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What is Pre-Reading or Pre-Listening?

A Pre-listening or a Pre-reading is a stage frequently found in lessons that aim at helping students develop receptive skills. It is the pre in the pre, while and post sequence of activities to help students become better readers or listeners.

The aim of this stage is to help students prepare for reading or listening to a text, either by dealing with the topic, its genre or relevant language.

There are many ways in which this could be done, some of the most common being:

  • Activating students’ schemata or background knowledge of the topic through picture exploitation, elicitation etc.

  • Pre-teaching vocabulary that is essential for the understanding of the text.

  • Allowing learners to engage in the topic through meaningful interaction (discussions, information gap etc.).

  • Encouraging predictions related to context and content of the text.

It is claimed that pre-listening or pre-reading activities echo real-life situations to some extent. As an example, our brain of an experienced reader already knows what to expect when we decide to read a gossip magazine, the same way that our brain already prepares itself and evokes background knowledge when the anchorperson says “Now let’s hear about the weather!”.

It is often argued that pre-teaching vocabulary may be a way of ‘cheating’, since learners are very unlikely to receive a list of useful words before reading a text or listening to something in real life. Others advocate that pre-teaching can be useful if the words being taught are essential to understanding the basic meaning of the message, and can reduce learner anxiety.

An effective pre-listening or pre-reading stage usually contains one or more of the characteristics below:

  • It engages learners in the topic and generate interest in the text.

  • It focusses learners’ attention and interest on characteristics of the specific text (e.g. “What would you expect to see in a newspaper article about climate change?”) rather than the broad topic (e.g. “What is climate change?”).

  • It provides opportunities for student-student interaction rather than relying solely on teacher-whole group patterns.

  • It allows students to recall (or learn) vocabulary that appears in the recorded or written text.

  • It raises awareness of the characteristics of the genre.

Example of a pre-reading activity:

Students from an elementary group are going to read a listing on Airbnb. Some possible pre-reading activities are:

  • Revealing the Airbnb logo and asking students what they know about it.

  • Eliciting from students what they expect to see in an Airbnb listing.

  • Showing a picture of a flat asking small groups to brainstorming characteristics they expect it to have.

  • Asking students to match pictures of different rooms to noun phrases (e.g. a living room, an ensuite bathroom, an open-plan kitchen).

How can I use it in a lesson?

Most modern coursebooks already include pre-reading or pre-listening activities, usually in the form of a question for group discussion, pictures to be exploited or an exercise that teaches new words. Teacher’s books also frequently include procedures that could be used before listening or reading.

If you want to use authentic texts or design your own pre-listening activities for texts in the coursebook, here is some advice:

  1. Read or listen to the text yourself and notice its characteristics (genre, purpose, intended audience, level of formality etc.).

  2. Think about the background knowledge that your learners have on the topic or genre.

  3. Try to anticipate difficulties learners may have when tackling the text (lack of knowledge about the topic, difficult words, speed of delivery).

  4. Devise questions or activities that may help learners talk about what they already know about the topic, predict possible contents of the text, or minimise the problems you’ve anticipated.

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