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    Some Classroom Strategies: Developing Critical Literacy Awareness


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    Some Classroom Strategies: Developing Critical Literacy Awareness

    Post by Admin on Fri May 15, 2009 5:38 pm

    Some Classroom Strategies
    Developing Critical Literacy Awareness
    by Chitra Varaprasad

    Definition of critical reading

    Harris and Hodges (1981) define critical reading as the process of making judgments in reading: "evaluating relevancy and adequacy of what is read." According to Thistlethwaite (1990:587) "in critical reading, readers evaluate what they have read and make a decision. This decision may be to accept what the writer has said, to disagree with it or to realise that additional information is necessary before an informed judgment can be made."

    This paper will look at texts from two angles, that of content and language. The following two questions will be addressed:
    Different types of tasks can be designed for developing critical reading strategies among students in the context of the three stages in the reading process: the pre-reading stage, the while-reading stage, and finally the post-reading stage.
    Strategies for the pre-reading stage: In conventional pre-reading activities, students are asked to do the following:

    • find answers to given questions based on the text;
    • give their personal opinion about the topic;
    • predict the continuing text.
    In critical pre-reading activities, students can be asked to consider:

    • the reason the author is writing about the topic;
    • the whole range of ways to write a particular text;
    • the generating of their own list of questions.
    Students at this stage can be asked to read and react to content and language in a text by annotating and analysing .

    Annotating: The strategy of annotating is essential to critical reading because it focuses the reader's attention on the content and language of the text. As students read, they can be asked to annotate directly on the text. Three useful ways of annotating are underlining, questioning, and outlining .

    Underlining: As a first step, ask students to read through the passage and underline difficult words and phrases, while getting a general idea of the whole passage. Next, ask them to figure out the meanings of these words and phrases from context, and if necessary, look them up in a dictionary or another relevant book, encyclopedia, etc. The answers can be discussed as a group with constant input from the teacher.

    Questioning: Questions are the most notable aspect of the annotations. Next, we could get our students to read the text again and express their doubts in the form of questions in the margin. Initially, questions would reflect students' lack of knowledge as these questions would identify information that is needed. They may even represent doubts, confusion, or comments.

    Outlining: Outlining helps to focus on the most important ideas of a text, separating what is central from what is peripheral. Outlining also shows how information is organised and supported in a text. Like the other activities, outlining can be done as a group activity. Ask students to identify the main ideas in each paragraph and look for sentences that carry the main thrust of the arguments. For this purpose, remind students that:

    • writers generally place the main thrust of their arguments either at the beginning or the end of a paragraph
    • connectors such as: as a result of, consequently , etc., play a crucial role in advancing the main thrust of the writer's argument. Similarly, other connectors such as for example, firstly, in addition , reflect supporting arguments. By actively searching for such connectors, students are able to focus on the most important ideas of a text, separating what is peripheral from what is central.
    Analysing: Having ascertained the main thrust of the writer's arguments from outlining, the students next have to be guided to analyse arguments and language.

    • What point is the writer attempting to establish?
    • What is being asserted as true?

    In addition to identifying the main argument or idea in each paragraph, students can be given a checklist of questions that they can bear in mind while reading texts to evaluate arguments such as the following:
    A critical reader seriously thinks about what s/he is reading. This means that s/he:
    So a very important critical reading skill is to be able to distinguish fact from opinion. This is an essential first step in acquiring critical reading ability.
    Language: One way of analysing language is to look for patterns or repetitions of any kind such as:

    • repetitions or patterns of recurring images;
    • repeated descriptions;
    • consistent ways of characterising people or events;
    • repeated words and phrases, examples or illustrations;
    • reliance on particular writing strategies;
    • use of opposites/opposing ideas to reveal contrasting perspectives;
    • use of figurative language to reflect the authors' attitudes, tone, and feelings.

    Thus, central to the idea of critical reading is an awareness of the role that language plays in conveying, not just a propositional message, but an ideological one as well. The analysis of language can be very useful for ascertaining the writer's ideology.

    Students can also be made aware of the following:

    • The use of inclusive and exclusive pronouns to represent self, subject, reader, etc.;
    • The way nouns function, i.e., as actors or acted upon, and the reasons for their selection;
    • The kinds of verbs used: action verbs, verbs denoting mental processes etc.;
    • Why the writer uses them, the purpose they serve, the meaning they convey;
    • The use of modal verbs, what they convey about the writer's attitude and mood: affirmative, negative, imperative, or interrogative;
    • The use of connectors, not just to convey ideas, but also to convey the writer's stand or position on the matter. So, rather than just focusing on form for its own sake, as in traditional language and reading exercises, students can adduce evidence for the text's ideological positioning.

    Strategies for the post-reading stage

    The logical strategy to use at the post-reading stage is to extend the understanding obtained from texts at the pre-reading and while-reading stages into writing tasks, such as summarising, evaluating, synthesizing, commenting, and reflecting.


    • Axelrod, R. B., and C. R. Cooper. 1987. Reading critically, writing well. New York: St. Martin's Press.
    • Fox, R. 1988. Sensation speak. English Journal, 77, pp. 52-56.
    • Golub, J. 1986. Activities to promote critical thinking. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
    • Harris, T. L., and R. E. Hodges. 1981. A dictionary of reading and related terms. Newark, NJ: International Reading Association.
    • Thistlethwaite, L. L. 1990. Critical reading for at-risk students. Journal of Reading, 3, 33, pp. 586-592.
    • Wallace, C. 1990. Critical reading awareness in the EFL classroom. Singapore Tertiary English Teachers Society Review, Issue no. 3.

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