Reading Classified Ads

Students in this community college ESOL class expressed a concern about being able to find good, affordable housing . To explore their needs, we began by thinking individually and then sharing in pairs "Think Pair Share Technique" about how they found their current homes, and then had a large-group discussion about the different resources students use for finding housing, from word of mouth to classified ads. The students expressed frustration with trying to read the classified ads, so I designed an activity that would support their fluency in using the classifieds to locate and evaluate affordable housing . The activity addresses these aspects of the Read with Understanding Standard at Performance Level 4:

  • Recognize unfamiliar (some specialized) words and abbreviations using word analysis or inference;
  • Demonstrate familiarity with everyday and some specialized content knowledge and vocabulary;
  • Locate important information in text using a wide range of strategies;
  • Organize information using some strategies (such as recall, restatement, simple sequencing, simple categorization);
  • Actively apply prior knowledge to assist in understanding information in texts.

This is how I planned to look for these signs of progress :

Expectations of student learning


  • to understand how abbreviations are formed           

A worksheet on abbreviations

  • to be able to identify housing-related abbreviations 

An abbreviations quiz

  • to be able to find needed information from an ad                 


  • to be able to evaluate own housing situation (in comparison to ads)                  

individual writing

Learning activities:

I started by asking students: What are the classified ads? What do you already know about them? What is difficult to understand in the classified ads? The students discussed their experiences using classified ads to buy things, and their confusion about whether some letter combinations were abbreviations or just words they didn't know.  This led us into our first activity studying (and playing) with words and abbreviations. We looked at several abbreviations commonly found in housing ads alongside the full words, and discussed our hypotheses about how a word gets reduced to an abbreviation. What determines which letters will stay or go? From a list of housing-related vocabulary, pairs invented their own abbreviations and then explained their reasoning to others. This was extremely effective for building their fluency recognizing and reading abbreviations.

Next, we talked specifically about housing. I asked them to describe a "dream house." What would it look like? Where would it be located? We brainstormed what information would be important to know when looking for rental housing and, for homework, students turned this list of information into questions they could use when apartment hunting.

In the next class, we used their questions to look for information from real classified ads from a variety of newspapers (see worksheet ). First we reviewed the common housing abbreviations and then talked about skimming as a strategy they would need in order to read through the ads efficiently. They had already learned about skimming and scanning when we practiced reading train and bus schedules, so this was a refresher. The students were each given a selection of apartment ads and had to answer their list of questions for each one. I worked with the more advanced students, who finished the assignment early, on the study of adjective suffixes, focusing on those that carried the meaning "related to," and using words from some of the ads: -al (natural); -ial (residential); -ic (historic); -en (wooden).

In the third class, we began thinking about what we had read in the ads in order to analyze what they told us about patterns of housing, about affordability, and about their own options. What kinds of information were easiest/hardest to find in the ads? Why might that be? What information contradicted what they had expected? And finally, how did these rental apartments compare to their own? After reading about the rental market, did they think they had a good deal? Not so good? In what ways did the rental market seem be changing? Where could people with modest incomes live?

These last questions, posed for a final writing assignment, closed the unit. When the students shared their writings, lots of new questions about housing emerged, but we had to table these because it was that time in the semester to focus on the bi-annual school publication of student writings . If the students wanted to submit their writing about housing that would be fine, but learning more about leases, rent subsidies, and the loss of affordable housing would have to wait a couple of weeks. Nevertheless, the students said that they appreciated the chance to assess their own housing situation and to compare the rentals in all the different neighborhoods . They hadn’t realized that affordable apartments were becoming scarce and intended to keep their eye on the ads over the coming months.

In this teaching example, the learning standard was addressed in the following ways:

Read with Understanding

How the Activities Addressed the Standard

Determine the reading purpose.

The students identified finding affordable housing as the purpose for this reading. They also identified the important information one needs to find out when looking for rental housing and formulated questions (about rent, deposits, pets, services, location, etc.).

Select reading strategies appropriate to the purpose.

The students needed to use particular reading strategies in order to meet their purpose (e.g. scanning the classified ads section titles, reading for details such as amount of deposit or services included in the rent).

Monitor comprehension and adjust reading strategies.

The students searched for and adjusted their reading strategies as necessary to locate the required information in the classified ads. They also built their knowledge of abbreviations and housing-related vocabulary in order to better comprehend the ads.

Analyze the information and reflect on its underlying meaning.

The students determined what information was given in the ad and what important information was missing (and why). They also analyzed what the ads told them about the availability of affordable housing.

Integrate it with prior knowledge to address reading purpose.

The students used what they read in the classified to assess their own housing situation and to learn about other housing options.