Getting students to notice language in reading texts

To start with, why not try this little awareness test:

How successful were you in noticing? Whatever we are doing, we don’t tend to notice everything- and we can miss some quite important elements!

We tend to notice things which are either frequent or salient. So, when I first went to live in Portual, I quickly noticed the word ‘puxe’, which was written on a lot of doors. It was something I saw frequently. It was also salient, or meaningful for me because the pronunciation is ‘push’..but it means ‘pull’!

Schmidt, who first coined the term ‘noticing’(I think), carried out a study of his own language learning in Brazil (where they use ‘empurre’ rather than ‘puxe’ btw). He concluded that he was more likely to actually use language himself when his attention had been drawn to it in some way.

Or as Scott Thornbury puts it:

‘1. Learners must attend to linguistic features of the input that they are exposed to, without which input cannot become ‘intake’.

2. Learners must ‘notice the gap’, i.e. make comparisons between the current state of their developing linguistic system, as realised in their output, and the target language system, available as input.’

(Thornbury 1996)

A reading text is full of language that we can draw students’ attention to in this way, and thus, hopefully, help them in the process of acquiring this language into their ‘store’.

Before we can start to focus on language though, it is important to focus on the actual text as a whole (see previous blog posts), and then we have to consider which aspects of language to focus on or we risk not seeing the wood for the trees (or the monkey for the basketball players).

Activities which help students to ‘notice’ vocabulary

Many texts will have a clear topic, so this is a good place to start (especially if the topic is one which is relevant to students’ needs and interests- and if it isn’t why are you using it? ;) ). You can simply ask the students to find words and phrases in the text connected with the topic of X, or ask them to categorise the words and phrases they find into subsections of the topic (example here from IELTS Foundation 2nd ed-click to enlarge).

You can help to expand students’ vocabulary by asking them to find synonyms of words you give them, in the text. This is particularly useful for those taking exams, where questions are usually paraphrased.

You can help students to see how texts are put together by asking them to find lexical links and chains in the text (example here from IELTS Foundation 2nd ed-click to enlarge)

Students can also develop their awareness of chunks and collocation by asking them to find chunks of words that go together, or asking them to search the text to find what collocates with a list of words from the text which you have given them.

Activities which help students to notice grammar or discourse

The most obvious task is to ask students to look at the examples of the language focus in the text and use them to complete rules about its use. Or they could try writing their own rules and then comparing them with a grammar reference.

An alternative is to remove those examples (or parts of them) and get students to complete the text, comparing their versions with the original. This is something which works very well for articles and for discourse markers.

Or you could give students another version of the text with deliberate errors, and ask them to find a ccertain numbers of mistakes and correct them- before, again, checking against the original.

Try a dictogloss (read a short section aloud, which contains the language you are focusing on) and ask students to write down as much as they can before reconstructing the text together. This works well for structures which are very frequent, such as reference links or articles.

Having thus drawn the students’ attention to language, I believe that it is important to give them some opportunity to use the language. Opinion varies as to whether practising the language per se helps students to acquire it, but at the very least it is another opportunity to notice it, which does seem to help with acquisition.

5 Comments

Filed under Exploiting authentic reading materials, IELTS, Teaching methodology

5 responses to “Getting students to notice language in reading texts

  1. Pingback: Developing complexity through a focus on form | elt-resourceful

  2. Pingback: Dogme 2.0 – The Puppy Grows Up « Reflective Teaching

  3. Sharon White

    I agree that ‘noticing’ language does help with acquisition but I also think that it presupposes a degree of conscious application on the part of the learner. I think these activities could definitely help students to see the importance of being more aware of the linguistic features of the target language. I would certainly try them in my reading classes.

    • Thanks for the comment, Sharon. Yes, I agree that it has to be made conscious. Like a lot of things in life we have to become aware that we are doing them or not doing them before we can alter our behaviour ;)

  4. Pingback: Getting students to notice language in reading&...

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s