Reading is an important
skill. In Japan, a great deal of
emphasis is placed on improving students’ reading ability because this is
the focus of the entrance exams. Students need to be
able to read long passages of English and find the important bits of
The Two Types of English Reading in Japan
Reading for Practice (e.g.
Chorus reading is
the most common form of reading in Japan. It is a form of practice reading which focuses on
correct pronunciation and recognition of words. However it is quite common for students to read a
whole page of English and not even consider its meaning. Though chorus reading is widely used, please consider
the following points:
- Not all
students actively participate
- Students mimic
rather than understand
- The speed is
not suitable for all students: some are slower, while others are
- The focus is
on pronunciation, NOT on meaning
- Students often
ignore the expression and intonation of the model reader and sound
- Chorus reading
does not help comprehension ability, which is important for exams
Many teachers think
chorus reading is speaking English.
In fact, there are no communicative aspects to this type of
activity. While chorus reading
can be used to practice pronunciation, it should not be the main activity
of any lesson.
Individual Reading for Comprehension
Individual reading can
involve having the students read silently or having them read aloud. There are two ways to have students
read aloud: a) individually, in
front of the whole class, or b) at the same time as everyone else, but at
their own speed. Individual
reading activities are helpful for both students and teachers.
- Students read
at their own speed so they have the time to think about the meaning of
- Students can
go back and try again if they have a problem or don't understand
- When students
read by themselves the teacher can walk around and help students
- Students can
ask the teacher questions about the text, which is impossible to do in
chorus reading sessions.
where students take turns reading a sentence aloud force active
students MUST follow the text carefully.
- Teachers can
listen and point out common mistakes and problem areas. With chorus reading there is no
chance to point out mistakes.
- Students will
worry less about making mistakes
- Reading for
comprehension is directly-related to exam practice
Problems with Students'
believe that they need to understand every word in order to understand the
content. (They also feel the same about listening.) If you give your students some new material to read,
they will typically act like this:
- They will read
the text very slowly, thinking about each word.
- They will
translate each word as they go, and write the translation above the
- Coming across
a word they don't recognize, they will either look in the dictionary
or stop because they don't think they can understand the sentence.
Students need to be
taught that it is more effective to look for (or listen for) phrases or word groups rather than individual
Example: “The ball hit her on the noggin.”
word "noggin" should be unfamiliar. However, even without understanding it, you should
know that the girl was hit with a ball. You can guess that “the noggin” is a body part. It is unnecessary to know that “the
noggin” means “head” to understand the gist of the sentence.
adopt a positive approach towards comprehension. They should focus on what they can understand instead of worrying about what they can't
recognize. They need to feel free to guess the meaning of things based on
the information they already have.
The Importance of Guessing
When your students
take high school exams or entrance exams, they will come across words they
don't recognize. It is, therefore,
important for them to realize the following things:
- The study of a
foreign language is never-ending. They will never know every word,
but neither will native speakers. They should not set impossible aims
for themselves—they can never
- They don't
need to understand every word. They should look for parts that
they do understand and guess the meaning of the rest.
should try to recognize word clusters rather than individual words. Look at the words in context.
the theme of the material will help them guess the meaning of other
activities in Japanese schools are centered around
the English textbook. Many
times the only material students read is in their
textbooks. As a result they become accustomed to
reading short stories and dialogues, which enable students to pay close
attention to all the words. They should read to
catch the overall theme or topic of the passage. In reality, however, we do not often read such things. Most people read things to gain information. With this type of reading we skim over the page,
paying attention to the most important pieces of information. Most students have little experience when it comes to
this type of reading, but it is this skill which is tested in the reading
comprehension section of entrance examinations.
The benefits of
task reading activities are:
- Students learn
to read quickly (very important for exams AND real life!)
concentrate on the essential information
- They skip over
bits they don't understand without worrying
- They can
understand English used in real life
- It's easy to
find interesting topics
There are lots of
materials you can use in class:
You can get lots of
material from newspapers like The Daily Yomiuri
or Japan Times. Ask the ALT for help finding such material. They should be enthusiastic and can even help make
easier articles. By doing these
types of activities, you are showing how English is really used. Your students will enjoy access to realistic English
Reading Activities in
In addition to task
reading, as mentioned above, Dramatic Reading can be employed in the
classroom in order to make reading more interesting. Dramatic reading is an interesting form of reading
aloud. Reading aloud is
important; however, simple chorus reading quickly becomes monotonous. Dramatic reading provides all the benefits of reading
aloud while avoiding the negative aspects of chorus reading.
works best with materials outside of the text. Whenever you come across an interesting excerpt from
a novel, television show, or movie, use it in the classroom! For example, read an excerpt from a teenage magazine,
a play, or film script. The students should
read the text, using gestures and intonation, so that they can best convey
the feelings as well as the meanings. They have to
understand the passage well in order to convey the meanings to others. Such an activity allows students to practice
intonation and pitch, as well. It also allows
teachers to check the students' comprehension and memorization of words and