Engaging learners with Multiple-Path Stories 1

One of the things that most of my students hate doing is reading so giving them a reason to read or presenting it in a way that is interesting is really a must. I have used OneStopEnglish graded readers with audio and even the most simple story like The Well was amazingly well accepted by the teens. I think the trick is delivering it in a way that is interesting and leave them curious at the end of each part of the story. They also like writing down their predictions and comparing with the story and sharing with others afterwards.

I bought some digital copies of The Lost Cup by Atama-ii to give to my learners. As I was assigned about couple of months ago 5 students in 8th grade, and two of them are boys, I thought this reader would just match perfectly the time. Soccer was a popular theme because of the World Cup, so I thought the reader would be really cool input material and would give me also the advantage of working on improving/recycling/reinforcing their vocabulary. Two of the boys are in the fourth semester of studying, one girl has just started this semester and the other girl is in book 2. The girl in book 2 and one of the boys in book 4 have similar language knowledge and skills. But the girl loves songs and pays attention to chunks of the language she hears and reads in the lyrics outside the class. Few weeks later, I got a new girl in the group, she seems also very comfortable with English and so far she has been very participative.

Introducing the story: Lesson 1

On the board: Jules Rimet.

What is it? Their first thought was a person. Then, I showed them the video below.

Brainstorming: After the video, they came up with a number of words related to the event. Naturally some words from the story came up. They were actively using the dictionary to help them find the words they wanted. That was a good start. This is our first class really! Last week it was just to get to know each other.

CAM00641The first part of the story: Focus on Meaning

I asked them to read only the first part of the story and find any word from the text that could be added to the board.

I selected 15 verbs, some were single-word items and some were multiple-word items. As the aim here was to work with dictionary skills mostly, it took 30 minutes for them to fill the glossary accurately. I asked them to look up the dictionary and select the appropriate meaning considering the text. Then, copy the dictionary definition to the glossary.

They also helped each other by giving the definitions that they already found or that they couldn’t find in their dictionary version. It gave us the great opportunity to discuss different aspects and the importance of using dictionaries. Even if they were sure they knew the word or chunk and could fill the glossary with their own definition, I asked them to look up and write the dictionary definition to be more accurate.

Lack of vocabulary kills the story, and I don’t see comprehension questions as enough to check it. I guess like many teachers out there, I left learning vocabulary to chance and thought they would be able to guess from the context and pre-teaching vocabulary was done to a minimum. You know with words I thought they would be most likely not to know. In mixed-levels groups, we don’t have this luxuary. Lexis knowledge varies greatly from one to another. And that was when I realized that things are not as they seem to be. So last year, I decided to sit with learners  and do the reading with the whole group, first by testing their knowledge of vocabulary, then asking them to explain a passage or sentences using their own words. The less words the student knew, less he/she could really make sense of the sentence or passage. I realised that without the words, reading would be boring and daunting. It kills the magical moment of learning about the characters, the story itself. I kills the joy of the moment.

CAM00658Scaffolding the reading process for my learners who attend a mixed-level class and make sure that everyone can enjoy the story became a goal. Using visual and activities that engages them is particular useful. During the brainstorming around Jules Rimet, lots of words came up. As they did, we worked on pronunciation and meaning. Sort of a ping pong approach and going back and forth to review them.

Reminder: Don’t rush into the book. Let them explore the words, engage with the topic of the passage. Create activities that help them connect to the story and the characters.

After working with the passage and a word game, I asked them to role play the first part of the story.

CAM00659

I aim in this class to make sure that learners in all levels either learn the most 1000 words (at least) or become fluent at using them by the end of the year. We have roughly a semester to do that. So, I can’t focus on teaching and testing specific language items as some learners in lower levels are just learning the most frequent words while in higher, they have seen and practiced with them but don’t recall them as fast as they should.

*This post had been in the draft file for weeks. I finally got the time to review and publish it.

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