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

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: 

 

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:

An IELTS essay compared to an EAP essay

Hi all, apologies for the recent radio silence, but we have been super busy.

Anyway, here is a lesson using a model answer to an IELTS part two writing task. It is pitched at between a 7 and an 8 in case students are interested. It contains a section on brainstorming and planning, before a little on vocabulary and grammar. Where this is perhaps different is that it then examines how this would be different if it were written for university. This is not an EAP lesson, what it seeks to do is to raise the awareness of the students for what may be needed.

Level: IELTS

Aim: Provide a good model answer for IELTS and to raise awareness of what will be needed at University

Procedure:

Speaking: This is just to get them thinking about the topic. Put the students in pairs or small groups.

Writing:

1 The aim here is to help with brainstorming ideas and also moving them onto thinking about whether these are good or bad changes. This is helpful in a ‘to what extent’ essay, but will also be very important at university where they will need a position.

2 Here you are just asking them to further extend what they saw in 1a.

3 Skimming practice – a) Give students the model answer and ask them to read and check whether the writer used the same ideas that they came up with. b) ask them to try to evaluate the essay, is it good / bad  and ask them to justify. Give them 4 minutes to read it in detail and then put them into pairs or groups to discuss it. They should decide it is a pretty good essay – good vocab / well linked and so flows / some higher level grammar.

Vocabulary focus:

1. a) The aim here is to build synonyms – make sure students focus on and record the prepositions here. If they don’t, they will be unable to use the vocabulary in their own writing.

Answers:

  1. changing quickly –> progressing rapidly
  2. will have a negative effect on –> will be detrimental to
  3. do not talk to –> lack interaction with
  4. ignores –> overlooks
  5. decrease in the number of people who work –> shrinking of the workforce
  6. is dangerous to –> could pose a threat
  7. gives us a chance to –> presents an opportunity to

b) This focuses students on the difference in register. These words are more formal, less general and therefore will result in better scores.

2. This is all about reinforcing the chunks of language and checking that they are using them correctly as well as giving a chance for students to personalise. While the students write their sentences, monitor and offer help and encouragement. When they have finished do all class feedback and board some of the examples.

N.B. It is worth focusing a little on the pronunciation of these words too as they would be suitable for part 3 speaking.

Grammar focus:

This essay talks about changes in the past twenty years so the writer has used present perfect to talk about the changes. This section aims to focus on specific grammar usage and ask students to analyse it.

1 Ask students to look at the example sentence and work alone to answer the questions. Then put them into pairs to check before all class feedback.

Answers

  1. present perfect
  2. The question talks about the last 20 yrs, this allows us to talk about a change that happened in that time and which may not have stopped or which still has impact.
  3. paragraph 2this overlooks the huge change that these screens have made to the lives of millions. paragraph 3 – As well as the communication change, people often complain of the increase in automation that machines have brought. 
  4. present simple – this is standard in essays.

2 This looks at hedging* and the use of could.

  1. b is softer and a more defensible position academically so better in an essay. Could is used to hedge the sentence or position.
  2. possible answers – may / might / can (depending one tense) / it is possible that etc
  3. They make your writing more academic – soften the position and demonstrate a considered argument.
  4. possible answer – technology may make life easier

*Hedging is the use of modals or phrases to lessen the impact of a sentence, or to soften. It is common in academic writing.

An essay at University

This section is focused on raising students awareness of how the IELTS exam does and doesn’t prepare them for university.

It starts by asking them what they think is required. This is interesting as some have an idea, some clearly have very little idea. Both are fine, it is good to know where they are.

As an answer, the essay is not suitable – too short – most university essays will be in the 1000s not 100s, not cited, no real thesis position. Areas where it is suitable would be the academic style, cohesion.

1 They are different as the new example takes a position. It tells the reader what the essay is going to argue – This is the thesis statement and students need to be aware that for most essays, this will be a key part. IELTS essays can contain them and it is a good habit to encourage.

2 Ask them to read and then work in pairs. Then do class feedback. They will notice the citations, these are in the Harvard style. They will also hopefully notice the concluding sentence which provides a link to the thesis position. try to elicit this from them.

3 This exercise examines what they do and don’t know about citations

  1. True – they can do, but this is not the prime reason for using them
  2. True – you need to base your argument on the research and arguments of others, but blend it together to create something new.
  3. False – if you do this, your essay will contain no synthesis (blending of sources)
  4. False – paraphrasing is very important
  5. False – most have never had to use them before, or if they have they may not have used the same system.

The big thing here is highlighting that they exist. The students do not need them for IELTS but they will need them after.

Ask the students to turn their ideas into full sentences.

The positions are limitless in a sense but could include:

  • This essay will argue that technology is having an adverse effect on society.
  • This essay will argue that the impact of technology is mixed and that though some areas are negatively effected others benefit
  • This essay will argue that it depends on which technology

 

Reflection

Ask the students what they feel the differences are between university in their country and the UK, and also how IELTS fits into this. encourage them to reflect on how to use what they learn in IELTS classes at uni, but not to think this is the end of the journey.

Follow up.

Ask the students to write the essay using one of the thesis positions that they wrote in exercise 4. Remind them that it is a good idea to get used to taking a position. Also remind them that each paragraph should have a conclusion that links to the overall position. It is not ok just to get to the conclusion and present your ideas like a magician revealing the answer.

Materials:

Text messages – Register focus

Hi all,

As many of you know, I am extremely interested in register and style and feel it is often something that is overlooked in coursebooks as well as class.

The number of students who have no idea what I am talking about when i raise this issue is pretty high, too high. So, I think we should try to make it a feature of everything we teach.

This lesson follows on from some on phrasal verbs, which are often, though not exclusively, informal. I wanted a revision session which provided scope to use some, but also gave time for us to examine student examples and look at how they could be improved.

Why texts? Well, they write them, so they are relevant. They give opportunity to use some of the TL. They are short so don’t discourage. Plus they are short so can really be broken down.

Aim: to check register and appropriacy through the writing of short texts

Level: pre int / int / upp int / advanced

Procedure:

1. Write the four texts on the board. Ask the students in pairs to discuss who wrote them and why. Encourage them to think about how the writer felt and which words or features give this away.

IMG_0414

  1. Hi. Can you call me asap please. x
  2. Hey, wondering if you’d chosen anywhere yet. I finish here at 4 so let me know before then. Cheers.
  3. Have you got any plans for later? I’ve got a spare ticket going for a gig if you fancy it.
  4. Where are you? Do you know what time it is? I’ve been here for ages now.

Do whole class feedback. Really go into detail.

Hi. Can you call me asap please. x

  1. This really troubled my class. They said work so I asked why. They said the polite question and the fact it was direct. I agreed but asked about the x. It was a name they said. I pointed out it meant kiss. So they came up with the idea that it might be a parent messaging a child with bad news. I was pretty happy with this explanation.
  2. Mine got that this was two friends arranging something. Cheers was interesting as they knew it in other contexts. We looked at whether there was a difference between Hi / Hey – concluding Hey could be seen as more friendly
  3. Some of my students decided that this was a guy inviting a girl out, which I liked as a possibility. We checked meaning of gig – one of the students was able to explain it.
  4. Mine didn’t get the repetition of the same thing as possibly being anger. Some did suggest it was to a friend as a joke, we discussed the potential for that to be misconstrued

I think the secret here is to really ‘demand high’ don’t let the students be lazy. Ask further questions, make them ask you questions. Encourage them to consider the connotations of the choices writers make.

2. Once you have gone through them all ask them in pairs to select two which they are going to reply to. Monitor and cajole. Again question what they want to say. For me, this was a great chance to prompt the students to use some of the TL, but also to fix register issues e.g. When i arrive – not wrong but is there a more natural way of writing this to a friend?

Additionally, it prepared me for things that could be highlighted for the whole class.

Then put some/ all of the student answers up onto the board. Ask which questions were being answered and how the person would feel receiving the reply. Highlight the examples of good language and fix what needs fixing through elicitation.

3. Finally, allow a few minutes for reflection. Ask the students to discuss what they feel was useful from the class; ask what they might now do differently. Highlight too that this was a chance to see them using new language and to provide an opportunity for them to use language they need for daily communication.

 

 

 

Paraphrasing and IELTS

This was a lesson I wrote earlier this week, when asked to cover a class with little notice. Having been teaching a lot of EAP, I wanted to bridge the gap between what students do in IELTS classes and at Universities.

The class begins with some reflection, I think the important thing here is that even if they are not planning to go to university, paraphrasing is a crucial skill, however, why then are they doing IELTS, especially if studying within the UK.

When teaching it I highlighted how much we paraphrase in our daily lives, the fact native speakers find it almost impossible to repeat what someone has just said to us without altering it.

This lesson aims to serve as an introduction to paraphrasing, and looks at both lexis and vocabulary within the framework of IELTS.

Aim: introduce students to paraphrasing, to better prepare them for IELTS and their studies afterwards.

Level: High Int +

Procedure: 

Reflection to begin: for all of this section set up groups and monitor and then do all class feedback

the things that students should need will be numerous but should include: register, ability to use a variety of grammar / vocab, cohesion, coherence and the ability to paraphrase. Any others that you think work, please include.

For what should come next, all of them.

Definition:

I asked them to define without looking and then showed them the definition, but you could ask them to read the definition and then rewrite it using different words if you think your class can do this.

Why we do it – again, I did this and ‘how we do it’ as a group discussion

Why – to avoid repetition, to show off range, to avoid plagiarism

how – changing vocab, changing grammar

Using Vocabulary / Grammar

examples and graph come from

http://www.ielts-exam.net/academic_writing_samples_task_1/162/

  • Ask the students to read the two example paragraphs and evaluate it. It is a good example and would have got an 8 approximately
  • .Ask them to focus on the words shown and in pairs think of synonyms, try to discourage them from using dictionaries.

here are possible synonyms, accept any others and explain why some may/may not work here.

shows –                                                             depicts

a gradual decrease –                                     a steady fall

study for their career  –                              learn in order to further their future job prospects

gradually declines –                                     steadily reduces / experiences a step by step fall

 

Identify the word form difference:

people who study for career reasons – study (v) / career (acting like adj)  / reasons (n)

interested in studying for their career – studying (n) / career (n)

 

Grammar:

Passives – this is really easy, just a way of them adding and rewriting

answer: it can be seen that the percentage increases slowly

conditionals – 

answer: if we look at the graph, it can be seen that the percentage increases slowly

final change

If we look at the graph, it can be seen that there is a slow increase in the percentage

Nominalisation

follow and guide students through this.

n.b. – I ask students to find examples in the real world as part of their homework and to bring them to the next class to check

Answer for “women earn less than men”:

earn (v) –> earnings

The earnings of women are less than those of men

Free practice part 2

There are no correct answers here, I gave students around 5-10 mins to work on this in pairs and asked them first to think about words where synonyms could be used.

I would recommend getting different versions on the board and comparing them.

 

Remember this is only supposed to be an introduction, there will be more in-depth lessons coming soon.

Materials:

PDF  –   paraphrasing

Word – paraphrasing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barry London: Writing + Study skills

Brixton-Tube-CLosed

So we finally have it, Barry London’s second official lesson. If you haven’t seen the previous one it’s right here. The idea we came up with was that seeing as how for some reason every character in my lessons is called, Barry, we’d just embrace this and create a person and give him a string of lessons. They’re for different levels and will look at different aspects of the language. Also, they do not need to be done in any sequence. They do not build on each other.

This one is very different to our normal lessons in that it looks at descriptive writing and study skills in more detail than we normally would. It started out as a low level lesson but it was most definitely a high level one by the end.

I’d recommend this lesson as something different to do at the end of the week or course or for more creative students. It’s definitely not a straight grammar lesson.

  • Level: Upper Intermediate / Advanced
  • Time: 2 – 3 hours
  • Objective: to encourage sts to record language in context and to think about metaphors and imagery in creative writing.

Materials:

  1. Barry London arrives in London – teacher’s copy – Answers / notes
  2. Barry London arrives in London – student copy WORD
  3. Procedure Barry London story – Procedure
  4. Barry London arrives in London PDF -student copy PDF

 

Editing Texts – Exam Classes

I don’t know about you but I have had awful trouble in the past, trying to get my exam students to think beyond grammar and spelling when it comes to editing texts. I completely understand it, every writing exercise they’ve done in every language class ever has essentially been a language test and nothing more. Most of our correction keys (if we even use them) revolve around language errors and maybe paragraphing if they’re lucky. Then suddenly they rock up to an exam class and we start banging on about style and register.

Luckily, my girlfriend produced this email from her inbox the other day. And what a treat it was. Having kindly ordered some toys for our cat (in the hopes that it would play with them and not our ankles or toes) online, she patiently waited for a month before saying: “ehhhh…China, where are my toys?”. She received the email below. And it is fantastic!

cat toys

This is a quick and simple lesson, using a real email that just didn’t nail their communicative aim. It’s a nice way of highlighting to students that it’s not just about the spelling. The phrases you use can really miss the mark if you’re not careful. my favourite is: “we’re always here for you”.

Dear Customer.

Thanks for your e-mail, these are imported products,  under normal ,it will take 15-20 working days to arrive, I’m sorry to hear that you still have not received it , we contact with Logistic agent today, and have Urged them to send this package as soon as possible, now could you please check the delivery address:

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

If the address is correct, could help you to wait 2 days, when 2 days have passed, in normal it will be put in your  mail box directly , could you please atttention for this , my customer ,if days past , you still have not received, send me an e-mail, we will issue refund to you immediately, that’s ok? if you have something to this purchase, please send me email, we will solve it immediately. we are always here for you.

Keep in touch!

Best regards,

  • Level: Int and above
  • Time: 60 – 90 mins (this may take longer if you feel you need to teach a lot about punctuation. This lesson is designed more to raise awareness than to teach but it may be necessary depending on your group).
  • Objective: to encourage students to consider more than language errors when editing their own texts.

 

Materials:

  1. online shopping (word document)
  2. online shopping (pdf document)

Procedure:

This is a simple one as the students do all the work really.

  1. Discussion: activate a bit of schemata with a nice opening discussion on online shopping. Add in any questions you like.
  2. Gist reading: Sts skim the letter to find the purpose of the email.
  3. Second reading: Sts read it again and discuss how successful the writer is in getting their point across and whether or not it’s an example of “good” or “bad” writing. I suppose what you’re looking for here is that communication occurs and the fundamental information is there but that’s not enough. This text doesn’t read well and is largely inappropriate. 
  4. Pre-editing: Discuss as a class, what aspects of this email you might think about edting. Draw their attention to the editing tip below the email if they’re having trouble.
  5. Editing: sts edit in small groups.
  6. Comparing: I would put them up around the room gallery-style and let sts move around and compare each other’s work. Feedback as a whole class and take bits and pieces from each one.
  7. Comparing 2: reveal the sample answer on the back of the sheet and compare with sts answers. Did they miss anything? Were their ideas better than mine? Were there any sentences they should have deleted because they were irrelevant that they didn’t?
  8. Feedback as a whole class.
  9. Reflection: how can they apply this to their own writing.

 

For shame, Nandos! Editing texts

 

So there I am, sitting in Nandos in Gatwick airport, killing time with chicken, when I glance to my left and see a large text painted on the wall. As all EFL teachers know, there are two aspects of the job that we just can’t turn off:

  1. Constantly looking out for new material for our lessons.
  2. The mistake alarm. Every time we see or hear one it rings loud and clear.

The second of these has made Facebook and Twitter hard to bear for much of us, especially with friends writing things like “You should of called me”…GAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Sadly Nandos is no different and this little text had three separate mistake clangers in there. However, it also had some negative inversion and some nice vocab in there so I decided to take a photo (I then had to put up with weird looks from around the room) and use it in a lesson.

I’ve yet to use it but here’s the material and the procedure. If you try it before me, let me know how it goes.

Level: Upper intermediate + above (nice for Cambridge exam groups too)

Time: 90 mins – 3 hours

Material:

Objective:

  • The main aim here is to encourage our students to be more analytical, to notice the English all around them. This mean noticing mistakes as well as new vocab and interesting language patterns.

 

Procedure:

  1. Display the word “Legend” on the board and ask sts to discuss what it means. Then show them the dictionary definition and get them to check their ideas. (I like to use full dictionary definitions from time to time to encourage sts to use English – English dictionaries and to look at common features of dictionaries, especially how to understand the pronunciation)
  2. Get students to chat about the discussion questions and then feedback as a group. I’d try to get as much interesting language from their legends up on the boards now as it could help later.
  3. Students skim read the text (30 seconds) and in pairs retell it in their own words.
  4. Vocab focus: Sts match the key vocab from the text with the definitions/synonyms on the worksheet.
  5. Editing: Sts work together to find the mistakes. See the teacher’s copy for the answers.
  6. Language focus: Sts examine the negative inversion sentence and feedback as a class.

Follow-up:

  1. Ask sts to retell the story and record their stories. I think it would be interesting to compare the language they use to tell the story and the language of the text. The key vocab will be the same but the style of the text is very much that of a legend. I think this would be an interesting comparative analysis.
  2. Going back to the discussion at the beginning of the lesson, sts use the vocab boarded then and the legend style discussed above to write their own legends.
  3. Place them around the room and encourage sts to move around with two tasks. (1) find errors & (2) decide who has written the best legend in keeping with the style discussed above.

Planning for planning

So, this idea came about today in class. It is just a short one and won’t take up much class time but it may, just may, get your students planning. I’m hoping it will mine.

As I have mentioned before, I spend a lot of my time teaching exam classes, and so writing is a big part in my lessons. One of the things I constantly hear in class is:

“but we don’t have time to plan”

I am sure you have heard that one too. For years I have been getting students to write down as many words about a topic as they can in a minute to prove that they do in fact have time to plan, the logic being that it shows them how much they can actually write in one single minute.

Today, I took things a step further. Having reminded them of the need to plan and having been confronted by nodding students, who I could tell were going to do no such thing, I decided to prove to them the value. Luckily my plan worked. Here it goes:

  • ask students to write down as much as they can about a topic, I chose last weekend, but anything that they will be able to write something about is good.
  • ask them to count the number of words and do group feedback – I had minimum 7, max 21.
  • then ask them in pairs to discuss their plans for next weekend. I gave them 2 mins so that both would have chance to speak.
  • ask them to write down their plans for next weekend as quickly as they can.
  • ask them to count the words – I had minimum 22, max 49

Hopefully the second far outweighs the first, it did in mine and they looked shocked, which was gratifying.

I now got them to look at the two examples, though some had very little in the first. Looking for errors to correct. In general, the second had fewer errors, was more interestingly written and contained double the words.

Case closed!

You could extend it then by asking them to write more, or then as I did to ask them to look at an exam task.

Either way, I found it a handy way to drive home the importance of planning and it did seem to make a difference to their attitude. Let’s see when I mark their writing!