Sunday, 16 September 2012

How do we generate language from a topic? - A practical example

A picture is worth 1000 words
This was the title of a webinar presented by Adrian Tennant as part of the MacMillan series.  What follows is a summary of the session.

Adrian began by telling us that two or three 50-word texts should generate five or six hours of teaching.  This was quite a surprising claim and had us hooked from the off!

We were then shown that we don't even need 50 words.  For example, we should treat a picture as a text.  Remember the saying: 'A picture is worth a thousand words'.

Another place to start would be with a newspaper headline.  For example.

Youth Badly Hit in Jobs Market

The ambiguity of headlines like this make them rich pickings for language analysis:
  • Who or what does the word 'youth' refer to ?
  • What is a jobs market?
  • How was/were the youth hit?
  • Who or what hit the youth?
  • What was the youth hit with?        etc., etc.
This could easily be adapted for low level students:

Young People Can't Get Jobs

Here, you could focus on modals, negatives, the verb 'get', and so on.

A five or six word text can generate 15-20 minutes of teaching and/or discussion, so how much more can be generated from a 50-word text? 
With a 50-word text, you can
  • pick up on collocations and do vocabulary matching exercises
  • isolate the grammar - tenses, comparatives, etc.
  • teach a particular part of speech - adjectives, articles, prepositions, etc.
  • highlight referencing words - like this, this kind of, these, they, etc.

An example of a short text

Usually in course books, the higher the level, the longer the text.  Remember:

Short, complex texts can be much more useful than longer ones.
What else can you ask students to do with a short text?
  • You can ask students to paraphrase or summarise the text. 
  • Use it to increase vocabulary.  For example, you could get students to replace every adjective with a synonym, thus teaching them to avoid repetition in their own writing.
  • You can use the text as the basis for a class discussion.
  • You can ask students to generate questions from the text for their classmates to answer.
  • You can get students to prepare two-minute presentations based on the text.
What is the difference between using short texts and using a coursebook?
  • The texts are bite-sized.
  • The language emerges from the topic, NOT the topic from the language.
There are thousands of topic-based lessons for all levels freely available on the internet, covering subjects such as: crime, family, weather, politics, travel, work, relationships, environment, culture, education, transport, etc.
There is no such thing as an authentic text in an EFL classroom.  The minute you take a text into class, it loses it's authenticity!  There are only authentic tasks!
How do you create a topic-driven lesson?
  1. Choose a topic.
  2. Find (or write) short texts about the topic.  These can be like short newspaper articles.
  3. Start looking for the language - DO NOT try to write a text to illustrate a grammar point or a particular type of vocabulary.  The text should never be contrived - the language should emerge from a naturally-written text.
  4. Design your activities - don't forget to record audio versions of your texts to be able to add listening activities.
  5. Always have the topic at the forefront of your mind.
Extension activities
  • Higher level students can generate their own texts (this is good for error correction, too).
  • Texts written by higher level students can be used in lower-level classes.
  • Give students a similar text to the original as a gap-fill - articles, linkers, etc.
The most important thing is getting students to notice language through exploring and analysing a text.  We need to teach students how to learn and give them the curiosity and the tools to take control of their own learning.
Further reading
'Uncovering Grammar' by Scott Thornbury

No comments:

Post a comment