A free downloadable lesson about Heidemarie Schwermer, who lives without using money. Suitable from Upper Intermediate (B2) upwards, the lesson uses an authentic newspaper article, and focuses on reading, vocabulary and discussion. Note that the video below, which is in German, with English subtitles, is a lead-in, with the main focus on the authentic reading text to follow.
After the lead-in, students work on vocabulary from the authentic text, related to money and different roles in life. They then look in detail at the reading text before being invited to consider their opinions about Heidemarie’s lifestyle, and the bigger question of whether society is too materialistic and whether (and how) it should change.
I am very far from being a fluent Polish speaker. In fact, after four years of hard study and living in the country, I was still probably only about B2 level. However, if you happened to hear me chatting to a taxi driver in Polish, you’d probably conclude I was pretty fluent.
I was very good indeed at the basic chitchat of where are you from, how long have you been in Poland, what do you think about Poland and so on. And the reason I became so fluent (in this context)? ….I caught a lot of taxis.
In other words, I had plenty of opportunity for task repetition. In language learning terms, task repetition is a term most often related to task-based learning. Perhaps one of the key articles about this is Martin Bygate’s Effects of task repetition: appraising the developing language of learners. In this article, Bygate suggests several benefits to getting learners to repeat a task:
More fluency in terms of pausing and speed (less need to plan as we speak)
Fewer false starts and self corrections
These reasons seem fairly self-evident, and you could say exactly the same things about drilling a dialogue. However, while I also think there are benefits in simply repeating or drilling, task repetition is about more than this. Bygate suggests that once the speaker is more familiar with the content, this frees them up to not simply make fewer errors or speak more quickly, but to actually pay more attention to how they formulate their meaning.
In this article, Bygate demonstrated (admittedly with a small sample), that repeating a simple speaking task (in this case describing a film), without any input or feedback, still led to the learner producing more appropriate and more complex language. They improved in terms of accuracy, repertoire and fluency.
Since then, further research has confirmed that task repetition does indeed have a positive effect on complexity and fluency, though some feel that learners may also need feedback on the first task (instinctively, I would tend to agree with this).
So, how can we start to build in more task repetition without boring students? The first thing to say, perhaps, is that I think the idea that repeating a task is boring, may well be a projection from the teacher. If a student is really engaged in a task, and struggling (in a good way) with getting meaning across, it won’t be boring, but satisfying. See this article for a piece of research which set out to prove this.
In repeating speaking activities, I would suggest:
– Play about with giving feedback in between repetitions. Sometimes you could give immediate feedback, with examples you have noted while monitoring. Sometimes you could make notes then use these notes to plan a short teaching session in another lesson, before a task is repeated. Sometimes the feedback could be self-evaluation (especially if students are able to record themselves) or peer feedback.
– Try repeating the task at different time intervals (immediately, next lesson, next week, next month) and see what difference it makes. Again, recording both versions can be very helpful so that students themselves can be helped to notice improvements.
– Change the audience for the task. This could just be telling the story again to a new partner (which makes it more genuinely communicative), or it could be moving from 1-2-1 to speaking to a larger group, or from speaking to a live group to recording the talk (using Vocaroo or just a mobile phone).
– Change the task slightly. Choose a new task which has enough parallels in terms of structure and likely language for students to benefit from repetition, but enough difference to keep up the interest. For example, asking students to retell a narrative from the point of view of a different person involved in the story (same events, different perspective)
And, of course, task repetition does not always have to be about speaking. All the above points could equally well apply to writing. We have more time available to process when writing, so combining writing and speaking can work very well too. First students tell and then they write- or vice versa.
And it can even apply to receptive skills work. See this post, for example, on repeated reading.
Please feel free to add other task repetition ideas- I’m sure the possibilities are endless.
A common feature in many coursebooks is the ‘Useful Language’ box. This is usually a collection of phrases which the authors consider may be useful for an upcoming speaking activity. A ‘useful language’ box is potentially a great idea because the tendency in speaking activities can be for students to simply stay safe and just use what they already know. Providing this language gives us the opportunity to scaffold their learning and encourage the learners to stretch themselves a bit.
However, in practice, there are two recurring problems.
What do you actually do with the Useful Language box? Just getting students to read through it certainly isn’t enough to get them using the language.
There seems for many students to be a reluctance or inability to use the language straightaway (see this recent conversation on Pearson ELT Community). And if they don’t use it straightaway, what are the chances of them locating and using it at a later date?
I think most people would agree that for students to use new language:
– They need to process the language in some way, work with it, not just be shown it.
– They need to know exactly how to use it in and in what context.
– They need to need to use it.
A good place to start with ‘useful language’ is by having it come out of a recording, rather than just being on the page. With the example above, from New Total English Intermediate, students have been listening to a short presentation, with follow up questions, and, after carrying out other comprehension based tasks, they listen again and tick the phrases they hear being used. They then prepare and give their own mini-presentations.
This approach works in terms of providing context, and it also means that there is a model for pronunciation, which is often very important with functional language (more later). However, there is still, I feel, something missing between identifying the phrases and being expected to use them.
If the ‘useful language’ came from a recording, students will already have some idea of how they can be used in context. If not, you will, I think, need to provide some. Live listening can be good way of doing this (see my previous post for details). Essentially, you provide the model, ideally recording yourself so that it can be replayed. With the example of useful language given here, you might ask a confident student to give a short presentation on a very familiar and unthreatening topic and warn them that you will ask lots of questions! You can then play the recording back and start to work with the language, as discussed below.
Other ideas for processing the language
Exactly how you do this obviously depends on the language, but, for example, with the language box above, you could ask students to divide the first section into phrases to use when you don’t understand, and phrases to use when you want more information. If the categories aren’t clear-cut, so much the better as this will force students to discuss why they have chosen to put a phrase in that category- and thus create more processing.
Useful language boxes often have phrases with elllipses (…….), so that students can complete them however they choose. Fine, if they have the faintest idea how to complete them! So, one task could be to give them a context, and ask them to write a completion for each phrase. For example, with this useful language box, you could give a short talk yourself, or use the recording, or use a short video and ask students to prepare questions using the stems. This will also help you to see whether they are able to use them grammatically. As an example, I think many students might struggle with completing ‘What I’d like to know is…’ because of the emphatic structure used.
Rather than showing them the useful language box, try closing the book and dictating the phrases. You could add some challenge by mixing up the phrases and asking them to decide where in the box they belong (in this example, in ‘Asking for clarification or more information, or in dealing with difficult questions)
You should make sure that you dictate the phrases in a natural way, as complete phrases, with appropriate intonation, and normal features of connected speech. This will then have the added bonuses of providing a further model of how to say the phrase, and raising awareness of connected speech. For example, some students may well write down ‘What I like to know is..’, rather than ‘What I’d like to know is..’, giving the opportunity to focus on the ’ ‘d’ they didn’t hear.
You may have noticed that the activities so far are more focused on writing than speaking, which may seem odd when these phrases are provided for a speaking activity. However, writing can be a good way of bridging the gap between new language and speaking. In ‘How to teach Speaking’, Scott Thornbury points out, ‘Inevitably, because of the constraints placed on mental processing by the demands of real-time speaking, learners tend to rely on a very narrow repertoire of memorized expressions in face-to-face interaction…it may sometimes help to reduce the processing demands on them..one way of slowing down processing is to turn the speaking task into a writing one.’
The following two ideas both come from this book:
– Paper conversations. Learners have a conversation, but, instead of speaking, they write the conversation on paper. The teacher can then easily monitor and make suggestions for improvement.
– Rewriting. Students can be given a simple dialogue and asked to rewrite or modify it to use the new language.
Work on pronunciation
As mentioned above, pronunciation is particularly important in using functional-type phrases. They need to be delivered fluently, as a chunk, or they are likely to sound a bit odd and artificial. Intonation is also often extremely important. Think about the phrase, ‘Are you saying…?’ This needs to be delivered with the right intonation, or it could sound pretty aggressive!
So students need a good model- either a recording, or the teacher- and they need to practise drilling the phrases, getting their tongues round the connected speech and using the right intonation.
A fun way of working on intonation is to ‘say’ the phrases using just ‘Mmmm, mmmm’. Students have to guess which phrase you are saying. As they become more confident, they can do this themselves in pairs.
Using the ‘useful language’ in a speaking activity
After time spent processing and preparing, students should be much more likely to use the language in a follow-up speaking activity anyway. However, there are a few ways to encourage this further.
– As described by Antonia Clare in the Pearson ELT discussion I mentioned earlier, you can write phrases on cards and hand out a few to each student. They need to try to put ‘their’ phrases into the conversation as naturally as possible. If the other students feel it wasn’t natural, they could have to take the card back.
– A certain amount of pressure, such as recording the conversation or giving a presentation to the class can encourage students to focus more on using the new language.
– Similarly having an observer in the group, whose job it is to notice when people use the ‘useful language’ can help to focus the mind.
– Depending on the language and the teaching context, students can be asked to go away and ‘notice’ any of the phrases being used in conversation over the next week (on TV, eavesdropping at the bus-stop etc).
Although corpora are now widely used in putting together ELT Dictionaries, and increasingly used in writing ELT materials, it is still rare, I think, for corpora, and especially for concordances to be used much in the ELT classroom.
Firstly, I think many teachers are not quite sure what they are. To clarify, a corpus (plural corpora) is a collection of texts (for written corpora) or recordings of speech (for spoken corpora). A vast amount of language is gathered, and when sorted by a computer, this can provide a lot of data about how language is actually used, which words naturally collocate and so on.
A concordance gives you all or some of the examples of how a particular word or phrase has been used in that corpora. For example:
Top of Form
001. and win a Mediterranean holiday!” “WASTE of time!” Dad had said. “No one ever wins those things
002. as they sit around aWASTE lot passing muscatel which warms each in his sour shea
003. And so it was aWASTE crying over spilled milk.” “I think this is where we c
004. “Because the merchant thought it was aWASTE of light to have both eyes open; why not save the ligh
005. is not capable of doing this, then it is aWASTE of money to install it, no matter what attractive indu
006. “As it was such aWASTE of time, you presumably won’t want to come,”
007. because it would be aWASTE of public money to put him on probation. No wonder he
008. misunderstood is always aWASTE of time. Until our Moscow experience, I had not consid
009. which inevitably leads to aWASTE of nursing resources. The Auditor General’s criticism
010. “That’s silly!” “That’s aWASTE, sure it is, dad?” “Both. But the people had done it t
[I used the concordancer at conc.lextutor.ca]
While there are lots of ways in which we can easily use corpora, mostly through webtools, you only have to look at the sample concordance above to see why concordances aren’t used much in class. They just look so dense, unattractive and overwhelming. The sample extracts are also often rather baffling, and can be very offputting.
But you should also note that even in the first 10 examples I selected (there were 72), there is a lot of useful information. We can see that we often use ‘waste’ with ‘time ‘and ‘money’; that we most often say ‘a’ waste of.., that we can use it as an adjective in ‘a waste lot’.
Most people agree that students learn by being exposed to language, including extensive reading. Using a concordance is a way of giving that exposure in a more concentrated form, so that students can see how words are woven together.
I should say at this point that I am by no means an expert in concordancing; indeed I am probably as confused (or more confused) as the next person by the whole techy side of it. It is also, it seems to me, disproportionately difficult to find free corpora online. But I do think it’s a shame not to try and use this undoubtedly good resource, and just wanted to share a few ideas.
In the meantime, here are a few fairly simple ideas I have used in the classroom. They all use the basic KWIC (keyword in context) concordance, though there are lots of other ways of sorting the information.
Before reading a text in class, you can select a small number of words to pre-teach (see here for a post on pre-teaching vocabulary) and, rather than asking students to use dictionaries, give a concordance of each word to a different group, (or ask them to feed the word into an online concordancer). They should look at the examples and try to work out a definition- which they can then check in a dictionary. If students are likely to be put off my the more obscure examples, you can just pre-select some examples that are relatively straightforward.
Groups can then feedback to each other, explaining the words.
You may ask why not simply check in a dictionary in the first place- but there is evidence to suggest that students will gain a greater understanding of how to use a word, and be more likely to remember it, if they have seen it in several contexts.
Raising awareness of collocations
A very simple activity is to produce a concordance with a word (such as waste), which has strong collocates, and then remove the keyword, asking students to guess what the missing word is.
For example, can you do this one?* (I used the Corpus of Contemporary American English):
Many of them were ______ workers, you know support staff, people who cleaned, cooked.
Employment? – All ______ jobs, answered Claire. ‘dishwasher, building janitor…’
..he does _______ tasks vaguely tied to insurance.
Sometimes words have quite similar meanings, but are used slightly differently. For example, ‘say’ and ‘tell’. Looking at two concordances, one for each word, can really help to clarify how these words are used differently. You can then ask students to try to explain the differences they have noticed.
This can also work well for some grammar rules, such as the use of some and any, or too and enough.
Once students are confident about using online concordancers, you can underline any errors in their written work; the kind where we just have to say ‘We just don’t say it like that in English.’, and ask them to look up the keyword and see how it would be phrased in English, using the examples.
Useful and/or informative sites about using corpora and concordances
In the second part of the IELTS test, candidates have to speak for 1-2 minutes on a given topic, having been given 1 minute to prepare. (Incidentally, I have mentioned IELTS in the title, because this is perhaps the best known example, but there are other speaking exams (e.g. Cambridge ESOL Skills for Life L1 and L2 ) where candidates have to carry out similar tasks).
Although Part 2 of IELTS is not actually as tough as Part 3, for many candidates, it is the part they dread the most. However, it is also the part where familiarity with the task and plenty of practice can really make a huge difference. As an IELTS examiner, I sometimes examine native speakers applying to emigrate to Australia, and even these perfectly fluent speakers can struggle with Part 2 if unprepared.
In IELTS the candidate is given a number of points to cover. For example:
Describe a leisure activity which you enjoy doing.
In order to do well in this part of the exam, students need to:
1 Structure their answer well, so that it is coherent and cohesive.
2 Speak fluently, without too many hesitations.
3 Demonstrate accuracy and range in their language.
Live listening is an excellent technique for both modelling the kind of answer the students should be aiming for, and providing a source for language they can use.
What is live listening?
In a nutshell, live listening means listening to the teacher (or another visitor), in a face to face situation, rather than using a pre-prepared recording. The teacher can be a neglected resource in terms of listening, as teachers try to avoid the dreaded ‘teacher talking time’. However, there is a world of difference between the teacher mumbling away to the class instead of giving clear and concise instructions, and using the teacher as a rich resource for listening.
Listening to the teacher speaking at length offers the benefits of:
– genuine, real-time communication.
– all the features of natural spoken English (hesitations, false starts, connected speech etc)
– facial expressions and gestures
– the opportunity to offer clarifications
Using live listening to prepare for IELTS Part 2
Using set of prompts like those above, the teacher prepares to talk for 1-2 minutes on the topic. You might want to spend more than the 1 minute that candidates are allowed, but it’s important that you don’t script what you are going to say.
Talk for 1-2 minutes to the students, and, ideally, record what you say. They listen and make notes on what you said about each prompt. Carry out brief feedback. This should help them see how to structure their talk, using the prompts.
Then play the recording (or repeat the task) and encourage students to write down any useful ‘chunks’ of language that they hear, which they think they could use in a similar task.
The reason that native speakers are able to speak so quickly and fluently is because they have a huge store of chunks of language which they are able to pull out and use; they don’t have to create every word from scratch. So it makes sense to encourage learners to develop their own store of ‘chunks’.
Here is a Vocaroo recording of me using the prompts above to talk about Qi Gong
And here is the language I might encourage the learners to pick out from this recording:
The leisure activity that I’d like to talk about is_______
It’s a kind of __________
It’s all about + ing
It’s quite similar to_________
The main thing about _____ is (that)____
I don’t often get around to it.
You don’t actually need any equipment at all.
Sometimes I find it difficult to motivate myself.
I always feel better after I’ve done it.
Spend a little bit of time checking that students understand the ‘chunks’ and can pronounce them fluently, then put them in pairs and ask them to carry out the same task themselves, using any of the chunks they find useful.
The beauty of this activity is that it requires minimal preparation, but, repeated on a regular basis, with different prompt cards, it can really help learners to develop their ability to structure a short talk and to use natural sounding ‘chunks’ of language.
What differences do you notice between the following two extracts?
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the way we live now- we have to change somehow, um, you know. We’re gonna end up with- with no water, with no heating, with- with nothing if we don’t change the way that we all live, so I think the point that he’s making about um homes being smaller um so that we can afford to heat them and to have water for them and, you know, different furniture and things like that is a really great idea.
I don’t think that there’s any doubt that we have to change the way we live now. If we don’t change, we’re going to end up with no water, no heating, with nothing, in fact. So, I think the point he’s making about homes being smaller, so that we can afford to heat them, and have water for them, is a great idea.
The first example comes from a semi authentic recording we made for New Total English Intermediate. The second is a ‘cleaned-up’ version. It’s been cleaned up by trying to simplify the syntax a bit, removing repetition and hesitation and taking out some of the markers and fillers.
The second version is perhaps more representative of a typical scripted dialogue (though things are changing, as we’ll discuss later); the first version is certainly more representative of how people actually speak.
In his article, ‘Lessons from the analysis of chunks‘, Michael McCarthy makes the point that two word chunks such as ‘you know’ ‘I mean’ and ‘kind of’ are actually much more frequent than many very common words such as ‘their’ ‘where’ or ‘friend’.
These high frequency chunks have a central part to play in communication. Some are often referred to as ‘fillers’. They can certainly act as ways of holding the floor while we think what to say next, but many high frequency chunks also have other clear pragmatic uses:
Referring to or checking shared knowledge: you know, you know what I mean.
Clarifying:I mean, like
Hedging (being indirect so as to save the other person face): I think, kind of, I don’t know if, a little bit, quite, actually, sort of
Vagueness:and things like that (see above example), a couple of, something
Everyday speech is full of these kinds of features, so aren’t we doing our students a disservice by presenting them with too sanitized a version of spoken English?
Alex Gilmore, in the article ‘A comparison of textbook and authentic interactions.’ finds that dialogues in the newer coursebooks (in 2004, when the article was published), ‘are beginning to incorporate more natural discourse features.’. I don’t think there’s any doubt that this trend has continued, and, furthermore, there is a recent move towards using more authentic or semi authentic material (such as in New Total English or Speakout).
It is certainly possible to have too much authenticity, and some transcripts of real conversations are pretty much unintelligible, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that including these features in recordings helps learners in processing real life interactions.
Getting students to ‘notice’ markers, fillers and hedging.
Obviously when students are listening to a recording, they are generally focused on picking out the key elements of meaning. However, we can focus on these high frequency chunks as a follow up task.
– Just as I did at the beginning of the post, you can rewrite part of an authentic transcript in a ‘cleaned up’ way and ask students to find the differences.
– Alternatively, give out the ‘cleaned up’ transcript and ask students to listen and write down any extra words or phrases they hear.
– Or, if you can make your own recordings, you could record a semi authentic dialogue, and then a scripted version of the same conversation and ask students what differences they notice.
– Give out cards with the high frequency chunks on, and ask students to hold them up whenever they hear ‘their’ chunk. (In some discourse the student with ‘you know’ may get quite tired arms..)
Encouraging students to use markers, fillers and hedging.
The first thing to say is that it is probably more important for students to be aware of these chunks than it is for them to be able to use them all.
However, many of these high frequency chunks can be very useful in gaining a little time to think when speaking, while still sounding fluent. Equally, not using hedging or vagueness can make discourse seem very brusque and even a bit aggressive or rude.
Here are some examples of very frequent chunks which I think learners could benefit from being able to use productively:
you know what I mean
and things like that/and stuff like that
a lot of people
there’s a lot of
I don’t know what/how/if
First, learners need to hear these phrases in context.
Secondly, they will need help with how to pronounce them, as chunks of language, with all the features of connected speech.
And then they will need to see how they could incorporate them into their own language use.
– A good way of doing this is to get learners to record a short dialogue or monologue, write out a transcript, and then see which of the chunks they either included, or could have included.
– Or ask learners to repeat a speaking task (with a new partner perhaps), and this time try to incorporate a few more high frequency chunks.
Why use news items? In a recent post I talked about the idea of narrow reading and passed on a suggestion from Scott Thornbury that learners could read a series of articles about a news story they were interested in, thus exposing themselves to the same vocabulary several times (and hopefully thus retaining some of it).
Obviously another advantage to this approach is that learners would be able to choose for themselves what they wanted to read. It seems obvious that this may well be more motivating than something the teacher has chosen for the whole class.
And finally, reading news items is pretty authentic, mirroring what learners may do in their first language, and may encourage extensive reading in L2.
However, there are several potential problems with using news articles. 1 Finding and selecting articles
Students may not be very good at finding appropriate sources of articles, or know how to select articles which are at the right kind of level of difficulty/challenge.
Obviously what makes a good source for news items will very much depend on your teaching context and the level of your students. There are specific sites online with news adapted for lower level learners (such as BBC Learning English), and the style of some newspapers seems to be clearer than others (I find the Telegraph quite good for learners, though it wouldn’t be my personal reading choice). I also rather like happynews.com, which ‘scoops’ news articles from various different sources, but guarantees that all the stories are positive (for when you don’t want a worthy but depressing lesson).
So, either point your students in the direction of suitable sources, or you could select a number of different articles and let them choose which they feel is most interesting or appealing. This can work well with the kind of newspaper which has a number of small articles on the same page. Mike Harrison gives a good example of this in his blog here 2 News articles are notoriously difficult to read.
Before students even start reading, headlines can be impossible to decipher. They often use puns and are frequently extremely culturally bound. This is particularly true of tabloid newspapers, which you might think would use simpler language, but are in fact about the hardest to decipher because of this. A headline chosen pretty much at random from today’s Mirror: Ruff table manners: Rottweiler needs surgery after swallowing five-inch spoon
Although the picture would certainly help (!), to understand this you need to understand that ‘ruff’ can be the sound a dog makes when barking, and that ‘rough’ also means not very polite. You need to know what ‘table manners’ are and what a ‘rottweiler’ is. You also need to understand the phrase ‘needs surgery’ and, for a full understanding, know how long five inches is! And that’s before we start to look at the syntax and who (or what) actually swallowed the spoon. Not too difficult in this case, but there are some famous examples, such as: Police help dog bite victim
The text itself is also likely to be very dense and contain a lot of elision and unusual syntax.
As Bermejo (2000) puts it:
‘Journalistic stories are complex and ambitious, they tell new events, but they also include quotations, background and consequences of those events.., so editors very often have to package the information in a way that is sometimes forced and can be difficult to understand.’
If we are going to work with news articles, students need some help and training in understanding the features of the discourse.
For example, the headline is frequently confusing, but there is often a subheadline which makes things clearer. E.g.: Max had to have an emergency operation after wolfing down a strawberry… and the spoon it was served on.
And then the first paragraph usually summarises the story: A fruit-loving dog had to have surgery after wolfing down a strawberry… along with the spoon it was served on. Max the rottweiler had to have an emergency operation after getting the five-inch teaspoon lodged in his stomach.
This first paragraph nearly always contains what journalists call the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where and why). In his 2003 article, Antepara makes the point that getting students to try and find the 5 Ws (or as many as possible), just using the headline and first paragraph, is a way of leading them into the rest of the text, which usually just adds detail to these main points.
We can also help learners to decode typical newspaper syntax. As we can see in the example above, a very common structure is before/after + ing. This can cause confusion because the subject isn’t directly stated. Some practice with simple sentence transformation can help learners:
After he wolfed down the spoon he had to have surgery.
After wolfing down the spoon he had to have surgery.
Another common feature is the use of reference devices. Obviously we find these in all texts, but because of the concise way newspaper texts are written, it can be particularly hard to follow the chain of reference. For example: The 10-year-old’s owner, Annette Robertshaw, of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, said her brother had been visiting her and was eating some strawberries when Max took a shine to them. He offered Max one on a teaspoon but was caught totally by surprise when the dog gulped down both items.
I think a lot of students would assume that ‘He’ at the beginning of the second paragraph referred back to the dog, because Max has just been mentioned, when it actually refers right back to ‘her brother’.
A couple of ideas for working on reference, which don’t require any preparation:
– Getting learners to underline reference words and then draw arrows back to what they refer to.
– Asking learners to rewrite texts with as little reference as possible and then give them to a partner to put the reference back in.
And, as you will have noticed, there are also a lot of idioms (especially in the tabloids). With a short article like this one, you can ask students to underline any idioms they find (wolf down, gulp down, take a shine to something) and look them up. They could then try and rewrite the article (or a section of it) without any idioms, put the idioms in a list below and, again, ask a partner to try and rewrite the text or section. 3 Working with authentic news articles can be extremely labour intensive.
Teachers often spend a lot of time thinking exercises to exploit news articles. And, because they date, the material can rarely be used again.
Furthermore, if every student has been reading something different, the task of exploiting all these texts can seem impossible.
One solution is to provide a generic task:
A good example of this would be the 5Ws task outlined above. This could be set for any news article, enabling learners to work simultaneously on completely different texts.
Alternatively, you could create a generic worksheet. Heather Buchanan has a good example of this, though designed for listening to the news. For example, you could start by asking learners to identify the type of news it is (human interest, politics, sport, finance). Then ask about the 5 Ws and finally ask for some kind of personal reaction.
The other solution is for tasks to be learner generated:
We have already seen some examples of this in the second section above. Other ideas might include:
-With a group of very short articles you could give a pair of learners one article each with the headline missing and ask them to write a headline. All the headlines and articles are mixed up and learners then work together to match them. A further stage might be to then match with the original headlines.
-Ask learners to choose, say, no more than 5 sentences which seem to carry the main points of the article. This can then be checked by a peer (while you monitor).
– Ask learners to rewrite a short article, changing some of the information to make it a lie (as outrageous as they wish. For example, Max might swallow a five foot spoon… A partner then reads it and spots the lies.
Essentially, try to rethink any activity you might devise for a text and see if the learners can do it themselves. This way they work harder, you have less preparation and it’s all personalised and learner centred.
The pictures show my great grandfather, who was a teacher of English as Foreign Language in Geneva at the turn of the last century, and one of the ELT Books he wrote (this is a second edition in 1901). So you see, teaching and writing ELT materials must be genetic!
The book is a collection of stories in English, which he used to teach. In the foreword he writes (in French):
The author uses this book as follows: he reads the stories phrase by phrase, the pupils translate without seeing the book. Afterwards, they read the stories and tell them in English. For the next lesson the students study and tell the stories; the teacher tells them in French. If you want to make the students’ task easier, you can question them. When you attack the longer passages in the stories, let them translate for themselves before you give them the exact translation.
Note, however, that the stories should not be studied in depth before the lesson. It is enough to go over the vocabulary. This method gives students confidence in their own abilities, gives them the facility to understand and to speak, and teaches them a lot of words, idioms and phrases in an enjoyable way.
It’s interesting to see an example of the (in)famous Grammar Translation method, but what really caught my eye was the emphasis on vocabulary, rather than grammar, and the idea that reading leads to learning ‘a lot of words, phrases and idioms in an enjoyable way.’
Just lately I have been doing some reading on the subject of extensive reading (ER), inspired by seeing Philip Prowse at the Brasshouse Conference the other week, and also Jez Uden’s great presentation on the British Council seminar series.
There seems to be a lot of evidence that ER does help with developing all aspects of language, including speaking. Perhaps the most research has been done into how ER can help to develop vocabulary. Most people would agree that we learn vocabulary through being repeatedly exposed to it in meaningful contexts, and it is difficult (and probably uninspiring) for lessons or coursebooks to recycle vocabulary 10-20 times. If we read extensively, however, we will be exposed to frequent items many times.
There is also evidence to suggest (Pigada and Schmitt 2006) that being exposed to lexis in this way also helps learners to acquire more about a word or phrase than just its meaning (i.e. exactly how it is used, its grammar and its spelling).
Michael Hoey talks about ‘lexical priming’, the idea that learners store lexical items in the context in which they have encountered them, so that with repeated exposure we are confident about using them in frequently used chunks. (Leo Selivan has a great post on this here)
However, there is also evidence that (unsurprisingly when you think about it) learners need to do an awful lot of reading in order to meet most words and phrases enough times to acquire them.
One solution is simplified readers, with their limited number of words. These can also be more motivating, as it is suggested that anything above 10% of unknown words will be demotivating for a reader. (Of course, it also depends if the readers are intrinsically interesting).
Another solution is what is known as ‘narrow reading’. The idea here is that rather than reading widely, learners read narrowly- around the same topic. In this way they will keep coming across the same lexical items. In How to Teach Vocabulary, Scott Thornbury suggests one way of doing this by asking learners to follow a particular news story on different websites, or over a period of time. They can then report back to other class members on the news story they chose (thus using the vocabulary).
However, there is still the issue of whether students will necessarily ‘notice’ the vocabulary, even with repeated exposure. As Huljstin says:
‘Incidental acquisition-through-reading is a slow and error-prone process with small vocabulary gains (Laufer, 2005; Nation, 2001; Read, 2004; Brown, Waring & Donkaewbua, 2008). Readers do not always notice unfamiliar words when reading a text. If they do, guessing the meaning is not always possible. Moreover, many people possess poor inferencing skills..’
It seems to me that, while we probably don’t want students reading word by word with dictionaries in hand, there is probably a benefit in having some intentional vocabulary learning as well as incidental learning. There is certainly some evidence that a combination of the two leads to the greatest gain in vocabulary acquisition.
So perhaps we could ask learners to carry out some of the following follow up activities after reading, rather than asking comprehension questions- or for the dreaded book report?
Ask students to choose a number of words and phrases from what they have read which they think are related to the topic. They could then work with these in different ways (categorising according to part of speech, or by meaning, using them to write or speak about the topic etc)
Ask students to select a number of lexical items they didn’t know but think they might find useful. Then ask them to look them up in a good learner dictionary and find out how frequent they are, and based on that choose 6-7 to consciously learn.
Ask students to note down any new words that they noticed were repeated a number of times in the text. They can then decide if they think these words were repeated because they related to the topic, or if they are in fact high frequency words.
If learners have been reading the same text, you could go through it and select some common collocational phrases (such as those listed on Leo Selivan’s blog) and give them the beginning of each phrase to complete. They could either check their ideas in the text itself (obviously with a page or line reference), or use an online corpus tool like Netspeak.
Essentially these are all ways of making language noticeable or salient to learners, which should go hand in hand with all the benefits of simply reading, or as one of my favourite acronyms for extensive reading has it- DEAR (drop everything and read).
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