Adapting reading activities for the online classroom


The new classroom environment, the online classroom, involves adapting the printed coursebook we have been using so far, to fit the needs and demands of online teaching and learning. When adapting materials for online use, the teacher goes through the usual procedure but with some added stages-considerations. Reading materials in particular, whether asynchronous or synchronous, can be quite challenging for the learners because of the need for on-screen reading.
Therefore, it is of paramount importance to follow certain guidelines built around the relevant considerations. Within this framework, this article will attempt to assist teachers with adapting reading comprehension activities for online use in a way so as to better serve both learners and teachers. More specifically, it will offer practical tips for every section of a reading comprehension task, starting with fitting the text to screen-use, and moving on with the adaptation of pre-reading and post-reading tasks, including vocabulary activities.

Text by Panagiota Frytzala - Free-lance ESP/EAP and Translation Tutor, Official Translator

First of all, the teacher needs to keep in mind the principles for the development or adaptation of materials in general, though they may mean something different when it comes to online materials. One principle to bear in mind is interactivity, which means the ability of giving the chance to learners to use the language actively and get instant feedback. The second principle is the flexibility of materials, which will allow learners to not be hindered by the technology.
Content appropriateness is another principle which, together with effectiveness, aims at materials being easily understood and learning objectives being achieved. The most important principle, though, is attractiveness, and here is where online materials can have an advantage.

In relation to reading materials, some additional considerations when adapting them for the computer screen are, first of all, the fact that they must be easily learned autonomously by the learners and the content must include not only the materials, but also how to use them. Secondly, the teacher must be aware of the two types of presenting materials for the screen, namely the linear and branching. The former prevents learners from going to the next level without completing the previous one first, whereas the latter means that learners can skip to any task.

Ideally, reading tasks should follow the linear type, just as they would in the printed coursebook. Other considerations pertain to the selection of the appropriate software or platforms where materials will become available for the students, and the fact that tasks should be selected bearing in mind their ability to stimulate learner-learner or learner-computer interaction.

Moving on to the practical recommendations when adapting reading materials for the online classroom, the first one is that text-based material should be enriched with multimedia elements (i.e.: visuals). A great advantage that online reading tasks can offer in relation to printed ones is the ability to include hyperlinks or links so as to embed dictionary entries for words and phrases, or even video and audio components. Thus, learners will be able to understand the reading and the accompanying tasks in a more graphic way, and teachers will spend less classroom time trying to explain lexical or pragmatic elements of the text or the tasks.

As was already mentioned, the major challenge of online reading materials is on-screen reading that can be tiresome for learners. In order to make it easier and less demotivating for them, the pages need to be organized into meaningful, self-contained chunks that do not spread out onto the next page. In addition, it is important to include visuals to enhance comprehension on the part of learners, as well as bookmarks so that they can keep track of the progress of the material.
Finally, help and hint buttons together with colours to highlight points can render on-screen reading less cumbersome for students and help them visualize and recall recurrent information.

Apart from adapting texts to fit online viewing, splitting them in parts or even decreasing the number of words will help learners follow the reading in a more efficient way. This together with the support of the text through visuals, hyperlinks and links geared towards, but not limited to, illustrating vocabulary, is bound to make the experience more motivating for learners.

However, a reading task is not limited to the text alone. So, pre- and post-tasks should also be adapted. Starting with the lead-in activity, the title and accompanying visuals can render this part more realistic as students do not have access to the text yet, and therefore their guesswork on the text becomes more attractive and real. Discussion fora or breakout rooms can add to the experience as learners will have the chance to interact with their peers, thus making the lead-in activity more interesting for them.

As for the post-tasks, it is more efficient to present them in a linear way and include mostly True-False and Multiple Choice questions rather than open-ended ones, both for comprehension and vocabulary tasks. Thus, learners will not be burdened with having to type in their answers, which may not always be easy, especially for younger learners. Instead, open-ended questions can serve as talking prompts in discussion fora or breakout rooms, thus combining reading with speaking. One additional suggestion for vocabulary tasks is to again include hyperlinks so that students do not have to scroll up and down in order to find the meaning of a word. Grammar tasks can also include hyperlinks that can help learners have instant access to the presentation of the particular grammatical phenomenon.

In conclusion, it is a fact that reading tasks need to be adapted bearing in mind the benefits and limitations of on-screen viewing. This will render them more user-friendly and thus less cumbersome and demotivating for the learners. Therefore, although the teacher may have to spend quite a bit of time adapting them, the result can be rewarding for both the teacher and the learner. •

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