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Teaching Tips 103

Easy reading
Columbus Day
Frightening messages

Easy reading

I've mentioned it a few times in the Tip & it is well worth repeating - one of the keys to language development for our students is through the reading skill. If you are teaching in your students' own country, class time is limited & the opportunities for outside of class practice can be scarce, so one of the main ways to continue developing is through reading. If our students rely solely on the classes, their progress is a slow process.

This is all very obvious, & when you explain it to your students they all see the point. But that's not the same as actually doing it. So why is the reading skill such an arduous task in another language? Here are a couple of ideas:

- for the lower levels there is just so much language that they don't know, so reading quickly becomes disheartening. Graded readers can help here & lately there have been more mature, adult-focussed graded readers on the market. Check them out in your local English language bookshop.

- reading can be slow as learners can get bogged down in difficult vocabulary, as they naturally want to understand everything. This is where good training & awareness in the classroom comes in. We need to pass on strategies for effective extensive reading, helping them to read in chunks. More lengthy texts in class, with strict time limits, can show them that they don't need to understand every word to get the gist & enjoy a text.

- help with unknown vocabulary can be through encouraging them to just carry on reading, ignoring the difficult words, as well as giving them strategies & practice in uncovering meaning from the context of crucial unknown words - looking at the grammar, the surrounding words etc..

- as reading can be a solitary activity, it would be an idea to encourage chat & recommendations from the students to each other on their current reads. As you bring the outside reading into the classroom, all become involved & motivation increases.
You might plan classes around their reading if all are involved, with an extension into the speaking & writing skills. Students could write summaries/reviews for each other to read or give a two minute oral presentation on their book of the moment. If they are keeping an English diary, they could tell you how they are getting on as they read, tell you interesting bits, ask you questions etc.
You could also assign reading buddies, those who read the same books & discuss them as they go along.

- motivation to read stems from a variety of causes so if you are training your students & providing interesting texts, as well as pointing them to interesting texts outside of class, then motivation to read increases. Students no longer see it as an uphill struggle but more on the same level as reading in their own language. When your students read in English regularly for pleasure then they are well on their way.

For lots of excellent activities to promote all of this have a look at the review on the site of 'Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language' (Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers) by Julian Bamford & Richard R. Day (CUP)

And also check out the Extensive Reading website:

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Columbus Day
Columbus Day

After a 10 week journey, a sailor on the ship 'Pinta' spied land on October 12th, 1492, & the next day Columbus set foot on the Bahamian island of Guanahaní. Columbus Day is celebrated in the US on the second Monday of October & I'm sure all would agree that this was an extraordinary feat. Unfortunately the consequences led to the colonisation of the lands & the destruction of the indigenous people. This is all food for our lessons, interesting materials & controversial topics. A couple of ideas:

- first check out Wikipedia. It explains why the Day is celebrated & why there is opposition to it:

You could use this as a reading or you could summarise the arguments, leading onto a discussion/debate as to whether the Day should be celebrated. And if so, should the celebrations be changed?

- This could then be consolidated with a for/against writing task. The ideas have been generated from the previous discussion so they get on with organising the text they are to write before writing a first draft. After the draft, they could swap & correct each others & then write a second draft. The final versions are stuck on the walls for all to wander round & read. Any new arguments that arise are then discussed as a class.

- Indigenous Peoples' Literature - there's a poem on the page that could be used:

'Examining the reputation of Christopher Columbus' - article:

- Ask the students if there are any controversial Days celebrated in their countries.

- 'Columbus Day no reason to celebrate' - article:

- 'Columbus Day Oct. 9th - Exploring Christopher Columbus' - semi-humourous article - cut up & students match the questions & responses:

- Kids Domain - lots of links:

An interesting Columbus life timeline:

- Interview with Columbus - after looking at some background, set up interviewer & Columbus roles. Give them time to prepare - question notes - & then into the roleplays in pairs. Feedback on language & interesting comments that came up.

- Discussion on days to celebrate - get the students thinking of a new day to celebrate. They decide one in small groups, work out different reasons for it, & then mingle persuading all that it is a worthy day. At the end all vote on the most worthy - they can't vote for themselves.


The Ig Nobel Awards
The 2006 Ig Nobel prizes have been awarded. Wacky scientific research that makes interesting class material. for examples, Howard Stapleton of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, won the Ig Nobel Peace prize for inventing an electromechanical teenager repellant, a device that makes an annoying noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not to adults; and for later using that same technology to make telephone ringtones that are audible to teenagers but not to their teachers. It's all to do with pitch & the younger you are the more able you are to hear higher pitches. It's going to be used to deter teenagers from hanging around shopping centres.

An article at the Guardian explaining the 2006 winners & the awards.,,1889150,00.html

The Ig Nobel site

Wikipedia's page on the Ig Nobel awards:

Ig Nobel winners listed at Wikipedia:

Choose a variety of the winners & students rank in order of uselessness/interest etc... If nothing else, it would make a good warmer.
The Ig Nobel page of winners:

Researchers get grants for this stuff! Amazing.


John Lennon
It's also the anniversary of John Lennon's birth on 9th October & there's a lesson plan at:

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Frightening messages

Imagine you could send a text message or an email from one person to another without your address showing up. Who would you send the message ' from' & 'to' & what would you say? Frightening, no? I came across the following article:

'Yo Gord! Yr sacked, hohoho, luv Tony' ... (but is it real?)

Lorna Martin, Sunday October 1, 2006, The Observer

Ever wanted to unite two love-lorn friends in a romantic tryst with a single, well-phrased text message? Or perhaps scare an irritating colleague with a threatening text from your boss. Maybe sacking your grumpy Chancellor has crossed your mind.

If so, technology is at hand to help. A service provided by two websites now allows people to choose both the originator and destination for a text. As a result, you can send a message, via the internet, to one mobile that appears to have come from someone else's phone. Your identity is kept secret.

Thus you can send a message to your employer, declaring your undying love - or possibly total hatred - that apparently comes from a colleague's mobile. If the boss replies, perhaps reciprocating such feelings, it will go to the colleague's mobile.

Or if you felt the need, you could use the service as bait with which to entrap a philandering partner. The crucial point is that the only way a sender's true identity can be revealed is if he or she owns up, or police seek the information from the site owner.

It is a prankster's dream come true, though for those who prefer texting to talking, the service could spell the end of civilisation. You will never be able to trust a text again.

Danny Fletcher, the creator of the site, which enables people to send the anonymous prank texts at £1 a time, said it is intended only as harmless fun, but added: 'We keep a full log of every text sent and if someone receives a menacing message that they think might be from a crank, they can contact us and we will be able to tell them whether it has come from us.',,1885017,00.html

This idea & material would be a lovely springboard into a writing activity. Here are a couple of ideas:

1. For the more advanced group, a reading would be the obvious start. The headline might need explaining - ('Yo Gord! Yr sacked, hohoho, luv Tony' refers to an email from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown, his probable successor 'Hi Gordon! You're sacked, (laughter), love Tony.' ) - before some prediction task - the students storm ideas that the article could be about of questions they would like answering from only viewing the headline.
2. The students then read to verify their predictions.
3. If necessary there could be a more detailed read with a comprehension task. Maybe some vocab would need dealing with before the task?
4. Follow this with a language focus coming from the language in the article - vocabulary, grammar, discourse organisation.
5. A discussion on the article could then follow - the students responding to the article.

You could make the writing a quick task by concentrating on text messages but here I'm looking at a longer email writing task.

6. The task could begin with a discussion of what emails look like & conventions used.
7. Then small groups or pairs storm ideas on who the email they're going to write could be 'from' & 'to' & what might it say. Encourage then the think of a few different scenarios.
8. They then choose which to write & make a first draft. This could be done in pairs or individually. Follow this with some peer correction, the students swapping their versions with each other for correction. You get around & do some travelling correction.
9. A final draft could then be written.
10. To make it fun you could pin up the emails on the walls without the 'to' & 'from' information & the students wander around discussing who they might be 'to & 'from'. A class discussion could then ensue afterwards.

With lower levels, you could use the following excerpt from the article as a straight dictation or a dictogloss to get to the writing task as outlined above.

A service provided by two websites now allows people to choose both the originator and destination for a text. As a result, you can send a message, via the internet, to one mobile that appears to have come from someone else's phone. Your identity is kept secret.

The writing skill can be seen as a difficult task for both teacher & student alike so here's a chance to lighten things up through the content, while looking at a useful writing genre.

World Teacher's Day
It's World Teacher's Day on 5th October & there's a past Tip & lesson material devoted to the day at 'World Teachers' Day':

The Battle of Cable Street
A bit on British history for the advanced learner: Next Wednesday is the 70th anniversary of The Battle of Cable Street, 'the day that Jews, communists, trade unionists, Labour party members, Irish Catholic dockers and the people of the East End of London united in defiance of Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists and refused to let them march through their streets.',,1884440,00.html
The article from the Guardian Online can be used with the more advanced level.

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