Rewordify: website for simplifying a text

So you’ve got a text and it’s ridiculously interesting but it’s just that little bit too difficult for your students…

If you’ve ever been in that situation, you might want to try rewordify. A colleague of mine put me onto this website a few years ago and I thought it was time to pass it on.

The idea is simple: you put your text in and it dumbs it down with helpful synonyms and explanations. You may argue that this isn’t authentic and that it stops the flow of the text and you are probably right. But what I love about this website is it then lets you create worksheets for all of the trickier words.

Here are two ways I have used it in the past:

  1. I simplify a newspaper article on a current issue for a lower level class. We work through the trickier language using the worksheets. I then let them watch a news segment on the same topic and discuss the topic. The worksheets have allowed them to both understand the video and discuss it.
  2. When teaching CAE and CPE, encouraging them to show off or upgrade their language in their writing can be difficult. I like to dumb down a text using this website and set them the task of upgrading it. I then get them to compare it to the original and see how they did.

It’s a great little website. Check it out and let us know how you use it.

If you’d like to learn about more useful websites, check out this blog.

Hand in hand, arm in arm, we all read together…

I should say that this is not a lesson but rather an idea to put into your reading lessons.

Recently at my school we were running some sessions on developing reading skills and I remembered a website I used to use quite a lot to help students read more quickly and to read in chunks instead of one word at a time.

The idea is simple:

  1. Choose a text
  2. Copy it into online teleprompter software
  3. Choose the speed
  4. Set the task
  5. We all read together…

For students who tend to read one word at a time instead of in chunks, it forces their hand a little.

There are just a few things to take into consideration though:

  • Your students may find it stressful at first. It’s very important that you explain to the students what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  • The task must be appropriate. It should probably just be a gist question as you are asking them to skim read the text really.
  • It’s important that you don’t just test their reading skills. You have to help them to develop. After choral reading, discuss how they felt, what their strategies were. Discourage them from reading one word at a time.

My favourite website to use is this one as it’s easy to use and soooooooooooooo free.

Check it out and let us know how you get on.

(T)ex(t)ploiting a coursebook listening text

So this one is not a lesson as such but more an idea for your lessons.

Coursebooks are rich resources for texts and sadly, due to completely understandable constraints (space / industry traditions / overall themes of a book / editor pressure) they are very often under-used. Listening exercises tend to test comprehension or act as a vehicle for uncovering the target language. While this is a totally valid use of a listening text, I’ve often asked myself if perhaps we could be exploiting them further.

Recently a teacher came to me with a problem. She had finished her double page spread as per her plan, her students had really nailed the controller and freer practice and she had dealt with feedback. All in all, a perfect lesson. But, she had been left with 30 mins in the class so she has dragged out feedback a little and then let them start on some of their homework. She hadn’t really been satisfied with how the class had ended and wondered if I had any advice.

I suggested revisiting the listening text from earlier in the lesson. There is so much that can be done. What follows are just a few ideas that you should be able to apply to almost any listening text.

Reflection:

The idea here is to encourage sts to think about why they struggled (if they did) with comprehension. This can then inform what part of the text you examine. It also means learners don’t just blame their “bad listening”, there will always be something we can teach them that will improve things.

  • What percentage of this text do you feel you understood?
  • What did you find difficult about this listening?
  • What would help you to understand it better?

Pronunciation for listening skills:

The main idea is that if students don’t know it is possible, they won’t hear it. Consider “do you want to” versus /juhwanna/. We cannot expect a learner to know that they are the same. They do not expect written English to vary so drastically from spoken English. It is our job to highlight the differences, little and often.

  • Listen to the text with the transcript. Encourage sts to underline chunks that sound different to what they would expect.
  • Highlight one or two chunks in the text that sound different to the expected written form. Drill them, encourage sts to write personalised sentences and then drill them.
  • Highlight one feature of spoken English (schwa for articles / final consonant & initial vowel linking / stressed words at the end of a sentence or clause) and then encourage sts to listen for other examples within the text.

Speaking skills:

Very often coursebook texts will work on functional language for conversations but if you revisit the text, you may find something else that will help them with their speaking.

  • Give sts the transcript and ask them to mark a circle above words they think will be stressed (spoken clearly). Then listen and check. Examine which words tend to be stressed (info words: nouns/verbs/adj/adv)
  • Do the same but ask them to mark when the speaker pauses with a slash. Listen and check. Notice it tends to be at the end of a sentence, after a comma or after a linking word. This will help sts with the flow of spoken English.
  • Examine any fillers in the text. It might seem strange but the noises we make in one language can be very different to another. Take for example the Turkish /tch/ that simply means “no” but in English can signal a lack of respect or interest and can be quite offensive. It’s worth pointing these differences out.

Learner training:

What we really want are learners that can analyse texts by themselves, that notice chunks, that don’t really need us. If done little and often, these exercises can help create these super students.

  • Ask sts to underline any prepositions on the transcript. Notice what their function is. Are they linked to an adjective, are they part of a phrase, are they related to time or movement? Prepositions are so often overlooked but by drawing their attention to them in context we can avoid having to do lengthy preposition lessons.
  • Get sts to underline any interesting chunks in the text. Discuss the meaning, drill the pron and ask them to choose 2 that they will use in conversation that week. Remember to get them to think about how they will use it. They must plan the context. Make sure you follow up with them at the end of the week or they will never do it again.

So, just a few ways you could revisit your listening texts the next day or during the lesson. Just because the coursebook hasn’t had time to look at these, doesn’t mean you don’t. And remember, I don’t expect you to do all of these for every text. That would be insanity and you’d never get anything done.

The key is little and often!

So try some out and let us know how it goes.

Responding to a Reading – Critical Reading

Continuing the theme of IELTS lessons, this is another that looks to help students with their exam but also their university studies after.

This looks to explore what arguments are being made and then asks students to respond to them. Stance and criticality are key elements of university study. The ability to understand a writer’s ideas and then use them in their own writing will be tested but sometimes perhaps gets lost in the IELTS classroom. This is a lesson which will work a little on reading skills, but which mostly seeks to prepare students for university. That in turn makes it suitable for any high-level class.

Of course, you can, and should, do all the other lovely textploitation things with a grammar and lexis focus.

Level: IELTS / Advanced / Proficiency

Aim: To give students an opportunity to examine a writer’s opinion and respond to it.

Procedure: 

Reading Skills – Prediction

  1. Direct Students to the worksheet and put them in pairs to discuss what the terms could mean. Focus students on the form of the words. Remember to stress the importance of prediction as a reading skill.
  2. Read to check – Now ask the students to read the text and find out what the two terms mean. Ask the students which reading techniques they will use: ‘Scanning’ to find the terms and then ‘deeper reading’ to understand.
  3. To check understanding and practice paraphrasing, ask the students to write their own definitions. Encourage them to think of synonyms and to use different grammar structures. This might be a time to bring in the idea of plagiarism if they haven’t discussed it before. Below are the sections of the text that would need to be paraphrased:

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a policy whereby a financial payment is made to every citizen, unconditionally, without any obligation to work, at a level above their subsistence needs.

Half-Earth – the simple but profound idea that environmental repair could come from allocating half the Earth’s surface primarily for the benefit of other species

 

Reading – Note-taking

  1. This skill will help with IELTS tasks such as matching, but it is a skill I encourage all of my students to do every time they read an exam text. Ask the students to skim read the text – set a time limit (5mins) – encourage them to take notes in the margins.
  2. Now ask them to compare their notes to their classmates. Make your own notes and see how similar your students are.

NB The article roughly fits a situation / problem / solutions / questioning solutions and conclusion structure.

Reading – Stance and argument

  1. Ask the students to reread the text and look for the writer’s opinions. Then follow the instructions on the worksheet.

Answers: People would still work; break link between work and consumption; ability to say no to undesirable jobs; chance to think long-term

2.

Answers: Reforesting already in action / our views on nature are forged by our society / re-establishing humans as part of nature / seems popular

note taking on different sections – explain how it helps with matching

Students’ Reactions

Ask students to work in pairs or small groups and discuss the points on the worksheet.

Writing: summary and reacting to it in an academic style to be set as homework.

When marking, encourage students for their content, don’t just mark the grammar and the vocab. Look at the structure, arguments and how they are supported and their paraphrasing / summarising skills.

Materials:

Original article taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/12/universal-basic-income-and-rewilding-can-meet-anthropocene-demands

Barry deals with “get” collocations and inequality.

Barry, the main character in this lesson, has wormed his way into a number of our lessons. If you’d like to see his other ones you could try here, here, here, or even here.

With this lesson I have learnt something about myself. I have learnt that try as I might, I cannot write a lesson without including some study skills. I tried to do a straight collocations lesson for my students and came out with a collocations + online concordance lesson.

“Get” is one that my students ask about all the time and I am often reluctant to do a lesson on it as I never feel it will do much good unless students actually go out and start to notice these collocations themselves. It’s the whole fish saying thing:

Give me some “get” collocations and I’ll use them for a day, teach me to find them and I’ll use them forever…

That’s the saying, right?

Objectives:

  1. By the end of the lesson students will be better able to notice collocations in context and to use an online concordance to find common collocations.

Time: 1-2 hours

Level: intermediate and above

Material:

  1. Barry Deals with Get Collocations – teachers’ copy
  2. Barry Deals with Get Collocations – worksheet

Procedure:

  1. Display the question: what are the major issues we face in the workplace these days? Sts discuss. Feedback as a class and deal with any emerging language but don’t focus on any one over the others.
  2. Explain students are going to read an extract from story. In it, the main character raises an issue with his boss. Read the story and decide in pairs what that issue is. The issue is inequality in the workplace.
  3. Discuss as a class if they have similar issues in their countries and what could be done to avoid this in the future.
  4. Explain that one word is used quite frequently in the story (get) and see if they can find it.
  5. Sts underline all meanings of get and document them and their colocation in the space below.
  6. In small groups, sts examine the get phrases and decide what they mean in this context.
  7. Optional practice: sts write their own sentences using the phrases to check understanding.
  8. Discuss the following questions with sts:
  9. Do you avoid get in general? Why?
  10. Do you use alternative words?
  11. Are these words more or less natural than get?
  12. Where can you find more examples of collocations?
  13. Depending on your tech, either display the following on an iwb or take sts to computer rooms or encourage them to use their phones. For the purposes of this procedure I will assume you are using an iwb. If you don’t have any tech, I have taken some examples and copied them into the worksheet for you.
  14. Display the British national online corpus and explain what it is. Ask sts how this could be useful. Show them how to use it with “get” as an example.
  15. Turn over the page and ask sts to analyse the examples. Are they the same as previous examples, are some different?
  16. Feedback as a class.
  17. Direct students to the controlled practice exercise to do by themselves and then check in pairs.
  18. T deals with any errors or confusion. (Note: confusion and errors will probably occur when manipulating these semi-fixed language chunks in context. Students tend to understand them but can struggle when it comes to using them.)

Optional follow up:

  1. To encourage some level of autonomy, ask the students to choose another verb they find difficult to use. Suggest “have” or “pick” or something that has a lot of collocations or uses.
  2. Students use the concordance and find common collocations. They record them in a spider gram like with get.
  3. Students write their own story using as many as they can.

Optional Follow up 2:

  1. Students write the conversation between Barry and his boss and act it out, trying to incorporate as many “get” collocations as possible.
  2. T gives points for originality, accuracy and use of collocations and decides on a winning pair.

Reading and tense discovery: “I caught a falling baby”.

So, the inspiration for this came yesterday at the Pearson Amazing Minds day in London. Ken Beatty mentioned this story and as he put up one of the direct quotations, I found myself just looking at the past tenses thinking, “ooooh, lesson”. I really am that dull.

The lesson itself is fairly standard textploitation. We have a text, we are going to look at the grammar used, look to build learner autonomy with the vocabulary and investigate a litte bit of pronunciation. Also borrowing in the grammar from the wonderful Danny Norrington-Davies ( https://dannynorringtondavies.wordpress.com/ )asking students to identify what the grammar is doing and why it is used.

Like with all textploitation this focuses on a little and often.

Let’s go.

Level: Intermediate (with support) / Upper Intermediate / Advanced

Objective:

  • By the end of the lesson, students will be better able to analyse language in context and to recognise subtle differences in meaning.

Aims:

  • To analyse language in context (vocab / grammar)
  • To build the skills needed for the above
  • To practice the schwa and connected speech

Time: 2-3hrs

Procedure:

Pre Reading:
Prediction task.

  • Write the phrase “I caught a falling baby” on the board and ask students what they think happened immediately before.
  • Ask them to create and build a back story.
  • Put them into pairs or groups for this.
  • Then do feedback as a class.

Prompt them with questions such as where did this happen / when. Also, ask them to justify these answers.

Reading:
Skimming

Ask them to quickly find out:

  • Where the story took place?
  • How the baby got out of the apartment?
  • Why was it not surprising the woman caught the baby?

Natural Response

Place the students into small groups and ask the following questions:

  • Did you find the story interesting?
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • Do you think the woman is a hero?
  • Do you think that the parents of the baby should be punished?

(you could break these questions into two sets if you prefer)

Grammar:

Rather than looking at the whole text this lesson breaks the text into little chunks.

Make sure the students really look at the function and use of the grammar. Do not let them just trot out grammar book rules.

Exercise 1

(picture is of Christina Torre just for context and as the sheet was looking dull)

“I’ve always known that I’m very quick with my hands. If someone throws something, I catch it almost before I’m aware it has been thrown.”

  1. present perfect and present simple
  2. Present perfect is used to describe a skill / ability that the person has had for ever. – the adverbs ‘always’ is a natural fit here. Present simple is used for a fact / ability. Encourage the students to think of how the present perfect and present simple work with each other.
  3. 0 conditional + the present perfect time clause
  4. 0 conditional is used to refer to something that always happens “If someone throws something, I catch it”, the present perfect here relies on ‘almost before’ and I think places the time close to the first ‘throws’ in the conditional. It doesn’t neatly fit any rule, and that is important for you to get across to your students.

Exercise 2

For these put students in pairs to check before doing all class feedback.

I was going to visit a friend with her newborn and was on my way to a toy store to buy a gift. I’d once lived in the neighbourhood and on a whim I decided to head back to my old haunt, a cupcake shop, for a coffee.”
Vocabulary

On a whim (adverbial phrase) – spontaneously – normally used in positive stories. It is important to let students think about connotation as well as meaning

I decided to head back to my old hauntMy old haunt – a place i used to spend a lot of time in. Get them to give you examples of their own ‘old haunts’ and provide examples yourself. Also, worth highlighting the meaning of head back to here.
Grammar

  1. Past version of be going to used to talk about a plan that did not happen.
  2. Past simple used for the main actions in the story.
  3. Past perfect used to refer to a time before the time of this story.

Extra – ask if they can find other examples of these tenses being used.

Exercise 3

“I just wanted the child, who I later found out was called Dillon, to feel safe”

  1. extra info
  2. yes

(if they ask about why there seem to be two clauses in the relative clause I told them that find out always needs an object) sentence could be rewritten as just “who was called Dillon”. If they don’t ask, I wouldn’t raise it at this stage)

Exercise 4

We didn’t practise together, but I guess my reflexes must have naturally developed.

  1. it could fit in the beginning, between the clauses, or at the end. (Though) We didn’t practise together, (though) I guess my reflexes must have naturally developed (though).
  2. The first place sounds more formal, the middle is possible but quite informal(to me, not so natural), the end is also informal

I was approached by a typical Brooklyn older man, who in a calm and very matter-of-fact way told me to call 911, because there was a baby on a fire escape.

  1. because –> as / since
  2. because (informal / neutral), as (neutral), since (formal)

(If you wanted here you could extend this by asking them to rewrite using ‘despite’ or in the second sentence maybe think about restructing using ‘so’

Exercise 5

“what would have happened if I hadn’t caught him.”

“if we let intuition lead us, we can deal with anything.”

  1. A – elicit the form from students
  2. Imaginary / hypothetical past – to talk about regrets or how situations could have turned out differently. “If I hadn’t been late, she wouldn’t have dumped me”
  3. It talks about every time / general time. It is general advice for the future.
  4. It is used at the end, to provide a motivating ending / student’s own answers may be more interesting than that.

Exercise 6

Vocabulary

This is focused on developing learner autonomy, so do not let them use dictionaries until they have tried to work out the meaning themselves. Explain why, get them to think of substituting other words etc.

  • looking around nonchalantly – without a care
  • baby boy became my only priority. – my main focus
  • Apparently he had slipped through pieces of cardboard – people told me (might suggest surprise)
  • Instinctively, he grabbed on as he fell, – without thought
  • my attention was purely focused on my intention to catch the baby – purely means solely or only here
  • As he tumbled, he hit a protruding plastic sign – tumbled – fell / protruding – it was sticking out
  • it turned out it was only his lip that had been cut – we later found out
  • Dillon’s parents had been woken by the commotion – the noise and fuss

Exercise 6

The reality of saving someone’s life is intense. I play it over in my head so many times, I think it has changed me. I am calm and more at ease with things. I study mindfulness, and I see now that if we let intuition lead us, we can deal with anything. I think I was meant to be there.

This paragraph has present simple / present perfect / past simple and a 0 conditional. Again get them to think about why each tense is used – sometimes the reasons are not the same as earlier.

Pronunciation

The idea is to look at the schwa and the effect that it has on rhythm when we are speaking.

Schwas are in bold (different native speakers may decide differently. To me, this is the most likely.) Connected words underlined

  1. ‘The reality of saving someone’s life is intense. I play it over in my head so many times’

Ask the students to practice saying the words, model and drill, but really focus on the schwa and the connected words.

If you wanted to do further work, you could ask them to work in pairs and select another piece of direct speech and examine it, looking for the same features.

Further practice:

You could ask students to find a news story that they found interesting and examine the grammar in it. Bringing it to a future class and asking them to explain it to others in a group and discussing it.

Materials:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jan/18/experience-i-caught-falling-baby

Academic register and style

This is a little lesson that could be tagged onto an IELTS lesson or used in the EAP classroom.

Its aim is just to raise awareness of writing style while also giving a some opportunity for some writing practice.

The lesson is on powerpoint, as well as having a worksheet. However, in the spirit of materials light teaching, if you have the ability to use the powerpoint, you probably won’t need the worksheet, unless you want them to have it as a record.

Level: IELTS / EAP / Upper Intermediate / Advanced

Aim: To raise awareness of academic style

Time: 45mins – 1hr

All of the answers for this, apart from the students rewriting answers are on the powerpoint. So it is handy if you can show it.

Procedure:

Ask the students to look at the cloud and decide what is normally a feature of academic writing.

  1. Ask the students to examine the sentence, highlighting where the sentence is not academic. Ask them to focus on:

vague language                      subjective language                informal vocabulary

2. Ask the students to rewrite it and improve it. Board examples and briefly highlight the improved features.

3. Ask them to look at the longer example and highlight what is wrong. Then focus them on the questions. (In the powerpoint this is done step by step with highlighted examples)

The seal is there as that is Paro – the robot discussed in the paragraph, you could do prediction work based on the picture, or leave it there for decoration. Here is a video showing it. If you wanted to go further.

4. Board good examples or get them to peer correct for some variety.

Follow up / Reflection: 

Ask students to look at some of their recent writing and ask them to critique it, bringing in an example paragraph with corrections for the next class.

Materials: 

 

The Cure (Pictures of You) – Present Perfect Continuous

This is quite a short one. I am a big believer in using music in the classroom but I like to use snippets of songs. I’ve always felt that if you use the whole song, you very often end up with students who hate the song. But, if you listen to one or two verses, they might go off and listen to it themselves.

If you would like to try other lessons using songs or snippets of songs, you could try:

  1. here
  2. or here
  3. or even here
  4. or maybe here
  5. Orrrrrrr…here
  6. Or finally, here
  7. …or here

I really like this song as they used present perfect continuous when I feel present perfect would have worked just as well. It’s the perfect opportunity for students to consider why someone might choose one over the other. The continuous aspect really conveys the singers emotion and emphasises how long they feel these actions have been going on for.

Having recently seen the wonderful Danny Norrington-Davies at the ELT Ireland conference, I have decided to take his approach to the grammar for this lesson. I have asked the students why the writer has used the Present Perfect Continuous and I want them to go beyond “It’s an action that started in the past and continued to the present and is still continuing”. I want to hear about the emotion that is being conveyed.

I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you.

That I almost believe that they’re real.

I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you

That I almost believe that the pictures are, all I can feel.

Objective:

By the end of the lesson, the students will be more aware of the emotion that can be conveyed through the present perfect continuous.

Time: 1 hour (max)

Level: Intermediate and above

Material:

 

Procedure:

Intro:

  • T should fold the handout in half so that sts cannot see the lyrics.
  • T instructs sts to discuss the opening questions in small groups and then feeds back as a class.
  • This is a nice opportunity to look at language to discuss music. I’ve included “Taste in music” but I think others will emerge naturally e.g. “I’m not a fan of” “It’s not for me” “I’m not really into X music” “I’m more of a X person”.

Listening

  • T plays the opening 2mins of the song (or as much as they feel is necessary) and instructs sts to listen and consider the questions at the beginning of the listening section.
  • Sts discuss in pairs.
  • This is a nice opportunity to introduce the chunk “It makes me feel X” or “It sounds (like)”
  • T tells the students that this is a song by The Cure and it is on Youtube if they would like to listen to the whole song. Today, they are just going to listen to about 10 seconds of it and they will be using it for both grammar and pronunciation.
  • T plays the first verse (starting at about 2mins 35) and instructs sts to write everything they hear in the empty box. T replays the first verse 2-3 times and sts write down whatever they hear. After each play, give sts time to check with partners.
  • T instructs sts to unfold their handout and check their answers. Sts should circle any words they didn’t hear / heard incorrectly.
  • This is a wonderful chance for some listening skills reflection. Encourage sts to reflect on what / why they didn’t hear it. Was it:
    • because of the music? They will often have music in the background when listening. Is there anything they can do to help them in this situation?
    • because of the accent? What in particular surprised them? Focus on these words/phrases and drill them.
    • because of the vocabulary? Which words were new?
    • because of weak forms and connected speech? See Pron focus section

Language Focus

  • T directs sts to the language focus section (putting extra importance on the third question). Sts discuss the questions in pairs. T moves around and helps where necessary.
  • At this point you will find sts regurgitating a Raymond Murphy style explanation of the present perfect continuous. Try to discourage this and encourage sts to think why the writer chose to use this tense. 
  • T gives the sts a post-it note and asks them to write down their answer to the third question. T collects, places them on the board and gets sts to crowd around the board in their pairs and discuss the suggestions. They should choose their favourite answer.
  • While they are still standing, discuss their ideas as a class.
  • You are looking for something like: The writer wants to convey that they feel these actions have been ongoing for a long time. They want to emphasise the time over the action. Their emotions are being conveyed through this tense. The writer could have used present perfect as well but it would not have conveyed the same emotion and would have highlighted the action instead.

Pronunciation Focus

  • T moves to the pronunciation section and replays the song to allow sts to decide how “been” and “can” are pronounced.
  • Sts have often been encouraged to pronounce “been” with /i:/ but in natural speech it is closer to /bIn/. “Can” becomes /kən/. Drill the chunks as a class, correcting where necessary. 

Practice

  • Sts write their own version of the lyrics below, either keeping the song as a sad one or perhaps changing it to a happier one. Sts make a choice on which tense to use.
    • you can either play the song and they all sing their versions together for fun.
    • or you can get sts to read them out and practise the pronunciation.

 

Back to Work: Writing Skills

I’ve been looking for an excuse to turn this text into a lesson for ages now and with International Women’s Day coming up in on the 8th March, it seemed perfect.

If you’re interested in the lessons we did for last year’s Women’s Day, they can be found here and here, looking at the passive voice and debating respectively.

This lesson actually uses two texts and is absolutely fantastic. Basically some genius of a mother rewrote her daughter’s homework because it was massively sexist. And any time I see 2 versions of the same text, I see a lesson.

Objective: by the end of the lesson, your students will be better able to write complex sentences

Level: Int and above

Time: 2-3 hours

Material: