Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Developing Reading Skills

After many years training students on TOEFL and IELTS strategies, one of the most difficult skill for most of them is Reading. Not only because it is reading for purpose but also because time is a big deal and the truth is during the test students do not really have enough time to read and answer. So training them on reading for purpose, meaning a quick superficial reading to understand the overall message, and managing the short time they have to answer the questions, have lead me to some tips on how to approach this skill and give students better tools.

1. Questions first. When you have a new group of students and you make the experiment of telling them to read, you give them the text and questions to answer and nine out of ten students will start reading right away. Sadly, only that one student will focus on the questions. Seeing this, it is a must to let your students know what is really important: The information they have to search for to answer, the clearer they are about their questions the better mainly because exams have a layout in order for the questions, easier first, more difficult last.
2. Structure. Focus your students into this: The general structure of any well written text is usually the same, so they can  search for main ideas at the beginning and ending of each paragraph and “imagine” possible topics with the questions they had already read and the information they have about the subject. They will feel more confident and is a time saver.
3. Skim. Let’s face it, in schools kids are taught to stare at the book and read every single word; thus, students get used to spend a lot of time reading intensively and do not develop strategies. So first it is important to reprogram this habit and get students into the Skimming step of just “dance” around the text with their eyes looking for information that is easy to see, like numbers, names, prices, years, percentages.
4. Scan. After a lot of practice with Skimming, guide students to Scanning and they will probably realize the advantages of the previous step. Scanning gives the opportunity to “dive” into those numbers, names, and other popping information in the text, going deeply into the context around and finding correct answers for the questions that are not easy neither very difficult.
5. Intensive reading. Now it is the time to read every single word BUT on a specific part of the text to look for THE answer, and the questions usually state clearly “lines such and such” so there is no need to guess or look around. However, it is also important to remind students about questions related to summary, pros and cons, advantages disadvantages, and general ideas. These type of questions may be a bit difficult and demand some skimming and scanning with intensive reading on some parts of the text to clarify doubts.
6. Skip. One of the reprogramming skills involved in test taking strategies is “letting go” of that one question that looks too difficult or unclear because you can always come back later. Students often so not realize haw time consuming it can be when they get stuck in a question, because they are nervous, working under pressure and do not feel time passing, so it is very important to work with them and their pace and capacity to leave the question behind.
7. Check. Ideally, after a lot of practice, students will develop a good technique to answer and will have some time to spare after finishing; and that is the moment they will have to review questions that were not very clear or questions that were left behind. It can also be a reassuring moment after completing one section and coming to the next feeling a bit more relaxed and ready to continue the exam.
8. Read. It may sound obvious, but I have found myself with a huge number of students who simply do not like reading. Best shot is giving them interesting material based on their individual interests to begin with. As they become less inflexible about doing it and start loving the advantages of building more vocabulary, they can start working on subjects they do not really like or find difficult.