Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
In my original article outlining the Reverse Reading approach to conversation classes, I said:
Preparing the materials is the work of ten minutes once you get used to doing it. Simply go through the text and see if you can pick out enough language or points of conversational interest. If not, it wasn’t going to make an interesting lesson in the first place.
What better experiment than a text from the most popular course book according to sales at The Bournemouth Book Company, bebc.co.uk?
New English File, 2006 edition, Unit 1C, page 14, We are family … is a text about two sisters, the daughters of former Beach Boy, Brian Wilson — WHO? — who formed the band Wilson Philips — WHO? — a hundred years ago. Anyway, the text has, in my opinion, no intrinsic reward for reading and the exercises that precede and follow it do nothing to make it any more interesting. Can I get a good lesson plan out of it from applying Reverse Reading?
The below took me about 12 minutes. I raced through the text picking out phrases and words, made a list and then wrote questions that sometimes predict the actual content of the article, sometimes just show the language in context. You can see there are three I drew a blank on but that still leaves 13 discussion questions. Let’s say 3 minutes per question, that’s a forty minute lesson plus vocab review, plus, if you want, reading the actual article and doing some of the book’s exercises. I think you’re more likely to find the conversation fills a one hour class than not.
The good thing about this is if some of the questions don’t spark enough discussion, never mind. Move on. Here it is in a pdf. We are family Reverse Reading
To say that New English File Intermediate doesn’t exploit the text is an understatement. Faced with this text in class, I’d have inwardly grimaced at how flat and dull it is — partly because it’s had any life sucked out of it by the grading of the original text. However, I was surprised how much I could get out of it using the approach of language first instead of “Let’s drive this vehicle to destination Grammar via Snoresville.”
In the book, there’s a pre-teaching exercise which picks out the following: cool, kids, pinch, we were also plus the more useful four that I’ve included. blame, age gap, criticised, make it up. Only one conversation question — about the sibling relationship. An activity of reflexive pronouns follows the article. And a vocab finding exercise where you’re given four definitions/synonyms and have to write the word — some of which I’ve included in the Reverse Reading questions — out of context. The words are never given any further context.
ELTjam ran a post by Nick Robinson last week explaining why Content is no longer King. I think I’ve just proved that right. The original content, the course book text and exercises, has gone. Yet in its place is something that exploits it nevertheless, and to a much greater degree, giving the students a more useful activity — speaking. Students might be motivated to read the text afterwards just to get the reward of seeing their understanding of the target language, not so as to be able to complete comprehension questions. That you would know by how many students do then choose to go on and read the text but if, they don’t bother, they’ve not lost much.
You might say I have simply replaced content with content — albeit less of it. But, these questions, created quickly, can be omitted, modified or added to by the students, under the guidance of the teacher, on the fly. They don’t rule the lesson, the natural conversation that happens around the questions does. Which means the student rules. It’s simply a change in UX (User Experience – the thing that makes some apps a pleasure to use and others make you want to break your phone).
The result of bad UX is bad feelings: frustration, anger, boredom, confusion. Anyone who’s ever tried to learn something will recognise those feelings. To many, they define learning. […] Developing UX isn’t a black art; it can be learned and applied with ease. Nick Robinson
Let’s face it, even on the TEFL course teachers are encouraged to adapt the course book and much lesson prep is spent essentially changing its UX. The next step is to do away with the out-of-date course book texts and turn to trending articles from whatever news source you like, or your students would like. Wall Street Journal, BBC, Buzzfeed … Of the moment stories, almost no prep. There’s value in that for both teachers and students.
Or, if you’re bound to the course book because of assessment based on it, you’ve just covered the vocab element and can, if you have to, pick up the grammar points in the same way. Add some questions picking out the target structures, in this case, reflexive pronouns. They’ve been shoe-horned into the text so you can easily find them and follow up with a quick recap of the rules should students use them incorrectly while speaking.
For a book with 10 ready-made no-prep conversation lessons based on the Reverse reading/Simple Speaking approach, click here.
If anyone is currently using English File Intermediate, Lesson 1C in class, I’d love to hear how it goes.
Jo Gakonga has made a teacher training video that explains Reverse Reading, which neatly explains the pedagogy behind it.