martes, 30 de noviembre de 2010

Chapters 6 and 9 - Hedge

Here is my comment of an article on teaching reading comprehension and the development of writing skills in English lessons at schools. It was published by the GCBA and below you can find the link to download it. I found it very interesting and easy to read so I hope you like it too!

The article is in fact a guide designed for teaching reading and writing in primary and secondary school with a communicative approach. You can read about theory and take a look at many activities to use in your lessons.

The main idea is to highlight the importance to give a purpose and a context for all reading and writing activities. It is true that many teachers do not think of this or do not apply this in the classroom because it is more challenging and demanding for them. However, it has been proved to be a better way to learn. When we relate what we study to our feelings or our own personal experiences we get to understand and to learn in a better way, and we remember it more easily.

As regards reading, the guide makes reference to the need to understand clearly what we read. In general, what we teachers do in our lessons is to pre-teach some words and let students read a text to ask them questions later. But this is a very complex task because there is not previous work. Our students need time to start dealing with texts, therefore, they must have a purpose and know the source and the style of the text. It is of great help to make students read different genres and to include paratextual elements to help their reading. What we can learn from this article is to present texts for reading comprehension with a great emphasis on pre-reading activities to make the tasks more success-oriented and while-reading activities to check real comprehension.

Writing in a foreign language implies a difficult process too because not only do we have to pay attention to vocabulary, tenses, punctuation and collocations but also to the message we are conveying. Therefore, when students write at school, they also have to know the purpose of doing it. As teachers, we tend to present a sample text, analyse it grammatically and ask students to write a similar one. But a previous work is fundamental for the students´ needs. The key point is to give them a trigger to start writing and then a context, a genre, the vocabulary and grammar needed and an audience. It is also important to vary the kind of writing because we can make learners work on paper and later on computers or we can ask them to write alone or in groups so as to give more dynamic, challenging and interesting tasks.

I think that most of the information found in this article can also be seen in many books of teaching English as a second or foreign language. However, this guide is easily explained and presented with images, texts, questionnaires, etc; so it smoothly invites you to build your own reading and writing activities following different steps. It is of great help because you revise the theory learnt through many years and you can see different activities ready to be used in your lessons.

miércoles, 10 de noviembre de 2010

Chapter 8 - Hedge: Speaking

Question nº2: Record a group of students performing a communicative activity.

Comment: As I do not have a device to record a lesson I chose to analyse a video of an English class from Youtube. It is great for visual people like me because we can pay attention to many things. Three different activities are shown, I analysed the second one, it starts at minute 3:00. Below the video, there is the analysis. Well, enjoy!

• To what extent does the activity encourage or oblige participation from all of the students?

As it is a game, learners are encouraged by the activity to participate so that they can compete and win points for their teams. However, I can see that some students are sitting or waiting on one corner of the room so in this case, it does not demand the participation of all them at the same time. They seem to be taking turns because they are playing in pairs. But I think that it can be easily changed so that all of them can play at the same time. Either the student who is defining a word can speak to a larger team or there can be four groups playing at the same time.

• What examples can you find of conversational adjustments as students try to negotiate meaning, for example, asking for and giving clarification, repetition, further explanation through paraphrasing?

Students do not make many adjustments when speaking, but I could hear one of them paraphrasing when he starts defining the word “coffee-table”. He begins by saying `you need..´ and then he immediately says `you can find it …´ so this can be one example of an adjustment in conversation. Another adjustment can be that the four of them made gestures to explain more clearly.

• What examples can you find of students correcting each other?

The teacher seems to be in charge of correcting and checking everything in the game. There is only one case in which a student answers that coffee-tables are found in the kitchen and immediately the other learners correct him by saying “Living-room!”. A possible way to give them the chance to correct each other can be to assign them to do it after the opposing team has answered, or even the students who are just looking at the game can be the ones who can correct that.

• How would you comment on the general level of accuracy in the students´ language?

This activity is quite free because learners can resort to any language structures to be able to communicate. This language course seems to be pre-intermediate so I think that the level of accuracy in their language was quite high because they do not find many problems when describing words.

• If the activity had a focus on some area of grammar or use of vocabulary, to what extent did this appear in the students´ language?

The focus of the game was to practise vocabulary related to parts and objects of the house. These items appear a lot in their answers because the activity makes them do it. Apart from that, the teacher asks more questions to reinforce some other vocabulary when they did not use it.

• When you have considered these points, decide whether you think it was an activity worth doing, and why? Would you change anything in a re-run of it?

I like the activity because it is very useful for lower levels as it does not require specific structures so learners can feel free to decide what to say to define words. If it is a beginners course they can just resort to words instead of sentences. When we have an advanced course we can make it more challenging by asking them to use specific structures, for example relative clauses, or to define phrases like idioms, proverbs, etc. What I would change in this game is the fact that some students were just observing. If I there is a large class, the activity can be done in two or three big groups. If there are not many students there can be four groups playing at the same time and the teacher can monitor the two competitions. Anyway, it is a nice oral activity to start or finish our lessons.