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How to find the best reading material for CELPIP and English practice
Episode 2817th October 2023 • The Speak English Fearlessly Podcast • Aaron Nelson
00:00:00 00:24:32

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Reading can be the most important and fun thing you do to develop your vocabulary and increase your contact with English - both vitally important!

But how should you go about choosing what you read if you're doing this on your own? Today's podcast will show you how.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Reading Material:

  • Selecting engaging reading materials for effective self-study matters more than you can imagine! It can literally make or break you!
  • What you read should capture your interest and keep you motivated.

My Story: The Power of Choosing Engaging Material:

Key Ingredients for Effective Self-Study:

  • The critical element of a self-paced reading plan is choosing material you're genuinely interested in.
  • The reading material should be something you look forward to and have a hard time putting down.

Solutions for Uninspiring Reading Material:

Request Change/Provide Feedback:

  • Kindly communicate your dissatisfaction to teachers or your school.
  • A good school values student feedback and may offer alternative reading options.

Practice Skimming and Scanning:

  • If changing the material isn't possible, practice skimming and scanning to make reading less tedious.

Creating a Reading Habit:

  • A reading habit can be as great as my coffee habit!
  • Reading in English can - and should be - enjoyable and is an effective way to enhance vocabulary and language skills.

Finding the Right Reading Material:

  1. Follow Your Interest:
  • Look for material that genuinely interests you.
  • Check the book cover and blurb for initial interest.

Check the Table of Contents:

  • Look at the table of contents to ensure the topics align with your interests and goals.

Get Random:

This great idea come from ontesol - How to Plan Extensive Reading Lessons

  • Randomly open the book to read a few pages to assess comprehension and vocabulary level.
  • Repeat this test in different sections of the book.

Beware of Being Too Easy:

  • Don't rely on material that is too easy, as it may not help in vocabulary growth.


  • Follow your interest in reading materials.
  • If a book loses your interest, feels overwhelming, or becomes a chore, it's essential to switch to something new.

This approach is crucial not only for building an enjoyable reading habit but also for effective vocabulary building for the CELPIP exam.

Thank you for listening!

Mentioned in this episode:

Join the CELPIP Success Lab

Where Motivated English Learners Come to Conquer the CELPIP Exam- Together. Find Direction. It's not easy to figure out where to begin when you start studying for the CELPIP exam. There are so many places to begin! And so many different thins you need to practice. How do you know where to start? By joining the CELPIP Success Lab, I'll help you focus on exactly the right skills that will help you achieve the CELPIP score you need. I'll show you what to study and how to study it so you are ready for your exam day. Find Friendly Support and Feedback. Isn't it frustrating to not be sure you're doing a good job as you practice? Could you have said that differently? Should I have used a different word or phrase to explain my idea? Join the CELPIP Success Lab, and you won't have to wonder anymore about your work. I'll give you personal and friendly feedback on your work. One of my super powers is encouragement! That means I'll kindly show you where your making mistakes, and I'll help you get moving in the right direction again. And where you're doing great already, I'll make sure you know about it. Find Community. Join a friendly, supportive community of motivated English learners who are working towards the same goal as you: conquering the CELPIP. You'll never have to work on this alone again!


Hello and welcome to the Speak English Fearlessly Podcast. This is the podcast for motivated English learners who want to speak English fearlessly and learn practical tips and strategies to conquer the CELPIP exam. I also love to feature encouraging interviews with regular people - people just like you, who are working towards becoming fluent in English so we can learn from their experiences.

Who am I, my name is Aaron Nelson. I’ve been an English teacher for over 16 years, and I now work to help students prepare for the CELPIP exam through online classes.

Why Listen?

Reading skill development continues to be a common question that I get. Today we’re going to reinforce the most important ingredient to a successful self-study reading plan. After today’s episode you’ll know how to find great reading resources that you’ll actually want to use, and you’ll be able to determine if that book you’re holding in your hands is actually going to work for you - before you invest time, effort and maybe even money into reading it.

Let’s get going!

Story time:

I surprised myself last week. Remember when I told you in the last episode, and I’ll link back to it in the show notes, that I was taking some books back to the library that didn’t work out for me?

And, do you remember that that is a vital part of preparing for the CELPIP exam (and your English skills in general: that you need to be willing to pivot or change directions if the book or resource or class you’re working with simply isn’t working for you anymore?

So I did that. I took my books back. (Even after I had invested a few weeks and had gotten half way into the book - I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Time to switch.)

Well, the surprise for me was picking up a book from the library about podcasting.

This was a surprise for me because I had been trying to read Young Adult fiction to give my imagination some play time!

I picked up this book because of a few reasons:

1. I love podcasts and podcasting in general. (I love what I’m doing right here with you right now!)

2. I want to become a better podcaster.

So instead of picking out another Young Adult focused book, I found myself drawn to completely different. I wanted to learn.

And the reason why I’m telling you this story today is that I wanted to share the experience with you of picking a book I was interested in, that wasn’t necessarily a ‘for fun book’ but that I am completely enjoying just like as if it were a for fun story.

I’m learning from a veteran podcaster who has thousands of podcast episodes out in the world, but I’m having a great time in the process because I’m excited about the topic.

Make sense?

That little story illustrates the most important idea of today’s podcast: the most important ingredient in a self-paced reading plan that will help you develop your skills for the CELPIP exam or your English skills in general is….

Drum roll please: You need to be choosing reading material that you’re actually interested in!

You should be looking forward to picking that book up again so that you can keep reading it. You should have a hard time putting it down when you are reading it.

It should be something that captures you imagination or thoughts when you’re not reading it - In other words, you’re thinking about it easily when you’re doing something else.

Can you say that about the material you’re practicing your reading skills with? YOU TOTALLY SHOULD BE ABLE TO!

If you can’t, and you’re the one picking the reading resources, then it’s time to change what you’re reading. Remember: you’re in charge!

Also remember that to be effective, your reading material doesn’t have to be boring or painful to read!

If you aren’t the one picking the resources that you practice with, I’ve got two bits of advice for you:

1. Request change/register negative feedback:

Kindly, gently, politely let your teacher or tutor or school know that the reading material they are offering you is not working for you. It’s not interesting. Could they make other suggestions. You might not be able to change your reading material, but if the school is good they will value your feedback. (My example - I was able to formally register a complaint/ negative feedback about my boring course and it’s boring book. )

2. You might not need to read every word!

If you can’t do anything about the reading material, push through it as best you can. Practice skimming and scanning to help you. You might not have to read every word to make it through.

Outside of class - make sure you continue looking for reading materials that actually do grab your interest.

I have a coffee habit - I drink it every day. I don’t like going without it - that’s what a habit is all about, right?


Repeating it.

It’s something you do regularly.

I would love for reading in English to become that for you! (I think it is the easiest and most enjoyable way to improve your vocabulary and increase your contact with English.)

The point is this: if you enjoy what you’re reading, you’ll do more of it. Period. (And this applies to both fiction and non-fiction reading material!)

Now let’s talk a little about how to find the right material or book - practicing these ideas will help you save time, lots of effort and maybe even money as you choose what you want to read next.

1. Find something that catches your interest.

Check out the cover. Does it grab you? You might have a winner!

Check out the book blurb - that text on the back cover or inside the front cover that tells you what the book is about. Does it grab you? You might have a winner!

But just because the cover, and the summary of the book on the back of the cover looks interesting, doesn’t always guarantee that this book will work for you.

Remember that book I keep talking about that didn’t work out for me, that ended up going back to the library?

Well, the cover looked great!

The summary on the back of the book sounded interesting and exciting.

I grabbed it from the right area in the library for what I was looking for books from - the Young Adult section.

I read the first few lines, because - and this is my own opinion here, the first line has to grab me and pull me in. If that first line doesn’t reach out and take my imagination over, I quickly put the book back.

That first line even worked out. It caught my interest, which is why I decided to give it a go.

But sadly it didn’t work out…here are a few other strategies that might help you throw out the losers and pick the winners!

1. Check the table of contents! If the cover and the summary on the back of the book or inside the front cover look good, check out the table of contents. If this is reading that you have picked to help you learn new skills - a non-fiction book - then you’ll want to make sure the topics covered are actually what you want to read about! The table of contents can help you figure that out without having to read anything more. The table of contents is like skimming the entire book in just a few seconds. You won’t know everything that the writer has written, but you’ll know where the author is going to take you, and what they’ll be talking about. Use this to help you decide if you want to go deeper with this book!

2. Get Random! I got this great idea from the ontesol website ( Links in the show notes - Randomly open the book to a few pages and begin reading. If you are able to read through the page and understand it, without too many words being too difficult for you - several new words is fine and actually useful - but if there are too many, like every line or so, or if you’re not understanding the main ideas of the page, then you likely have a book that is too difficult. It’s writing is still too far ahead of your current skills. That’s ok. Put it back and try another one!

If you want to be sure, Repeat: If your first page reading test works out, close the book and try it again - open to a random page in a different section of the book and read it. If you’re able to understand most of what is happening on that page, then it’s likely a safe book for you pick up.

Remember: too many new words - or pages that you’re not understanding at all - will be frustrating for you because the book is likely well above your reading level.

Frustrating and too difficult lead to discouragement which are not key ingredients to a fun enjoyable reading habit!

Remember: You want to aim for material that is just slightly above you. Slightly above will not be overwhelming - you’ll be able to grow your vocabulary without overdoing it.

Beware of it being too easy! If you’ve done these two random page tests, and you haven’t picked up on any new words - they’ve all been words you know - and it felt easy to read, then perhaps attempt the test one more time. Open randomly and at a different section of the book than before. If there’s still not much of a challenge for you, feel free to read it - You’re still exposing yourself to English which is great - but you might also consider looking for something a little more complex.

Reading something that is coming easy to you will boost your self-confidence, but it might not be as helpful for you in growing your vocabulary. Don’t allow yourself to become too comfortable with books like this! Push yourself a little!

The final idea I want to leave you with today is this: even after you’ve screened or checked out your book before you started reading it and it looked like it will be an excellent option for you, never forget to follow your interest!

IF your book stops keeping interested, if it suddenly feels overwhelmingly difficult, or if it feels more like a chore to read, don’t force yourself to keep going. Trade it in. Find something new.

Your fun filled reading habit depends on it - and so does your vocabulary building work for the CELPIP!



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