Teaching Reading Comprehension (ARG June)


August 31, 2016 by gemmalunn

In June the topic for our get together was reading and specifically what are the most effective ways to help students improve their reading ability. We read a text from the Journal of Language and Learning: Teaching Reading Comprehension to ESL/EFL Learners by H.S.Alyousef (2006).

The text provides a summary of researchers’ findings and opinions on the principle of reading comprehension, the cognitive tasks involved in reading and effective activities used in reading comprehension teaching.  Some pertinent points bought up in the article were:

  • Due to reading being a complex process, ‘researchers proposed at list six general component skills and knowledge areas’, it is through these that researchers have tried to understand the fluent reading process:
    1. Automatic recognition skills
    2. Vocabulary and structural knowledge
    3. Formal discourse structure knowledge
    4. Content/world background knowledge
    5. Synthesis and evaluation skills/strategies
    6. Metacognitive knowledge and skills monitoring
  • Teachers shouldn’t neglect pre-reading tasks as these aid comprehension by activating schema (current knowledge of the topic).
  • Gabb (2000) identifies barriers which prevent students from reading fluency. These include limited vocabulary and a lack of background (schematic) knowledge.
  • Word recognition is an essential part of reading and efficient readers use various orthographic data to recognise word units. Thus, supporting the case for bottom up strategies to help lower levels develop rapid, automatic word recognition.
  • Teachers should choose appropriate reading materials for students to increase reading motivation. Appropriate in the sense that the texts contain meaningful, interesting content.
  • Carrell et al (1989) conducted a small study on the metacognitive strategies: semantic mapping (see below) and the experience-test-relationship method. They found that these types of strategies do enhance L2 reading when compared to non-strategy training. They argue that semantic mapping is a ‘good alternative to traditional pre-reading and post-reading activities’.
  • Research on extensive reading has shown that this improves students overall English ability with particular gains in their writing skills.

semantic map exaple

In the meeting we discussed our thoughts on the article, how we approach reading in the classroom then brainstormed different strategies which could help students improve their reading ability. Below is a summary of some points we discussed and here( June ARG Reading Qs ) you can find the full list of questions discussed in the meeting.

  1. What materials and sources do you typically use for reading in class?
  • Texts from the course books.
  • Websites such as onestopeglish and breakingnewsenglish
  • Spotlight Einfach English magazine (English magazine for German learners of English)
  • News websites such as The Guardian and Huffington Post.
  • Graded readers.
  1. What type of pre / during and post-reading tasks do you do?


  • Brainstorming vocabulary related to the topic of the text – nouns, verbs, adjectives…..
  • Pre-teach more difficult vocabulary.
  • Put key words in a word cloud and get students to predict text content.
  • Show a picture related to the text.
  • Show students the title of the text but with some words missing, Ss guess title and predict content.

During –

  • Underline key points.
  • Write a few words next to each paragraph to summarise the main idea.

Post –

  • Ss cover the text and discuss the main ideas from the text, points they found interesting etc.
  • Ss make comprehension questions for each other.
  • Present key words in a word cloud and have students discuss the relevance of these words.
  • Students write a ‘comment’ (as seen on news articles) giving their opinion on the text and issues discussed in the text.


What strategies / activities can you use to help your students with the following:

  1. Develop a schema of the reading process that includes the idea that reading is more than translating – reading is thinking.
  • Ditch the dictionaries and translators, show students that it is possible to read and understand a text without understanding every word. Furthermore, stopping to look up words interrupts the reading process.
  • Draw attention to how we read, teach students about different strategies we automatically use when we read in L1 and get students to compare their reading skills in L1 and English.

As always, thanks to those who came and contributed to the discussion. For summaries on past meetings as well as details on the next meeting please see here. If you are interested in coming along please comment below and I’ll send you all the details. Alternatively, if you are not in the area but would like to join in the discussion please feel free to leave a comment below 🙂

Further reading:


2 thoughts on “Teaching Reading Comprehension (ARG June)

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Gemma,
    This sounds like a fascinating discussion. I’ve recently been doing this course on Coursera on teaching reading which I’ve found really useful: https://www.coursera.org/learn/esl-reading
    Looking forward to future summaries, as always.

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