How can I help the non-English students improve their reading ability? First Draft by Li Jun, China’s Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching.



In the process of teaching, I found that most students who are non-English majors in grade 1 at this teachers college could not read effectively, which hindered them from making progress and gaining a high score in the examination. Reading constitutes a large part of their course, and their failure in it made them lose interest in reading English literature outside the class, even in learning English altogether. In response to this, I developed a 10-week plan to improve the students’ reading ability. During the procedure, I made some changes, after reading some magazines and some papers about English language teaching and learning from the New Curriculum for the teaching of English in China. I was able to improve my methodology in order to facilitate my students’ learning.


Action Research defined:

Action research is a cycle in which the teacher evaluates his own actions and tries to the outcome to make improvement. The aim is to deal with some practical problems of teaching.


“Action research is the process of systemically evaluating the consequences of educational decisions and adjusting practice to maximize effectiveness.” (McClean, 1995:3)


Class and Course Description:

The class chosen as my subject is Comprehensive Science Class in Grade 1 in the Chemical Department, which includes 34 students. They have English classes two days a week. Usually, they take my reading class every Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Their English ranges from low to lower advanced, but is better than the other two classes I teach according to their scores in the last term. Because of this, it is more appropriate to carry out my plan in this class, for having a better language basic is very necessary to develop one’s reading ability. I have been teaching this course, college English, for almost a year. The text-book is called ‘New Horizon English 2’. The aim of this course is to develop the students’ English in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, in which reading is taken as the most important element. According to their scores in the previous term, I chose 3 students as my subjects, who are Liu Decai, Li Xueyi and Xie Weijun, whose scores were 74, 69, and 64 respectively. The reason I chose them is that their English levels vary, so I can see how my plan works for students with differing achievement-levels.


What is the problem?

In my class, I found students read slowly and could not gain a good understanding of the material by using the reading skills they had learned in the previous term. It was hard for them to finish the reading tasks in a limited time. The situation was not in accordance with the requirements of the textbook. So I was concerned:


1.        Because of our traditional teaching and studying strategies, the concept of reading skills had not been formed in the students’ minds.

2.        Limited vocabulary

3.        Most students thought that it impossible to read effectively without a certain knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, so they spent most of their time studying those aspects and doing less reading.

4.        The text book was too difficult to understand and was beyond their ability.


To check my suspicions, I gave a questionnaire to 33 students, but only 30 were collected in. After careful analysis, I learnt that the students could not read effectively for the following reasons:


1.     Limited vocabulary.

2.     Lack of knowledge of grammar and reading skills.

3.     Bad habit of reading

4.     Narrow reading out of class

5.     The text book was difficult for the students to understand.

6.     The students were not interested in leaning English.


Planned actions:

With the problems formulated, the following solutions were designed to solve them:


1.     Enlarge the students’ vocabulary, including words and phrases.

1)    Teach word building.

2)    Teach and practice the skills to find out the meaning of unfamiliar words in sentences.

3)    Collect some interesting sayings, idioms about the words needed mastering.

4)    Some interesting methods of memorizing.

2.     Lend them some English books and magazines. The aim was to enlarge their vocabulary in a natural way and make them familiar with the use of the vocabulary they had already learned.

3.     Do more practice about reading skills. Each skill would be practiced in a particular time according to the arrangement of the textbook.


All the above-mentioned activities are implemented over a 10-week period, planned as follows. I hope that in the process, the students can form and develop their own reading strategy.






































Introduce AR and new curriculum to the students.










Word building in each Unit






Reading skills in each Unit






Lend books and magazines

Check the master of the reading skills







Quiz about vocabulary







Quiz about the reading skills










Introduce the common structure of English writings






Data collection











Student interview








Student’s log






Teacher’s log



With the new curriculum, teachers need to change traditional teaching methods, teacher-centered, into students-centered, and students should learn how to make a self-evaluation and develop their own study strategy during the process of coordinating with others. Language cannot be separated from certain amount of language input, especially reading. So the improvement of reading ability takes a very important role in their English learning.


Reports on the implementation of the ten-week plan

1.The first week

Teacher’s log: At the beginning of my class, I introduced AR and reading strategy to my students. They begin to know something about the importance of developing reading strategies. Then I showed them the common structure of English writing. According to the questionnaire, I told them what they should avoid in the reading and suggested some good methods and encouraged them to develop their own study strategies in their learning. Some suffixes in this Unit were taught to them. At the end of this class I told them that I had set them as my subject and asked the three students, Liu Decai, Li Xueyi, Xie Weijun to keep a diary about developing their reading abilities. I could see they were so happy when they listened to this news.


2. The second week

Teacher’s log: Today, the students learned Section B. To my surprise, Dean Tian came to my class. The students were divided into 8 groups to finish two tasks, which are to find out the main idea of each paragraph in 25 minutes and to analyze the relationships among these paragraphs in 5 minutes. As to task 1, all the groups could finish the task in limited time and use some key words to conclude it. One groups containing some good students finished the task in 15 minutes and the poorest group took 22 minutes.


During the break, Dean Tian told me that the time limit was too long, and as a result, many students had time to do others things. In addition he said the atmosphere was not active enough. Then, he gave me many valuable suggestions:


1.     Arrange the groups according their scores to narrow the distance between the groups.

2.     Let the students show their opinions freely, then, give the correct answer to make the atmosphere more active.


In the second class, as to task 2, the second method was set up and worked well. In addition, the information reflected in my students’ diary was in accordance with Dean’s observation:


They liked the magazines and newspapers given to them very much and told me that this reading did help them improve their reading ability.


From all the trials, it seemed a good start.


3.     The third week

In this class, we reviewed the skills of finding out the main idea of the paragraphs and getting key information from the subtitles in the passage. Their answers came quickly and correctly, which made me really happy. However, during the process of teaching the passage, I found the text was very difficult for them to understand. This worried me a lot. Some suffixes were taught as usual.


4.     The fourth week

Teacher’s log: The reading skill in this Unit is finding out the word meaning. Because the sentences in the exercises were easy, most of them could finish the work correctly in limited time. To check whether the text was too difficult for them to understand, I asked the students who could understand the text without reference books and dictionary to put their hands up. To my surprise, only two did so.


After the class, thinking about this and reading the New Curriculum again, I decided to change my topic, to How can I help my students to enlarge their vocabulary? Here are the reasons.


Without a certain amount of vocabulary, there is no way to develop any real mastery of English. If students can master the words used most frequently in their daily lives and have a proper amount of vocabulary, it is very easy for them to express what they want. That is to say, the problem in their speaking, writing, listening and reading will be solved. The action plan for the next 6 weeks had to be revised.














Word Building




Introduce some interesting ways to remember vocabulary and encourage them to create their own methods and show them to their classmates.




List the use of some important words in the text and ask the students to make sentences in pairs according to the models, strengthening them in each teaching link.

Ask students to collect the antonyms (s), synonym (s) and interesting sayings about the word in the test after the class to share with the others.




Teach them how to read a word according to its pronunciation rules, without looking at its phonetic symbol.




Provide students with some magazines and newspapers to find some modern or interesting words and then to make a presentation.

Homework: make sentences or write a passage by using at least ten words or phrases in the text.

Do some vocabulary quizzes. 






It’s very clear that after 4-weeks implementing of AR both the students and I gained a better understanding of learning and teaching. I know that the aims should be set according to the students’ learning needs rather than simply teaching to the text book. I think that vocabulary is most important. Without a firm basis, it’s hard to build a large house to develop our English. From this AR section, I know that no matter how wise the theory is, it should be practical and accordance with the reality.