Text Your Knowledge (by Nick Jaworski)

Part of the series: Stuff All EFL Teachers Should Know

As a manager I interview a lot of teachers.  One question I always ask is about reading texts.  If you have a short reading text, what are some different ways in which it can be used?  I am constantly surprised by the lack of responses I get to this question.  Candidates most often give one of two responses

1)      I have the students read the text and then I ask them questions about it.

Ok, this is standard and nothing wrong with that.  We want to check to see that the students comprehend the text, but this is generally quite boring and is really more of a test than teaching reading skills.

2)      I have the students read it out loud.

Sadly, I have seen this used a lot in classes at well.  I’m sitting and observing a class of 15 students and the teacher asks one student to read out loud while the others follow along in the book.  This has to be one of the worst wastes of time for a class.  One student is speaking and the other 14 students are bored out of their mind and not paying attention.  Additionally, the one reading isn’t comprehending the text because they are too focused on speaking correctly.  The only thing being worked on here is pronunciation of the one student reading the text.

Because this is such a common issue I see come up, I thought I’d give other ways to do readings.  These activities make reading texts more interesting, involve more than just one skill, get the students more involved with the class and the text, and help to teach skills rather than just test them.

1)      Standard dictation

The teacher stands at the front and reads the text out as students write it down.  This turns a general reading into a listening and writing lesson as well.  The students can check their work against the original text and they notice a lot of pronunciation points as well as paying attention to weak forms or grammar they aren’t too keen on.  It’s a bit more interesting than a general reading and gets more skills work involved.

2)      Community dictation

This is the same as number one, but in this version, each student has a piece of the text and they read it out one by one as each individual student writes it down.  The whole class is involved and the teacher can check students’ pronunciation here as well.  Even better, if the text is broken up clearly, students can take their piece of the text and try to arrange themselves in a line at the front of the class with the text in the proper order.  This creates a lot of speaking and listening practice where students really have to pay attention.

3)      Running dictation

The class is split into 2-person teams and copies of the text are posted on the wall.  Students must run to the text and then run back and report it to their team member to write down.  The first team to complete the text wins and then the text is given to the students to compare.  Again, students really get involved with the text, they notice a lot when comparing versions, and the movement and energy aids memory as well as making it more enjoyable.

4)      Shouting dictation

A normal dictation but students are put into two groups, one each on opposite ends of the room.  A student from group A must dictate the text to the student from group B across from them.  All students have to dictate their texts at the same time.  It’s usually quite hilarious and is good preparation for times when there is a lot of background noise in the real world.

5)      Coughing dictation

Here the teacher reads out the text but coughs in predetermined places where a certain word should go.  The cough could go in the place of am/is/are where students have to choose the correct version or maybe the cough could go in the place of articles or conjunctions.  You can also pull out vocabulary you want to highlight and the students fill in the cough-blank with a word from a list on the board.  This is good practice for discrete grammar items or vocabulary revision.

6)      Picture dictation

Some texts lend themselves to this better than others.  Obviously a descriptive text is best, but anything can be used really.  Students are read a text and asked to draw a representation of it.  Examples could be your room, your best friend, your family, a favorite place from childhood, a bad memory, etc.

7)      Dictogloss

Here a text is read to the students several times and they have to take notes on the text.  Each time it’s read they can expand on their notes. After a couple readings, students are put in groups and asked to reconstruct the text as close to the original as possible.  Afterwards the original text is given and again a lot of noticing happens as students compare versions.

8)      Post and memorize

Texts are posted on a wall and then students are asked to come up and try to remember as much of the text as possible.  Afterwards they are put in groups and given comprehension questions.  They must answer the questions from memory.  The group with the most correct answers can be considered the winner.

9)      Cut up and memorize

Similar to eight, students get a paragraph each from a numbered text and are asked to memorize it.  They are then put into groups and each student relates their piece of the text.  The group could be asked to reconstruct the text, answer comprehension questions, or to relate the whole story back to the class.

10)  Read out loud around the class

A good way to do around the room reading out loud would be to make sure that all students have their books closed.  Inform the students that they will be given a quiz on the text once it’s finished.  One person reads a piece of the text at a time and the teacher can help with pronunciation issues and vocabulary.  Go around the room until the whole text is read and then hand out the quiz.  This way everyone has to listen to each other carefully and (hopefully) nobody gets bored.

11)  Cloze reading

Create two versions of the text.  Take out every fifth content word (main verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs) in one text.  In the other text, take out every seventh.  This will create two texts with different information missing.  Students are divided into A and B groups.  They are each given a copy of the text and must formulate questions to find the missing information from their partner.

12)  Jigsaw reading

Find two similar texts like two texts about famous people in your students’ history.  Split the students into A and B groups.  The students read their texts and then they join with a member from the opposite group to find similarities or differences with their people.

13)  (Re)tell the text

Throw up several key vocabulary words on the board in chronological order from the text.  Students use the words to retell the text to a partner.  This could be done after reading a text or as a pre-task exercise to have students predict what will be in the text.

12)   Vocabulary from context

Take a text and replace some key words with gibberish.  Make sure the words you replace are easily understandable from the surrounding context.  You could ask questions at the bottom of the text to help put students on the right track.  So for example, “The man went into the gibral with his two formingers.”  You could ask, “What part of speech is gibral?” or “Is it inside or outside?”  Students then have to guess what the words in the text mean.  This is a great way to get students to practice the skill of understanding from context rather than using dictionaries.

13)  Mixed-up text

Cut up the text.  Make sure you cut the text up in places with clear connections to the part before it.  Words like however, but, and, in addition, after that, etc. are good places to do things like this.  Groups are given the scrambled text and then asked to put it in the correct order.

14)  Pulled out phrases

I like to use this one with relative clauses and appositives a lot.  Find a text and pull out several of the clauses.  Put them at the bottom of the text or on the board. Students then have to search the text and put them into the correct place.

15)  Time limit

Have the students answer comprehension questions but give them a time limit.  This helps the students practice skimming and scanning skills and prepares them for exams.  You could also have them find things like thesis statements or main ideas.

16)  Follow-up the text

Almost all texts lend themselves to further discussion.  If the text is on something controversial or intellectually stimulating it can be used to springboard a debate, class discussion, or persuasive presentations (writing is also possible of course).

People or scenes in the text can be used to do a role-play.  You can do interviews, town council meetings, a specific scene, etc.

Students can write or tell about events or situations similar to those in the text.

What other activities do you use with reading texts?

Nick Jaworski is a Director of Studies at Oxford House College in Istanbul, Turkey where he lives with his beautiful wife Hande.  He also blogs about ELT in Turkey at Turkish TEFL.

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  2. Great question and one that actually bridges all the school years. I teach kindergarten which is known as a language rich environment. Language comprehension and expression are skills being developed daily. I would present the vocabulary challenges, including phrases that are unfamiliar, as part of the pre-reading time. Being able to decode word has little to do with the comprehension. I would then invite the students to silently read the text and discuss it in a think-pair-share task. I would also be generous in my use of text to speech software to take out the reading challenges aspect and cue in on the meaning.

  3. Certainly no excuse to simply have students read and answer questions, or read out loud after reading your post! What a great list of ideas to turn a potentially dull task into an interactive activity.

    Let’s see….I have one small technique to add to your list, for doing the comprehension questions, especially with older children and teens. After we’ve read the text, I have them turn their books (or the handout) face down. I ask the question and make sure that everyone understands the question. Then, at my signal students turn over the reading and race to find the location that answers the question.

    I’d found that some students got bogged down trying to understand the English of the questions. By the time they figured out what was being asked, another student had already answered. They never had much chance to develop scanning skills. Turning the page over made the process more playful, and gave all students a non-threatening way to clarify the questions before looking for the answers.

    • The rotation of who answers questions is another technique. I have been in workshops where we were placed in groups based on our shoe size, or height, any category will do in order to create the groups. Each group has different questions to answer. The time provided depends on the level of reading comprehension. One problem is evaluating who does the scanning within the group but asking each member of the group to answer a question would solve this problem.

  4. Hi Gail, teaching kindie is a different ball game entirely. I don’t envy you the job :) Thanks for the input. One thing I used to like to do with kids is placing conversation bits with pics around the room and then having the students find them. Then they could use the bits to act out the scene. That was always fun.

    I really like your idea Barb. It sounds like a lot of fun and clarifying the question really helps even out the playing field. I think I’ll start using this activity even with my adults. Thanks :)

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  7. Yes a great post, but I have the feeling that your original question was “not fair”. I know … life is not fair … but all the same I just want to say that were I asked “what would I do with a reading text”, no way would I come up with answers such as a running dictation (a favourite of mine) because I do not consider that to be a reading activity. Could you not give your candidates a little more chance by changing the question to “what would you do with this text” but then, if they have not had the initiative to read your blogs before coming for an interview ….
    BTW in answer to your original question, my response is frequently, to get them to draw it (obviously this depends on the text) and that’s the subject of my workshop next month at ISTEK – I just looove Istanbul :-)

  8. Thanks for this great post! I am also a teacher manager and meet a lot of ‘read aloud rotas’ in class.
    Something I have done is to type out comprehension questions on strips and hide them around the classroom before the students arrive – such as under chairs/desks, behind doors, curtains, et. Then students read the text and hunt for the questions. I then put the students in groups with a complete list of (the same) questions so they can discuss the answers.
    Originally the activity was aimed at kids, but adults enjoy it too!