Reading Beyond the Words

When most people think of critical reading, they imagine the complex metaphors and imagery of Shakespeare but this is not the case. We can look at advertising and understand how font can affect the impact of a billboard and how animation and characters can be used to enhance the appeal of children’s

Reading can be one of the most enriching experiences in a human being’s life. It can provide a pleasure away from the computer screen and, for some, a new perspective on the world around them. Many read to learn and understand but this aspect of books is often forgotten in today’s EFL landscape. Astonishingly, we can find EFL students who understand advanced vocabulary but fail to think critically about what they read. The news, novels, social media and even instruction manuals require a critical eye and diving into this kind interpretation develops the mind beyond just the strictures of sentence structure and cryptic vocabulary.

As I prepare my reading classes, I examine the text, however basic it may be, and begin to formulate questions whose answers are found between the lines. In the study of stories, I break down fairy tales into formulaic structures: the introduction of a character; the introduction of a problem; the resolution of the problem; and, the ‘happily ever after’. When discussing informative texts, I ask my class what the author’s purpose is when he/she provides examples. Are they showing off their knowledge or using it as a tool to add substance to their writing?

products. We can relate the ways poems are structured to the images which they describe and use punctuation to draw conclusions about the mood of the writer. There are millions of variables when we read from the words themselves to the very paper on which they are printed on and each of them affects how we read and what we understand. In this world, there are no right or wrong answers, there are only the questions of ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’.This is not a skill only suitable for poetry societies and literary clubs where terms like ‘pathetic fallacy’ and ‘catharsis’ are used in pompous debate. It extends into our history classes when we ask questions of authorship and bias. It permeates daily communications when we receive e-mails and messages. In exists in our mathematics exams when we draw conclusions about a question based on its value in marks. Wherever we read, we interpret and for that reason alone it is imperative that interpreting, as a skill, be understood.

Teaching reading is not purely about pronunciation, comprehension and expression. It is equally about stimulating the mind by asking questions of the text and drawing conclusions from those answers. It is the speculation of reading in this manner that broadens our horizons and allows us to write effectively. No great writer was born from studying sentence structure – they read the texts that came before them and asked questions about how their literary ancestors achieved what they did. In this way, our students can learn that the words they read have been used intentionally to produce an effect and they can, in time, use the same tactic to produce their own exceptional writing.