A LETTER TO THE TEACHERS OF ENGLISH: 20Start teaching silent reading in the preparatory classes [Archives:2003/656/Education]

August 4 2003

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear Fellow teachers,
You know well that silent reading is a useful skill for any reader, more useful than oral reading, especially in real life. Silent reading habit has to be developed with a lot of attention from the beginning classes. Some of us wonder if silent reading can be practiced by young learners, that too in English. Those of us who have tried to develop silent reading in our classes have met with failure and so we are hesitant to practise silent reading in early classes. But it is important to start teaching silent reading from the preparatory classes. Let us see how we can do it.
One of the reasons why our learners find it difficult to read silently is that they have not developed this habit in the mother tongue. Let us be honest, how many of us have this habit; how many of us can read silently for a long time, unless under pressure? It is unfortunate that we have neglected the development of our reading habit, which is a very useful tool for acquiring knowledge. I have hardly seen any of my students reading silently when they have free time between classes.
Moreover, some of us believe that oral reading is more important and spend most of the class time for it. Yes, it is important in the beginning classes when the language elements are being fixed in the learner's mind, especially for the development of the spoken form of the language, but it does not develop the reading skills, which are going to be useful to them in their life. It is silent reading, which is the matured way of reading; we read a newspaper or a magazine silently. You will be surprised to know that there are literate adults who can read a newspaper only aloud, even when they are reading it in a teashop. It is also true that some of our students can understand what they read only if they read it aloud. This is because they have not developed the habit of reading silently. This is unfortunate and they have to suffer throughout their life. So start teaching silent reading from the beginning systematically without any hesitation.
In the preparatory first year, you can ask your learners to read a few sentences silently and you can slowly increase the number of sentences to be read silently. In every class , spend a few minutes for silent reading. I know it will be difficult to begin with, but if you choose interesting pieces to read, they will develop a taste for reading. You can even use short passages in Arabic occasionally for silent reading. Remember that every silent reading session should be followed by a question-answer session. It is important that you should check the understanding of what is read immediately after they have read; the purpose of silent reading is to understand. The checking can be done through simple questions on what they have read. Or you can ask for the meaning of a few words in what they have read. Asking your students to summarize in Arabic what they have read in English can also be one way of checking their understanding. Silent reading, which is not followed by the checking of understanding, is just a waste of time. Some careless teachers use silent reading sessions as a time for having a rest in the class, which will send a wrong signal to the students about silent reading.
While reading silently, see that your learners do not move their lips or heads, nor do they pass their fingers along the sentences. Teach them how to read with the help of the eyes; only the eyes should move while they read. This enables them to develop reading speed too. If you develop the silent reading habit in your learners, you are giving them a very big help for succeeding in life. Good luck.
Yours fraternally