Now you see it, now you don't... but now you know it!
As I prepared to do a new live reading passage composition with my class today (see an earlier example and explanation of this here), I was reminded of the concept of the "disappearing dialogue" mentioned by Scott Thornbury in his latest post about R is for Repetition.
I used something very similar to the disappearing dialogue several years ago, but other than something like the Flip-fill activity, I haven't been using a lot of these sorts of techniques in my teaching the last couple of years.
Given I was about to generate a short reading passage for/with my learners, I thought "why not apply the same basic principle of the disappearing dialogue here -- except for a passage instead of a dialogue?"
So, after some warm and friendly initial conversation, the subject of Christmas came up. "Great," I thought. "Let's go with that! Good timing and all..."
Using the live reading technique (in a nutshell, starting a topic and having students participate in the composition process through elicitation and follow-up questions -- listed on the board next to the passage as it emerges), here's what we came up with:
I seriously enjoy doing this activity. Taking the limited expression (but core content or ideas) from the learners' own ongoing contributions to the passage, it's great to "polish up" the language for them and extend it or express it in new ways. Listing the questions to the side as they are applied and answered also means you're building a simple set of comprehension questions that exists both before and after the text is generated. But above anything else, what I absolutely adore about it is the negotiated and collaborative nature of this sort of text.
So we have a nice, relevant, topical and collaborative reading passage, both at and just a little beyond their current level...
Time for the repetition aspect, to anchor the language in the learners' memories, but hopefully in a way that is not boring or over-difficult.
To start with, I went through the passage again and had the learners make guesses as to the stress patterns at word/sentence level. Once I'd confirmed or corrected everything, here's what our passage looked like:
Another read-through chorally as a class to help get the rhythm/stress happening, and time now to make a few things disappear.
I started by deleting most of the unstressed function words in the passage, and had the students collectively (orally) help me to fill in the gaps generated:
Not too many problems there, so next I started taking out some of the verbs, as well as most of whatever remained of the function words (I left the prepositions intact for two-part verbs like "take place" and "wake up" -- just to be a bit sporting at this stage!)...
A little bit of stumbling at this stage, so I adapted my approach so that students got into pairs or threes and concentrated on completing only one sentence each from the passage. This allowed them to brainstorm together and focus on one specific sentence.
What do you know, when it came time to check, every group was spot on. So we did the entire passage again as a group, and again: spot on!
From there, I basically took out all words except for the main nouns, generating a passage that looked like this:
I followed the same method as for the previous stage (teams of two or three concentrating on one sentence each, then the whole passage again chorally as a group), and blow me down, this isn't getting harder for them -- it appears to be getting easier! And they're enjoying it, too...
Nothing left for it, then... Time to scrub the entire passage:
Okay, even I was a little awed when, as a group, they all read out this entire text orally, with no real errors whatsoever (as I scrambled to keep up with them, writing in the words as they called them out to me):
And the wide-eyed student teacher watching all this from the corner of the classroom? He was positively amazed! "You sure they haven't seen that text before today...?"
No doubt it helped a lot that the students themselves helped me to build the passage from the start (which does fantastic things for ensuring they can understand what it is they are reading, even when I've nudged the language and expression ahead a little bit), but there is also no doubt that this "disappearing passage" technique is genuinely powerful in terms of repetition and uptake.
From there, we brainstormed a new list of questions for students to ask each other about Christmas traditions and plans in their own households, they chose the four they liked best, asked them to three other students, gathered notes (the "Finding Out" process), used them to compose a simple report about what they'd found out from classmates, and then delivered them as oral reports while I referred to their written versions.
And then we went on and looked at a range of nice messages to use for Christmas card writing.
Fabulous, highly productive three hour lesson. Wonderful stuff!
And thank you, Mr. Thornbury, for the reminder about the power of the disappearing text technique. Yup, it works pretty darned well.