This 60-minute webinar organized by Cornelsen provided a nice refresher on different ways for teachers to use reading texts with students. Jennifer Knaeble explains her most important takeaways.
To start off, Britta reminded us that some texts that we find exciting might be linguistically or lexically too demanding for our students, or the latter may not share our interests.
So to avoid silence and blank stares post reading, we should be prepared to fully squeeze the text for all it’s worth. We need to ask ourselves not only how we make the most of a text but also how we keep it fresh and relatable for our students.
Here are three ways Britta recommended approaching texts to enliven the way we teach.
Consider the text as a:
- linguistic object
- vehicle of information
- springboard for production
Approach number one: the text as a linguistic object
A teacher can use the text to draw attention to specific lexical sets, grammar elements or word patterns. Fair enough – we see this all the time with activities in EFL course books. However, it’s nice to be reminded that this can be done before or after reading the text. (Especially if you’ve fallen out of the habit of reading tips provided in teachers’ resource books).
As a pre-reading task, teachers might ask learners to choose words from the text that they already know and explain what they mean aloud; or have learners choose a word from the text, spell it aloud, and see if their classmates can find the word in the text.
Similarly, teachers could get learners to identify grammatical or lexical patterns within the text (e.g., past tense verb forms, prepositions of place, adjectives, etc.), which will provide some initial context, such as time, setting, or topic, about the text.
These are quick, yet important, warm-up exercises that especially benefit low level learners (A1-B1) as they help familiarize them with the content while providing an opportunity for learners to demonstrate their previous knowledge.
Ultimately, this empowers learners to bring to the reading what they already know, which in turn builds confidence and motivation.
With more advanced learners (B2 and upwards), Britta recommends not diving too deep into the linguistics of the text prior to reading. This is because students at higher levels are more likely to welcome the challenge of reading the text without analyzing its features first. Instead, she suggests teachers use a BDA (before-during-after) approach to the text.
For example, first set short pre-reading tasks where students briefly discuss, say, the title (e.g., “The entrepreneur handbook to success”), then pose a more generalized question (e.g., What do you think motivates entrepreneurs?), followed by a personalized question (e.g., What motivates you in your work?).
As learners read the text, teachers might ask them to note down any new language or words they find particularly challenging, interesting, or useful. And as a post-reading task, students can be asked to share the words they’ve selected and to use them in a more personalized context.
Approach number two: the text as a vehicle of information
This approach seems quite straightforward, yet there is always room for improving how our learners interact with reading materials. Britta gave us a few tips:
- prediction questions (What do they think the text might be about?)
- follow-up comprehension questions that check learners’ understanding
- dissection tasks, such as matching subtitles to each part of the text, a sort of signposting activity that can be useful for helping learners to navigate longer texts; one can ask gist questions, as well as questions for specific details
A personal favorite of mine is to cut up a larger text into sections and assign one section to each student (the teacher may help by providing three or four points to concentrate on). Then, after reading, ask students to summarize their text to the others in their group. Since the individual sections make up a whole, learners are often curious to know how the other texts relate to their own text. This works especially well with stories.
Lastly, another element of looking at the text as a vehicle is thinking of it as a means of transporting learners to somewhere else. This could be, for example, a similar experience they’ve had themselves.
You can do this by asking:
- What did you like/dislike about the text?
- Have you ever had a similar experience?
- Do you know anyone like this?
Through personalizing a text, you enable learners to expand and incorporate the text into their own experience using their own repertoire of language.
Approach number three: using the text as a springboard
The last approach Britta mentioned is thinking about the text as a springboard for further reading, discussion, or a writing task.
After reading the text, teachers could give students the chance to transform it into other forms or styles; for example, turning a menu into a marketing ad, a letter of inquiry into a customer reply, a story set in the present into one set in the past. This gives learners the chance to recycle the language and to expand the content before embarking on a full-on discussion (something which can prove more challenging, especially for lower levels).
Another springboard activity that Britta suggests is web quests, in which you set learners a post-reading task of going online to research the topic further, then reporting their findings to the class. One of the webinar participants made a similar suggestion – that is, to use reading activities as a preparatory foundation for more challenging listening activities such as watching TED talks that are based on the same topic, or person, that the text was about.
Whatever the springboard task – remember that keeping it realistic and relatable is the best way to ensure learners engage with a text.
In short, this webinar provided some very useful suggestions and tips on how best to approach texts and use them with your students.
Jennifer Knaeble has been an EFL teacher for the past 20-plus years and has worked in Germany, Italy and the U.S. She currently teaches at Die Neue Schule in Berlin where she also heads the English department.