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Building language skills. Part 3: Reading

by Elaine Gallagher PART 3: READING Listening is the main source of literacy when students are beginning to learn a language. As they grow in oral language ability, the printed word becomes the second most important source of language. Eventually, as language-learners progress, in any language, including L-1, the printed word becomes more and more […]

Autor: UNOi

Fecha: 17 de noviembre de 2015

by Elaine Gallagher


Listening is the main source of literacy when students are beginning to learn a language. As they grow in oral language ability, the printed word becomes the second most important source of language. Eventually, as language-learners progress, in any language, including L-1, the printed word becomes more and more important as the main source for improving vocabulary and for expanding and strengthening the language.

Remember: The RECEPTIVE skills are listening and reading, because one receives information from those two sources. The PRODUCTIVE skills are speaking and writing, because one needs to produce something as evidence that you know a language.

Reading becomes 
important as an essential
 language skill and source of input once learners are orally fluent for their age. It’s an ability that
’s easy to acquire, especially if the learner has developed a broad listening and speaking vocabulary. Once a child has about 100 words that he/she can use spontaneously, lessons can begin on saying the alphabet, and visually identifying letters of the alphabet. Reading words using flashcards with picture images soon follows.  Making reading an enjoyable activity is an essential and imperative part of the language learning process.

Dr. Stephen Krashen in his book, “The Power of Reading” states, “We learn to read by reading.” As with anything, the more we do it, the better we can be at the activity.

Perhaps many of the so-called “reading problems” that seem to develop with some students may be that they haven’t had enough active participation in meaningful daily reading experiences. Were they read to every day by a caring teacher or loving parents? They may have been pushed to read and write before their gross motor skills were sufficiently developed. Usually adults have created the “learning problems” by confusing a child’s “intelligence” with his/her ability to read and write at younger and younger ages.

Most experts (Piaget, Montessori, Ortiz, Hull) say that about seven years of age (first grade of primary) is the best time to begin teaching reading and writing. This has been proven, over many years, as evidenced by Finland, for example, which has been #1 in the world from 65 countries on the annual PISA exams (Program for International Student Assessment).

Finland has one year of Kindergarten, with children entering at age 6, where games, songs, social skills, an expansive oral language development, story-reading, role playing, imagination experiences, arts and crafts, and gross motor skills activities are practiced. First grade in Finland, beginning at age 7, is when reading and writing begin. By then, children are neurologically ready, so have no problems learning how to read and write within  six months. They study several languages, too: Finnish, English, Russian, and Swedish. This is not unusual for Europe. There is no “rush” to get the children to read and write at very young ages. After all, what is the rush? If students perform well at age 15 on international exams requiring high level, critical thinking, such as PISA, what difference does it make that they learned to read at age 7 instead of at five? What is the rush for early reading and writing when all evidence points out that delaying teaching reading and writing until age seven obtains better long-term results? As Finnish educators proudly say, “We want our children to stay children as long as possible.”

Schools say, “parents push” for early reading and writing. This may be true in some cases, but parents must be educated about neurological development of children. Our schools are made up of educators, and it is their responsibility and moral obligation to inform parents of children’s needs and development. Educators and parents must become aware that early reading / writing does NOT imply higher intelligence.

On the contrary, if reading/writing are taught before the children are neurologically ready, while gross motor skills (jumping, hopping, running, throwing, etc.) are still being developed, they may “learn” to read and write, but by second or third grade of primary, about 15% of students exhibit signs of dyslexia, a dislike of reading, or other developmental learning problems. If, however, fine motor skills such as writing, precise cutting, reading, are delayed being taught until about age 7, it is extremely rare that children exhibit learning problems caused by “rushing” the child to read and write before he/she is biologically ready.

Of course, there are some children, who, on their own, with no parental or teacher “pushing”, begin to read and write before age 7. If it is self-initiated, fine. Some children who have had rich oral background, stories read to them from infancy, and lots of physical activities, with fully-developed gross motor skills, learn to read and write almost on-their-own. We do not want to stop these children, and their skills can be encouraged, but not pushed. It must be emphasized, however, that this small percentage of children are not necessarily smarter or more highly intelligent than others who learn to read later. It only means that they were “ready” to read. One of the easiest ways to increase students’ vocabulary is by reading aloud to them daily, from early childhood, all the way through to middle school. When reading to students, these are some suggestions for READING DEVELOPMENT:                                               1. Getting INTO the text:

Before reading (INTO)

Things to do BEFORE reading, such as:

  • Take phrases from poetry / prose. Write them on cards. Students share statements. Then students write or say what they think the selection is about leading to prediction skills.
  • After they actually read the selection, students can see how accurate their predictions were.
  • Introducing vocabulary, showing pictures that relate to the story, and discussing them and how they can relate to the story we are about to read.
  • Giving strips of paper with sentences from the story, and asking students to predict what type of story or poem they think it is. These are high level thinking skills.
  1. Working THROUGH the text

During reading (THROUGH)

Things to do DURING the reading, such as:

  • Jump-in reading: have students jump in the middle of a line, not at the end, so there’s a flow. Readers can choose when they want to jump in. This is also called Jigsaw reading.
  • Taking turns reading aloud, but with no names called….students just jump into the middle of a sentence that someone is reading aloud. This activity leads to active participation. (Remind them to read loudly.)
  • Paragraph strip: Having various paragraphs from the story passed out to students to put in the correct sequential order.
  • Vocabulary collecting: Making a list or poster of new words that they do not know from the story.
  • Paraphrase activity: Paraphrasing is difficult, even for good readers…So in this activity, the teacher provides a paraphrased paragraph, and the students have to find which complete paragraph it came from.
  • Using a T- graph or other graphic organizer to compare or contrast characters or events from the story.
  • Who said what? Using a Venn diagram to compare / contrast events, characters, positives / negatives in the story.
  1. Moving BEYOND the text

After the reading….(BEYOND)

Things to do AFTER reading the text, such as:

  • After reading, you can do a completion exercise to help students exhibit that they comprehend the story read.
  • EXAMPLE: Use the formula: Somebody / wanted / but / so / then
  • Using the “Goldilocks” story, for example:

      Somebody      wanted             but                                  so                    then

Goldilocks      to eat & sleep   The bears came home     She ran away  Bears were alone,

    This activity leads to better comprehension skills.



  • Writing a letter home, as if you are a character in the story.
  • Drawing a sequence chart or picture from the story.
  • Writing a summary or making a book jacket of the story or article.
  • Making a timeline of events in the story or article.
  • Dramatization of the story or of a scene.
  • Discussing motives of the author or characters.
  • Using props or realia that relate to the story, such as an exhibition after having read a story.
  • Learning a song or listening to music that relates to the story.
  • Watching a movie or video related to the story, article, or book read.

We learn writing structures better from seeing them in readings than from grammar lessons.   So, what should you do?

You’ll have many opportunities to work with your students to develop reading skills.

  • How should teachers check for understanding as they teach?

By constant questioning…
As they read the story aloud, teach a lesson, or the students reading a story, poem, or article, teachers should always ask questions as they go along with the lesson.

  • What kinds of things should teachers do to enhance reading skills?

      There are 6 things to help develop better reading skills:   

  • A chance to read at their instructional and independent reading levels.
  • Better ways to build vocabulary.
  • Comprehension strategies that help them understand what they’ve read.
  • Decoding strategies (phonics) that help them get through big words.
  • Engaging texts that they want to read.
  • Frequent opportunities for word work that leads to better spelling and that builds vocabulary.



Vary the use of activities. We don’t always know students’ learning preferences. (Multiple Intelligences) Let’s look at some activities to help us with ideas for vocabulary development, teaching grammar points interestingly, logical thinking activities, some games and kinesthetic work, discussing, predicting, and summarizing.

The initial experience: (For grades 4th – 9th)

Most students believe they read well. This experience may give them a rude awakening but it will help to pave the way so you can interest students in paying closer attention to what they read. Give each student a copy of the following sheet, and tell them they have 3 minutes to read and complete what it says to do.


This is a timed test. You only have three minutes to do it.

  1. Read everything carefully before doing anything.
  2. Write your name in the upper right hand corner of this paper.
  3. Circle the word “name” in sentence number two.
  4. Draw five small squares in the upper left hand corner of this paper.
  5. Put an “X” inside each of the 5 squares you just drew.
  6. Put a circle around each square.
  7. Sign your name beside the title of this paper.
  8. Under the title write “YES, YES, YES”.
  9. Put a circle completely around sentence seven.
  10. Put an “X” in the lower left corner of this paper.
  11. Draw a triangle around the “X” you just wrote.
  12. On the back of this paper, multiply 703 by 66.
  13. Draw a rectangle around the word “corner” in sentence four.
  14. Loudly call out your first name when you get this far.
  15. If you think you have followed directions carefully to this point, call out “I have”.
  16. On the back of this paper add 8950 and 9805.
  17. Put a circle around your answer and a square around the circle.
  18. In your normal speaking voice, count aloud from 10 to 0, backwards.
  19. Punch 3 holes in the top of this paper with your pen or pencil point.
  20. If you are the first person to reach this point, loudly call out: “I am the first person to reach this point. And I am the leader in following directions”.
  21. Underline all even numbers on the left side of this page.
  22. Put a square around each odd number on the left side of this page.
  23. Loudly call out, “I AM NEARLY FINISHED. I HAVE FOLLOWED ”
  24. Now that you have finished reading everything carefully, do only sentences one and two.

TEACHERS: This activity may open the eyes of your students to the necessity of careful reading. Usually, this activity finds that many students do NOT read and follow the instructions correctly. It is a good way to begin a reading class because it makes very clear how important it is to follow directions exactly.



ACTIVITY 1: Using picture flashcards

Flashcards or drawings can support reading progress. There is a list of 100 Picture Words which can be drawn or cut out of magazines or from Internet drawings. Just go to Google “images”, and you can ask for pictures of almost anything, and they will quickly appear so you can print them out and cut/paste them to make flashcards, with the picture on one side and the word printed on the other side. You probably already know lots of uses and games using flashcards, so these can be used in the same way.

If you don’t have the list of the “100 Picture Words”. I’ll include them at the end of this article.

ACTIVITY 2: Reading a story from a book  (Daily!)

This activity can be done with students of any age. Even older children and adults enjoy story-reading when it is done with enthusiasm. Show the students the book, and tell them a little bit about the topic, so they can anticipate what it’s about…Don’t think that they won’t understand you. Maybe they won’t… but they surely will not grow in English if you do not make English essential to know. Even if they only understand a little of what you say, it is advancement. For example, if you are introducing the story “Jack and the Beanstalk”, you may first show the book, its cover, and a few pictures. Then you may say,

“Today I will read you a new story called Jack and the Beanstalk. It is about a boy named Jack who sells his family’s cow, but instead of money for selling the cow, he accepts some magic beans. When Jack’s mother throws the beans out the window, a huge, magic beanstalk grows. Jack climbs it to the top and finds a mean, ugly giant…”

The child may only recognize the few words that are highlighted…but it is a start. After the introduction, and before reading the story, the teacher should show the pictures and say one key word from each picture, for students to repeat. In this way, basic vocabulary will be introduced, which will aid in the comprehension of the story.

Vocabulary Examples:


The next step is to read the story, using facial expressions, voice pitch and intonation, and body language to make the story as clear as possible to the children. Once the story has been read, don’t put the book aside. Read and re-read stories so that the words become “old friends” to your students.

ACTIVITY 3: Reading a Class Story

This activity can be conducted once students have a basic oral vocabulary. They can tell you a story, which you will write on large paper so they can make the connection between the oral and written language. Once the story is done, read the entire story to the students.

Then, outside of class, the teacher will have to copy the story, using a computer, if possible, for clear letters. Then the teacher will need to make a copy of the story for each student. The students will then “read” the story to the teacher and to each other…. and make illustrations, so they can bring the “book” home to read to their parents or a younger sibling.

This activity helps with oral language development, listening skills, reading, and eventually, with writing, as the children can write a story once they have developed writing skills. Even adults learning a language can dictate a story.

ACTIVITY 4: Reading Cards

The teacher can prepare a set of 5 x 7 inch index cards with a simple picture that he/she cuts from a magazine and pastes on the card. On the reverse side, in neat printing or (better!) with computer text, the teacher will write a very short story for the children to read to themselves, to encourage reading. The picture will be a guide.

Examples: PICTURE: a pink flower

STORY: The pink flower is so pretty. It smells good, too. I want to give a flower to my grandmother. I love my grandmother.

PICTURE: a black and white dog.

STORY: I have a dog. His name is Harry. Harry is black and white He loves to   play with me. I throw a ball, and Harry runs to get it.

ACTIVITY 5: Using a T-graph

Each student will make a large T in the center of a piece of paper. At the top left, the students will write any letter of the alphabet that they are learning, and on the right top section of the T, they will write another letter.

For example, they may write A and B…as shown below.


(Draw a BIG T. The top of the T has a letter at each end, like the A and B here.)

Then, the students will look at a book, a story, or a magazine to find words that begin with these two letters. If they know how to write, they will copy the words under the side of the T where the letter is.

If they do not yet write, and this is a recognition exercise, they can cut out the appropriate words, and paste them in the correct column.

This same T-graph could be used to compare stories, characters, or events. The teacher can use creative ideas for which two things will be compared or contrasted, and have students write them in the top section of the T.

ACTIVITY 6: Reading Conversation

This activity practices reading, as well as listening and speaking skills. The activity takes about 10 minutes…and can be done about once a week to help build reading vocabulary as well as oral fluency in conversation situations.
The teacher will prepare a series of 3 x 5 inch index cards with sentences or phrases that can be spoken between two people, written, one on each side of the card.

The conversation starter, side 1, needs to be designated. The easiest way is by making a circle, or a fat dot, with a marker or highlighter. The circle/dot should be in the same place on all cards, such as the upper left, so students can quickly assess who will be speaking first. The teacher should make about 100 of these cards, which can be used all year. Once they are made, the teacher can pass out 3 cards to each pair of students.

STUDENT 1 begins with reading aloud the side of the card he/she has in view, holding up the card so that the partner can see what’s written on side 2, the response side.

Once they have completed the 3 cards, they switch positions, with the student who had begun the conversation, now becoming the one who responds to his/her partner’s question.

With 100 cards made, if the teacher does this activity for 10 minutes once a week, there will be enough cards for the whole school year, just by passing out the cards at random, so that students don’t get the same cards. Each time they do the activity. If they do, they can exchange cards with another pair of students.

Once the students get good at this activity, they can then make up their own answers to the questions, so that only Side 1 (the one with the color on the upper left corner) will be used. Here are 25 samples for you so you can begin making your cards. From your books and school activities, you will be able to prepare more so there will be enough for a full class activity, with several cards for each pair of students.


  • Side 1. Hi!  My name’s Sara. What’s yours?
  • Side 2. My name’s Samantha.
  • Side 1. How are you today?
  • Side 2. I’m fine, thanks.
  • Side 1: My name’s John. What’s yours?
  • Side 2: My name’s Robert.
  • Side 1. Where do you live?
  • Side 2. On Calle Nogal…Number 252.
  • Side 1. In what neighborhood is Calle Nogal?
  • Side 2. It’s in Colonia Jardín.
  • Side 1. How old are you?
  • Side 2. I’m 12..
  • Side 1. What does your father do?
  • Side 2. He is a truck driver.
  • Side 1. Do you have a pet?
  • Side 2. Yes, a cat. Her name is Kitty.
  • Side 1. Do you have any brothers or sisters?
  • Side 2. Yes, I have one sister and two brothers.
  • Side 1. What are your two brothers’ names?
  • Side 2. Fred…and my other brother is Jim.
  • Side 1. What’s your sister’s name?
  • Side 2. Mary Elizabeth
  • Side 1. Are you hungry?
  • Side 2. Yes, I’m starving.
  • Side 1. What can we eat for a snack?
  • Side 2. Let’s make a ham and cheese sandwich.
  • Side 1. What kind of music do you like?
  • Side 2. Mostly, I like guitar music and modern music.
  • Side 1. Do you dance?
  • Side 2. Not too well….but I like to dance.
  • Side 1. What’s your English teacher’s name?
  • Side 2. Her name is Teacher Sandra.
  • Side 1. Do you like your English teacher?
  • Side 2. Yes, she is fun; and we play lots of games.
  • Side 1. What do you do after school?
  • Side 2. I help my mother cook and clean.
  • Side 1. What do you like to do at home?
  • Side 2. I love to watch TV.
  • Side 1. What do you do on Saturdays?
  • Side 2. I help my father clean the garden.
  • Side 1. Where do you like to visit during vacations?
  • Side 2. I love to go to my grandparents’ ranch in the mountains.
  • Side 1. What do you do at the ranch?
  • Side 2. I ride the horse, and milk the cow, and collect the eggs from the chickens.


ACTIVITY 7: Newsweek or Time Magazine Lesson  (Grades 5 – 9)

Teacher says, “Today you and your team / group are going to read an article in Newsweek or Time magazine.”

Instructions for the activity:

First, take a few minutes to look through this week’s edition of the magazine. Then, with your group, decide which article you are going to read. You can choose any feature article.

Preview the article first to be certain that it is an article you’re interested in reading. Look at the pictures, read the captions and subject headings, and skim the first few paragraphs. Next, read the article. Do NOT use a dictionary. As you read, do two things:

  1. Circle any key words you don’t know.
  2. Take notes in the margins. If you can’t understand something, write a question about it.

Once you have finished reading, get together with your group again. Ask your group for help with the questions you wrote in the margins. Ask your group for help with vocabulary. Your group leader will take notes as you discuss the following:

  • What is the main idea of the article?
  • What are some of the important supporting details?
  • Identify the who, what, when, where, and how of the article.
  • Did anything about the article surprise you?
  • What is your opinion on this topic?
  • Finally, your group should elect a “spokesperson.”

This person is going to provide a brief oral summary of the article to the rest of the class. During this informal presentation, the other groups are expected to ask questions and generate class discussion on the topic.

Activity 8: Bingo

BINGO is an excellent way to practice vocabulary, spelling words, phonics, prefixes, and other written material. Twenty-five words on a card (5 x 5) can be used. You will need one card for each player. Each card can have the SAME words, but arranged differently. To win: a line or a column, or a diagonal line can win.

Then the teacher can have all the students complete all the items on the card so all the class will have practice. The words used can be drawn from a bag to assure fairness.


Fry’s 100 Picture Words

These words are nouns for which pictures can be found or drawn, in order to have sets of flashcards for the class. Students also could make their own if they are old enough.

The word should be written on one side of the card, and a picture of it on the reverse side. 3 x 5 index cards are great to use for this activity. Until students know all these words well enough to write them correctly, they can use the flash cards to help them with writing assignments.


  1. PEOPLE                     boy       girl      man          woman      baby
  2. TOYS                         ball       doll      train         game         toy
  3. NUMBERS                  one       two      three        four          five
  4. CLOTHING                 shirt      pants   dress        shoes       hat
  5. PETS                         cat        dog      bird          fish           rabbit
  6. FURNITURE               table     chair    sofa          chest        desk
  7. EATING OBJECTS     cup       plate    bowl         fork          spoon
  8. TRANSPORTATION   car        truck    bus          plane        boat
  9. FOOD                       bread    meat    soup        apple        cereal
  10. DRINKS                    water    milk       juice       soda         tea
  11. ENTERTAINMENT     radio     movie    band       ball game  television
  12. FRUIT                       fruit      orange  grape      pear          banana
  13. WORKERS               farmer  cook     doctor     nurse         policeman
  14. SKY THINGS            sun       moon    star        cloud          rain
  15. TOYS                       ball      doll        train       game         toy
  16. NUMBERS                six       seven     eight      nine            ten
  17. FARM ANIMALS       horse   cow      pig          chicken       duck
  18. READING THINGS    book  letter   sign         magazine    newspaper
  19. PLANTS                    bush    flower  grass       plant           tree
  20. WRITING TOOLS      pencil   pen    crayon     chalk           computer

Final comments to the readers from the author

If you don’t have time to do anything suggested in this article, if you don’t give any tests, don’t teach any phonics or instant words, don’t ask any comprehension questions, don’t require written stories and don’t have time for students to read aloud… the least YOU can do is read aloud to your students every day!