Necessity of developing active reading skills in efl learners through reading authentic literature

When thinking about learning a foreign language, people tend to focus on speaking, pronunciation, and some, who have been exposed to a foreign speech long enough, might mention listening as important areas of development for acquiring a foreign language. Ignoring reading, especially reading authentic literature, takes its toll on English-as-aForeign-Language (EFL) learners and affects all other skills, such as speaking, listening, and writing. EFL learners that the author refers to throughout the work are EFL learners majoring in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), i.e. students learning English to teach it to others.

This work while focusing on reading does not have as its aim to downplay the roles of the other three skills: speaking, listening, and writing. On the contrary, the work embarks on the quest of restoring some of the ignored but vital aspects of teaching reading authentic literature in the target language that will inevitably result in overall better foreign language acquisitionThe author of this work believes that teaching combined extensive and intensive reading skills without unnecessary divorce between the two types of reading is the optimal way of teaching reading to TEFL students at a local university. Before launching into the discussion of the important teaching reading aspects, one should be aware of the differences between intensive and extensive reading since it is on the analysis of those two that the claim stated in this work will be supported.

According to the description of intensive reading provided by the British Council website, intensive reading focuses on reading with special attention to details presented in the text for the purpose of answering some questions, accomplishing various tasks. An example of intensive reading might be reading a text and choosing the most appropriate title for the text among the presented options. Intensive reading exercises can vary from skimming a text to answer a specific question to scanning a jumbled text extracts to put them in the required order (http://www. teachingenglish. knowledge-database/ intensive-reading). Alice Omaggio Hadley in her book Teaching Language in Context (2001) defines intensive reading partially by comparing it to extensive reading, “In intensive reading,”-Hadley states, “often for information, students need to understand linguistic as well as semantic detail and pay close attention to the text. In extensive reading, often for pleasure, students need not necessary comprehend all the details of the text. Rather, speed and skill in getting the gist are more important criteria for training in this type of reading task. Understanding in a general way the author’s intent, getting the main ideas, and reacting to the material personally are also reading goals when reading extensively” (Hadley, 205).

British Council definition of extensive reading agrees with the provided above definition, adding that students in order to enjoy reading in the second / foreign language should have a say in choosing books to read depending on their interests. According to the same source, discussions do not necessarily have to follow extensive reading (http://www. teachingenglish. articles/ extensivereading).

Division between the two types of reading makes it clear that it is the purpose for which EFL learners read that serves as a decisive criterion between the two types of reading. Intensive – extensive reading classification is helpful in EFL classroom for it makes reading purposes and goals clear both for an EFL teacher and an EFL learner, which might and should result in a more efficient reading, that is, reading that achieves its stated goal.

Most of the interactive English textbooks used by local universities nowadays teach intensive reading skills. Students themselves are more willing to grow as intensive readers. International English tests such as International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), passing which opens new educational opportunities in English-speaking countries, make intensive reading skills more and more popular. While, developing intensive reading skills is important and highlydemanded, test-geared ignorance about and ignoring of extensive reading is dangerous for EFL learners majoring in TEFL. Hadley provides several reasons “… for including reading skill development as a vital part of the second-language curriculum: (1) Reading is still essential in the teaching of literature, which remains an important goal in many programs; (2) it is a skill that can be maintained after students complete formal language study; (3) it fosters the development and refinement of literacy skills” (Hadley, 177).

Although Hadley does not differentiates between the two types of reading in the presented extract, in light of unbalanced attention to intensive reading and generally sunk-intooblivion extensive reading, it appears necessary to restore the value of extensive reading, introduce it back into EFL classrooms, and teach EFL students to enjoy it not merely for the aesthetic pleasure it brings, but to approach extensive reading with intensive reading techniques to enjoy it even more than before.

Besides, taking into consideration the fact that TEFL student indeed take English literature course and encounter many other classes where extensive reading is essential, extensive reading becomes all the more important for that group of students.

Even though for the sake of making an argument and because of the extensive research done in the area of reading, intensive and extensive types of reading are separated in EFL classroom, in real life people sometimes combine intensive and extensive reading when using their native language. In that regard, a quote by Adler (1940:14) describes one of the instances when two types of readings merge into an acute meaning-deciphering activity.

If we consider men and women generally, and apart from their professions or occupations, there is only one situation I can think of in which they almost pull themselves up by their bootstraps, making an effort to read better than they usually do. When they are in love and are reading a love letter, they read for all they worth. They read every word three ways; they read between the lines and in the margins; they grow sensitive to context and ambiguity, to insinuation and implication; they perceive the color of words, the odor of phrases, and the weight of sentences. They may even take the punctuation into account. Then, if never before or after, they read.

Sadly, the two types of reading are either being divorced from each other completely in EFL classrooms or taught not in the most efficient way. Disregarding purposes of reading, stages of reading depending on the type of reading, level of the English language acquisition in a particular group, interests and the demographic characteristics of a group – disregard for all of the mentioned factors combined result in less efficient way of teaching reading.

The two ways of approaching reading that have been dominating EFL classrooms for decades in East Kazakhstan universities specializing in teaching future EFL teachers come down to Home Reading and Individual Reading with the exception of occasional reading of texts in English textbooks with the sole purpose of picking up new vocabulary and seeing that vocabulary within a context. While good in themselves, Home Reading and Individual Reading were narrowed down to summarizing the content of the text and, in case of Home Reading, to unguided or poorly conducted discussions. For Individual Reading students were not even required to discuss the text. Roughly, Individual Reading falls into extensive reading category and Home Reading – into intensive reading category because of the discussion.

It is necessary to explain in more detail why Home and Individual Readings were inefficient. Individual Reading was done by EFL students without instructor’s guidance as to how to read the text and what to do with it except for preparing a summary and some new vocabulary. EFL students are required to read Individual Reading books beginning either first or second semester of their freshmen year. Depending on the level of English language acquisition, students might or might not have problems with approaching Individual Reading. In case of a lower level of English acquisition, students are left groping for meaning in the text they encounter one-on-one with nobody to help. Not being aware of the reading process, students, thus, remain unaware of the reasons for unsuccessful attempts to at least decode the sentences in English. The consequence of that is either unprepared for Individual Reading students or students deprived of any desire to do anything with reading in English unless left without a choice.

In case of Home Reading texts that students are expected to read are usually shorter than those for Individual Reading. Students read a Home Reading text, do some vocabulary exercises, if those are provided, and then have discussions based on the text. Discussions, as have been mentioned above, are either not guided or poorly conducted. Guidance-deprived discussions are those that have questions asked in random order for the sake of stating questions, that is, for the sake of speaking. This attitude results from the attitude students approach the text with. Students see a text as a frame within which a target vocabulary is engraved. Their mission then becomes to pick out those verbal gems and apply them when speaking. This attitude creates an artificial discussion that focuses on using the target vocabulary, not so much on analyzing what was read, which unmistakably will involve the use of the target vocabulary. Excessive focus on the use of target vocabulary leads discussions into dead-ends that are usually worded as “It all depends” or “Tastes differ.” Those notorious answers known to many EFL students and instructors are usual closures to pretended discussions.

Home and Individual Readings are not being criticized in themselves. It is how they are being handled that is being addressed. Approaching reading with full understanding of the potential and deep and clear view of the process of reading could bring out of Home and Individual Readings so much more than mere summary and a list of words to memorize.

Reading does not end with simply decoding symbols written or typed on a medium (paper, computer screen). Reading is one of perceptive skills. When information is received through reading, it is usually processed. Knowing that, EFL instructors should not ignore the cognitive side of reading in the target language. Therefore, discussions questions should create an environment and a need for talking about the text; the questions should evoke interest in the reading material and create a desire to think about the text deeper.

One can achieve that through modeling effective discussions conducted as Socratic seminars. Socratic seminar is a method of approaching reading material through asking three types of questions in order to analyze the text in focus. Socratic Seminar encourages students to think about the material, form their opinions, and share their views. This teaching method has a lot to offer for EFL teachers and learners because it creates almost perfect environment for application of grammar, vocabulary, and speaking skills. When conducting a Socratic seminar students should come to the class having read the text beforehand.

Instructor prepares a set of questions for each stage of the seminar. The first group of questions is Opening questions. Opening questions have several objectives among which are to guide students’ thinking in the necessary for the seminar direction, to help students relate to the text they read, to activate the necessary vocabulary for further discussion. One of the ways of conducting this part of Socratic seminar is handing out a list of various questions based on the text, e.g., pick different situations from the text and ask questions about those situations, giving students some time to choose a question they want to answer and prepare their answer. To open the floor for discussion every student should answer one of the opening questions. Students may do in any order. The main condition of conducting this part of the seminar is that no one is excluded from answering one opening question.

Next stage of Socratic seminar is asking Core questions. Core questions shift focus from the readers to the actual text. Those types of questions deal with some particular conflict and characters within the context of the story. These questions usually try answer Why questions, trying to understand the reasoning behind the events and actions in the given text.

The last type of questions being presented during the seminar is closing questions. Closing questions connect the story and the students to a global community. They bring conflict and reasons of the conflict outside of the text and see how conclusions made about the conflict can be applied in real life of students in particular and of society in general.

By conducting and modeling Socratic seminars several times, instructor later may delegate the responsibility of preparing seminar questions and conducting the actual seminars to the students. Socratic seminars train students to approach a literary text with questions similar to opening, core, and closing questions. Socratic seminars encourage students to think about a text in a foreign language in the same way they might approach a text in their native language. When carefully planned, these seminars create an environment within which new vocabulary can be meaningfully applied not for the sake of uttering new words, but in a natural sense of using words, that is, to express one’s thoughts and opinions. Socratic seminars combine both extensive and intensive reading skills because students approach a literary text read for pleasure with the intensity of intensive reading, digging into the text to appreciate it even more and get pleasure that is more aesthetic from reading it. While Socratic seminars are instructor-

led at least at the beginning, creating literature circles and discussing books in literature circles is students-led by definition. In literature circles, it is the circle members who take the responsibility for reading and thinking about the texts. Literature circles are groups of students that read the same book together at the same pace and meet regularly to discuss what they have read from different perspectives. Literature circles are not new, they are new in Kazakhstan.

Behind the idea of literature circles lies a natural desire of active readers to share their impressions about what they have read. Some of the students might not even be active readers, Literature circles help to develop active reading skills for those students who lack the necessary skills. What literature circles do is creating an environment that encourages and organizes meaningful reading discussions. Students not being exposed to the phenomenon of independently discussing and sharing their thoughts about reading material do not usually have a clear idea of how people should get together and talk about books. Literature circles are helpful in that regard by way of having different roles assigned to circle members. Students rotate their roles as they progress through the book that the circle is reading.

When organizing literature circles, instructor should keep in mind that students should have a choice as to what book their group would like to read. Instructor should provide as broad of a choice for the groups as possible. Questionnaires might be helpful when providing a book and creating a circle. Students can either organize themselves into literature circles by book they chose or by the people they feel comfortable discussing a book. In any case, students should not be forced into a literature circle.

Possible literature circle roles include Summarizer, Connector, Literary Luminary, Researcher, and Questioner. (Daniels, 107). Presented roles target active reading skills. When performing assigned literature circle roles, students become aware of the process that is involved in developing targeted active reading skills as each role is explained and broken down to easy-to-follow steps. Rotating the roles provides students with opportunities to develop all of the active reading skills and hopefully develop a habit of reading texts actively.

As with the Socratic Seminars, Literature Circles combine intensive and extensive reading skills helping students appreciate and enjoy reading with more. Combining extensive and intensive reading skills is what is necessary to restore deep, meaningful, exuberant nature of reading literary text in a target foreign language. Students are aware of the fact that they are reading in a foreign language when they encounter the alphabetic symbols of that foreign language on a page. The goal of merging intensive and extensive skills is to make students aware of the fact that they are reading a literary text and should enjoy the process just as if they do when reading in their native language.

Erasing difference between reading in one’s native and foreign languages in terms of comprehension and reading goal cannot happen only by enlarging one’s vocabulary in a foreign language. One needs to treat reading in a foreign language as one does reading in a native language with objective exceptions to some extra work done while reading in a foreign language. When students majoring in TEFL realize that they can enjoy literature in a foreign language the same way they do in their native language, they feel encouraged and empowered and the challenges they face when encountering a text in a foreign target language cease to dismay a reader, but entice him / her with potential enjoyment anticipated as one copes with those challenges on the quest of enjoying the text.

Reading does not end with decoding written symbols. Reading, when unfolded, is decoding the message, the reason and purpose that drove the source of the message to deliver the message, receiver’s response to the message, and the impact it has on both the source and the receiver of the message, or to put it plainly, reading is a live conversation. The live conversation that is happening between an author and his/ her audience, it is so live that time and space separating the participants of this conversation is not a hindrance, but a medium, delivering the words through ages and continents. Shrinking reading down to a mere source of new vocabulary or disgracing it with un-thought and lightly-taken ‘discussions’ does not do the justice to the true, deep, and rich meaning and purpose reading is intended for.



  1. Daniels, Harvey. Literature Circle: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups. Portland: Sten house Publishers, 2002. Print.
  2. Hudson, Thom. Teaching Second Language Reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
  3. Hadley, Alice Omaggio. Teaching Language in Context. Boston: Heiley& Heiley, 2001. Print.
  4. “Intensive Reading.” Teaching English. British Council. Web. 1 March. 2012.
  5. “Extensive Reading.” Teaching English. British Council. Web. 1 March. 2012.
Year: 2012
City: Oskemen
Category: Philology