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How to enhance reading comprehension of non-fiction academic texts

Reading notebookEsther Geva and Gloria Ramírez will be presenting webinars on 11th and 12th May where they will be discussing how to enhance reading comprehension of non-fiction academic texts.  You can find out more and sign up here.

In today’s Information Age, we are flooded with unprecedented amounts of written information, which needs to be processed quickly and effectively. In secondary school, English as a second language (EL2) teachers have the responsibility of preparing their pupils for post-secondary levels of schooling and for the workplace in today’s information economy. Language teachers face the challenge of helping their EL2 students develop sophisticated reading skills.

A solid EL2 reading instruction program is grounded in empirical evidence that can help us answer questions of what, why, and how for successful teachers of EL2 in contexts where English is the dominant language of the society, as well as in those where it is a foreign language. For these reasons, we will consistently make links between research and teaching throughout this webinar.

We will present detailed summaries of important classroom-based research on different aspects of EL2 reading. We will also provide Classroom Snapshots and Activities. Classroom Snapshots demonstrate the different concepts and how they work with different EL2 learners and different EL2 teaching situations  for teaching EL2 reading. The activities will offer you opportunities to interact with the presenters to gain a better understanding of issues and topics that are addressed in this Webinar.

We will begin by inviting you to reflect on your current beliefs about reading comprehension in both first language (L1) and second Language (L2). Then we will provide a general discussion of the complexity of reading comprehension, and highlight the main factors that are involved in EL2 reading comprehension. This will be followed by a discussion of the different skills needed to extract meaning from text, with a special focus on how to enhance reading comprehension of non-fiction, academic texts. You may find that some of your beliefs are just that- beliefs.

The last part of this Webinar is devoted to individual differences. We examine the challenges that different EL2 readers may experience depending on their age, the characteristics of their L1, their prior experience with reading in their L1 and L2, and the type of text they are reading. For example, we will examine issues related to EL2 reading of adolescent immigrants who have solid reading skills in their L1 and adolescent immigrants who had little formal instruction. The Webinar will end with a brief discussion of the possibility that some EL2 learners are also challenged by a learning disability and require additional program adaptations.


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Using Corpora for EAP Writing Development

The challenges of academic writing in ESLMaggie Charles has taught English for Academic Purposes for more than thirty years and was consultant and contributor to the Writing Tutor in the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English and the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

Do you spend hours looking for appropriate EAP examples?

Do you sometimes struggle to answer when your students ask, ‘Can I say…?’ or ‘Is there another word for…?’.

As EAP teachers, we encounter such problems on a daily basis and this where a corpus can help. But where can you find a suitable corpus of academic texts?

The British National Corpus (BNC), available here, covers both spoken and written language and has an academic component. The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) is similar in content. These corpora are very large: the BNC contains 100 million words in total (16 million academic), while COCA holds 450 million words (81 million academic). Another freely available resource is The British Academic Written English Corpus (BAWE), which contains over 6 million words of high quality student writing. The examples I’ve used here come from The Compleat Lexical Tutor, which provides several smaller academic corpora. For teachers and students of EAP these corpora provide a huge store of examples of academic English as it is actually used.

What sort of help can a corpus provide? The corpora above come with their own built-in software, called a concordancer. To consult the corpus, you type in a word or phrase and the concordancer searches the corpus and presents every instance with its context in a line on screen. The search item appears in the centre, with a few words either side. Here is part of a concordance on emphasis from a 6+ million word general academic corpus. I’ve selected and sorted the lines by the first word to the left to show some useful adjective-noun combinations.

EAP1

My student wrote this:

Brown (2010) put high emphasis on the failure to distinguish between permanent and temporary shortages.

Studying the concordance showed her that the combination high emphasis wasn’t present in the corpus and gave her three possible alternatives (great, particular, special).

Concordance data like this has many applications in teaching writing. At the pre-writing stage, the concordance above can be used to help students notice collocations and chunks of authentic language which they can use in their own writing e.g. placed/laid great/particular emphasis on or with special/particular emphasis on. You can also make a concordance on key terms from the students’ own writing topic, which will retrieve phrases that are frequently used when discussing the topic. By studying the concordances, students can identify typical phrases associated with the topic, which reduces their reliance on literal translation in their writing.

At the post-writing stage, using concordances makes it easy to construct short tasks to deal with problems that have arisen in students’ texts. You can make concordances on two contrasting terms to focus students’ attention on important differences. The concordances below come from the BNC medicine corpus (1.4 million words) and highlight the difference between increase in and increase of. Most corpus software allows you to make gapped concordances so that you can check students’ understanding of the teaching point.

EAP2

You can use concordance data in many ways: before class you can prepare tasks for your students or check your own intuition about academic language; in-class you can ask students to study concordances on paper or respond to student queries as they write; after class you can supply short concordances to individual students or devise class tasks to deal with more general problem areas. Studying concordances either individually or in class helps students notice grammatical and lexical patterning and improve their own writing.

In addition to gapped and ungapped concordances, corpora can also provide sentence length examples, lists of collocates and short extracts. You don’t have to worry about making up examples or spend time reading through multiple sources to find suitable texts. Using an academic corpus in your students’ field(s) you can just input an appropriate search term and quickly retrieve a wealth of material.


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Webinar: Integrating academic study skills from A1

Students in lecture theatreSarah Philpot, Headway Academic Skills co-author, discusses the issue of addressing academic needs as early as possible in language learning. You can join Sarah for her upcoming webinar “Integrating academic study skills from A1” on 18th February.

During my 30-year teaching career I have, like many of you, no doubt, taught, a range of different class types: General English, English for Exams, IELTS, Business English, English for Medics, English for Academic Purposes, etc.

Obviously, during those years, a lot of things have changed. Typically in the past, adult students would do General English until they reached a certain level of competence, around B1, at which point many of them would chose a ‘special’ course to help them in their work or studies. This would entail learning different and new lexis, functions and skills.

However, with English being more and more a core requisite for Higher Education and for work in multinational and trans-national companies, young adult students in particular realise that they need not only a level of linguistic competence, but also the appropriate academic or professional competencies too, and as early as possible.

To a large extent, people wishing to enter the corporate world are already catered for – just look at the number of Business English course books, beginner to advanced, that are available. So, it struck me as rather strange that those with academic needs were not similarly provided for, and that those students would have to return to the old pattern.

This is where the Headway Academic Skills series came in. It seemed logical, not to say fair, that students planning to go into higher education should also be in a position to learn the appropriate lexis, functions, etc. at the same time as they are learning the difference between the present simple and present continuous!

In my webinar, I hope to show why this integrated approach is being adopted, and how we can do it. I will be drawing on material from Headway Academic Skills Introductory Level (A0/A1), and will be looking specifically at the importance of:

  • context
  • task type
  • lexis
  • register

in making a course more relevant to students who wish to continue their studies in an English-medium college or university.

Sign up for Sarah’s webinar on 18th February now.


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Making the most of e-books for academic skills

Woman with e-book readerSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, talks about his experience of introducing tablets into the classroom. Sean will be hosting a webinar on the topic of making the most of e-books for academic skills on 14th and 19th November.

Over the last five years, the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in the United Arab Emirates have systematically introduced laptops into the teaching and learning environment. Now, all students are expected to have a laptop in class. In addition, last year, the use of iPads was introduced in the university preparatory programme. With all students having some form of computing device, it made sense to change from using paper-based books to e-books. So after trialing e-books last semester, this semester saw a full implementation of e-books across the system. All 19,000 students are using only e-books. In total, almost 150,000 e-books have been bought this semester.

I believe that this has been the biggest rollout of e-books anywhere in the world. As an educational technology coordinator at HCT, I have been responsible for making this e-book initiative go as smoothly as possible. With the e-books being delivered over eight different vendor platforms, and with so many titles involved, this has been quite a struggle at times.

So why put up with the struggle? What are the real benefits of using e-books?

Moving to a paperless learning environment is certainly one. And seeing my eleven-year-old daughter heaving an overloaded bag to school every day, it would definitely make sense to have all textbooks in digital format stored on lightweight, portable computing devices. After all, most students now need to use some form of computing device for their schoolwork. But, somewhat surprisingly, we have had a large number of students complain about their e-books. Surely this tech-savvy generation of students would prefer e-books; but, no, they want it on paper! I think the reason for this lies behind the quality of current e-books. They are difficult to read and even harder to annotate, particularly on less mobile computing devices.

However, there are some e-book platforms that are very exciting and interactive. Without doubt, the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf is one of these and is at the cutting edge of e-book technology; feedback from both instructors and students has been very positive. This video shows some of the great features:

Having been using and evaluating e-books for almost a year now, Oxford University Press have asked me to run two webinars on making the most of e-books for academic skills. In the webinar, I will start with a general discussion on e-books, outlining the reasons for using them and how they can enhance students’ learning. As part of this lead-in discussion, Puentedura’s (2006) SAMR model [Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition] will be introduced to show how technology in general, and e-books in particular, can be introduced into the teaching and learning environment to enhance students’ learning. Then, based on the SAMR model, you will be shown specific examples of how to use academic skills coursebooks from the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf with your students, including Q: Skills for Success, Effective Academic Writing and Inside Reading.

However, despite these e-books providing students and instructors with an exciting learning experience, there is still room to do more, especially at the modification and redefinition stages of the SAMR model. In the final part of the webinar, I will make suggestions of how to not only improve the actual learning activities in the e-books, but also look at ways in which the content can be used as a springboard into more constructivist, collaborative activities.

Please join me for the webinars on either 14th or 19th November.

References

Puentedura, R. (2006). Transformatiom, Technology, and Education. Presentation given August 18, 2006 as part of the Strengthening Your District Through Technology workshops, Maine, US.
Puentedura, R. (2011): Thinking About Change in Learning and Technology. Presentation given September 25, 2012 at the 1st Global Mobile Learning Conference, Al Ain, UAE.


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Developing Critical thinking by Using Video to Teach Essay Writing

Vanessa Medina is an English teacher, freelance ELT consultant and writer. Here she explores using videos to teach different writing structures.

As teachers, we have all heard about the benefits of using new technologies such as computers and internet in the classroom. These aides are powerful tools because of the varied input that they provide students as they cater to different learning styles. However, if used through thoughtfully planned activities, they can also help our students develop critical thinking skills.

One thing to consider is that, in a writing course, input is mostly through written text in a textbook, and while these texts and activities help students develop most critical thinking skills, students respond better to more stimulating input. Through the use of video in a writing course, we can address students’ topics of interest in class and at the same time, students can deepen their understanding of certain writing structures or use the main ideas in video for different purposes through the use of their verbal, artistic, logical, and other abilities.

Depending on the type of essay, you will want to find videos that are suitable for analysis of the structure that you are teaching. With internet resources such as YouTube, you can find videos that are relevant and related to any given writing structure. For example, a global warming video could be used to study the structure of a cause-effect essay by asking the students to infer the main ideas in the video and share how they relate to the causes and effects of global warming; this could later be developed into a visual brainstorm for an essay. You could also use one of the PC vs. Mac ads to spark a discussion for a comparison essay. Since these ads target the weaknesses of PCs, students that use PC could help list advantages over Mac.

Additionally, a general rule of thumb is that the video should not exceed 10 minutes of duration; this will help students keep focused on the task. Also, don’t forget to introduce the video and give your students instructions as to what to look for.

Critical thinking is commonly defined in terms of six core skills: interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation and self-regulation.What follows is a list of four of these skills with a suggested activity you can do with your students after you watch a video:

Analysis: Students can identify the different elements in a video and organize them into an outline for an essay.

Inference: Students can infer the main ideas in a video and develop a brainstorm for an essay on the topic.

Explanation: Students can explain, either visually or orally, the organization of the main ideas in a video.

Evaluation: Students can evaluate the ideas from a video to form their own opinions for an argumentative or persuasive essay.

These are simple activities that will enable you as a language teacher to add new stimuli in the presentation of writing objectives and that will aid in the development of students’ critical thinking.

Furthermore, by engaging students through mixed input and allowing them to express their diverse interests (by asking them to suggest videos or topics) and abilities (by offering different activity options such as pair or group discussions, developing visuals to explain concepts, or thinking on their own what a given video is communicating to them), you will find that your students become more creative in their tasks and achieve better outcomes.

Do you have any other suggestions to develop critical thinking skills through video?

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