Pre-reading and Photos

If you’re using the site as a teacher and trying to find ways to help your students understand the various free articles, we have to offer, you may want to consider some pre-reading activities.  Good pre-reading activities have the potential to make the reading experience smoother and more fun for learners.  One of the most overlooked pre-reading activity is looking for visual cues provided with the article.  Today, I’d like to talk a little about helping students by having them examine one important visual cue:  the article photo.

First off, it’s important to understand that reading in a second language is probably the most difficult skill for EFL/ESL learners to master.  One of the reasons for this is that it is mentally intensive and requires a great deal of “processing power” for the brain.  Complicating matters further is the fact that reading is often a solitary activity with little in terms of feedback and encouragement to keep learners motivated throughout the reading process.  The aim of a pre-reading task is to lower the amount of mental energy required to process new information and help students stay focused on the task at hand.  The addition of photos in an article can really help students and make reading less of a slog and more of an adventure.

Before I ask my students to read, I have them first look for any obvious visual cues that deal with the topic.  At this point, they can look at any photos that come with the reading.  Working in pairs, they can try to predict the topic, discuss what they know about it, and try to think of some vocabulary words that deal with the topic.  In the Sonar reading, for example, students will see a photo above the main article like this:

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Although it may seem that most students probably don’t know much about sonar, there are some important visual cues here that can help students deal with the article.  A teacher could prompt them with a question about what they see in the photo.

Some questions that students could be asked to talk about in pairs or a small group would be:

1.) What do you see in the photo?  Describe it.

Words like screen, “computer”, “military”, “uniform”, “machinery” might start to pop up in a few conversations.  These words are all important because they start to give the student contextual cues that are dealt with later in the article.  It also brings up vocabulary that may apply either directly or indirectly to the article’s content.  Having a few words about the topic cued up in their minds will greatly reduce the amount of mental energy required to process the article’s contents and deal with new information.

2.) What do you think the man is doing?

Although you may not get many correct answers here from the students, you’ll certainly get some students’ curiosity aroused at this point.  This adds some intrigue to the article, pushing it beyond a simple reading task towards solving a mystery.  This could help keep students motivated to read to the end of the article in order to find the answer.

3.)  What do you think this article will be about?

Students will probably have varying answers to a topic like this and most of them might be wrong.  However, by providing this question, students will probably try to work out an answer in a second language that is not too far off from the nature and topic of such an article.  Again, the different answers given to such a question will also help to spur curiosity in the students before they embark on the journey of working their way through the text below.

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