Reading in a Foreign Language October 2009, Volume 21, No. 2
ISSN 1539-0578 pp. 228–232
Reviewed work:
Teaching ESL/EFL Reading and Writing. (2009).
I. S. Paul Nation. New York: Routledge. Pp. 171.
ISBN 9780415989688. $30.95
Reviewed by
Heike Neumann
McGill University
Teaching ESL/EFL Reading and Writing by Paul Nation is written for in-service and future
teachers who want to learn more about encouraging their students’ development of reading and
writing skills in classrooms of English as a second language (ESL) or English as a foreign
language (EFL). It has been conceived and used as a textbook for undergraduate and graduate
courses of teaching methods. It offers practical suggestions for the classroom. It is also helpful in
the development of new, or the improvement of existing, reading and writing programs. In
conjunction with its companion book, Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking (Nation &
Newton, 2008), the book could be used for a comprehensive course of ESL or EFL teaching
methods, although Teaching ESL/EFL Reading and Writing can also be used on its own.
The book is divided into 10 chapters. Six of these address ESL or EFL reading, and three address
ESL or EFL writing. The penultimate chapter discusses topic types in relation to both reading
and writing.1
 In all 10 chapters, the focus is on the practice of teaching reading and writing by
suggesting various types of activities teachers can use in or adapt for their own classrooms. All 

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these activities are designed to belong to one of four strands around which, according to Nation,
a well-balanced language program should be organized. These strands are meaning-focused input,
meaning-focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency development. The importance
of achieving equilibrium among these four strands in any language course is stressed throughout
the book, and all activities are placed within a framework of these strands. They are introduced
in chapter 1, but for a future or inexperienced teacher who only has access to this book, these
definitions and explanations may be too brief. If so, the reader is referred to the companion book
Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking for more details. This may not be a problem if both
books are used together in a course or program. It may be an issue, however, if Teaching
ESL/EFL Reading and Writing is to be used as a stand-alone textbook.
To complement the above-mentioned focus on teaching practice, the author briefly introduces
the theory, background, or research relevant to the aspects of reading and writing targeted in the
activities in each chapter. If readers are looking for a substantial or longer introduction to
theories of reading and writing or for an overview of recent research in the field, they may be
disappointed. On the other hand, if readers are searching for concrete suggestions of what to do
in the classroom, this is the right book. Let me now turn to a more detailed discussion of the
book’s six chapters on second language (L2) reading, three chapters on L2 writing, and one
chapter on topic types.
In chapters 1, 2, and 5, Nation addresses the mechanics of reading. Chapter 1 focuses on the
general differences between learning to read in a first language (L1) and an L2. Nation presents
activities in which L1 and L2 reading teachers typically engage their students to promote
development of reading skills. In chapter 2, he discusses spelling and word recognition. This
chapter is particularly useful and interesting for those (future) ESL or EFL teachers who work
with students whose L1 does not use a Latin-based or even alphabetic writing system because
Nation puts forward specific activities to encourage word-recognition and spelling-skill
development in these students. In chapter 5, he explains the importance of reading speed and
fluency development. Although teachers may not want to promote speed at the expense of
comprehension, Nation recommends the use of his suggested activities to increase reading speed
so that learners make “best use of what they have already learned” (p. 63).
Chapters 3 and 4 deal with intensive and extensive reading. For novice ESL or EFL reading
teachers, the most interesting feature of the chapter on intensive reading is the section that
discusses the form and focus of different types of reading comprehension questions, and in doing
so it summarizes as well as complements Day and Park’s (2005) article previously published in
Reading in a Foreign Language. L1 reading practices such as reciprocal teaching (Palincsar &
Brown, 1986) and concept-oriented reading instruction (Guthrie, 2003) are also briefly
introduced, and their application in the L2 classroom is discussed. As one would expect,
vocabulary and grammar also receive some attention in this section. The activities are designed
to work with vocabulary and grammar in the context of the reading text. However, the grammar
exercises require learners to know and use a range of metalinguistic terms, which may be
challenging for young learners or those who have not received traditional grammar instruction.
The extensive reading chapter provides an informative overview of how teachers should initiate
and structure an extensive reading program. Although the chapter offers all the support teachers
need to commence such a program, it may also discourage them from attempting to do so, as 

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Nation (2009) emphasizes that “learners should read at least 15–20 and preferably 30 readers in a
year” (p. 56) to reap the benefits from an extensive reading program. This simply may not be
feasible in contexts without sufficient time and money.
In chapter 6, Nation deals with reading assessment. He introduces key terms such as reliability
and validity and discusses different strategies for classroom-based assessment of reading skills.
A very interesting section of the chapter discusses diagnosing ESL or EFL reading problems
ranging from simple vision problems to difficulties in word recognition and limitations in
vocabulary and grammar knowledge. Nation also touches upon how to assess reading
proficiency and how the cloze and multiple choice and short answer questions might be used to
do this. Although this information is very helpful for ESL or EFL reading teachers, the biggest
challenge for novice teachers is not mentioned: How does one choose an appropriate text for
reading assessment? Issues such as level of vocabulary, topic and content complexity,
nonlinguistic elements of the text (e.g., graphs and images), and text readability in general are
important considerations in this regard. Unfortunately, they receive no attention in this chapter.
Three chapters deal specifically with writing. Chapter 7 focuses on helping learners write. The
suggested tasks include paired or group writing and guided writing. The pair and group tasks,
such as the dictogloss (Wajnryb, 1988, 1989) or group compositions, are very flexible and
 but the guided tasks do not offer similar flexibility. In the guided tasks, the use of
metalinguistic concepts is very prevalent, and grammar rules are presented in a traditional way
that may not fit into communication and meaning-focused curricula. In terms of grammar
instruction, Larsen-Freedman (2003) argues that “being able to use grammar structures does not
only mean using the forms accurately; it means using them meaningfully (semantics) and
appropriately (pragmatics) as well” (p. 36). Nation’s guided writing tasks, however, focus only
on the form of grammatical features. Novice teachers would probably benefit from assistance in
establishing the link between teaching grammatical forms, their meaning (semantics), and their
use (pragmatics) in the classroom. In chapter 8, Nation suggests activities to help students move
through each step of the writing process. Two examples are using question words to generate
ideas and peer feedback to review the text. Chapter 10 deals with how teachers can respond to
their students’ writing and use this process as writing assessment. Nation provides suggestions of
different forms and formats that teachers can use to target their feedback to individuals, groups,
or the whole class, including conferences with individual students or a written report given to
everyone in the class.
Chapter 9 establishes the link between reading and writing. Rather than adopting a genre
approach to text, as seen in some of the L2 literacy literature (e.g., Hyland, 2007), Nation focuses
on topic types, which allows him to analyze the functions of texts (e.g., instructions, process, and
characteristics) instead of the text genres (e.g., newspaper reports, troubleshooting notes, and emails).
The advantage of topic types for ESL or EFL teachers is that they allow teachers to
concentrate on text functions and the language needed to compose or comprehend texts and not
on text characteristics related to specific formats. The disadvantage is, as Nation acknowledges,
that most authentic texts use more than one topic type.
Overall, Nation provides a brief overview of the most important issues pertaining to ESL or EFL
reading and writing instruction. Novice teachers will find suggestions of activities that they can 

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use in their classrooms and a framework to evaluate and plan classroom activities. At the same
time, the book helps teachers to devise a well-balanced approach to ESL or EFL reading and
writing instruction. The suggested activities are situated within a theoretical framework and
understanding of how reading and writing develop, but the framework is often not shared
explicitly with the reader. This is also one of the main criticisms of the book. A novice teacher
(the target audience of this book) would have benefited from a “further reading” section or even
a short annotated bibliography at the end of each chapter. These additions could guide the
independent reader to more detailed coverage of the issues. If the book is used in a course of
teaching methodology, the instructor can of course easily do this for her or his students. All in all,
Nation provides a brief but comprehensive introduction to teaching ESL or EFL reading and
1. Some L2 writing researchers consider topic types a synonym of genre. According to Biber
(1989, cited in Paltridge, 2002), however, the two have distinct characteristics. Genre refers to
the social context within which a text is created (writer, audience, context, and purpose), whereas
topic types “represent rhetorical modes such as ‘problem–solution,’ ‘exposition,’ or ‘argument’
type texts that are similar in terms of internal discourse patterns, irrespective of genre” (Paltridge,
p. 74).
2. For a dictogloss, students take notes while they listen to a text and then in pairs try to recreate
the text they heard based on the notes they took (see Wajnryb, 1988, for detailed procedures).
Biber, D. (1989). A typology of English texts. Linguistics, 27, 3–43.
Day, R. R., & Park, J.-s. (2005). Developing reading comprehension questions. Reading in a
Foreign Language, 17, 60–73. Retrieved from
Guthrie, J. T. (2003). Concept-oriented reading instruction. In A. P. Sweet & C. E. Snow (Eds.),
Rethinking reading comprehension (pp. 115–140). New York: Guilford Press.
Hyland, K. (2007). Genre pedagogy: Language, literacy, and L2 writing instruction. Journal of
Second Language Writing, 16, 148–164.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2003). Teaching language: From grammar to grammaring. Boston, MA:
Nation, I. S. P., & Newton, J. (2008). Teaching ESL/EFL listening and speaking. New York:
Palincsar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1986). Interactive teaching to promote independent learning
from text. Reading Teacher, 20, 771–776.
Paltridge, B. (2002). Genre, text type, and the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classroom.
In A. M. Johns (Ed.), Genre in the classroom: Multiple perspectives (pp. 74–90).
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Wajnryb, R. (1988). The dictogloss method of language teaching: A text-based communicative 

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approach to grammar. English Teaching Forum, 26(3), 35–38.
Wajnryb, R. (1989). Dictogloss: A text-based communicative approach to teaching and learning
grammar. English Teaching Forum, 27(4), 16–19.
About the Reviewer
Heike Neumann is a PhD candidate in Second Language Education at McGill University,
Canada. Her principal research interest is classroom-based second language writing assessment.
She is also an ESL teacher and an ESL teacher educator. Email: