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I Had to Step on the Newspaper
Tricks for Getting ESL/EFL Students to Guess

There is a great text by Francoise Grellet titled "Developing Reading Skills: A Practical Guide to Reading Comprehensive Exercises" (Cambridge, 1981), where she describes the reading process as clearly as I have ever seen it done. One key aspect of reading, according to Grellet, is anticipating or guessing what is coming next, and then checking our hypotheses, modifying them, and forming new ones as we move through the text.

How do we get English language learners who are literate in their first language to approach reading in English this way? This is much the same challenge teachers face in promoting the traditional reading skills referred to as "skimming" and "scanning." Even if learners are able to do these things in their first languages, it can be really tough to persuade them that they need to look beyond every individual word sometimes to get "the whole picture" and the general concepts from a reading text.

Ag Center cuts 100-bushel wheatI have found that it can help to create a convenient fiction, along the lines of "...I saw this great article in today's newspaper, but the wind blew it out of my hands and I had to run down the block and stomp on it, which is why it got all crumpled up like this. However, it is such a great article that I still wanted to share it with you today, so I made these copies of what was left. Let's see if we can make sense of it together."

Anyway, at this point, the teacher and the students are in a predicament which forces them to do some serious skimming for the main idea (hopefully the crumpled paper or paper with big ink blots still has at least a partial graphic to help). After brainstorming the main idea and discussing some of the visible vocabulary, it is time to put together a list of pre-reading or preview questions. But now these have a certain urgency to them because there really are some big gaps to fill in.

The teacher can determine when to pull out the full article, or at least a few more pieces of the puzzle, so that students can do some scanning to find answers to their questions and to check their guesses about the main idea.

As a little 15 or 20 minute exercise, this can give your students some verifiable experience with guessing strategies which are so crucial to building their reading skills and their confidence in English.

Story by Robb Scott, Hays, KANSAS

2003 ESL MiniConference Online