Archive for the ‘Reading’ category

Top 5 Uses of Top 10 Lists

July 23, 2010

I discovered a site that publishes top ten lists. That’s all they do. Well, there is some variation.  They have top 20 and top 25 lists as well. The List Universe. The site offers materials that are appropriate for upper level students. Lists contain brief explanations for each item. As an added bonus, the site has begun to make podcasts of existing lists. What does that mean for classroom use? It means you can find some lists presented as an audio file and the original publication serves as the transcript. If you really enjoy the content, you can subscribe to Listverse podcasts on iTunes. The podcasts use fast but very clear speech. (Click here for a sample.)

The archives on this site organize the lists into a dozen categories, giving you a broad selection of topics. You’ll probably want to bypass the categories of Bizarre and Controversial and browse more classroom appropriate ones, such as Art & Literature, Fact & Fiction, and Leisure & Travel. One example of a tame but still interesting topic is Top 20 Facts About Sleep.

What can you do with the lists? I think back to my early experiments with top ten lists to offer these suggestions. You may choose to focus on one or more skills within a single lesson.

  1. Detailed listening practice. Use a podcast. First listening: identify the items on the list. Second: use a gapped text to listen for details. Recommended list: 10 Most Annoying Time Wasters.
  2. Understanding a theme. Hide the list title and present the items of the list one by one on the board.  As you post each new item, it should be easier for the class to guess the theme. What would they title the list? You can either have students volunteer their guesses as the activity progresses, or you can ask them to wait until the last item is shown and then write down their ideas. After they submit their guesses, show the actual title. Recommended list: Top 10 Ways to Save Money on Food.
  3. Understanding a theme. Show the title and hide the items. This is the opposite of the previous activity. Have students work in pairs or small groups to generate their own items for a given list title. Then they can compare their lists to the original one. Recommended list: 10 Greatest Food Combinations.
  4. Self-expression through writing. Students can respond to a list in writing. Revised and approved texts can be posted on the site’s forum.
  5. Debates and presentations. Lists loaded with personal opinion make for interesting discussion. Discussion can center around the ranking. Assign each pair or small group an item on the list and ask them to prepare an argument for ranking their item number one. Recommended list: Top 10 Everyday Inventions.

Getting the Most Out of Authentic Texts

July 7, 2010

If you’ve decided to bring in an authentic text to share with your students, what do you plan to do with it? You can use a text to meet a number of objectives, which include but are not limited to:

  • Teaching text organization and comprehension of main ideas.
  1. Scramble the paragraphs of a short article and have students work in pairs or small groups to reassemble the text.
  2. Remove the title as well as any section headings. Challenge students to create a main title as well as suggestions for section headings. Compare their ideas to the original ones written by the author.
  3. Present a gapped text. On the board write the 3-4 missing sentences from the article. Be sure that the sentences are removed from different paragraphs so that the main ideas/ subtopics are clearly different. Have students work with a partner to insert the sentences in the most appropriate places.

These kinds of exercises facilitate thinking in English and not simply about English.

 

  • Teaching suprasegmentals.
  1. Practice intonation patterns. Select an excerpt from a dialogue (play, film script, novel, etc.) that contains a good mix of sentence types (yes-no questions, wh- questions, sentences with a series of items, etc.) which are ideally said by different characters. First reading: The teacher reads and the students identify the pattern (e.g., rising intonation). Second reading: Place students in small groups of three or four and assign each member a pattern (e.g., Student A – rising, Student B – falling, Student C – rise fall). The sentences will be read in the order they are written, but all the sentences of a given pattern must be read by the same student. Third reading: The students will assume character roles, including a narrator if necessary.
  2. Practice rhythm through thought groups. Select a short article or brief excerpt. As a class, mark appropriate places to pause. Read the text orally as a class and a second time in pairs, observing the noted thought groups.

These reading activities allow you to choose a highly appealing source, such as a popular film, a TV show, or a speech made by a celebrity. If the resources are available, you could compare a student reading to the original recording.

Related ideas can be found in my posts on paraphrasing and editing.

The Art of Creating Activities: Using Museum Websites for Language Teaching

May 24, 2010

As we all know, the Internet has opened up a wealth of learning opportunities. The trick is to find a resource and then figure out how to use it. While reading my favorite magazine, The Week, I discovered that the world’s museums have been busy making much of its contents available to people who cannot physically visit them. The Louvre, the Hermitage Museum, and the Smithsonian are three such institutions. 

Not every trip to Paris allows time for a day at the Louvre (at least, that’s been my experience). Now anyone can go online and take a virtual tour. If your students do so, remind them to select English on the home page before they begin the tour! Here another possibility.

  • Choose Kaleidoscope and select a visual theme, such as “Daily Life”. Click to enlarge or zoom in on the images in the order you wish the class to view them. Have students state a brief description of what they see using targeted grammar. Be sure students know the words painting, sculpture, work of art, and any other vocabulary relevant to the pieces you’ll be showing. Examples: (present progress) “Seated Man Writing” is a sculpture. The man is sitting, and he is writing. / (adjective clauses) “Reading” (by Fragonard) is a drawing in which two women are sitting. One is reading. The other, who is dressed in a beautiful gown, is in the front, and she is listening.

 

The Louvre

Virtual visits to the Hermitage are also possible. Here’s an idea to develop reading skills.

  • Attend the Virtual Academy. Challenge upper level students to read for details. For example, if they select the “course” on the history of the Winter Palace, they could be given this list of questions to answer as they move through the slide presentation.

Model: [Slides 1-6]

  1. Who lived at the Winter Palace?
  2. How did Russia’s relationship with Sweden influence the construction of the Winter Palace?
  3. Name at least two positive contributions Peter I made to Russia.
  4. How did Elizabeth choose to decorate the palace and why?
  5. Who was the first true owner of the palace?

The Hermitage

Of the three, I found the Smithsonian site to be the most attractive. Maybe the appeal had to do with the introductory video hosted by the popular American actor Ben Stiller. The video itself could be used for listening, speaking, and vocabulary practice.

  • Comprehension questions based on the video (first 3 minutes)
  1. Who founded the Smithsonian?
  2. How large is the Smithsonian?
  3. (1:40) What does Ben Stiller emphasize “the” when he says, “A lot of people think the castle…is the Smithsonian”?
  4. (2:09) Retell the story of the “The Peacock Room” designed by the artist Whistler.
  • Vocabulary. Listen to the video (first 3 minutes) and explain the meaning of these phrases:
  1. (1:05) hall of fame
  2. (1:37) (not) kidding around
  3. (2:21) went to town (on it)
  4. (2:57) crack a code

 

Got another suggestion for using one of these sites? Please share it.

The Power of Polls

April 9, 2010

I’ve suggested use of polls and surveys in the past. Those ideas included activities to target:

The above activities were designed with intermediate and advanced students in mind. What about beginners? How can polls assist those with a limited amount of language, especially in terms of reading and writing? I began to think about this as I dropped my son off today at kindergarten.  I was struck by the delight he takes in participating in the daily poll. It’s a simple sheet of paper posted on the wall next to the door. The teacher updates it every morning.  As students arrive, they read and take the daily poll. Sometimes they assist one another with the reading, but each child does his or her own writing. Imagine if during one week the questions were all similar in format. Then unfamiliar words would likely be recognizable words (sight words) by the end of the week. The questions could make use of target vocabulary: colors, emotions, numbers, etc.

Model A: You can create two columns YES and NO and have students write their names in the appropriate column. This tests their ability to read target words, in this case the names of colors, and write their first names.

                Monday: Are you wearing RED today?

                Tuesday: Are you wearing BLUE today?

                Wednesday: Are you wearing GREEN today?

                Thursday: Are you wearing BLACK today?

                Friday:  Are you wearing YELLOW today?

Model B: You can create a list of the students’ names. The students must write their answer next to their name. This tests their ability to recognize their names, read target words, and rewrite those words.

                Monday: Are you TIRED or NOT TIRED today?

                Tuesday: Are you HAPPY or SAD today?

                Wednesday: Are you HUNGRY or NOT HUNGRY now?

                Thursday: Are you COLD, HOT, or OKAY now?

                Friday:  Are you THIRSTY or NOT THIRSTY now?

Second-hand Writing: Maximizing the usefulness of a writing activity

October 28, 2009

I hope the title caught your attention, but perhaps it’s also caused some confusion. Let me explain. I’d like to consider the possibility of using student compositions as the basis for other activities. It’s similar to a craftsman building something from recycled materials. Compositions that have been thoroughly revised and already graded could be used among the same group of students or with other groups at similar levels (assuming you have the authors’ permission) in the context of a new lesson. Here are two possible “second-hand” activities:

1. Solo reading and speaking to the class

Student compositions written by one group can be shared with a second. Students receiving the essays can be assigned questions to answer:

  • For essays expressing a point of view (problem-solution, cause-effect, etc.): What is the topic? What is the author’s opinion? Do you agree with the author? Why or why not? Be prepared to share your answers with the class.
  • For essays presenting information (narrative, definition, etc.): What is the topic? Can you summarize the essay? Did you learn anything new from the author? Can you provide any additional information on the topic? Be prepared to share your answers with the class.

2. Paired reading and problem-solving discussion

Students at one level should be able to comprehend not only the writings of their classmates but also of those one level head. This means a teacher could share the compositions of a high intermediate class with the students at the intermediate or low intermediate level. The number of unfamiliar words or grammatical structures shouldn’t be high enough to hinder comprehension. That said, try the following activity with a narrative essay or short story.

  • Story Scramble: You’re likely familiar with this game. I put a spin on it for a LEA-inspired activity (Language Experience Approach) back in March 2009. Now we’re taking a story or a description of events as related on paper by a student and dividing it up into 10-12 segments. This needs to be done by the teacher in advance. I recommend keeping sets of the story in envelopes. You’ll need about 5-6 sets so that the class can work either in pairs or small groups. Each group will assemble the story to the best of their ability.  One group can volunteer to read the assembled story to the class. Alternative sequences can be discussed.

VARIATION: You can have each group work with a different story. After an assigned amount of time (e.g., 10 minutes), you can present a copy of the original story to the group so they can check their work. Groups can hand back the original “whole” copies to the teacher and exchange sets so the activity is repeated. Finally, after all the materials have been collected, have volunteers recall and orally summarize the 5-6 stories. The class can listen and assist as necessary.

Mix and Match: An activity to develop reading skills

October 13, 2009

It’s helpful for language learners to understand the tone and the organization of any given text. These two factors are related to the writer’s purpose. Furthermore, recognizing a writer’s tone and means of organizing information is a skill that can aid students in composing their own texts since one must comprehend a model before trying to replicate it.

Try the following activity with upper level students. Use of authentic, unadapted materials will also develop their ability to skim. Some learners feel the need to understand every word during a first encounter with a reading passage. The following activity doesn’t allow this kind of slower, detail-oriented reading. Learners must skim to understand the general tone and approach to text organization and realize that comprehension of every new vocabulary word or complex grammatical structure isn’t necessary for this purpose.  Skimming itself is a useful skill, as anyone faced with large quantities of reading at school or work will tell you.

STEP 1 – Prepare four excerpts from different sources. Target a range of types: novel, news article/ report, textbook passage/ academic essay, business memo/ letter. Make copies without revealing titles or sources. On a separate sheet of paper, provide the titles/ headlines.

STEP 2 – Hand out the copies of the titles first. Ask students to guess the source and make predictions about the content. This can be done as a class.

STEP 3 – Hand out the copies of the excerpts.  Have students work in pairs to match each passage to its title. Tell them to note their reasons for making each match. Place a time limit that challenges students to complete this task quickly and without consulting a dictionary or reading for details (5-7 minutes).

 STEP 4 – Correct the matches as a class. Have pairs share their reasoning behind each match. Discuss the tone of each excerpt. Highlight different tones a writer can have (persuasive, informative, etc.) and Ask students to identify the organization used by each writer. Highlight different approaches to text organization (problem-solution, chronological, etc.)

STEP 5 – OPTIONAL. You can extend this activity with additional excerpts prepared before class. Select articles, essays, or letters that expose students to other tones and other means of organizing a text. Simply make one copy of each excerpt and number them. This time you may include the title and source for each passage. In pairs, students can have 1-2 minutes to skim a passage and make conclusions about its tone and organization. Then they switch copies with another pair. This continues until each pair has skimmed all reading passages. Again, their conclusions are shared with the class.

Fun for Everyone: An activity to practice comparatives and equatives

August 19, 2009

Level: Intermediate to advanced

Objective: To describe lesser-known sports and identify their appeal to people

Skills targeted: Reading for details, using graphic organizers, making conclusions, writing with comparatives and equatives

STEP 1 – Students receive a list of 4-6 lesser-known sports. For each sport, provide a recommended link that offers background information. Suggestions:

Students should work in pairs or small groups of 3 at computer stations. (Alternative: Use printouts of web pages.) They need to explain in 3-5 sentences how each sport is played. This information should be recorded. You can offer a chart to organize their findings:

Sports/ Games

How is the sport played?

What’s the object of the game?

Words to describe

this sport/ game:

BOCCE

 

 
ORIENTEERING    
SHUFFLEBOARD    
ZORBING    

 

STEP 2 – Students must then draw conclusions about whom each sport appeals to. They may also include their personal opinions of each sport. Again, notes should be taken. Encourage use of comparatives and equatives. Examples: Shuffleboard isn’t as exciting as zorbing, but shuffleboard is more competitive. Bocce is probably as physically demanding as shuffleboard. Orienteering is good for active people who like the outdoors. We think zorbing is more fun than any of the other sports.

STEP 3 – Have each pair or small group present information on one sport. The class may comment after each group finishes their brief presentation.

 

Other lesser-known sports: bog snorkeling, curling, street luge racing, bossaball.


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