Do your students look forward to skimming an article for its main ideas? No? Shocking. There’s often a couple of hiccups we face with many reading and writing practice activities: they’re not always authentic; there’s minimal interaction between students; they’re not actually practicing reading or writing skills at all.
Sometimes when planning, differentiating communicative activities that practice reading and writing skills and those that are simply thematic extensions can be challenging. Both have their place, but when it is reading or writing skills practice that we want from an activity, knowing the difference is vital. Also, although some unrealistic practice can be fun, it’s a bonus when the activity simulates an authentic use of the skill. A couple of helpful questions I ask myself when planning are:
- Does this activity actually practice the skill or is its aim only to have students chat together?
- Is there a daily life activity where people practice the skill together or is a purely academic context more appropriate?
- Are students interacting with each other or do I want them to have some individual time?
Though the first two questions are paramount to set the purpose of the activity, it’s the last question that I largely focus on in the workshop Maximising student interaction in reading and writing focused classes, a condensed version of which a bunch of educators and I discussed on Saturday at the Reform Symposium 3. Really encouraging each other to find ways to make reading and writing practice activities more enjoyable and relevant to learners is the purpose of this workshop.
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So how can we get students interacting while maintaining skill practices? Below are some activities that I introduced in the session.
a) Jigsaws – Give different readings on the same topic to each learner in a small group. Have students read their article, make notes and clear up comprehension issues. With students together in small groups, they describe what they’ve read so other students not only copy, but understand. (e.g. Reading for main ideas and summarising in “Marriage in Canada”, Slide 6-7)
b) Novel in an hour – In three basic steps, 1 – Selecting and ripping a book up into sections for students (see shock and horror on Tyra Banks’ face on Slide 8), 2 – Giving pairs or small groups a time limit to read and think about their sections, 3 – Students work on creative ways to present the events of their section to the class (synchronised unicycling perhaps? Slide 8). For more detailed explanation of this inspiring activity, please read this blog post.
c) Student-generated material – Instead of creating fake profiles or artificial examples, use your students to create material for a practice activity from their own lives, knowledge and experiences through interviewing and recording each other. Set up the interview with a purpose, like telling learners that they will write recommendation letters for each other for a job in X country, but first, they need enough accurate information with which to use. To do the practice activity of letter writing, they have to interview each other and take notes first.
d) Authentic role play materials – Artificial role plays that take place in situations learners haven’t found themselves in yet (or ever will) can be great fun and engage them, and applying it to a realistic (yet simulated) situation can drive the skill’s relevance home. Give your students roles that ask them to practice a reading or writing skill in a situation they might actually find themselves in with another person. (e.g. The visiting friend, calling from a train, asking you to can for things to do during the weekend from a local paper, Slide 10)