21 February 2007

Making reading comprehension more interactive

A teacher asks: "How I may turn a reading comprehension exercise to be more activity orientated and also one which would encourage the students to talk or communicate with each other?"

Doing speaking activities in conjunction with reading activities is a very good idea. After a reading students have been exposed to some new vocabulary in context and with the appropriate grammar support.

This makes it easier than telling the students, "OK everybody, talk about pollution."

1. Before allowing the students to see the story ask them what they know about the subject. You could have them talk in pairs and exchange what they know about it. Then read the story.

2. If the story is talking about different places or different people, have your pairs or groups talk about which one they think is best, worst, they'd like to visit, etc. and why.

3. If it is talking about a famous person this is a great idea (adapted from a list member's suggestion). Have each student write down a question they would like to ask that famous person if they met him/her. Then have the students circulate around the classroom asking each other their question. The student answering the question would answer as the famous person. After both students get a chance to ask and answer they exchange questions and find other students to do it with.

4. You could try Nation's "Say It!" (documented below).

5. A little simpler approach is to get two characters out of the story (if you're doing pair work) or four characters (if you're doing group work). Then assign students to tell the story from the characters' perspective.

Say It!

In Say it!, learners work in groups of about four people. First they read a Say it! text carefully until they have reached a good understanding of it. They discuss their understanding of the text to make sure everything is fairly clear. Then they do the tasks in the Say it! grid, which is a collection of simple verbal tasks related to the reading (see the following example).

One learner chooses a square for the next learner to perform, for example square B2. The learner does this task while the others observe and, when the student has finished, s/he calls a square, for example, A3, for the next learner. This continues with some learners doing the same task several times and with some tasks being done several times by different learners. Often the tasks are like role plays and require the learners to use the vocabulary that was in the reading text, but to use it in a different way.

This helps the development of fluency by providing lots of associations with the vocabulary used in the task, that is the associations from the reading text and its discussion, and the associations from the Say it! role play. Although the Say it! activity does not involve large amounts of repetition, it involves preparation by the learners.

That is, the learners prepare for the spoken task by studying the written text. This preparation should increase the fluency with which learners do the spoken task.

The following is an example of a Say It! activity (Joe, Nation, & Newton, 1996, p. 6). The story is called "Castaways Survived on Sharks Blood."

Three fishermen who drifted on the Pacific for four months told how they drank shark's blood to survive. The fishermen from Kiribati told their story through an interpreter in the American Samoa capital of Pago Pago after being rescued by the ship Sakaria. Kautea Teatoa, Veaieta Toanuea, and Tebwai Aretana drifted 400 kilometers from home after their outboard motor failed on February 8. They said four ships had refused to help during their ordeal. When they were picked up on June 4 they had eaten the last of a one meter shark four days before and drunk all of its blood. "I have not prayed so much in all my life," Mr. Aretana said.

You are Kautea. Say what helped you survive.
You are Tebwai Aretana. How did you feel when the ships refused to help you?
You are a sailor on the Sakaria. What did you do to help the fishermen?
You are Tebwai. Explain why you were in the boat and what happened after it broke down.
You are Kautea. How did you feel when you caught the shark?
You are the captain. Explain why you stopped.
You are Veaieta. Explain what caused the problem.
You are the interpreter. Describe the appearance of the three men.
The journey was called an ordeal. Why?

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