Number one for English language teachers

Exploiting texts

Type: Reference material

An article by Tim Bowen on ways of exploiting texts for grammar practice.


Introduction

It has long been the practice for graded texts in coursebooks to contain numerous examples of the same grammatical structure in order to highlight the use of that structure in context. For example, a graded text might contain several examples of the construction used to to illustrate a past habit. Unless the text is skilfully written, this will often have the effect of making the style of the text rather stilted and unrealistic but the aim of highlighting the structure is nonetheless generally achieved with this type of presentation. Typically, the text is then followed by comprehension questions that again highlight the structure and then various grammar-based practice exercises to reinforce its use in some kind of context.

In the case of authentic reading texts, however, it is rarely the case that a particular text will have numerous examples of the same grammatical structure. It is far more likely to employ a wide range of structures of varying complexity and may refer to past, present and future time and make use of both progressive and perfect aspects, as well as both active and passive voices.

Highlighting particular grammatical structures

If a teacher intends to make use of an authentic text to highlight a particular grammatical structure or structures, his or her task therefore becomes a little trickier. The teacher will have to identify a structure that is both useful and challenging for the class he or she is teaching and then decide how best to exploit that particular structure for further work. It is highly likely that he or she will have to go beyond the actual text and produce an exercise related to the example or examples in the text in order to give substantial practice of the chosen structure.

At the basic observational level, when using an authentic task to illustrate a grammar point, the teacher might ask the students to find (underline, highlight) an example or examples of a particular structure in the text, for example:

  1. In paragraph 1, find an example of a passive sentence.
  2. Underline all the passive sentences in the text.
  3. How many different tenses can you find expressed in the passive voice in the text?
  4. Find a passive sentence in the present continuous tense.
  5. When looking at the meaning and use in more depth, the teacher might ask questions like these:
  6. Why does the author use the passive voice here?
  7. Could the author use the active voice? If so, what would the sentence be like?

Further practice

In order to give further practice of the particular structure the teacher has chosen to focus on, it will almost certainly be necessary to prepare some kind of exercise based on the structure (perhaps using the same context as the text). There are several choices for exercise type here but some of these can be used:

  • Matching the beginnings and endings of sentences, e.g.

The bomb was planted... ...by religious leaders.

It was detonated... ...by ambulance.

The casualties were taken to hospital... ...by a group of terrorists.

The attack was criticised... ...by remote control.
  • Choosing the best from a series of options, e.g.

The bomb (has/is/was) detonated by remote control.

  • Re-ordering jumbled words to make accurate sentences, e.g.

by was group planted the a terrorists bomb of

  • Filling gaps using an appropriate form, e.g.
The attack _____ criticised by religious leaders.

The casualties ______ taken to hospital

or

The attack was ___________ by religious leaders.

The casualties were ____________ to hospital.

  • Rewriting in a different tense or voice, e.g.
The attack was criticised by religious leaders.

Religious leaders criticised the attack.

  • Writing further sentences from prompts, e.g.
bomb/plant/group/terrorists
The bomb was planted by a group of terrorists.
  • Writing the endings of sentences, e.g.
The casualties were taken ....
The attack was criticised ...

Advantages

The advantage of focusing on a structure or structures in an authentic text such as a newspaper article is that it enables the students to see these structures functioning in an authentic context. The disadvantage can be that it is rarely sufficient simply to observe or to notice and, in order to give further related practice, the teacher will almost certainly need to develop an exercise to ‘go beyond’ the text, as exemplified above.

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Readers' comments (8)

  • Great ideas. Will be trying them out for sure. Thanks

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  • I wanted to rate this at least a 4 star and thought I had to shade each one but obviously got that wrong. Please ignore that or correct it.
    These ideas sound like a really fun and interesting way to make texts more interesting and I will be trying them out tomorrow!

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  • Great!!!!!!!!
    you are absolutely right.

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  • A useful and alternative way to teach, especially if one were based in an area / school that lacked resources such as photocopiers, etc.

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  • its great idea

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  • excellent ideas

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  • Very interesting. One text can be the motive for several lesson. You just need to how to do it.

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  • Exploiting the text activity is the great and useful activity which catches the interest of the students

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