Strategic reading?

Day 9 – the new cohort


Some thought has gone into our curriculum – we try to follow the line of natural language acquisition so following on from last week’s class on listening skills we had a class on reading skills. Our set up is fairly complex to outsiders but simplified it means week Monday the students have an introductory class on, in this case, reading skills. They are then sent off to read the relevant literature (fixed books for MFL didactics are Brown and Kwakernaak). The EFL students then fill in an SRT (see downloads file) which is my effort at ‘forcing’ them to keep up with their reading and make the link to their daily practice. This is sent to me by Thursday 5pm so I can use their input and questions as the starting point of my EFL subject-specific class on reading skills on the next Monday. Sometimes it means I can more or less use the same class from the last cohort with few changes as they read the same literature and have similar questions, but just occasionally I notice a group is much stronger or weaker or has really varied questions which means my class changes dramatically. It’s a system which forces all of us teacher trainers to keep on our toes and keep up to date and seems to work well. I know so much more now than when I was ‘only’ teaching secondary school. In fact in an ideal world all teachers should also spend a compulsory year or two being teacher trainers as well!

MFL class structure

Specialists + generalists

This system means that the MFL teacher trainers all have various specific introductory classes we give and we all teach our own subject-specific classes. Reading Skills is one of my topics. Normally the class would be full of all MFL students but the February cohort only comprises EFL students. Although it sounds easier it does mean I have two powerpoints as one is in Dutch (for the mixed bunch in September) and the other is in English (for the pure EFL bunch in February) – hey, I adopt the one face one language policy as far as possible so “my” students are used to me doing everything in English and I like to try and keep it that way in February.

Reading didactics

So the reading skills intro comprises a 3-minute test = you know the ones (example in download box), where the students have to do all sorts of strange things such as underlining words, standing up and turning round etc and only at the end do they realise that they didn’t read the instructions properly which required them to merely write their name at the top of the page. This is always a moment a thoroughly enjoy! I often get requests from students for extra copies as they like to try it out in their pre-exam classes to emphasise the importance of reading the instructions.

We look at reading strategies and try a few of the ones no doubt familiar to everyone:

  1. Using a Danish text on Rowenta safety instructions. The students are asked to read the text in silence and translate it word for word. They then get together in pairs to help each other. At the end we look at their translations and, more importantly, how they managed to translate the document i.e. the various (meta)cognitive strategies used. This idea is heavily based on a very useful book for MFL teachers by Rebecca Oxford (see file in download box).
  1. 1 minute assignment with a newspaper article. In groups of 3 or 4. (these timings can, of course, be changed, as this is aimed at B2 or even C1 level readers).
    1. (3 minutes) Discussion: how will we deal with the text. Who’s going to look at which parts.
    2. (30 second) – ppl 1 goes to the text and reads.
    3. (2 minutes) – ppl reports back to his group. Group re-nogociates what ppl 2 will read. Step 2 and 3 repeated until entire group has seen the tekst.
    4. (4 minuten) ppl write a joint summary of the text.

At this point the summaries can be read out, completed by other groups etc. The idea is to show pupils that it is not essential to stop at every word but that by skimming a text and then scanning for particular details you can, nonetheless, get the gist.


As always in my classes, a great deal of time is spent on discussions. I like to challenge the students to think critically, so throw all sorts of questions at them. One of the main points of discussion in this class was the amount of time spent on reading and whether it was generally intensive or extensive. What genuinly surprised me was that so many of the students had never heard of graded readers let alone audio readers. So Cambridge, Oxford and Pearson [et al] can expect a serious number of web hits (and orders?) over the coming weeks!

Next week we have the subject-specific class where we’ll deal with what is read in secondary education and how we can deal with it in the classroom (unless the students’ questions point me in another direction because they already know enough about these two points).

Works mentioned:

Aarnoutse, C. and Schellings, G. (2003) “Learning reading strategies by triggering reading motivation”

Bimmel, P. and Schooten, E. van (2004) “The relationship between strategic reading activities and reading comprehension

Brown, H. Douglas, (2007) “Teaching by Principles: an interactive approach to language pedagogy” White Plains: Pearson Longman

Kwakernaak, E. (2009) “Didactiek van het vreemdetalenonderwijs” Bussum : Coutinho

Meijer, P.C., Verloop, N. and Beijaard, D. “Exploring language teachers’ practical knowledge about teaching reading comprehension”

Oxford, Rebecca L. (1990) “Language learning strategies: what every teacher should know” Florence : Heinle ELT


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