There are many reasons why teachers use reading in class. At the beginning, we use reading texts to practise pronunciation. In our country children start learning the first foreign language, which is usually English, at very early stages of their lives, generally in kindergarten. They, later on, continue studying it in primary school. It is here that they have their first contact with the written language. Since English does not have very specific pronunciation rules, it can be quite difficult to learn how to pronounce properly. Consequently, teachers practise reading texts aloud in order to familiarize the little ones with the sounds of the English language.
As Roger Farr and Nancy Roser (1979) recommend in their book, at first, the teacher has to stir the students’ attention by reading them aloud when they are little. Also, in order to stir their interest, the text chosen to be read should be appealing to their age, hobbies and interests.
I practise reading with my little students a lot. Generally, the characters in the textbook are children just like them or funny bunnies or puppies and kittens. The texts are also accompanied by colourful and humorous images which also contribute to the motivation of the children to read. I start reading the text aloud, sometimes even faking my voice when I have to read the grumpy bear’s lines, for example. Children love it. Then I read the text again and I tell my students to repeat after me in order to practise pronunciation. The best part comes when I ask them to practise role-reading. They simply enjoy identifying themselves with the characters. Thus, they pay attention to pronunciation, but also learn to associate the pronunciation of the words with the written text they see in the textbook.
As the students grow older, the reasons for giving them reading materials in class change. Jeremy Harmer (1991) and Tricia Hedge (2000) offer a series of reasons why to teach reading in class:
- To encourage students to become better readers ( the more they read, the better they become at doing it);
- To acquire new language;
- To exemplify grammar and syntax problems;
- To demonstrate a certain text genre;
- To improve writing;
- To engage students in conversation by using a certain topic and ideas;
- To familiarize students with the culture and traditions of the English speaking countries.
Teachers practise reading in class in order to develop the students’ self-confidence, states Harmer (1991). By practising reading, students become better at it. They improve their pronunciation. My students become reluctant when they first have to read a text. They are afraid they will pronounce some words badly and the other students will laugh at them. However, I encourage them to read by reading together with them and by supporting them all the time. I practise reading a lot during my classes and my students have noticed that they have improved their pronunciation. The more they see and pronounce a word, the better they learn how to pronounce it well.
Reading is also used in class in order to introduce new vocabulary. Usually, in such texts, the new vocabulary is written in bold or italic letters. I generally ask my students to deduce the meanings from the context and I accompany my texts by vocabulary exercises that require the use of the new vocabulary. This kind of task is one that stirs the interest of my students, motivates them and strengthens their self-confidence because it instils in them a sense of pride when managing to deduce the meaning of the new words from the context in which they occur.
Texts are also used in class to exemplify a certain grammar or syntax problem. Usually, the students are requested to underline a certain grammar construction either to show that they are able to recognize a certain pattern that has previously been taught to them, or to explain why they believe such a construction was used and what its meaning and use would be, when the teacher tries to introduce new grammar.
In order to demonstrate a certain genre or type of texts, it is advisable to offer students a sample of that particular genre or type. For example, when teaching students how to write a letter of application for a job, I always bring them samples of such letters. We read them aloud in classroom, we discuss the format of the letter, what each paragraph should contain, the vocabulary and grammar problems used. Only after doing that I ask my students to produce such letters. It is better for them to see the text they have to deal with and to get familiarized to the text’s structure.
This purpose of using reading in class is also linked to the purpose of improving writing. Jane Kembo (1993), a teacher of English at the Moi University in Kenya, writes in an English magazine that „…pupils transfer the linguistic benefits from their reading to their writing”. (Kembo, 1993:38) She explains that, when students read different texts, they are exposed to a variety of language which they tend, more or less, to memorise and use later in writing, especially when it is about words and phrases they like, or which are suitable for the subject and type of text they are supposed to write.
Students can be engaged in conversations about themes and ideas previously mentioned in the reading material. They can either support or argue against the ideas and topics discussed in the reading material, or, maybe, even come up with new ideas. Thus, reading can also be used in class as a premises for conversation.
Reading can also be of great help when teachers want to familiarize students with the Anglo-Saxon culture. Students read texts in class in order to get acquainted with the English literature, history, customs, and traditions. They can perform such an activity in order to get the main ideas form the text or in order to work out projects about the Anglo-Saxon culture, for example.
As we can see, reading has a lot of uses when practised in class. Yet, the main purpose of practising reading in class is to prepare our students to become good readers in real life, to understand the meaning of various types of texts and to use that information for pragmatic situations that can arise throughout their lives.
In real life people do not stop to analyse whether the words they have read are verbs or nouns, or whether the sentences are constructed in the passive or active voice. Our mind, however, uses all the reading techniques acquired in class in order to produce meaning out of what we have read and to process and, further on, to use the given information. That is what we have to teach our students when practising reading in class. We have to proceed step by step, little by little, in order to make them become independent readers.
1. Farr, R. and Roser, N. (1979). Teaching a Child to Read, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., New York
2. Harmer, J. (1991). The Practice of English Language Teaching, Longman Group UK Limited, Harlow
3. Hedge, T. (2000). Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, Oxford University Press, Oxford
4. Kembo, J. (1993). Reading: Encouraging and Maintaining Individual Extensive Reading, retrieved from Forum magazine, vol. 31, no. 2 (April, 1993), pp. 36 – 38