Reading and listening outside the coursebook

In most EFL textbooks, reading and listening texts are mainly used as a starting point for inductive teaching of vocabulary and/or grammar in a meaningful context. As Penny Ur describes it, these texts are “milked for vocabulary and grammar” (Ur, 2016).

Perhaps we should therefore have the guts to look for texts that are not in the coursebook. These texts need to meet at least two conditions. The subject should be interesting for our students and relate to their world. It ought to motivate and encourage them to read or listen carefully. Moreover, the text should have an appropriate language level. A tool like VocabKitchen can be very useful to determine the latter. You simply paste your text (for reading) or transcript (for listening) into the tool’s window and you immediately have a scientifically correct idea of its level. You can read more about the tool in this blogpost.

For listening, video is obviously a lot better (and more motivating) than audio only. In real life, it will happen quite rarely that we have to listen “blindly” to someone, except in a telephone conversation, a podcast or a radio broadcast. It is however generally more natural and real to look at the speaker in a context. “Video brings context which makes it fairer for listening” (Hughes, 2014). Facial expressions, the movement of lips, body language help students to understand the message better.

For listening and reading, there is a lot of English material available on the Internet. Just think of newspapers and magazines that publish free articles online or podcasts about almost any subject. The following sites are some of my favourites: BBC Learn English, Elllo, esl-lab, Breaking News English, News in Levels and ReadWorks. Working with TED Talks in the classroom also offers a lot of possibilities. Check this post about it.