So, this isn’t a methodology blog post – it’s about using texts. However, I do think more and more that lots of reading texts in the TL provides “safe” input. Listening input is obviously hugely important in the development of L2 acquisition, but it’s also far more spontaneous and, as such, riskier for students. When listening to spoken L2, students must be in a constant state of “brain arousal”, attempting to retain what they have heard as the speech flow continues – and, as we already know, the window of retention lasts two seconds. So their brains have to work quickly. In addition, if the context for listening is one which requires a response – whether that be a conversation, an interpretation or answering a question about what they have heard, the sense of risk is increased. What if they haven’t understood as the language was uttered too quickly for their brains to be able to retain and process it? What if they can’t then respond adequately to what they have heard? The opportunities for demotivation and embarrassment are multifold. With a text, though, the language doesn’t just “disappear”, as it does when spoken. It’s still there, they can take their time, they have cues and hints: it’s far easier to use context to decipher an unknown word when the words don’t disappear into thin air as you read them, for example! So, texts providing rich and targeted linguistic input provide opportunities for students to notice and learn new vocabulary and structures, in a risk-free context. Most students enjoy reading texts. My Y10 group (currently my pilot group for trialling “new stuff”!) are currently really enjoying reading texts aloud. They have done some phonics work recently and are loving the puzzle-solving aspect of working out how to say what they see. They like reading the texts, too – if they are interesting. It’s not always necessary to link these to the students’ specific interests, although I find that occasionally doing so makes them feel valued and provides further motivation for understanding what they read – not to mention allowing certain students to feel a bit more “expert”, as they can sometimes understand things others can’t when they have prior knowledge of the subject of the text. It could be something you, as teacher, are passionate about / interested in – I used an authentic text on Alan Turing with my Y10 when we were covering the unit on role models and they really enjoyed it. It could equally well be something currently topical in the news or something a bit quirky – sloths or meerkats, maybe! Regardless, variety is important – both linguistically and in the way we ask students to encounter a text. It keeps them on their toes but also provides opportunities for language recycling – important in the first stages of acquisition.
Last weekend, I joined in with a webinar lead by Anthony Gaughan and organised by IATEFL. It was a great session but targeted specifically at EFL teachers and some of the activities suggested would have presented too great a challenge to allow for meaningful input and prevent demotivation. I still think that just READING a text / group of texts at the initial stages of learning new vocabulary or structures is key. Giving the target language for the lesson to them in context, over and over again, without necessarily taxing them further, to allow them to begin to absorb it is, in my opinion, a good way to lay foundations. What can we then do with texts to spice things up a little? A few years ago, the Head of English in my school ran a CPD session around literacy for learning and using texts; lots of the ideas he provided were very applicable to MFL teaching. I think these would work best once the target input has already been encounteredi n a mores straightforward way. Here they are:
- Teach critical reading skills using images. Giving an image and asking students to predict, infer, guess, imagine or connect to prior learning can act as a great pre-cursor to reading a text, where the same skills can be brought into play. Use of images is especially relevant in MFL now that there is a photocard task in the new GCSE specification.
- Slow-release: give the first line or two of a text and ask students to predict. They could suggest what vocabulary will appear in the rest of the text, continue a sentence or write the next sentence.
- Using IWB, display only one line / part of a line of a text, with the rest covered. Ask students what they think comes before / after.
- Use the spotlight tool on the IWB to highlight a section of the text and ask students to use their predictive / inference skills as above. Done judiciously, this could be a good introduction to a topic: what do they think they will learn about, based on what they can see of the text? What topic area does it cover? What vocabulary do they already know?
- Cloze – we all know this one!
- Sequencing parts of the text. You could also ask students to sequence pictures, based on a text they have already read. This could work well with tenses or time adverbials.
- Take a text and alphabetise it. Students could work out what they think it is about, pick out all the words to do with “x”, pick out all the verbs etc. Lots of potential here.
- Highlighting, annotating, underlining, circling etc – a great skill for exams.
- Distilling – coming up with a one-word / sentence caption for a picture / text or writing / choosing headlines for different paragraphs of a text.
- Display a text on IWB – ask students what they think is the most important word in the text, or the most interesting / difficult / recently learned etc.
- Visualising (this is more of a listening one but you could display the text as well) – students sketch the text as it is read to them.
- “Physicalising” (another more listening-based one) – students work in pairs; one reads the text and the other acts out what they hear.