Ahead of the ELTons Innovation Awards ceremony on Monday 10 June Dr Peter Watkins, author of the shortlisted Teaching and Developing Reading Skills, discusses the use of learner generated texts in the classroom.
Learner generated texts
The discussion over the strengths and weaknesses of a course is probably familiar to us all. On the one hand, well designed course books:
- save teachers a lot of time
- ensure the recycling of material
- give learners a record of a course
- allow people to catch up on anything they miss as well as the chance to prepare for what is coming next.
On the other hand, no course book writer can know the needs and interests of a class as well as the regular class teacher. Also, course books are sometimes criticised for being conservative in their choice of topics, as they strive to avoid giving offence to any particular group.
These general arguments about course books can be applied more specifically to the choice of the texts they use to develop reading and listening skills. Most teachers would agree, I think, that learners are more likely to be motivated to read if they find the text in front of them interesting.
So, how can we spice up the reading material we use in the classroom without busy teachers taking on even more work?
Learners can select texts
One thing that teachers can do is ask learners to find texts that they believe the rest of the class will find interesting. It is likely that the learners in the room will be able to judge what their peers will enjoy more than a remote materials writer.
If appropriate, the teacher could set some criteria for the selection (such as the length of the text) or even suggest some websites from which the texts should be selected. At lower levels, learners may select an extract from a graded reader, so that the texts used are at an appropriate level.
In practice this might mean the teacher setting up two or more homework tasks. The first task is asking learners to find a suitable text. For the next piece of homework the learners design a suitable task to go with the selected text. In order to support the task writing, teachers might want to model the types of activities that could be designed easily (such as the setting of true/false type questions). As well as designing a task, the learners can also prepare a short glossary of key words in the text.
Once this process has been completed, learners can swap what they have prepared with another student and have them complete the task. Alternatively some texts could be chosen to be used with the whole group. Of course, in some teaching contexts, teachers may feel that they need to vet the suitability of texts before they are distributed to other learners.
We can easily see from this brief description that as well as providing interesting texts, the mere process of getting learners to supply reading material is useful. It involves engaging with texts outside the classroom, studying some of the vocabulary (through the glossary building) and trying to identify key points (setting the task).
Learners can write texts
We can also develop reading skills by using texts that the learners themselves have created. There is a good case to say that this is the best way to help very low level learners learn to read. This can be achieved by eliciting information from the learners that they can describe orally. This might only be a few phrases about a daily routine, their families, or some other topic for which they know vocabulary. The teacher turns the information into a short text and writes it on the board. From the text the teacher then highlights relevant features to support the development of reading, such as sound letter correspondences, as well as reviewing the vocabulary. By helping learners begin to read with texts they themselves originally created, the teacher will ensure that the learners are working with known vocabulary, which is very important at the beginning stages of reading.
Learners can also usefully read texts that other learners have created at higher levels too. For example, after almost any writing activity, the texts generated can be displayed and learners can read and comment on each other’s efforts, learning from how others approached the task. Knowing that their writing efforts will have an audience other than the teacher may help the motivation of some learners at the writing stage.
So, teachers can hopefully get the benefits of using up-to-date texts that will interest their learners, without having to take on huge amounts of additional work. Learner generated texts need not replace the reading material that is currently used but can be used in addition to it.
If you enjoyed this article, why not check out another of Peter’s #TDWednesday articles on Preparing learners for reading.