The official website of educator Jack C Richards

English language learning in primary school


submitted by Fernanda,  Ecuador

Which reading is better to apply for English language learning in primary school children, critical reading or reading comprehension?

Dr Richards Responds:

Many second language learners need good reading skills in English and reading has always been an important focus of English language teaching programs. However current approaches to the teaching of second language reading are very different from earlier approaches. In the past reading was usually taught by providing texts (usually contrived texts written to word lists) that students read, followed by comprehension questions. There was little difference in approach between teaching reading and testing reading. And advanced reading served as a form of cultural enrichment rather than any real-world goals. Today the role English plays as the language in the information and communication age has prompted a rethinking of approaches to the teaching of reading. Many learners need to develop effective analytical processing skills, problem solving and critical thinking through reading, and to develop technical reading skills rather than those used for literary reading. They need to access, analyse, authenticate and apply information acquired from different sources and turn it into useful personal knowledge. And much of their reading may not be based on printed sources but on on-line reading. In addition the growing use of English as a medium to teach content subjects in schools as well as the role English as an international language has highlight the need for effective approaches to second language reading instruction.

The ability to read and write is know as literacy, and literacy skills play a vital role in people’s everyday lives at home, at work, at school and in their communities. In a single day an adult may use reading for many different purposes. For example:


Reading purposes Examples
For everyday activities reading  a bus timetable, reading instructions on a food package, reading a sign in an elevator
For learning about things going on line to get information about someone, getting a recipe off the internet, reading about a travel destination
For life purposes reading hobby magazines, studying a driving manual before taking a driving test, reading an advice column in a magazine, reading the newspaper to find out about tickets to a concert, reading membership requirements of a gym
For leisure and pleasure reading a romance novel, reading a religious text

Second language learners may need reading skills in English for similar purposes, i.e. to enable them to participate in activities related to work, the community, daily life and particularly education. Many ESL Reading courses hence focus on the skills needed for “reading-to learn”, such as:

  • Reading to search for simple information
  • Reading to skim quickly
  • Reading to learn from texts
  • Reading to integrate information
  • Reading to write (or to search for information needed for writing)
  • Reading to critique texts
  • Reading for general comprehension

The ability to read critically is particularly important for students who need reading skills for academic purposes. Critical reading involves reacting critically to what one reads, relating the content of reading materials to evaluate against personal standards and beliefs, going beyond what is given in the text and recognizing underlying ideologies, and critically evaluating the relevance and value of what is read. But in order to be able o read critically, good reading skills are needed, so reading for general comprehension provides the basis for a focus on critical reading.