This post is not about books or extensive reading, as the title and the image might imply. It is about another useful teaching/learning resource I've recently learned about and used in class.
A few days ago, on his A new day, a new thing
blog, David Harbinson shared a newly learned thing that
had come to him via Mike Griffin's blog. If
you go to Mike's blog, which I did today, you'll find an interview with Neil
Millington, a university teacher based in Japan, who, six months ago, co-set a
website for English learners called DreamReader.net.
After reading David's post, nosey me immediately
went to the website to see what it's like. It reminded me of another website I
like and use - News in Levels - so
I decided to experiment with it a bit in the following lesson. This was on Friday and it
was supposed to be a small class of only 10 students. Due to a flu epidemic, though, only 4 students finally
turned up for that particular lesson, so the conditions were much more
convenient for a language experiment I was up to. It turned out that four was actually a
perfect number (but I believe it could work well with larger classes too). So, I'd like to
tell you what I did with the website. Spoiler: it went really well.
My students were pre-intermediate language
learners aged 16 (3 boys and 1 girl). The lesson was in the morning and it was
45 minutes long. There are five categories
on the site: Easy English, Interesting English, Fun English, Practical English
and Academic English. For starters, I chose Fun English. I selected two
audios which I thought everybody would be interested in: Minecraft - a PC
game everybody knows and plays (or played in the past) and The Simpsons - an animated comedy TV show that is hugely popular
over here in the Czech Republic. My plan was to exploit the two short
texts to the full.
I projected the web page on
the screen. I gave students some brief background information about what I was
doing and why, we did some brainstorming, and I started with the first
recording. I played the audio and asked Ss to answer the four simple questions
that accompany the transcript (note: I had scrolled down the page so that Ss
could not see the transcript while listening). The questions are very easy to
answer; they serve as an introduction to the topic rather than as a
listening/reading comprehension exercise. This is only to the good because it
doesn't put too much stress on Ss during the first encounter with the text.
Then we checked the answers quickly as a class. I played the audio again; this
time I let the kids follow the transcript. After that we looked at some useful
expressions, especially collocations, and put them on the board. I removed the
text and got Ss to retell (in pairs) what it said, in their own words, using
the chunks on the board. I did the same with The Simpsons.
I moved on to the next
stage. I'm a big fan of Paul Nation's Learning Vocabulary in Another
Language and I
love using some of the activities he suggests in this thick volume. So I
projected the first text (Minecraft) on the screen again. I asked Ss to
work in pairs. One student was sitting so that he faced the screen, the
other one right opposite her partner. The one facing the screen was asked to
read the text in this way: Look at the text and remember as much as possible (the
amount doesn’t really matter – it can be two words up to a whole sentence).
Then look at you partner and reproduce the bit you've just memorised. Then look
at the screen again, memorise the next bit and tell your partner. Do the same
with the rest of the text. It doesn't matter if you only manage to memorise one
word but you must not look at the text and speak at the same time. You can only
speak when you are looking at your partner. It is best if you only manage to
move your eyes. Try not to move your head too much - it makes reading more
This activity is called read-and-look-up
and its value lies in the fact that the reader has to carry the words, phrases,
or even sentences in his mind. The connection is not from the text to mouth but
from text to brain, and then from brain to mouth (see this pdf for further info).
The Ss then changed roles and worked the same way with the other text (The
Simpsons). The final stage was something that I'd never done before but that I'd always
wanted to try - simultaneous interpretation. I asked the Ss to work as a class (which was actually a group of 4).
The Ss were sitting in a circle, facing each other. I played the audio and
asked them to take turns to translate the speech as the audio played. I only paused
the audio when I wanted another student to take over. As the students were
already familiar with the text, it made things much easier for them. However, I believe
this technique helped them make more new brain connections because once again, they received language input which they had to retain in their memory for a short moment before letting it out - this time in their mother tongue. So it offered Ss an opportunity
to work with L1 in a meaningful way. Needless to say, it was fun!
I believe I managed to exploit the two
short text/audios in a very effective way. Also, I gave my
students a useful tip for an online resource which they can explore and use on their own. I wish there were more handy websites like this one. Hats off to those who take the time to create them and offer them for free!