Using written texts
comprehension for EFL / ESL - making the most
of written texts in
Ideas for developing reading and other language skills
in the English class
► See also: Thematic exercise and classroom activity index
for advanced English reading texts.
Approaching the written text -
The classic reading comprehension
classic technique for developing students' reading skills is the
classroom activity known as "comprehension".
However classic "comprehension"
activities can be used for two entirely different purposes:
- learning - to develop students' abilities to read and
understand a written text and its vocabulary
- testing - to test students' understanding of a written
In practical terms, when comprehension activities are being
as a learning technique, rather than a testing technique, the
process generally involves reading a document at least three times,
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 ; but it
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,
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
with one or more - sometimes several - classroom exercises or
Here are some more ways to make best use of
documents in the English class.
Ten more ideas for
working with articles and stories in class.
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 in the press or media 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
sadly they are often very poorly thought out. MCQs should
neither be too stupid nor too complicated. An MCQ which asks:
"Donald Trump was born in... a) 1496, b) 1694, c)
1946" 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, many
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. For creative
teachers, correct-the-errors exercises can bring humour into the
classroom, and humour is an excellent teacher. The big pitfall to avoid
with error correcting exercises, is that students remember the errors
rather than what is right. Error-correcting exercises can
encourage students to look at their own writing more
carefully. This is proof-reading in an elementary state.
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