In real life, we read a variety of materials in the languages we know (our home language or English, for example). Some materials like course books are read with close attention to detail as we need to use the information in examinations.
Other materials, like magazine articles, are read for pleasure. Then there are things like billboards and hoardings that we mostly read with little concentration as we really do not need to use their information in our daily activities.
In this activity, we will deal with the sub-skill of skimming, which is used to get an overall idea of the text.
To begin the activity, ask the class to list the different types of things they read. They will probably come up with things like textbooks, storybooks, magazines, comics, signboards, letters, postcards, menu cards, labels on things they buy, phone books, instruction manuals (for phones, TVs, cameras, etc.), subtitles of English movies, maps, encyclopaedias and so on. Now tell them to list these different types of texts and classify them according to the reasons for reading them given in column 2, in the table below. Write the list on the board as the students respond.
Your board might look like this:
Kinds of things we read
Reasons for reading
Ask them to look at the list and decide which type of reading materials they read fast, very fast, slowly and very slowly. Bring the discussion around to the fact that we read different texts at different speeds depending on why we are reading.
For the main activity, give them the following situation: A friend, Nigel, wants to go on a vacation to the seaside, and he cannot decide where to go. He knows you have some idea, so he has asked for your advice to help him choose a good place. He is in a hurry, so he has asked you to give him an idea as soon as possible.
In groups, have the students read about Africa’s best beaches in Resource 1, and help him make a decision. They can look at the pictures of the beaches and read the tourist information before they decide.
After they finish the task, ask them to recall how they read the passages: did they read them very slowly, or somewhat quickly? What kind of information did they look for, and how did they decide on a destination?
From their answers, try to have them realise that they read about the different beaches somewhat quickly so that they could get an overall idea about them and give the information to Nigel. This skill is called skimming.
To test their ability to skim a text for the overall idea or gist of a passage, ask them, in their groups, to read the summaries of the beaches given below, and match them to the descriptions of the African beaches given in Resource 1.
World-class surfing, Billabong Pro competition, amazing beaches along the South African coast.
White beaches, hospitable people, old fishing villages, modern resorts, north-end beaches a must-see.
Breath-taking beaches around the Nile Delta; ideal spot for diving; near the Pyramids.
Fabulous beaches, relaxation, gentle surf, sea, sky.
Conclude the task by bringing to their notice that reading for gist or overall idea involves:
reading the text quickly for general information (skimming),
mentally summarising the information for later use, and
remembering keywords (diving, surfing, relaxation, breath-taking beaches, hospitable) only, and not every detail.
Before ending the discussion, ask them to again list the kinds of texts they skim for gist. Then ask them to collect a few of those to practise in the next class.
For more ways of practising skimming, see Resource 2.
I think the language skills topic on the CELTA is incredibly useful. As someone who rarely uses textbooks, I’m always searching for authentic reading and listening materials to use in class. Topic 3 on the CELTA gave me a solid overview of how to plan a receptive skills lesson, and the basics I learnt from this module still underpin my practice.
I’ve written an overview of the assignment and a few tips below. Here is a copy of my assignment, and here is a link to the authentic text on the BBC website.
What do I have to do?
Basically this, as the CELTA syllabus states:
That’s a snippet from the CELTA handbook. It only mentions the criteria for reading lessons, but there’s a breakdown for the other skills too. You’ll find this on page 8, and further info on page 17.
So, you have to prove you can do all of the above in a written assignment. This means designing your own lesson based on an authentic text (reading or listening). You must include opportunities in your lesson for students to also practise their productive skills (speaking or writing).
The assignment outline I was given was something like this:
Total words: 1000
Task:Choose one authentic text from the options your tutor will give you
- Consider your students needs, ability, etc.
- Don’t adapt or grade the text – if you do then it’s not authentic
Part 1: justify your choice of text (150 words)
- Why is it suitable for your learners? Reference your background reading (Harmer, Scrivener, etc.)
Part 2:Receptive skill task design (550 words)
- Talk about how you will introduce the text topic
- Design an initial reading task for the students (e.g. a gist task)
- Talk about any vocabulary that you need to pre-teach
- Design a task where students read for specific detail
- Explain what the tasks achieve and why they are suitable/useful. Mention background reading when you do this
Part 3: Productive skill task design (300 words)
- Think of a follow-up task based on the text. This should be either a speaking or a writing activity
- Write a little rationale on why you’ve chosen this task, how it exploits the text, why is it good for your learners, etc.
That’s an abridged version of the assignment, you’ll no doubt get more detailed info from your tutor, but that is pretty much it.
Tips for task design
My lesson was for upper-intermediate learners.
Part 2: for a lead-in, get the students to talk about the topic. My text was about crazy things that people do while they are sleepwalking. What better way to get students interested in the text than having them discuss that very thing?
What crazy things might people do while they sleepwalk?
I got their ideas up on the board
If you do something like this then you have the basis of your first task.
You have 2 minutes to read the text. Does the text mention any of your ideas on the board?
Students scan the text for relevant information, but also they read for general meaning (gist) as the topics above may appear in the text but worded differently.
I find this is a great initial task for reading/listening texts. Using student ideas gives them a bit of investment in the text too. I use this all the time:
(Another CELTA lesson based on a listening text about New Zealand)
Lead-in: what do you know about New Zealand? (elicit and board responses)
Orientate students to text
Gist Task: Are any of your ideas mentioned in the text?
(A lesson I made last year on a listening text about biscuits injuring people)
Lead-in: what injuries might you get from biscuits (elicit and board responses)
Orientate students to text
Gist Task: Are any of your ideas mentioned in the text?
You can find another example in my lesson about Boudica
True or False questions are generally a good idea for a detail task. I won’t go into much detail here as you’ll get plenty of input about this on your course, but what I would say is this. T/F questions don’t always need a clear answer– you can manipulate your questions in such a way that will provoke discussion among students. By making the answer to a question slightly ambiguous, students may express their opinions, and in doing so they
a) might show a deeper understanding of the text
b) engage more in the text and topic
c) practise more English!
You can see an example of this in my assignment. Another idea is to include a question which may involve your pre-taught vocabulary. This is a good way to check that they really did understand it!
Part 3: On reflection, I think my productive skills task was a bit rubbish to be honest. You could do better I’m sure. However, whether it’s good or not, you can still get a good mark if you justify WHY you chose that task. My task involved creativity, my students were very creative, so…
a) it was relevant to the learners
b) it showed I learnt a bit about my learners in previous classes
c) it showed that I used what I learnt to inform my practice
So, I guess my main tip for this assignment is to justify everything you do. Think carefully about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Mention your learners throughout the assignment – think about what they gain from the tasks you’ve set. Get a few quotes in the assignment from experts but don’t go overboard – 1000 words isn’t much. Finally, remember what you do in this assignment as it’s extremely useful when you’re starting out!