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Teaching Literacy Skills for EAP Courses

Teaching Literacy Skills for EAP Courses
Admin - Jun 03 2018

Reading is considered a passive skill… why is it important for EAPs?

For starters, let’s address this right off the bat... Yes, reading can be a passive skill when compared to the more “active” skills like speaking and writing. It has to do with input vs. output. With listening and reading, we’re generally just receiving input, whereas with speaking and writing we are the ones actively producing the output. However, one could argue that reading done well is a very active skill.


There most certainly is a difference between a passive and an active reader. With active reading, you’re not just reading for basic comprehension, but reading for total understanding, interpretation, and application. Active readers should be able to summarize, synthesize, and broaden their scope of understanding in order to apply the knowledge gained through reading into other skills sets. For example, being able to speak to an audience about their readings, book discussions, and or writing responses to a reading or synthesizing research reading into a literature review and proposing their own next steps in the field. Creating active readers should be a major goal of any English for Academic Purposes (EAP) course.


How do we make our students active and engaged academic readers?

Obviously, creating active engaged EAP readers is of paramount importance, but how exactly do you as an educator effect this change in the classroom?... By developing our students’ literacy skills, namely by: previewing new vocab prior to a reading, utilizing Read-Alongs in your classroom, specifically teaching collocations, and finally, by making reading assessment active.  Below, each of these literacy skills will be addressed, defined, and will have highlighted in-classroom applications.

Previewing New Vocab

Before approaching a new academic reading in the classroom, it is important to preview new vocabulary from the reading –meaning you as the educator will point out new unfamiliar words, pronounce them, and define them for students. (A more active classroom activity might be to give students these new words situated in sentences with known vocabulary words to be used for context clues, and asking students to define the word themselves.) Unknown words within a reading distract the reader. The reader has to pause to either contemplate the meaning and/or define the word with the help of a dictionary which can often lead to a breakdown in overall comprehension or misinterpreting the flow of the reading as a whole. These sorts of distractions can be daunting to the reader and may lead to feelings of inadequate language proficiency.


Utilizing Read-Alongs

It is a common practice to have students read aloud during in-class settings. This has some merits, but by and large does more harm than good. It increases some students’ anxiety, and this level of anxiety influences their pronunciation. Since pronunciation assessment is one of the major reasons an educator may choose to have students read aloud in the first place, you can see how this logic is flawed.


However, listening to a fluent teacher read to them allows students to hear correct pronunciation and flow. By reading along with your students through a reading, you are involving listening skills and reading skills simultaneously. These read alongs also provide educators with an excellent opportunity to check for comprehension as they move along. The previewed vocabulary can only cover so much. Invariably, there will be more words that need explanation throughout the reading in order to aid in maximum comprehension.

Finally, read alongs also allow the educator to pause during the reading and connect the reading to other materials fro class –demonstrating how students can apply the knowledge they gain from a reading to other areas of their academic careers. Thus, making reading active in your classroom.


Teaching Collocations

Collocations are two or more words that frequently appear together. For example, make the bed, feel free, to do homework (as opposed to make the homework or any other verb a native speaker would not use here). Being familiar with collocations increases overall fluency, increases reading speeds, and improves comprehension. Obviously, the better a student knows a word a word or phrase, the less time they have to spend mentally translating it in their head. Knowing groups of words that often appear together obviously aids in this


Assess Reading Actively

Finally, assessing reading should go beyond passive surface comprehension questions. Obviously, an educator should still ask comprehension questions, but there is a way to do this actively… go beyond simple answers. In place of asking surface comprehension questions, ask your students to show you where they have found the answers to the comprehension questions within the reading. Ask them to paraphrase the author’s words. Teach the to work with the text as though it is a living document –a partner in their search for knowledge.

Additionally, an effective educator will ask critical thinking questions. Ask students to apply the reading to their personal and/or academic lives. Ask them to select specific passages that speak to them, or connect to them on a personal or professional level. Teach them to quote the author’s words and then expand on them by adding their own.



Reading may seem like a deceptively easy skill to teach. However, to be an active reader that engages with the text takes instruction. That instruction is your responsibility as the instructor in an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) course. These literacy skills will be the foundation for their future academic success.

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