CELTA tip: the language skills assignment

I think the language skills topic on the CELTA is incredibly useful. As someone who rarely uses textbooks, I’m always searching for authentic reading and listening materials to use in class. Topic 3 on the CELTA gave me a solid overview of how to plan a receptive skills lesson, and the basics I learnt from this module still underpin my practice.

I’ve written an overview of the assignment and a few tips below. Here is a copy of my assignment, and here is a link to the authentic text on the BBC website.

What do I have to do?

Basically this, as the CELTA syllabus states:

celta assignment 3

That’s a snippet from the CELTA handbook. It only mentions the criteria for reading lessons, but there’s a breakdown for the other skills too. You’ll find this on page 8, and further info on page 17.

So, you have to prove you can do all of the above in a written assignment. This means designing your own lesson based on an authentic text (reading or listening). You must include opportunities in your lesson for students to also practise their productive skills (speaking or writing).

The assignment outline I was given was something like this:

Total words: 1000

Task: Choose one authentic text from the options your tutor will give you

  • Consider your students needs, ability, etc.
  • Don’t adapt or grade the text – if you do then it’s not authentic

Part 1: justify your choice of text (150 words)

  • Why is it suitable for your learners? Reference your background reading (Harmer, Scrivener, etc.)

Part 2: Receptive skill task design (550 words)

  • Talk about how you will introduce the text topic
  • Design an initial reading task for the students (e.g. a gist task)
  • Talk about any vocabulary that you need to pre-teach
  • Design a task where students read for specific detail
  • Explain what the tasks achieve and why they are suitable/useful. Mention background reading when you do this

Part 3: Productive skill task design (300 words)

  • Think of a follow-up task based on the text. This should be either a speaking or a writing activity
  • Write a little rationale on why you’ve chosen this task, how it exploits the text, why is it good for your learners, etc.

That’s an abridged version of the assignment, you’ll no doubt get more detailed info from your tutor, but that is pretty much it.

Tips for task design

My lesson was for upper-intermediate learners.

Part 2: for a lead-in, get the students to talk about the topic. My text was about crazy things that people do while they are sleepwalking. What better way to get students interested in the text than having them discuss that very thing?

What crazy things might people do while they sleepwalk?

I got their ideas up on the board

celta assignment three

If you do something like this then you have the basis of your first task.

You have 2 minutes to read the text. Does the text mention any of your ideas on the board?

Students scan the text for relevant information, but also they read for general meaning (gist) as the topics above may appear in the text but worded differently.

I find this is a great initial task for reading/listening texts. Using student ideas gives them a bit of investment in the text too. I use this all the time:

(Another CELTA lesson based on a listening text about New Zealand)

Lead-in: what do you know about New Zealand? (elicit and board responses)

Orientate students to text

Gist Task: Are any of your ideas mentioned in the text?

(A lesson I made last year on a listening text about biscuits injuring people)

Lead-in: what injuries might you get from biscuits (elicit and board responses)

Orientate students to text

Gist Task: Are any of your ideas mentioned in the text?

You can find another example in my lesson about Boudica

Detail task:

True or False questions are generally a good idea for a detail task. I won’t go into much detail here as you’ll get plenty of input about this on your course, but what I would say is this. T/F questions don’t always need a clear answer – you can manipulate your questions in such a way that will provoke discussion among students. By making the answer to a question slightly ambiguous, students may express their opinions, and in doing so they

a) might show a deeper understanding of the text

b) engage more in the text and topic

c) practise more English!

etc.

You can see an example of this in my assignment. Another idea is to include a question which may involve your pre-taught vocabulary. This is a good way to check that they really did understand it!

Part 3: On reflection, I think my productive skills task was a bit rubbish to be honest. You could do better I’m sure. However, whether it’s good or not, you can still get a good mark if you justify WHY you chose that task. My task involved creativity, my students were very creative, so…

a) it was relevant to the learners

b) it showed I learnt a bit about my learners in previous classes

c) it showed that I used what I learnt to inform my practice

So, I guess my main tip for this assignment is to justify everything you do. Think carefully about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Mention your learners throughout the assignment – think about what they gain from the tasks you’ve set. Get a few quotes in the assignment from experts but don’t go overboard – 1000 words isn’t much. Finally, remember what you do in this assignment as it’s extremely useful when you’re starting out!

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10 comments

  1. What an interesting post. I love the online article that you chose about sleepwalking and this must have led to lots of laughter in class and made for a highly enjoyable lesson during which the students would have been motivated to fully engage.

    In your CELTA assignment you mention the tendency for learners to take a top down approach and I agree that by upper Int stage, they will have usually developed the confidence and ability to do this, aware of the advantage of first skimming a text to evaluate it’s worth, then to scan for specific detail before reading as a whole in more depth.An essential skill for exams in fact!

    However, I am currently working with low-level level ESOL learners and It is quite difficult for them to ‘let go’ of their need to translate most, if not all, unfamiliar vocabulary making reading a real chore.This ‘bottom- up’ approach can really dampen their enthusiasm for reading reducing reading to just a way of learning lists of new vocabulary.. Finding suitable authentic texts is a challenge but even in the article you used, there are certain paragraphs I could take out and use.

    For low level learners, one source of simple authentic material might be the ‘Good Deed Feed’ in the Metro newspaper found in railway stations. There are lovely succinct ‘thank you’ messages which are great for past forms and vocabulary.

    Another thing I’ve used is the ‘Tiny Texts’ website https://tinytexts.wordpress.com/ , but as this is written or compiled specifically for learners of English, it can’t really be described as ‘authentic’ in the strict sense of the word. And for that matter what about graded readers and adult Quick Reads which are abridged texts? I think they pay an important role in making a wider range of literature available to learners.

    You’ve reminded me of and reinforced my belief in the value and importance of authentic material whenever possible. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the comment Peter, you’ve got me thinking about authentic reading tasks for lower level learners. Rather than ramble on here, I’ll send you an email with something that might help… I really like the tinytexts link – you’re right though about it not being strictly authentic. I don’t know exactly where I stand on the ‘all texts in class must be authentic’ viewpoint which seems to have been drummed into me on my recent course. Very interesting to think about though, authentic texts are undoubtedly valuable but giving low-level learners access to them is often both difficult and time consuming!

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    2. I remember reading an article years ago on text choice and student level. There’s a theory that you can use almost any text with any level. It’s the TASK that is designed to the student level. The article also suggested that if you are aiming to use authentic texts with learners, begin with gist tasks for a while. This raises confidence that students CAN identify purpose, origin, where important information might be in a text and the importance of layout, visuals and graphics in identifying meaning.
      I used some texts from Grellet ‘Developing Reading Skills’ (1981) for a ,it of my ideas and texts.

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  2. I really love this lesson plan and article and your blog in general is fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing. I love it so much that I’ve chosen to use this article as a basis for my CELTA course final teaching practice (with credit to your blog of course). Would you have any suggestions for using this article as the basis for a speaking activity? Or any other ideas how I could exploit this text? I have 60 mins. to fill and not sure how I’m going to do it. Thank you so much again for the wonderful blog. It’s been very helpful to me during my CELTA.

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    1. Hi, cheers for visiting my blog. Hope the CELTA is going well. A speaking task… hmmm. What about giving students a prompt about something crazy they’ve done in their sleep (e.g. ‘fed a lion’ or something). Give them time to write notes about how this might have happened (I don’t know, they were on safari or something, or they live next to a zoo and they climbed the fence). They then share their stories with each other, and their partner asks questions to get more info. Then they feed back about which story was most believable, crazy, etc…
      That’s off the top of my head – I’m sure you could think of a better idea though!
      Good luck with the course 🙂

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  3. I’m revisiting this post because my trainees are about to do this assignment. I thought I’d add a couple of things-

    The choice of text:
    1.If you have to find your own text, it helps to choose something that the students will have some personal response to. For example, something from the local area, something that’s in the news, etc.

    2.Choose a text with clear headings and subheadings, pictures or other visual clues. This will add to the context and maybe you can mix up the sub-headings and pictures so students have to match them correctly- A Gist task.

    3.Don’t choose something just because it appeals to you without thinking about it’s more general appeal. Things that work- Tourist Information, leaflets about local events, articles that compare or present lists (the 10 most/best/worst of something), articles about ceremonies like weddings or cultural events like Christmas. These are rich for students talking about comparisons after they have read.

    The following task: In the assignment, you will need to follow the receptive skills tasks with productive skills tasks (speaking or writing).

    1.Remember the receptive skills work (reading or listening) needs to be followed by a speaking or writing task in the assignment. The texts in 3 above will all give students something to talk or write about.

    2.Tasks that allow students to use the text as a model or a prompt for their speaking or writing, will work well.

    Would you say that’s useful Pete?

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    1. yeah really useful! Anything else to add? We could make that into a separate post if you want. Much better to have input from an actual CELTA trainer than just my take on things…

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  4. I think your outline was really helpful Pete.

    The assignment will be slightly different depending on the centre. At our place, we provide a choice of either a reading or a listening text for trainees to choose from, but most centres ask trainees to find texts themselves.

    We could helpfully make this into a separate post if you like- so one post doesn’t deal with all aspects of the assignment.
    Yours deals with the assessment criteria and this one deals with the choice of text.

    Another post my provide ideas for the productive skills part of th assignment- often the weakest part of the assignment.

    Liked by 1 person

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