It’s helpful for language learners to understand the tone and the organization of any given text. These two factors are related to the writer’s purpose. Furthermore, recognizing a writer’s tone and means of organizing information is a skill that can aid students in composing their own texts since one must comprehend a model before trying to replicate it.
Try the following activity with upper level students. Use of authentic, unadapted materials will also develop their ability to skim. Some learners feel the need to understand every word during a first encounter with a reading passage. The following activity doesn’t allow this kind of slower, detail-oriented reading. Learners must skim to understand the general tone and approach to text organization and realize that comprehension of every new vocabulary word or complex grammatical structure isn’t necessary for this purpose. Skimming itself is a useful skill, as anyone faced with large quantities of reading at school or work will tell you.
STEP 1 – Prepare four excerpts from different sources. Target a range of types: novel, news article/ report, textbook passage/ academic essay, business memo/ letter. Make copies without revealing titles or sources. On a separate sheet of paper, provide the titles/ headlines.
STEP 2 – Hand out the copies of the titles first. Ask students to guess the source and make predictions about the content. This can be done as a class.
STEP 3 – Hand out the copies of the excerpts. Have students work in pairs to match each passage to its title. Tell them to note their reasons for making each match. Place a time limit that challenges students to complete this task quickly and without consulting a dictionary or reading for details (5-7 minutes).
STEP 4 – Correct the matches as a class. Have pairs share their reasoning behind each match. Discuss the tone of each excerpt. Highlight different tones a writer can have (persuasive, informative, etc.) and Ask students to identify the organization used by each writer. Highlight different approaches to text organization (problem-solution, chronological, etc.)
STEP 5 – OPTIONAL. You can extend this activity with additional excerpts prepared before class. Select articles, essays, or letters that expose students to other tones and other means of organizing a text. Simply make one copy of each excerpt and number them. This time you may include the title and source for each passage. In pairs, students can have 1-2 minutes to skim a passage and make conclusions about its tone and organization. Then they switch copies with another pair. This continues until each pair has skimmed all reading passages. Again, their conclusions are shared with the class.