(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.

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!

A quick guide to exploiting articles.

During a peak period when my teaching hours went up to¬†37.5 hours a week, I have to admit that the time I spent planning¬†went down accordingly. I just didn’t have the time. But, I didn’t want to deliver sub-standard lessons and I still wanted them to be relevant and using authentic texts. So I developed a quick and easy way of turning an article into a lesson.

I’ve attached a template below that you can adapt as well as some step by step instructions and an example lesson using the same format.

It’s not perfect by any means as every group and every article is different but it should be enough to get you started.

  1. Lesson template
  2. Example

Step by Step:

  1. Reading: Scan or copy the picture from the article and place it beside the headline at the top of the worksheet. When you hand it to the students, fold the sheet over so they can only see these two parts.
  2. Scan or copy the entire article and place it below the headline / picture.
  3. Vocab Focus: Pull out some words / phrases from the text that you think will help the students to understand the text or that they might be interested in learning. (practising the skill of finding the words from the context is the real aim here).
  4. Organise the vocab so that they have the word form and a synonym or definition. This will help them to find them in the text.
  5. Discussion: The aim here is to get them to engage with the text. It’s not just about comprehension. Give them questions that encourages them to share their opinions and to think critically.
  6. Language focus: This doesn’t need to be a massive grammar lesson (although it can be) but the key is to get the learners to analyse a piece of language in context. Pull out an interesting language chunk and ask them why this tense has been used or if it could be rephrased. Get them looking at verb patterns and how prepositions are being used.
  7. Follow-up: As a follow-up you could encourage writing. Students could try to summarise the article, they could rewrite it as a story or they could write a similar article using the same vocab and style.