Teaching reading skills

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P a r t O n e Introductory

Ch apt e r 1

What is reading?
HIS BOOK is about reading a foreign language, and particularly about reading English as a foreign or second language (EFL/ESL). We shall be dealing mainly with the place of reading in a teaching programme; whether it is possible to teach people to read is a vexed question, but I believe we can at least help them to learn.


Thebook makes practical suggestions for the classroom, but it also reflects the view that, in the reading class, the most important thing is that both the teacher and the student should understand the reading process. It certainly seems to be true that some of the things that happen in classrooms may interfere with reading rather than promote it. So this first part outlines a view of reading whichwill be more thoroughly explored in Part Two and will underlie the practical suggestions in Part Three.

Defining reading
Different people use the term reading in different ways, which can cause much confusion. So we had better start by making sure that we are thinking about the same thing when we use the term. As a first step, it would be useful to find out what your own ideas are aboutreading, so please do Activity 1.1 before turning the page.

Activity 1.1

What is reading?

Take a piece of paper and write down a brief definition of the term reading. Don’t take more than five minutes over this.

Don’t turn the page until you have written your definition of reading.

Nuttall, C. 2000 Teaching Reading Skills in a foreign language. Oxford: Macmillan Heinemann ELT

Chapter 1What is reading?

Reasons for reading

What sort of definition did you give? Did you use words from one of these groups? a b c decode, decipher, identify, etc articulate, speak, pronounce, etc understand, respond, meaning, etc

The detective novel? You will find that you had a variety of reasons for reading, and if you compared notes with other people, you would find different reasonsagain. Now think about the way you read each item. How did the various reasons influence this? Do you read a telephone directory the same way as a poem? How about a street map or a diagram? Reading these is very unlike reading a book. The way you tackled each text was strongly influenced by your purpose in reading. Quickly scanning a page to find someone’s telephone number is very different fromperusing a legal document. You probably noticed big differences in the speed you used. Did you also find that in some cases you read silently while in others you read aloud? What were the reasons that led you to articulate what you read? For most of us, reading aloud is uncommon outside the classroom.

Looking at the ideas reflected in these three groups will help to clarify the view of reading thatis central to this book. Teachers whose definition includes the ideas reflected in group a are focusing on the first thing of all about reading: unless we can recognize the written words, we cannot even begin to read. This is certainly important: we know that good readers are able to identify words very rapidly, and helping learners to do this is a key task for teachers of early reading. But it isdebatable whether specific training can improve word recognition at later stages – which are our concern in this book – and no suggestions are offered. It is more likely that speed comes from massive amounts of practice, which we discuss in Chapter 8. The words in group b reflect a common experience: in a great many classrooms, the reading lesson is used as an opportunity to teach pronunciation,practise fluent and expressive speaking, and so on. For early readers, again, reading aloud is important: they have to discover how writing is associated with the spoken words they already use. But this stage does not last long. What is the function of reading aloud after that? We shall return to this question later. Before we deal with the words in group c, it would be helpful to do Activity...
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