The Purpose and Strategy of Reading [Archives:2000/01/Focus]

January 3 2000

Ahmed Naser Azzan
Lecturer – Dept. of English
Mahweet (Research Scholar, India)

Many EFL (English as a foreign language) students in secondary schools in Yemen can’t keep pace with their studies and blame their low reading speed. We find them struggling through a text, having trouble with every word and stumbling at every unfamiliar item. The problem stems from the fact that reading classes are often used to teach language (i.e. structures, vocabulary, etc.) rather than reading proficiency. Not only this, but also the types of tasks set in reading classes frequently reflect artificial objectives, demanding grammatical attention or total comprehension rarely required in everyday life. In other words, there is no attempt to teach the students a flexible style of reading. Consequently, our students come to believe that there is only one correct way to read.
However, in the real world, reading is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It is a purposeful activity, and our job as teachers is to help students identify these different purposes and help them to master the suitable strategies to achieve the objectives.
Identifying Purpose:
The purpose of reading a particular text is the most important determinant of the reading strategy. We should show students that different tasks require different degrees of understanding and attention. Also, we have to persuade them that it is efficient and profitable to vary their strategy and speed according to their purpose of reading.
Reading Strategies:
According to Wallace, C. (993, p146), Reading strategies are ways of reading which are employed flexibly and selectively and which vary depending on the text-type, and the context and purpose of reading. Now let us briefly review three reading strategies recognized as essential by most language teachers.
According to Nuttal, c. (1982), Scanning means glancing rapidly through a text either to search for a specific piece of information or to get an initial impression of whether the text is suitable for a given purpose. In other words, the reader may look at a piece of written language not in order to understand it all, but for the purpose of finding out specific information.
Scanning demands that the reader disregards everything except the information he is interested in. Therefore, the reader must fix the reading purpose clearly.
Scanning exercises are familiar to all teachers and are easy to produce. We can tell our students (orally) to find new words for old, compare details, make word sets, locate grammatical features, locate specific phrases or facts in a text, etc.
Skimming means that the reader glides over the surface of a text, reading selected important parts rapidly in order to get an overview of content and organization. So, skimming is concerned with rapidly assessing the main points of a text and not paying attention to irrelevant details. Therefore, skimming involves knowledge of the text structure. In particular, students should be able to learn something of the topic from the title and any subheadings. They should know that the first and last paragraphs often contain valuable background information, summary, or concluding information. They should be aware of the importance of key sentences and where to find them.
It is important to point out that skimming an expository text like a science text is not the same as skimming any other text. In other words, science books have a different layout and follow certain specific techniques different from other types of texts. In order to teach skimming, we can ask our students to find the misplaced sentences in a paragraph, fit topic sentences with particular paragraphs, create a title or subtitle for a text or paragraph, select a title, etc.
Intensive Reading:
Nuttal, C. (1982), rightly observes, the aim of Intensive reading is to arrive at a deep and detailed understanding of the text: not only of what it means, but also of how the meaning is produced. Intensive reading is better utilized if preceded by skim reading. In intensive reading, the emphasis is on details that support the main points picked out at the skimming level.
As far as intensive reading exercises are concerned, they involve a close reading of a passage or text. We can ask students to make summaries, reorder sentences, reorder paragraphs, compare versions, complete tables and graphs, etc.
The purpose of reading should more be for improving reading proficiency rather than improving linguistic competence. There should be reading flexibility. Different purposes demand appropriate levels of comprehension and therefore the use of different reading strategies. In reading classes we must improve students’ use of strategies which help them to achieve their reading purposes.