How to engage students with a text-based language teaching approach?

Students working with text books to learn languages

The ability to understand a text written in their target language and to extract the key information from it is an important learning objective for many second language learners. Whether it’s deciphering a menu, a travel timetable or completing a residency form, language learners must have a wide experience of handling all types of text.

The text-based language teaching methodology is therefore widely used to build overall communication skills and fluency in a second language. Our first blog post on the theme introduced the text-based language teaching method and provided a general overview of how this approach would help and support teachers. This second post provides more specific information about actually deploying a text-based teaching approach in your classroom and how can you engage your students using this approach.


What is the text-based teaching strategy?

According to Feez and Joyce’s 1998 work on the teaching and learning cycle, text-based instruction is directly based on a language teaching model which focuses on 4 key elements.

  • Teaching explicitly about the structures and grammatical features of spoken and written texts.
  • Linking spoken and written texts to the cultural context of their use.
  • Designing units of work which focus on developing skills in relation to whole texts.
  • Providing students with guided practice as they develop language skills for meaningful communication through whole texts.

We’ll work through the above in further detail later in this post, but it’s worth emphasising at this point the different types of text that teachers might use in the classroom. The Methods In ELT blog actually identifies 8 different types of texts. They are:

  1. Procedures (e.g instructions to build a piece of furniture or a recipe to cook a dish)
  2. Explanations (e.g. text that explains how and why things work / occur)
  3. Expositions (e.g. magazine / newspaper features or reviews, views and debate pieces)
  4. Factual recounts (e.g. newspaper reports in print or online)
  5. Personal recounts (e.g. diary/blog entries, interviews, biographies, autobiographies)
  6. Information reports (e.g. fact sheets)
  7. Narratives (e.g. stories and fiction writing)
  8. Conversations and short functional texts (e.g. text and SMS messages, formal/informal letters, e-mail)

It’s clearly important that educators select appropriate model texts to support students to build their knowledge and skills. Texts should be related and relevant to the specific area of study; provide models of good writing in the specific genre (spelling mistakes are an obvious no-no!); offer clear illustrations of different grammatical structures and how these shape the text itself and most importantly are just beyond the level at which students can read independently.


Using the Teaching and Learning Cycle in your classroom

As outlined in the diagram below, Feez and Joyce provide a clear model of how educators can use a text-based teaching and learning model in their classrooms. The model is clearly scaffolded ensuring that students have a clear understanding of each stage before they are ready to move on to the next. Progress is clear, even and consistent and students know what is expected of them at every stage.

Diagram describing the stages of text-based language teaching approach

1. Building the context

This stage is focused on building up students’ shared understanding of the text before starting work – this ensures that everyone begins at a similar starting point. Educators should aim to provide a clear background for the text, explaining any necessary information that helps students (e.g when it was written, who it was written by etc.). This can be done through a variety of verbal or visual means, which are closely tailored to the student group.

The following tasks can be used by teachers to establish students’ prior knowledge, build field knowledge and support students to move to a more specific level of understanding:

  • Building mind maps 
  • Experiments
  • Guided discussions
  • Vocabulary building.


2. Modeling and deconstructing the text

In this stage students’ focus shifts from the broader field of study to look specifically at the type of text being studied (e.g fiction or newspapers). Students should be encouraged to compare their model text to other examples of the genre.

Teachers often therefore include explicit teaching about specific elements within the model text to illustrate a point or conduct close examination of particular language features of the text. This for example includes the use of prepositional phrases of place to establish setting in a narrative, or the use of relating verbs in defining technical terms in an explanation.

Why not consider the following exercises as part of this stage with your students?

  • Annotate the text to highlight key elements (e.g adjectives, verbs etc)
  • Looking for patterns in structure, grammar etc.
  • Compare with other examples of the genre
  • Contrast the model text with different genres of content


3. Joint construction of the text

In this stage, which is also known as guided practice, students focus on the composition of their own version of the text. This is usually created through directed and informed dialogue with an expert ‘other’ – this is normally their teacher but could also be a peer in pair or group work.

The joint construction of a text enables students to demonstrate the understanding they have developed so far. Educators play a key role here in supporting students to develop their responses through prompts, questions, paraphrasing, elaborating on responses or thinking aloud (Rossbridge & Rushton, 2015). Important processes of writing such as drafting and editing are also modeled during this phase.


4. Independent construction of the text

Independent composition takes place when students are ready to create their own texts or to work through model texts on their own. They are able to confidently draw upon the knowledge and skills developed in the previous stages of the cycle.

In this stage students work independently, although the teacher may guide their composition or support their comprehension as required. Typically students may be required to respond to tasks which test the core language skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing and their responses are invariably used for assessment purposes.


5. Linking related texts

In the final stage of the teaching and learning cycle, students are encouraged to reflect upon their learning and to consider how it could be applied more broadly. This can mean exploring how it adds to their understanding of other elements of the curriculum or other types of similar / different texts.

Encourage students to consider how the grammatical forms or structures used in newspaper articles, for example, differ from or are similar to those used in fiction / novels. Students could also explore if there is a difference between the spoken and written forms of the same text type. Or role-play the impact that different text forms have in other circumstances / forms of communication.


How effective is the text-based teaching model?

Text-based teaching provides a powerful mixed curriculum for students combining a variety of components of text such as grammar, vocabulary, topics and functions. It can be used to integrate oral communication with reading and writing and teaches key concepts through the mastery of different text forms rather than in isolation.

However critics have argued that text-based teaching is primarily focused on the products of learning (i.e outputs) rather than the processes involved. They have also identified that the approach is heavily dependent on the repetitive review of model texts and that the creation of new text is solely based on those models. Educators do therefore need to ensure that opportunities for individual creativity and personal expression are maximised when using this approach to their language teaching.

As always, our advice is try out the text-based language teaching approach in your specific context and review the impact it has. And if there’s room for improvement, why not try out some of the other language teaching approaches!

Whatever language teaching approaches you use to engage and inspire your students, Sanako’s market-leading tools include a wealth of unique features that help language educators teach languages more efficiently and more successfully. It’s why the world’s leading educational institutions choose Sanako as their preferred supplier to support online and in-person lesson delivery.


If you are interested in learning more about how Sanako products support language teachers and students and would like to see how they could benefit your institution, book a FREE remote demo now to see them in action.

Blog CTAs-2