Over twenty years I have taught in many different settings, to a wide range of learners, including adults and early readers. One of the things I have noticed is that some people get bogged down in reading certain amounts of text for set amounts of time. Although, with most things – the more you practise, the better you get -, with reading it depends how well you use that time.
For instance, asking a student to read a chapter from a complicated book by the following day is quite demanding. That student may well go away and mechanically read through those twenty pages and feel like they have achieved their goal. However, if that reading time was not engaging, then they will probably still have very little understanding of the text when writing about it the next day. This causes frustration which may lead to them losing interest in reading.
I am not going to spend time talking about phonics in this article. I will save that for another day. Instead, I want to give some general suggestions for teaching reading, which apply to children and adults who already know the alphabet and can segment or blend words. These tips are for comprehending texts and gaining strategies to interact with them usefully.
Ask the right questions
Let’s take a parent who really wants to encourage their child to read. Imagine that this parent is literate and regularly reads themselves. They may be under the impression that speed is of the essence. This misguided idea is common and some young people rattle through books at a rate of knots.
I am not criticising this approach but I have seen this many times. Often parents will say. ‘They have read every book on that level. Now can they move up to harder books?’ Of course, reading lots of books is not an indication of being a more competent reader.
A better approach would be to take a shorter piece of text and practise unpicking it. This applies to those learning to read English at any age. I’d suggest reading three paragraphs and interacting with the text more. Here are some ways to achieve this:
1) Find a word
You might get a student to examine a short extract and then challenge them to find a word that means something in particular. This game is basically using synonyms and helps with scanning techniques.
‘Find a word that means worried.’ As they look through the paragraphs, they then become more familiar with the overall text and eventually find the word anxious. Of course, this relies on word knowledge. I suggest after first reading a piece, to ask them which words are new to them and then discuss their meanings.
This could apply to phrases too. For instance –
‘Find a phrase that means ‘think very hard.’ The answer might be ‘rack my brains.’
2) Read between the lines
Retrieval of facts or details is really handy but comprehension is about understanding and contextualising what is read as well. Starting to get to grips with this is especially difficult. Therefore I would start with this kind of activity:
‘The sentence – ‘She slammed the door and stomped off’ – shows the mood that Jemma was in. What was that mood and how do you know?’
You may then follow that up with –
‘Now find a phrase that shows how Cam felt about moving house.’
We talk a lot about inference skills and these types of questions can stimulate our brains to become better at understanding what we just read.
My final thought for today is that reading needs to be fun. One of the most damaging things that I have seen over the years is people dismissing certain types of books or text as not valuable. ALL reading is valuable!
Even with the very best intentions, saying that a book is worthless is very unhelpful. If someone is enjoying a particular book or comic then let them read it. Show interest in their choice of reading material and try to engage with them about it. Instead of knocking it, perhaps merely suggest a wider range of texts. Try drawing them into something you enjoy reading and take a more collaborative approach.
Being told that their choice of book is wrong or invalid is only going to deter a reader from wanting to spend more time reading.
Thank you for taking the time to look at my post about reading. I welcome comments below the article and any feedback about if you would like more posts about this topic. I wrote a recent post about why reading is important too. Please follow my blog for similar posts about books, entertainment and climate change.