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READING COMPREHENSION: A TASK-BASED APPROACH

USING PRE -TEXT/AND SIDE -TEXT QUESTIONS AS


GUIDE
BY
DR. (MRS.) M. O. TINUOYE
ABSTRACT
Literacy implies the ability to read and/or write in a particular language be it
native or foreign to the learner or user. To be literate then accords one the opportunity to get involved in thought sharing through the written page i.e. the literate
person is endowed with a bi-dimensional instrument of either sharing his own
expressed thoughts or those of others as put down on paper, on screen or any
other vehicle for conveying the written word. This paper thus attempts to teach
reading comprehension through a guided approach that would enhance a
functional participation of the reader in thought sharing, understanding and
evaluation of what is read. The reader, through effective use of Pre-; Side-: and
Post-text questions, is assisted in reading critically and creatively. It is hoped
that the questions would aid understanding at the literal, inferential and
evaluative levels of reading - comprehension as the reader 'is encouraged to do
both pre-reading and concurrent/simultaneous thinking as he attacks the
passage. Consciousness and concentration in reading, as well as making
appropriate responses are encouraged. The various guiding questions would
equally serve as interpretive reinforcement as the reader progresses logically
through the text.
The teaching of reading-comprehension in the secondary schools is usually text-based,
and because of this, we shall approach our model design of teaching comprehension taking a
passage from one of the usually recommended English primers with extension into teacherprepared materials. It is vital to note that this approach is premised on the fact that the secondary
school English language teaching has 'certification' as its main aim, and thus it is syllabustailored. For our model to satisfy this all-important purpose as well as prepare our students for
real-comprehension tasks outside the immediate classroom, there is the need to make the
teaching as task-based as possible. Both the teacher and students should be actively engaged in
reading comprehension being a double pronged process-receptive and productive - as the
student appears to be passively reading he is at the same time actively engaged in thinking along
with the writer using his shared cultural or intellectually acquired knowledge plus general world
experience (Schema) in his interpretation of what is being read. The post text questions which
may be written or oral would later serve as exponents of accurate or not so accurate a
comprehension.
To train students in reading comprehension the text book usually adopt the following
steps (from Effective English: Montgomery, M. Bisong J.O. and Morakinyo, R.E (1972]:

Passage or text

Questions

Procedural questions - take note from lecture listened to.

Structural items to teach points of grammar e.g. Definite and indefinite

reference using

countable nouns, uncountable nouns etc.

Exercise based on the structural items taught.

Further structural items (general" reference)

Exercise based on the items

Language function e.g. definition

Exercise on this

Composition modelled after the initial passage-with suggested topics for students
choose from.

to

All units follow the same pattern with little or no variation, depending on the structural
items to be taught in a particular unit, this does not make for variety that can serve as motivation
for the students to enjoy reading. The class may infact deteriorate to a monotonous one where
students are not enthusiastic to gain much from the text beyond the ability to extract the correct
responses to the questions that follow the passage. While one is not advocating a rigid
adherence to the suggested steps given below, there is no doubt that an approach that
encourages the students to focus his attention on the passage through the use of pre-text and
side questions as guide before the post-text questions would yield higher and better
comprehension. Students would be encouraged to brain-storm (Pre-text questions) infer (textside questions), evaluate, and thoughtfully answer the post-text questions. The present model
would thus use:
(i)

guide and side questions as focus points for students

(ii)

post-text questions - which may elicit any of:


(a)

one-word direct answer from the passage

(b)

True/False: Yes/No response

(c)

Meaning vocabulary from context

(d)

Meaning deduction using semantic relations, word ending etc.

(e)

Evaluation of writer's position

(f)

Open and ended questions.

To illustrate, we shall use a passage from the Effective English Book 3.


Unit 7 pp. 80-81.
Read the following passage carefully while you are reading, look for the answer to these
questions.
(i)

How did Nwodika escape taking the policeman to Umuaro?

(ii)

Why is it necessary for him to do so?

(iii)
In what way(s) is the action of Nwodika similar to those of the first three people
policemen met at Umuaro?
(iv)

the

Can you detect culture loyalty in the passage.

Captain Winter bottom's steward, John Nwodika, was told to escort the two policemen to
Umuaro as he had done for the messenger. But in his mind, he had sworn never again to take a
representative of 'gorment' to his home clan. His resolve was strengthened in this case when he
got to know that the two policemen would be armed with a warrant of arrest and handcuffs for the
chief priest of Ulu. But since he could not turn round and say to his master, "No, I shall not go', he
agreed to go, but made other plans. Consequently, when the two policemen came for him for the
crow of the first cock, they found him shivering from a sudden attack of Iba. Wrapped up in an old
blanket which Captain Winter bottom had given him for the child his wife delivered four months
ago, John managed with great effort to whisper a few directions to the men. Once they were in
Umuaro, he said, any suckling child could show them Ezeulu's house. This turned out to be

literally true.
The two men entered Umuaro at the time of the morning meal. Soon, they met a man
carrying a pot of palm wine and stopped him. 'Where is Ezeulu's house?' asked the leader,
Corporal Mathew Nweke. The man looked suspiciously at the uniformed strangers. "Ezeulu", he
said, after a long time in which he had seemed to research his memory; Which Ezeulu?
'How many Ezeulus do you know? asked the corporal irritably. 'How many Ezeulus do I
know?' repeated the man after him. 'I don't know any Ezeulu.' 'Why did you ask me which Ezeulu
if you don't know any?'
Why did I ask you .' Shut up! Blood fool! shouted the policemen in English. 'I
say I don't know any Ezeulu. I am a stranger here!
Two other people they stopped spoke in more or less the same fashion. One of them
even said that the only Ezeulu he knew was a man of Umofia, a whole day's journey in the
direction of the sunrise.
The two policemen were not in die least surprised. The only way to make people talk was
by frightening them. But they had been warned by the European officer against using violence
and threats and in particular they were not to use the handcuffs unless the fellow resisted. This
was why they had shown so much restraint But now they were convinced that unless they did
something drastic they might wander around Umuaro till sunset without ever finding Ezeulu's
house. So they slapped the next man they saw when he tried to be evasive. To drive the point
home they also showed him the handcuffs. This brought the desired result. He asked the men to
follow him. He took them to the approaches of the compound they were looking for and pointed at
it
'It is not our custom', he told the policemen, to show our neighbour's creditors the way to
his hut. So, I cannot enter with you'. This was a reasonable request and the policemen released
him. He ran away as fast as he could so that the inmates of the compound might not catch as
much as a glimpse of his escaping back.
The policemen marched into the hut and found an old woman chewing her tootless gums.
She peered at them hi obvious fright and did not seem to remember her own name.
Fortunately, a little boy came in at that moment with a small piece of potshered to take
burning coals to his mother for making a fire. It was this boy who took the men around the bend of
the footpath to Ezeulu's compound. As soon as he went out with them, the old woman picked up
her stick and hobbled over at an amazing speed to his mother's hut to report her behaviour. Then
she returned to her hut - much more slowly, curved behind her straight stick. Her name was
Nwanyieke, a childless widow. Soon after she got back, she heard the boy, Obielue crying.

Comprehension questions
What do you understand by a warrant of arrest and what sort of people is it meant for?
Who is Ezeulu?
Why did Nwodika feign illness?
Think of an occasion when you pretended in order to dodge a task or perhaps punishment from
your teacher or parent Is this a good attitude? Give a reason for your answer.
Why
is
'cock
crow
so
important
you of anything about the African culture?

in

the

passage?

Does

it

remind

What was the language the policemen used to discuss with the first man? How do you know?
Why would the last man not want anyone 'to catch a glimpse of his escaping back?'
How will you interpret the old woman's action?
(a)

ignorance

(b)

pretense

(c)

feverish

(d)

frightened

support your answer with a reason from the passage.


What does Obielu's action reveal about children hi comparison to the older peoples' action in the
passage.
(a)

innocence

(b)

thoughtlessness

(c)

idleness

(d)

eagerness

Practice Activity:
Based on the passage above, prepare 4 of pre-reading/pre-text and 4 text side guide questions of
your own.
Tick (v) the title you think best describes the passage. Say why the titles
inappropriate.
(a)

The arrest of Ezeulu,

(b)

Policemen brutality

(c)

Culture and Responsibility

(d)

Police experience in Umuaro

you discard are

Study the underlined words in the passage and state how you will use them in vocabulary
building.
Under two main headings prepare a detailed outlined of the passage.
Based on your outline write a four sentence summary of the passage.
The practice questions are other tasks that can be given to students to aid farther
comprehension. Other reading skills, like fester reading, skim-reading, scaning to collate ideas
from more than one source, reading for supplementary information, reading for pleasure are
outside the scope of this work as the emphasis is on how to teach reading comprehension
effectively for student's healthy reading habit.

Conclusion
The above model for teaching reading comprehension is not only relevant at the
secondary school level, but would be of immense advantage, both for the 'general English' and
the Use of English programme' in tertiary institutions. Here, students would be encouraged to
transfer the skills of critical reading to their specialist disciplines. The model can be used in
teacher-prepared materials, as well as in supplementing comprehension questions in textbooks.
Passages to be used to teach reading comprehension should reflect various academic disciplines
to serve me differing tastes and interests of students, and relevant tasks and questions should be
provided. The readers would thus be involved in 'learning by doing, and be truly literate to face
academic challenges, as well as the wider reading exigencies that would be their, lot outside the
classroom.

REFERENCES:
Eleanor Wall Thonis (1980) Teaching Reading to Non-English speakers. London Collier Macmillan
International.

Montgomery. M, Bisong J. O. & Morakinyo R. E. (1975) Effective English Book III Ibadan; Evans Brothers
Ltd.
Tinuove M. O. (1986) Developing Service English Programme far Nigerian Universities: Unpublished Ph.D.
Thesis. UWIST. Cardiff.