’ choice of grammar and vocabulary. Draw their attention over the fact that each paragraph contains different information. Ask students to identify the topic of each paragraph.
4. Ask students to check with their partner and then check in plenary. Teacher also writes on the board.
Paragraph 1: opening remarks/ reason for writing;
Paragraph 2: present job/qualifications;
Paragraph 4: personal qualities;
Paragraph 5: closing remarks
5. Give students the following task: Read the advertisement about the job. Write a letter of application. Include information to make yourself the ideal candidate. Write between 150 and 200 words. Before they start writing ask them comprehension questions: Who are you writing to? What is the purpose of writing? What is the format of the letter? How many words should you write in your text?
6. Students read the task and write their letter. Ask students to exchange letter with a partner.
7. Ask students to prepare five questions to ask their partner in an interview to get the job.
8. Students role-play their interviews.
1. Evans, V. and Dooley, J. (2011). Reading and Writing Targets, Express Publishing;
2. Evans, V. (2008). Successful Writing, Express Publishing;
3. Harmer, Jeremy. (2001), The Practice of English Language Teaching, Longman
4. Scrivener, Jim. 2010. Learning Teaching. Macmillan
5. Thornbury, Scott. 2002. How to Teach Vocabulary. Longman