Activities for Most Texts
Julia Dudas and Andrew Wright
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Interesting authentic texts are fairly easy to find but it takes time to decide how to use them. We have evolved this list of generalisable activities to help get our minds going when we find an interesting text.
These activities can be done without too much preparation, with most short texts that we might get hold of: short stories, newspaper articles, poems, lyrics, letters, advertisements, publicity material, propaganda. The ideas apply, principally, to written texts but can also be applied to spoken texts.
Before, during and after
Some of our reasons for doing activities related to Before, During and After.
1 to help them to understand new words which are important in the text
2 to help them to focus their minds on the topic and to raise their interest
3 to set them a task to do while they listen or read
1 to show their understanding as they hear or read
2 to keep their attention
3 to help them to get more out of the text: surface meaning, implications of the text, personal response
1 to show their understanding of apparent meanings and implied meanings
2 to let them respond reflectively and creatively
3 to encourage them to evaluate the text and to share their views with others
Note: sometimes it is enriching if the students work out the activities and give their questions, challenges, etc. to other students to do (or even back to themselves). For example, students can:
– Write out ten comprehension questions.
– Photocopy, cut up and muddle up a text.
– Evaluate which is the best summary of a text done by other groups.
Summary of activities for use with most texts and reasons for doing them
Helping understanding before reading
1 New words teach them before or during the text by: mime, picture, example, mother tongue, synonyms, antonyms, dictionary
2 Focus on the topic before the text: by discussion of the students’ experience, pictures, prediction from the title or accompanying picture or from one or two sentences taken out of the text or from a few key words taken out of the text, questions from the teacher, brainstorming a mind map of associations with the topic
1 Dictation in which the students listen to a continuously spoken and repeated text and slowly builds up the whole thing (also see ‘dictator’ sitting in a corner of the room.
2 Dictation in which the student writes things he/she agrees with at the top of the page and disagrees with at the bottom of the page.
3 Running dictation in which the text is displayed on a wall. St A runs to the text, remembers what he/she can, runs back to St B and tries to dictate it. (particularly grateful to ‘Dictation’ published by CUP and written by Mario Rinvolucri and Paul for these ideas)
1 Re-telling in writing or speaking more or less accurately, for example, jokes and short stories, from memory only or from note taking.
2 Reconstruction of a text which is in some way incomplete or defective. For example: a gapped text/jumbled texts, for example, sequencing paragraphs/a selection of key words/removing parts of the text which do not belong there.
3 Inventing a title or set of subtitles Inventing a title or set of titles.
4 Reduction of the text but keeping the essential content information by omitting words, phrases and sentences; combining sentences; turning it into telegraphese…the gist of the text.
5 Summarising. A selects 3 words from his/her text and B asks questions to find out what the text is about.
6 Comparing and contrasting two or more texts to find the differences and similarities in content and/or in style, for example, by identifying words and expressions which are common to both, ideas common or different in both, facts present in both or different in both.
7 Matching several headlines with several articles.
8 Preparing questions Students preparing questions for other students such as comprehension questions, interpretation questions, true/false questions, etc. which they themselves can answer. Using all varieties of question, for example, who, what, where, when, why, which, how
9 Put several texts of different types on the wall and then ask the students to devise ten questions which are pooled and each group has to answer them all…first as a competition.
10 Discussing content with a ‘for and against’ debate or through a simulation based on the text.
11 Traditional comprehension tests Of course, you have got all the traditional tests: true/false, matching, sequencing, gap filling…these are to a greater or lesser extent incorporated into the activity types given above.
12 True/false listening in which the teacher (normally) reads out the text and makes changes to it as he/she does so…the students put up their hand when they think there is a change.
13 Pass the message in which each student reads a short text, memorises the gist of it and then tells their neighbour who writes it down and then, without reading it, tells their neighbour, etc along a line of 8 people. Finally compare all messages with the originals and try to account for changes. Hypothesise how this activity relates to the workplace.
14 Titles and what they imply…each student reads a text and gets to know it well. St B is then given the title of the text, by St A and tries to guess the content of the text by asking questions of St A.
15 Jumbled dictation in which each student is given a text, divides it into three, reads out each part in the wrong order and the other students try to decide what sequence the sections should be in.
1 Selection and ranking items of content according to: a specified purpose i.e. reader/listener, aim, expected outcome, context, etc. for example, inclusion in a school magazine. Choosing the most difficult, original, contentious, personal, formal, informal…do it from your point of view and then from five different points of view.
2 Analysing the medium, and hypothesising the intended audience (age, sex, nationality, economic status, specialist, casual, etc.) nature and purpose of the writer and of the publisher(inform, amuse, persuade, shock, deceive, advise), context of reading, when the text was written and how it relates to the society of the times.
3 Also analysing the basic ordering of ideas in the text in order to achieve the likely aims.
4 Cultural analysis…based on a text…what can you hypothesise about the culture from a text (eg ad) from that culture..eg men/women relationships.
5 Comparing two texts with similar content but intended for different purposes, different readers, different contexts.
6 Titles only and Student B through questions tries to find what the text says.
1 Re-telling in a different medium which means understanding the text and then being able to re-conceive it through a different medium which will inevitably change its character. Note: time, length restrictions as well as the form. Media might be other text media: story oral or in writing; poetry; play for video; play for audio tape; newspaper article; headline; letter; advertising. A non verbal medium: pictures, mime,
2 Re-telling for a different audience, for example, 12 year old foreign learner of English or a 4 to 5 year old English native speaker.
3 Re-tell as a different writer each st about 10 small pieces of paper, read the text and write a bit of info from the article on each piece of paper, tell your neighbour, then rearrange the pieces of paper, then rewrite the article.
4 Expansion concentrating on content or form: content by adding information about people’s appearance or reasons for their actions; what happened before or after the given text. Form by adding adjectives, adverbs, sentences, subordinate clauses.
5 Personal response by saying what the text reminds you of, the images it gives you, the feelings it gives you, the things you would like to know more about and the questions you would like to ask the author. What is good about the text for you and not so good.
6 Springboard writing by using the text as a starting point for your own writing…perhaps a parallel text set in a different time or place, using one part of the text as a starting point for your own, using the same title but nothing else, using a selection of words or phrases as a starting point.
7 Writing what happened before and/or after the text.
8 Writing an interview on the text.
9 Topic extension of the text and relating it to other texts, pictures, experiences of the students. Perhaps making use of questionnaires.
10 The craft of journalism and trying to improve a text by rewriting it five times in five ways.
11 Role play and take on the role of either, the writer or a protagonist or an antagonist, or somebody affected by the content of the text.
12 This can be done either by exchange writing or through letter writing or through dialogue role play.
13 An example might be one person complaining about the misfortune indicated in the text and another person giving advice which is then disputed by the complainer.
14 An example might be that a company meeting is held to discuss the effect of the content of the article on their work (company must be invented or use an existing company)
15 An example based on catalogues, brochures, advertisements, etc. might be that the students speculate about what they would buy and why. A specific example might be where to house their head office from the advertisements of real estate in the local English newspaper.
16 An example based on adverts for jobs might be: writing a job description, writing a person profile, planning the interview, planning being the interviewee, simulating the interview, deciding on the applicant…analysing the whole procedure.
Note: if a role play is sustained from lesson to lesson it takes on the form of a soap opera. Through the form of soap opera any aspect whatsoever of business from interviews to office gossip to the effect of take overs can be lived out and talked through.
17 Rewrite as true/false in which the student rewrites the text changing some bits of information. Other students must decide what is true and what is false.
18 Select phrases and rewrite in which the students select 5 to 10 phrases which they think are important to the text. When they have done this take the original text from them and ask them to write a completely new text using the phrases they have selected.
19 Personal relationship between the text and your job and responsibilities…think about it for a few minutes…then B must ask questions to find out what the relevance is. (More abstract is: bringing in an object or other artefact which is key in the persons job and talking about it.)
Explicitly studying the language
1 Underline words you know (or words you don’t know).
2 Underline grammar points you specify
3 Underline the words and phrases which are typically journalistic (if it is an article)… 4 Underline the words and phrases which signal the direction the writer wants to go…underline collocations….
5 Hypothesise about a grammatical generalisation in English based on examples given in the text.
6 Analysing the thinking in terms of ideas and of the language they are expressed in, for example, clarity, logic, cohesion of idea and formal/informal style, sentence complexity, word precision, tense frequency, ratio of content and function words, listing content words of a certain type.
7 Rewriting for different proficiency levels a text so that elementary could get the main sense of it, intermediate more and advanced the full subtlety.
8 Rewrite and remove all slang, idioms and jargon.
9 Word by word. A student reads out from his/her text word by word…the other students must hypothesise about: the meaning of the word, meaning of the word related to previous words, content, implication, subject, style, purpose, writer, aim, reader, context of reading, text type and type of publication, etc.
10 Jumbled words of three sentences from a text. Groups put them together. Hypothesise about the text: writer, reader, content, purpose, etc. style, register, formality/informalily etc. Compare the complete text.
11 Analysing formality/informality level according to: passive/impassive language (to de personalise responsibility…to focus more on action than protagonist), nominalise verbs eg ‘maximisation of resource’s….instead of’ to maximise resources’), Latin or Greek derived vocabulary eg my definitive response instead of my last answer), compound conjunctions and time expressions eg moreover, therefore, etc.
12 Analyse, order according to level of formality and to appropriacy related to written or oral form…discuss the reason for the choice of level. Experiment with moving the level up or down but saying the same thing.
13 Studying reading by asking the studentss to reflect on how they went about their reading…, predicting content, ideas, purpose, style from the form of the publication, predicting from the title, skimming the text for gist, or scanning it to find particular things, noticing signals, pick up on things you agree/disagree with or which surprise you or which you expect, reading implications between the lines, deciding on the gist of the idea, deciding on your own standpoint related to the text,
Explicitly studying the graphic and typographic expression of the text
1 Overall visual design of the publication related to publisher, purpose, reader, etc.
2 Comparing the visual design of two or more texts.
3 Pictures and texts, their character, relationship and role.