(English) Is a Text just a Text?

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Is a Text just a Text?

Dr Don W Jordan and Ms Ellen Cornish

This article by two of our regular contributors, Ms Ellen Cornish and Dr Don Jordan, continues the discussion about Child Centred, learning as it provides a practical example of how to change an original English text to different levels of complexity, allowing for the different levels of ability within a class. They also demonstrate ways to develop multiple activities from a single information text, allowing students with different levels of understanding to engage positively in the learning process.

EllenAndDonJan2014 EllenAndDon2Jan2014




Ellen and Don working with teachers in Bangkok and pre service teachers in Cambodia



Is a Text just a Text?

Text books are often the mainstay of university, secondary and primary school classrooms throughout the world, either in print or online. Ideally, effective teachers use them as one of many resources to support what is becoming a more complex curriculum, rather than just as the one authoritative source of information to be taught to students.

There is a danger in only just following the sequence outlined by textbook publishers and the activities they provide are one size fits all regardless of student ability, then we are likely at times to be irrelevant to the interests and needs of a significant number of our students. There is an urgent need for educators to devise strategies to help students develop the skills to be able to analyse, synthesise and evaluate information, working cooperatively with each other, rather than just passing tests by memorising the facts and accepting it at face value[1].

Our classroom teaching experience as well as our conversations with beginning and experienced teachers, has demonstrated to us that if our students do not have sufficient background knowledge or vocabulary to help them make necessary cultural connections with the topics presented in the textbook, then it is likely students at all levels will disengage from the learning process. This in turn often means students are bored, therefore can be disruptive to the teaching and learning program. We are mindful in our selection of English language material that it is on topics that are culturally relevant to participants.

An effective strategy for us is to develop additional and different activities from the English text books available in the institutions in which we are working. Two such activities are as follows:

1.     Deconstructing Available Text to Engage Learners with Different Abilities.

Using a section of culturally relevant writing from a teaching English text book, (The place to Stay) we demonstrated to teachers, how to alter the level of difficulty by offering examples of three pieces of writing as follows:

(The Place to Stay 1).The following example is the original text from the text book. For more capable students the text can be made more complex, with more complex questions.


The Place to Stay 1

Nowadays most of the young people travelling around the world are backpackers or travellers on a low budget. They want to see the world, but they can’t afford to pay for regular hotels. So youth hostels are the perfect solution for travellers without a lot of money to spend.

The accommodation in the hostels is inexpensive because guests usually share rooms and bathrooms.

Most hostels have a laundry room, telephones, internet connection, lockers and a breakfast service. Some hostels offer individual rooms and cooking facilities, such as a kitchen complete with pots and everything else you need.

Some hostels are in interesting places such as old churches, in old prisons and even boats. Hostels in the most famous cities and in popular resorts can be fully booked during peak seasons, so it is a good idea to make online reservations for them.

Hostels are definitely the place for socialising. The guests are usually young people from different countries and there are plenty of opportunities to meet other travellers. Some hostels organise parties or have an area in the building where people can meet and talk with other guests and to share experiences and travel tips. When you are travelling alone, hostels are one of the best places to make friends.

After Reading:

Answer yes or no

1.           Backpackers travelling around the world like to stay in accommodation called youth   hostels. ___________DonTeachingJan2014

2.         Youth hostels are usually much more expensive than hotels. _________

3.         You cannot cook in youth hostels because there is usually no kitchen. _______

4.         Youth hostels are good places to meet other people and to share travel tips. _________


(The Place to Stay 2). For middle ability students, less complex than original text, with slightly modified questions.

The Place to Stay 2

Today a lot of young people like travelling around the world. They do not have a lot of money so they travel with backpacks and StudentsJan2014are called backpackers. Backpackers stay in youth hostels which are much cheaper than most hotels.

Youth hostels do not cost a lot of money because people share rooms and bathrooms. Lots of hostels have a laundry, a telephone, internet and a kitchen. Backpackers can cook their own food in the youth hostel kitchen which saves them money.

Youth hostels can be in interesting places such as a church. Sometimes you can just arrive at the hostel and get a bed but sometimes you need to book a bed in the youth hostel before you get there. This happens when the youth hostel is in a popular city or town.

Youth hostels are a good place for meeting people from other countries. Some hostels have a meeting room where they organise parties so that you can meet other people. This is a good way to share travel ideas. Hostels are very good places to make friends.


After Reading:

Answer yes or no

1.         Backpackers do not stay in youth hostels. _____

2.         The rooms in youth hostels usually cost a lot of money._______

3.         You can cook your food in the youth hostel kitchen._______

4.         Youth hostels are not good places to meet other people. ________


 (The Place to Stay 3).For less able students we prepared a shorter and easier text with simplified questions.


The Place to Stay 3

Today a lot of people like travelling. They do not have a lot of money so they stay in youth hostels which are cheaper.

Youth hostels do not cost a lot of money because people share rooms and bathrooms. They can cook their own food in the youth hostel kitchen. This also saves them money.

Sometimes you can just arrive at the hostel and get a bed but sometimes you need to book a bed in the youth hostel before you get there. This happens when the youth hostel is in a town that tourists like a lot.

Youth hostels are a good place for meeting people from other countries. Some hostels organise parties. You can make friends at the hostel.

After Reading:

Answer yes or no

  1. A lot of people like travelling.  _________
  2. Rooms in youth hostels cost a lot of money. _______
  3. You cannot cook in a youth hostel. _________
  4. You meet people in a youth hostel. ________

This deconstruction activity allows teachers to engage their students in the same activity but at their level of understanding.  To illustrate the activity, we chose to follow the same assessment question format at the end of the original article in text book in our deconstruction activities. This assessment format however, is at the lower end of Bloom’s levels of thinking, as it only requires students to remember basic information from the text.

2.     Developing Multiple Activities from an Information Text.

A more engaging strategy is to demonstrate to teachers how to develop multiple activities from a single text; this enables their students to engage in their own learning in their preferred way, whether through written text, creative arts (music, dance, visual, or the spoken word)[2].We demonstrated how to develop an enriched teaching program by using an information text in this example, based on food.

This information text was from Level 2 in the Kingfisher Reader series; ‘What We Eat’ includes chapters on the following:

  • What, when and why we eat.
  • The different food groups.
  • Where food comes from.
  • Buying and cooking foods from around the world.
  • and food for feasts and festivals.

We have demonstrated in our example below that rather than just using a text at face value additional activities can be developed to provide a broader range of learning opportunities for students.

What We Eat

Objective:   To use “What we Eat” information text to demonstrate how additional activities can be developed from a single text. Some suggestions are as follows:


  • Read the information text “What We Eat”.
  • Choose a chapter and rewrite it with a cultural focus.
  • Glossary: type a list of words for your students to find and write the meanings.
  • Sentence matching.
  • Type (write) a sentence, make 2 copies, cut up one to remake the original sentence.
  • Food words, type (write), cut them up and remake e.g. b/a/n/a/n/a.
  • List the meals you eat in a day, make a sub list of what you eat for each meal.
  • Food groups, list and categorise.
  • Make a chart for food groups, draw pictures and label.
  • Make a chart showing food crops which are grown in and around your place of living, sort, group these.
  • Make a list of your favourite foods.
  • Make a poster to promote healthy eating.
  • Make a list or poster to show foods that can be eaten raw as opposed to being cooked.
  • Design a label for packet or canned food.
  • Festivals – Create a menu for a wedding, funeral, other festival.
  • Create a list to show the foods eaten for different types of festivals.
  • Write a recipe for your own birthday cake.
  • Draw your cake and label the different parts.
  • Design a poster to promote your street or market stall.
  • Make labels to price the items you are selling at your stall.
  • Make a page of fact boxes. “Did you know?”

Assessment Activity: 

You are a farmer with produce to sell. Develop a marketing plan to sell your produce.

These are just some of the things you need to consider (not in a particular order)

  • Design and advertise your market stall to sell your produce.
  • What materials will you need for your stall (tables etc?)
    • How will you get your produce to the market?
    • Who will run your stall?
    • When is the best time to sell your produce?
    • How will you target your customers with your advertising?
    • Where is the best location for your stall?

The activities described above can be modified to suit the content of any information text being studied by students. This enables teachers to offer their students the opportunity to extend their thinking beyond the limitations of a ‘one size fits all’ text book, to give them the skills to become critical and creative thinkers. Text books often do not take into account the different levels of understanding of students in the classroom, or take into account the cultural difference between the intended students studying the text and the text book authors. Offering students a variety of activities and ways of learning based on a given text will give students the opportunity to engage in the learning process, in their preferred way.


[1] See our discussion on Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956), six levels of thinking. Cornish, E. and Jordan, D. W. (2013). ‘Student Self-Assessment: What I Ask myself’. On line at:

[2] See our discussion on Howard Gardner’s (1983) Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. Cornish, E. and Jordan, D. W. (2013). ‘Student Self-Assessment: What I Ask myself’. On line at:

2 replies on “(English) Is a Text just a Text?”


Yes, I agree with Michael. There is a real need to develop critical thinking skills in readers , regardless of level. In fact , I would argue that critical thinking skills should start at pre-reading levels and carry on , well , until the last breath , i.e. word. Having said this, the article is an important one and I continue to enjoy the thoughtful articles of this thought full web site. I would like to make a contribution to this free web site so it continues . Can you let me know how I might make a modest , monetary contribution?
regards, Jack

Michel Thibeaultsays:

Thanks for this article promoting reading for our ESL learners. I am particularly happy to see the mention that the questions following “The Place to Stay” were at the lower end of Bloom’s taxonomy. There seems to still be a misconception about the types of questions we can ask ESL learners. Because their vocabulary is limited, we often wrongly assume we must stick to factual questions with the answers clearly written in the original text. While it is true that ESL students’ limited vocabulary makes it harder to fully comprehend a text and that getting the facts right is a necessary step, their cognitive abilities are in no way diminished and, nor is the natural desire to connect with and enjoy the text they read. To this end, questions such as “Did you ever stay in hostels?”, “If you could choose, in what kind of hostel building would you like to stay?” or “In your opinion, what are the most important advantages hostels have over regular hotels?” In fact, not only are these kinds of questions important to go beyond the facts, they are often what triggers a student’s desire to fully try to understand the text and all the facts presented. Happy reading!
Michel Thibeault, M.Ed.
Head Teacher
Panyaden School


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