You’re using a general English language textbook to teach your students, and the upcoming section is dedicated to reading. After discussing the customary warm-up questions that help students focus on the topic and tap into their relevant knowledge, the class must read a one-page text. The instructions simply state: Read. How do you interpret that? I’m not referring to the purpose (e.g., scanning for details, reading to make an inference), but rather the format: Will the text be read aloud or silently? Will the students read the passage together with you or by themselves? Let’s consider several formats and their respective benefits:
· The teacher can read the text aloud. This format allows the students to focus on comprehension and hear the teacher’s oral reading as a model. The teacher can choose how fast or slow to read, and she can also pause when she feels it’s necessary to provide an explanatory note either on a lexical item or cultural reference.
· The students can listen to an audio recording of the text. This format also allows students to focus on comprehension. Audio CDs that accompany textbooks provide alternative speech models. For example, the teacher may be Australian and the narrator speaks North American English. Students’ listening comprehension can improve through regular exposure to different dialects and accents.
· The students can read the text aloud taking turns. This format increases student talking time and provides students the opportunity to develop their skill in oral reading. Furthermore, they become models for one another – not just in language but in attitude. Hearing one’s peers read in the target language can serve as encouragement. This is all the more likely when the teacher conscientiously creates a welcoming and supportive classroom atmosphere.
· The students can read the text silently. This format allows students to focus on comprehension by not pressuring them to perform in front of their peers. Students are also given the freedom to work at their own pace and apply their own strategies. Some will read quickly once and then go back again to make sure they “got it”. Others will tread carefully, reaching deep for context clues when new words appear. In this format, the teacher must clarify if a dictionary or pocket translator can be used.
So which is best? The teacher should consider a combination of formats in order to achieve specific objectives. Students read for comprehension, they read to learn new information, they read to understand new vocabulary, and they read so that they can react personally to the text. Any given text also provides models for grammar, writing, and pronunciation. That said, a text can be and should be read multiple times. A second or third reading could allow for these additional formats:
· The students can read aloud in chorus. This format allows for practice in oral reading. Performance anxiety should be reduced by the fact that everyone is reading aloud and focusing on their own speech so that it falls in pattern with the teacher’s.
· The students can read aloud in pairs. This format allows for a balance between focusing on one’s own oral reading and listening to a peer read aloud. Students can support and correct their partners. A twist to this format comes in the exercise of retelling the text. The additional challenge makes students recall details, new vocabulary, and proper phrasing.
· The students can read silently at home. As mentioned above, reading a text silently gives greater allowance for one’s individual pace. Done at home, reading really has no time limit. Also, the student is free to reflect on points of personal interest. If the text was read at least a couple of times in class, then by the time an independent reading is done at home, the student should feel at ease with the text. This final assignment can instill a sense of accomplishment.