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Reading Comprehension in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (página 2)

Enviado por Victor Birkner

Partes: 1, 2

According to Grabe (1997) reading is an interaction between reader and text. Grabe claims that reading requires efficient knowledge of world and a given topic also an efficient knowledge of the language. As it is stated, reading requires a rich background, and also some ability to comprehend the texts. On the other hand Rebecca& Sadow (1985) claim that reading is related to language and it requires being efficient in L2.

Also other writers agree on that good readers have to do some other jobs in order to comprehend a text: they should connect new text with past experiences –they mean background knowledge-, interpret, evaluate, synthesize, and consider alternative interpretations (Pressley & Afflerbach ,1995). While doing this task, students need also some strategies to help them make their reading comprehension easy.

Reading in EFL Context

Reading is one of the four main skills in language learning and also one of the hardest one for a foreign language learner. Moreover, this situation is stated by writers: According to Susser and Robb (1990), reading is a skill, that is most emphasized in a traditional FL teaching.

Approaches in reading in EFL classrooms

Some researchers defended the bottom-up approach in order to describe the situation of the reader. In this approach reader puts together letters to form words, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs to catch the meaning. Thus, by doing this, reading activity is conducted by the structure of the text that is read by language learners. Carrell (1998) also states this issue as:Bottom-up processing is decoding individual linguistics […] and building textual meaning from the smallest units to largest, and then modifying preexisting background knowledge and current predictions on the basis of information encountered in the text. According to Miller (2007) bottom-up processing helps students to become a fast and good reader but on the other hand, without having any efficient knowledge on the second language, this processing does not be successful. On the other side, other researchers focus on the top-down approach that is conceptually driven. This approach encourages students to use their background knowledge in order to make predictions about the texts they read (Carrel, 1998). In the top-down view of foreign language reading, not only is the reader an active participant in the reading process, making predictions and processing information, but everything in the reader"s prior experience or background knowledge plays a significant role in the process. Miller (2007) in his study touches upon reading strategies; he gives information about thirty years ago and recent times also. He states that reading was based on top-down skills about thirty years ago, the main concern of reading was "meaning". In this way teachers were supporting students to use their background knowledge in order to enhance their reading comprehension. However, he says that there has been a change from bottom-up skills to top-down ones recently; it focuses on firstly the exact, literal comprehension of the text.

Kayashi, who researched university students in Japan (1999,) claims that students in his study might have used various reading strategies while doing reading activity he emphasizes the "top-down" and "bottom-up" strategies. Besides, he also claims that, after his study with Japanese students, in their first stages of learning they use dictionary, memorization of words, taking notes and translation word-for-word into L1. In the later stage, they refer to guessing the meaning of the word from the context. In the final stages students use strategies such as "transitional words", "finding clues" and using background knowledge.

The Strategies in Reading in EFL

In order to help students their comprehension of reading and also increase their reading ability students have to use some skill and strategies. This review of literature will define the difference between reading skills and reading strategies, and illustrate before, during, and after reading strategies.

Differences between reading skills and reading strategies

A reading skill is a helpful tool that a student practices in order to improve reading (Hollas, 2002). Teachers teach various skills to improve the understanding of reading. Unfortunely, many of the students while decoding do not comprehend what they are reading. On the other hand, a reading strategy is a plan or way of doing something; a specific procedure one uses to perform a skill (Hollas, 2002). Weinstein and Mayer (1986) defined strategies as behaviours and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning that are intended to influence the learners encoding process. Further, Alexander, et al. (1985) defined a strategy as a procedural, purposeful, effortful, willful, essential and facilitative. They asserted that strategies are mandatory for academic development.

Students today have difficulty getting through a short reading assignment, such as a newspaper article. This difficulty is associated with the lack of ability to focus and concentrate on written words. Due to this, many students need guidance and strategies to help focus on reading and to do more than just read the words on a piece of paper. The skills of a strategic reader in the content areas can be broken down into seven areas (Hollas, 2002):

1. Predict – declaring in advance or to foretell on the basis of observation and/or experience.

2. Visualize – forming mental pictures of scenes, characters and events.

3. Connect – to link two things together or to associate and see a relationship.

4. Question – to inquire or examine.

5. Clarify – to make understandable or to become clear and free of confusion.

6. Summarize – to concisely obtain the essence or main point of the text.

7. Evaluate – to form an opinion about what you have read.

Hints to develop reading skills

Grellet, F, 1981.proposed the following hints to develop reading skills:- Teach the students to concentrate on the text and not on the sentence. If reading comprehension is to be achieved, the structure of long units such as the paragraph or the whole text must be understood.- Start with global understanding and move towards detailed understanding rather than working the other way around.- Use authentic text whenever possible. The authentic text does not make learning more difficult. The difficulty depends on the activity which is required on the students rather than on the text itself. In other words, the teacher should grade exercises rather than texts. - Link the different activities through the different activities chosen.- Focus on reading skills and learning strategies and plan comprehension exercises for each of them.- Do not impose your own interpretation on the learners. Teach them to think by providing enough evidences for them to follow the right way.- Do not impose an exercise on the text. It is better to allow the text to suggest what exercises are more appropriate to it. - Do not use so many exercises that you might spoil the pleasure of reading.- Help the students to time themselves and increase their reading speed, little, by little.- Use variety of procedures when controlling the student"s reading activities. Self-correcting exercises are extremely useful.

These seven areas can be linked to various strategies to improve the effectiveness of each reader. The "predicting, visualizing and connecting" areas are implemented as before reading strategies. The "question and clarification" areas are implemented as during reading strategies whereas, "summarizing and evaluating" are implemented as after reading strategies. The goal of the teacher is to help students apply reading strategies to become effective readers. Furthermore, strategies help students when they are reading and strategies are used in various tasks. For example, while students are predicting outcomes of a reading passage, strategies assist them. Also it is the same when students are summarizing what they read. Students use strategies as they are looking for clues; for example, context clues and rereading to correct what they read. They also need strategies either in interpreting main idea of texts or in determining the type of the texts.

Difference Between a Skill and a Strategy



Instructor decides what learner needs

Learner's needs are anticipated by instructor

Skills are often taught in predetermined sequence

Self-direction/need is determined by learner

Skills are often practiced in isolation

Strategies are taught in a meaningful context

The emphasis is often on practice for practice's sake only

Strategies are student-centered rather than teacher-directed

An automatic response is usually expected

Activities are purposeful, interactive, and independent

Applications to meaningful contexts may not occur

Continual observation is practiced for evaluation of what is needed

Taken from:

Reading Strategies

There are many reading strategies that appear to be very important according to a multitude of researchers. It is a difficult task to decide which strategies are the most significant. Cunningham and Allington (1994) suggested necessary strategies that readers need to use when reading. These are: Calling up relevant background knowledge; predicting what will be learned and what will happen; making mental pictures; self-monitoring and self-correction; using fix-up strategies such as re-reading or asking for help; determining the most important ideas and events and seeing how they are related; drawing conclusions and making inferences; deciding "what you think"(opinion); comparing and contrasting what you read and what you already know; figuring out unknown words; summarizing what has been read.

These have been broken down into five key strategies:

1.         Using background knowledge

2.         Predicting

3.         Self-monitoring and self-correcting

4.         Identifying main ideas and summarizing

5.         Making inferences and questioning

Background knowledge

As it was mentioned before, one of the most important prerequisites for reading is the background knowledge you bring to it. Cunningham and Allington (1994) argued that background knowledge is a crucial component of reading comprehension. They cited research (Pearson and Fielding, 1991) that demonstrated that the amount of prior knowledge a reader has can be a very strong determinant of how much he or she will be able to understand of the text he or she is reading. Research by Pressley et al (1990) supports this finding, as they found that readers who had a well-developed knowledge base are more likely to have a strong ability to recall relevant information. Background knowledge helps students to interpret reading materials in an individual way. Thus, it is important that teachers to teach students how to use their own background knowledge as a strategy for comprehending text. Closely connected to the idea of constructing meaning and using background knowledge is the related strategy of mental imagery (Pressley, 1990) or, 'making mental pictures', which has been considered a strategy on its own by many theorists. A student with a strong background knowledge will have a better ability to understand and picture what the author is attempting to portray in the text. As Pressley et al (1990) argued, the ability to construct mental images has been demonstrated to improve children's memory for literature. Thus, it can be argued that a strong prior knowledge base is a very powerful influence on how well a reader will comprehend text. Imagine trying to read university level chemistry text without having previous high school course work. Even if some of the symbols and English words were recognizable, without prior knowledge, none of it would make sense. If they are reading for information, in order to gain a strong understanding, it is crucial that they have some prior knowledge to build upon.

Thus, students need to use background knowledge to form a picture in their minds. Further, they actually need to be able to see what is happening in a story.


When students make predictions they are deciding their purposes for reading. Prediction activities work hand-in-hand with background knowledge. As students synthesize what they know with the text they are reading, it helps them determine a purpose for reading.

Using their background knowledge their goal becomes finding out, or predicting what is going to happen next. Further, they are engaged in generating predictions prior to reading by first drawing upon background knowledge. "Good readers are constantly forming hypotheses about what is to come in the passage they are reading... Like so many other comprehension skills this requires prior knowledge about the content and about the structure of what is being read." (Irwin and Baker, 1989, pp. 161)

By applying this strategy students are given the opportunity to integrate what they know while they read and are also faced with new information that may conflict with their own assumptions which, in turn may bolster critical thinking skills.

Self-monitoring and self-correcting

When students self-monitor and self-correct they are demonstrating an ability to recognize that what they are reading is not making sense and applying various strategies to solve the problem. These are also known as "fix-up strategies", which are strategies that students use when they realize...that their comprehension is not proceeding well (Rosenshine and Meister, 1997, pp. 100)

Palincsar (1993) discussed critical literacy, a concept that focusses on how readers problem solve and reason with print. She argued that students need to become self-regulated learners. These are learners, she asserted, who develop purposes for what they are about to read (cited from May, 1994, pp.356). Similar to when applying predicting skills, when readers apply self-monitoring strategies they are constantly asking themselves whether or not what they are reading makes sense to them. During this monitoring process, if they find that a word or an idea does not quite fit with what they already know they will apply their self-correct skills in order to fix the problem.

According to Paris et al (1991) good readers are able to expect problems in reading and fix them up as they occur. When a student comes across an unfamiliar word, he or she needs to decide whether to re-read the sentence, read ahead, sound the word out, or look in the dictionary. Ryder and Graves (1998) stated that it is important that teachers are aware of "metacognitive behaviour and its importance as a monitoring device as students assess their comprehension and to apply fix-up strategies when comprehension fails.

Identifying main ideas and summarizing

Identifying the main events or ideas in a story is something that good readers also do. They are constantly pulling out ideas from the text they are reading and determining what the main points are in each segment of the reading passage. In addition they have an ability to recognize and discuss key events in a story. Irwin and Baker (1989) argued that skilled readers have an ability to select the information they will need in order to understand the reading passage. Further, these readers also have the ability to ignore information that is not important.

Summarizing is a strategy that many students have difficulty with. It is very closely related to the previous strategy discussed in this paper. However, Dole et al. (1991) asserted that summarizing is "a broader, more synthetic activity for which determining importance is necessary, but not sufficient condition." Moreover, it involves the ability to call on other strategies in order to gain a clear understanding of text. This strategy is an important one because it helps them build an informational framework. Brown and Day (1983: cited from Ryder and Graves, 1998) summarizing can be defined as: Deleting unimportant and redundant information, categorizing information, identifying and using the author's main ideas and creating your own main idea if the author did not clearly state his or hers.

Clearly, summarizing brings into play all of the previous strategies. Thus, students are involved in using all of the reading strategies in order to build a scaffold toward increased comprehension of text.

Making inferences and questioning

Making inferences and questioning is another strategy that even older students find quite tedious. This may be due to the fact that students are accustomed to their teachers giving them the questions. But if the teachers are asking all of the questions, students are not going to become strategic readers. Instead, they need to learn to ask themselves questions as they read. Dole et al (1991) cited many studies which have shown having students generate their own questions lead to increased comprehension of text. It seems that by having students do this it forces them to think more deeply about the author's words and intentions, giving them a goal for reading.

Making inferences can be defined as the process where the reader decides what basic facts are necessary for a "coherent interpretation" of the author's message. (Irwin and Baker, 1989, pp122).

Further, Gaskins and Gaskins (1996) asserted that the meaning created by a reader will not be identical to the author's intended meaning because it is the readers who decide what inferences and conclusions will be drawn by creating their own meaning from the text. This will depend on many factors including the reader's prior beliefs and knowledge which "are used to help confirm, reject or suspend judgements of new interpretations". (Ruddell and Unrah, 1994, pp. 998)

It seems appropriate to consider one final point in this discussion of the nature of reading strategies. Dole and his fellow researchers asserted that good readers make decisions about which strategies to use when to use it, and how to adapt it to a particular type of text. The student may be understood as an active reader who constructs meaning through the integration of existing and new knowledge and the flexible use of strategies to foster, monitor, regulate and maintain comprehension. (1991, pp. 242) Thus, the skilled reader automatically applies the reading strategies needed to reach his or her goal of reaching a greater understanding of the text. The expert reader who applies strategies without hesitation in order to understand newly introduced text can be compared to a gifted athlete who has the ability to react automatically, while anticipating their opponents next move.

The strategies that have been discussing so far can be applied in the EFL clssroom. Deshler and Lenz (1989) assert that a key assumption underlying the strategies instruction approach is that students should be taught the process of learning as much as teaching them specific domains of content information. (pp.205) Further, they suggest that teachers should directly teach students strategies to apply skills. As students become more competent readers they will in turn become more motivated.

First of all, it is important to teach these skills directly to students so that they have a multitude of learning tools available to them should they run into difficulty while reading. Thus, students need to be encouraged to actively think about the strategies they are using when they read. Rosenshine and Meister (1996) assert by scaffolding information for students the problems are broken down so that students have a better chance of solving them. It is argued that scaffolds are particularly useful for teaching of higher-level cognitive strategies. Scaffolds are forms of support from a teacher that help students to learn reading strategies.

Another important factor that must be considered briefly is that students also need to be involved in a classroom environment where the students are active and highly engaged learners. It was asserted by Guthrie et al (1999) that reading engagement should be the aim of instruction because motivational goals will facilitate intrinsic motivational goals which are essential to long term, self-determined reading. The problem of motivating students to learn seems highly related to the teaching of reading strategies. As Wong (1998) writes, students' motivation to learn is immensely complex and continues to challenge researchers with its conceptualization and reconceptualization and its inclusion and operationalization in intervention research. Further, she argues that motivation to learn must be viewed as a concept that is intertwined with strategy learning. Thus, our students in order to become strategic, self-regulated readers need also to be engaged readers. "Readers need both the skill and the will to read". (Paris, Lipson and Wixson, 1999. Cited from Reading 44, pp.210)

There are many effective instructional methods that teachers can use in order to encourage students to focus on one or more reading strategies. In reviewing much of the literature in this area, there are numerous samples of lessons. Here are a few that are particularly useful and can easily be applied in the classroom:

Procedural prompts

Procedural prompts can be used to assist students to generate questions and gain the ability to summarize what they have read. Rosenshine and Meister (1997) asserted that this should be the first step in teaching students cognitive strategies. They asserted that they serve to build upon students' background knowledge and provide a knowledge support on which they may build. For example, in order to generate questions about narrative text the authors recommended providing prompts that focus on a story's grammar:

What is the setting?

Who are the main characters?

What problem did the main character face?

What attempts were made to resolve the problem?

How was the problem finally resolved?

What is the theme of the story?


One well-known method for accomplishing this is the K-W-L method (Know-Wonder-Learn). This is a three-step procedure for helping students access the appropriate background knowledge when they are reading informational text .

The students are first asked to access what they know about a given topic, which prompts them to access prior knowledge. As the students are brainstorming their ideas the teacher can record these on the chalkboard or chart paper. Next, they are asked to come up with learning goals, or what they want to learn about a given topic. At the end of the activity students write down what they have learned, and check to see whether all of their "want to know" questions have been answered or what they have learned and if further reading in needed. During this procedure the students are engaged in brainstorming, generative and organizing their ideas, specifying questions, checking what they have learned and guided further reading. (Tierney and Readence, 2000)

Intra act procedure

In order to teach students to use strategies such as accessing their background knowledge we need to use activities such as discussion to encourage students to relate the topic to their own experience. Since readers cannot tell everything that is happening in an incident from what the author has written we have to help students to infer meaning using their own knowledge. An effective way of encouraging students to access background knowledge is by engaging them in a pre-reading discussion. Mazzoni and Gambrell (1996) examined ways to use informational text through discussion. The authors looked at studies of expert readers that analyzed self-talk before, during and after read. It was found that these readers had the ability to better reflect on ideas in text, make predictions and hypotheses using prior knowledge, and were able to critically evaluate what they read. One procedure that Mazzoni and Gambrell (1996) outline is called the intra-act procedure. This is a four-step procedure that stimulates small group discussion and helps students develop an awareness of how others in the group react to the content of the text.

First, individual students silently read a text selection. Then, they are given four value statements relevant to the reading selection and possibly controversial. They are then asked to write how other group members will respond. Finally, the students are regrouped to compare predictions and are encouraged to challenge and support each other's responses while supporting arguments using textual information and prior knowledge. Not only are the students learning to access their background knowledge, they are also been introduced to new vocabulary and concepts. In addition, this activity allows students to monitor their understanding and verify the accuracy of their predictions.

W's and H (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How)

In order to teach students how to generate questions or make prediction Tarasoff (1993) suggests using a procedure she calls 5 W's and H. During this procedure, the teacher asks the students questions before reading a passage. She or he first models the kind of questions, literal or inferential. The students are then required to read the passage looking for the answers. Following this, the students are put into small groups or pairs and are asked to make up their own questions, which they will later share with the class. Tarasoff (1993) warns that it may be helpful to first teach students the difference between asking questions that require one-word answers and those that require more elaborate responses.

During this activity students are not only engaged in questioning techniques, they are also encouraged to draw upon other strategies such as predicting, self-monitoring and self-correcting and summarizing what they have read.

Types of Reading

Extensive reading

It could be defined from different points of view (Hedge, 2003, p.202). Some authors define it as activities of "skimming and scanning. For others, it is the amount of reading of material. Hafiz and Tudor claim that:

the pedagogical value attributed to extensive reading is based on the assumption

that exposing learners to large quantities of meaningful and interesting L2 material will, in the long run, produce a beneficial effect on the learners" command of the

L2. (1989, p. 5)

Extensive reading inspired by Krashen"s Input Hypothesis, has been readopted in different EFL isntitutions and universities since students are asked to read indenpendently using available material online or at their reach (Hedge, 2003, p. 200-201).

Acording to Hedge extensive reading varies according to students" motivation and school resources. Then, the teacher has to find the correct material to meet the students, needs.

Extensive reading is an individual activity that can be not only in class but also at home. It helps students to find their way to be indenpendent . Learners can be allowed to select their own reading materials according to their interests and level of languagethey have." (p. 567)

Hedge describes the advantages of extensive use in the following lines:

Learners can build their language competence, progress in their reading ability, become more independent in their studies, acquire cultural knowledge, and develop confidence and motivation to carry on learning. (ibid, p. 204-205).

Intensive Reading

Intensive reading is associated with short texts used to make students explore

the meaning and get familiar with the writing mechanisms. They are used to practice or focus on specific lexical, syntactical or discoursal aspects of the target language or to practice a selected reading strategy. However, Hedge states that it is "only through more extensive reading that learners can gain substantial practice in operating these strategies more independently on a range of materials." (ibid, p. 202) These strategies can be either text-related or learner-related: the former includes an awareness of text organization, while the latter includes strategies like linguistic, schematic, and metacognitive strategies.


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Profesor Víctor Birkner Duarte

Master in Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Partes: 1, 2

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