Collaborative, student-generated reading lessons

Level: strong upper-intermediate to advanced; FCE+ level exam classes.
Ages: older teens to adults.
Type: student-generated collaborative reading tasks.
Skills: reading; writing; speaking; listening.
Language focus: vocabulary from the reading texts.

Note: in this lesson, students collaborate in pairs to read and discuss a text, and to prepare tasks for another pair to complete in a future reading lesson.

Materials:

Preparation: you will need a different article per pair of students; and 3 copies of each article you print.

Procedure:

    Optional Introduction
    Giving lesson aims/advance organiser

  • Explain to your students that they are going to be working together to read a text and create a reading lesson for their classmates.
  • Brainstorming (activating prior knowledge)

  • Ask your students to think back to previous reading lessons they’ve had. Ask them what stages there are in a typical reading lesson. Board their ideas, if necessary eliciting when each stage takes place. You may well end up with something like this:
    Stage:
    1. Talking about the general topic of the reading text.
    2. Doing a vocabulary exercise with words or expressions from the text.
    3. Reading the text quickly to answer one or two questions about it.
    4. Reading the text more carefully and answering more difficult comprehension questions.
    5. Doing some vocabulary or grammar work based on the text.
    6. Having a small-group discussion based on information or topics from the text.
  • Divide your students into pairs. Ask them to discuss why we often stage reading lessons as above/as boarded. What is the point of each stage in the lesson? Give them a few minutes to share their ideas, then get class feedback. Elicit and board their answers. Your board may now look something like this:
    Stage:Purpose:
    1. Talking about the general topic of the reading text.Activating prior/existing knowledge.
    2. Doing a vocabulary exercise with words or expressions from the text.Checking/increasing lexis needed for the reading tasks to come.
    3. Reading the text quickly to answer one or two questions about it.Reading for gist/ the main idea; checking general understanding of the text.
    4. Reading the text more carefully and answering more difficult comprehension questions.Reading for detail; checking more detailed understanding of the text.
    5. Doing some vocabulary or grammar work based on the text.Building/consolidating lexis/grammar awareness.
    6. Having a small-group discussion based on information or topics from the text.Using the new vocabulary or grammatical structures; helping transfer into working memory.
    The Reading Lesson

    Giving lesson aims/ advance organiser

  • If you haven’t done so yet, explain to your students that they are going to be working together to read a text and create a reading lesson for their classmates.
  • Setting the first task

  • Show your students the different articles you have collected (see “materials”, above). Tell them/board the different topics the texts are about. Divide your class into pairs and ask each pair to decide together which topic they would most like to do a reading lesson on. Allocate the texts accordingly, and note down which pairs want which articles.
  • Ask each pair to collect their chosen text from you, as well as a dictionary and some blank paper, and to give their article to another pair. Explain that this other pair will be creating questions and tasks for them to answer or complete.
  • When your students have collected and passed on their chosen texts, they should be sitting in pairs and have another pair’s set of 3 texts in front of them. Tell them they will only need 2 copies to prepare their tasks; the third copy is to ensure all students have a text they can take home and read again when they like.
  • Activating prior knowledge

  • Ask each pair to look at the title of the text in front of them, as well as any pictures it may have. Ask them to brainstorm ideas – what will this article be about? Encourage them to be bold and imaginative, and allow a minute or two for this task.
  • Ask the pairs to read the first paragraph of the article and check their ideas. Ask them to write 5 or 6 general questions about the text’s topic. For example: if the article was about the life and death of Steve Jobs of Apple Computers, you could ask – how important is digital technology in your life? Do you have, or would you like to have, an iPhone? etc. Set a strict time limit (perhaps 5 minutes) for this task; and monitor and help your students form their questions.
  • Reading for detail/scripted cooperation

  • Divide each pair into A and B. Ask A and B to read the first half of the text silently, underlining any words or phrases they’re not sure about, then ask A to give an oral summary, which B listens to and then comments on, noting errors or omissions. You might want to demonstrate this with a student, using the first paragraph of the text in front of them (you should be student B). Explain that, when they have done this, they should work with their partner to elaborate on what they’ve read – checking unknown language with each other and the dictionary, creating associations or images, relating the text to what they already know about the topic, creating examples or analogies, etc. Again, you might like to demonstrate this with a student.
  • Board the stages for this activity: (1) both read the first half of the text, underlining unknown vocabulary; (2) A gives an oral summary of what they’ve read; (3) B listens and responds, saying anything A missed or got wrong; (4) A and B elaborate on what they’ve read, checking unknown vocabulary, creating examples and analogies, relating it to what they know already about the topic, etc. Elicit that As give a spoken summary, and that both students should read only the first half of the text. Set a strict time limit (perhaps about 15 minutes) and monitor and help your students where necessary. As you go round each pair, encourage them to underline any words or expressions they don’t understand.
  • After they’ve read and elaborated upon the first half of the text, ask each pair to work together to write 4 or 5 comprehension questions, using information from the article, for the other pair to answer. Again, help your students formulate their questions and set a time limit (5 minutes?) for this task.
  • Now they have questions for the first half of the text, it’s time to read the second half. Ask the members of each pair to swap roles, so B now gives the oral summary and A responds; they should read, comment on and then elaborate on the second half of the text, as they did with the first half. Again, set a strict time limit (15 minutes?) for this task.
  • When they have finished, ask the pairs to work together to think of and write 3 or 4 more comprehension questions to test the other pair with.
  • Working with vocabulary from the text

  • Ask your students to look back over the words and expressions they underlined as they were reading the article. Tell them they can use some of these to create a vocabulary task for the other pair. Elicit from the class some different types of vocabulary task (gapfills, matching words to definitions, etc.) and ask each pair to choose one to prepare (it doesn’t matter if they all choose the same task type). Elicit that students should choose between 6 and 8 words or expressions to work on, and set a strict time limit for this task (maybe 10 minutes). Monitor the students as they work, helping them create their task.
  • DIY gapfill for early finishers

  • Should any students whizz through this vocabulary task, and complete it to your satisfaction, you can ask them to look back through the text and choose between 5 and 10 words to blank out. Make sure they do this thoroughly, so the words are not visible through the ink, and to do this on one copy of the article only (this is where the 3rd copy comes in handy!). This can be an extra language task for the other pair to complete.
  • Reviewing the text/using vocabulary encountered within it

  • Finally, and if you have time, ask your students to recall their discussions about the two halves of the article they read. Ask them to work together to write 3 or 4 interesting discussion questions based on their own elaborations of the text. Again, set a time limit (perhaps 8 minutes), and monitor and help your students form their questions.
  • Reflections on the lesson

  • If you still have time, and before you collect their texts and you can ask your students individually to note down (1) what they enjoyed about the lesson; (2) anything they didn’t like about it; and (3) any techniques they’ve learnt which can help them prepare their own reading tasks at home. If time, they can compare their answers in pairs; this could either lead into a whole-class discussion about how students can improve their English through reading and how they can approach reading in English at home, or you could collect in their reflections to look through and consider when designing future lessons for your class.
  • Collecting their work

  • Your students have now thoroughly read and discussed an English text, hopefully extending their vocabulary in the process, and prepared a variety of tasks based around the article. Collect in the texts, noting down the names of the students who originally chose them; they can do these tasks in a future reading lesson (I recommend doing these tasks in the same week, or in a lesson as soon as possible after this one, to encourage motivation).

Acknowledgement: The idea of scripted cooperation, which forms the heart of the lesson idea above, was developed by Donald Dansereau and his colleagues – you can find out more about his collaborative learning technique here.

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