Save Time and Tailor Your Teaching: How ChatGPT Can Help With Reading Comprehension Classes
One of the key skills that students need to work on is their reading comprehension but every student is different, has different interests, different reading levels and areas they find difficult. This is where ChatGPT can be an incredible tool for online teachers in the virtual classroom and even the physical classroom.
For those of you who've been living under a rock, it might be good to understand the basics of ChatGPT before we go any further! We've got this great article explaining the technology and its implications for the education sector.
Key points to note are:
- ChatGPT is an AI-powered tool that can be used to generate written content. If leveraged correctly, it can be fantastic for language classes.
- ChatGPT can generate human-like responses to "prompts" which are like a question or a request for ChatGPT to answer.
- ChatGPT can save teachers and tutors a lot of time and effort in creating exercises, and beyond that, allows you to quickly tailor exercises to students' specific needs.
- ChatGPT is highly adaptive and can be used to create exercises for a wide range of reading levels and topics.
- By using ChatGPT to do the grunt work, educators can focus on offering students a more engaging and challenging learning experience.
So, some of you will be asking me:
"What Chat GPT prompts will generate great reading comprehension exercises?"
Well, hold your horses!
There are some important points we should look at first, although yes, I have included a list below to satisfy the clickbait monster.
What changes will ChatGPT make to my role as a teacher?
ChatGPT is not going to replace you as a teacher just yet. However, a lot of the jobs that you do can now be automated. This doesn't just mean that a huge chunk of your work is no longer necessary though, don't worry!
What it really means is that you can focus your energies on high-level lesson planning, and allow ChatGPT to do the grunt work. Anyone who has tried creating their own reading comprehension exercise will understand the time and frankly the mental exhaustion that this simple task can take. I have myself spent 30 minutes just trying to come up with suitable questions based on a text, which I wasn't even happy with at the end.
What was I thinking about by the time I'd finished?
- The fastest way I could end this frustrating task!
By question number 10, I certainly wasn't thinking about whether I was effectively targeting the my student's problem areas. Another familiar feeling though, is looking at a reading comprehension exercise someone else has created, and being able to poke holes in it, or see how it should be adjusted. That is the magic of AI. You can allow it to be your teacher assistant, and keep your mind running on that higher level.
ChatGPT is not going to replace you, it is going to make you an even better teacher!
Can chat GPT generate entire reading comprehension exercises for me?
But, and of course there's a but, these exercises will be much much better if you refine them. Luckily, ChatGPT is a wonderful tool in this regard. Refining its responses feels like a little back and forth conversation with a fellow teacher.
It's key that you take a minute to think about what specific learning outcomes you want from this exercise, be it the acquisition of certain target vocabulary, naturalising the use of difficult grammar points, or practicing exam style questions. Then, phrase your prompts so that you'll create a more bespoke exercise.
Most importantly of all, take the time to read and review. You may need to get ChatGPT to rewrite or adjust certain things. It might even be easier to take what it's generated and make a few tweaks the old fashioned way, with your own brain and a keyboard.
You've saved so much time creating this exercise, there's no excuse for being stingy with your time now.
What are the limitations of ChatGPT for creating exercises?
That's a big question, and an important part of the answer is that we don't know.
A big criticism of AI tools in general at the moment is the "black box" issue. The way in which they generate their responses is hidden, often even to the developers themselves. This makes it a little unpredictable. It could work perfectly 99 times, and then on the 100th, it might really miss the mark.
Another issue is its source material.
ChatGPT was trained text from ... the internet! (Dramatic lightening flash!)
Naturally this meant that there was a lot very offensive content at first, which has since been dealt with pretty well. ChatGPT will avoid offensive or rude content, so I wouldn't worry too much about that. However, the developers may have, understandably, gone too far the other way. As John Oliver recently pointed out, ChatGPT will not tell you what religion the first president of a particular religion will be:
This brings us back to my earlier point - read and review everything it gives you, just in case something either slips through the net, or doesn't make sense.
A less obvious issue is unconscious racial or cultural bias, learned from what it was trained on. I can't personally speak to ChatGPT's inclusivity, but AI in general has been accused of having a very male / white / western bias. This is a good thing to bear in mind. Representation is really important, particularly for children, so stop from time to time to think about whether the material you are generating has enough diversity and inclusivity.
A final point I should make about ChatGPT's limitations is more education-focussed.
To put it simply - at the moment ChatGPT simply cannot do lesson plans. It will give you study plans with very generic advice, but it will not be able to create a useful pedagogical approach to accompany the exercises it generates. That's your job!
How should I approach tailoring a reading comprehension exercise to my student's needs?
Now you're thinking like a teacher of the AI age!
First, of course, grade the text and the questions to the student's level.
ChatGPT is fantastic at this, although in my experience, it hasn't always done a great job at grading texts for A1 or A2 levels, so bear that in mind; you may need to make some manual tweaks.
Next, think of your student's overall learning objectives. What sort of exercise is going to be most suitable for progressing towards those goals?
It could be an exam-style question, or it could be a very natural, colloquial text, for example.
What about your student's interests or profession? Try to focus on topics that will be more engaging, and will bring up vocabulary which will be useful beyond this exercise.
Finally, think of any problem areas your student is currently struggling with. It's super easy to ask ChatGPT to sprinkle in a few phrases in the passive voice, for example. This doesn't need to be the main focus of the exercise. In fact, it's better if it's not. You'll help your student become more familiar with their problem areas, and therefore more confident in tackling it later.
These are just a few tips, but I'm hoping you'll see the pattern re-emerging.
You should be focusing on high-level pedagogical planning, and let the AI worry about coming up with lists and examples.
The 5 Best Prompts to Generate Tailored Reading Comprehension Exercises
In this list, I've tried to provide a range of prompts with different levels of customisation, as well as some tips on how to go about refining and improving the responses ChatGPT gives you.
Prompt 1 - Quickly generate a straightforward reading comprehension exercise from scratch
Sometimes you're in a rush, and just need an exercise for your next class.
You can ask ChatGPT to simply "generate a reading comprehension exercise".
- You can create exercises on almost any topic, so your reading comp exercise can be tied into something else you've been working on in class or the student's specific interests. Try adding "based on [Topic]"
- However, as you'll see from my first attempt below, this can be quite long and will usually use a high level of English You can refine this by specifying the level you want. For example, you could add "at a B1 level of English" or "at Lexile Framework reading level - Emergent".
- It's also a good idea to tell ChatGPT how many questions you'd like it to give you. I often prefer to have some easy and difficult questions, so I can adjust the exercise depending on how well the student understands the topic, and ease them into it a bit more.
Try adding something like "with X easy questions and X difficult questions"
Prompt 2 - Repurpose an existing text
I use news videos a lot in my classes with adult students. Similarly, there are plenty of news articles that I will use for reading comp exercises. I usually focus on current affairs, but I'll also use industry-specific articles. It's a great way to tailor classes to a student's profession. I'm an English teacher, not a civil engineer!
In the example below, I copied and pasted an article* into ChatGPT and asked it to rewrite it at a B1 level. You could also ask it to incorporate some vocabulary or grammar points you want your student to become more familiar with.
Then, I asked it to write some easy and difficult questions for that article.
Importantly, I noticed that the second question wasn't particularly good. The answer wasn't really in the text, and although my student might know about LIDAR, I might not know enough about it to be able to effectively correct them. This is easy to solve though, I simply asked ChatGPT to "replace question 2".
* Please be conscious of copyright and plagiarism when copying text from external sources, especially if you are producing materials for commercial use.
I copied and pasted the paragraphs I wanted to use from the article here.
Pro Tip: If you want to use your return key to add a line, without submitting the response, use SHIFT + RETURN.
Prompt 3 - Generate multiple choice or cloze gap questions
So far, we've just asked ChatGPT for reading comprehension questions. To shake things up, you can simply specify the type of questions you'd like to use. This could be applied to an existing text, or to an entirely new text that ChatGPT generates for you.
In the example below, I had no problems with my multiple choice questions, but the cloze gap exercise didn't really come out how I wanted it.
If that happens to you, you can just ask ChatGPT to try again, but with more specific details about what you want. My second attempt came out perfectly.
Prompt 4 - Generate exam-style reading & use of English questions
ChatGPT is amazing for creating sample exam questions. To make it feel more personalised, you can tailor the question to match the vocabulary you've been working on or even a conversation you've had in class.
As always though, it's important to double check the responses, as ChatGPT can sometimes make mistakes with the question format, which is super important for exam prep.
ChatGPT will sometimes provide the answer at the end of a response, so it's doubly important not to copy and paste blindly!
Prompt 5 - Generate a text with errors included!
One thing my students often struggle with is reviewing their own writing exercises for errors. This is particularly important for exam prep, where we want students to be able to incorporate a quick review into their writing question timing.
You can ask ChatGPT to create a short text with errors included on purpose. With spelling mistakes, you should ask it to "identify the spelling mistakes" afterwards, so you don't need to comb through what it's written.
I've found that ChatGPT struggles a little more with grammar mistakes. It will often reproduce the same mistakes again and again, which isn't too useful. It's best to be really specific up front, so that you don't need to keep asking it to try again.
At the moment, I prefer to just get it to generate a text using examples of a certain grammatical point. Then I'll edit the text myself to add the mistakes. AI is always learning, so maybe by the time you're reading this, it will have mastered realistic and useful grammar mistakes a little more. Give it a try!
Bonus Tip - Thumbs Up!
As you interact with ChatGPT, it remembers the chat history and will adapt its responses based on your feedback.
One really quick way to give feedback is the little thumbs up / down icon beside each response the AI gives you. Be sure to let it know it it produces something particularly useful (or not so useful!)
You will be prompted to give more info, and ChatGPT will use that to inform any further responses.
This is a brave new world we're entering. As teachers, we don't necessarily know what the best use of AI is in the classroom. However, there are plenty of people out there coming up with wonderful new ideas about how it can be applied. If you have any questions or thoughts, we'd love to hear them. Please write in the comments or even contact us at email@example.com
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