Teaching reading online vs. Teaching reading face-to-face

Due to the current situation generated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the English teaching methodology has undergone major changes. The teachers had to adapt their methods to the new circumstances and use more than ever web 2.0 tools to make the lessons more effective and interesting. In fact, they were forced to reinvent themselves and find online educational tools to continue their activity and keep the teacher-student connections alive.

The information included in this article is based on my almost 2-year research and personal experience since the Covid-19 pandemic started in March 2020. The aim of the article is to identify:  the similarities and differences between teaching reading face-to-face and online, which reading activities can be done synchronously and which asynchronously and the parents’ role in this context.  It is true that teaching reading online is different from teaching it face-to-face, but it is not less effective, and we will see why.

Reading is one of the four language skills and a

skill is commonly defined as an ability to do something well or with expertise. In education, skill refers to an ability acquired through planned, deliberate, and systematic effort (Rhalmi, 2019).

To be more precise, reading is a receptive skill together with listening as the meaning is extracted from the written discourse whereas speaking and writing are productive skills, which means that students use all and any language at their disposal to achieve communicative purpose (Harmer, 2005).

When teaching reading, either face-to-face or online, the teacher should take into consideration the following aspects:

  1. The aim of teaching reading is to help learners develop the necessary skills to understand and interpret written materials. Therefore, the teacher must avoid focusing only on testing the students’ performance in getting the meaning of the texts and aim. They should focus on training them to use the reading strategies that enable them to deal with any type of text.
  2. We read for a purpose, either to get specific information or the gist (general idea of the text).
  3. Reading, like listening, is not passive as while reading, we use important cognitive processes.

Teaching reading both face-to-face and online presents a number of problems which need to be addressed, such as: language, topic, the tasks the students have to perform and the expectations they have.

Language problems. Students will always find unknown words in a text they have to read. Therefore, it is advisable to pre-teach these language elements through a brief presentation and explanation before starting the comprehension questions or ask them to look them up in the dictionary. However, teachers should be cautious not to explain every difficult word or structure when they want their students to make an effort to get the general meaning of the text. When it is the case, they have to warn their students that they have to get the general meaning in spite of the presence of difficult language that they might not know.

Sometimes the topic is not interesting or the students are not familiar with the text genre. That’s why they might be reluctant to engage with the activity. Therefore, it is advisable to choose topics which students will be interested in and create interest by talking about the topic, by showing a picture for prediction, giving them a few words from the text and asking them to predict the topic of the text etc.

The tasks test the students rather than help them understand. So, the tasks that encourage students to improve their reading skills are those which raise their expectations, provoke an examination of the text, help them understand the language and text construction (Harmer, 2005).

In general, students have low expectations of reading and they are de-motivated from the very beginning because they know they will come across unknown words. That’s why, the teacher should motivate them to change their negative attitude.

Similarities between teaching reading face-to-face and online:

  • The lesson structure is similar- we have the same stages: pre-reading activities to encourage and motivate students to want to read; while-reading activities during which students have to complete a task; after-reading activities, like a discussion based on the text.
  • The students can read the text in or out of the class depending on their age, level and the type of text. With very young learners, the teacher should read the text together with them in the online or face-to-face lesson to develop both their literacy and reading skills. The older students are not so dependent on the teacher, so they can read it individually in or out of the lesson.
  • Students need to understand the text and to learn reading strategies which can be used in subsequent assignments and throughout their lives.
  • Teachers should teach reading strategies explicitly in order that students can recognize them and apply to other texts.
  • The teacher should make the vocabulary accessible either by pre-teaching some unknown words or by teaching the students how to use online dictionaries to access unfamiliar words individually.
  • The teacher should activate prior knowledge to help students understand better the text by guiding them to connect the new knowledge to existing knowledge. To create mind maps, the teacher can use the whiteboard or documents; to build background knowledge – virtual trips, virtual gallery walks; to display answers- Google Forms and Mentimeter.
  • The teacher should monitor their progress. Online, in a synchronous lesson, they should ask them to write the answers in a shared Google document. In this way, the teacher will know who is keeping up with the rest and who is confused. Asynchronously, the teacher can assign them to read a passage and record themselves and then, they can provide a recorded feedback.
  • Both online and face-to-face lessons require adaptive teaching, so if the students react well to the theme, the teacher should bring YouTube videos/ images to stimulate conversation. Of course, this depends on the equipment available in one’s school.
  • Preparing the teaching materials for the online lesson is more time-consuming than for the face-to-face lesson and the teachers has to prepare them very carefully and minutely anticipating all the possible problems the students might come across.


  • Students work more independently in online lessons. Therefore, the teacher has to give them the necessary tools to understand the text and they have to support them to become independent. They have to adapt the tools they use in the classroom to online learning.
  • The online lessons are environmentally friendly as the hardcover books and paper handouts are replaced by digital versions which can be shared with them. They can use the drawing tools for annotation on the screen when the students are scanning or skimming a text.
  • Students will be focusing on a screen and the teacher needs to fill it with stimulating pictures and text to grab their attention.
  • In online lessons, it’s difficult to switch pages and the teacher has to consider this when using comprehension questions after covering a reading text. The teacher should split the text into 3-5 slides and for the comprehension questions he/she should create another slide.

In the online context, parents have to help and support their children more. In order to help both parents and students, the teacher should use:

  • recorded videos of him/her while reading the text, breaking up a word to read it, retelling, etc. The students can rewatch them and practise. To do this they can use recording apps that allow both displaying the text and recording such as, Screencast-o-matic, OpenBoard etc.
  • digital anchor charts for students and families to refer back to (take screenshots and paste them on Google Slides).
  • create a class on Google Classroom where students and parents can find the supporting resources uploaded by the teacher (screenshots, their recorded videos, etc.).

Which reading activities can be done synchronously and which asynchronously?

Reading requires a number of complex skills and the teacher has to prepare the students to acquire them and become expert readers. Throughout the reading text, an expert reader uses bottom-up and top-down skills. This can be done only in the synchronous lesson.

In the synchronous lesson, the teacher should teach the reading strategies as preparation for the reading that occurs in asynchronous learning. If the students have to scan a text, the teacher should do this in the class to develop this reading skill. If they have to skim a text, they can do it at home and in the class the teacher can check the answers and if they understood the text. In the synchronous lesson, the teacher can work on substitution and ellipses based on the text by asking questions to guide them.

The teacher should be a model for the students by showing them how to approach a text. He/She can do this synchronously, in a live teaching lesson, or asynchronously, on a recorded video. The teacher can read a text to model pacing, use questions to demonstrate strategies like analysing text features, making connections etc.

Collaborative activities, like reconstructing a text, answering comprehension questions, can be done in breakout rooms in the synchronous lesson.

In conclusion, teaching reading online can be as effective and interesting as teaching it face-to-face as long as the teacher motivates the students to read the text and teaches them the necessary reading strategies. For online classes, the teacher does more preparation than for the face-to-face classes as they have to help students more, to prepare to become more independent, and at the same time, help parents, who most of the time take the teacher’s role.

– Ferguson, Catharine, 2020, Adapting Reading Comprehension Instruction to Virtual Learning. Retrieved from: www.edutopia.org/article/adapting-reading-comprehension-instruction-virtual-learning on 9 January 2022.
– Harmer, Jeremy, 2005, The Practice of English Language Teaching, Third Edition, Longman.
– Rhalmi, Mohammed, 2019, Teaching receptive skills to ESL and EFL learners. Reatrieved from https://www.myenglishpages.com/blog/teaching-receptive-skills/ on 9 January 2022.
– Tips for Teaching Reading Online (in K-2). Retrieved from: learningattheprimarypond.com/blog/tips-for-teaching-reading-online-in-k-2/ on 9 January 2022.
Teaching skills online vs. Teaching skills face-to-face. Retrieved from: www.futurelearn.com/info/courses/online-tutoring/0/steps/40868 on 9 January 2022.
How to teach ESL reading online. Retrieved from: www.off2class.com/teach-esl-reading-online/ on 9 January 2022.


prof. Ștefania Manea

Colegiul Național Mihai Eminescu, Petroșani (Hunedoara) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/stefania.manea

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