Some time ago I wrote about reading texts with few known words and how to use grammar keys to understand more. I would like to add that this method works. The students take it as a challenge - riddles that have to be solved. At least, their reaction is not as negative as it was when I asked them to read in this way for the first time. And I think that by guessing the meanings of words and sentences, the students develop their imagination and the ability to see links among phenomena.

For example, which is the odd one here: a bike, a car, a horse? Correct, a car! You can't ride it. And if you see a word 'ride', but don't know the next one, you can guess that it is a bike, not a horse, because the text you're reading is about living in Shanghai, not the countryside :) This is how you learn the word 'bicycle' and the expressions 'to ride a bike' and to 'drive a car'.

Another example. The texts reads: "When celebrating birthday you have to eat noodles because noodles symbolize ......" So guess, what is the meaning if you know that Chinese noodles are very very long???? My students said the noodles symbolize 'long life'. And they were right! Context only, you don't need a dictionary to understand. Unless you need to know the pronunciation.

As a result, I feel (and my students would agree) that there is such hard work during the lessons, that even if there's no homework, the progress is obvious. With homework it would be even faster, but I'm satisfied with at least some students studying at home too, because they create this positive image of the learners in general. And I see that the number of diligent students is growing.


# Alexander Sokol 2011-03-08 14:45
Marija, I believe I might have already asked you earlier if you get your students to generalise the method for guessing the unknown words in the text. The problem is obvious here - there are many words they don't know and it's boring to try to find everything in the dictionary, so Step 1 (if we refer to the Thinking Task Framework) is here. The next step would be to build an algorithm / strategy for copying with the problem. I understand that you're solving a problem for each particular case with the students (ie clarify the meaning and probably discuss how you've done it) but do you also speak about the general method for doing it? Something students could bring to the next text for understanding new words?
Do you see what I am speaking about?
# Marija Nikolajeva 2011-03-08 22:06
I think the algorithm is always the same: look at the text, see what you know + grammatical and lexical key characters (they are quite the same every time) and try to remember what you were reading before while you are dealing with the following sentences. And they know it and can use this method with every new text. And when they really pay attention to what they are reading, they don't even need a dictionary. Or maybe need it for translating some words. Actually, my aim of this exercise is to make them look and see, and not to give up just because it is written in characters not in letters.
# Alexander Sokol 2011-03-09 09:42
Marija, I completely agree with you that 'noticing' skill is extremely important in language learning, so the exercises are definitely useful.
What I am asking about is more connected with the thinking part. If you look at the Thinking Task Framework, Step 2 deals with the development of the algorithm, ie students are expected to develop an algorithm for the problems where they felt stuck. In my experience, our assumptions that they are well aware of the algorithm are often an illusion. Therefore, I'd encourage you to get them to put the algorithm down. However, not your algorithm described above, but their own, devised on the experience of doing the task. I imagine that if they don't work as a whole class, the algorithm will differ from student to students (or from group to group). This could give you the whole new area for learning, where the students are working on a meta cognitive level.
# Marija Nikolajeva 2011-03-09 20:47
So, I talked to the students about their algorithms today. They said: 1. look for familiar characters, 2. understand them, 3. try to understand why these characters are in this text, what their function is (eg, 'there is' is in a text describing the presence of something, prepositions - about location, etc.). With my help we formulated 4. think about the co-text and context, how much of it you can understand and remember during reading and 5. reread sentences and the text to check your assumptions, the second reading reveals more information.
Sth like this. So, I'll give them short unknown texts and ask to answer my questions. Will see how well they can apply this algorythm...
# Alexander Sokol 2011-03-13 21:45
In fact, getting them to apply an algorithm and reflecting on how it works is the key. I'd suggest that they actually put down whatever they see / discover at each step of the algorithm. I am almost sure it won't be that easy as some steps will require specification for many students (eg how can I understand the function - step 3 above)while others will feel like adding other steps / changing these ones. This is the reason why I tend to opt for more individual algorithms. Anyway, I am really curious to hear what happens next when they try to apply the algorithms.
# Marija Nikolajeva 2011-03-14 18:54
Hopefully, they'll have a chance to work individually on their algorithms this Friday, not earlier, because they'll be writing tests. So, I'll let you know how it was.
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