4 things you need to know in order to choose the right texts for ESL students!

Par: Alexandra Coutlée

21 février 2018

Choosing the right texts for a themed unit or activity is a challenge for ESL teachers. No one would argue that reading helps students acquire knowledge and vocabulary. Reading also helps with spelling and writing and can give students the much needed functional language to express themselves in both writing and speaking while also providing great content for classroom discussions and creative projects. Texts that are too difficult, too long or even too easy can discourage ESL students. Choosing the wrong text can lead to students becoming unmotivated and can even derail a good activity or unit. That’s why selecting the right text is so important. 

1- How long should the text be?
Do not let the length of a text fool you. It is possible to have a short but challenging text or a longer but simpler text. Looking at the content and the vocabulary is a must. Students can be prepared for a challenging text by having them make predictions and by using the visual that accompanies the text to guess what the text will talk about.  You could also have the students build a list of vocabulary words they predict will be included in the text before reading so that students are familiar with the vocabulary words in the text. Students could also be asked to scan the text for words they recognize before they start reading. Cognates or words used in a prior activity will reassure students before they ‘’attack’’ the text.

2- It’s all about the preparation!
It is possible to challenge students and choose a more difficult text by pre-teaching the vocabulary words, modelling reading strategies and adapting the task to the chosen text. For example, the activity related to the text could focus only on the main idea of the text when the text is a challenge, leaving behind the smaller details. Or students could focus on scanning for specific details in a text to complete a graphic organizer, leaving behind some information they may not need. 

It is important for students to have some background knowledge on the subject of the text before reading. This will help students approach the text with greater confidence. It is also important to make sure students have a reading objective that is clear to them and for them to know what they will be expected to do with the text. 

3- So, how do I choose a text?
When choosing a text to read with your students, YOU are the best text analyzer there is! You know your students and know the vocabulary they are familiar with. There are websites that can help you analyze texts for the level of difficulty when selecting texts. Some will use their own rating systems while others present the lexile level of the text. A quick search on the Internet will allow you to find such websites and to try them out.

If you are using a textbook that includes reading material, the authors of that textbook have already selected appropriate texts for your students and have analyzed these texts to make sure they are at the right level. Although a great time-saver for teachers, you will still need to read the texts beforehand and apply different strategies like pre-teaching some vocabulary words before using these texts with your students based on their level and what they have seen before. Most textbooks will have structured the activities in a way that presents the text and vocabulary clearly to the students.

4- Reading with beginners? Yes, it’s possible!
Reading texts is possible at any level, even for beginners.  A great example of how using texts with beginners is possible can be found in the Wild Animals unit in activity book 4 of the Poptropica English series. The themed unit starts by pre-teaching the vocabulary that students will encounter in the texts. The texts are short but include the pre-taught vocabulary as well as new and challenging words. The focus of the activity is clear and allows students to focus on specific information that they will reorganize in charts and dialogues. All of this leads students to write their own text about an endangered animal using the vocabulary and structures learned in the texts. Even in grade 4 and at a beginner level, students will have read a variety of texts and reinvested this information in their own creation.

So, what will your students read next class?

Tags: blog, ESL, reading, vocabulary,

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