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My students complain that reading texts are too long and difficult to deal with… What should I do?

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My students complain that reading texts are too long and difficult to deal with

Text by: Dimitris Primalis

 

Whether you teach a traditional EFL (English as a Foreign Language) class, or a class with CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) books, your students may come across long and more demanding texts in terms of vocabulary, structure. CLIL texts are usually different in terms of task types (e.g. students may have to complete a Venn diagram). These features may bring to surface complaints by students and parents and add further pressure to the educator.  How can you deal with it?

 

Make the most of the title and photos

 

Ask learners to anticipate the content from the title, subtitle, headings, photos, drawings or diagrams. Use any means in linguistic or paralinguistic form that can help them form hypotheses and stimulate their curiosity. They can also act as a lead in for brainstorming and vocabulary recycling.

Activate their schematic knowledge (their knowledge of their world)

 

Make the most of their existing knowledge. If the text refers to music, play pieces of music and elicit vocabulary relevant to the topic. There are thousands of animated videos on YouTube that offer a simplified version of various topics, ranging from global warming and environmental issues to purely technical issues such as wedges and bolts.

Set clear reading tasks

 

Give clear instructions about what you expect from learners. For instance, “read the text and find the main idea”. It is also worth pointing out that they do not need to know all the words to understand the gist or find specific information. Parents often expect from their children to read aloud the text at home and translate it. Clarifying at the beginning of the year how you will be working in class with reading is highly likely to save you time, energy and prevent angry calls from parents throughout the year.


Break down the text

 

Younger generations are used to reading shorter texts on the social media. A longer text often seems to be a daunting task for kids or teenagers who usually deal with texts at sentence or paragraph levels. Asking learners to read a paragraph at a time and share with the rest of the class their impressions or the main points will help them build confidence without feeling overwhelmed by the length of the text.  If you want to stimulate interest and communication in class, you can try the following technique:

Create information gap activities

 

Some texts are written in such a way that allow for jigsaw reading. You can divide the class into two groups. Ask them to read different parts of the text and then work in pairs to bridge the information gap i.e. share the information they have found and try to figure out what the “bigger picture” is that the test is attempting to illustrate. This will motivate learners to find out more about the text and will also facilitate the development of speaking and note-taking skills.

Revisit the text the following day and assign different tasks

 

If on day one, you asked students to find the main idea, on day two, you may ask them to find the supporting details. This will help learners build confidence as the text is already familiar and seems more manageable.

Spend time in class

 

Try to resist the temptation to assign reading for homework and work on other skills in class. We often take it for granted that students who are good at reading in L1 (mother tongue) are also in L2 but this is not necessarily the case. Taking time in class to explain, practice and help learners develop their skills may take time from grammar or checking exercises but it can help learners build confidence and gradually become more independent readers. In addition, helping them achieve higher scores at reading, gives them more chances of passing the exams since reading is an integral part of all the English language exams.

Even though reading is a skill that requires you to invest time, the return of your and the learner’s investment will soon be visible, making it worth the effort and time devoted.

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