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What is Intensive Reading?

Intensive Reading (IR) occurs when the learner is focused on the language rather than the text. For example, the learner may be answering comprehension questions, learning new vocabulary, studying the grammar and expressions in the text, translating the passage (sometimes called 'careful reading'), or other tasks that involve the student in looking intensively (inside) the text. Most often all the students read the same short text that the teacher decided.

The advantage of IR is that it focuses the learner on certain aspects of the language. However, IR is usually done with difficult texts with many unknown words that require the learner to use a dictionary. This means the reading is slow and that there are few opportunities for the learner to learn to read smoothly, because she has to stop every few seconds to work on something she can't understand.  This slows or prevents the development of fluent eye movements that are so necessary to improve one's reading skill.

IR is the most typically taught method of teaching reading.  Unfortunately some teachers only know this method and believe that by teaching the vocabulary and grammar that is all the learner needs.  This is not so, she also needs practice in reading and to be trained in developing reading skills.


Intensive reading strategies

* Pre-reading prediction activities: Before reading an article in a magazine or newspaper, you usually form some idea of what it is about from the accompanying photo or headline. So to heighten interest before starting to read a text in class with your students, use the picture or title to brainstorm and elicit possible vocabulary (that you can put on the blackboard) or just to discuss what the article is about: Who exactly is the person jumping off that tower on page 40 of English in Mind 2 and what does it have to do with Growing up?

* Reading for gist or 'skimming' for main ideas: Intensive reading texts in English in Mind start with pre-reading tasks or questions to focus students' attention on the main ideas in the text during a first, quick 'diagonal' reading about the topic. Teach your students 'skimmed milk' and relate reading for gist to 'skimming' the best part, the cream off the top of a bottle of milk. Get your students into the habit of reading the questions first and then using a finger to guide their eyes quickly over the texts - and to look up, close their books or raise their hands when they have found the answers.

* Reading for specific information or 'scanning': Intensive reading texts in English in Mind are accompanied by exercises which ask your students to read closely to find (only) the information necessary to answer specific questions. This is also called 'scanning', so use the image of a scanner in a hospital that is looking for a particular point or problem in the body - and doesn't stop to wonder about other parts. Have your students use their eyes and a finger to shift the focus of their 'scanner' from individual questions to the specific point in the text where they can find the answer. They can even place their finger on that part of the text while writing the answer or discussing with a classmate.

* Ask your students to try out the techniques presented in the 'Reading tips' from the 'Skills in Mind' sections of their English in Mind workbook with reading assignments in history or other school subjects - and then to report back on how this 'transfer of skills' and 'cross-curricular' approach worked.

* Remember to be flexible and change the ways you present an intensive reading text. All of the texts which start the units of English in Mind are recorded on the accompanying class cassettes or audio CDs, so you might have weaker classes listen to the recording while following in their books the first time they read a text; or have your stronger class first listen to the recording with their books closed and then read the text. You might also try playing background music while the class is reading: not only can you use the song to time the exercise, but it can also have a calming, focusing effect.

* And why not have your students share some of their own techniques and strategies on how they read? Their classmates might listen more closely to them than to you - and you might learn something to help out students in other classes.

Article source: Anderson, G. (2006). "Be sensitive… to both intensive and extensive reading". Cambridge University Press.