Came across this post on my Google Drive. I think I wrote it with someone like NALDIC in mind, but not sure they responded/I sent it. It’s not the best, but if you’re interested in Brian Tomlinson’s work it might be of interest.
A text-driven approach: making reading more meaningful
There is far more to reading than just comprehension. When I first started teaching over a decade ago I felt that many global English language coursebooks tended to prioritise comprehension in reading sections. Resources these days seem to include more meaning-building tasks, such as those I outlined in this blog post, and those mentioned by Rachael Roberts. I find tasks that develop meaning-building skills are more engaging for my learners, as they are often more personalised, more challenging and give learners more chance to process a text.
I don’t feel that comprehension questions should be confined to Room 101 – they do serve a purpose. However, when I put myself in the shoes of my learners, I realise that comprehension tasks in their more traditional form should be used sparingly.
Considering the resources and approaches my Secondary learners have encountered over their many years of English study, I know they are task-weary. Comprehension questions test understanding, and getting a low score can be disheartening for some learners. Too often they are poorly constructed – testing learners understanding of things like grammatical relationships rather than meaning. It’s not uncommon to see question formats in coursebooks that mirror those in exams such as IELTS (for example True/False/Not Given). I find it tough to motivate my learners to read in English outside the classroom – when the reading activities they do inside the classroom feel like tests and exam practice, it’s no wonder they lack interest.
For me, the key to fostering a habit of reading in English outside the classroom is make reading more engaging during class time. Meaning-building tasks help with this, as does employing a text-driven approach – outlined by Brian Tomlinson (2013). The great thing about Tomlinson’s approach is, as the name suggests, it places the text at the forefront of a reading lesson. It is no longer something to simply comprehend, it becomes an object of inquiry, intrigue and interpretation. Personal experience and personal response are prominent features of this approach, and there is plenty of scope for learners to choose learning activities which suit them.
The basic stages of the text-driven approach (as outlined by Tomlinson 2013:24) are as follows:
Readiness activities – personalise the text prior to reading, to help learners connect with the content
Experiential activities – linking thoughts from the readiness activities to the text upon first reading
Intake response activities – share a personal response to the text
Development activity (1) – develop the text by continuing it, responding, changing perspectives, personalising, etc.
Input response activity – This stage is a focus on language, writing style, and other structural features of the text
Development activity (2) – A chance to revise the work done during the first development activity, having focused on features of language and structure during input response.
In this blog post you will find an example of how I have employed a text-driven approach to teaching the poem ‘Blessing’ by Imtiaz Dharker to my learners in Thailand. Some key features of the text-driven approach should (hopefully!) be apparent in this example:
- Readiness and experiential activities are more detailed than a typical orientation or lead-in to a reading text. Also, there isn’t necessarily a gist question for ‘global understanding’ – the focus is primarily on personal response and the learners’ interpretation of the text.
- There is plenty of scope for collaboration using this approach. However, learners may also be encouraged to use their inner speech to respond to a text. This may help lower anxiety.
- The development activities often promote thinking skills that lead to both affective and cognitive engagement.
Here is a further example of using the text-driven approach, this time with a short story written for Onestopenglish. It is fair to say that a text-driven approach can take time to plan, and may not be practical day in, day out. However, teachers could incorporate selected stages from this approach to add greater personalisation and engagement. Readiness and experiential activities in particular provide learners with strong personal connection to a reading text. Here is a further example that I would use in my context. My learners are interested in K-Pop, so I have just googled an interesting article about a K-Pop concert in Bangkok.
Example tasks may include the following:
There’s a K-pop concert happening in Bangkok! You don’t know the details of the concert yet. Write a diary entry. Describe:
- how you feel about the concert
- who you hope will perform
- who you will you go with
- how much you would spend to attend a K-Pop concert
Sketch a poster for your ideal K-Pop concert in Bangkok. Think about:
- where it will be
- who will perform
- how much it will cost
- other information (you choose)
Read the news article about the concert. Choose a task.
- List your three favourite artists performing. Explain why they are your favourite.
- Sketch a poster promoting the concert
- Write a tweet (140 characters) describing how you feel about the concert. Don’t forget hashtags.
- Imagine a LINE (WhatsApp) chat between you and a friend about the concert. Note down the chat.
- Share your feelings about the concert in the class chat (backchannelchat.com). Read and respond to other comments.
Many of these tasks could be used as follow-up activities to close a reading lesson, such as in the typical lesson framework for receptive skills that is introduced on a CELTA course. Placing these personalised activities before and directly after reading in my view heightens learner interest and engagement. Experiential tasks could still be used to check comprehension, but they give a better insight into what learners themselves take from the text.
Tomlinson’s text-driven approach is not a substitute for comprehension tasks, it’s a way to further exploit a text. I’d recommend any teacher to experiment with this approach – it may take time at first but the rewards make it worthwhile. You can find out more about this approach in the following resources:
- Tomlinson, B. ed., (2003). Developing materials for language teaching. A&C Black.
- Tomlinson, B. (2018) ‘Text-driven Approaches to Task-based Language Teaching’ available via matsda.org.
Feature image from www.freepik.com