Material Selection for Esl Reading Class

Material Selection for Esl Reading Class

Comprehension of a reading text is made difficult due to the interactive nature of the reading process. Different readers respond in different ways to the same text. The reading lesson therefore needs to make allowances for both the variety of texts and the variety of readers. ( Nuttal,1996). As reading is a complex task, teacher need to be focused on the learning goals of the reading lesson and steer the learners towards achieving these goals. Even if the reading programme has a prescribed textbook, it is highly recommended that teachers use additional reading as supplementary materials..

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Since the focus of the ESL reading class should be on a specific aspect of reading, the selection of an appropriate reading text is critical. If the text chosen is inappropriate for whatever reason, the chances of success for that particular lesson are substantially lessened. Criteria for Selecting Reading Texts 1. Interest The most important factor in selecting a reading material is interest. William (1986:42) claims that “ in the absence of interesting texts, very little is possible. ” Carrell (1984:339) states; “ First, reading teachers should use materials the students are interested in, including materials self-selected by the student. Eskey (1986:4) reminds teachers that “ the first concern of any reading teacher is to find or create, a body of material that his particular students might find interesting to read, and then do everything in his power to make it as comprehensible to them as he can. ” One way that teachers can stimulate students’ interest is to use materials which do not have over-familiar content. A passage which contains relatively little new information or one over-loaded with new information would increase the complexity level of the text and affect students’ interest to read further..

It is important that teachers select texts that can provide learners with a reasonable amount of new information. Nuttal (1982:30) provides guidelines that can help teachers decide the suitability of the texts. She recommends that the teacher attempts to discover if the passage will:- i. tell the students things they don’t already know, ii. introduce them to new and relevant ideas, make them think about things they haven’t thought about before. iii. help them to understand the way other people feel or think (eg. , people with different backgrounds, problems or attitudes from their own), iv. ake them want to read for themselves (to continue a story, find out more about a subject, etc. ) There are a number of ways of determining learners’ interest. One of the ways is using a questionnaire to determine the types of books learners read. Nuttal (1982) suggests paying attention to the material students read in the first language as their choice of materials indicates their areas of interest. Another method recommended by Williams (1986) to determine learners interest is to ask these learners to evaluate current reading materials as “interesting” “all right” or “boring”.

Lastly, students can also be encouraged bring their own texts to class based on their interest which is related to the reading lesson objectives. In doing so teachers can discover the learners’ reading interest. If material used in classroom are interesting, the students will be motivated to read not only for classroom purposes but also outside the classroom. 2. Purpose Another important ingredient in text selection is to ensure that the text creates a purpose for reading.

According to Eskey (1986: 6) “reading comprehension is most likely to occur when students are reading what they want to read or at least what they see some good reason to read. ” Hedge (2003:207) provides a framework based on the purposes as given by Rivers and Temperley (1978). Providing students with a purpose for reading will ensure that students are engaged in their reading activities. According to Hedge if teachers can use the guide for selection of texts, learners will be provided with ample practice of different ways of approaching a text at the same time fulfilling the different range of reading purposes.

The framework is as shown below :- – to get informationtravel brochures, train timetables, bus schedules, notices, public signs, directories, catalogues, information leaflets, regulations, weather forecasts – to respond to curiositymagazine articles, newspaper editorials, about a topicadvertisements , guidelines, specialist brochures – to follow instructionsmaps, route planners, recipes, assembly instructions, instructions for use, guides, manuals – for pleasure andpoems, short stories, plays, reviews, enjoymentlampoons, skits, cartoons to keep in touchpostcards, notes, invitations, letters, condolences, memos, messages – to know what isnews articles, news in brief, TV Ceefax, happening in the worldfaxes, news reviews – to find out when and announcements, programmes, tour guides. where (Hedge, 2003: 206-207) If reading teachers can utilise instructional activities which relate to real world reading purposes then they will be successful in capturing the interest of their learners. Teachers who are using assigned textbooks, should also ensure that purposes for reading are clearly defined.

If reasons for reading are missing from textbook task, then teachers should create the purpose that will motivate learners to read. Motivation to read is enhanced when learners can see the relationship between reading tasks done in the classroom with their actual purpose of reading in their real-life situations. 3. Exploitability Another criterion that can be used for selecting text is exploitability. Nuttal(1996) defines exploitability as the ‘facilitation of learning’. In other words, it is determining if the chosen texts allows the teacher to accomplish the objectives of the reading lesson.

The best way teachers can determine the exploitability of a text is to do the exercises and activities accompanying the text. For example, if the objective of the reading lesson is to discover the author’s point of view, the teacher could do the activity to establish if the reading passage allows the students to discover the author’s point of view. An article that is purely descriptive might not be suitable in achieving this particular objective. The main aim of the reading lesson is to produce competent readers who are able to use a variety of reading skills and strategies.

Therefore, when selecting a reading text teachers have to focus on how the text can develop these skills and strategies. Nuttal (1996) recommends that when assessing the exploitability of a text, teachers should focus not only on the possibilities of practicing individual reading skills but on the use of the text to develop the integrated use of skills and strategies. It is essential then that the text selection should be varied so that this goal of reading flexibility can be improved. 4. Readability Readability can be ranked together with interest and exploitability as one of the most important considerations in selecting a reading passage.

To motivate students to read the texts, it is important that the texts chosen are reasonably readable by the students. Carrell (1978b) refers readability to the following phenomena: lexical appropriateness; background knowledge of the reader; syntactic appropriateness; logical ordering of ideas; textual phenomena at the discourse level and length of text. Nuttal (1982) mentions these terms as syntactic and lexical considerations. Students’ reading ability and the readability level required by the texts should be compatible. Students’ proficiency of the language may affect their reading competency.

Therefore, teachers need to know the language competency of their student and match it to the linguistic complexity that is appropriate for them. According to Carrell’s point of view readability can be measured by looking at these aspects. i. Lexical Knowledge. Vocabulary knowledge is a critical feature of reading ability. If second language learners are to read fluently in a manner similar to first language, they will require a wide knowledge of vocabulary. As lexical knowledge is important in comprehending a text, teachers should pay sufficient attention to the development of vocabulary. In the classroom, he underlying principle that teachers should follow is to limit the number of new vocabulary in texts intended for beginning levels. Nuttall(1982) recommends that in an intensive reading lesson new lexical items should be less than three percent of the whole. In short then it can be argued that for beginners and perhaps intermediate level learners, it is advisable to maintain a minimum of new vocabulary items in a reading text. However, efficient readers can be given texts with a higher percentage of unfamiliar lexical items as they are expected to use the strategy of guessing the meaning of words from context. i. Background knowledge Along with lexical knowledge, background knowledge is very important in establishing the readability of a text. The more familiar readers are with the topic of the text, the more quickly and accurately they can read it. Research(e. g, Alderson and Urquhart 1988; Carrell 1987a; Johnson 1981) has proven that background knowledge plays a key role in the comprehension of a reading passage by intermediate and advanced ESL learners. Given its importance of background knowledge in these two stages, it is highly likely that background knowledge is equally considered even in the beginning stages.

Since the background knowledge is an important criterion for comprehension of texts, teachers must take this factor into account when selecting texts. If the topic in a passage is unfamiliar to students, it is likely that teachers would have to spend more time familiarizing them with the subject matter. This would leave teachers with less time to practise reading skills and strategies which should be the core component of every reading lesson. Dubin (1989) proposes a reading-in-depth approach to equip learners with background knowledge.

She states that having learners read more on a subject would facilitate comprehension as they would become familiar with the vocabulary and structure and the style of authors. Therefore in dealing with the issue of background knowledge, it is recommended that teachers select passages on three or four themes over the course of the reading program iii. Syntactic Appropriateness Syntactic constructions in a text can also affect readability, hence the comprehension of the text will be affected. Difficulty in understanding syntactic relationship within a text is due to sentence length and complexity.

Readability formulas are used frequently to measure the readability of a text. However, Carrell(1987b) states that these readability formulas fail for a variety of reasons which include the interactive nature of the reading process and the interaction of the reader with the text. Moreover, ESL teachers often do not have the time, resources or appropriate information to utilise these readability formulas, even if the formulas did what they are purported to do. Furthermore, a text that is interesting will still capture the attention of the reader despite its difficulty.

In contrast, simple syntactic structures presented within dull material are unlikely to contribute much to the development of reading competence. iv. Organization Organisation refers to both the rhetorical of the text and the clarity of the organisation. Research (e. g. , Carrell, 1985) indicates that ESL readers who can recognise the rhetorical organisation of a text have better comprehension than those who do not. Smith (1982:65) states that “the more we can anticipate and employ the formal structures that an author uses, the more we can understand and remember what we read because the structures also form our understanding and remembering. Nuttal (1996) provides a variety of information transfer task examples that might be used to help learners to follow the author’s text structure. Visual representations such as flow charts, conceptual frames as well as hierarchical summaries can aid students to understand text organisation better. Pearson and Fielding (1991:832) conclude that “any sort of systematic attempt to impose structure upon a text, especially some sort of visual representation of the relationships among key ideas, facilitates comprehension as well as both short term and long term memories for the text. As non-text information helps to clarify content, it is ideal that teachers select text which is accompanied with a variety of visual information. In this way, learners can also be trained to utilise non-text information. Since text organisation is vital for comprehension, ESL reading teachers should carefully examine a text to see how it is organised. A passage that is not well organised might present problems for ESL students, especially at the beginning stages. It is essential then that teachers select well structured-texts so that comprehension of the text is made easy. Discourse Phenomena Textual phenomena at the level of discourse include the arrangement of topics and comments in a reading passage, and considerations of cohesiveness and coherence. ESL reading teachers need to be aware of the manner in which the author makes use of these in the passage and the degree to which ESL readers are able to deal with such textual phenomena. ESL reading teachers need to know whether the cohesion markers and transition devices are within the linguistic competence of the learners, and whether they can follow the line of reasoning utilised by the writer of the passage.

To the extent that these factors are within the competence of the learners, the passage can be considered for use in a reading lesson. Wallace (2003) states that teachers can use any text to highlight ways in which written texts are cohesive as cohesion is a essential feature of all texts. However, she states that for pedagogical purposes it may be necessary to adapt a text to present learners with a higher frequency of these cohesive devices. viLength of Text The final factor of readability concerns the length of the potential reading passage.

Most inexperienced teachers who are unable to judge the ability of their students often select passages that are too long. This can pose a problem for students as they may become frustrated when they are unable to complete the reading task within the stipulated time. To avoid this problem a teacher should first time herself when reading the text that is being considered for the reading lesson. This will enable the teacher to make a fairly accurate prediction of how long a learner will take to read the passage. In general, the objectives of a reading lesson determine the appropriate length of the text.

For example, if the focus of the lesson is on skimming; the students can be given a rather lengthy article and a specified time limit to skim for the required information. However, if the focus is on reading for main ideas, a much shorter article would be appropriate. 5. Variety of Genre Another important criterion in the selection of text is to ensure that it covers a variety of genres so that students can read for various purposes. Teachers can provide a variety of different text by using the framework given by Hedge(2003) as mentioned earlier under the topic of purpose.

Smith (1982:63) states that “genre schemes” help readers by giving them a basis for predicting what a text would be like. According to Carrell (1984) certain types of expository organisation maybe generally more facilitative of recall for ESL readers than other types. This implies that devoting reading instruction to the identification of different discourse structures may be effective in facilitating ESL reading comprehension, retention and recall. Urguhart and Weir (1998) recommend that students be exposed to the type of materials that they might have to deal with in future for either informational or entertainment purposes.

Exposing students to a variety of text types in the classroom will prepare students to cope better when having to read in real life situation. 6Authenticity Besides providing a variety of genre, it is recommended that authentic texts be used as these texts can be related to readers’ real life experience. We have already suggested that authentic texts would be interesting, purposeful and provide learners with knowledge of text type. Nuttall(1996:177) argues that “to pursue the crucial text attack skill we need texts which exhibit the characteristics of true discourse: having something to say, being coherent and clearly organised.

Composed(i. e. specially written) or simplified texts do not always have these qualities. ” However, it does not mean that these texts may not be modified as Lewkowics (1997) states that there are certain performance conditions which if followed may render the text to be considered authentic. In other words, as long as a text is simplified ensuring the natural use of the language it is still considered authentic. 7. Political Appropriateness The political suitability of the reading text must be taken into consideration.

In some countries the political content of articles is a critical issue, while in others it is not. Expatriate teachers working in politically sensitive countries should pay close attention to this factor, particularly if it is not an issue in their home countries. Regardless of the teacher’s status, whether expatriate or not, reading teachers should attempt to deal with their own political biases in selecting a reading text. Teachers should not censor articles that do not reflect their political beliefs; nor should they attempt to use reading passages to put their own political leanings. . Cultural Suitability Cultural suitability is another factor to consider in selecting reading passages. Articles for expatriate teachers which would not raise an eyebrow in their home countries could be culturally explosive when used in other countries. 9. Appearance The final factor is concerned with the appearance of the reading text, which includes layout and print and type size. i. Layout The reading teacher should examine the article to see whether the layout is beneficial or harmful.

For example, the teacher can check to see if there are pictures or any non textual information that might help students understand the article. Are the lines or paragraphs numbered? The teacher can also determine the legibility of the text. This is important if it is to be reproduced. A barely legible article can spoil an otherwise excellent reading lesson. If the goal of the reading class is to help the learners become readers of the target language outside of the class, attractive, well-designed passages are more of an incentive than sloppy, hard-to-read texts. i. Type Size and Font The type size and font are factors to consider for beginning readers. Type somewhat larger than normal is an aid in the initial stages of reading, as it helps in the decoding process. Larger type is commonly used in beginning readers for first-language reading. Type that is too large, however, may be a detriment to developing rapid reading, for it can hinder reader’s ability to process chunks of print as the eyes move across the page. The font should be clear and attractive to aid beginning readers in the decoding process. ii. Reproduction of Copyrighted Articles Once an article is selected, it has to be reproduced in some fashion for use in the class. If an article is to be photocopied, teachers should be aware of and observe copyrights. Although the legal reproduction of copyrighted works varies from country to country, most countries recognise a limitation on exclusive rights called “fair use. ” With respect for books and periodicals, fair use allows for single copying for teachers for scholarly research or use in teaching or preparation to teach a class.

In addition, fair use may allow for multiple copies ( not to exceed more than one copy per pupil in a course ) for classroom use provided that the following guidelines are met: a. The article is less than 2,500 words or is an excerpt of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but a minimum of 500 words. b. Only one chart, graph, diagram, or other type of illustration is copied per book or periodical issue. c. The decision to use the article and the time of its use are so close in time as to make it difficult to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.

To copy. d. Not more than one article or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, nor more than three form from the same collection or periodical during one class term. e. There are not more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term. It is also generally recognised that fair-use copying is not to be used to create or to replace anthologies, nor to substitute for the pleasures of books. Finally, it is not to be repeated from term to term. In such cases, permission to copy should be obtained from the copyright holder. Conclusion

Given the wide variety of situations and circumstances in which English is taught throughout the world, it is not possible to have a reading text with reading appropriate for all learners in all contexts. The factors discussed here should be of some help to teachers who decide to select additional readings for their ESL reading classes. Teachers themselves are encouraged to add to these factors and to develop their own lists of criteria for their own specific situations. References Carrell, P. L. (1984). The effects of rhetorical organisation on ESL readers. TESOL Quarterly 18, 441-469.

Carrell, P. L. (1985). Facilitating ESL reading comprehension by teaching text structure. TESOL Quarterly, 19, 4, pp. 727-52. Carrell, P. L. (1987a). Content and fotrmal schemata in ESL reading. TESOL Quarterly, 21, 3, pp. 461-81. Carrell, P. L. (1987b). Readability in ESL. Reading in a Foreign Language, 4,1, pp. 21-40. Dubin, F. (1989). ‘The Odd Couple Reading and Vocabulary’ ELT Journal 43/4. Eskey, D. E. (1986). Theoretical Foundations. In Dubin, F. Eskey, D. E. and Grabe, W. (eds), Teaching Second Language Reading for Academic Purposes, pp 3-23 Reading, Ma: Addison- Wesley. Johnson, P. 1981). Effects on reading comprehension of language complexity and cultural background of a text. TESOL Quarterly, 15, 1, pp. 169-81. Nuttall, C. (1982). Teaching reading skills in a foreign language. London. Heinemann Educational Books. Nuttall, C. (1996). Teaching reading skills in a foreign language. Oxford: Heinemann English Language Teaching. Pearson, P. D. and Fielding, L. (1991). Comprehension Instruction. In Barr, R. et al. (eds), pp. 815-60. Quarterly, 21, 3, pp. 461-81. reign Language, 4,1, William, R. (1986). “Top ten” principles for teaching reading. ELT Journal, 40, 1, pp. 42-45.


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