How to Teach Reading

Updated:

Sometimes people  might think that teaching speaking is probably the most difficult skill to teach, however I think that all of them require a combination of knowledge and experience if we want to teach them well.

I think that you really need knowledge because without some key concepts, we might go astray  from the purpose that we want to achieve.

Top Down and Bottom Up Processing

The first two concepts that we have to understand when you want to teach reading  are the top down approach and the bottom up approach.

The bottom up approach requires  learners to know the language because they have to decipher the meaning of individual words. 

The top-down approach is the opposite because you start trying to understand the general meaning of a text.

Background Knowledge

Once we know the type of  reading activity that we want to do in the classroom, we have to activate the background knowledge that students have.

We also refer to this concept as a schema theory.  The premise of this theory is that you will choose a text which students are familiar with. 

For example, if you want to teach students about sports, it wouldn’t be a good idea just start with a reading passage about rugby or American football if this sport  is not  played in the country where we live. 

If you want to have more success when students are doing reading in the classroom, you have to become familiar with what they know and provide reading passages which are relevant to them and belong to the context that they are in.

Type of Reading Passages

Another thing  that every single teacher of reading should know is that there are a great variety of passages that they can use in the classroom. 

In my experience as a teacher, I have seen how teachers overuse one type of reading passage in their classes. 

I’ve seen new articles being used again and again in language classes. 

First of all any technique or activity no matter how good it is tends to create fatigue and secondly using recipes, signs, schedules, reports, bills, menus, comic strips, forms, applications, and advertisements among other resources can truly help to spice up your classes.

Reading Passage Suitable for the Level

Once you know the type of reading that you want to do and once you have found a reading passage which is relevant to students,  you should examine the  reading to see if it’s suitable to students.

You have to remember a few things when you analyze a text. Written language tends to be more complex, it has a degree of formality and it uses a great variety of lexical terms so my recommendation is that you analyze the text using a vocabulary profiler.

How to Teach a Reading Lesson Framework

When you have the product that you’re going to use in your reading class, you have to follow the common approach to teach languages. 

You have to activate the background knowledge that your students have and give them a reason for reading, those activities are called pre-reading activities and they are followed by while-reading tasks  which are activities that are solved as they read. 

The end  of the reading class has to do with putting into practice what students learned during the first two stages of the reading lesson.

7 Mistakes to Avoid when Teaching a Reading Lesson

I have taught so many lessons during my career and I have made a few mistakes so I have decided to make this post to cover some of the most common mistakes to avoid when teaching a reading lesson.

The more we talk about the mistakes we make, the better since hiding the flaws is not a pathway to professional growth

Let’s go straight to the point.

#1 Teacher not Following a Framework

One of the most common problems in reading classes take place when teachers are not following a framework.

The most common framework used to teach a reading lesson is the PDP approach which is made up of:

Those stages exist for a reason, you need to activate student’s background knowledge, give them a reason for reading and you have to provide activities to help them use the newly-learned words and structures.

You can’t go straight to reading and expect student to succeed at it.

#2 No Other Skills Involved in the Reading Lesson

Another major problem in reading lessons is that teachers are not including the other three skills.

A conversation came to my mind so I decided to write it down. I hope I get the message across well.

ACan you have an speaking task in a reading lesson?
BAbsolutely
AHow would you do that?
BThere are many ways to do that
AHow would you do that in the pre-reading stage?
BI would ask my students to brainstorm as much information as they can in teams
AHow would you do that in the during-reading stage?
BI could ask learners to talk compare their answers by asking simple questions.
AHow would you do that in the post-reading stage?
BYou can ask learners to record a reaction of the reading among other things.

If you know how to teach a reading lesson, I am sure you can come up with lots of other ideas.

You just have to set your mind to it and creativity will come.

#3 Readings not Suited for the Level

The third problem is having a reading lesson around a reading passage which is not suited for the level of the students.

You can get lots of readings about families from the web and books but not all readings are suited for beginners.

#1 How can you know what the level of a reading passage is?

You can do that easily using a vocabulary profiler.

A vocabulary profiler will analyze a text and will highlight the words which are suited for A1, A2, B1, B2 and C1 students.

If you ask me, I like how Vocab Kitchen does the job

#2 Can a Text be 100% suited for an specific level?

No, all texts are made up of words which belong to different levels of proficiency and some words don’t belong to any one of them.

The colors in Vocab Kitchen will tell you if the reading is way too difficult for some learners and or way too easy for others.

#4 Boring Reading Passages

Sometimes you hear professionals advising teacher to motivate the learners but they don’t tell you how.

I can tell you how:

Stop using those boring readings you always use, we shouldn’t use reading passages that students can relate to.

Just stop doing that, it hurts your teaching.

Try to motivate learners with something that it is relevant, a reading about something they might know.

It is hard to activate background knowledge if learners have no idea what you are talking about.

#5 Not Making the Most out of a Passage

It is common to see teachers in a reading lesson using a reading passage only for one task

Why do they do that?

I don’t really know but I think it is a bad idea, you can ask students to read a short articles once and solve a matching.

You can ask them to read the article again and solve a multiple choice quiz.

They can do that again and extract relevant expressions that they can use later in a role-play

Make the most out of that reading time, make the most out of one single resource.

#6 Using the Same Type of Reading

We should stop using the same type of reading over and over again.

A reading lesson doesn’t have to spin about new articles.

Use news articles, informal dialogues, a pamphlet, interviews, a whatsapp conversation, a comment thread from Facebook, a comic strip, an email, a letter, a journal entry.

Mix things up.

I bet you don’t like the routine, your students either.

#7 Teaching in the 80’s

I totally understand that there are teachers out there teaching under horrible conditions and lacking resources.

However there are some teachers with everything in the classroom to pull a rabbit out of the hat but they insist in doing thing the old way.

If the old tactics are paying off, don’t change but if they are not, it is time for a change.

If you are one of those teachers who are lucky enough to have resources in the classroom such as Internet for everyone, computer and mobile devices. Why not incorporating them to your teaching?

Try to make your reading lesson more delightful by using videos and images to spark interest and activate background knowledge.

Use forms to gather answers quickly and use other resources to make creative use of what students just learned.

If you have the resources, you need to use them.

#8 There Might be More, I am sure

There are 1000 thousand ways to die, so I am sure there are more ways to sabotage yourself when you are teaching a reading lesson.

Send me a private message to the EnglishPost.org or to the English Teaching in Costa Rica if you have a tip to make this lists of mistakes a little longer.

Conclusion

To summarize my ideas, I consider that teaching reading is an art, I wouldn’t say that it’s complicated,

I totally believe that once you master the framework to teach reading classes, you have to work on creating a repertoire of activities that you can use in the classroom. 

Learning how to teach reading is not something that you just learn once and forget  because teaching any skill is less about theory and more about doing,  testing, changing,  deleting and seeing  what works and what doesn’t.

Questions to Think about

These are some questions which were solved and some of them will require read some more:

  1. What’s bottom up and top down processing?
  2. What are the stages of a reading?
  3. What criteria do you use to choose a reading passage?
  4. What’s the difference between skimming and scanning?
  5. What activities would you use to activate background knowledge?
  6. What are pre-reading tasks?
  7. What are some examples of pre-reading tasks?
  8. What are while-reading tasks?
  9. What are some examples of while-reading tasks?
  10. What are post-reading tasks?
  11. What are some examples of post-reading tasks?
  12. What are the two common forms that post-listening tasks can take?
  13. What are authentic and simplified texts?

These are some important articles about teaching reading

  1. Top Down and Bottom up Processing
  2. How to Assess Reading Skills
  3. 3 Stages for Teaching Reading
  4. 15 Examples of Pre-Reading Activities
  5. 11 Examples of While-Reading Activities
  6. 13 Examples of Post-Reading Activities
  7. What’s Free voluntary Reading?
Jose Manuel Campos N - English Professor

About manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of EnglishPost.org, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English