A while ago, a Nicola Prentis wrote about an interesting conversation activity called Reverse Reading. It enjoyed some popularity and even prompted her to write a short book of lesson-plans based on Reverse Reading. The idea is quite simple: turn a reading lesson into a conversation lesson by writing questions that use target vocabulary in the reading as well as asking questions about the concepts in the reading. This has a few benefits, first, according to Nicola, it avoids situations in which a text is used as a prompt for discussion but the class becomes more of a reading lesson than a conversation one. Instead of “tacking” on conversation questions, foreground them and then work backwards to language analysis and reading. Other benefits include exposure to new vocabulary, phrases, and grammatical forms. You could either pre-teach the vocabulary, making the Reverse Reading the second exposure (and the actually reading, if done, the third) or students could discuss vocabulary while discussing the questions. One other benefit is that these questions force students to consider their background knowledge (or lack thereof), a very important step in the learning process.
I really liked this idea and used it on several occasions with success. It is easy to design and serves as a great way to preview language and ideas. Recently, however, I have been using it a bit differently. For certain texts, I start with the Reverse Reading. I draft questions using target vocabulary, with all questions pertaining to ideas in the text. Students either preview the vocab before the conversation or while discussing the questions. They discuss the questions with the emphasis on their own ideas and opinions. They jot down brief answers as they discuss the questions. Then, students read the text and complete any other comprehension activities I may create. Finally, students use the Reverse Reading questions again, but this time, they must answer from the perspective of the text, referring to specific paragraphs or lines to support their answer.
I added this last step as I wanted students to pay more attention to details while also accepting, rejecting, or revising their previous ideas based on the information on the text. This second round of questions also requires them to use textual evidence, using phrases like “According to” or “___ states”, giving them practice in oral referencing, a very useful academic skill.
Here is an example based on the reading “The Workforce of the Twenty-First Century” from Making Connections 2. This was for a B1~2 reading course:
Reverse Reading Questions (target vocabulary in bold)
- What is the difference between a developed and a developing country?
- How is today’s workforce different from the workforce of the past?
- Do you think there is a greater demand for skilled or low-skilled workers? Why?
- What are some advantages of outsourcing?
- Why do some people criticize outsourcing?
- When manufacturing jobs disappear, who should be blamed?
- What is commonly manufactured by skilled workers?
- What do you think prevents people from working in another country?
- What attracts people to work in another country?
- Do you think foreign workers keep their salaries or send it back to their home country? Why?
For this particular example, the questions require a lot of information finding as opposed to critical thinking. However, you can certainly build that into the questions you make.
I have also used this idea in conjunction with jigsaw reading. First, students answer the questions together. Then, they read their respective articles. Then, they come back together and answer the questions based on the articles, teaching the main concepts of their article to their partner(s).
Here is an example based on readings of Jefferson’s Notes on Slavery from Newsela and Frederick Douglass’ speech “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery”, also on Newsela. This was for a pre-university listening and speaking class that focuses on US History.
Reading Questions (Question 1-4 refer to reading 1; 5-9 are for reading 2)
- Why do you think many whites had objections to including blacks in America after the slaves were free?
- Do you think the differences between races are due to differences of nature, differences of education, or something else?
- Do you think children learn through imitation (copying their parents and friends)? If so, what do you think slave-owners’ children learned from their parents?
- Do you think that sadness and suffering inspire poetry and songs? If so, what effect do you think this had on slave and African-American music?
- Why would an ex-slave find hypocrisy in being asked to celebrate the Fourth of July?
- What do you think is a better method to persuade someone: discussion or criticism? Why?
- Do you think slave-holders thought slavery was wrong? Why or why not?
- Do you think the laws recognized slaves as people, property, or animals?
- What different justifications do you think upheld slavery?
Students had already learned about slavery from other readings and lectures, so they had to draw on their new background knowledge to answer these questions for the first round of reverse reading, and that knowledge was reinforced while reading and especially during the second round.
I have not done this yet, but a third idea for reverse reading would be to use it with listening texts, with students referring to notes during the second round of questions.
In summary, drafting questions using target vocabulary, grammar, and ideas, and then using these questions before AND after a text helps build exposure to vocabulary, activates background knowledge, helps to assimilate new information with old information, requires close reading, referencing, and critical thinking. That seems like quite a powerful reading activity!