Exploiting Texts

Exploiting Texts

Thinking about authentic texts a little here, and making use of them – here’s a link to something I wrote on the teaching English website a while back (you can tell because I was in NZ at the time). http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/articles/using-authentic-materials and I think it still stands (generally) now – and even more so now I teach ESOL in the UK where learners are surrounded by English and really need to develop those coping skills when it comes to authentic material. I’d also add that I think there’s a bit more here – a thing you see a lot with some teachers is this massive dependence on handouts. You go into a class and you see handout after handout after handout. The ss have these great big files of lovely handouts printed in glorious technicolour with three words worth of work on each. Which (almost) wouldn’t be so bad if this was because the ss were slackers (which is a whole new problem) but usually it’s because the teacher in question has created a shiny handout for every stage of the lesson.

A good example is a reading lesson based on an authentic text: all they could have done is produce the original text, a nice neat little reading about, say, a murder from the newspaper with a picture and a simple set of true/false questions (or whatever comprehension questions). The rest then lies with the teacher and the students. All it takes is a bit of thinking time on the part of the teacher.
T: Look at the picture, look at the headline, what do you think it will be about? (ideas go up on board, T & ss discuss/raise any key vocab, lets the ss explore this a while). T: Ok, lets see what you think. (Ss read and see whether their ideas were correct). T: OK, early finishers, have a chat with each other and see if you had the same ideas. (ss compare ideas) then a VERY quick SS>T feedback “Which was right?”) T: Now, have a look at the questions underneath with your neighbour. Can you remember any of the answers? (Ss look and rack brains. They aren’t supposed to remember, BTW. What you are doing here (i.e. the AIM of the activity) is getting learners to read the questions and make sure they understand them. But giving them a reason for reading means they are much more likely to engage with the questions in their own right, rather than just wussily saying “Just read the questions”.

This is all about intrinsic (or instrumental) motivation: making the tasks interesting in and of themselves so that ss want to do them**. You might have a biddable and sheeplike class who follow the teacher blindly (get them out of that habit as soon as possible, I always say) but most of the time you won’t.
T: Now look at the text again and see if you can check your ideas, and finish the ones you didn’t know (It’s wonderful when this just happens by itself, by the way, as ss are looking at the questions then start to refer back to the text.
T monitors this activity carefully and then leads class feedback on ONLY the questions which either lots of ss got wrong or caused interesting discussions, or gets ss to share their discussions which might be of use to the rest of the class. T DOES NOT go round the class asking for the answer to every question if they know what responses every student has put, unless there is some ulterior motive for this).
Then, OK, you can have a discussion. Ask the ss to discuss something pertinent about the text (I like to give them a decision to come to). When the ss have finished, you’ve got at least another hour out of the text. “Underline all the verbs and identify the tenses used” (or be more directed with this: choose key examples of some common structures in the text and write up on the board. Elicit meaning & highlight form. Ss then go into text and find more examples.Or perhaps “find all the words related to fish/colours/crime” Then get ss to write something in a similar vein, simple sentences, whole texts; ss could personalise the vocab – choose 3 words. Write one sentence using each word about yourself. Hangman. Pictionary. Taboo. I went to the supermarket and I bought… Draw a picture and ss have to write about the situation. Role play two characters from the text. What happened next? 2 (maybe more) hours. One handout. Done. And yes you could adapt this for lower levels.

Actually you could just go in with the text and get learners to write their own questions for each other. Even better get learners to choose their own texts. Now there’s an idea for Monday…

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