Using written texts
comprehension for EFL / ESL - working with written texts in
Ideas for developing reading and other language skills
in the English class
The Linguapress archive
In the age of Twitter, teachers can often be heard lamenting the fact
that their students are no longer able to write or read anything longer
than 140 characters. Hopefully this is an exaggeration! But
is or not, the lament is symptomatic of an age where, according to
surveys worldwide, today's students have more
difficulty than those of previous generations in reading and
understanding extended texts.
Linguapress online offers a wide and growing choice of
free-access reading resources for students of English as a foreign
language, or English as a second language, from age 15 upwards, in
high schools and other types of language school worldwide. The large
majority of reading resources on Linguapress.com are longer than the
classic 300 - 500 word documents commonly used for testing, and offered
on many Internet sites. But teaching
are two very different
activities. Resources published on Linguapress.com are not just basic
documents to test comprehension; they are there to help students learn,
not just help them pass tests.
Unlike press cuttings and excerpts from books,
the majority – though not all – of the articles and
stories published on Linguapress.com have been written or edited
specifically with learners of English in mind. In addition, they come
with vocabulary guides designed to help the non-native English speaker
with some of the more difficult words or expressions.
The original Linguapress newsmagazines, published
in print until 2001, contained many topical articles related to news
and current affairs, including music and cinema; items that have been
retained for republishing on Linguapress.com tend to be those that have
a timeless interest, articles about life, ways, traditions and icons in
the English speaking countries, mainly the USA and Britain. Others
include the transcripts of discussions with teenagers and young people
in Britain, on subjects that remain as important, and as interesting,
today as they were when they were first recorded in the 1990s.
While teachers may find many articles and stories
that are not appropriate for their particular teaching environment,
there should be plenty of interesting reading resources for all those
teachers who realise that teaching English is more than just teaching
words and phrases, but involves also teaching students to understand
life and culture in the English speaking countries, and letting them
see how people, notably younger people, live and think.
Approaching the written text - written comprehension
Articles, interviews and discussions on Linguapress.com are suitable for private study
and use in class
classic technique for developing students' reading skills is the
activity of "comprehension". In practical terms, in the English class,
this often involves reading a document at least three times, generally
in different ways. The three basic ways of reading a document are: a)
individual silent reading, b) teacher reading the document to the
class, and c) students reading the document out loud, taking turns.
Each method has its advantages; but combined in succession,
the result should be even better. Many teachers find it hard
to know what to do during the silence that reigns (hopefully) when
students are asked to silently read an article which may take them five
to eight minutes, even more. For this reason, it is often best to begin
any reading comprehension task, by asking students to read an article
at home or by themselves, before
coming into class. The teacher can then be more usefully employed
piloting students through the two other stages of the reading process -
students reading the document in turn, and finally the teacher reading
the whole document back to the class.
Between the different reading stages, students and
teachers can explore and elucidate any vocabulary and grammar issues,
so that by the time the teacher makes the final reading, the document
and its content are now familiar, and the main difficulties have been
The above procedure can be applied to
virtually any reading resource in the Linguapress archive; but it is
just a start. There are many more ways of getting extra value out of a
written document, and by doing so developing students skills not just
in comprehension, but in expression, memory, grammar, deduction, and a
lot more. What to do next depends on the nature, the difficulty and the
content of each document. Reading, by itself, is just the first part of
any use of written documents in the English class.
Each article in the Linguapress archive comes
with one or more - sometimes several - classroom exercises or
activities. These are by no means exhaustive; they are generally
limited in number and length by the space that was available when these
articles originally appeared in print form in Linguapress
newsmagazines. Here are some more ways to make best use of written
documents in the English class.
Ten ideas for
working with articles and stories in class.
you want to share this article with other teachers, please note that it
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sufficient for sharing with others.
Here is a list of different ways of working with articles and
stories in the language class. Each is suggested as a classroom
exercise activity for one or more of the articles in the Linguapress
archive; but each can be suitably used with many other articles.
reading: (after students have already been through a text
at least twice) Students close their books or cover the printed copy of
the article; the teacher then starts reading a text out loud, but
pauses at significant points (grammar points, content points, or just
shortly before the ends of clauses) and asks students to shout out the
next few words from memory. This activity may need management,
specially if one or students with good memories start to monopolise the
fill exercises. (Cloze exercises) Where not
already suggested and included in Linguapress article
worksheets, these can easily be prepared by the teacher, using a simple
copy and paste of text from the original article, into a new word
processing document. Cloze exercises can either be based on
useful vocabulary, or gramatically based - for instance by removing all
the auxiliaries or modals from a text, or all the articles ( the, a, an, any, some,
Ø (no article) )
the endings. Another type of blank fill exercise. Instead
or removing words from the document, the teacher removes all or most of
the suffixes or functional endings from part of a document that
students have studied. Endings to be removed can be verbal (ed, ing, s,
Ø (no ending needed) ), or nominal/ adjectival/ adverbial (-al, -ous, -ment, -ing,
forming. Select half a dozen short sentences in an
article, and have students write correctly formed questions to which
each of these sentences could be the answer. Example.
if you choose the sentence "Barack Obama was born
in Honolulu in 1961.", then the questions could be "Where was Barack
Obama born?", "What year was Barack Obama born?" and so on.
- précis writing. Have students produce a
shorter version of the article they have been reading. This can take
many forms; the basic task is to reduce an article to a given fraction
(quarter, half, etc.) of its original length. A more demanding task can
be to ask students to reduce part of a text to exactly a given number
of words. For example, take a paragraph with 150 words, and get
students to reduce it to exactly 75 words. Done in pairs, this can also
be a good way to get students to negotiate the fine points of
backwards; the original interview. Many
articles are written after a journalist or writer has been talking to
an expert or the witness to an event. With suitable articles,
students can be invited to reconstitute an interview from information
given in the article. This is a good activity for students working in
pairs, and can be followed, if classes are not too large, by
students acting out their sketches.
choice exercises. These are pretty classic
exercises, that accompany a lot of EFL texts on a multitude of online
sites; sadly they are often very poorly thought out. MCQs should
neither be too stupid nor too complicated. An MCQ which asks:
"Barack Obama was born in... a) 1691, b) 1961, c)
1991" does not test language ability, just common sense or maybe
general knowledge. Conversely, good MCQs should be answerable
without calling into use information or knowledge that students may
have acquired outside the language class. Vocabulary based
MCQs should be designed to check students' acquired
vocabulary, and check their ability to read logically.
For example, the following sentence includes a word that is probably
new to students, the word invaluable.
"The thieves stole three paintings, notably an invaluable portrait of
Jan Hoots, by Rembrandt." A good MCQ would be: Invaluable means:
a) without value, b) of medium worth, c)
of great value. The key to choosing the right answer is the
student's ability to understand the role and meaning in the sentence of
the word notably.
A poor MCQ would be a) ancient, b)
incredible c) expensive. In this case,
logically all three answers could be right; the only thing that this
MCQ choice tests is the reader's acquired vocabulary.
- True or
false : the teacher will produce a number of statements
based on the article, some of which are true, according to the article,
others of which are false. Students read the article and determine
which of the statements are true. Extended version of this;
students must justify their answers.
exercise. The teacher copies part of a text that students
have already read, but removes all the punctuation (not forgetting to
remove capital letters). Students have to replace the punctuation so
that the text again reads coherently. Note that this does not
necessarily mean reconstituting exactly the same punctuation as the
original text. Variants may well be possible. This is a
little-used exercise but one that is very valuable. Sadly, may
students, even at advanced level (including PhD students) , seem to
believe that punctuation is an optional extra.
the errors. While some teachers maintain that students
should never be presented with any text containing errors, doing so has
plenty of advantages. Checking for errors makes students read words
very carefully, and pay attention to all sorts of points. Teaching them
to do so can encourage them to look at their own writing more
carefully. This is proof-reading in an elementary state.