Critical L2 Reading Strategies, Struggling Learners & “The Look-Alike Trap”

Don’t fall into a trap!  Naomi’s Photos

Okay.

I admit it.

I don’t know.

Does the activity I’m sharing here fall under the label of “Promoting Critical L2 Reading Strategies”?

The activity focuses on one very specific negative reading strategy that some of my struggling Deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students tend to rely on, one which I wish I could eradicate completely…

Is this activity a good stepping stone on the road to reading for understanding or just a simple “review this before the exam” activity?

Sometimes you need a ladder… Naomi’s Photos

I’m not sure.

But I know whom to ask!

I am going to take full advantage of the fact that an expert on the topic, Joyce Kling from Lund University will be speaking at the upcoming  ETAI 2023 International Conference & Mediterranean Symposium

Full advantage means that in addition to attending Joyce Kling’s talk on “Supporting Students’ L2 Critical Reading Strategies”, I plan to approach her during one of the breaks and follow up with a few questions regarding activities that are broken down specifically for struggling learners such as the one in this post.

You can do that at Face-to-Face conferences.

You really can go up to speakers, introduce yourself, and talk to them. Even if you meet them waiting in line for coffee!

Or at the bus stop – I’ve had fascinating conversations with both teachers and speakers on the bus to or from a conference!

See you there!

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The LOOK ALIKE Trap

Similar… Naomi’s Photos

No pictures, videos, or creative games for this activity.

I needed a direct, no-frills approach, to highlight my point this time.

Using the word “trap” seemed to awaken a competitive streak in some of the students. I told the students that the people who write their exams know that some students have a system for answering multiple-choice questions on reading comprehension tasks.  A system that doesn’t require reading. These students simply look for words that look alike in the options and in the text and then choose their answer without further investigation. For example:

The Sentence from the Text The Wrong Answer
1. Mr. Jay invested 11 million dollars in the football team. X Mr. Jay earned 11 million dollars from the football team.

Such students see the words “11 million dollars” and fall blithely into the trap the exam writer has set. The distractor that “looks-alike” is the wrong one (“Duh”, my strong students would say, but this is not for them)!

So, in this activity, I challenged the students to outsmart the exam writers and not fall into the look-alike” traps that had been set for them.

Together we examined 8 sentences, which I modified from actual national exams (so as to make them clearer when being read out of context) along with corresponding incorrect answers chosen by unknown students who had fallen into the “traps”.

Vocabulary wasn’t an issue – I supplied any “glosses” needed.

The fact that the students were able to analyze the errors successfully with hardly any guidance on my part (mainly glossing or adding context) didn’t mean the activity was too easy.

Quite the opposite.

They seemed to feel empowered. They could avoid a trap! They weren’t going to lose 8 points over nothing!

 

Trapped!
Naomi’s Photos

Here is the worksheet I used. The downloadable document contains two versions  – one with the “critical” words underlined, and the other with no hints whatsoever. I used the version without any words underlined.

***Remember – this is not a worksheet for self-study. It is the discussion that matters. I was even able to sneak in a reminder about superlatives…

the look alike trap-2nwne8w

 

Revisiting a “Horizontal” Lexical Activity -“The Egghunt”

Words.

Lots of words.

Lists of words.

Words for the students and words for me:

It’s the “Why”, the “Which”, the “How” and the “When” of vocabulary acquisition for EFL students that I need to carefully consider and plan for when I teach.  In order to do that effectively, I need all the information, support, and inspiration I can get, from the experts.

Experts such as the one-and-only Batya Laufer, from Haifa University,  who will be presenting at the upcoming ETAI 2023 International Conference & Mediterranean SymposiumHer plenary talk Lexical Targets: Why they are necessary and how they can be implemented” will be targeting those pesky “WH Questions”!

Targeting vocabulary? Naomi’s Photos

The updated activity I am sharing today was inspired by previous sessions at ETAI Conferences,  from another amazing speaker at the upcoming conference, Leo Selivan, aka “Lexical Leo”. His clear and practical conference talks have inspired many a lesson in my classes.

Here is an updated version of “The Egghunt”, created with Leo Selivan’s post Horizontal Alternatives to Vertical Lists in mind.

See you at ETAI!

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The Egghunt

This activity was designed to focus on vocabulary presented not according to semantic sets, (transportation, colors, food etc.), which is the vertical approach, but rather by introducing the words with other words they go with (horizontally).

I chose a short animated film that I feel is age-appropriate (elementary school) and suitable for use in schools.

I then wrote a list of twenty-three vocabulary items that either relate to or appear in the film.

All but three of these words appear in the Ministry of Education’s approved word list. These three words are needed in this context (they are marked with an asterisk in the word list below).

The decision to have all the activities connected to the film is grounded in a belief that what is made memorable is learned best. I do this often with homework assignments for my own students, with various language elements I’m trying to teach, not just vocabulary. The visuals in films (I always use ones without dialogue, my students don’t hear well!) supply a clear context.

 

1) Here’s the list of vocabulary items FOR THE TEACHER:

Egg buy Take care! hungry
Caveman* Hunt * Be careful! long
Spear* fall That’s not fair! angry
film smile How many sad
food watch sure
another break true
see

 

2. Here is the pre-reading activity for the students. Click on the title below to get a downloadable PDF.

Egghunt:  Pre-Reading Activity

3) The animated film (no dialogue, remember?)

4) Questions related to the film embedded in the film, courtesy of Edpuzzle. Edpuzzle has made it so much easier to work with film!

 

Can EFL Students’ Love of Comic Strip Characters be a Springboard to Reading Graphic Novels?

 

You are right, dear students, I have noticed you are interested in storytelling with graphics.

Using comic strip characters provided such a clear context, in an appealing way, that some of you actually told me that you enjoyed practicing the vocabulary from the approved word list in this way.

I certainly took note of that reaction!

How many chunks can a comics strip chunk with no help from a woodchuck? Practicing advanced “chunks” from the approved vocabulary lists.

I have even seen that the quirky comic characters I used when teaching Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken clarified the extent of the speaker’s dilemma for you in: “Giving Robert Frost Digital Advice in Choosing Roads”

Advice needed!

However, I’m not sure how to build on your interest in graphic novels. You all pick up our copy of the one graphic novel we have,  “Bone” by Jeff Smith, which someone donated to our classroom a while back.

You flip through it, but you don’t read it.

Perhaps you find the frequent use of unfamiliar idioms too challenging.

Or perhaps I need to learn how to help you read graphic novels in class.

We teachers, learn new things too, you know.

So, dear students, I’ll be attending this talk at the upcoming ETAI 2023 International Conference & Mediterranean Symposium

 

 

 

Revisiting the “18/100 Challenge”: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s “Teaching Tips” – Sight Words

 

Years of materials and ideas tucked away -which ones contain what? Naomi’s Photos, 2023

Oh!

Do you also sometimes feel that memories related to your life as a teacher before the pandemic hit have faded or even disappeared? Materials you once prepared lie dormant, forgotten in some binder or box, their underlying rationale swirling murkily in your memory?

Or is it just me?

Thank goodness I got a lifesaver in the mail – the program for the Upcoming July ETAI International Conference.

It jogged my memory.

The amazing, world-renowned Penny Ur will be speaking at the conference!

After hearing Penny Ur talk at the ETAI Conference back in 2016, I was so inspired that I undertook a blogging challenge called 18/100, in which I reflected on one tip from each of the eighteen sections that compose Penny Ur’s book: “100 Teaching Tips”. 

The combination of short sections in the book along with brief reflections really packed a punch.

I’m so looking forward to hearing her speak again next month!

Here is one of the original posts from 2016, part 17.

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A better view Naomi's Photos
A better view
Naomi’s Photos (taken in 2016)

 

This is part seventeen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher, it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 89: “Teach a lot of vocabulary”

* Note: I was sorely tempted to reflect on all the tips in the vocabulary section, but a rule is a rule…

I love it when practices we recommend for teaching Deaf and hard-of-hearing students are recommended for everyone.

Sight words are words you understand right away without the need to decode.  Check out this quote from the book (page 106): ” It appears that a large sight vocabulary …is the main condition for successful reading comprehension”. When you have words at your disposal that lead to meaning effortlessly, you can focus on the content of the text must more efficiently.

The thing is, the sight vocabulary needs to be large. Even students with normal hearing cannot pick up enough vocabulary based on incidental learning and by seeing words in context in books. Vocabulary has to be taught and practiced. A lot!

Vocabulary flashcards rock!

They will “rock” even more if you include collocations!

Especially good for pair work – an opportunity for students to be teachers too. Meanwhile, you, the official teacher,  can work with someone who needs extra help.

The only caveat is the issue of general knowledge. The students have to have a reasonable grasp of the concepts the words denote. Otherwise, the ability to quickly translate the words into their mother tongue does not contribute to reading comprehension.

Which may sound extremely obvious to you.

Unless you are working with Deaf and hard of hearing students…

(For more information on that issue, see the post on the Q/A blog: Translating words into L1 isn’t always helpful. Why?

 

 

 

But You Aren’t There – In Homage to the Late EFL Teacher Yaron Adini

The late Yaron Adini in a costume, photo taken at a school Purim Party, 2022.  Passed away at the age of 48 

I look for you as I enter the teacher’s room on Sunday morning, before the first bell. It’s usually not a good time to say more than “Good morning” to anyone, but you and I both have a free period at 08:00, so we don’t have to worry about the bell. I’m curious to hear about the interesting activity you have planned for today for your classes. Truthfully, my interest in the activity is secondary to my desire to bask in the glow of your passion for teaching. Seeing your face light up with enthusiasm is so very inspiring.

But YOUR spot is empty.

You aren’t there.

I scan the two rows of computers – surely you must be, once again, helping one of the teachers who is struggling to make our computerized grading software understand what she wants it to do. No one even needs to ask you for help – the minute you register sounds of frustration, you are there at their side, explaining and guiding in your calm, gentle voice.

You aren’t there.

Oh, so you must be in the vice principal’s office again, helping make the workflow more efficient. Your background in High-Tech comes in handy.

I wonder if all those years spent with computers, who never loved you back, gave you such passion for teaching when you made the switch?

I don’t teach students with “normal-hearing”  but I do hear them gossip when I’m doing yard duty, or when they come to volunteer in my special learning center. Students gossip about their teachers.

They ADORE YOU!

You aren’t there.

Never mind, so you are busy, fine. We share another free period at the end of the day on Tuesdays. We’ll talk then, right? We can unwind and talk about things unrelated to teaching. I usually let you lead the conversation as I’m constantly amazed at the breadth and depth of your general knowledge. You have lived abroad, you speak several languages and in fact, are fascinated by languages. What were you telling me about the complex beauty of Greek recently?

Tuesday comes and goes.

You aren’t there.

So, you must be absent again, having a bad spell with your illness.

I’ll write to you – you often find it distracting when you are bedridden to correspond about things such as which ed-tech solutions actually are helpful and to tell me about some tool you discovered that might be helpful for my special needs students. You offer to help me understand how to use it if needed, even though you have never used it yourself.

No reply. 

I wait, truly patiently, because sometimes it’s a really bad spell and I need to wait till you get stronger and start replying again.  Always in written form. You don’t like phone calls or visitors. When you come back I don’t ask the questions you don’t like, about your health. What matters is that you are here.

Was your passion for teaching also related to your fragile health? Did it make you more aware of how wonderful it is simply to be able to come to school and teach?

I never asked.

My message box remains empty.

You aren’t there.

Now you will never ever be here.

And it’s hard to comprehend.

Thank you, Yaron Adini, for touching my life with your kindness, patience, generosity, and enthusiasm. Your amazing smile will be engraved in my memory.

You left us far too soon.

I’m grateful to have been fortunate enough to be your colleague.

You will be remembered!

 

 

 

When Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes & Hercule Poirot Examine a Teacher’s Desk

Looking for clues on a teacher’s desk. Naomi’s Photos

Thank you all for finding time in your busy “literary lives” as world-renowned detectives to join us here today.

Since all of you are known to have extraordinary powers of deduction,  I would like to give you a small challenge.  Please look at this photo I took of a person’s desk.  What can you learn about the person who uses this desk and his/her workplace from this photo?

Hercule Poirot: I don’t even need to use my little grey cells to see that this is a teacher’s desk. She is clearly grading papers!

Naomi: That is correct, but wait!  You said “SHE” is grading papers. What makes you think that we’re talking about a female teacher?

Hercule Poirot: “Because I am Hercule Poirot! I do not need to be told.” *

Naomi: Haha! With all due respect, if you were my student I would ask for information from the text (in this case, the photo) that supports your claim.

The evidence is clear – The photo was taken on a hot, sunny day. Naomi’s Photos

Sherlock Holmes: I must agree with my colleague on this matter. “You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.”**

Sherlock Holmes: Look carefully at the photo. Great thought and care have been invested in the exact placement of each object and decoration on this desk, indicating not only a woman’s touch but one who is pedantic and clearly interested in style or design. Even the apple, which is only there temporarily, is neatly cut and placed with care.

Naomi: Pardon me for saying so, but you are from another era – there are men today who are admired for their style. Aren’t you just guessing due to the fact that there are more female teachers in this country?

Sherlock Holmes:  I’ll ignore that. Just look at the spectacles on the desk. Not only do they serve as an additional indication, but they are reading glasses. Clearly, this desk belongs to an experienced teacher.

Miss Marple:  Gentlemen, do take a look at yourselves!  You are so easily distracted by the irrelevant issue of gender, while completely ignoring the true significance of all you see on this desk.

Naomi, you must bear in mind that “Gentleman are frequently not as level-headed as they seem” ***

Naomi: Thank you, Miss Marple. What do you mean?

Miss Marple: This teacher, and the teachers seated near her (this desk is obviously one of many), are clearly required to spend a great many hours at school, well beyond those hours devoted to teaching.  One would assume that such hours were allocated as “preparation time” though as someone who specializes in listening to what others say among themselves (certainly not to be confused with eavesdropping!!) I do wonder how much work can be efficiently done when surrounded by so many people…

The investment we see in making one’s workspace comfortable and aesthetically pleasing indicates someone who has decided to make the best of the situation.

Hercule Poirot: (Coughs loudly and pauses before speaking)

My dear Miss Marple, you neglected to mention the evidence that this teacher does not have an administrative role at school.

Naomi: Which evidence is that?

Hercule Poirot: I’m astonished you need to ask that, Naomi. Why even a child would know what being allocated a cubicle (as opposed to an office) signifies…

Lieutenant Columbo: Just one more thing…

(Collective sounds of surprise are heard, as he had not been sent an invitation)

Lieutenant Columbo: Why has no one mentioned that this teacher is not an elementary school teacher? Look at the length of those texts!

Sherlock Holmes: (sighs deeply)

Sherlock Holmes: Even though I did not actually say the following in any of my books, I cannot help myself – we didn’t mention it because it’s E-L-E-M-E-N-T-A-R-Y!

Mali Savir, EFL Teacher at Mekif Yehud High School (Naomi’s Photos)

 

Many thanks to Mali Savir, for “lending” me her desk for this post.

  • *        “Death on the Nile”, by Agatha Christie
  • **     “The Bascombe Valley Mystery” by C. Doyle
  •  *** “The Body in the Library” by Agatha Christie

 

Revisiting “A Quote Challenge” – A Refreshing Review of Vocabulary & Syntax

When the pandemic began I forgot about this lesson.  In fact, the thin binder of “puzzles” that it was placed in it fell out of a drawer and lodged itself behind the drawers.

I’m so glad I found it again.

The students enjoyed it and I was pleased with the vocabulary and syntax reviewed.

Here is the post as it was first posted on Jan. 6 , 2016

_ *_ *_* _

Full disclosure: I’ve never began a post this way before.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

There’s no real reason to continue reading this post. Hana Ticha’s lesson “Everyone is a Genius” has everything you could want a lesson to include – vocabulary, grammar, syntax, discussions, general knowledge and FUN! The quote chosen has a such a nice educational message too. So why adapt it? What happened to “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Just go on to Hana’s post!

I had to adapt the lesson because I wanted to use it in my learning center for Deaf and hard of hearing students. Each lesson is for a jumble of  10th, 11th and 12th graders, at all possible levels. This activity is not for all them.

In addition, due to my students’ hearing problems, I would have to write out each clue, as they woudn’t be able to follow the spoken language. That would be cumbersome and time consuming.

In short, I needed a version that students could work on fairly independantly, with me guiding and helping from time to time (and then hopping of to help someone else).

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

So I typed up the lines for each letter of each word of the quote, so the students would have that information as a hint. I also added the first letter of most of the words (not the grammatical ones). I also wrote clues for about two thirds of the words. Some are very simple clues, others demand more of the student.

Here is the word document (two pages):

A Quote Challenge

I’ve done it with a few students so far. One by one (not in the same lesson). They are all students who enjoy a challenge, students who are curious.

They loved it!

Filling it in led to them asking great questions. The students tried to use “he” instead of “it” for the fish, which led to a review of the difference between  “it’s” and “its”. One very deaf student was puzzled by the word in the clue for tree “leaves” which he was positive was only an irregular verb in the past. The whole idea, naturally, of an “f” (leaf) changing to a “v” (leaves) is strange to him. Another student was sure that “everyone” should be plural but could tell that the number of letter spaces didn’t match the word “are” and figured out on her own that the following word must be “is”. The only word they all had trouble figuring out was “if”, even though they got the “will”. Perhaps I shouldn’t have a clue for it, and then it will draw more attention to the conditional form.

The students really enjoyed the detective work! However,they all needed my help in understanding what the point of the quote was. One thought it meant he shouldn’t go off on “wild goose chases” such as looking for fish on trees…

All the students who have done it so far are kind of “loners”, students who don’t always “fit in”, for different reasons. Once they got the point of the quote, they really approved!

Wow! The Book “How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water” by Cruz Could be about My Grandmother!

A long journey… Naomi’s Photos

 

My grandmother always said that someone could (and should!) write a book about her.

In a way, I think Angie Cruz did!

It’s such a cleverly written, well-told book and I was so fortunate to have chosen it as an audiobook – if you can, that’s the way to go!  Listening to the manner in which Cara Romero answered questions the way SHE wanted to answer them, getting to the point via 100 other stops along the way, stopping to emphasize that no one could do it /understand it the way she could – it felt so very familiar!

No, my grandmother wasn’t Dominican, though she did speak Spanish. She was from Brest – today’s Belarus, part of Poland and Russia in the past. Along with the Yiddish, Polish, and Russian of her childhood, she spoke Hebrew, and Spanish learned during her 7 years living in Cuba.

Both women immigrated to New York from a Spanish-speaking island.

But that’s just the beginning.

 

Where will this path lead us? Naomi’s Photos

Cara Romero always had to fend for herself and look after others, a resilient woman who had to struggle without the support of a husband. A woman who made some bad choices, managed to fall out with a lot of people, yet still retained a zest for life, and the energy to start over. Yet again. Then again.

Both women craved approval for their effort, for being who they were, and for the life they managed to create despite all odds, as both of them never got any such approval at home. Cara Romero of the book had a mother, who did not want to have children and was not interested in them. My grandmother was orphaned at the age of two and had the classic evil stepmother. Both Cara Romero and my grandmother stated repeatedly that they never had a childhood.

The desperate plea for approval shows up so clearly in those repeated statements (I’m not quoting verbatim, it was an audiobook!): Write this down. Everyone knows that Cara Romero does it better – if it is quieting the baby, being the one everyone turned to at work for advice, cooking, you name it…

Stubborn… Naomi’s Photos

I’m sure Cara Romero and my grandmother would have hated each other vehemently – two strong-willed women like them would have clashed within five minutes of being introduced…

Thank you, Angie Cruz! I loved the book!

 

 

When EFL Students Explore a “BIG” Question with OXPLORE

A mixed bunch… Naomi’s Photos

There are times when I wish that instead of teaching in the format of a “mixed-level-learning-center”, all my advanced students would come at the same time for a more “traditional” kind of class.

I could then present a topic for discussion, and we could have discussions in small groups which would lead to the writing task.

In such a scenario I wouldn’t have had to create the worksheet I am sharing today.

Reading Maria Theologidou’s post “Rediscovering Bookmark Favourites, Part 1” introduced me to many sites I was not familiar with, and I truly appreciated the little explanatory blurb for each site. However, one site, in particular, blew me away “Oxplore – The Home of the BIG Questions”. 

The deeper I delved into the site, the more excited I became.

Excited and frustrated.

ONE – Which one to choose? Naomi’s Photos

“‘Oxplore is an engaging digital resource from the University of Oxford. As the ‘Home of Big Questions’, it aims to challenge those from 11 to 18 years with debates and ideas that go beyond what is covered in the classroom” (from the “About” page on the website).

The material there really IS geared toward teenagers. There are short texts, interactive questionnaires, and videos. The graphics are friendly.

AND…

There are a great many “BIG QUESTIONS”‘ to choose from!

BUT…

My advanced Deaf and hard-of-hearing students do not come to class with others on their level, so peer discussions are not an option.

I had to have a written task for them to do, individually.

It took me several weeks to come up with a version I could use.

At first, it seemed logical for me to choose a topic and prepare a task for that specific topic. This way I could ensure that subtitles /captioning of the videos, which my students rely on,  had correct English (the automatic captioning on YouTube is often riddled with errors and makes no sense). In addition, I could create specific questions for each section to ensure the students actually read information from different sections.

On second thought, me, the teacher, choosing the topic for the students was NOT a logical idea.

Not at all!

The site is geared toward choice, for students to go through the topics and choose the one to relate to.

Yes, but…

BOOKS!!! Naomi’s Photos

I ABSOLUTELY adore the video about the four ways books make us who we are. I really wanted all the students to watch it and write about it. The content is important,  the vocabulary used is enriching for these advanced students, and the engaging graphics are a treat. For some inexplicable reason, many of my smartest students with amazing language skills, think books are a waste of time…

AAargh…

So I compromised.

The first part of the worksheet is open-ended, and the students choose their topic. Three of my students are currently working on it (more to begin soon) and each one has chosen an entirely different topic!

The second part is related to the video.

It will be interesting to see how they react to it and what they write about it…

Here is the downloadable worksheet.

An Oxplore Big Question

Would you use Oxplore in class? How? Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Useless Unicorn Umbrellas before Final EFL Exams

Useless Unicorn Umbrella
Naomi’s Photos

A unicorn is a mythical animal.

A unicorn is also something desirable that is difficult to obtain.

There is a persistent myth in the weeks preceding a national matriculation exam. Like a unicorn, this myth represents something the students desire but find it to be an elusive goal, because it doesn’t exist!

I’m sure you’ve heard the hooves of a unicorn passing through your classroom at this time of year as well.

This myth goes like this:

The students believe that during the very few lessons that we actually have after the winter holidays (those precious lessons that weren’t canceled due to extra math lessons) and before the National Winter Matriculations, I will impart MAGICAL information that will enable my students to ace their exams.  Some secret knowledge which they seem to think I have withheld from them until now.

Sorry to disappoint you, students.

Now they are upside down… Naomi’s Photos

I tell my Deaf and hard -of -hearing 12th graders that they should be proud of themselves. This national exam is the final section of their overall grade and their previous achievements on the easier sections matter a great deal – they’ve come a long way.

I remind them to come on time and go to sleep early before the exam (I remind myself to bring pens, always needed!).

I point out that there are two dates for repeat exams.

There are plenty of things for us to review before an exam, but there are no golden rules or surefire tips hiding under this unicorn umbrella, waiting to be released at the very last second.

Sorry students.

Go away, unicorn, I know you’ll be back in May.

Have you also heard hoofbeats during the last lessons before a major exam?

 

 

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