In today's class (with elementary level adult migrant and refugee learners), I used something I call a "live" reading text, and then followed up with some in-depth vocabulary work (which I like to refer to as "word swimming") using the Word Wise Vocabulary sheets I've already blogged about here on English Raven not too long ago.
What do I mean by "live reading" then?
In a nustshell, the live reading text is co-constructed on the spot in class between learners and teacher, targeting a topic that the students express an interest in. The teacher converses with the learners, usually by means of a variety of follow-up questions, progressively adding to the text.
It's sort of a mix between a conversation and a reading text, but it generates a passage that:
- is real and relevant to the learners;
- evolves at a level just slightly beyond the learners' current ability;
- combines cohesion and progression characteristic of both conversations and written texts;
- allows a teacher to feature contextual content as well as language challenges;
The text we generated today targeted the state election that took place on Saturday -- something they had all picked up snippets about on the news, but could only understand in the most general of terms. Hence, our text today was both topical and language oriented, but also aimed to improve their understanding of their state's basic political landscape.
Here's how our "live" text turned out:
Once we have talked and written our way through a reading text, there are all sorts of directions the lesson can head from there, but for today I wanted to give the learners some much more robust work with vocabulary. And by robust, I don't mean a large quantity of new words. I mean a reasonably small quantity of challenging words that the learners investigate and apply in a variety of layers.
So, based on the text, I chose the following 12 words for the learners to focus on (underlining them in the passage but also writing their base forms in a list to the right of the main reading text):
Given it was these learners' first try at the Word Wise worksheet approach, I began by sketching the basic vocabulary grid and filling in the relevant information using the first word on our list ("state"):
I then distributed the Word Wise sheets, and the learners got to work. Most of them immediately got into small groups to help each other out, and yes - many of them really did struggle a bit with it at first.
And yes, many of them demonstrated a lot of problems with the words at a variety of levels. The first time with "Word Wise" (like anything that is both very involved and very dependent on the learners' own efforts) is always pretty tough.
This always captivates me as a teacher because:
1. Learners so often dive for a dictionary when they find new words, and rather too quickly assure me that they understand them.
2. It's amazing how much I get to see and help the learners with their language awareness as they struggle through the process of developing and demonstrating understanding of words through various levels or angles. The Word Wise approach often shows me that learners have a very superficial or even completely erroneous understanding of new English words based only on quick dictionary references.
The other thing I like about Word Wise is that, once the learners become accustomed to its demands, they have a remarkable and disciplined tool for developing vocabulary awarenss in the future -- often independently -- and are encouraged to think about all the new words they meet beyond a simplistic (and, at times, perhaps treacherous) dictionary translation.
Anyway, that was my lesson for today: the "live reading" text and some "word swimming".
I'll dare to call it a success. The live reading text was popular (and must feel/look nice compared to the average photocopied handout). And, despite the difficulties involved, the learners were engaged and keen on working with the Word Wise process.
I have the same learners again tomorrow morning. We'll take what we've done here today and head in an altogether new learning/using direction!