Monday, February 13, 2012

Using the course book to plan part 2... the text

Okay, so first I looked at using the bookend activities to design a lesson.

  • What is the warmer?  How can make it more personal/elicit conversation from the students' perspective?
  • What is the finishing production activity?
  • What are some ways the lesson can go from point A to point B?
So, now let's look at the written texts in course books.

Often, the texts either float above the book syllabus and exist only for reading practice or we use them to identify a few lexical items. The class then discusses the text. But honestly, it takes a particulary outgoing or opinionated group to make this work because the article is probably not something they would have read if they had the choice. After a few units, the whole process gets a little repetitive.

In most cases the text will be an article.  This means nearly all texts are written with the purpose of informing the reader. 

Let's look at some purposes we often find in business communication which are rarely included in the course book reading texts...
  • to explain
  • to recommend
  • to evaluate
  • to persuade
  • to analyze
  • to synthesize
  • to propose
  • to call readers to action
  • to change attitudes
But wait, now let's turn the page and we find a function or skill lesson which attempts to train these exact areas.  The trick then is to somehow combine these two... e.g. inform + propose, inform + call for action.

Placing this in a business context.  Why do students read trade and business magazines?  This is an interesting question to pose to students.  More than likely, they are benchmarking and checking the competition.

Here are a few activities that can help make these texts a bit more useful.

1.  Inform + recommend
Teacher hands out a glossary for a few key words for the text.  Students read the text for gist and answer some comprehension check questions.  Next the students are told that they are going to compare the company to their own in small groups.  They will use the article to present 'lessons learned' and recommend action.  They then read the article in detail to find way to compare to their company.  The students meet in groups to draw on various experience.  Finally, the groups prepare a short presentation to recommend steps for their company to take or to avoid based on the article.  Note:  Depending on the context and experience of the students, it may be necessary to set a few starting points, such as "Your company is thinking about..."

2.  Inform + synthesize
This is similar to a classic jigsaw reading, but instead of comparing and sharing, the goal is to synthesize the various articles.  One group reads the text in the book (again glossaries are good).  Other groups read similar articles on the same subject.  The groups then answer comprehension questions and discuss their opinions on the article to ensure understanding.  Then the students are told that they will work in different groups and must create a "recent trends in the industry" text/slide.  They then meet together and determine what the articles have in common.  What are the most important events?  What conclusions can they draw?  Why would the newspaper/magazine write about them?  The groups then share their synthesis and we discuss the differences between the groups.

3.  Inform + analyze
This time we use the text as a starting point of a chain of events.  The key is to get the students to analyze what happened and think about what the effects will be.  First, we will introduce the company mentioned.  Then together we will brainstorm the major competitors, customers, or suppliers.  We talk about the reputation of the competitors and compile any simple market information we have on the industry.  Next, each pair or small group is assigned a stakeholder and they must read the text through the eyes of the stakeholder.  So, if the text is about VW's factory in Dresden, they would read as an employee of BMW or Fiat.  The groups then meet to discuss how the events in the article will affect their business.  How will the market react?  Do we need to take action against the competitor, etc.?  The task depends on the text.  But they should be analyzing the text to find consequences.  At the end, the class can come together and talk about how these possible consequences will affect us as consumers.

4.  Inform + persuade
Just as we used the text to read through someone else POV before, this time we use the text as the basis for a case study.  The normal reading procedures run as usual.  But when they read for detailed understanding they should be considering what events at the company led to the article.  In short, someone must have proposed what happened in the article (e.g. entering the Chinese market, signing Christiano Ronalo, whatever is in the article).  So, after we have a good understanding of the article we take the whole class back in time and have the meeting to discuss the proposal and others.  Students can be assigned roles based on who they think was in the meeting.  They can prepare other proposals that might have been discussed at the meeting.  One student can be the deciding authority or they can reach a decision by consensus.  We can use our imagination and that of our students to make the scenario.  Then we simulate the meeting and see if we came to the same decision as the company in the article.

5.  Inform + explain
Very simply, the students must 'translate' the text for someone outside the subject area.  This works well with high level students or specialists.  The reading procedure is the same and lexical analysis continues.  But this time when they discuss the text, they must change audiences.  For example, they need to explain the text to an angel investor who is not familiar with the details of the industry.  They must explain the article to a group of apprentices.  They must explain the article to an overseas colleague who speaks a low level of English.  Any audience will do.  But it will give the learners practice in changing their language to fit the audience.

These are just a few ideas for how to integrate the course book text into the syllabus.  Too often I feel the text in the book is only there merely for reading practice.  And when following the teacher's notes, I always got the feeling that we read the text, identified a few lexical terms, had a half-cooked conversation and turned the page.

These ideas might help bring the text more life.  I haven't mentioned mining the text for grammar and deeper lexical items.  These activities are not to be forgotten, but hopefully these lessons can increase interaction and link the informative purpose with other communication goals.

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