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Making the Most of a Newsmagazine Passage for Reading-Skills Development
by Fredricka L. Stoller

Greater numbers of English-language newsmagazines are now becoming available worldwide. As a consequence, teachers have the option of bringing newsmagazine articles into their classrooms and integrating their use into reading classes. With the growing importance of reading for second-language learners (Lynch and Hudson 1991), teachers can use these authentic materials to help students improve their reading skills as well as to introduce them to content that is of interest to them. Rather than simply asking students to read a newsmagazine article on their own, teachers can integrate reading-skills development activities into their instruction to help students improve their reading ability. In this way, ESL/EFL instructors can provide students with opportunities to practice a variety of reading subskills as well as strategies for dealing with new topics, long passages, difficult passages, unfamiliar vocabulary, etc. That is, students can develop flexible reading skills and strategies that will vary according to the purpose of the reading task and the nature of the reading passage. (See Appendix A for a taxonomy of reading skills.) The readings and accompanying activities can also serve as a stimulus for other written or oral class work.

The reading-skills development activities that accompany the reading of a newsmagazine passage can be done before reading the passage (pre-reading exercises), while reading the passage (during- reading exercises), and/or after students have finished reading the passage (post-reading exercises). Depending on the article chosen, the objectives of the course, and available time, teachers can choose to integrate all three exercise types into their lesson or only one.

In this article I will outline steps teachers should take when planning their reading lessons. This will be followed by a taxonomy of pre-, during-, and post-reading activities that can easily be used with newsmagazine reading passages. While the focus of this article will be on the use of newsmagazine articles for intermediate and advanced students, the pre-, during-, and post- reading activities can easily be adapted for use with other text genres (textbook reading passages, newspapers, books, etc.) and/or modified for less skilled readers.

Preliminary lesson-planning steps

Teachers who use authentic materials such as newsmagazine articles have the responsibility to carry the task beyond simply distributing the article to their students and asking them to read it. The teacher has the responsibility to design exercises and activities that (a) prepare students for the reading task, (b) aid students in improving their reading abilities, and (c) help students comprehend the passage. Before designing pre-, during-, and post-reading activities for reading-skills development, instructors should follow these preliminary lesson-planning steps:

1. Select an article that will be of interest/ relevance to your students while considering the following questions:

a. Will the topic be of interest to the majority of students in the class?

b. Will the content of the reading passage be useful for the students? If so, in what way? Will it provide them with general world knowledge? Will it introduce them to useful vocabulary? Will it help them understand subsequent readings or classroom activities? Will it build upon information previously presented in class? Will the information be transferable to out-of-class settings? That is, will it allow them to communicate more easily with other speakers of the target language in the workplace, the classroom, or social settings?

c. How much do the students already know about the topic? Will it be necessary to introduce materials/concepts/vocabulary to them during pre-reading activities to familiarize them with the topic? Are there students in the class who could provide others with valuable information about this topic?

2. Consider the nature of the article chosen and appraise it in terms of language complexity, content, and text-type characteristics (Dubin 1986); diverse topics and text genres will offer opportunities for different types of reading-skill development activities. Think about the following questions:

a. How difficult will the article be for students to comprehend? What aspects of the article will be particularly challenging (e.g., length, lexicon, rhetorical structure, assumed knowledge)?

b. What strategies will students need to apply to comprehend part or all of the article?

c. What aspects of the article, if any, will simplify the reading task (e.g., redundancy, clear topic sentences, straightforward headings, charts and graphs)?

3. Determine the purpose for the reading task; that is, determine what you want the students to gain from the reading experience in terms of content and reading-skills development. Consider the following questions:

a. Will the passage be read in its entirety? Should it be read in detail or only for specific details?

b. Is the reading task an end in itself or does it lead into another classroom activity (Hood and Solomon 1985)?

c. How much content should the students be accountable for?

4. After considering the "demands" of the selected newsmagazine article and determining the purpose for the reading task, evaluate the options you have for pre-reading, during- reading, and post-reading activities. When actually designing reading-skills development exercises to complement the newsmagazine article, teachers must be selective, because different exercise types lead to different outcomes and require varying amounts of time. The activities should naturally evolve from the nature of the reading passage itself while the teachers consider (a) lesson objectives, (b) desired course outcomes, (c) the time available to devote to reading-skills instruction, and (d) characteristics of the learners (e.g., their interests, background knowledge, proficiency levels, and language needs).

Pre-reading options

The answers to the questions and issues raised above will influence decisions made about pre-reading activities those activities designed to prepare students for the actual reading of the selected article. Because comprehension will be determined partly by a student s own background knowledge, pre-reading activities can be utilized (a) to tap students already existing background knowledge, and/or (b) to provide students with new information that will help them comprehend the passage. Furthermore, these activities increase student concentration, stimulate curiosity, increase imagination, and foster motivation, as well as give students a sense of purpose, a reason for reading (Hess 1991).

If all the students, or some of the students, are familiar with the topic of the selected reading passage, pre-reading activities can be designed to encourage students to share their knowledge with their peers. If the instructor thinks that few, if any, of the students are familiar with the topic, but that the topic will be of interest to them, he/she should design pre-reading activities that highlight new information that will help students make sense of the passage.

Listed below are a number of pre-reading options; note that they are not listed in order of preference, nor is the list all- inclusive. Upon close examination, one will realize that the activities represent different types of pre-reading approaches. The background knowledge of the students and the nature of the selected article will dictate the types of pre-reading exercises that are most appropriate for your class. The pre-reading exercises outlined here can be used separately or in tandem. Note that for many of the exercises it is advisable to have students "letter" each paragraph in the passage (A Z) before beginning the pre-reading exercise. This "painless" procedure facilitates class discussion and prevents confusion between exercise items (often numbered) and paragraph designation (Rosenthal and Erb 1992).

1. Create a semantic map. Before even looking at the article, the teacher and students can create a semantic map on the blackboard that graphically displays information within categories related to a central concept and stimulates meaningful word associations. The teacher begins the process by introducing the major theme, a major concept, or a major issue from the article by writing it in the middle of the blackboard. For example, in the case of a Newsweek article by Starr et al. that focuses on post Olympic Game endorsements and advertisements (see Appendix B ), the teacher can write the following on the blackboard:


After telling students that they will be reading an article about the Olympic Games, the teacher can ask them what they think the article will be about. The teacher should be prepared to ask probing questions designed to elicit information from the students. The nature of these probing questions can lead students to mention terms/ideas that will be included in or inferred from the article to be read. As students contribute ideas, the teacher can create a semantic map, grouping students ideas in general semantic categories and/or in categories that reflect the organization or content of the article to be read. For example, after a brainstorming session on the Olympic Games, a semantic map such as the one shown in Figure 1 might be on the blackboard.

Once the semantic map is sufficiently developed, the instructor can (a) point out the topics that will be covered in the article, (b) ask students to quickly glance at the article (the title, subtitles, headings, pictures, etc.) to determine which topics will be included in the article, and/or (c) encourage students to develop further the "section" of the semantic map that reflects the contents of the article. For example, with the Starr et al. article, it would be appropriate to develop further the section on Olympic Game endorsements, advertisements, and money (see the bottom right-hand cluster of words on the semantic map above). The end result may look something like Figure 2 .

Semantic map exercises, such as the one described above, help students work as a group to gather their own resources; simultaneously, they prepare students to understand, assimilate, and evaluate the information to be read (Heimlich and Pittelman 1986). Bringing this knowledge to the conscious level helps students make sense of the topic of an article to be read.

2. Study the layout of the reading passage. Students can be asked to preview the article title, subtitles, headings, and/or "visuals" (e.g., photographs with captions, illustrations, charts, graphs) to see if they "reveal" the main idea(s) of the article. Students can quickly examine the layout of the article and try to (a) predict the content of the article, (b) form questions they will be able to answer after reading the article, and/or (c) share information they know about the topic.

3. Skim for the main idea(s). After examining the title and headings, students can be asked to read the first and last paragraph of the article to determine the main idea(s) of the article. Alternatively, they can read the first paragraph in its entirety and the first sentence of each subsequent paragraph before determining the main idea(s). The actual organization of the selected article will dictate which paragraphs, if any, should be skimmed for the main idea. For this pre-reading exercise to be effective in providing students with practice in skimming, students must be given only a few minutes to accomplish this task; otherwise they will read the article rather than skim it!

4. Scan for details. After examining the title and headings, students can be asked to scan for important information. If the article contains easily identifiable information that will help students understand the content of the article (e.g., names of countries, times and/or dates, names of people), the teacher can generate a list of questions that will help students discover this information quickly . Students can scan the entire article for an answer or be directed to specific paragraphs for the information (e.g., "Look in paragraph D. How much money can athletes earn for a public appearance?" "Look in paragraph G. Which woman athlete will endorse multiple products?" "Look at paragraph B. In what country is gymnast Scherbo popular?"). Again, to ensure that students scan rather than read, scanning exercises should be completed quickly, under timed conditions.

5. Match main ideas with paragraphs. The teacher can list the main idea of each paragraph (or groups of paragraphs) on the blackboard; this should be done in an abbreviated manner (i.e., short phrases) and should be presented in scrambled order (i.e., not in the order of the text). Initially, the teacher can ask students to look at the list of main ideas and consider questions such as these: (a) What do you think the title of this article is? (b) What is this article about? (c) Who is the article about?

Then students can be asked to skim/ scan the article quickly and match the letter of the paragraph(s) with the main idea on the blackboard. Consider the example in Figure 3 . An exercise of this type reinforces the notion that most paragraphs are developed around a main idea. However, because newsmagazine articles are not always written transparently in this manner, teachers should be aware of the fact that only certain reading passages can be used with an exercise of this type.

6. Examine the visuals. If the selected article has charts, graphs, or figures that are fairly easy to decipher without having read the article, students can be asked to examine those visuals in order to discover the main idea(s) of the article.

7. Read select paragraphs carefully. If the article is organized in such a way as to include one paragraph (or more) that summarizes and/or introduces most of the ideas to be covered in the article, students can be asked to answer a set of questions about the article by reading that particular paragraph or paragraphs.

8. Present main idea(s). If students are unfamiliar with the topic of the selected article, but the teacher thinks the topic will be of interest to the students, the instructor can give a "mini-lecture" about the article to orient students to the main ideas of the article and introduce key vocabulary. This approach is most effective if key vocabulary items are jotted down on the board, or a semantic map created, during the "mini-lecture."

9. Consult the dictionary. Students can be asked to look up key words in their dictionaries in order to find an appropriate definition, synonym, or antonym. Ideally, the key words should be presented in context, perhaps by "lifting" the sentences in which they are included in the article and writing them on the blackboard. This form of presentation not only introduces words in meaningful contexts but also indirectly introduces students to the contents of the article. Before planning an exercise of this type, teachers should check their students dictionaries to determine what information is included in the dictionary entry.

10. Consider new vocabulary. If the article includes vocabulary words that are likely to be new to students yet crucial for comprehension, these terms can be introduced to the students by means of pre-reading exercises before students are asked to read the passage. Vocabulary items can be introduced by (a) providing or having students discover definitions, synonyms, and/or antonyms, (b) pointing out contextual clues, (c) familiarizing students with word families, etc. (Gairns and Redman 1986; Morgan and Rinvolucri 1986). Students could also be asked to identify semantic groupings in an exercise similar to the one illustrated in Figure 4 .

During-reading options

The primary purpose of these during-reading options is to facilitate the actual reading of the selected passage. These activities encourage students to be active and reflective readers (Wallace 1992). Furthermore, during-reading options can provide more academically oriented students with practice in activities (such as note-taking) that are commonly practiced by skilled readers while reading for academic purposes. While at times it is appropriate to ask students to simply read the selected passage, at other times it is beneficial to provide students with opportunities to utilize different during-reading strategies while reading. The during-reading options outlined below can be adapted for different reading tasks. That is, whether students are reading the article in its entirety, just skimming the article, or reading it for specific details, these during-reading tasks can be modified to complement the assigned task.

1. Read for specific purposes. The teacher can encourage students to read selectively by posing a number of questions to the students that they should consider while reading or by creating grids or tables that students complete while reading. For example, while reading the article about the Olympics, students could be asked to identify the sports event associated with each athlete as shown in Figure 5 .

2. Highlight the text. Teachers can ask students to read with a highlighter (or pen) in hand so that the students can highlight (or underline) the main point(s) of the article and/or the answers to a set of questions posed to them just before reading.

?? Figure 4 The following words are used in the article about the Olympic Games. Group them into three logical categories: Las Vegas Albertville clothing pole-vaulter Barcelona shampoo cereal swimmer runner basketball player skater gymnast sunglasses Coke ??* 3. Take notes. Students can take abbreviated notes on a separate sheet of paper about the article while they are reading. At the beginning of the semester, the instructor might provide students with a "skeletal framework" of the notes that they can fill in. Later, students can take notes on their own. Another note- taking activity would require students to jot down a 2 5 word description of the main idea of each paragraph in the margin of the article. Later students can match their main ideas with the teacher s, listed on the blackboard. (Refer to pre-reading option #5, which can be modified easily to become a during-reading activity.)

4. Predict the contents of the article. After students read a portion of the article, they can then work in groups or as a class to predict what will happen next in the article. In this way, students are exposed to diverse reactions to and interpretations of the text. Then they can work together to hypothesize the contents of the rest of the reading passage.

5. Determine what has happened. Students can be asked to read the newsmagazine passage in "chunks." That is, students can be asked to read the newsmagazine article section by section, stopping at the end of each section to discuss the main idea(s) up to that point.

Post-reading options

Post-reading exercises, traditionally the only set of exercises accompanying a reading passage, give students the option to review, synthesize, summarize, and/or react to what they have read. Just as it is useful to prepare students for what they read through pre-reading activities, students need to follow up on what they have read through post-reading exercises (Moore et al. 1982). Time can be set aside for post-reading activities in class, or students can be asked to complete them as homework.

1. Discuss the article with classmates. Students can be asked to discuss the main idea or specific issues from the article with a classmate, in groups, or as a class. Rather than just asking students to summarize main points, teachers can pose questions that will create a more communicative interchange among students. The key to facilitating such an interchange is to pose a question that creates a true information gap and that leads to responses that students are genuinely interested in. For example, a post-reading question to accompany the article on the Olympic Games could be the following: "Which types of post Olympic Game activities do you think would be most satisfying for the athletes introduced in this article? Why?" In response to a question of this type, students are making use of information from the article, but bringing in diverse interpretations and opinions that would be of interest to classmates.

2. Generate summaries or reactions. Students can be asked to present oral or written summaries and/or reactions to the article utilizing information from the text.

3. Search for meaningful vocabulary. Students can be asked to go back to the article to (a) explore the meaning of useful idiomatic phrases that they have just read in context, (b) search for synonyms or antonyms of certain key lexical items, and/or (c) identify lexical items that belong to specific word families. For example, students reading the article on the Olympic Games could be asked to answer questions such as those shown in Figure 6 .

4. Scan for details. After having read the article, the teacher can either read a set of questions or put a set of questions on the board, and direct the students to scan the article for answers to those questions.

5. Make inferences. Questions can be posed that require students to infer meaning, that is, read between the lines. For example, students can be asked to characterize the attitude of the author(s).

6. Sequence events. Students can be given a list of events that were described in the reading passage and asked to sequence them. Timelines and chronology activities help students clarify the order of events in the reading passage.

7. Apply information from the article. Students can apply information from the article to an information-gap activity, problem-solving activity, debate, simulation game, roleplay, etc. In this way, students can apply information gained by reading the article to a situation that is both of interest and relevant to their lives. In these activities, students are obliged to move beyond the content of the reading passage to create questions and answers not necessarily found in the text (Hind and Brancard 1991).

8. Follow up on pre-reading or during-reading exercises. In follow-up activities, students reevaluate assumptions made prior to reading and while reading in light of information gained from completing the reading (Hind and Brancard 1991).

9. Create or revise semantic maps. Semantic maps, described under pre-reading activities, provide a useful means for summarizing the contents of a reading passage. As a post-reading activity, "semantic mapping affords students the opportunity to recall, organize, and represent graphically the pertinent information read" (Heimlich and Pittelman 1986:6).

10. Synthesize information from multiple sources. Because newsmagazines cover similar topics week after week, students can be asked to synthesize information from more than one article. This type of activity encourages students to relate information from more than one reading source.


Successful, mature readers, by definition, are able to read unedited texts written "by authors who make no accommodation to readers who are less than fully competent" (Dubin 1986:137). The use of newsmagazine articles in the ESL/EFL classroom provides students with opportunities to read authentic materials while developing skills that approximate those of the successful, mature reader. (See Grabe 1991, for a more detailed discussion of fluent reading processes.) The most efficient use of these newsmagazine materials requires that teachers (a) appraise students interests, language needs, and background knowledge, (b) select an article of interest and relevance to students, (c) define reading tasks, and (d) develop the most appropriate pre-, during-, and post-reading activities. By means of these activities, teachers can make the most of newsmagazine reading passages, preparing students to read articles like these on their own in the future.

This article only begins to highlight the activities a teacher can plan for a reading-skills development course. Teachers can broaden their repertoire of pre-, during-, and post-reading activities by consulting Grellet (1981), Heimlich and Pittelman (1986), Hess (1991), Holme (1991), Moore et al. (1982), and Wallace (1992), as well as the many ESL/EFL teacher reference books on the market.


  • Dubin, F. 1986. Dealing with texts. In Teaching second language reading for academic purposes, ed. F. Dubin, D. E. Eskey, and W. Grabe. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
  • Gairns, R. and S. Redman. 1986. Working with words: A guide to teaching and learning vocabulary. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Grabe, W. 1991. Current developments in second language reading research. TESOL Quarterly, 25, 3, pp. 375 406.
  • Grellet, F. 1981. Developing reading skills: A practical guide to reading comprehension exercises. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Heimlich, J. E. and S. D. Pittelman. 1986. Semantic mapping: Classroom applications. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association.
  • Hess, N. 1991. Headstarts: One hundred original pre-text activities. New York: Longman.
  • Hind, J. and R. Brancard. 1991. What s next? Ten ideas for post- reading activities. Paper presented at the annual TESOL Convention, New York.
  • Holme, R. 1991. Talking texts: Innovative recipes for intensive reading. New York: Longman.
  • Hood, S. and N. Solomon. 1985. Focus on reading: A handbook for teachers. Adelaide, South Australia: National Curriculum Resource Centre.
  • Lynch, B. K. and T. Hudson. 1991. EST reading. In Teaching English as a second or foreign language, ed. M. Celce-Murcia. New York: Newbury House.
  • Moore, D. W., J. E. Readence, and R. J. Rickelman. 1982. Prereading activities for content area reading and learning. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association.
  • Morgan, J. and M. Rinvolucri. 1986. Vocabulary. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Munby, J. 1978. Communicative syllabus design. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rosenthal, J. and K. Erb. 1992. Teaching the vocabulary of a newsmagazine. Paper presented at the annual Region II NAFSA Convention, Park City, Utah.
  • Wallace, C. 1992. Reading. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fredricka L. Stoller is an assistant professor in the English as a second language/applied linguistics programs at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. She is also the director of the Program in Intensive English at the same university. She is an active member of TESOL and past-chair of the TESOL Awards Committee.


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Figure 1

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Figure 2

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Figure 3

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Figure 4

The following words are used in the article about the Olympic Games. Group them into three logical categories:
Las Vegas

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Figure 5

athletes sports event
     Vitaly Scherbo......................
     Michael Jordan......................
     Kristi Yamaguchi...................
     Alberto Tomba......................

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Figure 6

Find a synonym of profitable in
paragraph D:__________________
Find an antonym of minor in
paragraph D:__________________
Find the noun form of perceive in
paragraph E:__________________
Find the verb from of endorsement in
paragraph G:__________________

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Appendix A

Taxonomy of Reading Skills (Munbt 1978)
recognizing the script of a language
deducing the meaning and use of unfamiliar lexical items
understanding explicitly stated information
understanding information when not explicitly stated
understanding conceptual meaning
understanding the communicative value (function) of sentences and utterances
understanding relations within the sentence
understanding relations between the parts of a text through lexical cohesion devices
understanding relations between parts of a text through grammatical cohesion devices
interpreting text by going outside it
recognizing indicators in discourse
identifying the main point or important information in a piece of discourse
distinguishing the main idea from supporting details
extracting salient points to summarize (the text, an idea, etc.)
selective extraction of relevant points from a text
basic reference skills
scanning to locate specifically required information
transcoding information in diagrammatic display

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Appendix B

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