What makes an effective reading activity? How can the texts we choose support our teaching objectives?
Here are 6 guidelines for selecting reading texts for the EFL classroom
- Will the text support our teaching objectives?
What do we want to achieve with the reading activity we give out to our students? Do we want to focus on the topic of the text? Do we want to introduce/ focus on a particular grammar structure or to introduce new lexis? Or do we simply want to provide extra input and promote reading for pleasure?
As Nuttall (1996:179) points out, when selecting a reading passage for our EFL classroom we should mainly focus on whether or not it supports our “overall teaching purpose and learning objectives”. Through the reading passage, we should be able not only to achieve our lesson’s goals but also to transfer knowledge to our students, to introduce them to new ideas and foster critical thinking.
2. Is the text authentic and relevant to our learners’ specific needs?
In many EFL teaching environments, students have limited exposure to L2 input outside the language classroom. For effective learning to take place, it is therefore important to ‘feed’ our learners with a lot of useful, relevant and meaningful input and not just stick to the texts we find in our coursebooks.
When selecting passages for reading practice in the EFL classroom we always need to take into account the length of the text, the authenticity of the language used and whether or not the lexis and grammar included match our students’ level and specific needs. Our learners need to receive input from a variety of L2 sources and (always according to their level) to read and explore a variety of different writing styles and genres (newspaper articles, train timetables, authentic brochures, abstracts from books/plays, poems, etc.).
3. Will the text boost our learners’ intrinsic motivation for reading?
Will the selected passage trigger learner interest? Will our students find the topic interesting? Does it relate to their age and preferences?
Nobody wants to read something they do not find interesting. Harmer (2001) emphasizes the “need” for our students to be “engaged with what they are reading”. We need to trigger their curiosity and build interest in the topic. The challenge will be to make our students want to read the text for themselves. Not because they have to, but because they want to.
4. Does the text challenge our students’ intelligence? How much vocabulary should we pre teach?
Is the text too complicated for our learners? Will there be comprehension issues? Do we perhaps make unreasonable demands on their knowledge of the language? As Watkins (2014: 58) points out, reading texts need to be “challenging” for learners while still “allowing them a good chance to understand the main points”. We also need to ask ourselves whether our learners are familiar with the particular type of register.
Does the language in the text reflect written or spoken usage? Is it natural or has it been distorted somehow in order to include examples of a teaching item (ex. a grammatical structure)? Can our learners figure out the meaning of certain vocabulary items from context? Do we need to pre-teach some lexis in order to facilitate the reading process?
We also need to check whether the new lexis our students will encounter in the text will be useful for their future and whether they will be able to incorporate it in their active vocabulary and use it in real life situations.
5. Encouraging learner involvement and guesswork- learners as discoverers
Reading may be a passive skill but that does not mean that it cannot be combined with communicative tasks that encourage learner involvement. We need to make sure that the text we choose is not over explicit and that it leaves room for inference from the part of our learners. For effective learning to take place, Harmer (2001) reiterates the importance of active learner involvement in the reading process and the role of “prediction” from the part of the students. He also stresses out the need to encourage our learners to respond to the “content” of the reading text and “not just the language”.
We therefore need to be careful with our scaffolding and the amount of information we give to the class. If the students can guess the meaning of new lexis and grammar from the context we need to give them space to work things out for themselves and learn through discovery. Blending the activities and giving them opportunities for pair work and group work is also important here as many of our learners can benefit and learn from collaborating with others.
6. Task authenticity
The tasks that we will decide to accompany the text need to be carefully selected and to satisfy our learners’ needs and different learning styles. Our students need to receive adequate practice in order to be able to read both for gist and for specific information. We need to train them not only on the skimming and scanning techniques but also on making accurate predictions about what is to be read. They need to be able to get the general picture, to successfully grasp the main points of the text and to be able to effectively deduce meaning from context. They also need to be able to ‘interpret’ the text, to read between the lines and use a variety of clues in order to find out what the writer is suggesting/implying.
In order to achieve all of the above our learners need a lot of reading practice and a lot of carefully selected input. Providing them with a variety of different reading tasks will help us not only to give them the necessary practice they need, but to cater for our students’ different learning styles and needs. Below you can find and download a list of reading activities that can be used in the EFL classroom (and can easily be adapted to our learners’ level and needs).
This post is an addition to my previous blog post on boosting learner motivation through reading. You can find and download it on the following link:
Nuttall, C. (1996) Teaching Reading Skills in a foreign language Heinemann
Harmer, J. (2001). The practice of English language teaching. Longman.
Hedge, T. (2000). Teaching and learning in the language classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ur, P. (2012). A course in English language teaching. Cambridge University Press
Watkins, P. (2014). Learning to teach English. (2nd ed.) Delta Publishing.