Mark Heffernan and David Byrne make full use of texts- and save paper at the same time.
There is always a lot of chat on internet forums and in school staffrooms about reducing the amount of paper we use and about teaching materials-light or paperless lessons. This has long been a concern o ours; not just because of the obvious effect on the environment and because it contributes to our school’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiative, but also because for years we’ve seen teachers carrying piles of paper, resource after resource, into the classroom and bombarding their students with one handout after another, often with no direct link or context. So we posed ourselves a question: Could we take one text and use it to teach an entire two-to three-hour lesson? And not in lazy ‘I can get three hours out of this’ way but teaching a quality lesson, which addresses both skills and systems and keeps our learners engaged throughout. The answer, thankfully, was yes.
And, because nobody can resist a good pun, we called our strategy Textploitation.
Why base a lesson around a text?
If we use texts to teach the language, gradually our students will see that they can also do this in their own time- that language learning doesn’t just happen within the four walls of the classroom, but that they can be analyzing and learning every time they open a newspaper, turn on the television or speak with another person.
What types of texts should we use?
There is absolutely no limit to the types of texts you can exploit in the classroom. Whether it is text messages, fliers, posters, advertisements, short stories, extracts from novels, articles, menus, charters, mission statements, reports… the options are endless. And that doesn’t even take spoken texts into account. Once you start thinking about TV advertisements, interviews, TED talks, recorded conversations and songs things really get interesting.
How can we exploit these texts?
Encourage your students to notice prepositions in texts and ask questions like why is this preposition there? Is it dependent on previous adjectives or verb?
Have your students analyse idioms and phrasal verbs in context.
Use texts to revise and consolidate language points that you have studied in previous lessons.
The final objective has to be to get the students to engage with the text in a realistic way. The sort of ELT activities need to be coupled with something a little more natural.
As often as possible, we need to use authentic listening texts in classroom. If a student doesn’t know how native speakers say particular words, phrases and chunks of language, they won’t be able to hear them in natural speech.
We can’t take writing skills for granted, but that doesn’t mean we have to spend large portions of our lessons with our students silently writing.
To put it simply, using one text for an entire lesson is not only possible but also pedagogically sound. Here are just a few of the benefits:
It provides one consistent context which the students can use to grasp the language or skills
Less paper means less confusion for the students
If the text is an authentic one, the students gain a sense of accomplishment from engaging with ‘real’ language.
Over time, the students will learn to analyse texts outside the classroom.
So, choose a text and try out some of the ideas above. Mix and match them to suit your text, your students and your lesson and see what happens.
© Mark Heffernan, David Byrne
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