What makes a good reader? While reading a lot helps, it’s important to develop your learners’ strategies for reading effectively. Cambridge English Qualifications have been designed to help learners develop the different reading skills they need in the real world, progressing step by step from reading short simple texts to understanding complex texts and abstract ideas.
We have created five guides to developing reading skills with classroom activities for A2 Key for Schools, B1 Preliminary for Schools, B2 First for Schools, C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency. As well as providing familiarity with exam tasks, the teaching ideas, tips and strategies covered in these guides will help you feel more confident in teaching reading skills, as well as helping your learners to become better readers. Here we explore some of those teaching ideas and consider characteristics of a good reader.
Good readers … regularly read a wide range of texts
Reading a wide range helps readers quickly recognise what type of text they’re looking at, guess who wrote it, for whom and why – and predict where useful information is likely to be. As well as improving comprehension, this helps learners read more efficiently.
A fun way of helping learners recognise the features of different texts is ‘flash reading’. For example, use a short text from A2 Key for Schools or B1 Preliminary for Schools Reading Part 1. Let the learners look at the text for just a few seconds, then ask them to identify:
- the type of text
- who wrote it
- for whom
- the purpose of the text
- what it’s about.
Ask learners to explain their answers before giving feedback. They may be surprised at how much they can tell from the layout alone.
See a demonstration of this activity in the A2 Key for Schools teacher guide to developing reading skills, Part 1.
Good readers … use different skills
Good readers read texts in different ways, looking at the layout and headings, and reading quickly to get a general feel for the text (skimming), before reading more intensively or to find specific details (scanning).
When setting up reading activities, explain which reading skills should be used for each task. Our guides tell you which skills you need to use in each exam task. For example, should learners read every word carefully, or try to locate specific information as quickly as possible? Elicit why. This increases learner awareness of different reading skills and when they are helpful.
Develop scanning skills by getting learners to find words in a competitive activity. Partners race against each other to find a word or piece of information to win points.
- Pair learners carefully, ensuring they are of a similar reading level, and give them a text.
- First ask them to scan quickly to find a specific word, then to find how many examples there are of a word that you choose in a text.
- Increase the level of challenge by giving synonyms of words; e.g. if you want learners to find the word, ‘rough’ from the text, tell them to find a synonym of ‘not smooth’ (B1), ‘not exact’ (B1) ‘difficult’ (B2) or ‘dangerous’ (C1).
- Or give more general descriptions such as ‘Find a type of building’ or ‘Find a time’.
- Use level-appropriate texts. For example, you can use texts from the sample tests for Cambridge English Qualifications.
See an example of this activity in the B2 First for Schools teacher guide to developing reading skills, Part 1.
Good readers … guess the meaning of words they don’t know
A good reader is often able to guess the meaning of an unknown word. Learners who know to look for clues in the text are more able to work out the meaning of new words and continue reading independently. For example, you can teach them how to look at the surrounding text, the word’s position in the sentence, what type of word it is and how prefixes and suffixes are used.
Help learners identify key information about unknown words (which can help them make better guesses about their meaning) in this competitive, collaborative activity. Start by giving learners texts with some words blanked out. Groups work against the clock to identify as many ways of filling each gap as possible. They must justify their suggestions, ensuring they fit grammatically and make sense – award points accordingly.
- Use level-appropriate texts. For example, you can use texts from our sample papers.
- Get learners to challenge their classmates with their own gap-filled texts.
See an example of this activity in the B1 Preliminary for Schools teacher guide to developing reading skills, page 25.
Good readers … reflect on what they read
Good readers think about what they read and make a note of new vocabulary. Reflecting on what they liked, learned and want to know more about helps readers to make sense of a text, generating curiosity and motivation to read more.
Generate interest and guide reflection in this simple but effective pre- and post-reading activity. Ask learners to draw a simple table with four columns. Before they read, ask learners to note what they already know about a topic in the first column, before adding things they want to know in the second. As well as generating motivation to read, this provides teachers with lots of useful information about their learners. After reading, learners can then add the things they have learned to a third column and what they are going to discover next to a fourth.
- Include time in your lesson plan for learners to update their vocabulary books with new words found during reading activities.
- Extend reading activities by getting learners to discuss or write about them afterwards, giving learners opportunities to immediately use new words themselves.
Watch our webinars for more ideas on teaching reading skills: