I discovered a new way of approaching reading activities by breaking longer texts down into shorter units and intertwining speaking into reading.
In previous lessons, my 17-year-olds had discussed gender inequality, which, I think, is not an exactly light topic for a group of teenagers. I felt that at some point my students had lots of opinions to share but not enough vocabulary to do so.
I was lucky and I found a collection of suitable short texts on the topic (all in one handout). I estimated the language to be near the B2 level, which is slightly above my students’ current level of proficiency. Each text is followed by a couple of questions related to the topic. So a text about female equality in Hollywood is accompanied by questions such as How do you explain this gap in pay level? or What do you think should be done to reduce the salary gap?. I liked this because the questions didn’t just check comprehension but were a valuable follow-up to the reading.
Before the lesson, I placed the texts, which I had cut up, on desks around the classroom. Then I put students in pairs and got them to silently read the texts on the desk for about two minutes. When the time was up or when their heads were up, I told them to start discussing the questions. After some time (5 minutes?) I stopped them and asked each pair to move to another desk (with a new text). The procedure continued in the same vein. I went round the classroom and monitored.
When everybody had seen all the texts, I asked the students to go back to their seats (in a horseshoe). Then I gave each student a handout with all the texts on it. I asked them to highlight 3 vocab items (something they had to look up/ weren’t sure about) in each of the texts. Then we discussed the vocabulary as a whole class.
I asked them to circle one question they had found particularly interesting during the speaking stage. We discussed those together as a class. At this point, the students had a larger active vocabulary at their disposal than before.
I think such an activity could be done with every longer text if it’s desirable. The teacher can break it down into passages and insert questions after each passage for students to discuss. I applied this method because I found the handout too long and dense; the fast finishers would soon have had nothing to do while the weaker students would have struggled for ages before they could get down to speaking. Throughout the activity, I felt that the students concentrated on reading much better due to the reasonable length of the texts and because the reading was interrupted by speaking. In other words, I found the speaking intermezzos natural and refreshing.