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The Effect of Authentic Materials on Reading Comprehension

by Alicia Anthony

Authentic materials are in imperative part of a well-rounded reading program. By definition, authentic materials are those that mimic what students would find in the outside world. It is a text that is not produced for the sole purpose of teaching reading or language skills. Authentic texts are meant to foster engagement and interest in students while delivering important reading instruction. Studies have shown that students have higher comprehension when they are motivated and engaged in the texts they are reading, thus providing an excellent argument for use of authentic texts to bolster reading comprehension.

Examples of Authentic Texts

Since anything not produced for the sole purpose of teaching a skill is considered authentic, the list of possibilities is nearly endless. Speeches given by political figures, song lyrics, poetry, cartoons, newspaper articles and editorials as well as websites are all considered authentic texts. Literature, whether a picture book or novel is authentic text as well as published non-fiction texts. The variety from which to choose is vast and one of the advantages of using authentic texts in reading instruction.

Advantages of Using Authentic Texts

The first and foremost advantage to using authentic texts is that they are easy to find. There is a plethora of literature and media available from which to choose. Authentic texts are generally up to date, especially texts pulled from websites and other online sources. Use of these texts allows students to get used to reading in the real world which increases student motivation and interest, key factors in advancing comprehension strategies. Using pre-reading, while-reading and after-reading strategies are important aspects of an authentic text based reading program.

Disadvantages of Using Authentic Texts

The main disadvantages of using authentic texts are that the reading level can vary greatly within one piece, they can include advanced vocabulary which can cause frustration for struggling readers. Another disadvantage is the length. Many authentic texts tend to be fairly long, which is often hard to accommodate in a typical classroom setting. Finally, some authentic texts can be culturally biased. All of these disadvantages, though, can be overcome by careful selection of texts and knowledgeable instructors. Vocabulary should be taught as part of the pre-reading strategy, enabling readers to better understand the text at hand.

What Research Shows

Studies show that the use of authentic materials does increase overall motivation which in turn advances comprehension skills. These texts introduce students to real world language that will benefit them as they develop life long reading habits. Disadvantages of using authentic materials can be addressed by carefully selecting the texts that are used with students. Teachers should take into account the piece's linguistic, psychological and cognitive simplicity and make sure it is appropriate for the audience. Authentic texts should be appropriate in terms of grammatical structure, age-appropriate themes, and social norms. The overall benefits to student comprehension far outweigh the disadvantages when the texts are carefully chosen and instruction is competent.

About the Author

Alicia Anthony is a seasoned educator with more than 10 years classroom experience in the K-12 setting. She holds a Master of Education in literacy curriculum and instruction and a Bachelor of Arts in communications. She is completing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing: fiction, and working on a novel.

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