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.

The Beatles – Dead or Alive!

The idea for this one came from a teacher I used to work with, great teacher. He used wikipedia entries on the Beatles to compare Past Simple and Present Perfect. I loved the idea and so when I had to cover a class last minute the other day, I decided I’d try it out.

This is the lesson I did. It works on a couple of things:

Objectives:

  1. Reinforce and examine the difference between present perfect and past simple.
  2. Raise awareness of the features of different texts (in this case wikipedia entries)
  3. Encourage students to notice chunks of English and adopt them into their own writing / speech.
  4. Encourage learner autonomy (ye olde holiest of grails) in reading.

Level: Int / Upper int

Time: 1.5 – 3 hours

Materials: wikipedia present perfect – BEATLES

john and paul

 

Procedure:

(1)

Introduction:

List the following discussion questions on the board:

  • What kind of music do you listen to?
  • Have you ever been to a concert/gig/festival?
  • Have you ever met anyone famous?
  • Who would you like to see perform live?

Let students discuss these questions in small groups. As you monitor, note down any present perfect/past simple mistakes (if there are any) for use later. Choose any errors you like to give feedback, but I find with music discussions, learners very often misuse a lot of vocabulary (e.g. live) and I tend to focus on that area.

(2)

Before Reading

Display the pictures of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In small groups, students discuss everything they know about the two musicians. Feedback as a whole class and board all of their facts.

(3)

Gist Reading

Fold the sheet in two so that students can only see one wikipedia entry. Divide your class into two groups (Johns and Pauls). Students have 2 minutes to read through the text and note any extra facts that they didn’t know. DO NOT MENTION THAT THEY ARE WIKIPEDIA TEXTS!

Put Johns together to compare their facts and do the same with the Pauls.

Then get a lovely mingle exercise going so that Johns share their info with Pauls.

As a whole class, board the most interesting facts from the students.

(4) 

Focus on genre:

Sit the students down in pairs of Pauls and Johns (to mix them up a bit) Display the following questions and get students to discuss in pairs:

  1. What type of text is this? Where does it come from?
  2. How do you know? What clues are in the text?
  3. What is the writer’s opinion?

Obviously you want the students to notice that not once does the writer give their opinions as it’s a factual text.  (By raising awareness of features of different texts, you can encourage students to think more about what they are writing and about appropriate language for different genres and situations)

(5)

Focus on language 1: Present Perfect

Encourage students to look more closely at what they read. We want to create fully autonomous language analysts. One way is trying the following type of exercise. Little and often is the key.

Display the following questions for discussion:

  1. What are the main tenses used in the texts?
  2. Is there any difference between the tenses used in John’s text and Paul’s text?
  3. Why do you think that is?

What we’re looking for here is that John’s contains past simple only whereas Paul’s contains both. Past simple for his early life with the Beatles and Wings (ahem) and Present Perfect for his life and achievements since then.

At this point, you could bring out any pres perfect errors from the introduction stage and get sts to correct them in pairs.

(6) 

Focus on language 2: Passive

Highlight/Display the following sentence from the text and compare it to the one below it:

“He was murdered three weeks after its release”

“Someone murdered him three weeks after its release”

In pairs, students discuss why the author chose the first one over the second one. What we’re looking for is that the author wanted to keep John Lennon as the focus of the sentence.

Get students to scan the text and find other examples. It might be a good idea at this point to highlight that the musicians are the subject of almost every sentence and definitely every paragraph.

(7)

Focus on language 3: Vocabulary

By now students will be chomping at the bit for all of the vocabulary in the texts. In pairs, get them to find the phrases from the vocabulary section of the worksheet.

Feedback as a whole class. Then point out that there are some phrases that you would commonly find in such an article (e.g. born and raised  / critically acclaimed / of all time). In pairs get students to hunt for more chunks they can lift from the text and use for themselves.

(8) 

Focus on Organisation

Ask students to take one final look at the texts and decide how they are organised. Essentially, in both of them there is a general intro paragraph about the musician and then a second section going into more detail about their various achievements.

(9)

Follow-Up:

You have now focused the students’ attention on all of the necessary features of this genre. It’s now up to them to write something.

In small groups, get them to choose a teacher in the school and give them ten minutes to write a short Wikipedia entry on their life. Allow them to make up whatever crazy details they like. You’ll undoubtedly end up with “teachers who reached worldwide fame for their critically acclaimed present perfect lessons”.

When they’re finished, put them up around the room. Students walk around and vote on whose they like best and whose was most like a wikipedia entry.

Teachers use this time to move around and board some errors on the board and then correct as a group.

(10)

Reflection:

After this type of lesson, you really need to sit down and chat about what’s been achieved. Yes the students have created something, worked on their own errors, gather lots of vocab and discussed the present perfect but the real aim is autonomy!

You want them to take these skills outside and use them when they’re reading their own texts. We need them to be stealing their own chunks of language from their own texts.

Listening skills – making use of global knowledge

Disclaimer: This is more of an idea than a lesson (however, I am going to give you some materials at the bottom that you can use to turn it into a lesson should you so desire).

It’s an answer to a question and the question is one that my students ask me over and over, again and again.

Teacher, why can’t I understand the news and the radio?

The answer is very simple: you just got her and you don’t know enough of the back story to have a hope of making head nor tail of a complex news story.

Realising this, I have over the years done virtually the same lesson with a variety of different news stories. It’s simple and it only has 4 steps:

  1. Test: play a radio / news story about something complex and topical. Ask the students how much they understood. Usually, to their dismay, not a lot.
  2. Teach: Break out a lovely article from a current newspaper on this topic and do with it what you will. Perhaps some vocab, a bit of a discussion, general and specific comprehension…all the classics. (see here for tips on using articles in class).
  3. Test: Replay the original story.
  4. Reflect: How much did they understand now? What did they use?

This is a simple formula but it has a number of benefits:

  • Encourages students to use what they know about the world when engaging with listening texts. Instead of just waiting for information to reach their ears and make sense. It’s all about being pro-active listeners.
  • Can foster an interest in the culture and society of the language they are learning.
  • Leaves students with a sense of accomplishment.
  • It can be applied to any topical story.

 

So, as promised, here is a link to a news story. It’s a little old but it’s one that works and usually leads to some interesting discussion. The article you can use is below.

Material: living wage

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.

The Passive Voice: A quick revision

I’m a big fan of using short articles in lessons and although I’m loathe to admit it, the Metro is a great source of material as the articles are usually quite short and not too difficult for the students. Very often, after I’ve taught a language point, I like to revisit it a week or a few days later. My favourite way to do this is to examine it in its natural surroundings. For the passive voice, I very often use newspaper articles.

This is a nice little lesson I did a few years ago. I’ve always enjoyed it. Try it out and let me know what you think.

Materialpassive- an article

Time: 1.5 – 2 hours (depending on follow-up activities)

Level: Pre-int and upwards

Procedure:

(1)

Intro

I like to introduce this with the following discussion questions. It gets the students warmed up, gets them talking from the beginning of the lesson and can be revisited later.

  1. do you read much in English?
  2. what have you read so far today?
  3. do you read English newspapers?
  4. what are the benefits of reading English newspapers?

Feel free to do any error correction you like after this but I think question 4 is the most important. By the end of the lesson you want them to realise that articles can be used, not only for vocabulary and reading practice but also to consolidate their grammar.

I would put their answers from question 4 up on the board, or take a note of them somewhere to refer back to later.

(2)

Pre-Reading

Explain to the students they’re going to read an authentic article from the newspaper and direct them to the prediction questions a the top of the material. NB: make sure they read the second article about the lollipop man. A little bit of ICQing here is important.

Once they’ve come up with some ideas, ask them to skim the article (give them a time and stick to it or you’ll have students painstakingly trawling their way through this tiny article, underlining every second word).

Check their ideas as a class and if needs be, display an image of a lollipop man.

(3)

Vocabulary Focus

Direct the students towards the key vocabulary and allow them to work together without dictionaries to match the definitions to the words/phrases in the text.

if you like, you can allow them to check their ideas with a dictionary afterwards.

(4) 

Post-reading: Engage with the text

At this point I think it’s hugely important that students engage with the text in a meaningful way. They now know the key words and have access to the entire text but what do they think about it? I’ve avoided providing questions here as I don’t like making it an exercise as such.

I usually sit down with the students, try to get them in a circle or small groups and just chat about the article. What do they think? Do they have this kind of job in their country? Is it necessary? What are their local councils like? Do they have much contact with them? Would you find this kind of story in their newspapers?

You just want them engaging and giving an opinion. Judge it yourself and if you need to give them guiding questions, then go for it.

(5)

Language Focus:

At this point, you want to draw their attention to the passive in the text. I’ve pulled out one sentence for them. I’d start by asking them if it’s active or passive and how they know.

then let them off to answer the questions below and discuss as a class when they’re finished.

(6) 

Reflection:

Bring back out their answers from question 4 at the beginning of the lesson and ask them if there’s anything else they can use articles (or any reading text) for. At this point hopefully they’ll mention grammar and you can chat about noticing language points in texts and the benefit of taking a second to look how it’s being used.

(7)

Follow-up 1

I’ve given you some passive V active practice sentence transformation on the second page that students can do for homework or in class as immediate practice.

I’ve also given you a second article that again can be done for homework or in class. Students can immediately practise what they have learnt above and use the article to notice the passive voice.  I would also show them how it can be used to gather word chains (groups of words in a text on the same topic), in this instance it’s CRIME vocabulary.

(8)

Follow-up 2

If you’ve done the first follow-up exercise, I’d get them to do some writing practice using the passive voice and the crime vocab. What you end up with is an article based on what they’ve gleaned from the articles. The idea is that they can go out and try the same with other articles and texts.

Using Articles for Articles

So here is another activity that can be used more as revision, or even to test knowledge of a grammar point, to see if it needs teaching.

It is something I tried out a couple of weeks ago and my class responded really well to it.  Since then, there has been a noticeable improvement in their work with articles. They don’t always get them right, but they are much better at self correction.  In my view, that is a big step in the right direction, plus it encourages learner autonomy, which is always a good thing.

I set this as homework, but you could ask students to do it in pairs too and I have added a couple of follow on activities that you could do to make it a whole lesson rather than just a practise activity.

Procedure

1. Give the students a set of rules for when to use articles (this one is adapted from one in the back of Gold Advanced).

The definite article (1)

1.1 when there is only one of something

1.2 to talk about previously mentioned things

1.3 to talk about a generic class of things

1.4 with national groups

1.5 with adjectives used as nouns

The indefinite article (2)

2.1 with singular countable nouns referring to something general / non-specific

2.2 to replace one with numbers e.g. a hundred

Zero article (3)

3.1 uncountable, plural and abstract nouns in general

3.2 countries, continents, cities

3.3 mountains and lakes

 

2. Ask students to find a short article from a newspaper, or online, paper is better though for this.

3. Tell them that they have to underline all of the examples of articles in the text and then match them to one of the numbers above.

4. Ask them to show a classmate and they can compare, while you monitor to assist as needed.

5. Group feedback and check in case of any difficulties.

Extension activities

a) To encourage critical thinking skills you could ask students to summarise the text within a set word limit, e.g. 50 words.  The could plan it by selecting the key points and focus on writing those.

They could also tell a partner about the article or peer teach any interesting vocab they have found.

b) Ask students to look back through their own work and to try to correct mistakes.

 

So there it is, try it out and let us know what you think.

 

 

 

 

Reading skills – Newspaper articles

This lesson basically came about when I recommended that all of my students read newspapers on a regular basis. The obvious reasons being, I wanted to widen their vocabulary, improve their reading skills and increase their cultural knowledge. It seemed so simple at the time.

After a week I asked them how they were getting on and they all dropped their heads sheepishly murmuring to themselves. I was about to give them a pompous little lecture on how they had to put more into their English studies as 3 hours a day in class wasn’t enough and all of that other stuff that we say, when one student piped up and said: I tried, I really did but I couldn’t get past the headline, if I can’t understand that, how can I understand the rest of the article?! (I’m paraphrasing here but you get the idea).

It was then that I realised I’d asked them to do something without giving them the tools to do it. The next day, I taught this lesson and sent them off into the world with no excuses…they still didn’t read very much but at least they had no excuses now.

  • Time: 90 minutes – 3 hours (depending on the optional language focus section)
  • Level: Pre-int and above
  • Aim: To raise your students’ awareness of the skills they need to tackle a newspaper article.
  • Sub aim: To encourage students to discuss possibilities in the past/present

Materials:

  1. Pictures
  2. Article and exercises
  3. A variety of articles / a few free newspapers (if possible)

Procedure:

  1. Opening discussion / outlining your aims: Put your students in small groups and ask them if they read newspapers in English. If not, why not. Feedback as a whole class. (you will probably get something about headlines here. feel free to explain puns to them but suggest that they ignore the headlines until after they’ve read the article as they often contain a cultural reference or pun and can be demotivating). Explain that by the end of the lesson they should have the tools/skills they need to read an authentic English article.
  2. Prediction: Display the two pictures and ask sts why they think these two boys were in the paper and what their relationship was. Feedback and write students ideas on the board.
  3. Optional language focus: Inevitably your students will have used “maybe” or “perhaps” or just present simple in their predictions. Explain that a native speaker would probably have used “might” at some point. Ask them to rewrite the predictions on the board using “might”. give them no help at this point. Feedback as a class and highlight how “might” works in the past and present. Further practice can be, if any student or teacher is absent from the school ask students why they think he/she is not here.
  4. First reading: Give the sts the article and ask them to check their predictions. Ask them how long it will take them to read the whole article, then tell them they have 90 seconds. Tell them to focus only on their predictions and ignore language they don’t understand. feedback as a class. Briefly discuss how it doesn’t matter if all of their predictions are correct, just that they’re constantly making and correcting them based on new info.
  5.  Vocabulary focus: Ask students to underline all of the crimes the boys committed, even if they don’t understand them. Then draw their attention to the vocab exercise on the worksheet. Allow sts to work in pairs. After about 5 minutes, allow students to use their dictionaries to confirm their answers. Feedback as a class.
  6. Second reading: Ask sts to reread the article in their own time and then in pairs to decide on the best summary from the worksheet.
  7. Discussion: Place sts in groups, arrange them in a circle so that you are not a major presence. Direct their attention to the discussion questions and highlight that these are just to get their conversation going but they can move the discussion any way that feels natural.
  8. Error correction/emergent language: Monitor carefully and divide your board into: Errors (you don’t need to put the titles on the board), interesting language and pronunciation. board student errors and the language they struggled for but couldn’t quite get and any words that they had issues pronouncing. Call an end to the discussion whenever you feel it’s appropriate and direct the sts in their groups to the board. Sts work together to correct the errors. Feedback as a class.
  9. Skills focus: Ask sts to think back over the lesson and decide what the steps were. Direct them to the skills box on the worksheet and in pairs get them to match up the steps. discuss the final questions as a class.
  10. Skills practice: Hand out the extra articles / papers and in small groups ask the students to choose an article and follow the steps. Monitor and help sts along when necessary but if possible, leave them to it.
  11. Reflect: take a few minutes at the end to ask sts how they feel about articles and if they feel they could read them. Deal with any issues and highlight that it’s not important to understand everything and that it might be a good idea to start with shorter articles or articles on topics they are familiar with.