3 Developing reading and writing skills

Many teachers feel more confident reading and writing English than speaking it. Typically, secondary teachers have studied long texts, and see English texts around them every day (see the unit Local resources for teaching English).

Pause for thought

You may read and/or write English for personal as well as professional purposes. Make a note of when you read and write in English.

Compare your notes with the ones below. Did you note down anything similar? Do you have anything different? Add to the list if you like.

Things I read in English:

  • English textbooks
  • students’ assignments and exams
  • literary texts (prose, poems, stories)
  • letters, text messages (SMS), emails from friends or colleagues
  • articles or guides about teaching
  • newspapers and magazines
  • news stories on the internet
  • information on the internet
  • running headlines on TV.

Things I write in English:

  • questions and notes on the blackboard
  • instructions for students
  • tests, exam papers
  • feedback for students about their work
  • notes about classes
  • lesson plans
  • letters, text messages, emails to friends or colleagues
  • presentations (for example, for a conference)
  • school reports
  • minutes of a meeting
  • invitations.

Case Study 3: Mr Thapa improves his English through cricket

Mr Thapa is a teacher of languages at a government secondary school. He’s also a cricket fan, and his passion is helping him to improve his English.

I am very interested in cricket – very interested! It takes up all the free time I have. I like to read about players, teams and so on, and I have discovered that there is a lot of information about it on the internet.

Some of this is in Hindi, but a lot of it is in English, and I’ve found that I’ve started to read a lot of English this way. The Indian team is now touring Bangladesh, and I’ve been reading about the matches in English. I don’t find it too difficult, as I have a lot of background knowledge about the teams and players, and I also know cricket terms, as well as words related to sports.

But I’ve also learned quite a few new words and expressions as I’ve been reading. I learned the verb ‘to cash in on something’, and the word ‘hype’. I also learned the expression ‘for starters’. Some of the words I learn are quite useful, and sometimes I teach them to my students too.

The other thing that I like about articles on the internet is that readers and other fans sometimes make comments. I really enjoy reading their comments – and occasionally I’m inspired to make a comment too. I hadn’t realised it before now, but I guess that helps me practise writing in English too.

A colleague of mine does something similar, but her passion is Bollywood. She loves reading about actors and the latest movies. She’s even started to keep a small notebook, and she notes down new words and expressions that she thinks are useful. She’s really keen to improve her English.

Activity 3: Improve your reading and writing skills

One of the key ways of improving your English is to read as much as you can. This can help you with vocabulary and grammar. Find opportunities to write in English too – remember that regularity is as important as the amount of time that you spend on the activity.

Table 4 shows some ideas of things that you could read and write in English. Read each one carefully and think about the questions.

Table 4 Ideas of things that you could read and write in English.
What to read or write in EnglishQuestions
Books and novels

Can you get books in English?

Can you exchange books with friends or colleagues?

Do you have access to a library?

Newspapers and magazines

Can you get newspapers or magazines in English?

Can you exchange them with friends or colleagues?

Doctors’ prescriptions, medical reports – X-rays, blood tests, etc., official documents, noticeboards

Do you keep copies of these?

Can you explain them to your family members or colleagues?

Letters, text messages, emails, commentsDo you have contacts in other states or other countries? If you do, can you write to them in English?
Texts for yourself: shopping lists, diaries, notesCould you write texts that are for you in English instead of your home language sometimes?

Now make a plan for how you are going to improve your own reading and writing skills.

  • Which of the activities listed above will you do?
  • How often will you do each one?
  • Will you do these activities with a colleague or a friend?
  • Will you do the activities at home or at school?

Try to find something that you enjoy doing in your free time and in your own language. For example, if you enjoy reading stories, then read some in English; if you have access to the internet, read about topics that you are interested in. This way, you can make it part of your normal daily life. Buy a notebook for notes about new vocabulary and expressions. Use a dictionary as you read – you may even have one on your mobile phone. The key thing is to enjoy it!

2 Developing speaking and listening skills