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The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachers

The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachers Texts have always played an integral part in classroom learning, for skills development and as contexts for language study. It has long been acknowledged that choosing texts that are interesting and motivating is key, but we also need to ensure rich and meaningful content. Katie Wood, teacher trainer and materials writer, suggests using four key questions to assess whether a text meets these criteria and discusses why it should.

Question 1: Does the text contain information that can be of use in the real world outside the classroom?

In today’s fast-moving and increasingly digital world students are less likely than ever before to read or listen to something solely because it’s good for them, or because it contains examples of a particular structure. They are likely to want to know which specific skills they’re working on, but also what information they can take from the text and make use of in their life outside the classroom. A good text needs to be engaging, but it also needs to contain information that remains relevant and useful to the student once the lesson is over. Texts need to provide take-away value both in terms of linguistic development and real-world knowledge.

Question 2: Does the content help students relate their experiences, situation and country to the world as a whole?

More than ever before, both students and teachers have access to information from a variety of truly international sources on a grand scale. Facebook, Twitter and the internet in general mean that students are communicating internationally both in terms of their career and social life. As a result the communications themselves have become more related to matters which cross boundaries and borders.

Question 3: Is the text generative and can productive tasks be tailored to students’ needs?

The challenge is to provide both students and teachers with texts that have universal appeal, that are relevant, yet are in some way not already worn out by digital media. Choosing texts which are content rich increases the likelihood that they will generate different responses and points of interests from different individuals, and this includes the teachers. Maintaining the enthusiasm of a teacher dealing with the material for perhaps the fifth or sixth time should not be underestimated. In addition, a large number of students learn English in a General English class, but increasingly they have a more defined purpose in learning than they did in the past. In one group for example, a teacher might find students who want to pass an exam, want to improve their English in a business environment, or want to focus more on social English. A genuinely generative text provides the opportunity to lead into productive work in more than just one of these areas.

Question 4: Is the content of the text authentic and does it lend itself to further research and exploration?

As previously mentioned, students want to feel that what they spend their time reading and listening to in the classroom, has real world application. A text that satisfies this criteria should ideally create a desire in readers or listeners to discover more. Consequently, texts need to be authentic and googleable, and this should be true for all levels. So, while a text chosen for elementary learners will need to be adapted in terms of language, we need the content to be real. A student can then go away and find out more for themselves.

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Text selection for in-work and pre-work learners

How important is text selection in business English? Louis Rogers, co-author of Skills for Business Studies, discusses the challenge of choosing the right texts for pre-work and in-work learners.

Choosing a topic or a text for a lesson is a challenging task. It is especially difficult to strike a balance between the ‘needs’ and ‘interests’ of the students. This can be particularly true when dealing with two apparently similar groups such as in-work and pre-work learners. There are topic areas that quite clearly and seamlessly cross the boundary between pre-work and in-work learners, such as Marketing or Management. However, other topics, such as Logistics or Takeovers and Mergers tend to be much less accessible and of more limited use to a pre-work learner in an academic environment. So what makes these seemingly obvious business topics more or less accessible to each sector?

Essentially, it comes down to the sphere of influence surrounding the individual or group of individuals. A sphere of influence can be used to analyse many different concepts from politics, to market reach, through to leadership. For example, a shop’s physical sphere of influence would simply be how far are people prepared to travel to reach that shop. Factors such as reputation, price, location and competition all have an impact on a business’s physical sphere of influence. Or consider a country’s political sphere of influence which can be determined by factors such as economic, historical or military power. But how are students’ spheres of influence relevant to text selection in different teaching contexts?

If we reverse the scenario and place the learner at the centre of the sphere we need to consider the influence relationship from a different perspective. In other words, to look at not what they have an influence on but at what influences them. If we place the learner at the centre of a series of concentric rings, with each ring further from the centre considered to have less influence on the individual and therefore be of less interest and relevance, we can build a model for text and topic selection. In both the pre-work learner environment and the in-work learner environment, and arguably in any teaching situation, it is vital that texts are both relevant to the learner’s needs but are also of a broader generic interest and appeal.

Take the topics at the start of this post as an example. Successful Logistics is a key element to so many parts of a business. It impacts on the finance department in terms of costing, it influences the marketing department in terms of getting the product to market on time in order to run an effective marketing campaign, and it affects the customer relations department in terms of maintaining customer satisfaction. Yet for the pre-work learner the significance and influence of Logistics dramatically diminishes. It may have an impact on this kind of learner as an end consumer of a product, but the very process of logistics is an abstract notion that is happening behind the scenes in a company and does not touch on their daily lives.

So a new take on the topic or an entirely new topic needs to be found to engage the pre-work learner. Without a tangible relevance to the learner’s environment it is likely that motivation will dramatically diminish and ultimately impact on the success of achieving the course’s intended learning outcomes. As teachers we need to think carefully about our learners’ spheres of influence and ensure that we choose topics that will engage and motivate them, particularly if the text types are likely to be linguistically challenging.

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