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DEVELOPING READING COMPREHENSION SKILLS

IN EFL SITUATION
Dr. Mohd Nazim
Department of English
Najran University, Najran, Saudi Arabia

Students start learning to read in the first grade and continue to do so


throughout EFL classroom situation. Teachers use different
approaches to develop their reading maturity. Research has shown
that teachers who model and explain effective reading strategies help
students become strategic readers (Almasi, 2003; Pressley, 2002).
Schools of thought differ in their definition of reading. Definitions
range from the "visual perception of the shapes and meanings of
words" (Harris, 1969), to comprehending the written message in
away comparable to comprehending an oral message (Carroll, 1964),
to a string of thinking, assessment, making judgments, and problem
solving. Other definitions view reading as a development in which
the meaning clarification and thinking processes are connected with
written symbols. The latter definition involves two skills viz.
recognition and comprehension.
Recognition
According to Ives, Bursuk and Ives (1983), word identification skills
are those that help the reader pronounce written symbols such as
letters, words, and sentences or derive meaning from them. They
classified word identification skills into the following:
 visual configuration clues
 picture clues
 semantic clues
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 syntactic clues
 word structure clues
 Visual configuration clues such as double letters, capital
letters, position of letters in words, and characteristics of
individual letters in words.
 Picture clues such as single and multiple-object pictures,
details of the pictured object, actions portrayed by the pictured
object, maps, diagrams, and graphs to infer the meaning that
specific word forms represent.
 Semantic clues to identify whole words in a semantic verbal
context such as the topic, words proceeding and/or following
an unfamiliar word in the same sentence, words in sentences
preceding and/or following the sentence, in which an
unfamiliar word appears, commonly used expressions,
synonyms, antonyms, definitions, explanations and examples.
 Syntactic clues such as different sentence patterns, word order
sequences, agreement, and structure word markers,
derivational suffixes, inflectional endings, punctuation and
typographical devices like italicization and bold face.
 Word structure clues such as roots, prefixes, suffixes, verb,
noun, and adjective inflections, plurality and morphemic
combinations.
Comprehension
Comprehension is a fundamental purpose of reading. Reading
comprehension requires motivation, mental frameworks for
holding ideas, concentration and good study techniques.

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Comprehension is difficult to define because it involves so
many aspects of thinking. According to Kintsch (1998), readers
have two tasks. One is constructing a “text model” of the literal
meaning of words as they read, and the other is building a
broader representation, or “situation model,” of the meaning
implied by the text.
Theories of Comprehension
There are two theories that describe reading comprehension: the first
one views reading comprehension as a whole skill that cannot be
broken down into smaller sub-skills and depends on the information
and knowledge in the reader's head that the reader uses while
reading, i.e. it is the continuous interaction between the reader and
material read. This theory emphasizes the use of teaching strategies
that encourage extensive reading by the students. The second theory
views reading as an aggregate of sub-skills such as identifying the
main idea or supporting details of a text.
Foundations for Comprehension
Here are some foundations for comprehension:
 Concepts
Students need familiarity with the topics they read and some
understanding of the main concepts in narrative and expository texts.
 Language
Effective oral language skills, both expressive and receptive, predict
later reading comprehension. For example, students with good
vocabulary who understand many words in text have better reading
comprehension.

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 Text description
Readers need to know how titles, pictures, captions, and headings
relate to the meaning of text. They develop concepts about print,
concepts about genres, and concepts about text structures that help
them construct meaning from different types of text.
 Strategies
Comprehending text requires readers to use a variety of strategies
such as skimming, scanning, previewing, making and checking
predictions, asking and answering questions, looking back in text
and occasionally stopping to paraphrase or summarize the important
information.
 Interpretation
Comprehension is difficult when students focus all their energy and
cognitive resources on saying the words correctly. Comprehension is
easier when interpretation is automatic so young readers must
interpret to recognize words quickly and accurately.
Comprehension levels
To facilitate the development of reading comprehension, Barrett
(1974) proposed the following reading comprehension levels:
 Literal: It refers to the factual recognition, recollect or
substantiation of details, main ideas and sequence of events,
comparisons, cause-effect relationships, and character traits.
 Inferential: such as inferring supporting facts, sequence,
comparisons, cause and effect relationships, character traits,
figurative language and predicting outcomes.

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 Evaluation: It refers to judgments of reality or fantasy, fact or
opinion, adequacy or validity, appropriateness, worth,
desirability and acceptability. It also refers to judging the
language and effect of the text in the radiance of appropriate
criteria.
 Appreciation: It refers emotional responses to the content,
and sensitivity to various types of literary genres; emotional
response to the plot or theme, identification with characters
and incidents, reactions to the author’s use of language, and
response to generated images.
Assessment of Comprehension
Assessment is a natural complement. Comprehension can be
assessed through informal observation and questions. The questions
should be challenging so that students construct conceptual as well
as literal meaning. Comprehension about text meaning and making
text-based connections can also be observed in (student’s) retellings,
summaries, and writing in response to reading. These informal
observations help to diagnose student’s comprehension skill. More
formal measures of progress can be obtained through periodic tests,
but it is important to include multiple response formats, such as
multiple-choice tests, constructed responses, and writing. The goal
of comprehension is to encourage accurate understanding and
thorough learning.

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Suggestions to Develop Reading Comprehension Skills
Here are some suggestions to develop reading comprehension skills:
 Strengthen background knowledge by reading newspapers,
magazines and books.
 Visualize the author and predict future notes and questions. If
you're right, this reinforces your understanding. If you're
wrong, you make adjustments quicker.
 Organize the material chronologically, serially, logically,
functionally, spatially or hierarchically.
 Preview material, ask questions and discuss ideas with
classmates. The stronger your interest, the greater your
comprehension.
 Study pictures, graphs and headings. Read the first and last
paragraph in a chapter, or the first sentence in each section.
 Highlight, summarize and review important ideas.
 Build a good vocabulary. The best way to have rich
vocabulary is to use a dictionary regularly. Students might
carry around a pocket dictionary and use it to look up new
words. Or, they can keep a list of words to look up at the end
of the day. Concentrate on roots, prefixes and endings.
 Develop a systematic reading style, like the SQR3 method and
make adjustments to it, depending on priorities and purpose.
The SQR3 steps include Survey, Question, Read, Recite and
Review.
 Monitor your attention, concentration and effectiveness.
Quickly recognize the missed idea.
 Vocalize Words in your mind rather than on your lips or
throat. Eye motion is also important. It includes making sense

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of words, connecting ideas between text and prior knowledge,
constructing and negotiating meaning in discussions with
others, and much more.
 Identifying many important strategies including: monitoring
comprehension, using graphic organizers, answering
questions, generating questions, recognizing text structures,
and summarizing.
(Teacher’s Perspective)
 Generating metacognitive discussions so students talk about
how they think and how they comprehend text.
 Promoting connections between text, text-self, and text-world.
 Placing more responsibility on students to apply strategies
independently through teaching and coaching them to be
strategic readers. Students need to know what strategies to use,
how to apply them, and why they are useful in order to
become self-regulated learners.

Conclusions
Reading comprehension requires complex thinking, specific
strategies, and motivated reading. Just like other reading skills,
comprehension takes years to become fluent and automatic.
Student’s comprehension skills can be assessed with questions, tests,
writing, and discussions. Research has shown that when teachers
provide instruction on specific strategies to monitor and repair
comprehension, it improves student’s reading achievement (Carlisle
& Rice, 2002). Expert teachers embed strategy instruction in guided
reading, informal assessments, and discussions about content so that

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students learn to construct, analyze, and extend the meaning of texts
whenever they read.
The reading materials provide for the sequential development of the
reading skills. Reading program is based on the philosophy that
spoken, read, and written language must flow naturally from the
student and must be used in meaningful ways to communicate real
needs.
Ediger (1999) indicated that needs differ from student to student. A
learner might need little endeavour to identify unknown words.
Another might need much to become a proficient reader. In addition,
Walsh (2003) indicated that readers waste time by including too
many lessons on formal reading comprehension skills; and miss
opportunities to develop vocabulary and world knowledge by
offering mostly incoherent, predictable themes rather than content-
rich themes.
Instructional and accelerated levels need to be set and standardized
reading tests need to be developed in order to test the reading
comprehension. Student and teacher surveys can be administered to
collect data about the reading problems, effectiveness of the readers
and teaching approaches prescribed, student's favourite themes, and
aspects of word identification and comprehension that receive more
or less attention. Metacognitive reading strategies and techniques
can be used to the students during reading instruction. Web-based
reading materials and activities may also be used as a supplement to
the students. Out of class independent reading - which is currently
lacking - must be encouraged as well. This way, students will
become independent readers and enjoy reading in and outside
classroom situation.

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References:

1. Almasi, J.F. (2003). Teaching strategic processes in reading. New


York: Guilford Press.
2. Barrett, T. C. (1974). Taxonomy of reading comprehension. In R.
C. Smith & T. C. Barrett (Eds.), Teaching Reading in the middle
grades. Reading, MA: Addison- Wesley.
3. Block, C.C., & Pressley, M. (Eds), (2002). Comprehension
instruction: Research-based best Practices. New York: Guilford
Press.
4. Carlisle, J. F., & Rice, M. S. (2002). Improving reading
comprehension: Research-based principles and practices.
Baltimore, MD: York Press.
5. Harris, T. & Hodges, R. (1981) (Eds.). A dictionary of reading
and related terms. International Reading Association.
6. Kintsch, W. (1998). Comprehension: A paradigm for cognition.
New York: Cambridge University Press.
7. Paris, S.G., Wasik, B. A., & Turner, J.C. (1991). The development
of strategic readers. In R. Barr. M. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P.D.
Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research, 2nd ed., (pp.609–
640). New York: Longman.
8. Pressley, M. (2002). Reading instruction that works: The case for
balanced teaching, 2nd edition. New York: Guilford.
9. Richeck, M., List, A., & Learner, J. (1983). Reading Problems,
diagnosis, and remediation. Prentice-Hall, Inc.

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