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close this bookEnglish for Specific Purposes (ESP): Teaching English for Specific Purposes (Peace Corps, 1986, 110 p.)
close this folderChapter Five: Materials selection and development
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAssessing Reading Difficulty
View the documentSelecting Materials
View the documentDeveloping Your own Materials
View the documentUsing Commercial Materials
View the documentGroup work
View the documentError Correction
View the documentTesting
View the documentHelping students learn outside the classroom
View the documentFor Teachers whose Students are U.S.-Bound

Assessing Reading Difficulty

When choosing texts for use in the language classroom, your goal is to select passages that challenge the students without being too difficult. If you want to determine in advance whether a particular text will be too difficult for your students, you can use the following procedure to find out whether your students will be able to understand it. This exercise should not be overdone -use it to check a few passages you plan to use and then use those as general guidelines for selection of other texts.

Following is a procedure for construction of a cloze passage to check reading level and difficulty. Such a passage is easily made and easily scored. Follow these steps:

1. Choose a passage of approximately 250 words from the text you are considering for use in the classroom.

2. Reproduce the 200 words on a mimeo worksheet, deleting every 5th word and replacing it with a blank. (Use 50 blanks for an easy percentage calculation when you correct them.) Note that names and numbers should be skipped when they come up as potential blanks, and the next word chosen.

3. Number the blanks for easy scoring. If you provide an answer sheet, students will not need- to write on the exercise itself and you will be able to refuse it.

4. Stress to the students that this is not a test. Tell them you are determining whether the material is at the right level of difficulty for them to read. Ask them to read the passage and write an appropriate word in each blank. Do not time the test; give students ample time to complete it.

Evaluating the results:

1. For ease and speed in correcting the papers, accept as correct answers only those words from the original text which were deleted. Students may provide synonyms which are appropriate, but accepting these will not help you decide if the reading selection is appropriate for the whole class. (Looking at such answers may help you when working with students individually or as they work together in diagnostic or learning situations.)

2. Compute the average score of the whole class's performance. Second language students will not be able to fill in more than 60-70% of even easy material. Evaluate the results according to these guidelines:

If the class's average score is greater than 53% (independent reading level), they can probably read the story on their own or at home If the average score is less than 43% (frustration level) it is too difficult even for classwork. The ideal is to get a set of scores for all students which is greater than 43% and less than 53% This material can then be used for instructional purposes.

(From John F. Haskell, in Classroom Practices in Adult ESL, TESOL, Washington, D.C. Copyright 1978 by Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Reprinted by permission of the publisher and John Haskell.)

These figures are not absolute, but they can provide you with an initial indication of the suitability of materials for classwork and independent reading. Experiment with your own group to find the right level of material.