If you ask students with whom you have good rapport what they have actually done while listening to a story you find that they have been involved in many different processes.

Let me randomly list some of the things I have found:

Students have had distracting side-thoughts provoked by some detail in the story

One student once turned the story into a film in a foreign language, with subtitles in his language and with a strong musical soundtrack. ( amazing) ( The story was set in this foreign country)

Another person was reminded of another story they already knew and fused this story with the story I was telling. 

Students drift out of the telling for some seconds and miss a whole bit as they thinking of something quite else.

Students sometimes get small, black and white still pictures in their minds as I tell. 

There are students who get no pictures and have strong feelings...they tend to know the temperature and the weather in the story.

A few students wonder about the narrative plot and where it is leading.

Students who like the story will often get vivid colour pictures at the beginning and then mentally find themselves in the same space as the action, like in a dream.

 Occasionally a student will become so associated that they become the protagonist of the story.

Occasionally a student will start noticing the story telling technique and the use of voice.


I could go on listing listener behaviours but the above suffice to give you some idea of the complexity of what is going on in student heads as they listen to a story.

 Knowing what I do, how can I possibly dream of insulting these sub-consciously brilliant folk with absurd "comprehension questions" about my original text that has been fully superceded by theirs.

Warmly yours,   Mario


Hi Mario,


Much as I agree with you on this, I wonder how you deal with students' expections (Where were the Qs? What did I learn from that? Why did he tell us that story and how has it helped my English?)


How do you - Or do you attempt to consolidate what's happening in your students' heads and turn these into language learning opportunities?




Nik Peachey | Learning Technology Consultant, Writer, Trainer




The same happens to me, Mario, while reading this message!

I have visualized all the kinds of students you wrote about... and many of them are fellows of mine, at the time of my Secondary school...





Dear Nik,

                Thank you for your message. My job as a teacher, at least as I see it, is to raise my students' expectations. In the case of reading or listening to a text the follow up work centres round their own internal elaborated texts and not around the original text. Students very quickly realise that this is both more realistic and more interesting than the normal EFL pretence that the text has been read 'objectively'.

The word 'objective' is one of the most absurd notions we have inherited from the Ancient Greeks. It has clouded our thinking about text reception for 2500 years.

Warmly yours,   Mario

Dear Paolo,

                 Thank you for writing from the world of Teaching Italian to Foreigners.

This morning, in  Barcelona, I am working with teachers of French and I feel that all teachers of a foreign language are one community.

How could I possibly imagine what you have just told me....  I am filled with wonderment as I am in class when students tell each other how they have elaborated text.

Warmly yours   Mario    Bonne Journee!16

Yes, I love being encouraged to think about things in this kind of way.

When I read through the list I went off on two or three tangents at different times:

  • First of all I started thinking about Mario Rinvolucri himself, brought on by an article I'd recently read that included notes from several journal articles - coincidentally a discussion between him and a teacher-trainer I know from New Zealand.  Which drifted on to grammar games before...
  • I had to actively break that train of thought and force myself back into reading... but quickly...
  • Found myself wondering if it was possible to imagine things in black and white - the images I get are always vivid and colourful... and why 'small' images? 
  • Then quietly reassuring myself a moment later as I discovered that, yes, there are people like me who see the images in colour...
  • Then wondering how these things apply to reading bus time-tables, lists, and instruction booklets - finally coming to the conclusion that it must happen, because there've been many times that I ended up on the wrong bus, put the contraption together the wrong way, or the one item of food I forgot to buy off my wife's list just happened to be the one thing I don't like (and I didn't do that on purpose).

So even a single person reading a single text can be thrown off by a whole bunch of these things one after the other.


One last thing.  It occured to me, after reading Nik and Paolo's comments, Mario's comments on their comments, that I wanted to go back and skim through the original article again.

Could an effective reading task go something along the lines of:

  1. Read (and formulate a personal reaction)
  2. Compare your views on the text with comments by other people.
  3. Re-read - Has your original reaction changed in anyway (as a result of seeing other people's views)?

Dear Heath,

                   I like your approach, especially the idea of asking the learners to go back to the original text after having been enriched by hearing their classmates' elaborated texts. I want to try Step 3 with my students.

                   The only part of your proposal  I quarrel with is the way you express Step 1 . 'Formulate' describes an excessively conscious process and 'reaction' also belongs to the tiny realm of the conscious mind. Your own examples  above of what happened in your own reading process are to do with how you encoded and stored my text in your mind. Can you really describe this as 'reaction'.......might "inevitably creative reception' be a more accurate description...........

Warmly yours,   Mario

Yes, I actually phrased and rephrased that part about 6 or 7 times never finding the wording I was looking for. 

In actual teaching I'd probably put it, depending on the Ss I was working with and the type of text, something along the lines of one of these:

  • How do you feel about the text?
  • What does the story mean to you?
  • While reading think about the scene - Where? What colours? What season? What time?
    After reading, compare how you saw the scene with someone else.
  • Which parts of the argument do you agree with?

Etc... (Comments?  You do still feel that reading needs to be guided in some way, yes?)

Just couldn't find suitable wording to describe that general stage.  Not sure about 'reception' either... perhaps 'interpretation' or simply 'feeling(s)'?  Or perhaps, as mention above, it is more to do with the process, which changes throughout the reading, in which case 'thought processes'.  But now it's starting to sound too scientific.

While on that, though.  What do you think about having Ss take notes while reading?  Would it be useful to have them read paragraph one then write a few notes on what they were thinking as they read before repeating with paragraph two... or might that just break up the reading process and cause them to lose their train of thought, becoming distracted from the text itself?

Dear Heath,

                   Let us take a very short text:

George Bush is packing his bags to leave the White House

I would suggest that your reception of this text is what happens involuntarily and unconsciously as your eyes scan the words.The name of the outgoing US president will immediately trigger many different things in the mindsof the readers of this sentence. These two words may trigger visual, auditory or feeling representations...they could conjure up a flash mental film around the man from his election by the Supreme Court right through to today. I suggest that the reader does not consciously control his reading reception.

Interpretation seems to me to be a later and a largely conscious step. One interpretation could be " good riddance...." and other could be" plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose". Both of these seems to me to be interpretations  and both are created on the conscious workbench of our mind.

Warmly yours.....Mario

Thanks, the distinction is quite clear to me now.

Time for more re-reading for me!

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