Thursday, 10 May 2012

Single White Weirdo: Authentic Texts with Lower Levels

Would you share a flat with this person?

I often use authentic texts with my intermediate learners. In recent lessons we have read a newspaper article from The Guardian, listened to poetry on The Poetry Channel, watched news reports on Youtube and searched for jobs on the Internet. The benefits of using authentic texts are evident: the teacher can select up- to- the- minute texts relevant to the interests and needs of the learners. What’s more, authentic texts are potentially far richer in new lexis than those found in your average course book: many of which contain texts abridged and adapted to ram home particular language points. 

 Up until reading Kyra Beguiristain’s article on using authentic texts with lower level learners, I had assumed that anyone below intermediate level would find authentic texts too linguistically complex to fathom. I was also worried that unabridged texts would ultimately have a demotivating effect on those struggling to come to grips with the basics of the language.

Yet, as Beguiristain points out, authentic doesn’t necessarily mean complex. There are many simple authentic texts out there: ranging from menus to street signs. Slightly longer texts can activate important scan and skim reading skills, which will in turn help learners on their journey towards autonomy. 

 Beguiristain suggests using flat share advertisements, as they provide such a rich source of lexis: words to describe houses, furniture, domestic appliances, and character, and I decided to try this out for myself with a low pre-intermediate class, as it seemed a  task which would help learners in their everyday lives.  

My next task, then, was to source some good ads. I went straight to, a brilliant website which has thousands of ads posted by flat hunters and flatmate hunters. The snag was this: in order to view the ads I had to masquerade as a flat hunter. This presented an ethical dilemma, as I did not want to waste other people’s time. So I wrote a profile as quickly as I could, taking care to make myself sound as weird as possible. I wrote that I required a room in East London with a sea view and professed a love of cat fish. Nobody, I assured myself, was going to bother following an ad like that up.

Later that evening, I was most surprised to receive a deluge of responses, two of which commented on my zany sense of humor! I guess I had not managed to sound quite weird enough... The messages were so friendly, and my potential flat mates sounded such fun, that for a moment I was seriously tempted to relocate to the East end of London and drink wine on the sofa with them.  But that might have been taking my research a little bit too far…

I quickly removed myself from the site after that, but had managed to find some good ads, which contained really useful language, which I might not have thought of teaching. I chose one flat hunter and then I found two flats: one sounded fun but filthy: the other clean but dull, with a strict sounding cleaning rota ( and some scary BLOCK CAPITALS) 

The learners had to read the adverts and choose the flat which they felt was best for the flat hunter. They were helped in this task by a fair bit of lexical input at the beginning (we discussed what we thought was important/unimportant when flat hunting and spoke about the kind of people we would like to live with) and I had prepared tables, so the learners were able to tick boxes describing what the flat hunter was looking for, and what points the two flats possessed.

This class have been learning about comparatives and superlatives recently, and this task provided the perfect opportunity for some revision of this language point. Finally, the learners wrote their own advertisements.  All in all, a successful exercise, and one which I plan to repeat with this class, using another example of an authentic text. 

References: Beguiristain, K. Using Authentic Texts at Lower Levels (IH Journal of Education and Development, September 2001)

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