A Taxonomy of Authentic Reading Tasks

3 12 2011

I would love to develop a list of useful classroom texts (I mean texts that learners would find engaging / motivating / beneficial to read inside the language classroom) and think of authentic but also classroom friendly ways of reading / processing / ‘attacking’ them.   BTW, unlike most of his readers, I’m not a fan of Scott Thornbury’s text-attack terminology, since if there’s anything in this world that should be kept apart from the brutalities of war and suffering, then reading be it.

So, simply put, here goes.  A list of readable texts and authentic tasks that can be used with them in the classroom.  Please do help add to the list of texts or tasks or comment on those already proffered – I’m going to need a lot of help to make this list even half decent…

Updating this post for the first time with some extra ideas for gist tasks and generic text ideas.  I think this may be the way to go rather than producing specific examples of texts, although I might come up with a few once I start teaching / watching teachers again in January.

Gist reading

General Gist tasks

Read the first paragraph, shall we bother continuing?

Read the title of a text – what do you think it is about?  Continue reading all of it until it’s no longer relevant to you as a reader.

You’re on a long plane ride and this text is in the in-flight magazine.  Would you read it?

Is the title engaging?  Keep reading the text until you find the title is no longer engaging.

Genre Specific Gist Tasks

Read the report of a football match – which team does the author prefer?

Read the report of a football match you’ve seen – do you agree with the author’s representation of the game?

Read the review of a pop concert – would you like to have gone and seen it?

Read the review of a restaurant – would you take your partner / kids / parents / siblings / a first date / best friend there?

Read a recipe – could you make this dish?

Read a recipe – would your  partner / kids / parents / siblings / a first date / best friend like this dish?

Read a discursive essay – is the author for or against?

Read a discursive essay – do you agree with the author’s overall opinion?

Detailed Reading

General Detailed Tasks

This text is about something you’re interested in.  What does it add to your knowledge of the subject?

This text was written yesterday/today.  How does it change your knowledge of the content?

Do you believe everything in this text is true?

Underline all of the facts in this text.  Cirlce the author’s unsubstantiated opinions.

Which points do you agree with the author about?  which do you disagree with?  Why?

Genre Specific Detailed Tasks

Read the report of a football match you’ve seen – do you agree with the author’s opinion of each controversial incident?

Read the review of a pop concert – note some / five things that make you wish you’d been there.

Read the review of a pop concert – note things described that support your opinion of the band.

Read a recipe – what will you need to buy in order to make it?  What parts of the process will you find most difficult?  What things haven’t you done before?

Read a discursive essay – which arguments do you find convincing?

Read a discursive essay – which opinions expressed would you argue with?

Read the review of a restaurant – in how many ways is your favourite restaurant better?

Scan reading

Classifieds Page – Find a xmas present for your teacher

Classifieds page – Find a new job for your teacher / classmates / family

Classifieds page – You have 200 000 pounds. Find three houses to go and look at this weekend.

Choose a restaurant for your teacher to visit tonight with their partner / visiting parents / visiting sibling / best friend from school they haven’t seen for five years / a first date from your country

Find the best film for you / your teacher to see this weekend




5 responses

3 12 2011
Damian Williams

Hi Neil

This is fantastic, and I’m totally with you on the need for authentic tasks. I think your ideas for gist are just that, and mirror what we actually do in real life. This, to me, is really important – encouraging learners to do what they need to do in real life, but in English, and could be the principal starting point for so many more materials.

I’d like to add something on the detail tasks if possible. In considering this, my first step was to think back to the last time I read something for specific info – a little different from ‘detail’, I think, but along the same lines. And this actually happened yesterday. I’ve been looking for a website/software that offers quality webinar hosting… for free. In doing so, I found that I was ‘scanning’ through lots of sites to find out what they charged, if anything. Going further than this, (and perhaps this is more in terms of ‘detail’), I found myself engaging with the texts by testing out each site with a short ‘presentation’ to see if it came out in the way I wanted.

So, how about a task like this for Ss – part reading, part ‘webquest’, where you give them some criteria for what you want, then they search sites and find something for free, testing it out to see if it does what they want. Some (initial) ideas would be: a site that helps you build a website for free, cheap car insurance, a site which offers free language learning, scanning a ‘twitter chat’ summary for useful info., etc. Obviously these are very initial, first glance ideas – I’m sure others could add much better ones!

What do you think?



13 12 2011

Hi Damian,
Many thanks for the positive reaction and great ideas, the website scan is a great idea and one I’ve kind of used in class before, especially to prepare students to write info leaflets for exam tasks (although this doesn’t require the testing out part, which is probably the most engaging as far as the students are concerned).

3 12 2011
Damian Williams

Another idea (sorry this is becoming a stream of consciousness – can you tell I’m excited? : )) – Just remembered another time when I read for detail this week. I always read at night when I go to bed, as it helps me sleep, but unfortunately this means I sometimes wake up with a book in my mouth!

Anyway, the point is, when I come back to the book the next day, I often find myself ‘scanning’ back through the previous chapter for key information, to remind myself of where I am in the storyline. Could this be adapted to classroom reading somehow? Perhaps give some basic facts about a story, then some specific questions e.g. what happened to X the previous day? Where is he/she now? etc. then they read on…

Again, just initial thoughts so feel free to tear them apart!


13 12 2011

This is also a really authentic task – I do it all the time too! I imagine it would be useful for students who are using a reader in class. You can ask them to read a chapter for homework and then in class they scan read it again to remind themselves of key events / info and then from that they move on to the next chapter – perhaps formulating their own detailed reading questions based on the scanning of the previous chapter; or the old chestnut of what happens next for a more gisty reading?

Please do keep the ideas coming and I’ll be adding more myself in the next week or so…

20 01 2012
Kevin Stein

Great list. I’m a big fiction guy myself so I use short stories. Some are from graded readers (any of the Sherlock Holmes GRS are pretty good and depending in the publisher the come in a wide range of levels), some are short stories from reading books in the states. But usually I have my students read the story and decide which character they would like to invite over for dinner. I explain that since this story has been published the character has gotten very busy, so they will have to do a little convincing. The activity goes well and it gives students a chance to express their emotional connection to the text. After all, I think that’s why most book lovers read in the first place.

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