|English for Specific Purposes (ESP): Teaching English for Specific Purposes (Peace Corps, 1986, 110 p.)|
|Chapter Five: Materials selection and development|
The materials you teach should be chosen primarily for their relevance to the content area. You may select them from authentic materials used in content-area instruction or from commercial materials. Developing materials is time- and energy-consuming, so you should take advantage of any materials which are already available for your use. The Resources Section (Appendix A of this Manual) describes materials that are available through Peace Corps' ICE. All of the materials listed have been evaluated for use in Peace Corps ESP programs and are highly recommended. You are encouraged to order copies.
When choosing texts for use in the language classroom, your goal is to select passages that challenge the students without being too difficult. If you want to determine in advance whether a particular text will be too difficult for your students, you can use the following procedure to find out whether your students will be able to understand it. This exercise should not be overdone -use it to check a few passages you plan to use and then use those as general guidelines for selection of other texts.
Following is a procedure for construction of a cloze passage to check reading level and difficulty. Such a passage is easily made and easily scored. Follow these steps:
1. Choose a passage of approximately 250 words from the text you are considering for use in the classroom.
2. Reproduce the 200 words on a mimeo worksheet, deleting every 5th word and replacing it with a blank. (Use 50 blanks for an easy percentage calculation when you correct them.) Note that names and numbers should be skipped when they come up as potential blanks, and the next word chosen.
3. Number the blanks for easy scoring. If you provide an answer sheet, students will not need- to write on the exercise itself and you will be able to refuse it.
4. Stress to the students that this is not a test. Tell them you are determining whether the material is at the right level of difficulty for them to read. Ask them to read the passage and write an appropriate word in each blank. Do not time the test; give students ample time to complete it.
Evaluating the results:
1. For ease and speed in correcting the papers, accept as correct answers only those words from the original text which were deleted. Students may provide synonyms which are appropriate, but accepting these will not help you decide if the reading selection is appropriate for the whole class. (Looking at such answers may help you when working with students individually or as they work together in diagnostic or learning situations.)
2. Compute the average score of the whole class's performance. Second language students will not be able to fill in more than 60-70% of even easy material. Evaluate the results according to these guidelines:
If the class's average score is greater than 53% (independent reading level), they can probably read the story on their own or at home If the average score is less than 43% (frustration level) it is too difficult even for classwork. The ideal is to get a set of scores for all students which is greater than 43% and less than 53% This material can then be used for instructional purposes.
(From John F. Haskell, in Classroom Practices in Adult ESL, TESOL, Washington, D.C. Copyright 1978 by Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Reprinted by permission of the publisher and John Haskell.)
These figures are not absolute, but they can provide you with an initial indication of the suitability of materials for classwork and independent reading. Experiment with your own group to find the right level of material.
Look at potential materials in terms of their comprehensibility to the students. In order to judge complexity, look at the following features:
1. Length: shorter texts will to easier to read, in general, than longer texts.
2. Internal complexity: texts made up of simple sentences will generally be easier to read than texts which contain many complex constructions.
3. Density of new information: texts whose content is already somewhat familiar to students will be easier to read than those with unfamiliar content.
4. Presence of supportive graphics: Pictures, charts, and other graphics provide context and make reading easier.
5. Organizational pattern: texts which follow a chronological or logical progression in the sequence of events or actions are more likely to be understood.
6. Degree of abstraction: texts that provide a concrete discussion of events rather than analysis or speculation will be clearer.
If passages are complex and dense, they should be short so that they can be read intensively. But students also need practice in developing their reading speed, and to do this they need to read longer selections as well. Passages which follow a chronological order or. provide clear descriptions can be long and still be accessible to the students. Supportive graphics are particularly important. Select texts which present a concept clearly through visual or graphic examples. Visual aids contribute much to the comprehensibility of a reading passage.
Other aspects of texts which affect their readability are the relevance of the topic to the students' interests, the task students are asked to do with the material, and the cultural context of the reading. Material which is not apparently relevant will be more difficult for students to comprehend. Tasks appropriate to different levels of reading complexity are suggested in Chapter Three, Developing Language Skills. Texts should also be assessed to ensure that they are not so culture-bound as to be incomprehensible to learners from other cultures. The cultural context is crucial because materials whose cultural content the students find objectionable will not only be incomprehensible, but may in some cases also alienate them.
Students do not have to understand every part of every reading passage they work from. You can use materials from which students can gain some skill or insight, even if total comprehensibility is not achieved. Students will accept this if they are told that they are reading a particular text for specific information or for a particular purpose; for example, if students are asked to scan an article to find the answer to questions you give them. The text can then later be "recycled" at a higher level as the students gain in proficiency.
Developing appropriate materials takes lots of time and effort, but the end product is usually something that meets the specific needs of your students better than commercial materials. You will probably have a good collection of materials you have prepared yourself by the end of your course. You can ensure that other Volunteers who follow you in your position will be able to make good use of your work if you label each exercise and organize your materials in a way which will be clear to someone new coming into your job.
Peace Corps' ICE is also constantly looking for Volunteer developed materials which have broader value. Send copies of the materials you develop to ICE so that they can review them for possible publication. In this way materials with wider applicability can be made available to other Volunteers teaching- ESP in the same content area.
This Manual stresses the use of authentic subject area reading texts as the core for your instructional units. If you are unable to find texts at a reading level appropriate for your students, you may consider simplifying or adapting more difficult materials. Such a process should be undertaken with caution, however. Studies have shown that when material is simplified, it often becomes more difficult to understand. Features which contribute to comprehensibility are unintentionally eliminated by the native speaker who attempts to simplify a text. The relationships between sentences may become unclear, or natural redundancy may be eliminated. The coherence of the passage may suffer.
If you cannot find texts at the right-level of difficulty for your students, however, the following guidelines can help you to adapt texts for students with low-level skills.
First, start with an original text which expresses an idea or presents some information that you want your students to know. Reduce this text to a list of separate points. Then recombine these points, using maximum redundancy and clarity. For example: Figure 15 is an article from TIME magazine with content interesting to a science class. Some main points were selected from the article:
1. A massive object has been discovered in space.
2. The object was discovered when physicists realized that what appeared to be two quasars was actually the same quasar.
3. The light from the quasars is diverted by the intense gravitational field of the object in space.
These points, along with details from the article, were used to develop the simplified text in Figure 15. The diagram was also simplified to eliminate exbraneous information and to highlight the most relevant features The important point here is that instead of starting with a complex text and simplifying it, you should start with the ideas that are important and compose a text yourself. In this way the features of natural language will best be preserved.
Often authentic materials can be used in ESP classrooms without simplification, especially if the students' reading ability is at a higher level than their other skills, as is often the case. Some commercial publishers use authentic reading passages in -their texts, glossing words that students may not know. An example of such a passage is given in Figure 16.
If you select reading passages from subject area texts or articles, you will have to develop your own reading comprehension activities to accompany them. The type of questions you ask depends, first, on whether the students are reading intensively or extensively (see Chapter Three, READING.) Questions for intensive reading first ask about concrete information and general ideas. In both types of reading, questions should be asked about the author's point of view or the student's own opinion of what was said. In extensive reading, check only comprehension of important points in the story, not minor details.
Following are some types of comprehension questions, followed by examples based on Figure 16:
1) Questions which refer to persons, identification of place, etc. Example: What are some American products that are recognized for their high quality? (Answer: commercial aircraft, tractors, sheets, plastics, chemicals, machine tools.)
2) Finding sentences or words that are redundant (that express the same meaning). Example: Find three words in paragraph five that have the same meaning as the word "company. " (Answer: pacesetters, industries, makers.)
3) Making a list of words which belong to the same category. Example: Find several words in the article which are used to describe high quality. (Answer: long-wearing, stronger, purer, flawless, etc.)
4) Questions which ask what is being referred to in the text when a reference is make to some other part of the text. Example: What does "the word" in the first sentence of paragraph six refer to? (Answer: quality.)
5) Find and underline the sentence or sentences which express the main idea of the passage. (Answer: The first sentence of paragraphs two and three.)
6) Outlining. Initially, you can prepare a skeleton outline for the students to fill in. (See example in Chapter Four, Program Design). Eventually, they can prepare their own. The outline should be designed to reveal discourse organization features; that is, how the author has organized the material. Focus on transitions and other words used to structure the material. The outline should reveal the intent of the writer, and what and where new information is introduced.
Figure 15. (Opposite Page) Reprinted with permission from the May 19, 1986 issues of TIME magazine. Copyright° byTime-Life,lnC. All rights reserved.
Figure 16 "The Battle for Quality Begins" by J. Main. FORTUNE magazine, December 29 1980. (c) Time Inc. All rights reserved. From Business World by R. Speegle and W. B. Ciesecice. Copyright ° 198 by Oxford University Press. Reprinted by permission.
Figure 16. Continued
7) With texts that are chronologically organized or which describe a process, students can be given a scrambled version to re-order.
8) Students can be asked to make a sketch of something which is described in the text.
9) Students can be asked to summarize the text, including showing how the author perceives and addresses the audience.
10) Students can be asked to give an opinion of the text.
Because you will probably be unable to order class sets of books for your students, the commercial materials you do have available will be useful to you more as resources than as textbooks. You will be able to select those activities and exercises which are relevant to your students' needs. See Appendix A for titles and descriptions of materials available through Peace Corps' ICE.
Chapter Six: Program management and evaluation
Depending on your teaching experience, you may at first feel overwhelmed by the large classes and diverse needs that you face as an ESP teacher. The purpose of this chapter is to provide some tips to help you manage the language learning environment in the classroom.
Initially, students may experience problems in listening comprehension, remaining attentive, and following instructions. Your first class meetings, then, should be seen as opportunities to establish a routine, communicate your objectives, and allow the students to become accustomed to your teaching style.
You may have to adapt your style of speaking at the beginning of your program so that students can understand you. Some controversy does exist in language teaching about whether or not teachers should adapt their speaking style. It is argued that this exposes the students to inauthentic language and will not prepare them for understanding English spoken at a normal rate of speed. Of course, your ultimate goal is to enable your students to understand natural speech, spoken at normal speed, but at first you may need to speak more distinctly, allow more frequent pauses than normal, and say things more than once and in more than one way in order to be understood. As students get to know you better their understanding will improve.
The students will feel most comfortable and secure in their learning situation if you design a program which is well structured and in which your expectations for the students are clear. Take extra time in the initial class meetings to explain how each exercise should be approached. This time will be well spent, as later class meetings will then fall into a routine, assignments will be completed as expected, and students will recognize their steady progress.
Make your initial introduction of concepts and vocabulary highly contextualized through demonstration. Do not deny students the extra help that contextual clues give, or comprehension will be more difficult and the students will not develop strategies for exploiting context clues. The visual is the most important clue. A typical lesson should demonstrate. Use language, gestures, and eye contact to establish meaning, and take advantage of the students' knowledge of the world. Tasks appropriate to this kind of treatment include description of a process, conducting of experiments, and explanations of charts or graphs. When you ask questions, discourage rapid reaction replies. Have a slow paced classroom in which everyone has time to think. If you are lecturing, stop every few minutes to allow students to get down notes, discuss briefly among themselves and ask questions. You may find it valuable to circulate through the class from time to time to discuss and answer questions.
Use short handouts and visuals. Give a handout after your first treatment' of a theme to give students the opportunity for listening comprehension practice before they read the handout to confirm, correct, or expand their notes.
When students ask questions in class:
1) Do not say too much. Omit all information that is not demanded by the question. Do not give in to the temptation to show everything you know about the subject.
2) Leave time and opportunity for students to answer each other's questions.
3) If you observe that students do not appear to understand the question, you may need to paraphrase it for the benefit of the other students.
Use class time to go over the exercises the students have completed. The sooner they get feedback on their answers, the more learning will take place. Students enjoy this activity as they check their own work. You can save time and ensure fairness by preparing small tokens (cardboard or slips of paper) with a student's name on each. Shuffle the tokens and c-ill students' names in random order, rather than stopping at each question to call on a student with raised hand. This will give every student an equal opportunity to participate and will ensure that students remain attentive. It will also give you an indication of which students do not understand the exercise.
Many arguments can be made in favor of group work. It allows you to assign different tasks to students with different needs. It stimulates classroom communication since it obliges students to discuss the problem with each other. It fosters cooperative activity which gives students with non-equivalent skill levels an opportunity to interact and learn from each other.
In the typical ESP situation with large classes, inflexible furniture arrangements, and students who are unaccustomed to working in groups, it may not be possible to use group work effectively. Do not feel that you must break the class into groups in order to teach them. Your students may be most comfortable with the lecture format, and if your class session has a variety of activities as suggested above, group work is not necessary for language learning.
However, if you are able to do group work and want it to be most effective, the following principles should be followed:
1) When you set a question for the group to focus on, frame the question in several alternative forms to be sure it is understood. Allow sufficient time for thought and be sure students know just how much time they will have ("You've got 5-8 minutes to think about this. " )
2) Small groups are best. Have no more than three to five students in a group. Spread the good students out (good students are not necessarily only those who are good in English, but also include those who are good in the content area you are teaching.)
3) Give a short, manageable task (5-20 minutes). Make sure groups know what to do -- ask them to repeat your instructions, say what materials are needed, or outline how they will accomplish the task.
4) Circulate among the groups as they work to be sure groups are on task and to answer their questions.
5) If groups are making class presentations, allow the presentations to continue only until the problem they are working on has been solved. Groups which do not get an opportunity to present on any given day will have an opportunity another day. Do not allow presentations to become dragged out and boring for the other students.
Errors are a natural part of second language learning. It is impossible to learn without making errors. Because of this, students' production of spoken and written language is full of errors. The teacher cannot correct every error, and even if it were possible to do so, excessive error correction intimidates the students, decreases their self-confidence and makes them hesitate to use the language. Therefore the teacher must decide how and when errors will be corrected and communicate this policy to the students.
Errors should be corrected only when it can be done without interfering with communication. If you are speaking with a student individually, you should be focusing on the content of what the student is saying, and not on the structure of the language. Error correction in conversation will certainly cause the student to "clam up. " In class recitations, questions which are comprehensible as stated should not be corrected, since this destroys the flow of the interaction and often the real question is lost as the student struggles for grammatical accuracy. Evaluate student responses to your questions according to the results of the response, that is, if the response answers a question on content in a way that is comprehensible, do not make grammatical corrections. When you or other students do not understand a student's question or answer, correction is desirable to get at the intended meaning. And of course, if the purpose of the question is to verify a point of grammar, correction is necessary. This policy can be discussed with the students so that they understand how and when you will make corrections, and soon they will find it natural that not all spoken errors are corrected when they occur.
Writing is the ideal medium for error correction, and most students expect that errors will be corrected in their written work. If on particular assignments you do not plan to correct all errors because you want to encourage students to write extensively without worrying about mistakes, explain this to them so that they realize that what they have written is not necessarily error-free, even if you have not corrected it.
The most noticeable errors a student makes may not be the most important. Errors in article usage, for example, while quite noticeable to the native speaker, do not often interfere with understanding. Focus on those errors which disrupt communication, rather than those which are surface mistakes.
Testing,-an important aspect of teaching, is, however, often overstressed. Teaching should not be confused with testing, and material which has not yet been taught should not be tested. The purpose of daily classroom activities is learning. Students should not be put on the spot to demonstrate instant proficiency in whatever is being taught.
Appropriate testing will, however, give you an accurate picture of the students' abilities and progress.
A daily comprehension quiz at the end of each class period is a quick way for students to judge their grasp of what has been taught. Such a quiz might consist of five questions which require a yes/no, true/false, or one word answer. this can be given in the last five minutes of class and checked by the students themselves as a closing activity.
Forma examinations should be based on what has been taught in class. Your initial performance objectives can be the basis for test questions. Be sure that the exam relies on the same skills that class activities are designed to build. An oral test, for example, would be a poor test medium if the development of oral skills is not one of the objectives of your program. Use formats that are familiar to students from class activities.
Your best students will want more from their English program than you are able to provide. They need help in learning how to go about improving their English on their own. You can offer them the following suggestions:
1. Take advantage of every opportunity to have an English language experience: see a movie in English, listen to the radio, go to a lecture.
2. Find a news program on the radio (from the BBC or other source) and listen to it every day. Comprehension will increase rapidly as the daily listening reinforces vocabulary heard previously. If students find that initially they cannot understand enough to benefit from listening, suggest they read the newspaper in their native language before listening to the English. Knowing the big stories of the day in advance will make the radio program more comprehensible.
3. Read for pleasure in English. This point cannot be overstressed. Illustrated English language magazines are available in most parts of the world, and students will benefit from the contextualization they offer. Point out to them that when they read for pleasure they should not focus on understanding every single word; instead they should set their dictionaries aside and strive to comprehend the global meaning of what they read.
4. Take every opportunity to communicate with native speakers of English. Such opportunities include both conversing with native speakers, when possible, and exchanging letters with native speakers. A pen pal can provide good practice in informal writing as well as information about the culture of English-speaking countries.
In some cases you may be preparing students for a program of study in the U.S. or U.K. If so, you should incorporate cultural information into your curriculum to help them in their transition. Following are some topics to include:
Greetings and Introduction: Formal and informal situations, when to use first names, how to keep a conversation going.
Punctuality: American standards and expectations. How to apologize for being late. How to talk about time ("it's a quarter after," nit's fifteen minutes " etc.)
Asking questions: Asking for directions or other information.
University life: The U.S. system of education, features of campus life. How to talk with professors and other students.
Food: Common foods, types of restaurants.
Medical care: Vocabulary relating to health and illness, prescription vs. over-the-counter drugs- types of medical care available.
Male-Female Relationships: The roles of men and women in American society; dealing with women and men in all walks of life.
Transportations: Air, bus (inter and intra-city), train, and automobile. How to read a schedule. Driving laws.
Shopping: Types of stores. U.S. money; use of checks, tipping customs.
Other information which your students will find useful includes:
- Geographic and demographic features of the U.S.
- Weather and climate
- The U.S. political system: state and federal government.