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Academic Textbook Reading

  • 1.  Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 21-06-2017 12:09
    Hi All,

    I'm sure this is not a new problem nor a new discussion, but I am looking for insights into helping students be able to read and comprehend academic textbooks that they read in US universities and then successfully pass quizzes on those textbooks.

    Here are my questions:

    1. What textbook(s) do Bridge/EAP courses use for reading that prepare students for the rigors of academic reading?

    2. What strategies do you teach students that they can use when they enter their academic classes?

    We currently use an academic textbook as the text in our highest level IEP course, but students feel completely overwhelmed when attempting to read it despite the work and strategies practice in class. When I look at ESL textbooks, the readings are short (no more than 3 pages). This does not seem to prepare students to read 30 page chapters.

    Looking forward to hearing your ideas!


    Sarah Wood
    Coordinator of the IEP
    Saint Francis University

  • 2.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 22-06-2017 10:02

    This problem depends on whether youré teaching them English or the subject itself. Academic reading has two dififculties: 1. Not knowing enough English to understand academic reading and 2. Not knowing enough about the subject to understand the reading.

    Are they university level students in a a foreign country or in the US studying the subject or English?
    Do you know if they have a suitable level of English? In other words, can they read?

    I don´t use ESL or EFL academic texts because many times they´ve been simplified supposedly to improve understanding but have no relationship with the difficulties of reading university level textbooks.

    I have used TOEFL and other language tests reading samples and questions because they´re usually short and give you time to discuss questions and answer after they answer a section (10 questions followed by discussion up to 40 questions). This only helps to improve comprehension.

    Another method would be to have them read the chapter as homework then work with them creating an outline of the reading in class and then discussing the material to determine if it´s understood.

    Hope this helps and if possible provide us with some more details.


    Sergio Lozano
    Scientific Publications Coordinator
    Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon

  • 3.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 22-06-2017 10:13
    I have been teaching NNS matriculated in degree programs for three semesters; I have done #1, #3, and #4 below;  in fall I'm going to add #3 :

    1. Promote independent vocabulary acquisition because the biggest burden in reading authentic academic texts is unfamiliar vocabulary.
    2. Include extensive reading of authentic texts to build up stamina. Extensive reading assignments need to be long because, as you mentioned, students are assigned long chapters in their academic courses. Since the purpose is stamina, I also choose authentic texts that I think students actually could sit down and read for long stretches of time without looking up dozens of words, and the comprehension assignments related to the reading are big picture--not requiring extremely accurate recall of details.
    3. Use the academic readings in the textbooks to demonstrate and practice specific strategies; assignments related to these shorter but more challenging texts do relate to understanding and recalling details; assess students ability to use the strategies in quizzzes, midterms, finals, etc.
    4. Include paced reading activities using in the classrom.

    I have very small classes and have not quantitatively assessed my success, so I can't make any claims.

    Dianne Loyet
    University of Illinois at Springfield IEP

  • 4.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 22-06-2017 10:28
    I teach younger students but at one time I worked at a community college. We taught all our students to read textbooks using the SQ3R strategy. I think today it is called PQ3R. Anyway, here are the steps:
    P/S = preview or survey the chapter using the headings, illustrations and graphics to
    Q = question what you will be reading (connecting to background knowledge and setting a purpose for reading)
    R = read the chapter stopping often to
    R = recite what you have read (summarize).
    At the end of the chapter use the headings to
    R = review what the chapter was about.

    I don't remember who came up with this system but students who use it can do well in any class.

    Janice Cate, NBCT
    ESL Teacher
    Madison County Public School District
    United States

  • 5.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 22-06-2017 12:08
    This is a strategic approach, and does not directly address either the basic linguistic issues or the broader problems of detailed comprehension and schema building.  That said, this does help.  First, activate prior knowledge, by any means possible (word attack, graphic and heading analysis, etc.).  Before the student reads, they should try to PREDICT what the chapter might be about, and search for any connections (however tenuous) the supposed topic might have to anything they already know.  Then CAREFULLY read the questions, and make sure that they are fully understood.  Then comes the part that might be counter-intuitive.  Read the conclusion.  IF the chapter is well-constructed (and it might well NOT be, so watch out!), the conclusion should provide a summary of the important ideas of the chapter.  Students should then compare this to their pre-reading activation work.  Does the conclusion align with their assumptions about the chapter?  If so, great!  Progress is being made.  If not, keep trying.  At this point also see if any answers to the chapter questions are actually in the conclusion.  If not, are their outlines or approximations of possible future answers, that will help guide the student in the skimming & scanning that is to come?  Next, read the introduction.  Same procedure as for concluding paragraph(s).  THEN, go back to the questions, do the key word scanning, the gist skimming, but focus on the need to accomplish the task in a reasonable amount of time.  The research I am familiar with suggests that the #1 reason NNS students drop out of college is the VOLUME of reading.  They simply cannot keep up.

    I would also suggest, as a strategy, that students be as clear as possible regarding the expectations of the professor/instructor.  Does he/she want a regurgitation of "learned truth," or a thoughtful analysis (which may include the simple admission that some key point has not been understood).  The cultural background of the students has a strong impact on their willingness and basic ability to process information in ways that are values in English-speaking education.  A student who has spent her life having it made clear to her that her opinions are of no value, and therefore, of no interest to the teacher, is unlikely EVER to thrive in a class where the professor's subtext, throughout the seminar, is "What do YOU think?"  If you are working with students who do not come from a background of analysis and synthesis, you must walk them through the process so that they understand the expectations, the thinking involved, and the shape of a successful response.

    Karl Smith
    Lead Teacher
    EC San Francisco

  • 6.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 22-06-2017 13:32
    The problem you raise is a critical one for teaching academic reading to ESL students. Our program at Houston Community College has followed the statewide developmental trend in offering an integrated reading/writing course as our capstone for the ESOL developmental sequence.  For this text, I am currently using New Directions by Peter Gardner (Cambridge University Press), which offers relevant readings on five themes (Culture, Education, Technology, Gender and Work).  The texts are generally 5-7 pages long, and are from authentic sources, with minimal editing (mainly vocabulary glossing).  I like the book, and think that the texts are just challenging enough for an advanced student.

    Here's the Amazon URL: New Directions: Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking (Cambridge Academic Writing Collection)
    Amazon remove preview
    New Directions: Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking (Cambridge Academic Writing Collection)
    New Directions, Second Edition is a thematic reading-writing book aimed at the most advanced ESL learners. The Student's Book prepares students for the rigors of college-level writing by having them read long, challenging, authentic readings as a precursor to writing. This emphasis on reading giv...
    View this on Amazon >

    The book has a couple of negatives:
    1.  The essays are a bit dated (late 90s to early 2000s), which is a problem in the technology essays, where students may ask what Compuserve is;
    2. More to the point, I have heard a rumor that the book is going out of print, which I think will be a shame.

    I also have used and very much enjoyed Bridge to College Success, by Heather Robertson (Heinle ELT).  This is a book for advanced college-bound ESOL learners, and is based entirely on freshman/sophomore college textbooks.  Very nice authentic sources.

    Good luck with your search.

    David Ross
    Associate Chair, ESL/Intensive English
    Houston Community College
    Houston, TX

  • 7.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 23-06-2017 06:28
    Hello all!

    I'm i've just joined the group and i'll not want to be passive just yet. However,i've read Sara's message and my proposal is that she should rather try as much as possible to get these textbooks summarized for the students to read and have a clue within the shortest time. I do face the same challenges here in Cameroon where we practise ESL but students in the Francophone regions take English as EFL which is not correct. So i most often summarize textbooks;have them read the story line as fast as possible then get into the book itself. I have also noticed that when most students have a clue of story, they're most often curious to read the whole book within the shortest time.

    Aloysius Tegomoh

  • 8.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 22-06-2017 23:21

    Hi Sarah,

    "I'm sure this is not a new problem nor a new discussion, but I am looking for insights into helping students be able to read and comprehend academic textbooks that they read in US universities and then successfully pass quizzes on those textbooks."

      If I were you, I would lower your academic performance expectations and find reading materials you feel more suitable for your students' English knowledge.  Now that you know they are unprepared for college level academic work, do some minor research on how to improve their reading skills. The only drawback---might be that you will need to have either a written or verbal approval from your school administrators---for the modification of your learning materials or the textbooks itself. 

    In retrospect, if you are fully in-charged of the classroom, you have the right-of-way to do whatever you see fit for your students learning needs.  Don't expect to see high marks on their tests, but work with your students based on "what they already know" learning ability and skills.

    Texts and Quizzes:  I would re-teach your lesson (s) to them [my teaching philosophy] and give your students pre-examination before the actual exams administration---to collect for grades.  Use the practice texts or quizzes to gage their knowledge and understanding of the learning materials---you have already taught them.  If you are detecting "slow" progress, try Q&A discussion-ask which part of the lesson (s) they are having great difficulty with and re-explain those points.  Teach their learning materials the size of a teaspoon vs a tablespoon (if you will); especially in reading instruction.                

    Here are my questions: 

    1. What textbook(s) do Bridge/EAP courses use for reading that prepare students for the rigors of academic reading?

      Your students are underprepared for rigorous college level coursework.  I would contact the Bridge Company directly or visit their website for appropriate learning materials---designed for ESL Adult English Learners.  I'm not that familiar with Bridge Company, though, I have heard of them.

    2.  What strategies do you teach students that they can use when they enter their academic classes? 

      Teaching reading to adult students is one tough job---I taught near senior citizens folks before---in a volunteer teaching capacity---it was not so easy.  Have you tried reading the materials in increments---as opposed to having them read the entire book page?  Discuss a paragraph size reading page and reflect what they had read---this is the comprehension portion of your lesson.  Have them do some kind of course related projects to offset low grades, (i,e., handmade projects; short writings; solo overhead projection reading; a presentation, reading assignments to collect as part of their grades and so forth).     

      As a rule of thumb, the ESL teaching domain is based on the foundation of Developmental Learning Progress.  In fact, the last university where I taught from---the ESL Program was classified as---Immersion.  I taught practically every day and the entire ESL Program [classes] took two years [standard] to complete and majority of the students were enrolled in degree completion programs.

    MerriLee Leonard
    College Teacher


  • 9.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 23-06-2017 10:41

    There are some great answers on this thread; I particularly appreciate Karl's comments about teaching students to clarify their instructors' expectations. The reading process is affected significantly by one's purpose for reading, but students often don't realize this; nor do they generally have strategies either for discovering the reading purpose or for matching reading purpose to reading style.

    I'd like to add a few ideas to the ones that have already been posted. The strategies outlined below play a key role in my work with L2 students who are transitioning into "mainstream" classes at the post-secondary level:

    1) use reading guides
    2) teach students how to notice various linguistic and rhetorical elements of the texts they read


    A carefully crafted reading guide can turn a daunting text into a doable task. This process of making texts manageable is crucial to student success: when students realize that they can read a lengthy, authentic, college-level text - albeit with the help of a reading guide - they'll be encouraged to continue reading. The more they practice reading, the better and more confident they'll become.

    In addition to boosting students' confidence, reading guides serve many valuable purposes. To begin with, reading guides can include questions that not only check students' comprehension of the content but also prepare them for classroom discussion. Reading guides can likewise include questions that call students' attention to and ask them to reflect on the use of specific vocabulary items, syntactical structures, rhetorical strategies, or stylistic conventions. Moreover, consistent use of reading guides can help students learn the following:

    a) what kinds of information to look for and to take note of as they read
    b) that it's OK to skim sometimes
    c) that it's OK if they don't understand every single word of the text, as long as they get the gist
    d) that it's OK (in fact, it's often desirable!) to question what they read / to argue with the text
    e) what kinds of questions to ask about the text


    Noticing is a vital skill for L2 students. Friendly and compassionate instructors won't always be around to scaffold assignments, to point out important features of texts, or to offer constructive feedback on students' use of language. Thus, it's important that students learn to notice as much as they can about their own and others' use of language. Reading guides can facilitate noticing by calling students' attention to various elements of a text and asking them to reflect on the structure and use of those elements. Other noticing tasks include (but are certainly not limited to!) the following:

    1) require students to keep a vocabulary and syntax journal, in which they record 3-5 entries each week. Entries can consist of new vocabulary, interesting new sentence structures, or both. Entries should be culled from the texts that students read for their courses, although it may also be appropriate in the IEP setting to encourage students to pull entries from daily conversations, billboards, sale flyers, movies, etc. Incentivize students to use one or two entries from their journals each time they write a paper for your class, give a presentation, or contribute to class discussion.

    2) require students to keep a reflection journal, in which they respond to a variety of prompts relevant to their progress as language learners. For example, they might reflect on new reading or writing strategies they have learned, or they might reflect on a particularly successful (or unsuccessful!) conversation they recently had, trying to identify the elements that made said conversation particularly successful or unsuccessful. Or they might simply make a note each week of how confident they feel in their L2 abilities and why their confidence level has changed (or not) since the last entry.

    3) ask students to reflect on a series of noticing questions each time they read, write, speak or listen in the L2 for the first two or three weeks of class. These questions will prompt students to notice issues such as the following:

    a) how much time they spend looking up unfamiliar vocabulary while reading or listening
    b) how helpful it is, as a general rule, to spend time looking up unfamiliar vocabulary
    c) how often and in what ways they rely on the L1 when reading, writing, speaking, or listening in the L2
    d) when it is helpful - and when it is not so helpful - to rely on the L1
    e) when, how, and in what ways they can use paralinguistic cues or context as an aid to understanding or speaking

    Once students have made several weeks' worth of observations, they will begin to develop strategies for using both the L1 and the L2 more efficiently in completing L2 tasks. You can discuss students' observations and strategies in class; it's helpful if you also reflect on your own L2 use and share your observations and strategies with your students. This is a great way to build community, to boost students' confidence, and to learn new strategies from one another.

    4) ask students to complete noticing assignments, in which they observe the speech or written texts of NSs (or highly proficient NNSs) and report - orally, in writing, or both - on their observations. Students' reports should ideally contain some sort of personal language-learning or language-use goals based on the observations they made of NS texts and/or speech.

    I'm happy to share sample reading guides and/or noticing tasks. If anyone would like to take a look at these, drop me a line at or

    Happy teaching!

    Dr. Lori Randall, PhD
    Coordinator of Multilingual Learning
    Denison University, Granville, OH, USA

    Lori Randall

  • 10.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 25-06-2017 16:38
    Hi Sarah,

    At our EAP program, we are experiencing some success with a developmental reading series from Townsend Press called the Townsend Press Reading Series.  The series focuses on useful strategies and exposes our students to authentic North American academic rhetorical styles, vocabulary and idioms.  We work with Ss to tolerate the ambiguity of not understanding every single word and to focus more on clues to ascertain gist, sentence relationships and meaning.  The strategies are introduced at the sentence and paragraph level, practiced at first using paragraph texts, and then the last task is a multiple page reading followed by questions to check for use of the new strategy as well as recycling previously acquired strategies. There is a section at the back of the book of supplemental longer readings with questions to test multiple strategies, also.  There are not 30-page readings on one subject like a content textbook; however, we feel this series is scaffolding them up with the right strategies to eventually be successful with such long readings. Another perk of this series is the online Learning Center with accompanying exercises and mastery tests that promote learner self-assessment and auto-score mastery assessments for the instructors.  Finally, these materials are affordable compared to many ESL products.
    We use:
    • Groundwork for College Reading for our program level 2 & 3 (= CEFR A2+, B1)
    • Ten Steps to Building College Reading Skills for our program level 4 (=CEFR B1+)
    • Ten Steps to Improving College Reading Skills for our program level 5 (undergraduate exit level) (=CEFR B2)
    • Ten Steps to Advanced Reading for our program level 6 Graduate Capstone (=CEFR B2+, C1)
    I hope this is helpful.


    Terry Barakat
    English Language Academic Specialist
    The English Language Institute_Missouri State University

  • 11.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 29-06-2017 09:18
    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks so much for all these great teaching tips and advice. I really appreciate your diverse perspectives. I would not have come up with most of these on my own. What a great resource this discussion board is!


    Sarah Wood
    Coordinator of the IEP
    Saint Francis University

  • 12.  RE: Academic Textbook Reading

    Posted 02-07-2017 21:11

    Hi Sarah,


    I'm not sure how helpful this website might be for what you are looking for, but it's worth exploring-as it relates to ESL Reading Criteria.  I attended a regional TESOL Conference in my neck of the woods just recently---I met some of their staff there.  You may examine some of their Reading Textbooks Materials and order them if you like---New Readers Press. 





    MerriLee Leonard


    TESOL College Teacher