Posted tagged ‘lea’

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.

Putting a Spin on LEA for Upper Level Students

March 17, 2009

For those who are not familiar with the Language Experience Approach (LEA), it was created as a way to develop literacy for native-English-speaking children. In time, the approach found application in the ESL classroom as well. The basic idea is for a teacher or aide to transcribe an oral account as told by the learner and turn it into a readable text. The process integrates speaking, listening, reading, and writing. It is characterized by a high degree of personalization: the content and the language are chosen by the learner. This ensures engagement. How can one’s own story not be of interest to the learner?

I am hardly the first to consider experimenting with the LEA in order to develop the language skills of more advanced adult learners. From one-on-one (as is the tradition) to a group format, and from oral readings to forms of publication, there are probably a dozen or so possible variations of the LEA. Let me offer this one:

ACTIVITY: Story Scramble and Retell

STEP 1 – Place students in groups of 3 (or 4 if necessary). Write two topics on the board and ask the group to initiate a conversation about ONE of them. Choose topics that have broad appeal but are specific enough to quickly inspire personal stories. Examples: (1) Pets I’ve Owned / (2) Bad Food Experience. Allow groups about 5 minutes to converse freely. Give them a 1-minute warning before you tell them to stop.

STEP 2 – After this initial period of conversation, ask each group to choose one student to retell a BRIEF story from his/ her past (less than a minute). If it’s difficult to choose one student, have them flip a coin or draw straws (slips of paper). Tell them each person will have a special role. Student A tells the story. Student B sits next to Student A and transcribes the account exactly as it is told. Student C (and D if there are four) listens and asks questions either for clarification or to prompt Student A.

STEP 3 – The roles change slightly. Students B and C now look at the transcribed text suggest corrections.  Student A must give his/ her approval for changes to be made. Student C rewrites the text starting each new sentence on a new line with wide spacing. Ideally, there should be about 8-10 lines. Model (based on a true story):

                My family had a cat while I was growing up.

                It was an outdoor cat, and it liked to hunt.

                It usually brought home whatever it killed.

                One day it brought a chipmunk.

                The problem was that the chipmunk wasn’t dead.

                It was hurt and scared.

                The cat chased it into our house.

It took my brother and his friend and two hockey sticks to get the chipmunk out of the dining room and back outside.

I stood screaming on a kitchen chair the whole time.

STEP 4 – The text is now cut out line by line to create strips of paper. Ask each group to shuffle the strips and hand them over to another group of students.

STEP 5 – With their set of strips, each group must assemble a story in what they believe is the correct order. Once they feel that the order is logical, they must rewrite the story in paragraph form. Editing and revision are allowed.

STEP 6 – Using the final drafts, the groups read their assembled stories to the class. The original story-teller may comment on the accuracy and quality of the final version. Final drafts can be handed to the teacher for additional corrections.

STEP 7 – (Optional) – Independently, each student may write a short account on the other topic that was not chosen by their group and submit it to the teacher. Once revisions are made, these stories may be shared orally in a later lesson.

While unique on its own, the above activity still respects the basic characteristics of the LEA. The content is student-generated. The language is chosen by the students. The level of skills integration is high: it embraces a whole language approach.


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