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R o s a n e C o r re i a
B R A Z I L

Encouraging Critical Reading


in the EFL Classroom

S ome years ago while my EFL


class was doing a reading
comprehension activity, I no-
ticed a student doing some calcula-
tions on a notepad. I asked him why he
whether their students understand the
text at some superficial level, and
because they have only one correct
answer, they are also easy to mark.
However, there are reasons why they
was doing his math homework instead should not be used as the only kind of
of reading the text, and he replied that reading activity in the classroom.
he had answered 124 true-false state- First, as Davies (1995) points out,
ments that week in English, history, they encourage passive reading behav-
geography, science, and Portuguese ior: to find the answer to a question,
classes. Thats 496 a month, he
students have to locate the informa-
added. I marveled that my student
tion in the text. Second, as Tomitch
had bothered to count how many
(2000) argues, such tasks do not
times he had done such exercises dur-
encourage students to read between
ing the week, and since that incident,
the lines or question the veracity and
I have reconsidered the value of this
source of the information contained
type of reading activity if our goal is to
in the text. Third, these tasks general-
make our students critical readers.
A quick search of a few EFL text- ly refer only to parts of the text, not to
books showed me that the most fre- the text as a whole. Finally, such tasks
quent types of reading comprehension are neither challenging nor fun, espe-
exercises involve multiple choice cially for young learners.
items, true-false statements, and The aim of this article is to present,
vocabulary work of the type that through a sample reading lesson, alter-
requires students to supply a synonym native possibilities for reading activities
or antonym for the words given. which, besides being more interesting
These tasks have their merits: they for students, can help them become
make it easy for teachers to check more active, and more critical readers.

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Active vs. passive reading tasks has to be true. Active reading tasks encourage
Davies (1995) groups reading activities into readers to voice their own opinions about the
two kinds: passive and active. Passive reading text and discuss those opinions with other stu-
tasks include silent reading to respond to mul- dents and the teacher. Another advantage of
tiple choice exercises, superficial comprehen- such tasks is that they contextualize reading;
sion questions, gap filling exercises, true-false that is, they allow the readers to see the text as
statements, vocabulary, and dictionary work. part of a broader social context that includes
Such tasks involve silent reading and they do the writer and the readers (Tomitch 2000).
not require students to read deeply to answer
Improving critical reading: a case study
the questions, as once students locate the infor-
mation in the text, they are likely to find the This section describes critical reading
correct answer. Thus, these tasks offer limit- activities used with a group of eight advanced
ed potential for learning. university students in Brazil who had been
Active reading tasks, on the other hand, re- studying English for about five years. In my
quire students to go beyond a superficial read- search for authentic materials for my students,
ing of the text to read between the lines. The I heeded the advice of Huckin (1997), who
tasks typically involve students working togeth- counsels teachers to consider students age and
er in pairs or groups, with or without guidance interests so that the lesson will be more relevant
from the teacher, in order to negotiate answers to their experience and thus more profitable.
to questions. Tasks considered active may in- Huckin (1997) emphasizes the importance of
clude creating diagrams and filling in tables. assigning reading material that pertains to a
Grabe (1997, 6) presents strong evidence that by subject and culture with which students are
making use of diagrams and tables when read- familiar. Such material can often be found in
ing texts, students can better understand the English-language newspapers and magazines
coherence and logic of the information being that deal with topics of local interest.
presented, and as a consequence, will be able As Brown (1994) suggests, there should be
to locate the main ideas and distinguish them three phases to the teaching of reading. The
from less important information. The effort to first phase is pre-reading discussion, which in-
teach students how to make graphic represen- volves introducing the topic and preparing stu-
tations of texts can be time-consuming, but it dents for the text. The second phase includes
can help them become more efficient readers. while-reading tasks, in which students are pro-
Book reviews, summary writing, and note- vided with a set of instructions to give them a
taking are other kinds of active reading tasks purpose for reading and to serve as a guide for
mentioned in Davies (1995). These require them as they read. The third phase includes
students to work individually with guidelines post-reading exercises, in which students are
from the teacher. given short comprehension questions, vocabu-
Active reading tasks have the fundamental lary work, opportunity for discussion of the
advantage that they enable students to interact topic and the authors reasoning, and/or a sum-
with the text and each other. During pair or mary writing assignment.
group work students are actively communicat- My students were provided with a copy of a
ing with one another and have an opportunity newspaper article appropriate to their age and
to raise questions. The teacher plays the role of interests. As a warm-up activity, we discussed
facilitator, rather than inquisitor, and if deemed the kinds of Portuguese and English-language
desirable, can even participate in the group dis- newspapers and magazines found in Brazil and
cussion. Depending on each students back- the typical readers of such publications. This
ground, there may be different interpretations discussion was based on Huckins observation
of the text. However, this fact will only make (1997, 85) that it is best to begin an analysis of
the discussion more interesting as each student a newspaper or magazine article by trying to
makes his or her hypothesis explicit and tests it put oneself in the readers position, that is, by
against the evidence offered by the text. imagining a typical reader and how he or she
Further, with active reading tasks, there is might typically deal with this text.
less of a tendency by students to accept texts at After the warm-up activity, I asked students
face value or to assume that the printed word to read the headline and the first sentence of the

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text and try to predict what the article would be One purpose for these questions is to help
about. The aim of this activity is to activate students read more critically and consider
their background knowledge, one of the read- whether the article was meant to inform, influ-
ing strategies described in Alderson (1984). By ence, or merely entertain readers.
doing this, I could also elicit from students their To discuss such questions students have
opinions on the issue discussed in the reading. I to rely on their own experience as readers of
did not tell students what the text would be newspapers in their own language as they are
about because I did not want to influence them familiar with the language and the genre of
in any way. newspaper articles. At this point the teacher
As a pre-reading activity, the students were and students can discuss the structure of news-
asked to prepare in groups two questions they paper articles. Typically the information present-
thought would be answered in the text. ed first will be interpreted by most readers as
Tomitch (2000) calls this technique ReQuest, more important and whatever appears last will
which stands for reciprocal questioning. The be considered least important (Huckin 1997).
questions provide students with a purpose for An analysis of verb tenses and voice pro-
reading. The students wrote their questions on vides students with the opportunity to discuss
slips of paper, which were collected and repro- the authors purpose in choosing the particular
duced on the blackboard. The technique was tense or voice he or she did. For example, a text
motivating for my students because they had written in the indicative mood and simple past
become accustomed to the routine of answer- tense, the same modality of historical dis-
ing comprehension questions prepared by the course, tends to report events in chronological
textbook writer. order, implying that the issues described in the
The while-reading activity required the stu- article are facts, absolute truths, and not
dents to read the article for the purpose of amenable to discussion or negotiation. But this
answering the questions they had raised. In fact, may not be the case. Likewise, the use of the
not all of the students questions were answered passive voice can emphasize the facts reported
in the article. We then discussed the reasons but at the same time minimize the role of the
why the author did not include the details the participants in the events. Students need to
students might have expected, based on their consider the significance of such choices.
questions. If none of the answers for the stu- Although news reporting discourse is sup-
dents questions could be found in the article, posed to be objective, the use of emotional
this generated more discussion as we tried to language and metaphors can show an authors
guess the answers from the students knowledge bias (Huckin 1997). Metaphors can serve the
of the issue discussed in the text. When reading purpose of highlighting or trivializing a partic-
a text, students should be aware that the details ipants actions in a reported incident, so work-
omitted are often as important as those includ- ing with metaphors found in newspaper and
ed, since omissions may tell the reader some- magazine articles can be a rich source of group
thing about an authors bias. Identifying bias in discussion in a reading class and can con-
texts should be an essential part of a reading les- tribute to critical reading.
son aimed at developing critical reading skills. After discussing the questions, the students,
As a post-reading activity, I wrote on the working in pairs, were asked to write a summa-
board three questions, which had to do with ry of the article. As summary writing is a diffi-
the authors choice of verb tenses and words cult task, the teacher should offer students some
used in the text. Below are the three questions. advice on how to write one. After brainstorming
(For a list of other questions designed to help in pairs about the qualities of a good summary,
students develop critical reading skills, see the students decided the summary should con-
the Appendix.) sist of short statements of the main ideas of the
text in coherent, well-linked sentences and that
1. What verb tenses are used in the article? it would be inappropriate to copy words from
2. Which subjects are described using the the text, especially those that appeal emotional-
passive or active voice and why? ly to readers. I then wrote on the board the fol-
3. What purpose do the metaphors serve in lowing list of guidelines for summary writing,
the text? which are based on Bell and Gower (2000):

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After getting the general meaning of the the lines or to question the message the author
text, decide what the aim of each para- was trying to convey.
graph is. Although developing critical reading skills
Decide which parts of the article you can can be time-consuming and difficult for EFL
ignore (e.g., details, personal opinions, students, it can be accomplished with practice,
quotes), and underline the main points and it is worth the effort. As Wallace (1992, 80)
to be included in your summary. points out, the way to work with texts in EFL
Make notes of the important points in reading classes should help EFL readers feel
your own words and put them in a logi- they have options in the way they choose to
cal order. read the text and to help them feel in a more
equal relationship with the writer.
Write the first draft.
Check for mistakes in spelling, punctua- References
tion, and vocabulary. Alderson, J. C. 1984. Reading in a foreign lan-
Check if the length is appropriate and if guage: A reading problem or a language prob-
you included all important information. lem? In Reading in a foreign language, ed. J. C.
Alderson and A. H. Urquhart, 127. London:
After writing their summaries, the students Longman.
exchanged them with their classmates. They Bell, J. and R. Gower. 2000. Advanced matters.
London: Longman.
observed that even when all of the main ideas
Brown, H. D. 1994. Teaching by principles: An
were included in the summaries, there were a interactive approach to language pedagogy. Engle-
variety of possible interpretations, each based wood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.
on the particular students perspective on the Davies, F. 1995. Introducing reading. London: Pen-
text. This generated more group discussion as guin English Applied Linguistics.
Grabe, B. 1997. Discourse analysis and reading
students agreed or disagreed with their friends
instruction. In Functional approaches to written
interpretations of the text. It was important for text: Classroom applications, ed. T. Miller, 215.
the students to realize that writing is never Washington, DC: United States Information
totally objective and that the critical reader can Agency.
always find something of the writers bias or Heberle, V. M. 2000. Critical reading: Integrating
principles of critical discourse analysis and gen-
particular point of view in a text. From this
der studies. Ilha do Desterro 38: 11538.
summary writing exercise, students discovered Huckin, T. N. 1997. Critical discourse analysis. In
that multiple interpretations are acceptable Functional approaches to written text: Classroom
and, indeed, should be encouraged in a reading applications, ed. T. Miller, 7892. Washington,
class that aims to develop critical reading skills. DC: United States Information Agency.
Tomitch, L. M. 2000. Designing reading tasks to
Conclusion foster critical thinking. Ilha do Desterro 38:
8390.
The major benefit of the lesson on critical Wallace, C. 1992. Critical literacy awareness in the
reading described here was the high level of EFL classroom. In Critical language awareness,
enthusiastic student participation. This was at- ed. N. Fairclough, 5992. London: Longman.
tributable to some extent to the novelty of the
task they performed: coming up with questions
they thought would be answered in the text, ROSANE CORREIA has an M.A. in Applied
Linguistics. She has been an EFL teacher
rather than trying to answer superficial com-
for over 15 years and is now a branch
prehension questions or true-false statements
supervisor at Centro Cultural Brasil
prepared by the textbook writer. Estados Unidos in Campinas, Brazil.
Students pointed out during the feedback
part of the lesson that, although they were flu-
ent readers in L1 and L2, they felt they had
tended to accept printed material at face value,
without questioning the veracity or bias of the
text. Students also said that they considered
themselves critical readers in Portuguese. How-
ever, when reading EFL texts, they felt they
needed help from the teacher to read between
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Encouraging Critical Reading | Correia


continued from page 19

A P P E N D I X | QUESTIONS TO HELP DEVELOP CRITICAL READING SKILLS


Encouraging Critical Reading in the EFL Classroom Rosane Correia

General questions for the analysis of the text


1. Where and when was the text written?
2. Why was it written?
3. What is the text about?
4. Who is the text addressed to? Who are its probable readers?
5. What genre is the text?
6. Does the author establish an interactive, friendly relationship with the readers or is he/she
distant, formal, and impersonal?
7. Are there elements of promotional discourse, such as positive evaluative words?

Lexical choice
1. What kind of vocabulary predominates in the text? (Are there formal, technical words or
informal and colloquial expressions?)
2. Does the vocabulary appeal to emotions, or is it logical and argumentative?
3. Are there words that are ideologically significant?
4. What metaphors are used? What purposes do they serve in the text?

Grammar
1. What verb tenses are used and why?
2. Which subjects are described using the passive or active voice and why?
3. Are the agents of the actions explicit or implicit?

Visual elements
1. What visual resources are used besides the text (colors, symbols, figures)?
2. In what ways do the illustrations relate to the text?
3. What sociocultural aspects can be identified in the visual signs?

Gender issues
1. Does the text contain signs of asymmetry in male-female relationships?
2. Are there traces of sexism?
3. Are there signs of stereotyped attitudes?

(Adapted from Heberle 2000, 13133)

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