Just telling our students to read lots of books is not enough to make them understand the importance of reading. This is why in each school where English is the first foreign language of study, some reading programmes should be initiated, including appropriate teachers, materials, tasks and other facilities.
1. Extensive reading
It is reading for one`s own enjoyment, relaxation and pleasure without the pressure of time, while intensive reading is reading for a short-term specific purpose, such as comprehending and learning or assigning a task in class: “extensive reading suggests reading at length, often for pleasure and in a leisurely way, intensive reading tends to be more concentrated, less relaxed and often dedicated not so much to pleasure as to the achievement of a study goal.”
To be successful, extensive reading should be integrated into some second language programs.
The only source for extensive reading in our school is the library which offers our students a little amount of books in English. Still, I encourage my students to start reading in English other materials besides those read in our English classes, even just a few short stories, jokes, proverbs, riddles or others and try to find the joy and pleasure of reading.
As Harmer argues, the role of the English teacher in such a situation is essential. Richard R. Day and Julian Bamford suggest four ways or four types of programmes to integrate extensive reading in second language acquisition:
- as a separate stand – alone course (involving the existence of a teacher, a syllabus, a classroom, materials and a set time slot). The amount of time for the extensive reading assignments is calculated in relation to the percentage of curriculum time that extensive reading occupies.
- as part of an existing reading course. This involves building into an existing course a certain amount of extensive reading (reading a number of books per week or per semester in class and for homework. In addition to in – class reading, time is set aside in the reading class, for extensive reading- related activities such as student oral book reports.
- as a non-credit addition to an existing course. Students read for their interests and for their own enjoyment. It is an optional assignment and not a formal part of the course.
- as an extracurricular activity. Optional extensive reading can also take the form of an extracurricular reading club, not connected to the required courses in the curriculum. Like other extracurricular activities, the club should meet after school. It could range from a weekly or semimonthly activity to a more demanding activity in which students meet two or three times a week.
Given the present situation of the Romanian learning system it is quite difficult to start such a programme especially in a rural school. However, I think the most appropriate programme to integrate extensive reading in English in my school would be extensive reading as an extracurricular activity. It would be very interesting and appealing to students to come at least once a week or once a month and read together different books and then present them by doing various activities. It would be a good way to improve not only their reading skills and sub-skills, but also speaking, listening and writing. If it were possible, at least in the not too distant future I would like to initiate such a club in our school.
Richard R. Day and Julian Bamford identified ten characteristics for successful Extensive Reading Programs:
1. Students read as much as possible.
2. A variety of materials on a range of topics is available.
3. Students select what they want to read.
4. The purposes of reading are usually related to pleasure, information and general understanding.
5. Reading is its own reward.
6. Reading materials are well within the linguistic competence of the students in terms of vocabulary and grammar.
7. Reading is individual and silent.
8. Reading speed is usually faster than slower.
9. Teachers orient students to the goals of the program.
10. The teacher is a role model of a reader for the students .
The materials used in the extensive reading activities must be authentic, the genre and the topic must be attractive and interesting to students (to stir motivation and interest for reading them and to be able to activate their schemata (background knowledge and personal experience).
2. Intensive Reading
Intensive reading is actually what students read during the English classes. This type of reading allows teachers to diagnose the learners` language problems and for learners to gain feedback information on the difficulties that they face with reading. Intensive reading has two important goals: helping students understand a text which counts for them (it has to be interesting and related to their daily lives) and helping them understand the new words and the grammatical problems that occur in the respective texts.
Unlike extensive reading, which is generally associated with reading lots of different books of different genres and aims the overall understanding of the read materials, intensive reading consists of a classroom-oriented activity in which students focus on all the linguistic and semantic details of a text or passage. The students also have to pay attention to grammatical forms, discourse markers, and other surface structure details for the purpose of understanding the literal meaning of the text.
The roles that the teacher has in the reading lessons (intensive reading) are very important and multiple, but because I have already written about them in a previous chapter, I will continue my paper writing about the most important reading techniques the students have to use according to the purpose of reading and to the type of text they are reading and working on.
The purposes of intensive reading can be various: the students can read for the main idea, to find specific information or for making inferences about the meaning of the text. In the same way, different types of texts ask for using different reading techniques that students have to be taught to make their reading process easier. The student has to acquire real-world reading skills such as: reading aloud or silent reading, global or sentence – level reading/ linear reading, skimming and scanning the texts.
3. Global reading/fast silent reading
It aims the student to understand the overall meaning of a text. It focuses on the use of key words or phrases and on making inferences about vocabulary and content. This type of reading does not lead to the full understanding of the read text nor to the acquisition of new language, this is why, it must be followed by other reading activities. The techniques the students have to use with global reading or while reading a text silently are skimming and scanning.
The type of texts suitable for applying global reading and reading silently with skimming and scanning the text are the descriptive texts (the description of a city or a famous place in the world) or the expositional texts such as tourist guides, magazine or newspaper articles, adverts etc.
This technique requires the student to read the text fast in order to identify the gist or the main idea of the text, skipping the unnecessary or irrelevant pieces of information. It`s like reading a magazine or a newspaper. We don`t read everything on each page, only the titles or the first lines of the articles or the sections we are interested in (for example the sport page, the fashion page or the health page). The role of using skimming is to find the main idea of the text.
It is a technique used while reading silently. The student does not read word for word, only some specific information such as dates, names that usually catch his/her eyes. The role of scanning is to find some relevant specific information. The student can also use the paralinguistic clues that might appear in the text, like capitalized words or imboldened or italicized letters, normally used to catch the reader`s attention.
6. Sentence – level reading
It is a technique that requires the students to read the text linearly, sentence by sentence, word for word, aloud and silently and the students` duty now is to focus on the organization and the meaning of the individual sentences. They also have to deal with the vocabulary and grammar problems they can have while reading the text. The text is analysed deeply.
This activity is recommended to be used with narrative texts. The students read aloud paragraphs or sections of text and the teacher stops them from time to time to ask some questions to check if the students are following the reading text actively and the way they are coping with it. If the students have to read a short story, linear reading is recommended, otherwise, students risk skipping details which are important for understanding the text and assigning the tasks given by the teacher while reading.
The expositional texts, for instance, the ones which present the life and the activity of a famous person acquire sentence- level reading after the students have already got the overall meaning of the text.
Jeremy Harrmer, The Practice of English Language Teaching, Longman, 2007.
Richard R. Day; Julian Bamford, Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom, Cambridge University Press, 1988..