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Using authentic literary text with advanced learners
by
Katherine Byrne
lesson plan
- preliminary information

Time: 60 minutes

Level: High Advanced

Class Focus: Skills - Reading

Main aims:
To develop reading for gist and reading speed and foster interest in reading authentic texts.
(Stages 2, 3 and cooler)

To train learners in inferring meaning in figurative language.
(Stages 2, 4 and 5)

Subsidiary aims:
To give learners the opportunity to respond to an authentic text.
(Stages 2 and 3)

To build confidence in the ability to comprehend an authentic text.
(Stages 2 and 4)

Assumptions:
The learners have the necessary schemata and reading strategies in place to obtain a global understanding of the text. They should be able to deduce the meaning of the majority of unfamiliar lexical items. This is a talkative, fluent group who will not be shy of offering opinions in response to the text.

Anticipated problems & solutions:
Affective: Not all members of the group may be keen readers of literature in their L1, so they may lack motivation to read literary texts in English As a group they have shown little enthusiasm for reading tasks to date. This may be because they find the texts in their course book uninteresting and not relevant to their needs or interests and the tasks non-communicative.

Linguistic: I do not anticipate many linguistic difficulties, other than those posed by the figurative language contained in the text and it is this aspect of the language that the learners will be analysing. There will be some unfamiliar vocabulary items but they are not such that the meaning cannot be guessed at from examination of the context nor too numerous to hinder global understanding. I intend only to pre-teach the phrase "AWACs barracks" and the word "pomegranate". The first is quite culturally and historically specific and the second is not a common fruit.

If problems arise during the reading, I will encourage learners to look at the context but will provide an explanation/translation if necessary to save time.

Class profile:
This is a group of nine adult learners, all of whom are professionals. The classes take place on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7.10 to 8.30 p.m. Most of the learners come to class straight after finishing work. The general level of attendance is consistently high and everyone participates enthusiastically.

All members of the group are fluent speakers, although achievement of accuracy varies from individual to individual. Abilities in listening, for both gist and detail, are also good. Speaking and listening are the favoured classroom activities of the whole group and, as no one is taking the Proficiency exam, recent lessons have focused on these skills rather than on reading and writing.

One admitted area of difficulty is that of lexis, phrasal verbs in their non-literal usage being one example that has been commented on in class.

Timetable fit:
In recent classes, the learners have done a lot of work on listening and speaking but little reading. I have had comparatively little classroom time with the group, having recently taken on one of their twice-weekly classes for us to get to know each other before the observed lesson. Their regular teacher has told me that they are not keen readers in class, although aware of and able to deploy the necessary strategies and sub-skills, and that they would benefit from additional practice in the skill, to supplement that provided in the coursebook, which is quite exam-focused.

In the previous lesson I did with the group, we looked at some metaphors involving phrasal verbs. This provided the learners with some examples of fixed figurative language. It seems appropriate to extend this area of study to more creatively generated examples and the use of such language across genres.

Lesson rationale:
I decided to do a reading of an authentic text with the group to try to inspire some enthusiasm for this area of English in the learners. The reading texts offered in the course book are non-literary, on the whole, and not especially relevant to any individual learner's needs or interests. I was then lucky enough to find an authentic literary text which, I hope, will go some way to achieving this purpose.

The tasks emerged, without forcing, from the text itself. It is rich in figurative language and allows for reader prediction of the fate of the central characters. These are the reasons why I, as a native reader, was inspired to read on. The subject matter, marriage, is a culturally universal theme, so the non-native reader has the appropriate schematic knowledge for interpretation in place.

The worksheets which accompany the extracts attempt to gauge comprehension, but in a broad way. There are no pre-determined correct answers, leaving plenty of scope for individual reader interpretation and response. The worksheets will be tackled in pairs so the learners will be able to discuss their responses and negotiate the reconstruction of meaning in an authentic, "native-like" way, so promoting the idea of reading as an interactive activity. Encouraging the learners to make predictions about the denouement of the story should also arouse interest in reading further extracts. A handout, summarising the outcome of the story, will be available for the learners to take home to read on and confirm or modify their predictions.

I intend to remain very much in the background at this stage to encourage the students to discuss their interpretations together and not look to the teacher for confirmation of some kind of "correct" answer.

Analysis of the figurative language employed by the writer should train the students further in inferring meaning. They will be able to develop this ability in their reading of the handout, which contains several more examples of this type of creative language use.

In addition, for the non-literary minded members of the group, demonstrating that such language features in other genres and that the inferring skill can be transferred to these, should assist in raising awareness of the benefit of this type of exercise. The learners will see and analyse examples of figurative language in newspaper reports and an advertisement.

It can also be pointed out that, at this level and in a non-native speaking situation, reading is one of the best ways of maintaining and developing lexical knowledge. Magazines, newspapers and modern literary texts reflect current language in use, thus developing the learner's awareness of "natural" English.

Showing the students that they can successfully comprehend authentic literary writing should build their confidence and foster interest in looking for further reading away from the classroom, so developing learner autonomy.

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