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Think about the meaning of the word authentic and an example of something that could be authentic.
When an editor complies a magazine or newspaper, or George Lucas makes a film, or Adele writes a song, their aim is not to teach people English. Despite that, authentic materials can be a great resource for the language learner and today we’re going to look at why.
We almost certainly all have some experience using authentic materials in our English lessons. Put up your hand if you’ve not used authentic material before.
I’ve entitled this page, perceived challenges, because, just like our students, we teachers and indeed everyone, sometimes perceive something as difficult when it might not necessarily be the case.
Nevertheless, please get into pairs and tell your partner one way in which using authentic materials might be difficult.
Difficult, lots of new language: confusion / panic / frustration / demotivation!
Time consuming to select, edit and prepare
“Only for the upper levels”
Go out of date quickly – find a new article, not relevant for next year. But not all do: what about a classic film to illustrate a period in time?
May be challenging, but results in a sense of achievement: students ‘conquer’ real English. This is one of the ways authentic material can be motivating. Students also tend to enjoy well-chosen authentic material if it’s something they can relate to. I’ve had great success with songs and videos in my classes.
Reflects a real English-speaking environment, English as it is spoken in the real world. And students see a purpose to what they are learning, it’s not just a subject in a classroom. We try to make our classrooms as communicative as possible, with English not just a subject to be studied in an artificial setting and Authentic material might be considered one of the ways to ‘bridge’ the gap between the classroom and the real world
Ambiguity tolerance. Students need to realise that it’s ok if they don’t understand everything. This is often the case in the real world and indeed in exams. Students only understanding part of text / listening / video isn’t a problem in itself. Grading the material is not as important as grading the task. “Good learners learn to live with uncertainty and develop strategies for making sense of the target language without wanting to understand every word”
Authentic material provides a window on culture
Authentic material might encourage a teacher to adopt a creative approach. This material is great and my students are going to love it, but how might it best be exploited?
To preteach or not: critics say it can prevent children from learning how to understand something from a context. In real-life, in the class and in exams there will be words they don’t understand. Should we take away from our students opportunities they have for learning something for themselves?
Preteaching can be useful when used judiciously. It is not always possible to work out words from context and realistically speaking, some students switch off if there are many words they don’t understand. Preteaching vocabulary offers some support. We might focus on preteaching words that are important to understand the task, rather than all unknown words. We don’t want students to think they have to understand every word.
What’s the root. Let’s look at an example. I could have asked you to work out unhappy from the root, but we’re Advanced users of English and we need a challenge. I thought a word which is, arguably the longest in the English language would be a cood place to start. Does any non- native speaker know what it means? What’s the suffix: ism. What kind of suffix is ism? A noun suffix What’s the word in the middle: establishment. What do you think the establishment refers to? (guess – government) Now, this is a 19th century word. Establishment: church. The people who advocated disestablismentariasm: what might they have wanted? What doesn anitdisestablishmentarianism mean? What does antidisestablishmentarianism mean?
Definition: A political position that developed in 19th-century Britain in opposition to Liberal proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England—meaning the removal of the Anglican Church's status as the state church of England, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
Moving on from dealing with unknown vocabulary: our learners have to be comfortable with not knowing things. Relate to real world and exams Rubin and Thompson’s Characteristics of a good learner
Good learners learn to live with uncertainty and develop strategies for making sense of the target language without wanting to understand every word
Don’t prescribe here “This is the way to be.” It’s to do with planting the seed.
Materials choice: have a strong schema: as they go up in level this has to be less and less of an issue “Comfortable around unfamilar topics” etc
It’s helpful if students have a strong schema about the material:some prior knowledge or context which will help them speculate. Apologies to any astro-physiscists, but this authentic material might not be appropriate to use in your average classroom.
More than one answer: get them speculating
Getting them to speak: most important
What is this? A wordcloud. What does it show? The words from the transcript. Why are some words bigger than others? They are the high frequency words in a text. Why are the big words useful? If students know the keywords, they will have a much better chance of understanding the text. How did I make it? By coying and pasting the text from an audio script into a word cloud generator, in this case wordle.net. Show them how it’s done. Go to wordle.net in Firefox (google chrome has issues with allowing java NB. Practice this in Firefox before the presentation. Once you’ve clicked ‘allow’ once it should be ok). Have the audio script ready on your computer. The relevant pages are 6 and 7. Copy the passage, paste it in. You will get the wordcloud. Click randomize until you get a design that you like (one that is clear: some are quite psychedelic). Have a quick look at the words. Notice that only vocabulary words appear (not articles or prepositions etc, otherwise ‘the’ and ‘a’ would be the biggest words). We can delete words we don’t want (here we want to delete ‘Jenny’ – no need to have the names of the characters there). We save the wordcloud and reuse it and we can print it (if we don’t have a projector or IWB),
We can ask the teachers if they have any ideas before we provide our own. They may come up with different ones: they could use these later in their presentations.
What do we have here? The transcript. What’s behind it? The Word Cloud. Before going through ideas with the word cloud, ask teachers what they would do with it?
We can put the transcript into a word cloud. This takes less than 30 seconds (show?) The word cloud shows the words which appear in the listening (grammar words like prepositions are omitted), and the bigger words are those which appear most often. We can question the SS about what they see before doing the listening activity
Which words do they know? (Start with something positive, everyone will know some) Can they explain / define the word / put it in a sentence? OR can they put two of the words in a sentence. Or three? Or four? This can be made into a competition: who can make a coherent sentence with the most words from the listening?
What is the listening about? Here the SS can make predictions – provides a reason for listening to see if they are right.
What kind of words are they? (can you find x verbs/nouns)
Find the words. Competition. Two pupils come up to the board. Find somebody who’s trying to get a job (applicant) Find the opposite of badly (well). Splat the word. The game increases motivation and will get the SS in a positive frame of mind before the actual listening. (Can get a couple of teachers up for 30secs: splat is fun!)
Links between words: predicting content. How do you think tattoos and piercings are linked to interviews?
Ask questions to bring background knowledge to the topic: What’s your dream job? Are interviews easy? What should you do in an interview?
All of these activities serve to get the student invested in the listening activity (activating background knowledge and making predictions) and they also help them with the vocabulary they are going to encounter (learning vocabulary from their peers – for example they’re watching their peers play splat).
Watch up to 1:15
Things to pick out from start of video.
What was Dunblane?
1:15 – 1:25 SOUND OFF Watch twice. Use visual clues.
Tell partner Make predictions about what they are saying. Justify predictions.
Watch once more to check.
Pick out the accent. Important to give students experience with a variety of accents. I learned French and German at university and spent an academic year in Austria. Shock on arrivial, could understand next to nothing. Could have been Chinese. Got used to it fairly quickly, as you start to notice the patterns. + ENRICHING
2:18 – 2:48
Teachers get into pairs. One teacher closes their eyes. The teacher who can see the screen is going to give a running commentary of the action, telling one lie. Afterwards, thier partner is going to watch the action and see if they can spot the lie. Tell them the duration (important: they have to know when they have to have told the lie by).
Concentration is required. Watch intently, speak clearly. The listener needs to pay full attention to be able to complete the task.
Once again, we are speculating here about what the lie could be.
It was quite difficult to be
How does Speakout second edition approach the video?
We have a preview section in which we personalise the theme: students discuss their own experiences in sport. The activities students need to complete during the DVD viewing are graded. With authentic materials, we often talk about grading the task. Whether material is accessible or not to students often depends on the task we set them to do. Here they have to do true or false exercises and answer personal follow-up questions.
A key part of any input in the classroom, be it a reading, listening or video exercise is to encourage output on the part of the student. Here the video acts as inspiration for students to give a talk on a recent challenge and achievement as well as a piece of writing in response to the topic.
You might think that the video could do with a bit of extra exploitation and one of the key changes to the second edition of Speakout is…
Any questions: you can come and ask me: I’m here for the rest of today and tomorrow. If you haven’t already taken a look at our stand, come and say hi If any questions come to you at a later date, get in touch!
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Embracing Authenticity, by Michael Brand - Madrid, Spain
23 April 2016
intended for native speakers, not
or not to
work it out
Is there a
It flew away.
Last week I went
for a walk and saw
It was standing on
I found him
affable, yet they
had told me he
Create a risk-
Credit: Steve Oakes
“Good learners learn to live
with uncertainty and develop
strategies for making sense of
the target language without
wanting to understand every
Rubin and Thompson
This is authentic material, so it’s
You don’t need to understand
all of it
Shall I play it again?
Wow, that was difficult wasn’t
If you don’t know a word, look
Create a risk-
I think you’ll enjoy this
What DID you understand?
What strategies can you use?
Two elementary level English
students have recently arrived
in England with their host
families. Someone invites them
to the theatre.
No thanks, I won’t
Great, what time do
can students relate
more than one
It’s a _________ day here in Madrid, with
a __________ breeze.
So you found a good restaurant in La
Latina, ____________ do you want to go?
This curry is too ______________ to eat.
hot when how strong
how cool why
Define / Put
it in a
Find 5 verbs
Find the words:
where you play
heard the words
Work in pairs
One student watches the video (on mute) and provides a
running commentary to their parter who is facing the
other way. They tell a lie.
Spot their lie!
Watch intently, speak clearly
Full concentration required to complete the task
with a twist
Back to back (+lie)
At lower levels you could:
Choose a section where the action changes more slowly (or put
the video in slow motion!)
Allow the pupil who is speaking to see the section once prior to
Pupils do a summary as opposed to a running commentary
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