Este material incluye sugerencias para trabajar la enseñanza de la lectura a partir de diferentes unidades lingüísticas con distintos grados de complejidad sintáctica.

When we read, there's interaction between the text we're interpreting and ourselves. This means that as we face a text, we start by recognising and decoding words, phrases, and chunks. Chunk is a very informal umbrella term used to refer to a number of linguistic units with different degrees of syntactic complexity.

What does this mean?

A chunk may be the beautiful flowers, a noun phrase; it could also be the beautiful flowers that my learners gave me, which includes a noun phrase modified by a relative clause; it could also be the beautiful flowers that my learners gave me for Teacher's Day, which incorporates an adverbial adjunct of time within the relative clause. And we could go on.

Fluent readers can interpret very long chunks: the more fluent, the longer the chunks. As we've seen, chunks are based on syntactic structure. So fluency in reading can be said to be based on syntactic intuition, among other factors. Such is the case of visual discrimination. Immature foreign language readers might get stuck if they cannot recognise words. So syntactic recognition is possible if and only if the learner has been able to solve difficulties at the level of word recognition.

Fluency in reading is obviously a desirable objective. But there are many other aspects that contribute to a quick interpretation. One is previous knowledge on the topic: the more the reader knows, the smoother the interpretation. Another aspect is the number of clues that visuals accompanying the text itself provide the reader with: pictures, photos, and charts. These constitute the paratext. All these elements allow the reader to make guesses and predict what the text will be about. Note that last comes the linguistic knowledge available to the learner.

Interpreting a text assumes previous (personal) knowledge, shared knowledge, a capacity to process information, and inferencing strategies.

In doing all this, the reader resorts to schemata. What are schemata? They are mental representations of typical instances, and they are used in processing information to predict and make sense of the particular instance that the text –oral or written– describes. The idea is that the mind, stimulated either by key linguistic items in the text (often referred to as triggers), or by the context, activates a schema, and uses it to make sense of the discourse.

A task-based content-based approach requires a balance between skills and language development. Some of the key skills to be learnt or transferred into the new language are:

  • Selecting what is relevant for the identified purpose.
  • Using all the paratextual clues available.
  • Skimming for content and meaning.
  • Scanning for specific information.
  • Identifying the text organisation.
  • Interpreting relations within sentences and across sentences.
  • Interpreting cohesive and discourse markers.
  • Predicting, inferring and guessing.
  • Identifying main ideas, supporting ideas and examples.
  • Processing and evaluating the information during the reading.
  • Transferring or using the information while or after reading.
As this list shows, skimming and scanning are not the only skills required to understand a text fully. Skimming and scanning are useful initially only.

What do skimming and scanning imply?

If the reader has a general, global look at a text to find out what it is about, they’re scanning it. By contrast, skimming implies exploring a text for specific information.

A top-down approach focuses on the linguistic resources the learner has at their disposal. By contrast, a bottom down approach focuses on meaning and on the learner's previous knowledge, that is, their schema, personal and shared.

The approach we're promoting implies an integration of top-down and bottom-up approaches. Why? Because we start off from the learner, their knowledge of the world, cultural and social knowledge, and we proceed to integrate linguistic and communicative knowledge available to the learner.

Further, this approach focuses on meaning, not only the meanings of words, phrases, clauses and sentences and vocabulary, but also the meanings in connected discourse, learner and their schema, individual and shared: that makes it bottom-up. This is the scheme we've outlined.

Choose a suitable text

In terms of the scheme proposed above, choose a suitable text. What is a suitable text? One that is in accordance with your learners' level –remember there's always the possibility of presenting them with a text with a higher degree of complexity than they can produce. Remember the asymmetry between reception and production.

A text is also suitable if it is interesting to your learners. Remember that the purpose of reading is not practising certain linguistic forms, but to find out about something we didn't know about, or to have fun, or many other reasons. Make this clear to your learners.

Present the text

Next, present them with the text. Get them to look at the title, pictures, photos, and visuals in general. Carry out a brainstorming session about their intuitions on the content of the text. Write their ideas on the blackboard.

Identify a purpose for reading: this means setting a task, like completing a chart, solve a problem, and the like.

Now write two or three –no more– comprehension questions on the blackboard. These should be general for you to check whether there's global understanding of the text. Preferably, these questions should be related to their predictions.

Set the reading task

As learners read, walk about and help them if necessary.

When learners are done, ask them to tell you about the difficulties they had while reading the text. Where did they get stuck? (It might be the case that they found some words difficult to decode) If so, teach them to infer, guess, draw on previous knowledge, read and reread, and employ particular strategies when meaning is unclear.

Get them to answer the questions and then exchange versions with the learner next to them. Have a class-as-whole feedback session. If necessary, write your learners’ answers on the blackboard. If there are different versions, try to get to one unified version, if possible.

Now write two or three more detailed comprehension questions on the blackboard. Reset the reading task. When learners are through, get them to exchange versions in groups of (four) learners. Instruct them each group should come to one unified version. Again, walk about «visiting» each group. Clarify learners’ doubts if necessary.

When you're sure the meaning of the text is clear to the whole class, draw your learners’ attention to the text type. Is it a description, a letter, a narrative? Once again, try to retrieve as much knowledge as possible of learners’ previous experience with text types. It’s necessary to promote the transfer of intuitions and knowledge of text structure learners might have.

Concentrate on the structure of the text

Are there clearly identifiable parts in the text? Which are they? How are they expressed? Are there structures, tenses that are typical in the expression of each of the parts of the text? How are the transitions expressed, that is, how are the paragraphs linked to each other? Are there explicit indicators of cohesive links? Get your learners to underline them, elicit the meaning of each, and get learners to reflect on the role of each in the expression of logical relations: addition, contrast, alternation, consequence, temporal relations.

Set a task so the learnes use the information in the text

Then, set a task for learners to use the information in the text to solve some problem-solving situation. This could be filling in a file, taking a decision related to the content of the text, and the like.

Now get your learners to decide if they met their purpose for reading outlined initially. Ask them how they felt during its development. As you do this, evaluate your learners’ understanding of what was read. You might get them to summarise ideas on paper and/or in their heads, encourage them to find additional information, if necessary, get them to connect information with other knowledge.


NUTTAL, C. (1996). Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language. London: Heinemann.


Publicado: 14 de enero de 2015

Última modificación: 10 de febrero de 2015



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