Authentic Realia and Reading

How to adapt authentic realia - for teachers; How to practice reading - for students; Personal experience - Conan Smeeth


Students’ motivation is a wild beast, that you can’t really tame. It comes and goes at its own volition, but there are ways to entice it to stay. One of such ways is to use authentic realia in class. It boosts students’ confidence in using the language outside of the classroom, exposes them to natural language and increases interest as it draws from real life contexts. 

What kind of realia can I use?

To practice listening you could use TV shows, radio, commercials, news broadcasts, documentaries, movies, phone messages etc. 

If you need something visual, look up photographs, art works, signs with symbols, postcards, picture books, memes etc. 

And reading can be done by using restaurant menus, newspaper articles, bulletin board advertisements, company websites, coupons, sales catalogues, travel brochures, maps, signs, blogs, movie posters, food labels, etc. 

Now, when you have decided on the type of realia, think of these three things:

1. Is it interesting to my students?

The materials should be applicable, practical and relevant. 

2. Is the length appropriate?

5-page articles and 30-minute videos will overwhelm and scare students.

3. How difficult is it?

Make sure your lesson plan reinforces the new vocabulary and has enough pre-teaching.

Why should I use realia? Isn’t a course book enough?

First of all, this is a chance for your students to experience “real” unadapted language. Students will encounter words and constructions that they’d probably never see in formal ESL materials. This includes slang, utterances and trendy words, that people use every day, and books simply can’t keep up.

Moreover, it will undoubtedly improve their listening skills, as students will have to filter out the background noises, and at times really concentrate to understand friends talking over one another. One more advantage is that authentic materials will certainly expose your students to culture, things that are inherently clear to a native speaker, but may confuse a foreigner. 

Of course, taking everything mentioned above into consideration, it will increase students’ motivation and better meet the learner’s needs.

What are some ways I can use this realia in class?

Take a weather report of some natural disaster, for example. Compare the photos before and after the event, discuss different natural disasters, weather. Pre-teach any difficult vocabulary used in the video and then watch it. You can also teach predictions, conditionals (what would you do if?), modals (what you must do during a hurricane) as a follow up activity.

Take a car commercial. You can show them visuals from the video and ask to describe their emotions, here you may want to teach adjectives, associations. If you show two different commercials for two types of cars, you can teach comparing, discuss what kind of message each brand broadcasts. A follow-up activity can be writing a scenario for a car commercial.

Use an authentic job advert (e.g. Students think of a dream job, then look through job ads on the website and find the one they would potentially like to apply for. Discuss the tone, compare requirements for different positions, role-play an interview, practice responding to the listing. You could also put together students’ CV in English or write a job advert for their current job.

An airbnb listing: students choose the city they would like to travel to, then find an apartment they like. Discuss what things are mentioned in the listing, what kind of vocabulary is used to appeal to potential customers, how photos create a certain atmosphere. You can also read reviews and see what kind of things people write about, how they describe their experience. Practice comparing the listing and reviews, roleplaying a reviewer’s experience or two friends choosing which accommodation to book. Study narrative tenses using examples for the reviews. A follow-up activity can be writing an attractive listing or a review.

Find an Instagram post or several posts under the same hashtag. First show pictures and brainstorm what kind of information they could illustrate, then match the pictures and posts. Look at the vocabulary used in each post, it is also possible to read a few comments. You could then ask students to think of what kind of hashtags they would use for each post; this will develop creative thinking, finding important information in the text, summary, understanding the writer’s message. A follow-up activity could be writing your own comment to the post or writing a post itself, based on the picture and hashtags. 


Right now you are reading English. That means that you are actively using your brain. Reading is a very active process. It is true that the writer does a lot of work, but the reader also has to work hard. When you read a text, you have to do some or all of these:

  • imagine a scene in your head

  • understand clearly what the writer is trying to say

  • agree or disagree with the writer

Advantages of Reading

When you learn a language, listening, speaking and writing are important, but reading can also be very helpful. There are many advantages associated with reading, including:

  • Learning Vocabulary In Context

You will usually encounter new words when you read. If there are too many new words for you, then the level is too high and you should read something simpler. But if there are, say, a maximum of five new words per page, you will learn this vocabulary more easily. You may not even need to use a dictionary because you can guess the meaning from the rest of the text (from the context). Not only do you learn new words, but you see them being used naturally.

  • A Model For Writing

When you read, it gives you a good example for writing. Texts that you read show you structures and expressions that you can use when you write.

  • Seeing "Correctly Structured" English

When people write, they usually use "correct" English with a proper grammatical structure. This is not always true when people speak. So, by reading you see and learn grammatical English naturally.

  • Working At Your Own Speed

You can read as fast or as slowly as you like. You can read ten pages in 30 minutes, or take one hour to explore just one page. It doesn't matter. The choice is yours. You cannot easily do this when speaking or listening. This is one of the big advantages of reading because different people work at different speeds.

  • Personal Interest

If you choose something to read that you like, it can actually be interesting and enjoyable. For example, if you like to read about football in your own language, why not read about football in English? You will get information about football and improve your English at the same time.

Five Tips for Reading

Tip #1

Try to read at the right level. Read something that you can (more or less) understand. If you need to stop every three words to look in a dictionary, it is not interesting for you and you will soon be discouraged.

Tip #2

Make a note of new vocabulary. If there are four or five new words on a page, write them in your vocabulary book. But you don't have to write them while you read. Instead, try to guess their meaning as you read; mark them with a pen; then come back when you have finished reading to check in a dictionary and add them to your vocabulary book.

Tip #3

Try to read regularly. For example, read for a short time once a day. Fifteen minutes every day is better than two hours every Sunday. Fix a time to read and keep to it. For example, you could read for fifteen minutes when you go to bed, or when you get up, or at lunchtime.

Tip #4

Be organised. Have everything ready:

  • something to read

  • a marker to highlight difficult words

  • a dictionary

  • your vocabulary book

  • a pen to write down the new words

Tip #5

Read what interests YOU. Choose a magazine or book about a subject that you like.

Full version is here:


By Conan Smeeth

Teaching realia is a fun thing to do with students, and there are lots you can do. The idea is to find material that is both challenging yet engaging, and you’d likely be using texts and short articles as the primary example. With them, I recommend news sites (such as CNN, BBC, MSNBC, etc.) as you can find a hodgepodge of topics, especially articles that are a bit shorter. Longer articles are fine, but you need to ensure that both the length and language are fine. In order to gauge this, I ask myself how easily I would be able to explain the phrases, vocabulary, and syntax of what the students are seeing, and if I realize it would be a bit tricky, then I move on and try to find something more appropriate. Once you’ve found the “right” material to use, you can then use it as a springboard for discussion. For example, I’d ask students questions such as “how would this affect you?” or “in that situation, what would you have done?”. After all, you want to use the material to build a metaphorical bridge with your students, and personalization is key!

Additionally, videos and some advertisements also can be thrown into that mix; think of them as an extension of what you’d do for reading and listening. In particular, I like showing YouTube videos and then having my students discuss what they’ve heard and seen. This familiarizes them with different accents and speech patterns, and often I’ve found that they have a lot of anecdotes about this! Some questions can be asked, but the idea is more for comprehension/summary. With ads, they offer a welcome respite in that there’s relatively less thinking involved, in a good way. Whether it be videos or even pictures, the gist of what’s being sold/shilled is fairly obvious. However, we then are able to discuss why it’s entertaining to see, rather than what is being shown. Again, the recurring theme here is the ability to have discussions, but these activities really get students involved!


That’s all by now,

Stay amazing <3