Skip to main content

Have a repertoire, lighten your workload (part two)

This is the second blog in the series of four where I dip into my archive to suggest some simple, evidence-informed approaches which you could reuse multiple times to create both routines and a bit of variety for your classes. Taken together, the four blogs offer a possible template of road-tested go-to teaching sequences which can be part of your repertoire and reduce workload. The first blog focused on using sentence builder frames as a very useful tool for introducing or practising language with near-beginners up to low-intermediate level.

In this post I'm going to look at simple ways to exploit written texts. Now, you often come across a piece of writing in a text book, or find an interesting, comprehensible text you fancy using. Yes, I did throw in comprehensible there, since (in case you need reminding!) the research suggests that for a text to be useful for acquisition it needs to be at least 95% comprehensible, i.e. the students should already know at least 95% of the words. (It 's Paul Nation who writes about this. In fact, he even suggests that 98% is the magic figure, but you need to take into account the individual differences in your class and how many words are easily guessable because they are borrowing from English or close cognates. 90% might even do with some classes.)

So you have your text and think "What shall I do with this?" Here is a slightly adapted post I wrote in November 2017 which describes what you might do:

Guide to exploiting a written text

The fundamental principles underlying this teaching sequence are about:
  • Making the language comprehensible and interesting.
  • Scaffolding activities, building from easier to harder.
  • Building in repetition.
  • Varying the task.
  • Varying the skill mode (listening, reading, speaking, writing).
  • Allowing each skill to reinforce the others.

Here is the text - pitched at intermediate level (e.g. Higher Tier GCSE):

A new survey in France reveals that young people spend more than 27 hours per week online. This figure has tripled over the last decade. The opinion pollster IPSOS carried out the study based on thousands of young 16-24 year-olds as part of its report in 2017 about media usage and attitudes towards it. IPSOS concluded that although most online content continues to be viewed on a computer, the proportion of access via mobile devices is rising rapidly. Currently three quarters of adults regularly use a smartphone or tablet computer. Online content has also changed considerably over the last ten years. Today people spend much more time watching video clips, playing games, using instant messaging and checking their social media accounts. An expert in online media explains why people are spending more time online. “New technologies are opening up lots of new possibilities for young people. It’s not just about looking at content. They are sending messages to friends at the same time. Over time, as young people grow older and set up their own homes they will watch less television. Over a quarter of young people now watch television programmes and films online rather than on a television. A 50 inch television screen offers quality you cannot obtain on a tablet or smartphone, so televisions will always have a significant role.

Suggested sequence
1. Pre-reading
Display two columns of words from the text with L1 on one side, L2 on the other. Get the class to match words from each column, either done as whole class hands-up, in pairs or individually + feedback).
2. Teacher reads aloud with text visible on screen for students to follow.

3. Choral reading aloud of part or all of the text. Teacher reads a chunk, students repeat. Correct any obvious errors. Insist on total participation.

4. Invite volunteers to read aloud paragraphs.

5. Hand out a printed version of the text. (You could have done this at the start.) Ask students to highlight or underline any cognates they can identify. then get feedback.
6. "How do you say...?" task. Teacher gives a word or chunk and students identify from the text. Either hands up, no hands up or responses on mini whiteboards.

7. True/false - teacher makes statements for the class to respond to with mini-whiteboards (or on paper).

8. Correcting false statements. Teacher makes a series of false statements for students to correct. (Not how at this point, having got better acquainted with the text students now have to provide more spoken language.)

9. Repeat the above activity but this time students write down their answers. Feed back.

10. Teacher asks questions in L2. Students respond (hands up or no hands up).

11. Provide students with a list of written questions. Students work in pairs asking each other the questions. Monitor the work from a distance ensuring all students are on task. Answer questions.

12. Check with the class if there are still parts of the text they don't understand.

13. Have students write out their answers to the questions they did orally. Add questions about their own use of their internet use (personalising the topic). (This might be done as a homework task.) Alternative written tasks could include translation into L1, retranslation into L2 (i.e. producing a set of sentences similar to those used in the source text) or a short composition about internet use.

Follow-up lesson(s)

Display the text again and check meaning of key phrases. Re-do short parts of the activities described above. Don't assume that language covered last time will have been remembered. For many students this will not be the case unless you recycle the language at spaced intervals in the future (spaced learning principle). In future lessons try to recycle some or all of the language in different contexts.


This is just a selection of the many tasks you can do with a text, but in this example I tried to build up the sequence moving from easier to harder, giving plenty of time and exposure to allow some "implicit" learning to take place before asking students to be productive themselves.
Exactly the same principles could apply with easier texts and with near-beginners. ELT writer Michael Swan has called this type of sequence "intensive input-output" work. I think it's better to work a short text intensively, building in repetition, rather than exploiting a longer text in a shallow fashion. This doesn't mean that there isn't room for more extended reading, but limited classroom time makes intensive work more fruitful in my view. 

It's quite a teacher-led approach, but bar in mind that pupils get to hear a LOT of comprehensible target language in the process. If done on repeated occasions, just think how much listening input students receive.

In the third post in this series I'll take a look at exploiting picture sequences to build listening skill, grammatical awareness and spoken proficiency.


Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…

Five great advanced level French listening sites

If your A-level students would like opportunities to practise listening there are plenty of sources you can recommend for accessible, largely comprehensible and interesting material. Here are some I have come across while searching for resources over recent years.

Daily Geek Show

I love this site. It's fresh, youthful and full of really interesting material. They have an archive of videos, both short and long, from various sources, grouped under a range of themes: insolite (weird news items), science, discovery, technology, ecology and lifestyle. There should be something there to interest all your students while adding to their broader education. Here is one I enjoyed (I shall seriously think about buying tomatoes in winter now):

France Bienvenue

This site has been around for years and is the work of a university team in Marseilles. You get a mixture of audio and video material complete with transcripts and explanations.This is much more about the personal lives of the students …

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended.

Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013:

“Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".”

For the record he subsequently added:

“The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.”

I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative assess…