Teaching Reading and Writing: Strategies

The role of reading and writing in the classroom

Since written text is permanent and conveniently portable, reading and writing have often borne a special burden in the language classroom. Traditionally, written texts have been the first source of input for new language material, and writing has served as a medium for working out problems in grammar. Most homework is based on the written rather than the spoken channel, and is seldom intended as student-student communication. All of this has combined to produce an imbalance in favor of literacy-oriented, rather than communication-oriented, instructional activities connected with reading and writing. Literacy-oriented activities are important, but teachers can also use reading and writing in communicative activities, in which students exchange information as they do in task-based listening/speaking activities.

Design and training

Communicative reading/writing activities are skill-using, as opposed to skill-getting, activities. This means that before learners can perform them, there need to be one or more skill-getting activities for the learning of vocabulary, orthography, structures, functions, culture, etc. that will be needed to do the writing. Many different kinds of skill-getting activities are possible, but in general, 1) students should already be able to listen and speak about what they are going to read and write about, and 2) before the activity, students should read a text of the kind they are to produce, which can serve as a model.

A word about authentic reading

Although the texts learners produce in communicative reading/writing activities are not always similar to the kind of written documents native speakers produce to communicate with each other, authentic materials can serve as an excellent source of written-language input. Before writing a note, for example, students should be exposed to real notes written by native speakers for native speakers. At a more advanced level, a newspaper article or pamphlet may serve as the stimulus for a letter-writing activity. Native-like reading behaviors such as hypothesizing, text-mapping and scanning constitute a good basis for approaching lesson design involving authentic materials. To get a taste of authentic materials-based reading instruction at the advanced level based on this type of model, view this sample reading lesson featuring an article from a Chinese magazine about the capture of a robbery suspect.

ITV adaptation

In the written channel, adaptation for ITV becomes mostly a matter of managing document delivery. The instructor is faced with choosing between faxing and using the visual presenter, or some combination thereof. For specific examples, see the example activities that follow.


1999 Stephen Fleming, NFLRC, University of Hawai‘i.All rights reserved.