Using texts

How to use texts in language teaching
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Why use texts?

It may seem like a silly question, but it’s worth reflecting on why texts are the basis for a language lesson par excellence.

Apart from being a source of reading, structures and vocabulary, the text is a starting point for grammar practice, listening work, pronunciation and intonation practice and discussion. If you accept that comprehension is the source of all real second language acquisition, then reading texts is fundamental. The text exploits the visual dimension and it is our prime source of cultural information too. A good text can be the basis of a multi-skill lesson conducted entirely in the target language. Thanks to the computer and the internet texts are very easy to find and to adapt.

Which text to choose?

Texts need not be completely authentic. After all, they are primarily a tool for teaching the language, so you may need to adapt the source text to suit the group in front of you. The text should be neither too hard nor too easy. Texts which are too hard will be off-putting and some students will have so much difficulty deciphering meaning that they will not be able to go on to other tasks such as discussion. Texts which are too easy may well be a good source for other activities, but will do little to improve the students’ reading skills.

Texts should not be too long. If you have a one hour lesson you may not wish to be spending the majority of that time deconstructing a text if you wish the class to have opportunities to practise their listening and oral skills.

Texts which relate to students’ own experience (leisure, new technologies, television, internet, shopping, school, film etc) can be good as they may well encourage students to talk more. Many students will be happy to talk about the concrete matters which affect their daily lives more than abstract ideas.

Texts may relate to important topics from the world around us. Since we have a wider duty to educate our students, rather than simply teach them a language, texts on worthy issues such as the environment, poverty, inequalities, intolerance and so on are surely worth doing.

Texts which convey information about the target language culture are useful, but they should not be too esoteric.

What to do with texts

Here is a check-list of ways you can exploit texts together with a justification or comment for each task. You could add to these with your own.