Student-Generated Comprehension Questions

February 8, 2012

Paul Emmerson, the TEFL writer / trainer has an excellent section on his website with tips on using authentic texts in class which involve zero preparation.

I’d been looking for ways to make work incorporating authentic reading and listening texts purposeful and fun without depending too heavily on worksheets (last thing my production workers want either before or after their 9-hour shift is a worksheet; and part of the ongoing “unplugging” of my teaching!) and was delighted to find Paul’s ideas. I’d like to add to Paul’s ideas with a couple of my own.

Image-based Text Summaries.
Show students a collection of photos related to the article / report that you’re going to use (a lot of online newspapers have news galleries that you can use – see the Guardian ones, for example). Instruct students to write down a few words /phrases that come to mind with each picture. Get students to pool their ideas and write a 2-or-3-sentence summary of what they expect to see / hear in the story. When students are done, give them the text to check their ideas. They can then amend or add to their summaries.

Key Info Prediction Task
Activate students’ prior knowledge and topic knowledge by looking at the headline and photo of a news article and pre-teach any necessary vocabulary. Then, write some of the key details from the text on the board and have students try to guess what the details refer to – students can discuss their predictions pyramid style and come up with a final list. Then, give out the text and get students to check their answers.

Jumbled Articles
Find two different news articles and cut them up into sections which each contain 2 or 3 sentences. Give each pair of students the two jumbled stories and have them separate and order the texts. Once they have finished (and you have checked that the texts are in the right order) give one of the complete texts to one of the pair, and the other complete text to the other partner (i.e. text 1 to student A, and text 2 to student B) and have them write 3 or 4 comprehension questions based on their text. Finally, have students exchange texts and questions and get the students to answer each other’s questions about the text.

Typical Texts
With texts that tend to have a fairly predictable structure, such as film reviews or job ads, have students write questions that they expect the text to answer, then give out the text and have students answer their own questions (i.e. What happens in the film? Who stars in the film? What’s the salary? What are the main job responsibilities?) Here’s a sample text that you could use for this:

Would love to hear more ideas from you…


Adaptable, Fun, Student-Centered? Too True, No Lie

November 21, 2011

Recently, I mentioned reading some great posts on Dogme and materials-light teaching (for Dogme teaching in a nutshell, see Oli Beddal’s post, here). While reading, one comment caught my attention – a comment in which a teacher talked about how he frequently uses variations of the game, 2 Truths and 1 Lie, in class, not only because it is materials-light but also (and more importantly) because it always goes down well with his students, and because it can be adapted for just about any language area.

“Two Truths and One Lie”, I thought. “I haven’t used that for a while!” And my mind wandered back to the early days of my teaching career. It’s a learning activity that I associate with the the period immediately after passing my CertTESOL. Part of the newly qualified teacher’s classroom survival kit.

But why? If it’s communicative, fun, adaptable, why did I stop taking advantage it?

With no good answer to my question, I decided to put Two Truths and One Lie’s adaptability to the test and put it to use in class last week.

My Challenge
I currently teach a number of blended courses at a large international company. Learners spend 2 hours working through a unit of Tell Me More – commercially available language learning software, and my colleagues and I are required to design and deliver the face-to-face element – two-and-a-half hours of consolidation work and productive skills development based on the online material.

Last week, the language areas that my group of B2/C1 level learners worked on on-line were lexis related to airports and, teacher’s favorite, reported speech. I challenged myself to work 2 Truths and One Lie into the lesson.

You can download my lesson notes and handouts by clicking the following link, Reported Speech 2 Truths 1 Lie

The Lesson Sequence
Rather than worry too much about tense change and “back shift”, I targeted reporting verbs, in order to expand the range of my learners’ vocabulary. I prepared a dialogue script – two friends discussing a recent travel nightmare. I initially used the script as a gapfill exercise to check some of the airport lexis that had been presented online (testing language seen online is a course requirement). After some brief teacher-centered, form-focused work on reporting and reporting verbs, I had learners use a number of reporting verbs to complete sentences about the conversation that they’d read in the previous stage. Learners then did some work analyzing the structures that follow the various reporting verbs before classifying the verbs as either “attitude” or “non-attitude” verbs (in line with the classification in Parrot).

Further consolidation work was provided by having learners listen to and take notes on a course book recording in which a couple discuss their honey-moon trip to Europe. Having compared notes, learners made reporting sentences based on the recording, using the verbs from the previous stages.

Two Truths and One Lie
I planned to use Two Truths and One Lie not only to provide fun speaking and listening practice but also as a vehicle for getting learners to use reported speech. I set up the activity, demonstrating with my own examples and having learners interrogate me. I then had them write their own sentences in order play the game before pairing them up and instruct them to start. I monitored discretely, taking notes and letting the activity run. Once the majority of pairs had finished, learners changed partners. I asked one learner to report back on the previous stage but pushed her to do so by using reporting verbs (i.e. “My partner claimed that…”,). I then instructed learners to report back on the previous stage to their new partners, using reporting verbs.

The lesson was effective in the sense that learners it provided further practice of work that learners had seen online, integrated all 4 skills, and provided study and fun (and hopefully) memorable practice of a notoriously difficult grammar area. In the final stage, learners had to be prompted, in some cases, to use the reporting verbs, but then expecting spontaneous production of new language so quickly is probably a little over optimistic.

So, Two Truths and One Lie passed my first test – it was easily adapted to fit my class last week. And I will endeavor to put to use in a different class this week too. And leads me to my final question: Is good teaching (or a least a large part of it) simply about having a repertoire of highly adaptable, easy-to-set-set up, learner-centered activities?