Professional Development

Digital reading versus print texts with Dr. Peter Watkins

Dr. Peter Watkins

Once again, for this #TDWednesday, we are taking a privileged peek at the forthcoming Teaching and Developing Reading Skills by Dr. Peter Watkins. This week, Peter has selected a digital reading activity from the chapter Exploiting Digital Resources.

Nowadays, it’s very common for us to engage with a huge variety of texts in a digital format as well as in print and using a variety of different devices such as tablets, smartphones, e-readers, etc. But is ‘digital reading’ really the same as reading a print text? Do we use the same kinds of skills? Do we comprehend the texts in the same way?

In the introduction to the chapter, Peter considers research findings on the comprehension of print and digital texts, the different types of digital reading which we might do and also the additional skills which might be required for digital reading.  In the activity below, he offers a very simple but effective way to help learners reflect on how print reading differs from digital reading – something which many of us may not have really considered before. Why don’t you try it out yourself before trying it with your students? Do you notice any differences between reading from a print page and a digital screen? We suspect you might notice more differences than you first thought!


Same or different?

Outline Learners compare print and digital reading.
Level Intermediate and above (B1+)
Time 35 minutes
Focus Previewing a text through images and vocabulary
Preparation Select two short texts, one print and one digital, that are appropriate for the learners (see Notes).



  • Lead in to the first text in the usual way.
  • If appropriate set a standard comprehension exercise, or select an appropriate activity from elsewhere in this book.
  • Repeat the process above with the second text.
  • Put the learners into small groups and give them the following sentence stems:
  • I like reading hard copies because …
  • I like reading from a screen because …
  • The main differences between print and reading from a screen are …
  • Learners complete the sentences in as many different ways as possible, drawing on their experience of reading the texts used in the lesson and also their wider experience.
  • Each group reports back its ideas.
  • Encourage discussion of the points raised and add to the ideas of the learners as appropriate.



For the purposes of the activity, it is useful to select texts that the learners can read comfortably. This allows for more reflection on the process of reading. The activity also works well if the digital text is an online one, allowing for hyperlinks, multimedia integration and so on. This gives the learners more to comment on.

If appropriate, add to the discussion by asking learners to consider different reading scenarios such as:

  • reading for social purposes, such as staying in touch with friends
  • reading for pleasure, such as a novel
  • reading to learn, such as researching an essay
  • reading for information, such as reading a newspaper.



Learners will benefit from thinking about the pros and cons of online reading (links can give support and explanation, or be a distraction, for example). Learners may share strategies to overcome difficulties (such as sharing information about highlighting and annotating digital text).

Peter’s book, Teaching and Developing Reading Skills, is part of our Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series.  You can also see last week’s article on Approaches to reading in the classroom

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