One of the enormous benefits of the Internet has been the accessibility of loads and loads of English texts for teachers to use with their learners.

reading a computer screen and a book

But the gap between a teacher finding a text and successfully using it in class can be quite large. How should teachers use texts? How have they used them in the past? This article looks at different approaches to text in the language classroom.

  • Texts in language classrooms: A brief trip through time
  • Different times, different texts
    • TALO: Text as a linguistic object
    • TAVI: Text as a vehicle for information
    • TASP: Text as a springboard for production
  • Planning a typical text lesson in the 21st century


Texts in language classrooms: A brief trip through time
Texts have been used in language classrooms for a long time. Their exploitation, however, has changed over the years.

  • A hundred years ago, a teacher would bring a text, usually literary, into class and would translate it word for word and sentence for sentence with the students, drawing attention to similarities and differences between English and the students' L1. This was part of the grammar translation approach.
  • Fifty years ago, teachers were also using texts. These texts would be considerably different from the literary texts mentioned above. For a start, they were most often presented in dialogue form of the following variety:
    • "Is this a pen?"
    • " Yes this is a pen."
    • " Is that a pen?"
    • " No, that is a pencil."
    • The text had been written specifically to highlight a language point (in this case, the verb 'to be' and the difference between this and that - deixis). Students would read the text silently, then repeat parts of the dialogue after the teacher before practising it together in pairs. If you saw a teacher using a text like this fifty years ago, there's a good chance that it was in a classroom using the Audiolingual method.
  • Fifteen years ago, if you saw a teacher using a text in the language classroom, it would probably be much more interesting than its counterpart thirty-five years earlier. The Communicative Approach to language teaching also used texts, but authentic texts were preferred. In this approach, the teacher would be focussing much more on the meaning of the text as a whole. Students would be urged "not to try and understand every word" but to read a text to get at the content and the overall meaning, rather than just the language.

 

Different times, different texts
What purpose do texts serve? What makes a text suitable? As approaches to teaching have changed over the years, so have the texts. In language teaching literature TALO, TAVI and TASP are three acronyms that have been used to describe texts.

  • TALO: Text as a linguistic object
    A TALO text is used for language work, specifically grammar or vocabulary.
    TALO texts:
    • are written especially with a pedagogical purpose in mind
    • could be authentic texts the teacher has chosen because they contain lots of examples of a particular feature of language
    • could be authentic texts "adapted" to contain or highlight certain features of language.
  • Some sample TALO activities are:
    • Find all the examples of X in a text (for example, a grammar pattern, function words, a particular verb form…)
    • Find all the words in the text that are connected to X (words that are topically linked, or lexical sets)
    • Decide why certain forms were chosen over others (why was a conditional used, for example)
  • TAVI: Text as a vehicle for information
    A TAVI text has a different focus. Information within the text is seen as more important than the language. Students should understand the overall meaning of a text instead of (or at least before) the finer points of detail.
  • TAVI texts:
    • can be chosen because they are motivating
    • can be ones that the teacher would hope the students would like to read anyway
    • can be authentic texts.
  • TAVI type activities include:
    • predicting the content of the text, discussing questions or statements that relate to the text
    • marking things in the text that you knew/didn't know before
    • answering comprehension questions
    • summarising the main points of a text
    • putting events in order

 

In the examples we saw above, the first two (Grammar Translation and Audiolingualism) use TALO and the third example (Communicative approach) uses TAVI.

  • TASP: Text as a springboard for production
    Another text acronym is TASP. TASP stands for Text as a Stimulus for Production. This means using a text as a springboard for another task - usually a reading or writing task. TASP approaches also fit well with the communicative approach.
  • TASP type activities could be:
    • doing a role play based on the text
    • discussing issues raised by the text
    • having a debate about the points of view presented in the text
    • writing a similar text about something the students know about
    • writing a response to the text.

 

Planning a typical text lesson in the 21st century
How can teachers 'get the most' out of a text in the 21st century? One way is to combine the different approaches. So, a text lesson from start to finish would look like this.

  • Choose a text that you think will be interesting and motivating for your students (but not too hard). Do this with the information content in mind, not just the language in mind (i.e. TAVI). Design activities that will help students process this information and understand the text.
  • Look for particular grammar or vocabulary that is worthy of mention in the text and design activities that can bring that out.
  • Think of what kind of task the students could do once they've finished with the text.
  • In class, start with TAVI-type activities, so that the students understand the information in the text.
  • Then look at the language in the text in closer detail, through TALO-type activities.
  • Finally, close the lesson off with a TASP activity.

 

Further reading
Beaumont M. Reading in a foreign language at elementary level, In Matthews, A. et al. (eds). At the Chalkface Edward Arnold.(1986)
John T., Davies F. Text as a vehicle for information: the classroom use of written texts in teaching reading in a foreign language, Reading in a Foreign Language, 1 (1), pp. 1-19. (1983)

Lindsay Clandfield, Teacher trainer and Writer, Spain

 

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