Teaching Reading Skills to Beginners

Teaching reading: skimming and scanning One major problem that Beginner students experience when learning reading skills is words that do not have meaning, such as function words that exist for grammatical purposes; for example, determiners, which are used to add information about subjects or objects.

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Use Flashcards

One way to get learners exposed to these commonly used function words is to teach simple concrete nouns with an article. Use flash cards that have articles: ‘an apple’, ‘a boy’, ‘the window’. What this does is to help build fluency in reading as these very common function words become a part of sight vocabulary and, after much exposure to these words, the reader’s eyes skim over the word knowing that it is a part of a chunk but not essential information.

Teaching Functions

Do learners need to know what these words do, what function they fulfil? That depends on the learners, their age, learning background and needs. Many teachers get into trouble trying to teach articles because there are many reasons why we use different articles and a number of obscure rules for their usage, which can cause confusion. For Beginner learners, it is enough to simply tell them that these words change the meaning of the noun, but in small ways they can learn in later grammar-focused lessons (Read: Teach Grammar Using the Communicative Approach: Functions and Structures) .

Similarly, teachers often shy away from exposing learners to phrasal verbs, which they may only encounter them in intermediate level lessons. Why not teach some common ones as chunks? Learners don’t need any grammatical explanation more that these two words go together to have a special meaning.

Whether if the function is explained or not, an important benefit of exposing learners to chunks, is that they unconsciously learn, for example, that a singular count noun needs to have some determiner in front of it. This is one of the main rules of articles that ESL students often do not master, despite being explicitly taught the rule. Perhaps, if they had learned from the beginning to put some form of determiner in front of a singular count noun, they would not have a problem with this rule when trying to use the language later for real communicative purposes.

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