* How to choose an outstanding text and extract the maximum mileage

AMEP Conference Melbourne 2001

How to choose an outstanding text and extract the maximum mileage

for student enjoyment and learning in all 4 macro skills

 (CSWE Level III)

1. Choice of texts

Choose something you have enjoyed reading. Why should our students be asked to read things we would never voluntarily read? Moreover, if you enjoyed the text, your enthusiasm will communicate itself to your students. If the students are captivated by the text, they will be happy to spend more time analysing and manipulating.

I tend to choose Australiana, especially humorous texts. I am attracted to texts which explore, seriously or humorously, cultural issues. (See list in bibliography)

For CSWE III, the text needs to be one A4 page (I use Times New Roman 14 pt font). Obviously to get this exact size, some editing is often necessary. For CSWE IV, I cut and paste to make up two A4 pages of normal commercial print. I provide line numbers every fifth line for ease of reference.

The example I use in this presentation is from Tom Cole's Hell West and Crooked, pages 29-31, in which he describes quite flippantly the terrible living conditions and diet on an early twentieth century cattle station in north Queensland. (I have edited out the reference to Aboriginal women because I do not want at this stage to enter into a discussion of relationships between white stockmen and indigenous women. Other teachers might prefer to leave the relevant sentence in the text.)

 2. Listening for general gist + general discussion

If the students do not have severe listening difficulties, I start by playing the recording of the whole text. (I look for a clear Australia voice other than my own; for example, I have used my eldest son on several occasions.)

I ask the class to outline orally the general gist of the text. If necessary, I play the text again. I encourage the student to express their reactions to the text. Because I have chosen the text with great care in the first place, they tend to have fairly strong reactions. For example, they are generally amused and/or horrified at the description of shit beetles.

 3.Vocabulary analysis

Then we move on to analysis of unknown vocabulary. The aim of this part of the process is to encourage students to think about what they already know and the information they can themselves work out from this particular text. At this stage I forbid dictionaries but assure students they can use their dictionaries later. Indeed I supply Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionaries for some of the later exercises.

Based on Clark & Nation's work on teaching vocabulary (see bibliography), I have constructed a grid in which to collate information the students already have about the words they nominate as problematic. We work on this as a class. Particularly when some students speak Latin-based languages, I ask those who know the word under discussion to wait until others have had an opportunity to think about it.





Part of Speech

Sentence Structure

=/+; +ve/-ve

General Context

Related Words

Your guess

Dictionary meaning



















(I format the grid as landscape for a class so that they have more room make notes.)

4. Reinforcing vocabulary exercises

Next I set out to get the students to manipulate some of the new vocabulary so that they will gain a deeper understanding of the usage of the words. This manipulation also aids long-term retention.

Exercises include: putting the words into spaces in sentences I have provided; completing a grid asking for noun, verb, adjective and adverb forms of the chosen words; providing definitions where the students are asked to supply the original words.

 5. Summarising & note-taking

Here the aim is to get rid of the original text and move into the students' own words. I ask them to supply in a specified maximum number of words (generally four or six): the main idea of the text; the x main events or arguments. After the students have attempted this by themselves, we do the exercise together so that we finish up with summarised notes on the board.

At this stage I take away the original text (with students' names so that they ultimately get back their own annotated versions.)

 6. Paragraph writing

I outline the format for a model paragraph: topic sentence, details, concluding sentence. Then the students write a short paragraph, based on the summary notes on the board. I correct their writing either in class as I move around or collect it to mark at home.

After the students have made their own attempt, I provide a sample, emphasising that this is not the correct answer, but merely a correct answer.

 7. Listening for detail

Now we return to listening. I play the whole tape right through once. Then I distribute aural cloze exercises at three different levels [1]:

·        easy, where 50% of the words have been removed and replaced by dashes to indicate the number of letters;

·         medium, where 75% of the words have been removed;

·        hard, where almost all of the words have been removed. I retain proper names and an occasional word to help students keep their place in the text.

·        For CSWE IV students, I ask them to transcribe without aid.

I play the tape in phrases, repeating each phrase as often as necessary. (I keep a separate master tape because the constant stop/start/replay ultimately damages the tape.)

When we reach the end of the exercise, I replay whole tape once more. Then I return original text for checking. After the students have checked for errors, I replay tape again while they read the text. Finally I ask them to turn over their text and listen to the tape yet again.

 8. Conclusion

This sequence is a lot of work for the teacher to set up but the effort is worth while because it can be used repeatedly since the texts are timeless.

Students respond very well to the whole sequence. Some are disconcerted at first by the unfamiliar mental gymnastics required in some of the exercises: in particular, thinking about unfamiliar words without reference to a dictionary, summarising in note form and paraphrasing in their own words without any reference to the original text, and the detailed listening exercise. However, I have received consistent unsolicited comments at the end of courses that the work has been challenging but rewarding and students feel they have made great gains.

  Suggestions for Texts

Adams, Phillip & Newell, Patrice: The Penguin Book of Australian Jokes, (preface + selected jokes), Penguin, 1994 (CSWE IV)

Adams, Phillip: Pomp doesn't become us in The Weekend Australian Nov. 29-30 1997 (CSWE IV)

Blainey, G: The Triumph of the Nomads, pp.225-228, MacMillan 1975 (CSWE IV)

Bouras, Gillian: A Foreign Wife, pp. 28-30,  59-61, McPhee Gribble/Penguin, Melbourne 1986 (CSWE III – IV)

Cole, Keith: Hell West and Crooked, pp.5-7, 29-31, 25-28, 265-268, Angus & Robertson, 1990 (CSWE III)

Flannery, Tim: Throwim Way Leg, pp. 90-92, 134-137, 181-183, 194-197, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 1998 (CSWE III)

Hall E.: The Silent Language, pp.68-71 Anchor, NY 1973 (CSWE IV)

Kitson, Jean et al.: Laberrations in the Australian Magazine Sept 13-14 1997 (CSWE IV)

Lowe, Pat with Pike, Jimmy: Jilji, Life in the Great Sandy Desert, pp. 112-114, Magabala Books, Broome 1990 (CSWE III)

Ross, Helen: Just for Living, pp. 59-68, Aboriginal Studies Press. Canberra 1987 (CSWE IV)


Clarke, D.F. and Nation, I.S.P.:  Guessing the meaning of words from context: strategy and techniques in System, Vol. 8, pp.211-220

Hornby, A.S.: Advanced Oxford Learners' Dictionary, OUP

Simpson, Boyd: Crocodile Nester in The Australian Magazine Aug. 30-31 1997 (CSWE III-IV)

[1] The typing of these exercises is tedious and there are various tricks I have learned to make the task easier for me and for the students.

* Double space; 5 spaces between words, 2 spaces between letters, underline (rather than hyphen) for letters;
* Type whole text, copy, remove ½ words, recopy & remove ¾ words, recopy & remove all except a few;
* Leave keystroke marker on so that you can see ends of words easily and don't overrun lines
* The first time you use a particular exercise, do the hard version yourself with students to eliminate typing errors.