Just as there are many reasons to use authentic texts when teaching IELTS, there are an equal number of considerations when choosing which texts to use. The most important consideration is whether the text is suitable for your candidates’ proficiency level. Reading requires a lot of energy, especially when dealing with unfamiliar vocabulary and structures. The greater the gap between your candidates’ level and the level required means the greater the chance they will lose motivation and focus, which is why sourcing authentic texts can be so challenging—maybe you find the perfect article but the text’s language is too sophisticated. The time it takes to source a text that ticks all the boxes might ultimately put you off using authentic texts altogether. Before giving up, consider modifying a text to achieve your target level, which may ultimately take less time than finding that perfect text. In this TESOL article I will share the process I have used for vetting and developing the texts for candidates targeting an IELTS band 5.0.
1- Establishing the Target:
Before I could source texts suitable to band 5.0, I had to understand what band 5.0 readings looked like. Using our course book—Complete IELTS Bands 4 – 5 from Cambridge UP—I analyzed several of the readings for their average total word count as well as a general impression of their complexity. Next I used Fry’s Readability Graph to establish the equivalent grade-level readability (for native speaker) of these texts. The readings averaged a total of 450 words and band 5.0 readability was roughly equivalent to a native speaker reading at grade 10. I based my understanding of the suitability of the vocabulary and grammatical strucutres on the CEFR descriptors for a B1+ language learner, which is roughly equivalent to IELTS band 5.0.
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2- Vetting the Text:
Next I searched online for texts on my desired topic that roughly aligned with my sense of what my candidates could manage. Very rarely would I find a perfect match, but simply copying and pasting the text into Fry’s Readability Graph allowed me to quickly determine how far off my target readability each text was. If the text was too far off but I still wanted to use it, then I would set about modifying it until I achieved the target.
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3- Modifying the Text:
Fry’s Readability Graph is quite straightforward; it looks at two factors—the average number of sentences and the average word length per every 100 words of text. The longer the sentences and the longer the words means the higher the grade level, so modifying a text to achieve a lower grade-level readability is simply a matter of simplifying its vocabulary and grammatical structures. I would then copy and paste the text into MS Word and set about breaking up longer, more complex sentence structures and choosing simpler alternatives to lengthy, more complex vocabulary, incorporating our target words and grammatical concepts as much as possible. Once that was complete, I would plunk the text back into Fry’s Readability Graph to determine if I had reached the desired readability.
4- Assessing for Suitability:
The last step in the process is assessing how your candidates managed with the modified text and consider ways in which it may require further developing. A little challenging is okay, especially as you want your IELTS candidates to be relying on other skills essential for success in the IELTS exam beyond 100% comprehension, such as deriving meaning from context or using keywords when scanning for detailed information. Once you’ve honed your tools for vetting and developing authentic texts and seen positive results with your candidates, then you’ll be sure to produce more effective lessons to help them prepare for the IELTS reading test.
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