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Techniques for priming and recycling

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A four stage methodology for reading.

In Reading for Information, and Form focus and recycling, I have proposed a four stage methodology for teaching reading.

Techniques for priming and recycling - reading article - guest writers


  • Priming
  • Reading
  • Form focus
  • Recycling

And I have given an example of how that methodology might be applied with one particular text about sharks.

In this article I'd like to look at more ways of priming and recycling. After this, I hope you will be able to apply these techniques to a range of texts.

Quizzes for priming
Priming prepares learners to tackle a text by providing a context and a purpose for their reading and by introducing the vocabulary they will need to handle the text. Before our text on sharks there was a brief teacher-led discussion of the question Are sharks dangerous to humans? Learners were then given a quiz in the form of a of true/false questions about sharks. By the end of this priming stage learners will have engaged their knowledge of sharks and will have a clear idea of what they expect to learn from the text. Instead of true/false quiz questions we could have used multiple-choice or open-ended quiz questions. All these modes of questioning have different advantages and disadvantages. In deciding which to use we need to keep in mind the purpose of the priming stage: to prepare learners for the reading in terms of both content and key vocabulary.

Prediction and jigsaws
We can often ask learners to predict the content of a text. Once they have done the text on sharks they will have a good idea as to what to expect from a similar introductory descriptive text. Look at sections II and IV of Cobra (snake) on encarta. You could adapt this text for your learners and give them this instruction for homework:

In our next lesson you are going to read a passage about the cobras. Write down five questions about cobras which you think will be answered in the passage.

How many of the questions can you already answer?

Then you can ask them to read out their questions at the beginning of the next lesson, and you can lead a class discussion speculating on the answers. Or you can take some of their questions and ask them to answer these questions in groups before they read the passage.

The priming activity will depend on the kind of text you are preparing for. Let's imagine you are going to read a text entitled How to survive an earthquake. You could give learners a number of verbal cues and ask them to predict the content of the text:

You are going to read a text entitled How to survive an earthquake.

Work in groups and try to think of three things you should do before, during and after a quake.

Here are some words and phrases to help you: away from windows; gas water and electricity; in a doorway; first aid; survival kit; radio; public authorities; emergency procedures; heavy objects; under a table; trees; power lines; damage to buildings; emergency telephone numbers; dangerous spills; keep calm; turn off; shelter; check.

(Thanks to Yvonne Beaudry, who provided the idea for this lesson.)

You could then lead a brief class discussion before asking learners to read the text.

As an alternative you could jigsaw the clues. There are fourteen phrases given above. You could divide the class into five groups and give each group six of the clues to help them with their discussion. They would be allowed to use dictionaries to help them understand their clues. You could then lead a class discussion and make notes on the board to pool their ideas.

All these techniques involve discussion to prepare learners for the reading task, and these discussions will provide exposure to the sort of language they will need to process the text which follows.

Priming is followed by reading and form focus, but I am going to jump here from reading to recycling. I will look at the form focus stage of the cycle in my next article. Here I am going to list some techniques for recycling texts.

It seems to me to be very important that learners recall as much as possible of a text. We learn a language mainly, some people would say entirely, from the language that we process for meaning. We learn by engaging with texts and processing them for meaning, and from seeing the way texts are put together. So it is very important for learners to make the most of the texts they have worked with. They should not simply put them on one side and forget them.

Some of the techniques used in priming can also be used in recycling. We can ask learners to re-read a text for home work and then set a quiz in class to be answered without looking at the text. However, with a text they have already read more than once, true/false or multiple-choice questions would probably be too easy. So we should probably give a set of open-ended questions. Better still we could use the student as question master technique described in my earlier article Reading for Information. Students read the text and then, a week or two later, we can ask them to review the text for homework. One group of learners acts as ‘question master' and prepare a comprehension test with ten questions about the text - or one section of it - for the others to answer from memory, without reference to the text.

There is a well-known game sometimes known as running dictation (from Davis and Rinvolucri 1988). You prepare a number of copies of a section of the text and pin these to the walls round the classroom. You then divide learners into groups. Members of the group take it in turns to run to the wall and remember as much of the text as they can. They then run back to the group and dictate what they have remembered. As soon as a group believe they have completed the text they take it to the teacher. You take a note of the time they have taken and write it on their paper. When all the papers are in you mark them and add thirty seconds for each mistake before announcing the results.

You can also use what I call a communal memory task. Begin by asking learners to work as individuals to put down in note form as much as they can remember about the text, but without looking at the actual text or their notes on it. Then ask them to work in pairs to pool their ideas. Move from pairs to fours. Finally work with the class as a whole to see how much they can recall between them. You might still be able to identify gaps in their recall. You can ask questions based on these gaps. Finally you can read out the text and ask learners to check their own copies. Obviously if you have a long text you can't expect learners to write out the whole thing, so you might choose one paragraph for them to recall.

Here I have given a few ideas for priming and recycling the texts. Perhaps you have some good ideas of your own to add to these. And it is certainly worth sharing ideas with friends and colleagues.

In my fourth article Techniques for form focus after reading I will look at some more ideas for focusing on language form.

The approach recommended here is a task-based approach. Click here for more on task-based learning and teaching.

For more ideas on recycling see:
Dave and Jane Willis 2007, Doing Task-based Learning. Oxford University Press. (see Chapter 3)
Davis and Rinvolucri 1988, Dictation, Cambridge University Press

Thanks to Yvonne Beaudry from Canada. Yvonne, who teaches at a High School in Japan provided the idea for the lesson on surviving an earthquake. (See Willis 2007 Appendix 1)

Your comments and questions
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