1. Reading for understanding

Comprehension exercises are very common, but how well do they extend pupils’ reading skills?

Case Study 1 demonstrates that you need to think very carefully about whether the ‘reading comprehension’ questions in textbooks really help you to know what pupils have understood from their reading. You need to create questions or activities that require pupils to read information texts carefully. Activity 1 gives you some examples to try out and use as models when designing your own questions and activities. Key Resource: Using questioning to promote thinking [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   gives further ideas.

Case Study 1: Rethinking ‘reading comprehension’

At a workshop in Lusaka, Zambia, teachers of English as an additional language read a nonsense text and answered questions on it. The first sentence in this text was: ‘Some glibbericks were ogging blops onto a mung’ and the first ‘comprehension’ question was ‘Who were ogging blops onto a mung?’ Every teacher knew that the answer was ‘some glibbericks’. In their discussion, they realised they could give the ‘correct’ answer because they knew that in English, ‘some glibbericks’ was the subject of this sentence. They didn’t need to know who or what a glibberick was, in order to give the answer!

After the discussion, they worked in small groups to design questions and tasks that would show them whether or not pupils had understood the texts on which these questions and tasks were based. They learned that questions should not allow pupils to just copy information from one sentence in the text. They designed tasks in which pupils had to complete a table, design a poster or make notes to use in a debate as ways of showing what they had learned from reading a text.

They reflected that the questions they asked and the tasks they set meant they could better assess their pupils’ understanding.

Activity 1: Comprehending and responding to information texts

  • Read Resource 1: Text on litter. Make copies of the article and tasks or write the paragraphs and tasks on your chalkboard.
  • Cover them over.
  • Before pupils read the article, ask some introductory questions. Your questions should help pupils to connect what they already know to the new information in the article (see Resource 2: Introductory questions). If your pupils are young or you need to read the text to them, you could write their answers on the board.
  • Next, uncover the article and tasks, and ask pupils to read the article in silence and write answers to the tasks. When they have finished, collect their books and assess their answers.
  • Return the books and/or give the whole class oral feedback on what they did well and discuss any difficulties they experienced. (See Resource 1 for suggested answers to the tasks.)
  • In the next lesson, ask pupils to work in small groups to design an ‘anti-litter’ poster and display it in class (see Resource 3: Good posters).

Section 3: Ways of reading and responding to information texts

2. Reading charts and diagrams