Saturday, June 1, 2013

Rich and Varied

The first meaty chapter of Teaching Vocabulary to English Language Learners is called "Providing Rich and Varied Language Experiences".  It's generally organized around the traditional skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing.  The authors propose that, while all learners should work on all skills, beginning learners should receive an emphasis on speaking and listening and more advanced learners should receive an emphasis on reading and writing. (I have a question about that: it seems that advanced learners often come to me with more reading and writing experience than listening and speaking experience? In any case ... )

Not all of the language that learners encounter has to be "taught".  In the section on listening, we're advised to go ahead and include some words that are beyond learner ability -- with some thought to what the level of the group is.  I think the idea is that the challenging language may slip past, but (as Ellis and others contend) that doesn't mean it isn't being collected and processed.  The authors give an example of using an interesting but uncommon word to stimulate curiosity.  "Too many decibels for me!"  I imagine the goal is more to pique learner interest in language than to "teach" the word.  I can also see:

- using an idiom or common phrase that I would normally use in free speech, but that I tend to filter out when speaking in class.  Loosening the filter intentionally, I guess.
- using authentic language that learners are not asked to study explicitly, but that is appropriate for the context they're in. A possible parallel: kids overhearing their parents talking nearby.

A week or so ago, I witnessed an example (perhaps) of the results of this kind of exposure.  We had turned our attention to "have to" in a lesson with my high beginner/low intermediate class.  Learners practiced and seemed to be getting comfortable with it, but one learner obviously had an epiphany.  Usually somewhat reserved, she brightened up and said "Oh!"  Then she started throwing out example sentences with  delight: I have to call my brother. You have to go to work.  He has to make an appointment ... And so forth. She had surely heard this language many, many times at work and I certainly have used it often in the classroom.  She probably had the gist of its meaning, but not its form.  When I put the form on the board, it just clicked for her.  I didn't "teach" it to her, I just provided that one bit of information that firmed up what she had been collecting all along.  For the rest of the folks in class that day, our attention to form may only have added to their repository, but maybe it brought them closer to the click.  (An aside: could such a  click be he moment when receptive vocabulary becomes productive vocabulary?)

The above is maybe an example of when I inadvertently provided my learners with language above their level (using "have to" and "don't have to" frequently).  I asked myself if I could think of ways that I've more deliberately offered "rich and varied" language to my classes.  It turns out that last week both of my classes watched videos that were challenging. In each case, I scaffolded the experience -- eliciting background knowledge, reviewing some key words, and reading and discussing a simplified text before watching the video.

The lower level class watched a video that was specifically prepared for language learners, but for a group at a higher level.  They did not tire of watching it again and again (we would review the video to answer questions that arose during discussion, for example).  The last time they watched it, many were reading the subtitles aloud to the extent that they could.  To my great pleasure, several later used some of the language they had heard (but we had not focused on explicitly) in class.  They did it deliberately, and I'm sure it's because they had seen it modeled so many times.  One was "thanks to [someone or something]" and the other was from a humorous moment in the movie: "Don't move!"  A character in the movie said this while drawing a picture of someone else.  We had a drawing activity ourselves and "Don't move!" flew about the room with lots of chuckling.  I wouldn't be surprised to hear another repeated phrase from the video ("I have an idea.") soon.  In fact, I will make a point to use it myself!  Here is a link to the video I used (We watched "The Hospital") and here's a picture two learners made of me (note the similarity to a picture in the video!).

After reading about and discussing a brief description of the American Civil War, my higher level class read a simplified version of the Gettysburg Address and we discussed.  We made a recording of them reading it as a class, one sentence per student, and played it back to analyze pronunciation. We then reviewed some key words and watched a video where various famous people read the original text one sentence at a time, similar to the way we had done it.  In the video, certain words were repeated.  I asked learners if they noticed, we tried to remember which words were repeated, then we watched again.  We then discussed why those words were emphasized.  (There are two  kinds of repetition: made by the video editors, and in the speech itself.  Lots to discuss!)  Lincoln's speech is simple, yet the language is formal.  I don't expect students to study the formal words, but such a "rich and varied" examination of the Gettysburg Address may come back to them, since this is an important text that's quoted and referenced heavily. In fact, next month is the 150th anniversary of the battle. A noticing learner will probably see many of these words again, especially here in Philadelphia!
hubby riding near Gettysburg

No comments:

Post a Comment