Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

December 1, 2015
by leesensei

The “Read & Think/Respond” Class-Generated (& Targeted) Reading Activity

readingWe all get students to write things. We all take the time to read things. But how much to we tap the benefit of students reading each other’s work? Especially when we are trying to hit a targeted structure/vocabulary and have them see it over and over. I have gradually been including more and more of the ‘we read/we look/we ‘evaluate’  opportunities.  I use it with written ‘messages’, infographics they make, pamphlets and other student produced text.

The Set-Up: Here is the example from my Yr2 class. The targeted structure is ‘want to do/don’t want to do’ and “want/don’t want’. To start the students read a text message between a recurring character and his on again/off again sweetheart. They loved it. I quickly abandoned the boring ‘game’ I had for practicing the structure. Instead I asked them (in partners) to create a text message between two characters of their own. But I hadn’t prepped the assignment. Again I turned to them. I asked them what I would want to see in the piece. They generated a better list of ‘elements’ than I could. Then they set to work. They were so into it and so involved in their message that I gave them 2 periods on it. Some wrote on paper, a couple did text message screen shots – every group decided on ‘how’ they would produce this (we are NOT a high-tech school).  New words are allowed (up to 5) as long as a glossary is provided for the readers.

Reading Day:  We set out what is to be read on top of the desks. I ask the students to step out of the room for instructions (because in my space I can). I ask them to move from piece to piece with their partner and to read thoroughly. This is NOT a race to read all. Quality reading is expected.  I find that pulling them out and then sending them back in ‘sets the stage’ for the type of activity that I want and focuses them on their in-room activity a little more than just giving instructions in the classroom. Then they enter the room and begin.

Students move from table to table with their partner. They record their names on a post-it on the table to note that they have been there. In this case it was a text message so they each read a ‘part’. If it isn’t a message then they take turns reading the text and talking about what they are reading.

They have about 45 minutes for the reading. They move from place to place as they open up. I don’t specify how long they have to read – they take the time they need. For some readings I expect them to read them all (infographics etc). For others – with more detailed text I don’t. So sometimes they go to all of the tables, sometimes they don’t finish.

The Post-Read Activity: The KEY for me in this is the post-reading task which requires them to evaluate/use the content. This means that they have to comprehend what they are doing. For the Yr2’s I asked them to read for the required content “We saw…” and then to give their impression of the overall piece. This is quite ‘target structure’ specific but for this – it was my goal. Each team is asked to read 4 pieces in this way. (The sheet they got for this is here). For my higher grades I ask them to do things like choose something to fit a category and use the information on it to defend their choice (in the TL or English). A link to this style of post reading (from the Sumo Cultural Activity) is here. Generally the reading/post-reading happens in 1 (80 min) period although asking them to read for specific targeted content in text-heavy pieces may take longer.

My students like the class because they move/work freely with their partner. One Yr2 told me that “It’s fun and interactive – I like reading all the messages and its great because I understand what I am reading!”. I like it because they see the same structures over and over and, best of all, are creating with the language that they are learning.






December 15, 2014
by leesensei

Best of 2014: No. 3 Reading & Understanding – The “Question Challenge” Activity

MP900385753It’s always a challenge to construct activities that engage students – especially about a reading piece. I try a variety of ways to both help/determine if my students understand a piece from  group Q&A to discussion to drawing and more. My Year 2 class is a case in point. After 1 semester of Japanese they hover around the Novice-Mid range but they are eager to ‘talk’. My challenge was to give them a reading and then, get them to discuss it. Enter the student to student “Question Challenge” activity.

Day 1 – SetUp: The students were given a reading constructed by me, with key points that they had been learning embedded in it. They initially read in their pairs using what I call “2 and talk” – each student reading a sentence then stopping to talk about what it means. In this round I offered no ‘comprehension’ questions at all to see how well they had understood it themselves. However for a longer piece I will have a few questions from a section of the reading with their questions to come from another portion.

After students had read and debriefed with their partner they were given the challenge of constructing 8 questions concerning the piece. 3 were to be of the True/False variety – where answers could be found easily in the text. The next 5 were to be “open” questions about the reading – the only stipulation is that the answer could not be “yes” or “no”. This forced them into constructing questions along the line of our ‘follow up’ questions we often use in speaking. “Who did Nonki meet with?” “When on Saturday did they meet?” and so on. This also required me to provide some key ‘phrasing’ that they had not already learned. For example “Who said…” or “Who is a person like…?”. We also reviewed what to do if someone didn’t understand them and how to say what you ‘specifically’ didn’t understand. I believe  that “I don’t understand.”  and “What does …mean?” are not negative phrases in my classes – but rather an opportunity for the speaker, a responsibility, to help in understanding. We reviewed what to do in this case – generally ‘repeat’, ‘give an example’ and, when appropriate, ‘give a sample answer’.

Day 2 – Question Day:  Students initially practiced asking each other their questions. We stressed eye contact and also had one partner ‘purposely’ not understand to review how to assist. We also reviewed cultural phrases/activities they could use as they ‘stalled’ to think of the answer. Then on to the challenge! The pairs had to challenge 3-4 other pairs to answer their questions. To increase the ‘fun’ we devised a point system. If students got the answer right away (no looking at the text) – 1 point. Giving right away and being wrong -1/2 point. And if they had to go back to the text to find the answer +1/2 point (note that a wrong ‘guess’ plus finding the right answer is 0!). I allotted about 20 minutes for the questioning. They had a ball. Lots of laughing, rephrasing and interaction and, most importantly for me, really good work on asking/answering key questions.

Debrief: I debriefed the activity using my “How Did That Go?” rubric. As usual the students first had to write – completing the phrase “That went ____because……”. Many cited the ability to talk and interact easily with their peers as a reason it went well. Almost all of them said that their groups actually went beyond the questions they had and started thinking up spontaneous questions to get more points! Students also asked for some key phrases that we had not reviewed such as “more slowly please” and “Did you say…?”. My students are very used to this rubric from their first semester with me – but if they weren’t I would have gone over the rubric (and what expectations I have) with them prior to setting them on their task.

I won’t go overboard in using this but I did love to hear the loud voices, laughing and groans (at wrong answers) during the time. Its going to be another tool in my ‘comprehension’ toolbox. What do you do to get kids talking about what they read?


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