Great reading strategies: ‘First lines’ for developing comprehension

Throughout the summer I’ve been posting a series of posts looking at communicative classroom reading strategies. I’ve started each post with this little bit of blurb explaining my thinking behind the series, as well as what you can expect to find in each post. Although this is now the sixth post of the series, please feel free to read on (you should probably skip this section if you’ve read my previous entries in the series).

As far as I’m concerned, when implementing strategy training of this kind in your classes teacher demonstration, modeling, and follow-up independent practice are all critical factors for success. I’d also say that learner discussion following strategy instruction is also helpful. For more on what I consider to be fundamental considerations in using reading strategies, please take a look at the opening paragraphs in the first post in this series.

Each strategy in this series of posts will most likely include most – if not all – of the following:

  • Advice on how to implement the strategy in your classes
  • Examples
  • Putting it into practice with second language learners
  • The supporting research / recommended further reading
  • Downloadable templates will also be available for most of the strategies we’ll look at here on the blog.

Does this sound OK to you? Right then, let’s get down to business…

6. Developing comprehension: First lines

When to use: I’d suggest this should probably be used before reading
How to use: Individually, with small groups or even in a whole class setting

First Lines is, essentially, a pre-reading comprehension strategy in which learners read the beginning sentences from a text and then make predictions about that text. This technique helps learners to focus their attention on what they can tell from the first lines; as they go on to read the text in its entirety they discuss, revisit and/or revise their original predictions.

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So, why use first lines?

  • It really helps learners to develop the skill of making predictions about the content of what they’re about to read or what is about to be read to them.
  • It also helps learners focus their attention on what they can tell from the first lines of a story, newspaper article, play, poem, or any other kind of text.

Example

Here’s an example of how the first lines strategy can work using the first lines from classic works of literature, from NPR.

If you need something visual, here are a couple of videos showing you how effective the strategy can be…

How can we use an anticipation guide?

Here’s a basic guide for implementing this strategy in your language class.

  1. Choose the course reading and introduce the text to your learners. Ask them to read only the first line of the assigned text, or paragraph, or read aloud only the first line.
  2. Ask learners to make predictions for the reading based on the first sentence.
  3. Engage the class in discussion about the predictions.
  4. Encourage learners to return to their original predictions after reading the text, assessing their original predictions and building evidence to support those predictions which are accurate. They can create new predictions, too.
'students 10' by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

‘students 10’ by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

Considerations: Putting it into practice with second language learners

  • Include writing and graphic organizers as a way of organizing predictions and / or thoughts generated from discussions.
  • It’s good to get learners to work in groups and support each other as they make predictions.
  • Remind learners that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to make predictions about a text: they are free to use their imaginations.
  • Place importance on the fact that they should be able to support their predictions from the information in the sentence.

Emphasize that they should be able to support their predictions from the information in the sentence.

Further reading: The research that supports this strategy

  • Beers, K. (2003). When Kids Can’t Read — What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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Posted in Classic posts, Teaching ideas, The student perspective, The teacher perspective, Theory | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Free ebook – PARSNIPs in ELT: Stepping out of the Comfort Zone (vol. 1)

I remember back when I did the DELTA course in 2004. The time leading up to the dreaded ‘external observation’ was nerve-wracking: I listened to a lot of people tell me what and what I shouldn’t teach in those 50 minutes. Fortunately, I got some good advice from someone whose opinion I valued, constructed an extremely well-planned and extremely safe lesson and passed without too much trouble.

The reason I still remember this so vividly, though, is not the elation at having made it through what was a stern enough test. No, the reason I remember it was because of the reaction of the learners I shared the experience with. When I asked them if they’d actually enjoyed the lesson, their reply was: ‘No, of course not!’ Surprising as it may be to you reading this, I was delighted with that answer, because I knew this group of people well and understood exactly what they meant by that comment.

Consider the picture below…

Watch it or you'll be getting page 62 for homework!Believe it or not, this was an accidental snapshot, eventually taken a couple of seconds after I though it actually had been, my guard let down and my true feelings about what I held in my hands exposed. Don’t get me wrong, I have all the respect in the world for Headway: the series has sold in the region of 80 million copies and you don’t manage that without doing something right. Nevertheless, the look on my face is revealing: how could I inflict some of the banal, inoffensive, safe and fluffy material on learners who I enjoyed sharing a classroom with?

The answer is… I didn’t make a habit of it. Once I’d got to know this group well and we’d developed a trusting teacher-learner relationship, we ditched the coursebook as often as we could get away with and based lessons on their lives and on topics they collectively found interesting. We would always come to an agreement that we all needed to feel comfortable with what the lessons would be about, but that didn’t necessarily exclude us bring the dreaded PARSNIPS into the classroom occasionally.

What’s that you say? PARSNIPS? This is the lovely acronym for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms, and Pork. These are the DMZ of the ELT world, the no-go zones where coursebook publishers fear to tread (in case they lose customers)

…by the end of the 1980s, every publisher had complied with the demands of the critics, both from left and right. Publishers had imposed self-censorship to head off the outside censors, as well as to satisfy state adoption reviews. Achieving demographic balance and excluding sensitive topics had become more important to their success than teaching children to read or to appreciate good literature.

Diane Ravitch (2003:96)

So, this is where we were by the end of the 1980s, and where we were at the turn of the century. This is where we remain: it’s time to do something about it!

With this in mind, and in the spirit of actually respecting the thoughts and sensibilities of our learners, several of us have worked on a new project to bring together a series of lesson plans based on these taboo subjects: Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the Comfort Zone (vol. 1).

This e-book is free to download and is available in multiple formats (epub, mobi & pdf) and contains one lesson on each topic from a collection of authors including me.

The book also has an accompanying blog where you can find some of the ideas from the book as well as a range of shorter ideas to stimulate discussion on the Parsnip topics with your classes.

We appreciate that these subjects will not be for everyone, so I’m quoting our foreword here:

We hope you enjoy the lessons contained in this first volume of PARSNIP lessons; the intention is to give you a selection of plans that will add to the class, so think about their suitability and breach the idea of using these subjects with the people who will be most affected by them: your learners.

If you want to learn more about PARSNIPs, here’s some recommended further reading

  • T is for Taboo’ by Scott Thornbury
  • Embrace the PARSNIP’ by Luke Meddings
  • Diane Ravitch (2003).  The Language Police: How pressure groups restrict what students learn. New York: Vintage Books.

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Great reading strategies: ‘Anticipation Guides’ for developing comprehension

Throughout the summer I’ve been posting a series of posts looking at communicative classroom reading strategies. I’ve started each post with this little bit of blurb explaining my thinking behind the series, as well as what you can expect to find in each post. Although this is now the fifth post of the series, please feel free to read on (you should probably skip this section if you’ve read my previous entries in the series).

As far as I’m concerned, when implementing strategy training of this kind in your classes teacher demonstration, modeling, and follow-up independent practice are all critical factors for success. I’d also say that learner discussion following strategy instruction is also helpful. For more on what I consider to be fundamental considerations in using reading strategies, please take a look at the opening paragraphs in the first post in this series.

Each strategy in this series of posts will most likely include most – if not all – of the following:

  • Advice on how to implement the strategy in your classes
  • Examples
  • Putting it into practice with second language learners
  • The supporting research / recommended further reading
  • Downloadable templates will also be available for most of the strategies we’ll look at here on the blog.

Does this sound OK to you? Right then, let’s get down to business…

5. Developing comprehension: Anticipation Guide

When to use: I’d suggest this should probably be used before reading
How to use: Individually, with small groups or in a whole class setting

In its simplest form, an anticipation guide is a comprehension strategy used prior to reading to activate learners’ prior knowledge and build curiosity about a new topic. Before reading, learners listen to or read several statements about key concepts presented in the text; they’re often structured as a series of statements with which the learners can choose to agree or disagree. Anticipation guides stimulate learners’ interest in a topic and set a purpose for reading.

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So, why use anticipation guides?

  • Anticipation guides stimulate learners’ interest in a topic and set a purpose for reading.
  • They teach learners to make predictions, anticipate the text, and verify their predictions.
  • They connect new information to prior knowledge and build curiosity about a new topic.

Example

Here’s what an anticipation guide template looks like:

Example of an anticipation guide.

Example of an anticipation guide.

If you like the minimalist look of the example above, you can download a copy of it here. Alternatively, the Read Write Think website has another template available for you to use.

If you need something more visual, here are a couple of videos showing you how to use the strategy…

How can we use an anticipation guide?

Here’s a basic guide for implementing this strategy in your language class.

  1. Create an anticipation guide based on the text you will use in class. This should be as simple and clear as possible. Write four to six statements about key ideas in the text; some can be true and some false. Include columns following each statement, which can be left blank or can be labeled Yes, or No, or True and False if you prefer (Maybe can also be used).
    NOTE: Teachers may wish to create an additional column for revisiting the guide after the material has been read.
  2. Model the process. Introduce the text or reading material and share the guide with the learners. Model the process of responding to the statements and marking the columns.
  3. Read each of the statements and ask the learners if they agree or disagree with it. Provide the opportunity for discussion. The emphasis is not on right answers but to share what they know and to make predictions.
  4. Read the text aloud or have learners read the selection individually. If reading aloud, teachers should read slowly and stop at places in the text that correspond to each of the statements.
  5. Bring closure to the reading by revisiting each of the statements.

Considerations: Putting it into practice with second language learners

  • Anticipation guides can also be completed orally.
  • The number of statements can be modified to suit learner’s needs.
  • Teachers may assign different reading passages about the same topic based upon reading skills.
  • Try color coding columns so that the learner can clearly tell the difference between the “before” and “after” column.
  • Use simple sentences so that the learner focuses on the content, rather than understanding the sentence.

Further reading: The research that supports this strategy

  • Duffelmeyer, F. (1994). Effective Anticipation Guide statements for learning from expository prose. Journal of Reading, 37, 452-455.
  • National Institute for Literacy. (2001). Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read Kindergarten Through Grade 3. Jessup, MD: ED Pubs.
  • Head, M. H., and Readence, J. E. (1992). Anticipation guides: Using prediction to promote learning from text. In E.K. Dishner, T. W. Bean, J. E. Readence and D. W. Moore (Eds), Reading in the content areas: Improving classroom instruction (3rd ed., pp. 227-233). Dubugue: Kendall/Hunt.
  • Wood, K. D., D. Lapp, J. Flood, and D. B. Taylor. 2008. Guiding Readers Through Text: Strategy Guides for New Times. 2nd ed. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
  • Wood, K.D., & Mateja, J. A. (1983). Adapting secondary level strategies for use in elementary classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 36, 492-496

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Posted in Opinion, Teaching ideas, Theory | 4 Comments

Great reading strategies: ‘Story sequencing’ for developing comprehension

Over the course of this summer I’m going to be posting a long series looking at communicative classroom reading strategies. I’ll start each post with this little bit of blurb explaining my thinking behind the series, as well as what you can expect to find in each post. As this is the fourth post of the series, please feel free to read on although you should probably skip this section if you’ve read my previous entries in the series.

As far as I’m concerned, when implementing strategy training of this kind in your classes teacher demonstration, modeling, and follow-up independent practice are all critical factors for success. I’d also say that learner discussion following strategy instruction is also helpful. For more on what I consider to be fundamental considerations in using reading strategies, please take a look at the opening paragraphs in the first post in this series.

Each strategy in this series of posts will include most if not all of the following:

  • Advice on how to implement the strategy in your classes
  • Examples
  • Putting it into practice with second language learners
  • The supporting research / recommended further reading
  • Downloadable templates will also be available for most of the strategies we’ll look at here on the blog.

Does this sound OK to you? Right then, let’s get down to business…

4. Developing comprehension: Story sequencing

When to use: I’d suggest this can be used before, during or after reading
How to use: Individually, with small groups or in a whole class setting

In a nutshell, ‘story sequencing’ is the name given to the identification of the components of a story; the beginning, middle, and end. It also refers to the ability to retell the events within a given text in the order in which they occurred. The ability to sequence events in a text is an important comprehension strategy, especially for narrative texts. Furthermore, sequencing is an important component of problem-solving across subjects.

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So, why use story sequencing?

  • Story sequencing assists with comprehension, especially for narrative texts.
  • Sequence structures are helpful in enabling learners of varying abilities to organize information and ideas efficiently.
  • Sequencing is also an important component of problem-solving across a v ariety of subjects.

Example

Here’s what a story sequence template looks like:

A story sequence template example courtesy of Pearson Education.

A story sequence template example courtesy of Pearson Education.

If you want a template, here’s one with a fairly simple layout from eduplace.com. Alternatively, here’s one from Pearson Education.

How can we use possible sentences?

Here’s a basic guide for implementing this strategy in your language class.

  • Teach learners that, in a narrative text, the plot is all the events that happen in the story. Events in a story occur in a certain order: the ‘sequence’ is the order in which things happen or are described. It’s good to start by reading a short book together and analyzing both the plot and the sequence of events. What happens first? What happens next? What happens last?
  • Brainstorm transitions together, such as first, second, third, then, next, finally, lastly, before, after, while, and meanwhile. You may want to describe a process or read aloud a ‘how-to’ essay and get learners to describe the order of events. After this, get learners to explain how to do something by using time order words. You may also want to tell a story, using the transitions before, after, or meanwhile to show how sometimes events can be told in a different order than they actually happen.
  • Encourage learners to look for signal words as they read and take notes on the sequence of events. They may want to use a graphic organizer, such as a sequence chart or a flowchart to help them take notes. When reading nonfiction, learners may want to take special note of details such as important dates, as sometimes events might be presented out of order in a piece of nonfiction writing; therefore, the dates are signals about the sequence. They could create a timeline to help them keep track of important events.
  • Require learners to ask questions as they read and take notes about their thoughts, ideas, inferences, and predictions. They may want to stop occasionally to think and reflect on what has happened. Encourage them to read actively and make connections.

For those of you who want a bit more of a demonstration, these video clips do the trick!

Considerations: Putting it into practice with second language learners

  • Scaffold your teaching by providing prompts for each section on a map. For example, in the “Beginning” box of your map, write in prompts such as: Who are the main characters? Where does the story take place?
  • Differentiate which sequence chart to give to which learners. The beginning-middle-end format is the simplest; other more complex maps can be used with more advanced learners.
  • Model this strategy using a book with very clear components to help learners understand each component.
  • Learners can extend their understanding of sequencing by displaying it their own writing. Learners can use sequence charts to plan, summarize, and write their own main ideas, characters, setting, and plot for a story.

Further reading: The research that supports this strategy

  • Moss, B. (2005). Making a case and a place for effective content area literacy instruction in the elementary grades. Reading Teacher, 59, 46-55.
  • Reutzel, R. (1985). Story maps improve comprehension. Reading Teacher, 38, 400-404.

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Great reading strategies: ‘Possible Sentences’ for dealing with important vocabulary

Over the course of this summer I’m going to be posting a long series looking at communicative classroom reading strategies. I’ll start each post with this little bit of blurb explaining my thinking behind the series, as well as what you can expect to find in each post. as this is the third post of the series, please read on if you’ve missed the first two (although you should probably skip this section in subsequent posts).

As far as I’m concerned, when implementing strategy training of this kind in your classes teacher demonstration, modeling, and follow-up independent practice are all critical factors for success. I’d also say that learner discussion following strategy instruction is also helpful. For more on what I consider to be fundamental considerations in using reading strategies, please take a look at the opening paragraphs in the first post in this series.

Each strategy in this series of posts will include most if not all of the following:

  • Advice on how to implement the strategy in your classes
  • Examples
  • Putting it into practice with second language learners
  • The supporting research / recommended further reading
  • Downloadable templates will also be available for most of the strategies we’ll look at here on the blog.

Sound OK to you? Right then, let’s get started…

3. Vocabulary: Possible sentences

When to use: I’d suggest this should be used before reading
How to use: Individually, with small groups or in a whole class setting

In a nutshell, ‘possible sentences’ is a straightforward and easy-to-use pre-reading vocabulary strategy that activates learners’ prior knowledge about content area vocabulary and concepts. Before reading, learners are provided a short list of vocabulary words from their reading. Learners create, based on their prediction of what the reading will be about, a meaningful sentence for each vocabulary word or concept. After reading, learners can check to see if their possible sentences were accurate or need correction.

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So, why use possible sentences?

  • This is a great way of activating prior knowledge about content area vocabulary and concepts, and can also help to improve reading comprehension.
  • It piques learners’ curiosity and interest about their reading.
  • This strategy teaches learners to guess how words may be used in the text and create meaningful sentences.

Example

Here’s what a possible sentences template looks like:

A typical possible sentences template.

A typical possible sentences template.

A couple of free downloadable templates are available: Guilford County Schools give us a simple PDF format template, while adlit.org offer a slightly more colorful version of the same design.

How can we use possible sentences?

Here’s a basic step-by step guide for implementing this strategy in your language class.

  1. Choose and display the vocabulary words.
  2. Ask learners to define the words and pair related words together.
  3. Ask learners to write sentences using their word pairs. Remind learners that their sentences should be ones they expect to see in the text as they read.
  4. Have learners read the text and compare their possible sentences with the actual sentences within the text.
  5. If your learners’ possible sentences are inaccurate, ask them to rewrite their sentences to be accurate.

For those of you who want a bit more of a demonstration, this video clip does the trick!

Considerations: Putting it into practice with second language learners

  • Have learners of varying abilities work together to develop sentences.
  • Invite learners to share their sentences with the class.
  • If learners have never completed possible sentences you will need to model the process for your learners.
  • Provide clues for younger readers by writing sentences and leaving blanks for them to fill in vocabulary words.
  • Give learners the vocabulary words in both English and their native language. Ask them to write sentences in English.
  • As a post-reading game, learners can share their sentences without disclosing which are accurate or inaccurate. Teams of learners then try to decipher, based on their reading, which sentences are accurate.

The research that supports this strategy

  • Moore, D.W., & Moore, S.A (1986). “Possible sentences.” In Reading in the content areas: Improving classroom instruction. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
  • Stahl, S.A. & Kapinus, B.A. (1991). Possible sentences: Predicting word meaning to teach content area vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 45, 36-45.

Posted in Teaching ideas, Theory | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Great reading strategies: ‘Word Maps’ for dealing with important vocabulary

Over the course of this summer I’m going to be posting a long series looking at communicative classroom reading strategies. I’ll start each post with this little bit of blurb explaining my thinking behind the series, as well as what you can expect to find in each post. as this is the first post of the series, please read on (although you should probably skip this section in subsequent posts).

As far as I’m concerned, when implementing strategy training of this kind in your classes teacher demonstration, modeling, and follow-up independent practice are all critical factors for success. I’d also say that learner discussion following strategy instruction is also helpful. For more on what I consider to be fundamental considerations in using reading strategies, please take a look at the opening paragraphs in the first post in this series.

Each strategy in this series of posts will include most if not all of the following:

  • Advice on how to implement the strategy in your classes
  • Examples
  • Putting it into practice with second language learners
  • The supporting research / recommended further reading

Downloadable templates will also be available for most of the strategies we’ll look at here on the blog.

Sound OK to you? Ok, let’s get started…

2. Vocabulary: Word Maps

When to use: I’d suggest this should be used either before, during or even after reading
How to use: Individually, with small groups or in a whole class setting

Word maps are, quite simply, visual organizers that encourage vocabulary development as part of the reading process. Using a graphic organizer, learners are given the opportunity to think about terms or concepts in several ways. Most word map organizers engage learners in developing a definition, synonyms, antonyms, and a picture for a given vocabulary word or concept. Enhancing learners’ vocabulary is important to developing their reading comprehension.

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So, why use word maps?

  • They’re useful in helping learners to develop their understanding of a particular word.
  • They help learners to think about new terms or concepts in several ways by asking the following questions: “What is it?”, “What is it like?” and “What are some examples?”
  • They help learners not only use prior knowledge but also to build on it, and visually represent new information.

Example

Here’s what a completed word map looks like:

An example of a completed word map using a template from 'read write think'

An example of a completed word map using a template from ‘read write think’

A blank version of the above template is available here, courtesy of the read write think website. An alternative template is available here, this one thanks to reading quest website.

How can we use word maps?

Here’s a basic step-by step guide for implementing this strategy in your language class.

  1. Introduce the vocabulary item and the map to the learners.
  2. Work through the process of how to use the map by putting the target word in the central box.
  3. Ask learners to suggest words or phrases to put in the other boxes which answer the following questions: “What is it?” “What’s it like?” and “What are some examples?”
  4. Encourage learners to use synonyms, antonyms, and perhaps even a picture to help illustrate the new target word or concept.
  5. Model how to write a definition using the information on the word map.

For those of you who want a bit more of a demonstration, this video clip does the trick!

Considerations: Putting it into practice with second language learners

  • Give learners who need extra help the chance to work with a partner.
  • Allow learners to use pictures to illustrate when appropriate.
  • Keep it realistic in terms of the number of words learners need to map.
  • Provide learners with sentences each containing the target word. The sentences should provide enough context clues to enable learners to complete a word map.
  • Allow learners to refer to a dictionary, encyclopedia or other reference book for help in completing the word map if you think this will be beneficial. Ask them to compare their definitions with what they find.

The research that supports this strategy

  • Baumann, J. F., & Kameenui, E. J. (1991). Research on vocabulary instruction: Ode to
  • Voltaire. In J. Flood, J. D. Lapp, & J. R. Squire (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching the English Language Arts (pp. 604-632). New York: Macmillan.
  • Colorín Colorado. (2007). Using Science to Develop ELLs Language Skills (here).
  • Jones, R. (2007). Strategies for Reading Comprehension: Vocabulary Word Maps (here).
  • Jones, R.C., & Thomas, T.G. (2006). Leave No Discipline Behind. The Reading Teacher, 60(1), 58-64.
  • Schwartz, R. M., & Raphael, T. E. (1985). Concept of definition: A key to improving learners’ vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 39, 198-205
  • Texas Education Agency. (2002). Teaching Word Meanings as Concepts (here).

Posted in Teaching ideas, Theory | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Great reading strategies: ‘List-Group-Label’ for pre-teaching vocabulary

Over the course of this summer (in the Northern Hemisphere!) I’m going to be posting a long series looking at communicative classroom reading strategies. I’ll start each post with this little bit of blurb explaining my thinking behind the series, as well as what you can expect to find in each post. as this is the first post of the series, please read on (although you should probably skip this section in subsequent posts).

First, here are some considerations: When using any teaching strategy, teachers should…

(1) help learners to understand why a strategy is useful, and
(2) describe explicitly how the strategy should be used.

This means that teacher demonstration, modeling, and follow-up independent practice are all critical factors for success in using these strategies. I’d also say that learner discussion following strategy instruction is also helpful.

Each strategy in this series of posts will include most if not all of the following:

  • Advice on how to implement the strategy in your classes
  • Examples
  • Considerations for second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners
  • The supporting research / recommended further reading

Downloadable templates will also be available for most of the strategies we’ll look at here on the blog.

Sound OK to you? Ok, let’s get started…

1. Vocabulary: List-Group-Label

When to use: I’d suggest this should be used before reading
How to use: Individually, with small groups or in a whole class setting

Basically, ‘List-group-label’ is a form of semantic mapping. I love this strategy, as it encourages learners to improve their vocabulary and categorization skills and learn to organize concepts. Categorizing listed words, through grouping and labeling, helps them to organize new concepts in relation to previously learned concepts.

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So, why use list-group-label?

  • It enables learners to organize their understanding of specific vocabulary and concepts.
  • It builds on prior knowledge about a topic.
  • It actively engages learners in acquiring new vocabulary and content by activating their critical thinking skills.
  • It teaches categorizing and labeling skills.

Example

An example of the 'list group label' strategy.

An example of the ‘list group label’ strategy.

How can we use list-group-label?

Here’s a basic guide for implementing this strategy.

  1. Select a main concept in a reading selection.
  2. List:
    1. Visually display student responses.
    2. At this point do not critique student responses. Some words may not reflect the main concept, but hopefully students will realize this as they begin grouping the words in the next step.
  3. Group: Divide your class into small groups. Each group will work to cluster the class list of words into subcategories. As groups of words emerge, challenge your students to explain their reasoning for placing words together or discarding them.
  4. Label: Invite students to suggest a title or label for the groups of words they have formed. These labels should relate to their reasoning for the grouping.
    1. Have students brainstorm all the words they think relate to the topic.

If you want a more visual example, watch this video of the strategy in action.

Considerations

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners…

  • Ask learners to return to lists it as they read through and the text related to the major concept they brainstormed about. They may find they should add words from their reading or re-label the groups of words they created.
  • Encourage learners to discuss lists with others outside their initial small group.
  • Get learners to write the lists or type them using a word processing program.
  • Provide learners with pre-established categories to use to group words.
  • Create graphical representations of words in order to help learners to connect to prior knowledge.
  • Ask learners to create their own drawings to accompany the words.

The research that supports this strategy

  • Lenski, S. D., Wham, M. A., & Johns, J. L. (1999). Reading and learning strategies for middle and high school students. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
  • Taba, H. (1967). Teacher’s handbook for elementary social studies. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Tierney, R.J., & Readence, J.E. (2000). Reading strategies and practices: A compendium (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Posted in Teaching ideas, The teacher perspective, Theory, Uncategorized | Tagged | 11 Comments

Interview: Mark Barnes introduces the ‘Hack Learning’ app

I’ve been following the work of Mark Barnes for quite a while (I highly recommend following ‘Teachers throwing out grades’ group on Facebook) and was very happy when he got in touch with me recently to discuss a new app that he was developing.

The whole idea of ‘Hack Learning‘ was instantly appealing, and I’m happy to say that, now it has become available, Mark has agreed to answer a few questions about the app and how it came into existence.

____________________

What inspired you to create this app?

I created an education book series called The Hack Learning Series, books that solve problems with simple ideas. While working on the first book and planning others, I started looking for ways to spread the word about Hack Learning. I watched a webinar about how publishers can deliver content directly to readers, in an unconventional way, with a mobile app. I reached out to a developer, and before I knew it, the project was under way.

Click on the image to learn more about the 'Hack Learning' app.

Click on the image to learn more about the ‘Hack Learning’ app.

How easy was it to develop the app?

Anyone can do it, if you have the right people behind you. There is a ton of engineering behind any app, and you need experienced coders. The hackers behind the Hack Learning app are from a company called Papertrell. They specialize in making apps for book publishers and other content providers. I basically told them how I wanted the app to function and they made it happen. They code the app, but I add all of the content and do most of the graphic design. I can add a video or podcast to the app in about an hour, depending on how much time I spend on graphic design.

What exactly can people find on the app?

The goal is to deliver amazing content that is both educational and inspirational, and even though I’m an author, I know that not everyone wants to absorb content through books. So, Hack Learning provides multiple paths to learning. The app has feature length books, short format books, how-to videos, podcasts, and brief articles. It is rich with beautiful graphics and media. It has the best of all content delivery worlds.

What do you expect to be adding to the app in the future? How will you develop content further?

There is new content every week. I spend a great deal of time now on acquisition. I talk to authors, bloggers, podcasters, and screencasters about their projects. When I see something that is a good fit for the Hack Learning audience, I approach the producer about the possibility of adding it to the app. All of the Hack Learning Series books will be on the app—the first is coming later this summer. The second this fall. We’ve got the Join Up Dots podcast—one of the most popular inspirational shows on iTunes. We’ve got Talks with Teachers and we recently added KQED Public Radio podcasts, and I’m always looking for new podcasts to add. The site is all about variety. There are some marvelous books coming from some big names in education and inspiration later this year and early next year.

Where can we find the app?

Hack Learning is in both the Apple and Google app stores. The easiest way to find it, though, is to go to HackLearningApp.com. It contains info about the app and direct links to the store of your choice.

What advice do you have for teachers thinking about making their own apps?

Find the right people to help you do what you don’t know how to do. A legitimate, interactive, beautifully designed app like Hack Learning doesn’t happen with some do-it-yourself toolkit. It takes smart developers, graphic design expertise, plenty of time, and great content. Running an app with thousands of users is a big job. It’s exciting and fun, but it’s not easy.

Many thanks to Mark for taking the time to talk to us.

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Dogme essentials: Going materials light

A couple of days ago Phil Wade delighted us with a post about physical distance in the Dogme language classroom. He’s back again here with the second mini-series on the Dogme approach; this time he’s looking eschewing the use of materials as and when possible.

If you want to know more about the Dogme approach before reading this post, I suggest having a look at this (implementing the Dogme approach), or this (preparing Dogme materials), or maybe perhaps this (video clips on Dogme ELT).

Dogme essentials: Going materials light

A big criticism people have of Dogme is about not using materials. How can you just replace a professional coursebook with stuff from the students? This is the common question and it is a good question. Well, there are teachers who decide to go full Dogme and throw out the book and there are others who decide to wade slowly into it. Another group, which I am a member of, are those who work with 0 budget so have no other option but to get creative.

For me, Dogme changes the role of the coursebook from a bible which you spend 90% of class looking at and using to a resource which you may use for preparation, read from, use to show images or for recreating in the lesson. It becomes a resource for the course. Probably one of many. This first idea can be daunting for some. Just imagine confiscating all the class coursebooks and how confused everyone would look. But now think about what you really need in this week’s unit. There is probably a text, a recording, a speaking activity, of course some vocab and grammar too. Maybe even a writing box. Now, be very honest with yourself. Which of those things do students really need the book in front of themselves for?

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Think about it. You normally set up a speaking activity by creating context then giving them instructions. Then, the students will read the instructions in the book, the task and whatever else is on the page and only then start thinking about speaking. Take the book away and they have to listen to you and then begin. You have taken the reading part away. For instance, if the task in the book describes 2 roles and then says ‘now talk to your partner and…’, it is easier and quicker to either make very brief notes on the board, dictate the roles to students or just explain them in very simple terms.

Here’s another example. The book has some PTV , a listening, a gist task and then some grammar focus. In total, probably a full page of exercises and reading. Take the books away and you can decide whether to do the PTV, leave it or have it as another focus activity later. You are also now free to play all or just some of the recording. You could also pause it or let a student control the playback. As for the questions, do you want gist, detailed, focus or all of them? Pick the ones you want or the ones that seem relevant and as above, write them on the board or explain them. I like to do them orally by stopping the playback and just asking a question or asking 5 at the end.

As you can see, you can use the book as a resource but adapt it as you see fit. This is still a Dogme lesson in a way as it is based on speaking, the people in the room, is personalized, has no materials and is highly motivating.

About the author

Phil Wade is an English and Business English educator interested in developing tailored effective teaching solutions. He is also the author a great range of freely downloadable e-books on teaching business English.

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Teaching ideas, The teacher perspective | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Dogme essentials: Physical distance

Here we go with another thought provoking guest post from Phil Wade. If you want to know more about the Dogme approach before reading this post, I suggest having a look at this (implementing the Dogme approach), or this (preparing Dogme materials), or maybe perhaps this (video clips on Dogme ELT).

When I first got into Dogme, I looked for videos to see what it looked like. What I found were always small classes with teachers sitting in circles with students and often using small portable boards or moveable ones that were brought into the student space. My first impressions were that the resulting ambiance was very neutral and the teacher really seemed more like a helpful colleague. No desks and no books left students without defenses and had to rely on being themselves and their own skills. They could no longer pretend to be writing or reading or spend minutes looking up words in dictionaries. In the Dogme circle, they had to use what they had, listen, take part and contribute.

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Since then, I’ve been using and experimenting with Dogme and seating. In some classes it is hard to move students due to fixed rows but in others, you can. A small circle works wonders when used for real conversation. Over an hour, two or three it can get tiresome though. As with teaching young kids, varying seating every 30 or 45 minutes works well. Thus, this ‘coming together’ is just like mat time with the primary teacher used at the start and the end of the day to warm up and cool down students.

If you think of your room as just a room with 10/20 chairs and 10/20 tables then why do they need to be and stay in the order they are when you arrive? Yes, some other people may complain if you move and leave them in odd places but what goes on in your class is for you and your students. As long as things are left as before, nobody is bothered. With this freedom of placing, you can let your imagination go wild by drawing and envisaging seating for each task. For example, what works best for groups of 4 co-writing a story? One table? No table? A circle? Standing? How about the teacher? Should you be sitting taking notes, sitting with students or sat on a table enjoying the lesson?

Varying seating will be a shock for many students as they may have sat in rows for 20 years. Stick with it though but don’t get too crazy by using random seating in every lesson. Students like continuity so having 3 different seating types and varying them in every session is a good start.

About the author

Phil Wade is an English and Business English educator interested in developing tailored effective teaching solutions. He is also the author a great range of freely downloadable e-books on teaching business English.

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Posted in Life inside the classroom, The student perspective, The teacher perspective | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment