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Approaches to Teaching: IELTS Reading Techniques

IELTS reading is widely regarded by most IELTS candidates as a skill that is


consistently difficult to do well. Even individuals who love reading in their own
language may view reading in English as daunting and the academic material
in the IELTS reading test as frustrating. However the majority of candidates are
not made fully aware of the skills that are so often quoted at them in the
classroom; skimming and scanning. With more explicit instruction and
encouragement, IELTS students can start to improve their reading scores.
Scanning
Before going into detail about scanning techniques, it is a good idea to remind
students that they already possess this skill in their own language. For instance,
anytime that they log onto Facebook, they naturally scan the page to check for
messages or notifications. This highlights one of the key ideas inherent in
scanning, that it is essentially about already knowing what you are looking for.
How to Scan
Scanning is not about reading an article. It is about looking for specific
information, in order to help a candidate answer a question and understand
where key ideas may be in a text. Considering the wide range of L1 students
and their different natural reading directions, it is best to teach candidates to
scan vertically, from the bottom of the text upwards. This allows the eye to travel
in a slight diagonal fashion as it moves up through the text, in order to underline
important words.

Example
The People of the Corn
On a mountain top in southern Mexico, Indian families gather. They chant and sprinkle
cornmeal in consecration, praying for the success of their new crops, the unity of their
communities and the health of their families. In this village in Oaxaca people eat corn
tamales, sow maize plots and teach children to care for the plant. The cultural rhythms of
this community, its labours, rituals and celebrations will be defined as they have been
for millennia by the lifecycle of corn. Indeed, if it werent for the domestication of
teocintle (the ancestor of modern maize) 9,000 years ago Mesoamerican civilization could
never have developed. In the Mayan sacred book, the Popol Vuh, the gods create people
out of cornmeal.

Victoria Waller 2014

Students may find this hard at first, but start to challenge them to underline
words with a capital letter, in order to help them quickly identify important
nouns, such as names or places. Encourage them to also underline any
italicised words as these usually come up in questions and can appear
quite challenging to candidates who see them and have the immediate
reaction of "I have no idea what that word means".

Example
On a mountain top in southern Mexico, Indian families gather. They chant and sprinkle
cornmeal in consecration, praying for the success of their new crops, the unity of their
communities and the health of their families. In this village in Oaxaca people eat corn
tamales, sow maize plots and teach children to care for the plant. The cultural rhythms of
this community, its labours, rituals and celebrations will be defined as they have been
for millennia by the lifecycle of corn. Indeed, if it werent for the domestication of
teocintle (the ancestor of modern maize) 9,000 years ago Mesoamerican civilization could
never have developed. In the Mayan sacred book, the Popol Vuh, the gods create people
out of cornmeal.

IELTS students are often very familiar with the concept of underlining
numbers, such as years or statistics in the reading test. Clearly figures are
easy to scan for, but it is best to keep to a simple system so that the article
is not simply covered in a huge amount of underlined text that does not
help to guide the candidate when answering questions. It could be useful
therefore to suggest that students always circle numbers and underline
words with capital letters as well as italicised vocabulary.

Once students have become more proficient and comfortable with the
vertical direction of scanning and are more aware of what to select from a
piece of text, start to encourage them to use a letter system to further clarify
the selections they have made. Successful scanning should allow a
candidate to easily view the words they have underlined. Taking the first
letter of the word, such as 'M' and writing it in the margin of the line where
the word 'Mexico' appears, helps candidates to quickly identify where they
read something, whilst trying to answer a question.

Victoria Waller 2014

Example
M/I

O
T

Te
Me/Ma

On a mountain top in southern Mexico, Indian families gather.


They chant and sprinkle cornmeal in consecration, praying for the
success of their new crops, the unity of their communities and the
health of their families. In this village in Oaxaca people eat corn
tamales, sow maize plots and teach children to care for the plant.
The cultural rhythms of this community, its labours, rituals and
celebrations will be defined as they have been for millennia by
the lifecycle of corn. Indeed, if it werent for the domestication of
teocintle (the ancestor of modern maize) 9,000 years ago
Mesoamerican civilization could never have developed. In the
Mayan sacred book, the Popol Vuh, the gods create people out of
cornmeal.

PV

In the classroom, it can be a useful warmer in a reading lesson to challenge the


speed of students' scanning abilities by making it competitive. Ask them to
identify exactly where certain terms are in an article, or how many times a
specific phrase appears in the text. To help students become even more adept
at scanning, it can also be useful to suggest that they make the task harder by
using a paragraph in an article and scanning only for adjectives, nouns or verbs.
However, ensure that this is not believed to be the way to approach the exam,
merely as a method to hone scanning skills further.
Skimming
Once again, many students possess this skill naturally but may be
uncomfortable when applying it to reading in English. This may stem from the
notion that students believe they must read every single word in an article and
by extension, understand every single word. With the time limit in the reading
test, this would be for many, an impossible task. It is important to encourage
students to skim for many reasons. It is, for instance, a good method to check
the accuracy of an answer as well as to have a basic overall understanding of
a text.
How to Skim
Skimming centres on the way that the eye moves over text. It is best to skim
horizontally from left to right and allow the eye to 'group' the text together in
chunks of roughly four words. Vocalisation should be extremely difficult if a
candidate is skimming at the correct speed. If this is not the case, then it is a
clear indication that an individual is not skimming fast enough.
Victoria Waller 2014

Example
But in Mexico and Central America today maize has come under attack. As a
result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Mexico has been
flooded with imported corn from north of the border in the US. The
contamination of native varieties with genetically modified imported maize
could have major consequences for Mexican campesinos (farmers), for local
biodiversity and for the worlds genetic reserves.

IELTS candidates may struggle with skimming at first, because it demands a


certain level of confidence to form a basic understanding of an academic article.
Ensure that students feel that it is useful to have formed a simple impression as
to whether a paragraph is positive or negative in tone, for instance. To help
students train themselves to group words in this manner, ask them to draw
divisions on a paragraph in any academic article and practise skimming it. Once
again, be clear that this is only an exercise to perfect skimming skills and is not
a technique that should be employed in the exam itself.

Example
But in Mexico and /Central America today maize/ has come under attack/. As a result
of /the North American Free /Trade Agreement (NAFTA) /Mexico has been/ flooded
with imported corn /from north of the /border in the US. /The contamination of native
varieties /with genetically modified imported /maize could have major/ consequences
for Mexican campesinos/ (farmers), for local biodiversity /and for the/ worlds genetic
reserves/.

The IELTS reading test can be a difficult task and yet with practice and focus
on the skills needed, candidates can begin to really improve their scores.
However, there is still much to be said for reading outside of test conditions.
Truly driven IELTS candidates can benefit greatly from reading articles with an
academic slant and allowing themselves the opportunity to be immersed in a
text of their own choice.

By Victoria Waller
Bibliography
Website Name: www.ielts-exam.net
Year Published: 2014
URL: http://www.ielts-exam.net/docs/reading/IELTS_Reading_Academic_24_Passage_1.htm
Access Date: 22nd February 2014 2.16pm

Victoria Waller 2014