Spicing up coursebook reading texts

by @senicko for #eltpics

A colleague came to me today asking for some tips for spicing up coursebook reading texts a bit.  I happen to know she already does lots to make her lessons interesting and engaging, but she wanted some more ideas for working with the actual text itself, not leading up to it or following on from it (which she already had plenty of ideas for), and preferably ideas which require no extra prep before the lesson.  So here are some of the things that came out of our discussion and that I thought were worth sharing.

1. Get students to read the text in reasonable detail then write their own comprehension questions for each other.  (Works better if students have different texts to start with, then swap.)
2. Give students the answers to the comprehension questions in the coursebook (and hide the corresponding questions).  They then read the text and write the questions to go with the answers; then compare with those in the book.
3. Get students to cover a small part of the right-hand side of a paragraph/column of the text (thereby cutting off the 3 or so words at the ends of the lines but leaving the majority of them visible on the left-hand side) and try to reconstruct it from what they can still see.  Not good for the first time reading the text, as they’ll really need the overall context to make sense of what’s left after they’ve covered it up, but a challenging task nevertheless, working with parts of grammatical, logical sentences and filling in the blanks from co-text and context.
4. Get students to cover up the beginning/end/middle of the text and fill it in with their own ideas based on what they can read in the other remaining parts.  Then they read and see how their versions compare.
5. Pick out ten key words from the first paragraph/section, give them (in the same order as they appear in the text) to the students, and get them to predict what they think the text will be about.  Then they write the introductory paragraph, including those words (in order), then compare with the one in the book.  Then they predict what will come next in the text, then read and check.
6. Read the text aloud to the students and just let them listen, without a task or a sense of being ‘tested’ – the same way they often listen to any anecdotes their teacher or other students tell them.  Then they recount to each other what they remember; then read and check if it tallies with what they thought they’d understood from the listening version.  This is a nice activity to suit different learning styles (audio/visual) and encourages students to listen and read in a more natural, relaxed way, just picking up what they can at first, then going over it again to consider the key points and fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
7. Start the lesson with the reading text.  Do whatever kind of comprehension task you fancy.  Flesh it out and follow it up afterwards, e.g. with spoken/written work leading on from the language/topic of the text, and right at the end of the lesson, revise what students remember from the text, particularly about the flow of ideas (try grouping their ideas according to the paragraphs in the text), then let them read it again to check if they remembered things in the right order.  This is a nice way to familiarise students with the ordering and structure of written texts and is a bit less pressured than doing several subsequent comprehension tasks together, then moving on to something else.
That’s all.  Like I said, maybe nothing ground-breaking, but several simple ways to spice up coursebook reading texts with little to no preparation required from the teacher.
Would be happy to hear from anyone who tries these ideas on whether they worked for you, or if you can recommend improvements to the procedures suggested here.

About Laura Patsko

Senior ELT Research Manager for a major publisher. Alter egos: English language teacher, language learner, teacher trainer, linguist. Not necessarily in that order.

One comment

  1. Thanks for this list, Laura. I'm starting at a new school in a couple of weeks – I'm actually between jobs at the moment – so I'll endeavour to print off a couple of copies of this and share them around.A slight variation on #3 would be to have the left half of the class working in groups covering up a portion of the left side, while the right half of the class does the same with the right side. That might bring about useful discussions about why it might have been easier for one side than the other. You could also change pairs and get them checking each others work for accuracy. If you are working with adolescents then they will eagerly find every mistake and difference they can in their colleagues' work.I think often it's a case of reminding ourselves and each other about those cool things we heard about once, or used to do and then got bored and forgot about. Only those of us who are total naturals at teaching can keep all these great ideas in their head to pull out as and when the opportunity arises. For the rest of us (and without reservation I include myself in this latter category) I think it's a great idea to have lists like these to help jog our creative memories when we're planning out the coming lesson.I've been thinking about putting together more condensed lists of activities to assist me when conducting more dogme-like classes. As Luke Meddings pointed out in a recent British Council presentation, it's not about going in blind and being unprepared, it's about rolling with whatever the students give us. That's actually quite demanding of a teacher so having a few on-the-spot memory prompts isn't such a bad idea.

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