Painting pictures with content from the classroom... Image: Jamal Afzal
I've had a few requests via blog comments and DMs on Twitter to explain in more detail what I mean by my so-called "Live Reading" technique for the EFL/ESL classroom. I've already covered it in a little detail on previous posts (The live reading lesson followed up with some word swimming and Going, going, gone (in!) and alluded to it on Reading and listening out of the socket), but here I'll try to explain it a little better and provide some more examples.
Basically, the idea is to create a reading text for the class, on the spot in real time, with the active participation of the learners. It was these "reading" and "live" elements that gave the technique its first name, but having a closer look at what it involves I'm not sure it tells the whole story. The activity is as much about listening, speaking (discussion), writing and language development (via vocabulary and grammar) as it is reading.
I might summarize the process simply in this fashion:
1. Engage in open discussion with the class until a topic of particular relevance or interest emerges, and elicit from the students as much as they can or would like to contribute about it.
2. Have the learners help you make a heading that best summarizes what you/they have been discussion, and write it at the top of the whiteboard.
3. Choose a relevant text type (see more on this below) and generate an ongoing text about the topic with the help of the learners, basically reviewing the discussion already had through a variety of more specific questions (delivered and answered orally), starting open-ended sentences, encouraging follow up comments or details from a variety of students, and writing down the information in a logical flow on the whiteboard, improving or adding to the language the learners use to express themselves.
4. Review the overall text with the learners, making a list of new words and lexical patterns to the side of the text.
5. Apply a variety of follow up activities that use the text as the orienting or central resource.
In number 3 in the process just described, I stipulate the need for the selection of a text type. The most common that I use for this activity is a simple topical (expository) style, where we explore a topic beginning with a simple introduction and then 1-3 follow up paragraphs with their own main ideas flowing on the from the broad topic.
But there are other possibilities as well. You might like to generate a newspaper article, an advertisement, a form of some sort, a letter or email, or even a depiction of a website relevant to the topic.
Whichever text type you choose to go with, it's important that you know some of the basics involved with that style of text. This is why I have pointed out elsewhere that materials writing experience can be a huge boon to a teacher trying the "live reading" text, but there may be some challenges for teachers who are much more accustomed to simply consuming reading materials in class rather than actually composing them (for a class).
However, for the teacher that can (learn to) handle this in something close to real time, "live" in front of the class, there is a huge bonus here: you are also demonstrating to the learners some fundamental writing skills, and doing so in a rather powerful and engaging way.
In addition to the dynamic interface between reading and (demonstrating) writing, there are some other benefits to this process:
1. The learners are engaged and active in the process; they are investing in it.
2. They are talking, listening, thinking and reading all through the one process.
3. The text is almost naturally worked in a way that makes it level-appropriate.
4. Comprehension is happening in "real time", during the text rather than following it.
5. The teacher has a great opportunity to take the learners' limited expression (through casual talk) and turn it into more effective and advanced language (in effect: catering to emergent language) that is likely to be very meaningful and salient to the learners. New vocabulary and grammatical structures flow naturally through this sort of process.
Perhaps this will become clearer through an example (in addition to the actual classroom ones I have already demonstrated here and here). This one is, admittedly, a hypothetical (but to me highly plausible) one, but I hope this also demonstrates the potential value (for teachers who like to go into classes a little more prepared than your average unplugger) of thinking ahead for possible relevant topics for a classroom and rehearsing or thinking one's way through the composition process, before actually applying the lesson.
Australia Day is coming up towards the end of this month, and if I were due to teach migrants and refugees here either before or just after this event, chances are it would come up in classroom discussion. Given the fundamental significance of this day in Australia (and the potentially bitter-sweet notion of it for Indigenous Australians), along with its potential to demonstrate aspects of the Australian character, for migrants and refugees settling in Australia this could be a very rich vein to explore.
I would start out by suggesting a special day is approaching (or has just passed) and invite the learners to tell the class what they know or ask questions. I would work to establish the name of the holiday, the date, which day is an actual holiday, what happens on that day, and the ways it could be interpreted as being important. Alongside that, I would be encouraging the learners to share information about special national days from their own countries. Given that the learners might not know a lot of specific detail about Australia's history, I might look for ways to help them discover some relevant information.
Once a good amount of casual discussion has occurred, I would then write the title of our live reading text on the whiteboard:
Then I would work with the learners to establish a simple introduction, helping them by asking review-style questions from (or in addition to) our initial discussion: What is Australia Day? Is it a holiday? What kind of holiday? When does it happen?
Our introduction might then flow out as:
Australia Day is Australia's national day. It is a public holiday, and it takes place on January 26.
From there, I might aim to generate (say) two topical paragraphs relevant to the idea of Australia Day. What these paragraphs cover would depend, of course, on what emerged during our initial discussion, so I will present four potential paragraphs here (remembering that I would only normally compose 2-3 of them during an actual class, depending on time and level).
[Why is Australia Day important? History...? What day in history? Who arrived? Where (exactly) did they arrive? What did they do? So this day is the start of...?]
Australia Day is significant because it reminds Australians of their country's history. The day celebrates January 26, 1788, when the First Fleet landed in Sydney and took ownership of Australia for Great Britain. This is the first day of Australia's history as a nation.
[What happens on this day? What do most people do? What is the weather usually like at this time? So what activities are also good for this day? When does school start up? So what could this mean?]
Australian people like to relax and enjoy themselves on this day. Many people have barbecues and invite their friends. The weather is usually sunny and warm, because January is in the middle of Australia's summer. That means going to the beach is also popular, or even camping. Most school children have to go back to school in February after the school summer holidays, so Australia Day is the last chance to do something special with the whole family.
[Are there any official events? Awards? Who gets them and why? Who gets the most important award? What does Australia's Prime Minister do on this day? What do some foreigners do on this day to become part of Australia? What else happens... parades? Fireworks?]
There are some official events on this day as well. Special awards are given out to some Australian people for doing special things during the previous year. One extra special person is chosen as Australian of the Year. The Prime Minister of Australia does a speech for the nation. Some people from overseas become citizens of Australia on this day in a special celebration. There are also parades and fireworks in many of Australia's bigger cities.
[Do all Australians celebrate this day? How do you think native (indigenous) Australians might feel about this day? What might they call it? So what do some people suggest? Why?]
However, not all Australians celebrate this day. Many native Indigenous Australians don't like this date, because it reminds them of the time white people invaded their country. Some of them call it Invasion Day, while others call it Mourning Day. Some people have suggested the date January 26 should be changed to some other date, so that all Australians can feel proud and happy about their country.
Now, note that the generated paragraphs above are hypothetical and an approximation; they could be influenced in a variety of ways depending on the level, content knowledge and interest of the students in the room. While the text is teacher-led to some extent, it still needs to be negotiated with the learners in an ongoing fashion.
This is an example of the topical expository text I mentioned earlier in the post, and note how live composition in the class demonstrates to the learners (perhaps with ongoing comments and emphasis from the teacher) the basics of writing a simple expository essay.
But this isn't the only possible text (type) for the theme of Australia Day. Other texts we might come up with (instead of or as a follow up to this one) include:
- An invitation (on paper or via email) to a barbecue to celebrate Australia Day
- A simple newspaper report about Australian of the Year (nominees or actual winner)
- A page from a supermarket brochure advertising simple items associated with Australia Day (I've seen a display in the supermarket with flags, car flags, caps, plastic cups, 'stubby holders' and T-shirts, amongst other things!), and/or some foods on special
- A notice in the paper about a parade and fireworks celebration to happen locally
- A hypothetical speech for the Prime Minister to deliver (!)
- A small collection of public signs around a venue where certain Australia Day celebrations are due to take place
- An advertisement for special activities for families with kids
- A script/dialogue between two or more people discussing Australia Day plans (or reflections)
And the list goes on...
But going back to the demonstrated expository text I have already sketched out above, how might I follow up and extend from there?
There are 1001 options here (or something approaching that), but here are some possibilities I would consider:
- Go over some of the newer words we've generated in the text, and do something like the "word swimming" I explained demonstrated here.
- Apply a "vanishing passage" activity to help the learners memorise the text, along the lines demonstrated here.
- Supplement with a "live listening" activity, similar to the one demonstrated by me on video here, but in this case perhaps calling up a close friend or family member to discuss Australia Day plans, or perhaps even calling the local Town Hall to find out what sort of special events are on.
- Have the learners write simple accounts of the national day associated with their home countries, following the model we have already created with our live reading text.
- Use the generated text as a Dictogloss script.
- If the learners exhibit some interest/sympathy for the Indigenous Australian dilemma with Australia Day, I might dig up YouTube and search for some classic song tracks like Solid Rock from Goanna (the first major pop song in Australia to address the issue of Indigenous Australian land rights) or Dead Heart from Midnight Oil (also of a lot of interest considering that the band's lead singer is now the federal Minister for Education...), do some work with the song lyrics and engage in some follow up discussion.
- Have the learners do a Finding Out activity with the theme of Australia Day central to questions they come up with themselves and ask a variety of other classmates.
And, again, the list goes on...
So, that's probably enough for a single post (don't you reckon?), and I'll leave it at that. I hope this helps to explain "live reading" a little more explicitly, for those interested, as well as showcasing how it fits in with a range of other activity possibilities.
I recommend giving it a try at least (it's such an empowering and engaging thing to do in a classroom), and remember I'm here if you want to ask questions about it or need any extra suggestions!