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Reason to Read – a genre specific approach to developing reading skills

16 Apr

In my recent talk at IATEFL 2015, I argued that the standard approach to reading in ELT is ineffective and that tasks which reflect a broader range of genres and more realistic reasons for reading are preferable, and I demonstrated a few tasks which reflect this philosophy.

At the end of the talk I promised that I would post the slides and pdf versions of some of the tasks I showed – so here it all is:

Here is the first of the pdf handouts.  This is a task / process that you can use with pretty much any text, though it might need some adapting in the information extraction section, depending what kind of genre you use it with.

Teflgeek – Reaction Reading

Here is the second of the handouts.  This is a pdf of a task / process that aims to help students deconstruct the why and what of texts – why were they written and what should they do with them.  It helps students approach texts critically and with the ability to conduct a more in depth analysis.  It should work with any text type and at almost any level.

Teflgeek – Text Deconstruction Handout


Finally, a video of the presentation is available from the IATEFL Online website.  The presentation was part of a larger forum on approaches to developing reading skills and I co-presented with Peter Watkins of the University of Portsmouth and Mike Green of Kansai Gaidai University.  Peter spoke first for about 15 minutes, then I spoke for 15 minutes and finally Mike spoke for 15 minutes.  We then had about 15 minutes of Q & A, which is worth watching for some quite key follow up questions!

The link is here: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2015/session/forum-approaches-developing-reading-skills

And these are the abstracts for Peter and Mike’s talks:

REVISITING READING

Peter Watkins (University of Portsmouth)

This talk starts with the premise that the teaching of reading skills has changed little over the last few years, with a fairly predictable staging sequence to most lessons. We will consider not only what we do when we teach reading, but also why we do it. Alternatives to the presumed norm are then suggested.

PRACTICAL WAYS TO DEVELOP FLUENCY IN L2 READING

Michael Green (Kansai Gaidai University)

What do we mean by ‘fluent reading’ and how can we encourage it in the classroom? In this session, participants will sample a variety of simple exercises that develop the skills which form the foundation of fluent reading. These skills are applicable to all levels of L 2 readers in many different teaching contexts.

The Tai Chi of Reading

25 Jun

This is a ten minute presentation I gave at the recent International House Teachers’ Online Conference (IHTOC60) on the Tai Chi of Reading.

The basic premise is that there are certain movements or forms that exist within the Tai Chi Chuan and Baduan Jin which can be used to illustrate successful reading strategies, particularly for exam based classes.

I’m not suggesting that this is something everyone should do with every class, but that for some classes, where the learners might benefit from having a physical analogue for their mental process, it might help remind them of what they should be doing.

The video runs to about 16 minutes, which isn’t bad for a ten minute talk, and can be seen here:

If you want to take a bit more time to process any of the information on the slides in the presentation then these are available to view on Slideshare below, though the video demonstrations of the Tai Chi / Baduan Jin motions won’t play in Slideshare.

My thanks to Neil Morley for graciously acting as a Tai Chi model and thus allowing me to hide my own ineptitude in the forms, to Neil McMahon and Shaun Wilden for putting in the work to organise and run the conference, and to the International House World Organisation for allowing the re-post of the materials here.

To view recordings of any of the 60 (yes that’s right… 60!) presentations from the online conference, check out the conference blog: http://ihtoc60.blogspot.co.uk/

Is reading allowed, aloud?

9 Nov

Many years ago I had something of a disagreement with a colleague who, in a class I had watched, had the learners read aloud from a chapter of Roald Dahl’s autobiography “Going Solo”.  Paragraph by paragraph, they went round the room struggling with unknown vocabulary in that stumbling robotic intonation that is particular only to people reading a text that is completely unfamiliar to them.

As I say, we had a slight disagreement over the pedagogical value of such an exercise.  It is not something I would ever do with classes and frankly, it’s something I associate with the prescriptive, repetitive, grammar translation hell of my Latin classes at school.  And in that context I can understand it more, as the only other speakers of Latin I was ever likely to encounter were in that same room and communicative opportunities were somewhat infrequent (not that this was the point) – so if our teacher wanted to know whether we could pronounce our Latin correctly, this was the only avenue open to him.  Which does raise an interesting question – how does anyone know what the correct pronunciation of Latin is? Has it been handed down, speaker to speaker, throughout the millennia?

In any event, the question cropped up again recently and on this occasion I wondered whether I was alone in my distaste for Reading Aloud (or RA), or whether there were lots of good reasons to do RA that I just wasn’t aware of.  In short I asked Twitter what it thought.

The general consensus that there might be reasons to do RA, but that nobody had done RA with their classes – nor was likely to.

Reasons people came up with were:

  • If the teacher reads aloud, the learners can develop sound-spelling relationship awareness
  • To kill time / run out the clock in class
  • Classroom management – a settling and focusing activity for young learners or more active classes
  • As a focus on sentence stress or intonation work
  • Practicing giving speeches or other ‘real world’ reading aloud tasks (e.g. drama / poetry)

But:

  • Teachers often use “it’s good for their pronunciation” as an excuse to justify the activity
  • Roleplay or drama isn’t quite the same thing as reading aloud anyway
  • There is a difference between written and spoken English anyway, so the value is questionable
  • It can be quite stressful for students to be put on the spot like that

For a much fuller rebuttal of RA – Ken Wilson offers his (strongly argued!) views on why “Reading Aloud in class is a complete waste of time“.  Essentially, Ken suggests (a) there’s no evidence students enjoy it, (b) it fails to enliven the reading experience (c) it doesn’t improve the reading skill, if anything it can only improve the “reading aloud skill” (d) it doesn’t necessarily improve pronunciation (e) most reading is a quiet, introspective activity – this is to be welcomed, not feared!

There are indeed several reasons why reading aloud can be disparaged, above and beyond those previously stated.  In the ELT Journal, Sally Gibson (2008) offers these common objections:

  • It is boring, stressful and has no real benefit for the learners, especially for those not actually doing the reading aloud.
  • The speaker uses most of their brainpower in the processes of reading aloud, leaving little for comprehension.
  • Development of reading aloud does not benefit development of other reading strategies and potentially can interfere with more efficient ones.
  • Focusing on each individual word slows reading speed
  • Reading slowly inhibits the ability to make sense groups and understand longer chunks of text.
  • Texts are often “unnatural”, or are written for effect.  As such they don’t reflect valid pronunciation targets for learners.
  • Unfamiliarity with English spelling conventions can cause problems with pronunciation of words learners may already know orally.
  • Reading aloud is a skill with highly limited applicability in the real world
  • Reading aloud is not easy for even polished native speakers, why should we expect this of language learners?

I can attest from my own experience that the ability to read aloud does not denote comprehension of a text – I once saw a Chinese learner read happily from a text (on tanks and explosions – nice useful content!) with absolutely no idea of what the text meant.  The text had come to him from his state school teacher and was probably set at about B2 / C1 level.  He, however, was in my A1 beginner class.

These problems and objections don’t necessarily mean that reading aloud shouldn’t be done.  As noted from the twitter chat, there are as many reasons for as against.

Jeremy Harmer (2009) gives four reasons why RA can be useful.  It does, he argues, help learners make connections between written and spoken forms of language.  It can tell the teacher what problems learners are having with pronunciation.  It can, with the proper preparation, be extremely motivating for learners.  Finally, it does mimic or practice a real life skill – here Harmer cites a colleague whose husband insists on reading snippets from the newspaper at the breakfast table.

In deriving his plus points, Harmer has drawn on Gibson’s article, as well as Gabrielatos (2002) and Mumford (2009), but does not encompass all the points in favour that they propose.  Gibson, for example, also argues that RA, in helping learners make connections between written and spoken forms, can speed word recognition.  It can help with intonation and can help learners develop “an internal voice”, which in turn might help them with their written work.  Gabrielatos proposes a framework for incorporating RA into your teaching and Mumford offers eleven activities that take RA and adapt and develop it away from “pure” RA and into something more “flexible”.

There are some issues that arise here:  problems that learners have with pronunciation during an RA exercise do not necessarily relate to a pronunciation problem per se, but are more likely to result from not having previously encountered the target word.  It seems odd to cite this as a point in RA’s favour, particularly, when Harmer’s article begins by citing a workshop he gave which highlights precisely this problem.  Clearly, if you don’t know a word, you can’t pronounce it properly and of course being able to pronounce it properly does not mean that any concept of meaning has been acquired, as my Chinese student ably demonstrated.  Equally, I’m not sure that RA does help with “intonation”.  It might help with “declamation” though, if delivering a speech in a suitably dramatic style is (a) your aim (b) what the students need.

And it might just be that it is what they need – two recent articles from Japan approach RA from very different viewpoints.  In the traditionalist corner, representing the ancients, is Porcaro’s (2012) article for ETP where he discusses the importance of a story telling culture in Japan, in particular the telling and re-telling of folktales and how he has used this with his classes.  In the modernist corner, representing the scientists are Takeuchi, Ikeda & Mizumoto (2012) whose recent research into cerebral activity during readin aloud exercises has thrown up some very interesting results.

In a nutshell (and with the full awareness that I’m summarising a quite complicated research paper in quite a limited space), what they found was that reading aloud in L2 requires a greater degree of cerebral activity than doing so in L1.  Not surprising perhaps, but they think this is probably because there is a greater degree of processing going on in terms of meaning as well as pronunciation.  This is because when you read aloud in L1, you don’t necessarily need to process the meaning of the words, because ultimately that’s not the point of reading aloud – parents who’ve drifted off in the middle of reading a story to their kids, but have kept reading will identify here!  The point of reading aloud is delivering the text, not understanding it.  Except in L2 where the reader apparently does both.  This theory is supported as when they asked people to read texts that were “too difficult”, the level of cerebral activity decreased – the readers stopped focusing on meaning and instead concentrated on delivery only.  Similarly, repetition of the task led to a decrease in activity as having processed the meaning initially, it wasn’t necessary to do so on subsequent attempts.

It seems then, that there may well be a value in Reading Aloud.  It also seems to me that those people who have recently argued in favour of RA have done so from a slightly odd position.  It is almost as if these writers have become aware that Reading Aloud has it’s adherents no matter what, and if that is going to be the case then it is far better that teachers incorporate RA into their classes from a position of principle – and have set out to describe what those principles might be.  In general recent articles on RA basically say that just doing RA isn’t really the done thing anymore and that if you are going to do RA, here are a number of ways that you can do RA without actually doing…. RA.  Or as Jeremy Harmer says “What we need to do then, is find ways to make reading aloud a positive and useful experience”  because more often than not, as Ken Wilson says, “the problem (is) that nothing is really happening in a classroom event where different students are struggling to read a dense text on the page in front of them.”

From a personal point of view, when I sent out the twitter cri-de-coeur it was because I thought I was watching an activity that had no benefit for the students and because I could see absolutely no point in what was taking place in the classroom.  I no longer view Reading aloud in those terms, after all, as Gibson says “It would be a pity if an activity that has some value in language learning … continues to be shunned … because of its careless use.”

Acknowledgments, further reading and references:

Thanks to @teflerinha, @MrChrisJWilson, @louisealix68, @hannahpinkham, @fielsted, @muranava and @kenwilsonlondon for getting into the debate on twitter!

Thanks in particular to: @teflerinha for remembering about Jeremy Harmer’s article, @MrChrisJWilson for remembering Ken Wilson’s and to @kenwilsonlondon for providing it, to @muranava for the Wolsey reference (as below) and to @fielsted for both the Gabrielatos and Gibson articles!

For more a more detailed look at the subject, there’s plenty to check out below:

Ferlazzo, L.  2011.  “The Best Posts On Students Reading Aloud Individually In ESL Class — But I Need Your Help Finding Research On The Topic” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.larryferlazzo.edublogs.org

Gabrielatos, C. 2002.  “Reading Loud and Clear: reading aloud in ELT“, ERIC, ED477572

Gibson, S.  2008.  “Reading aloud: a useful learning tool?“, ELT Journal 62/1.

Harmer, J.  2009.  “Is reading aloud allowed?“, English Teaching Professional 65/4.

Mumford, S. 2009.  “Rethinking Reading Aloud.”  Modern English Teacher 18/3 (Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.hltmag.co.uk)

Paduraru, M. 2010. “Yes, we DO read aloud in class.” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.mellaniep.wordpress.com

Porcaro, J.W. 2012. “Reading Aloud“, English Teaching Professional 80/2.

Redpath, P. 2011.  “Reading Aloud Allowed?” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.oupeltglobalblog.com

Takeuchi, O., Ikeda, M. and Mizumoto, A.  2012.  “Reading Aloud Activity in L2 and Cerebral Activation“, RELC Journal, 43/2

Wilson, K.  2010. “Reading aloud in class is a complete waste of time – discuss.” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.kenwilsonelt.wordpress.com

Wolsey, T, 2010.  “Popcorn and Round-Robin Reading” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.suite101.com

 Postscript

I’m aware that the title of this piece is uncomfortably similar to that of Jeremy Harmer’s and indeed to Peter Redpath’s!  In my defence, it was originally exactly the same as Jeremy Harmer’s as I had already started writing this post and thought I was being creative and original – ah well.  There are no new ideas in TEFL as they say….  And it is too good a title to go to waste…

CAE Online Resource Directory

4 Jun

For those involved with CAE exam classes – I’ve just put up a directory of online resources which you can access here:

CAE Online Resource Directory

There’s a mix of exam information, online practice exercises and teaching advice, so take a look and see what you think!

Predictably, a lot of what’s out there for “CAE” – or “Cambridge English: Advanced” as we should more properly call it – is just details for various courses run by schools and language training centres.  There isn’t as much out there as there is for FCE.

So – if you know of anything that I haven’t included – please do let me know – you can do this by leaving a comment here, or via the feedback form on the about page.

#ELTChat Summary: Teaching at a Discourse Level

15 Feb

How can we focus language teaching more at discourse level rather than sentence level?

The first #eltchat of 2012 attempted to answer this question!  I wasn’t actually there and didn’t take part in the chat and I’m still not quite sure how I’ve ended up writing the summary except that Marisa_C possesses remarkable powers of persuasion and as someone who teaches higher levels this is an area of interest!  Hopefully, this captures the key points, but I’m not a “discourse specialist”, so feel free to point out any errors or omissions.  I haven’t cited individual contributors, but the transcript is available if you’d like to know who said what.

“Teacher, what mean “discourse”?”

The initial question makes the assumption that discourse works at a higher level than merely the sentence thought the Wikipedia entry relating discourse analysis to “approaches to analyzing written, spoken . signed language use or any significant semiotic event” – which I interpret broadly as meaning “if something attempts to convey meaning, it can be analysed to see how it does so”.  A more accessible overview of discourse suggests that discourse analysts are concerned with “the construction of meaning throughout a text”.  (it should be pointed out here that the word “text” is used more to mean a linguistic event than a written document).

Thus discourse can apply to patterns of interaction, “text” structures, communication events, language within a text – usually occurring within a context of authentic language use.  There are no set “rules” of discourse per se, because discourse examines everything and the rules change depending on the context.

Stuck at the Sentence?  Problems with discourse:

Receptively, learners simply may not know enough vocabulary to access texts effectively – to fully understand a text learners need to be able to recognize 95% of the vocabulary used in the text (Laufer, 1989).  Additionally, the mechanics of textual cohesion devices like referencing, linking expressions and paragraphing need to be understood.

Receptive knowledge of these devices also form part of language tests, like FCE, CAE, CPE, IELTS (etc), and within fields like EAP.  Often these tests also require learners to demonstrate productive knowledge of these devices in structured, genre specific writing tasks.  While genre is an aspect of discourse, genre familiarity is a separate issue for learners to grapple with.

Where learners are preparing for a language test, classes tend to become very test focused, very accuracy focused and very form focused – developing a test dependency that can be difficult to move away from.  This may account for the amount of language teaching conducted at the sentence level within test preparation classes, though this is not ideal.

It isn’t helped by the general trend within published ELT materials for decontextualized, fragmented, sentence based language presentations.  Grammar teaching in particular tends to be conducted at the level of the sentence and examine items in isolation and without reference to a wider context.  The natural fluidity of language would seem to predicate against this.

Problem?  Solution! – what a bunch of Hoey!

(Bonus points to those who got the discourse analysis joke there….)

The simplest responses to the issue of isolated sentence based grammar teaching would appear to be just to teach grammar in a wider context and by making learners aware of functional aspects of language and their use – aspects of Speech Act study (which is only possible in context).  This could be facilitated by more use of authentic materials or by use of digital coursebooks (this latter point wasn’t fully expanded upon – I’m intrigued and would welcome comments!).

The other key suggestion is to move learners from receptive awareness of discourse patterns, for example making them aware of such patterns as they occur in listening and reading tasks, through to productive acts that feature and practice the target discourse structures.  This would seem to favour a product approach to writing – the exposure of learners to a model text before asking them to produce something based on that model.  There is often a reluctance amongst learners to “do writing” in class, but while instruction could take place in class, the actual practice of the writing skill need not.

(An authorial aside – just from reading through the tweets as they related to discourse and testing, in particular the learners desire just to “get through the test”, I think it’s worth pointing out to learners that often with testing, there is no “quick fix”.  Discourse features occur in many language tests precisely because they are skills to be developed and rather than something that can be sidestepped.  There are task strategies than can help fine tune learner performance, but if the underlying skills aren’t there, neither will exam performance be! )

In conclusion – Do Learners need Discourse Analysis?

A good question – do learners really need discourse analysis skills or is it just the teachers who do?  There was a general consensus that the main goal is to have learners working and using “real language”, which would seem to take us back to using authentic materials as part of the input process, both to serve for language development and provision of exponents, but also to raise awareness of discourse structures and patterns as they arise in the target texts.

Teachers therefore need training in discourse analysis so that they can effectively instruct the learners, and be able to evaluate published materials more critically.  Thus they can help the learners to not only look at language performance but also to reflect on the language they encounter, to think about aspects of discourse such as audience and purpose – to be aware of the patterns rather than actually conduct a discourse analysis.

Further Reading, References and links from the chat:

(Links given where possible)

 

An apology on behalf of #eltchat – Raquel_EFL appeared to make a large contribution to the chat with people responding with phrases like “brilliant” and “Good point!!!”  but unfortunately for some reason these contributions didn’t show up in the transcript and I fear have been lost to history….

#eltchat takes place on twitter every Wednesday at 12 noon and 9.00pm London time.  Simply sign in or sign up to twitter and search for the hashtag #eltchat.  For more information, check out the website.

The Best Education Articles From “The Onion” | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

7 Feb

If you don’t know The Onion – you should take a look – it’s a satirical newspaper that sometimes hits the nail on the head.  It’s also a great source of articles for use with classes – the occasionally puerile sense of humour appeals to teenagers, whilst the (not always) sophisticated parodies of mainstream news events makes adults smile.  Also some great stuff for business English classes and I think they now have short videos which could be used for listening tasks.

Anyway – this was all prompted by a post from Larry Ferlazzo – The Best Education Articles From “The Onion” – with well – these are Larry’s picks for the best education related Onion material.  My favourite is the cost cutting decision to remove the past tense from school curricula….  after all – who needs to talk about yesterday?

The First day of Geekmas: A short talk on using Poetry…

20 Dec

On the first day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  a short talk on using poetry…..

It’s the last / first day of the teflgeek Christmas countdown and it’s been a fun, somewhat introspective, quite stressful on occasion but ultimately I hope, useful, Christmas countdown.  I’m not sure I’ll be repeating the experience again next year – at least not in this form!  So a reminder of what we’ve had so far:

I thought that, in a twist and given how I’ve massacred the poetic form in creating spurious rhymes in attempting the twelve days of geekmas, I’d end with a short talk on poetry.  I’ve put this together as a you tube video – it’s the first video cast I’ve attempted, so any feedback on technique etc gratefully appreciated!

Any and all links referred to in the presentation, plus a load more besides, are given below.  Enjoy!

References and further ideas:

 poetryclass – “taking the fear out of poetry” – http://www.poetryclass.net/

A wealth of teaching resources, articles and ideas on how and why to use poetry with classes.  Designed more for students within the UK education system, but resources are graded by year group, so you’ll be able to find some suitable resources for most ages and levels.

The Poetry Express – poetry writing for 7-11year olds – http://www.thepoetryexpress.com/

Again, aimed more at the UK education system.  Poetry Express has a lot of stuff that’s aimed directly at the kids developing their abilities to write poetry as well as teaching resources that approach poetry from a cross-curricular viewpoint.

http://www2.eng.cam.ac.uk/~tpl/workshops/exercises.html

This is a just a simple list of poetry workshop ideas – more ideas to stimulate poetry creation than developing ability per se.

http://connected.waldenu.edu/language-and-literacy/english-language-learners/item/1482-how-to-teach-english-through-poetry

This is a useful and interesting, but more theoretical, article on how and why to use poetry in the classroom.

The Poetry Zone: http://poetryzone.woodshed.co.uk/index2.htm

Another kids based site – with competitions, poetry theme ideas, a place for kids to upload their poems to and usefully, a teacher zone with further links and ideas to help you use poetry in the classroom.  Look at classroom resources and “Poetry Kit” by Jan Dean for some great ideas! ( I really liked the “mismatch” idea!)

Forms of Poetry:  http://www.tooter4kids.com/forms_of_poetry.htm

This is an excellent resource for different types of poetry and poetry ideas – from limericks to haiku, language based  (e.g. used to), shape poems, parts of speech poems – the list goes on and one.  Just scroll down to see what there is to see.  Strongly recommended!

Teaching Grammar Creatively.  Gerngross, Puchta & Thornbury, 2006 Helbling Languages.

A great grammar teaching ideas source, many of the outcomes are based around the idea of poems or poetry creation.  Repetition of a grammatical form, so it seems, can lead to some great poetry!

Poem into Poem, Maley & Moulding, 1985, Cambridge University Press.

Possibly a little dated in terms of content, but the ideas included are still very definitely worth taking a look at.  “We ignore the poetic function of language at our peril.  It is the cutting edge of linguistic creativity and innovation, and the key to a feel for the soul of a language.”  Page 134.

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/text-language-classrooms-talo-tavi-tasp

Lindsay Clandfield has an excellent in-depth article on using texts in the classroom, looking at TAVI / TALO / TASP in more detail.

The Twelve Days of Geekmas: ten tricks for reading

4 Dec

On the tenth day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  ten tricks for reading

Welcome to the teflgeek Christmas celebration!  Themed around the classic Christmas carol – but going backwards, mostly because it’s more like a countdown that way:

12 blogs worth clutching

11 tips for writing

10 tricks for reading

Though strictly speaking, they’re not “tricks” – more sort of activities!

I recently ran a teacher development seminar called “The Reading Teacher”.  One of the things I realised as I was putting it together was that the general approach to reading, at least as is often evident, is as follows:

  • Pre-teach any vocabulary from the text you think they need.
  • Gist reading task – make the students read the text in a ridiculously short amount of time and then answer a question.
  • Detailed reading – let the students take the next 30 minutes to read the text one word at a time and then ask them to answer 6 comprehension questions which demonstrate (a) they read the text (b) limited understanding of six aspects of the text as given in the questions.
  • A reactive focus on any words the students had problems with or didn’t understand.
  • Move on to the inevitable grammar point that’s lurking on the next page with dodgy examples of the form lifted straight out of the text.

And it occurred to me that this might not particularly help…

Scott Thornbury’s recent “G is for Gist” gives an interesting background glimpse on how this structure has come about and his point that most learners already know how to do this in their own languages is a good one.  Though anyone teaching Young Learners may still have some work to do here!  One thing that Scott doesn’t mention (and I haven’t read all the comments, so this might have cropped up) is that a surprisingly large number of gist tasks don’t actually require gist skills.  They might require predictive skills, or scanning skills, or a combination of the two – but not always gist.

In any event – for the tenth day of geekmas – I’ve promised ten tricks for reading, these are more sort of activities that you can use to help learners develop some of the reading subskills (as indicated).

1.  Picture Sequencing  (Prediction Skills).  Give learners a set of pictures which represents aspects of the text and ask them to put them into what they think is the correct order.  Or to generate their own story based on their own sequence of the images.  When learners access the text they can check their predictions and re-sequence the pictures appropriately.  This is particularly good with young learners, whose coursebook reading texts are often accompanied by visual images / comic book style sequential pictures.

2.  Wordle  (Prediction Skills).  Given that wordle (unless you ask it not to) makes the word clouds from the key content words in the text, it’s a nice way of highlighting the key themes, especially if you’re using a text from the internet!  Though if not, you can just type a keyword set in, to mimic the main ideas or themes.  I saw this used to great effect as a prediction task by Anna Pires who used it with the lyrics to Coldplay’s “viva la vida“.

3. Abstract Matching (Skimming / Gist Skills).  Abstract / summary / headline matching.   Ask your learners to match an abstract, a summary or a headline to a text or portion of the text.  Alternatively, you could ask them to write a section heading for the different sections of the text and then ask the class to vote for the best ones.  Turning things into a competition or a race can help speed things up with young learners (older learners as well)!

4.  Personal Reactions  (Skimming / Gist Skills).  A personal reaction to the text works on a number of levels – it doesn’t require great understanding as it doesn’t rely on an intellectual or logical response to the text, but rather an emotional response.  Simple questions like “How would you feel in this situation?”  or  “Which person do you like most?”  or “What would you do?” can help learners access the text on a level that really does take in the whole of the thing, without focusing on the detail.

5.  Find all the _____.  (Scanning).  A competition (or not) between learners to find all the _____s in a text.  This can obviously differ depending on the text concerned, but you could either go with “all the words beginning with W” or you could ask them to find all the names of the different people in the text.  This latter choice (and thanks to Dave Tucker for the suggestion) would also help learners sequence the information in the text, which can be useful for then answering comprehension questions or detail questions on the text.

6.  Bingo.  (Predictive skills  /  Scanning).  Give the learners a piece of paper divided up into nine sections (like a noughts and crosses / Tic tac toe grid) and ask them to write down nine vocabulary items they think will occur in the text (you might want to tell them what the text is about first….).  Then when you give them the text, they get one point for every correct item, ten points for line of three, and thirty points for a “full house” (all their items appear in the text).  A nice way of developing both skills!

7.  What does “X” mean?  (inferring meaning).  This idea came from a seminar I attended some years ago by Monica Koorich.  In it, she substituted key words from the text for an alternate language equivalent (I think she used Hindi) and we were asked to work out what we thought they meant from the context.  Rather than learn Hindi, (assuming you don’t already know it), you could either use Google translate, or you could make up nonsense words instead.

8.  Meaning From Context Grid  (inferring meaning).  Take nine items and write them up in a nine-square grid on the board.  You then group the learners in three teams and ask them to come up with a “definition” for the item.  Each team then writes up a definition for three items.  (I usually sequence the teams’ turn taking as follows:  ABC  /  BCA  /  CAB).  You then give learners the text and they find their items and, based on the context, then have the chance to change their definitions if necessary.  Points can then be awarded for degrees of correctness.

9.  Steve’s starters  (extensive reading).  I was fortunate enough to observe a colleague, Steve Knox, work his reading magic with one of his classes.  Steve is a great believer in the extensive reading theory of reading & language skills development and he had set almost all of his classes up to spend the first ten minutes of any lesson reading.  Learners would have chosen a book or a graded reader from the school library – once chosen the books all lived in a cardboard box under the desk in the classroom.  What struck me most at the time was the genius of the idea as a behavioural routine for young learners!  Steve had essentially created a calming, settling routine at the start of his lessons, that any latecomer would be interrupting.  And that was what happened – latecomers entered quietly, took their books from the box and settled down to read.  At the end of the time, Steve would ask them to discuss (briefly) what they’d read with the people sitting nearby.  That was the other thing I liked about the idea – it so neatly mimics what we really do with our reading in our own languages.  We see something online or in the newspaper – we tell our friends!  We’re reading a book we like (or one we don’t) – we tell our friends.  Ignominiously simple and easy.  Highly recommended.

10.  Reader Diaries / Reviews  (extensive reading).  Again, something that is relatively simple, but easy to incorporate into your classes.  I vaguely recall, from my own schooldays, having to write a page in my English notebook on whatever book I was reading / had read that week.  This is a similar idea.  Slightly different to Steve’s starters in that the learners take the books home and their feedback is more formal / in depth.  Though I suppose it doesn’t have to be.  For teachers who are already working with learner journals, this can be a nice addition.  For those that prefer the blog or wiki – these tools can be used and actually might encourage a debate around the books, where differing opinions occur.  The review idea is perhaps more gradable, as it allows for differing degrees of output & scaffolding.  A nice twist on this is to post the completed reviews around the school and incorporate a rating system, as with Amazon.com, where readers rate the review based on usefulness.

Halloween Teaching Resources

28 Oct

I’m not a great fan of “festivals” teaching in general, but this year my timetable has more young learner classes than usual and halloween is almost upon us, so here’s what I managed to find to help you cook up some devilish lessons for your learners…

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September 11th Teaching Resources

11 Sep

Inspired by a recent feature on The Guardian website, which invites readers to share their memories of where they were and what they were doing (click here for more detail), I was thinking about collating teaching resources on the topic and presenting them here.

Turns out Larry Ferlazzo‘s beaten me to it…

His latest post:  “Even more 9/11 resources” has materials from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times – as well as from the US Department of Education.

But honestly, his post “The Best Sites to Help Teach About 9/11”  has links to just about every 9/11 related teaching resource that’s out there.  If you’re planning to use this topic area with your classes – make it your starting point.

There’s also a really interesting piece on the OUP blog by Mary Dudziak on the impact September 11th has made on the classroom – read more at “How 9/11 made history“.  Thanks for @OUPAcademic for tweeting the link.