Developing Reading and Writing Skills - some classroom tasks

Did you know that the written word was invented three times in three different places?
5000 years ago in Mesopotamia, 3400 years ago in China and 2700 years ago in Mesoamerica. But for the same purpose - as an accounting system to record grain storage and for tax and legal matters.

To me the written word is truly magical as it requires a unique synthesis of reader and writer as messages are passed between them.

We need to consider not only accurate use of grammar but also choice of words e.g. connotation, register, music and jargon.

Unfortunately, too much focus gets stuck on representational language (John McRae) 
e.g. The house was near a river. 
This kind of text requires manipulation and understanding of the mechanical aspects of grammar and vocabulary.
But it’s not interesting or challenging or particularly authentic…or that useful for exams!!

The really interest area to focus on is referntial language, where meaning is quite often found (or lost) between the lines.

Here are some classroom tasks that you can try out with your learners.

1. Orientation to a text
Show each fragment of text one by one and ask students to suggest what kind of text this is. You can follow this up by asking them to work in pairs and write one or two more sentences to continue the text in the same style.

Once upon a time……….
I regret to inform you……………
She grabbed the gun and pointed it at Dillon.
All this can be yours for only 999 euros, if you call this number…………
Add two tablespoons of flour and an egg and mix

2. Slogans
Show a famous slogan e.g. Just do it – and ask students to work in groups and tell each other what these words suggest / mean to them. Share ideas as a class. Here they are interpreting the message.

Now suggest a product or brand and ask them to write a very short slogan for that brand.

3. In your own words

Show a famous, level-appropriate quote e.g.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. (Oscar Wilde)

And ask students in pairs to rephrase it in their own words. 

4. Extend the text

e.g. Ernest Hemingway was dared to write a 6 word short story and this is what he produced.
For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.
Ask students to extend the story.
You can also ask them to write their own 6 word short story.

5. Just add one or two more questions to any reading activity which make students ‘engage’
¥ What would you do in that situation?
¥ Why do you think that happened?
¥ What do you think happened next?
Questions that have NO wrong answers.

5. Supply a frame
To help students focus on the ‘heart’ of a story, give them a frame like this and ask them to work in small groups filling the gaps to create a story that makes the reader think, laugh or sigh.

Once upon a time there was a ....................  girl who lived in a .................... village.  Her mother and father were very .................. She liked to play in the ................... with her ..................... friend, who was called .......................
One day they found a ........................... and they took it to the police station. The policeman was very ......................... and told them they could keep it. They were very ..................................

6. This idea is from: Challenge to Think,  Christine Frank, Mario Rinvolucri, Marge Berer
Oxford University Press

Explain to students that in each case the speaker says ‘I feel tired’. In what context iwould their intended message be:

It’s time you went home. (e.g. A host to dinner party guests)
Carry me.
I’m ready to die.
I’ve done enough work today.

7. Read and Respond

With a text like this:

The beach was long and wide caressed by the blazing sun suspended in the cloudless sky. The sea was calm, with gently lapping waves kissing the shoreline, which was scattered with brightly coloured shells. Palm trees swayed in the gentle breeze and coconuts lay around them where they had dropped. Tom’s yacht was sailing towards the fishing boats moored at the small marina to one side of the beach, where fishing nets lay on the quay drying in the hot sun.

Don’t give comprehension questions but as them to 

Draw what is described
Choose music to match the text
Talk about whether you’d like to be there and why
Compare to places you know
Imagine a story set in this location
Add the next line to start a story

Here are my top tips for Writing in class:

Do a little often in class
Pair and small group tasks
Celebrate creative ideas
Don’t obsess about grammar mistakes
Encourage extensive reading
Join in with the creative process 

And for Reading:

Ask students to respond to what they read in personalised ways and let them read a wide variety of different texts.

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