Authentic Texts Part Deux: the Hows

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Many teachers struggle with ways to expose novice learners to authentic texts.  If you scaffold appropriately, novice learners can handle a variety of materials.  It’s certainly easier to use anything that has audio or visual in addition to written text.  Here are simple steps to scaffolding an authentic text:

In the context of a larger unit on travel, I had my students interpreting the safety procedures on a plane through videos, online brochures and websites.  They watched several videos.  Here is one example.  It is a good choice for novice learners because of its familiarity and cognates.

1. Preview the text: Before students learn any new vocabulary, allow them to watch the video a few times, trying to see if they can identify any words or phrases.  Tell them to watch it in a relaxed manner.  I usually use a calm voice, and say, “Just listen.  You don’t need to understand every word.  Focus on what you can understand, not the words that you can’t understand.  Just listen.”  During the second viewing, as a formative assessment, they can write down the words they hear that they are familiar with, and new words they can infer based on the context.  At the end of each viewing, I ask them to hold up a hand low in front of them using their fingers as a way to represent their comprehension, 5 being the highest.  They mark this down on the same paper.  I can collect the papers and see what does not need to be retaught or we can make a class list off all the words we already know as an anchor activity.

2. Acquire the necessary vocabulary:  I have a list of the vocabulary I think is necessary for them to know, and a list of stretch terms that are helpful to know.  I modify this based on the formative assessment in the preview.  I find TPR a particularly effective method to teach vocabulary to novice learners.

3. View the video: With their original lists, and knowledge of essential vocabulary and phrases, they now view the video again, adding to their original list, and again, using their fingers to rate their comprehension.  The words added to the list can be a whole class or small group discussion or a self-reflection.  Have the students watch the video a second time with the an out-of-order script.  As they watch, they must number the parts of the script in the correct order.  (You can also cut up the script and have them put the pieces in order.)  Depending on needs, further viewing activities can be done with the video.

4. View the text in a new context:  Match text that is similar to the previously viewed video with the safety photo it is describing.  Using manipulatives and rotating stations is an engaging way to accomplish this task. The safety brochure below, for example could be cut up with the numbers and the English removed.  Similar activities can be conducted based on students’ needs.

5. USE the text in a new context:

  • a. Writing: You can give the same or similar pictures to the students and have them WRITE their own words.  Rotating collaborative stations works well.
  • b. Texting (What I see as the modern link between writing and speaking): Use Poll Everywhere to ask students questions about airline safety or describe images.  Their text responses appear on the screen in front of the classroom.
  • c. Speaking: You can play a video and have the students try to speak the safety instructions to another student while watching it.  You can have them do a speed dating rotation where they have a topic and they need to discuss, i.e. at your seat: buckle your seat belt, seat must be in upright position during take-off, etc., or a picture they need to describe, ie., what is this person doing wrong?

These can be used as summative or formative assessments depending on the overall goal of the unit, and the function of the authentic text in accomplishing the learning goals.  Another example of a summative performance assessment would be to explain a new flyer who doesn’t speak English how to follow safety procedures on a plane.

Authentic texts allow them to acquire more language than can be directly taught, and hence differentiate the instruction.  The assessments should always be differentiated as well.

Here are some other examples of authentic texts that can scaffolded for novice learners:

  • For a unit on French Holidays: plan and host a celebration or festival
    • 14th of July newspaper articles, firesman ball schedule from newspaper, television broadcast of parade
  • For a unit on French Cuisine: create a Youtube tutorial on how to cook an authentic dish
    • Recipe books, websites, shows and video tutorials
    • (preview “mystery” recipes to guess identities is always a fun entry event and pre-assessment)
  • For a unit on cafés: Create an in-class or after-school cafe experience
    • menus, restaurant websites, yelp-type websites or apps, photos
  • For a unit on Technology: Create a Youtube video tutorial on how to
    • Youtube videos
    • Microsoft or Mac websites
    • Cellphone instructions and manuals
    • Change language of phones to target language

Other examples:

  • Greetings and leave takings from films or TV
  • Class schedules and school websites
  • Childrens stories
  • Photos Photos Photos!!!
  • Map guides of theme parks and cities
  • Food labels
  • Songs
  • Pop culture websites like MTV espana
  • Transportation websites, like TGV websites
  • Commercials
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8 responses »

  1. Interesting article! I use rotating stations when teaching dance history, rather than doing a power point. Gets conversations started and is especially good when groups are differentiated! Thumbs up! Oui oui!

  2. Yes indeed! I agree on every point. This is an excellent article. Thanks for pulling it all together. You inspire me to dig deeper.

  3. Great resources! Thanks! Do you participate in the #langchat on Twitter? There are so many participants that I can’t remember. It is Thursdays at 8pm.

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