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Saturday, 30 April 2016

EFL: Conversation vs. Texts

At my English academy we use a range of standard EFL texts: Let's Go, English Time, Up & Away, Everybody Up . . . and we finish each book in one semester (6 months).  Last year we also added writing texts to most level 3 and above classes, mostly the Write Right series of texts. Therefore most classes have two textbooks to finish in one semester.

Our academy doesn't have a "set" page limit per class/day, but each teacher does have a certain responsibility to keep the pace in order to finish the books within the 6 month time frame.

Lately, however, I have been questioning myself about the focus on textbooks.  I have been assigning more pages for homework vs. covering them in class.

Yesterday, for example, in one class of 4th-5th grade students, I asked them what they were going to do this weekend.  We ended up getting into a nice little discussion, as Children's Day happens next week, and some students will take a break.

In the back of my mind there was this little voice crying, "You need to start the homework check!", yet my main thought was, "This is great!  We are speaking everyday English, and that is what I am here to guide these students into!"

Such a scenario raises the question, "Which is more important, completing the textbook pages (which are important, in order to provide structure, to facilitate homework, and to satisfy parents), or conversing?

Rather than take an either-or position, I would suggest that both are important, yet I have been focusing too much on the completion of the pages and the texts.

As I posted a while ago, our academy has, in the last year or so, introduced "reading circles" in 6th grade and middle school classes.  In brief, the students in these classes read pages in a book/novel for homework, are assigned certain "jobs", and then sit in a circle and talk about the pages that they read.

Starting next week, in selected 4th-5th grade classes, I plan to introduce "speaking circles", in which students will talk about their past weekends (what they did) and future weekends (what they are going to do).

I envision 10-15 minutes at the start of each class being spent on these activities, which is an extension of what currently happens.

The first time or two I will lead the groups, then I will appoint a rotating roster of student leaders (as with the reading circles, which the speaking circles will be trained up for).

This change will, of course, result in some additional modifications, such as assigning more textbook pages for homework, yet, as stated, I have already begun to do that.

I want my students to engage in more natural speaking, about things that they are interested in, and to learn how to participate in day-to-day conversations.

(When I think about this change I am mentally quite playful and fluid, yet when I write about my thoughts I sound like I am back at university . . . maybe I am feeling defensive or that I have something to prove--?  I don't know . . . anyway, I am sorry that I sometimes come across in an oh-so-serious manner.)

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