Ahead of his talk at IATEFL, Edward de Chazal presents a revealing look at how we can teach at lower levels.
“When it comes to teaching EAP we can’t we do what we do at higher levels at lower levels, right?”
Well, I think we can – what exactly “can’t we do”?
“Where do I start? First of all texts – how can B1 students read authentic academic texts? They’re too hard.”
They certainly can be, but it depends on your choice of text. Some texts are just fine for B1 students to work with, like IB – International Baccalaureate – textbooks, which are aimed at 16 – 18 year old students. They don’t assume too much knowledge. And you can use undergraduate textbook extracts, too.
“Aren’t they a bit difficult?”
OK, they can be challenging, but students can do a lot with them if you provide the right tasks.
“What sort of tasks?”
Achievable ones. If we provide the right staging, scaffolding, and support we can use authentic tasks based round authentic texts at B1.
“Authentic texts and tasks?”
We can keep the texts authentic. There’s no need to change the language in the texts. Just work out a staged sequence of tasks which lead to a specific learning outcome.
“Can you give an example?”
Let’s look at what EAP students need to do. They need to be able to read authentic texts in order to learn more about the topic of the text, understand the purpose of the text, work out the main points – and differentiate the main points from the examples in the text, identify the writer’s stance…
“Hold on. Are you telling me your B1 students can do all that with authentic academic texts?”
Absolutely. And more. You can do all this if you grade the tasks, but not the texts, just as Grellet said back in 1981.
“Yes, but what sort of tasks?”
Let’s go back to basics. Break down the learning outcome into stages. Let’s say it’s day one and you have a new class of B1 students who are studying EAP for the first time. You want your students to gain an overview of an academic text and identify the topic and main ideas.
I’ll talk you through the stages. Task 1 – get your students thinking and talking about their reading. What sort of texts do they read in English? Do they enjoy reading? Task 2 – prepare to read by looking at definitions of one or two technical terms in the text. These are authentic tasks because we normally approach a new text with some understanding of the technical concepts in the text, like ‘cognitive psychology’ for example. I would probably look them up in the dictionary.
“I see. What next?”
Task 3 – get to grips with what the topic, purpose, and main idea are. In any text.
Start with plenty of support. Ask students to match these items with their descriptions. Then go through each one in turn, based on a short text extract. As I said, an IB text works well at this level. Again you can give simple choices, like differentiating the main idea from an example.
“Sounds good. But students need to get a bit deeper into the text.”
Sure. Which leads to Task 4 – reading in detail to understand the key information in the text. Students can complete notes on the text. This is a nicely supported task, as students can see what they are aiming for. They can then use their notes to explain the key terms in the text – that’s Task 5. Having to explain something to someone else is a brilliant way of learning, and the teacher can check their learning while they are doing this task.
“Right. You mentioned that it was a short text. How can they apply these tasks to longer texts?”
Good question. By repeating core tasks, students gradually learn to access and process information in new, more challenging texts. Actually, Task 6 in my example is to predict the content of a new text, which supports students in identifying the topic and main idea in each paragraph.
“But does this work?”
Absolutely. Students have plenty of support. There’s even a glossary with each text to help them with difficult words and concepts – just like academic textbooks.
“So, you’re saying when we’re teaching EAP, we really can do what we do at higher levels at lower levels.”
Yes, we can!
Edward de Chazal will be talking about EAP at Lower Levels at IATEFL Liverpool on Thursday 11th April in Hall 4b at 10:35am.