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Messages - JABRocky

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Complete Reading and/or Writing Units / Folk Tales Fiction Unit
« on: May 12, 2017, 11:46:15 AM »

I developed a Folk Tales fiction unit for my beginner-low-intermediate Reading and Writing class.
On the website link below you'll be able to access background information, lesson plans, and materials. :D

How can you adapt/use these materials in your teaching context?

Some ideas:
  • You can use the texts, powerpoints, and handouts as is (or feel free to modify as needed).
  • Is there a topic or theme from these stories that could be useful for you to focus on? (e.g. cross-cultural communication, creation myth stories, having students write their own folk tales).
  • The texts offer a variety of grammatical points you could focus on. I primarily focus on phrasal verbs, but you could also analyze genre, structures of stories, transferring to different tense, etc.

2 is a great (free) source for simplified and elaborated (and several levels in between!) texts.
Their texts are adapted from the over 28 well-known news sources (e.g. Associated Press, The Washington Post, Scientific American, and Al Jazeera) that they have partnerships with. While the website does have many snazzy features such as creating online 'classes' where you can compile lists of texts (and ready-made quizzes about each text) for your students to do, the different levels of text that are available are quite impressive.

For example, the article 'Chocolate-dipped insects back on the menu in Mexico', which was adapted from the Christian Science Monitor, has 5 different levels of text available (and in Spanish!). There is a blue navigation side bar that allows you to choose the text level:600L, 850L, 1050L, 1210L, and MAX. This website is primarily aimed at a US K-12 audience, so the lexile levels are aligned with US school grades.

2nd Grade = 300-500L
3rd Grade = 501-620L
4th Grade = 621-780L
5th Grade = 781-920L
6th Grade = 921-1010L
7th Grade = 1011-1109L
8th Grade = 1110-1180L
9-10th Grade = 1181-1260
11-12th Grade = MAX, or original unmodified source

So the 600L level of this article is under 500 words total and corresponds to a 3rd grade level. The next available level is 850L which jumps up to 701 total words and corresponds to a 5th grade level. So, in addition to the lexical complexity of the vocabulary words changing between levels, the total length of the article becomes longer as well.

For my Reading and Writing students, I assign them extra readings using NEWSELA and tell them to try to read articles between the 600 and 1000 lexile levels. Recently, I asked them to time themselves to monitor their reading speed and to work on building their reading fluency. Because each text has a word count (along with the lexile levels) it is easy for them to calculate their reading speed as well as monitor their known/unknown vocabulary.

Breaking News English is also another good news text source for free modified texts. They do not require you to sign-up to access their materials, but they are not as well-developed or transparent (the differences between each level) as Newsela.

Intensive Reading / Re: Intensively Reading a Song
« on: May 01, 2017, 12:36:56 AM »
I've used songs for grammar/vocab/listening activities in the past but have never thought about adapting one for a reading/writing context. Neat idea! :D  I agree that a song can be a lot easier for students to read than a longer text because of how much shorter it is (depending on the song of course). I also still remember some songs I studied during high school French.  ;)

You mention several valid pros and cons to using a song in a reading/writing context. First to address your concern about songs not following academic writing conventions.. I totally agree that an activity about Du Hast or any kind of song would not work in an academic writing/reading class, but it could definitely work in any class that would be exploring fiction/poetry/short stories.

When designing activities, I generally like to start with what I want the students to get out of the activity and then scaffold backwards. I think the key things you will need to consider are:

  • Learner proficiency level
  • Learner culture/interest
  • Goals of lesson/class

I think there are a lot of different approaches you could take to creating your Du Hast song activity.

Here are a few ideas I had:
  • You could create a fill-in-the-blank type activity where students listen to the song and fill-in-the-blanks with the appropriate word. I did something similar in a previous class I taught with the song 'Every Breath You Take' by the Police where students had to listen for and fill in the phrasal verbs they heard.
  • You could also focus on a variety of grammatical features doing re-write style activity. You could have the students rewrite the song from a different perspective (we instead of you, change the tense from present to future, or opposites have -> don't have).
  • You could have the students try to construct some kind of narrative from the song lyrics. You mention that the chorus could be interpreted as wedding vows, so that could add an interesting dimension to the stories they come up with. Having students create a story out of the song lyrics could be a fun exercise in creativity.           
  • You could have the students write a response of some kind to the song. Perhaps a journal type response where they answer a prompt about how the song makes them feel or what they think the message of the song is.
  • You could have them do a comparison between the song lyrics of Du Hast and a poem about a similar topic to get them to start thinking about genre and style.
  • Also on the topic of genre, you could share songs from different genres (pop, rap, etc.) and have them compare another song to Du Hast and talk about music elements.
Hope this is helpful!

Prereading Activities / Opinion Pre-Reading Activity
« on: May 01, 2017, 12:04:40 AM »
I wanted to share a opinion/discussion activity that I did in class as a pre-reading/schema-activation activity for my beginner-low-intermediate Reading & Writing class.

Unit Topic: Music & Media  8)
Unit Timeline (this is done before the 2nd reading in a 3 reading unit, so students already have some familiarity with the vocabulary associated with music).

Time: 10min

  • Student practice agree/disagree language (previously introduced) such as:I think/don't think that...; I agree/disagree that... and why.
  • Students talk about a personal experience or evidence (something they heard/read) as a supporting example to justify their opinion.
  • Activate students' prior knowledge about the topic to help prime them for reading the text through their discussion as well as listening to their classmates' opinions.
  • Small sheets (or cut outs) with statements taken from the text, including which paragraph they were taken from.

  • Students can do this activity in pairs or small groups, depending on how much time you have available (pairs seem to be fastest).
  • Pass out the cut outs and ask each pair to read the statement, decide whether or not they agree with the statement, and then to explain why they feel a particular way to their partner.
  • You can debrief as a class with eliciting opinions from the class, or if there is more time you can have each pair share what they felt and discussed with the class.

Overall I felt this activity was an effective way to get the students warmed up before getting into their reading as well as practice sharing whether or not they agree with something and why. I specifically focused on this type of activity because they will be writing an opinion paragraph later in this unit, as well as be doing an in class debate about technology and social media.

I am a big fan of the Making Connections 1 Textbook that I'm using for the beginner-low-intermediate level Reading and Writing students. I saw your post about how you use the upper level textbooks and wanted to share a few ways I adapt/modify the textbook for my students for any teachers looking to use these textbooks (or use these ideas for their current textbooks). There are a number of exercises/questions in each chapter, so I like to adapt/modify some of them into worksheet/ppt/game activities to do in pairs and groups.
  • Paragraph Excerpts: Each text as a prediction table with topics for students to check off if they think it will come up in the reading. To make it slightly more interactive, I created a table (in excel or google sheets) with the first one or two sentences from each paragraph along with a couple of discussion questions (e.g. What do you think this paragraph will talk about?, What do you think the topic of the entire text is?). Then, I would give a pair or small group of 3 each one slip of paper (with the sentence excerpts from a paragraph) and give them a few minutes to discuss and make their predictions. After that, I give them a few minutes to mingle with all of the other pairs and then when we come back together they discuss what they think the reading will be about as a whole.
  • Word Association Predictions: Here, instead of predicting what topics will come up in a reading, I give each student a list of the topics in the reading and (individually, or with a partner, or in groups) they come up with as many related words and collocations as they can with those topics. You can also do this with the pictures from the text (every text has 2-3 featured pictures), and have them write as many things as they can think of associated with the pictures.
  • Text Jigsaw: Many of the longer texts in Making Connections are divided into subsections. For a longer text in the book that was conveniently already divided into three thematic parts, I printed off copies of each part of the text and assigned a group of 4 students to each part (fortunately I had 12 students which worked perfectly). Each group reads their section of the text carefully, wrote a short summary of their text, and chose vocabulary words that they thought were key to understanding their section. They then were dispersed into new groups so that each group had at least one expert for each section of the text. After sharing their summaries and keywords, I gave them a socrative quiz adapted from the main ideas/supporting details multiple choice questions that are featured after each reading.
  • Socrative: I like to adapt many of the multiple-choice sections in the textbook into Socrative quizzes because it gets the students engaged and motivated in class. Usually there is 5 or 6 multiple choice questions after each reading, so I will usually add a couple true or false types questions about vocabulary as well.
  • Survey: Each reading text has critical/analyzing post-reading activities that involve discussion with a partner and surveying their classmates about a topic. These sections of the textbook are not very student friendly in that there is not much space to write and they are not scaffolded sufficiently. For example, one of these activities says "Do some research on music and advertising. Ask several of your classmates the following questions and write a short summary on what you think makes a musical advertisement effective". To make this more student friendly, I create graphic organizers that break down these activities into steps and provide students with the structure and space to write their questions and their classmates' answers.


I was fortunate to receive a sample copy of the textbook, Discovering Fiction - A Reader of North American Short Stories from Cambridge University Press at an TESL conference in Illinois this spring.  ;D

:redstar Student level: Low-high intermediate level students

The textbook consists of 12 adapted short stories that are divided into four thematic units: making choices :?don'tknow , the role of fate 8) , mystery and fantasy :notworthy , and close relationships :D :D .

Each chapter is organized into four sections:

A) Preparing to read (pre-reading and vocabulary activities)
  • Schema-Activation: Here they ask open-ended questions about the students experience or knowledge of one of the main topics to help them connect with the story (e.g. going to college). The textbook also provides a picture from the short story (or inspired by it) to serve as a priming and schema-activation activity (e.g. What do you think the men in the picture are doing?).
  • Prediction: There is also a series of prediction questions in this section as well for the students to answer before they begin readings (e.g. Circle one choice below or write what you think will happen).
  • Vocabulary: Here they introduce any special idioms, expressions, and phrasal verbs used in the story. They also present a few literary terms with both the definition and an example from each short story (e.g. The setting is the time and place of the story, here the setting is in...).
B) The Story
  • Each of the stories are introduced first with biographical information about the author as well as when the story is taking place.
  • The short stories vary in length from 1000 - 2000 words. While there does seem to be predominately high frequency vocabulary, many of the stories are set in the late nineteenth to mid twentieth century (e.g. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) and as as a result have some low frequency vocabulary appropriate to the language used in those time periods (e.g. stagecoach).
C) Understanding the story (post-reading comprehension activities)
  • Reading Comprehension: Pair and small group questions that ask about major plot events
  • Vocabulary in Context: Fill-in-the-blank sentences with vocabulary taken from the short story.
  • Grammar: Each short story has an exercise with a particular grammar feature taken from each short story (e.g. adverbs, count and noncount nouns). The chapter provides metalinguistic information about the particular rules of the features, as well as examples followed by a short fill-in-the-blank exercise.
D) Thinking critically (post-reading higher level analysis and discussion activities).
  • Thinking Critically: Making inferences, using a graphic organizer (e.g. short story elements chart), and short writing response.
  • WebQuest: Online resources and related information (about each story) through the Cambridge website.
:bluestar Overall I think this textbook is a fantastic resource for teachers that want to incorporate classic and contemporary fiction in their reading/writing class. Each short story chapter has a great variety of pre and post reading activities that incorporate a variety of higher level order questions including encouraging students to think critically and analyze a topic or issue from each story.

Prereading Activities / Using Survey & Previewing before reading
« on: April 20, 2017, 01:33:31 PM »
Recently, we started Unit 8 in the Making Connections (1) textbook in my beginner/low-level Reading & Writing class. The first reading that we were going to jump into was about leisure activities.

To prime students for their reading about leisure activities, I created two pre-reading activities:

1) Class Survey about their classmates leisure activities

The goals of this survey are to first elicit the student's existing knowledge as well as give them an opportunity to talk about the topic freely by asking a few of their classmates about how they spend their leisure time. To maximize exposure to different cultures, I asked them to ask 3 people that spoke a different L1 from their own. Because I wanted it to be a relatively short survey (less than ten minutes). After briefly debriefing their answers, we moved onto the preview and prediction activity.

 :D Modifications: This survey could easily be adapted to almost any context (e.g. a survey about business experiences, strategies they use for studying, etc.), as well as question types (offering free response,

2) Preview & Predict Activity about the reading

For this activity, I took the first one/two sentences (to make sure the topic sentence was included) from each paragraph in the text. Each pair of students was given a different paragraph excerpt and given two discussion questions:

1)What do you think the paragraph will be about?
2) What do you think the whole reading will be about?

 :D Modifications: This kind of excerpt preview activity can work well with any relatively short text (500-700 words). You could adapt this to work for longer texts/novels by looking at larger units such as chapter titles or the subheadings/first sentence of subsections in a research paper/journal article.

Motivation / Motivating Students At the Half-way Point
« on: April 20, 2017, 11:58:04 AM »
I am currently teaching a Reading & Writing beginner/low-intermediate level class and noticed that (as expected) students were starting to seem more fatigued and less engaged close to the half-way point of class around the start of spring vacation. This is something I to can remember feeling during my own language studies, especially in intensive contexts. The initial energy and excitement about beginning a new class has somewhat faded, perhaps they aren't reaching their goals as quickly as they would like, or are starting to realize that some goals were unrealistic. So, I planned this (45min)-ish motivational reading and reflection activity to help get their eyes back on the prize!

- Have students reflect on their own motivation levels
- Have students reflect on their language learning goals from the beginning of the semester and assess how they feel in their progress of their goals and whether some have changed.
- Have students think about how to use their mindsets as a tool to reach their goals.

(Source: Northwestern University Kellogg School)

For student reflections:
1) Ideally, some kind of original student contract or list of individual learner goals that the students created at the beginning of the class.

2) SLOs (student learning objectives) or SWOBAT lists of the linguistic/pragmatic/metacognitive items that students have done in class so far (e.g. I can write a short paragraph talking about the main idea from a short text; I can ask someone about their work/hobbies/job).

For this class, I first had the students look over their student learning objectives from the beginning of the semester and well as their individual lists. I then asked them to write a short paragraph whether they felt they were making progress on their goals. Or, to note if any of their goals changed.

After this, I presented the reading to the students in groups with them discussing what they found to be the most interesting or surprising things in the article. I adapted the original article and changed some of the text to higher frequency words (and trimmed some areas to keep it in a manageable length for time) to meet their proficiency level.

Each group then presented a few things that they found interesting (on post-it notes on the board), and then the entire class read all of the post-its (grouping the similar/same ideas together) and marking stars next to the points they found interesting.

We then discussed the one's identified as the key take-aways from the board (with some motivational pictures!), as well as this:

[/color]Motivation, the researchers say, only picks back up when we switch from thinking about "how far we've come" to "how close we are."
The danger of getting "stuck" occurs because of a shift in perception as we approach completion. When you're in the early stages of a project, you reflect on your progress ("Look at all the great work we've done!"). As you get closer to your goal, around the halfway point, your frame of reference shifts. You reflect on how much work there is to go ("Look at how close we are to being done!"). If we don't make that shift we're in real danger of getting stuck.[/font][/size]

“7 Earth-Size Exoplanets” Post Reading Activity Task:
In groups, have students create a short 3 min news segment, where they present information from the 7 Earth-Size Exoplanets”

Break students into groups of 3 or 4. In class, in their groups, they can work on completing the following pieces of information together:
Write a short summary of the text (3 -4) sentences:

What did you think were the 3 MOST important pieces of information from this article?
(use target vocabulary)

After reading this article, what questions do you have?

Question for a researcher:

Question for a friend/family member:
They can ask their friends/family members the questions as a homework, and ask the teacher the ‘researcher’ question. After completing this information, you can have them select the roles they will play in their newscast (you can provide a model showing a clip from a news segment):
Newscaster #1, Newscaster #2, Reporter, Optional: interviewed person (1, 2)
Once they have decided their roles, you can have them make a model script. You can focus on elements of reported speech for the reporter role, and provide feedback on their content and grammar. You can provide props for students and have them record during class time, or have them record outside of class.
After videos are completed, you can upload as unlisted youtube files and share the links with other groups. They can watch and compare differences between what groups thought were the most important pieces of information, as well as the questions they asked.

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