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Teaching a written text

This is a beginner’s guide about how you might go about working with a written text with low-intermediate or intermediate students (Y10-11 in England). I must emphasise that this is not what you SHOULD do, just one approach based on my own experience and keeping in mind what we know about learning and language learning in particular. Experienced teachers may find it interesting to compare this sequence with what you do themselves.

You can adapt the sequence below to the class, context and your own preferred style. I’m going to assume that the text is chosen for relevance, interest and comprehensibility. The research suggests that the best texts are at the very least 90% understandable, i.e. you would need to gloss no more than 10% of the words or phrases. The text could be authentic, or more likely adapted authentic from a text book, or teacher written. It would likely be fairly short so you have time to exploit it intensively, recycling as much useful language as possible.

So here we go. I’ll add some justifications for each step.

1. Do a pre-reading activity of some sort. This could be linguistic, e.g. a vocab brainstorm from the topic area or non-linguistic, e.g. some taster questions in L2 or even L1 to stimulate some interest in the subject matter. In general it’s not a great idea to attach a text “cold”.

2. Read aloud the text. This helps ensure the class reads at your pace and gets to hear sound spelling relationships. To make sure every student is reading you can use a trick such as warning that you’ll pause randomly and select a student to say the next word. Or you can tell the class you will make some deliberate mistakes which they have to spot. Your intonation will also help students decipher meaning.

3. You might like to give an immediate off the cuff translation into L1 of the text. This can work well particularly with lower attaining group. It’s a sort of instant parallel translation.

4. Do some choral repetition of part or all of the text, insisting on accurate pronunciation and full participation. This reinforces the first reading, builds some phonological memory and allows another pass at the meaning. This is made easier if you have the text displayed from the front.

5. Have some individuals read aloud short sections in front of the class. Alternatively get students to read a sentence at a time to each other in pairs. The previous teacher reading and choral reading should make personal reading aloud easier. Another technique is to have students all read aloud individually with fingers in their ears.

6. Do a “find the French” style whole class exercise where students have to translate into L2 the English word or phrase you read out. This gets the class to scan the text again. You could use hands up or no hands up.

7. Do a “correct the false statement” task. Give the class false statements which the class has to correct from reading the text. They could give oral answers or write them down. These false statements can be tailored to the level of the group.

8. Do a question-answer sequence using the full range of questioning types: yes/no, either/or, multi-choice or open-ended questions. On hearing a good model answer from their peers or from your own recast, students can write these down. This builds listening and transcription skill.

9. Give a similar set of questions as a written list. Students work in pairs, with one as the teacher, one as the student. They can swap roles after a few minutes of questioning.

10. Do an “aural gap-fill” task. Students hide the text, you read aloud and pause at certain points to ask the class what the next word is. Answers could be given orally or written down. Again, this can be tailored to the class - the next word to be given might be quite a memorable, obvious one, or a more difficult one.

11. Give a comprehension task such as true/false/not mentioned, tick the correct sentences or match the starts and ends of sentences.

11. Hand out a gap-fill task, either with options to choose from available or not. You could make the focus on either grammar or meaning, depending on your aims at the time.

12. Do a traditional dictation or running dictation activity. Running translation is another option. Both of these are motivating for students and gets them out if their seats for a bit.

13. As a quiet written task give sentences from the text to translate into English, or do retranslation into L2. This provides more recycling of language and helps reinforce meaning for students who may still have any issues.

14. If the text is appropriate there may be a more creative oral or written task which could be done with some classes. Students may be able to make up interviews, tell the story from a different point of view or summarise the key points in their own words, for example.

In sum, there are of course plenty of other tasks you can do with a text. I have a list of them in the Teacher’s Guide on frenchteacher.net. And the above sequence could be split between different lessons. I stress again - it’s absolutely not meant to be prescriptive, but it does demonstrate how you can do intensive, rigorous input-output work including lots of recycling, adapted to the level of the class.

It’s really important that students understand as much as possible at every point and you can help ensure this if you involve as many students as possible, use some no hands up (“cold calling”) and mini whiteboards.

It mixes up teacher-led work with some pair work, but if your preference is for more if one or the other that’s fine. In addition, the above type of sequence works with texts at all levels and, once you get familiar with your repertoire of activities, planning doesn’t take long. I’m sure you have other ideas to could add into the mix!