Effective Reading Comprehension Strategies for EFL and ESL Students

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Teaching Reading Comprehension to EFL and ESL Students

Applying effective strategies for teaching reading comprehension will go a long way in improving the reading skills of EFL and ESL students. All too often, many people erroneously think that by only knowing all of the words in an article or story they will be able to completely understand its meaning. Nothing is farther from the truth. This hub suggests reading strategies that I have successfully used in my EFL and ESL classrooms.

Traditional Way of Teaching Reading

It's amazing how so many reading teachers today insist that students must know the meanings of all words in an article or story before they tackle it. I have seen a great number of reading textbooks in both Taiwan and Thailand which have long lists of English vocabulary followed by Chinese or Thai translations preceding each article or story in the books. What's more, there are examples of new grammar or sentence structure followed by lengthy Chinese or Thai explanations. Before students even begin to read, teachers are making sure that everyone understands the new words and grammar. Oddly, there isn't much discussion about the background of the subject matter which the students will read.

Reading Comprehension Strategies

What should be done first when teaching reading comprehension to EFL and ESL students?

  • pre-teach all of the unknown vocabulary
  • activate previous knowledge about topic of reading
  • Get the general idea of the article
  • Try to answer as many information questions about the article as possible
  • Other
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Alternate Reading Comprehension Strategies

When I was learning to read Chinese and Thai, my teachers often used the traditional strategy. I dreaded having to learn 60-100 words before starting to read a news story. Most of the time, I never had really internalized the meaning of the words, and hence could not understand how they were used and what they meant in the story.

Since I began teaching reading comprehension to middle school EFL students, I have employed alternate reading comprehension strategies which I have introduced through the following steps:

Pre-reading Activities

1. Activate Previous or Background Knowledge

Before my students begin reading an article, I activate their previous or background knowledge about a subject through pictures, voices, and any other aids which stimulate their senses. For example, if an article is about a food like bacon, the class will see pictures of it, hear it sizzling in the pan, and hopefully taste and smell bacon. Pupils will be asked to share their experiences of eating it, and knowledge of where bacon comes from.

2. Read Similar Articles in the Students' Native Language

I utilized this activity when I was teaching newspaper Chinese to native English speakers. As an example, when we were reading a news article about Taiwan politics, I made sure that my students read articles about this topic in English. We then discussed Taiwan politics in English noting vocabulary, personalities, places, and ideas which we might encounter in the article. This is an excellent way to get background knowledge which is so useful when you are trying to predict or guess the meaning of unknown words in a text. The teacher obviously must know his or her students' native language before engaging in this activity. If the teacher doesn't, an EFL teacher speaking the native language of the students should be engaged in team teaching.

3. The Need to Answer Information Question Words

In reading any news article or story, it is necessary to answer the important information question words of who, what, when, where, how and why. It is important to constantly remind students that the purpose of their reading is not to understand every word in a passage, but rather to answer all significant question words.

Reading Activities

1. Get the General Idea and Summarize

I tell my students that the summary of most news articles is found in the first sentence. Here the most important information question words of who, what, when, and where are answered. In the headline of a newspaper story, the answers to the most important who and what questions are revealed.

2. Look for All "Whos," "What's," "Wheres," and "Whens" During the First Reading

During the first reading of an article, I have my students make a list of all "whos," "what's," "whens," and "wheres." Students are discouraged from using a dictionary to look up words they don't know.

3. Map Associations of Words, "Whos," and Sequence of Actions

During the second pass through an article, I instruct my students to make associations among all of the "whos" and other nouns in the story, They also begin mapping the sequence of actions after the teacher guides them in understanding key unknown verbs through associations and context.

4. Answer How and Why Questions

During the third reading of an article, students are usually ready to start answering the more difficult how and why questions .At this point, the teacher introduces cause and effect relationships, and also answers any questions about elements of the story still not understood.

Knowing all of the words and grammar of a text is not essential for comprehending its meaning. What's more important is utilizing the reading strategies which I have introduced in this hub. In my next article on this subject, I will illustrate and explain how reading strategies are used on a sample EFL news article.



© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn

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Comments 2 comments

Steven Daniels 4 years ago

Paul:

Great strategies. I wish my teachers had done more of this when I was learning to read Chinese!

I especially like the pre-reading suggestions. Often the hardest part of reading in a foreign language isn't the vocabulary or grammar, but the situation or context of the material.


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Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand Author

Steven,

Thanks for the favorable comments. Based on my experiences teachng, I hope to have more on this topic in the future.

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