The activities are designed for use with intermediate and above level adult learners in general English classes (my particular teaching context last year) and have several aims. By using a real local painting for inspiration, I hope to motivate my students to explore Newcastle city centre and therefore use English outside the classroom. The fact that this painting has a secret (the story behind it involving classic elements such as romance, murder and madness) is hoped to motivate them to read more extensively for pleasure. This is important because numerous studies including Elley (1991) have shown that 'book flood’ students achieve greater language proficiency and enjoy reading.
The first activities I have designed are prediction tasks. Firstly the students make some inferences by means of studying the painting as a visual aid, they then take part in a more interactive prediction activity by choosing to reveal six key words on picture cards (characters, objects, places and themes from the story) and use these to predict what will happen in the story. The rationale for including these pre-reading tasks stems from studies such as Block (1986) and Chamot and El-Dinary (1999) which show that proficient readers use top-down strategies (background knowledge, prediction etc) to fill gaps in their knowledge when reading a text. I have specifically chosen not to pre-teach a list of key words as Taglieber et al (1988) found the use of visual materials and questions pre-reading to be of more benefit in facilitating comprehension, as they 'appeared to produce a deeper and more active involvement of the subjects prior to reading’. I have however designed the story cards so they provide concrete images with some keywords (e.g. mental illness) as this method has been found to support the vocabulary learning process (Kellogg & Howe, 1971). The fact that the story cards are presented as a kind of game (only six cards can be revealed) is hoped to motivate the reader further.
The Gist Reading
Part one of the reading involves a gist reading split into two parts in order to reduce the cognitive load of the reader. The aim here is for students to practice reading quickly (skimming) to gain an overall understanding of the story (global meaning), and to check if their predictions were correct. The task is also designed to discourage poor reading habits such as reading word-by-word (focusing on lexical items), panicking if an unknown word occurs (blocking) or looking up every unknown word in a dictionary. For this reason, this exercise has a time limit and does not include a link to a dictionary.
The Detailed Reading
The main activity I have designed aims to give students practice of more detailed reading by use of true or false and multiple-choice questions to check their comprehension. An integrated reading format (comprehension questions appear inserted between paragraphs of the text as opposed to at the end) has been used because an interesting study by Al-Shehri and Gitsaki’s (2010) suggested this format facilitated students’ reading comprehension by reducing cognitive load. Furthermore, this format encourages the reader to glance back at the relevant section (scan) to check their comprehension which is another skill demonstrated by good readers (Higgins, 1984). Two links to online dictionaries have been provided on the menu bar because various studies have suggested that access to such tools has a positive impact on reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition (Rott, 2007; Kost et al., 2008; Al-Shehri & Gitsaki, Op. cit). One of the dictionaries is a picture dictionary, whereas the other is a traditional dictionary. A picture dictionary has been chosen because Chun & Plass et al (1998) found that students who viewed both pictorial and written annotations of words retained more of the vocabulary than students who accessed only one type of gloss or none at all. To counter the possibility that the effect of instantly looking up a word might not lead to increased vocabulary acquisition on its own (De Ridder, 2002), some vocabulary activities have been included in the post reading stages to consolidate the learning.
The feedback to the questions has been designed to be more elaborate than traditional feedback which only indicates 'right' or 'wrong' (Sales, 1993). The feedback is directive, in that it provides prompts, hints or cues to assist the learner in determining the correct response (Nielson, 1990). Elaborative feedback is important as it encourages students to re-engage with the input, to self-correct, and therefore pay more attention to forms. However it was a concern to keep this feedback concise and precise, as Van der Linden (1993) has noted that feedback exceeding three lines is often ignored.
The final part of my activity involves a choice of post-reading tasks designed to consolidate learning, cater for learning styles and student interests and encourage autonomous learning. The tasks incorporate practice of all the other skills (listening, speaking and writing), as well as vocabulary and critical thinking. Some of the tasks involve further practice using a computer, whereas others do not. It was considered important to include a hyperlink to the discussion board on this page to encourage students to write their responses to the reading story because this has been found to facilitate reading comprehension and result in a truly active-interactive reading process (Martínez-Lage, 1995; Zamel, 1992).