Splitting a Text

Splitting a text you work with for pair work for the purposes of improving your learners’ listening and speaking skills is a great EAL strategy. Split dictation is a great way of doing this – two students receive the same text, but with different portions of it turned into gaps; they need to dictate the text to one another, and practise their listening skills to complete the gaps. This is what this blog post is about.

Preteaching vocabulary before dealing with any topic is an important aspect of working with your EAL learners. Before we delve into the split dictation activity, they need to know the meaning of some words. You can achieve this in several ways – here, we use their first language.

  • we could just simply give them a list of the keywords translated into their language
  • we could create a matching activity with the English words on one side and their translated equivalents on the other
  • we could focus on parts of speech and ask them to put the words into the categories such as verbs, nouns and adjectives. This means they’d have the words translated into their language already, but would need to write these in English in the table. This checks for inter-linguistic literacy awareness. Is “vinovat” a verb, a noun or an adjective?
  • you can create a crossword for them – with clues in their language, but English needing to be provided as answers. Puzzlemaker is a great free tool to make crosswords such as the one below.

The first split dictation is going to focus our learners’ attention on the use of the Present Simple tense. There always needs to be a focus, of course. The gaps are not coincidental – since we’re working with the specific needs of our EAL learners in mind, we want to teach them an aspect of the English language whilst working with our content. As you will see in a second, the first split dictation uses a summary of Act 1 of “Inspector Calls”. As it’s a summary, it’s written in the Present Simple tense. The gaps are the objects of the verbs (in the present tense) preceding them. Following the split dictation activity, I will want the students to practice asking questions about the gaps they had just filled in using WH- question words and the present simple tense.

That’s why I am providing this table to the students (many such as these to be found through Google Images for free). It shows them the difference between how we ask questions where “to be” is the verb and how we ask questions using all types of other verbs (including “to have”).

On to the split dictation. For clarity, I am using a numbered list of sentences here, specifically instructing Student A and Student B which sentences they are to read. Pairs are instructed to sit on the opposite sides of the table to remove any temptation to copy. They need to read their full sentences. Should they need to repeat these several times or spell certain words, they can, need to and should do so. It is, of course, inevitable, that such tasks will take less time for some and more for others. It is useful to pair up stronger students with weaker ones here if only for the purpose of attempting to diminishing the differences between the amount of time this task is going to take them.

We will see here that the gaps are objects of the sentences. For instance, in Student A’s copy (sentence 3), “The inspector asks Gerald WHAT/ABOUT WHAT/TO DO WHAT?”, the answer (the sentence’s object) is “to think about Daisy Renton”. This, of course, means, that the question to be asked about this gap, following the dictation activity, will be, “What DOES the inspector ask Gerald to do?” Similarly, in sentence 7, “her son Eric is…” we would want to know WHERE he is, the answer being “in another room”. The question to be asked needs to be, “Where IS her son?”

Once the activity is done, we can differentiate the arising task (writing questions about the gaps) by providing our learners with either, as you can see below, a full substitution table (the lowest red level) including all the question words necessary, all the auxiliary verbs necessary (do, does, is, are) and options for finishing the question with subjects and verbs.

The orange [middle] level) receives just the first two columns, and green (the top one) just the question words. There is an error here, which I corrected in the lesson, in that one of the questions actually requires the question word “how”.

You would be well advised to show to students how to find the different parts of the sentence (subjects, verbs, objects) – in English affirmative sentences objects are found at the end of sentences, preceded by verbs, which are in turn preceded by subjects. Meaning, of course, that you would look for a verb to the LEFT of the gap, not to the right! This is not as “self-explanatory” as you might think – whilst the English language and, indeed many other European languages, are SVO (subject-verb-object) languages, Korean and Japanese are SOV languages and Classical Arabic, Welsh and Irish are VSO!

 

Example from another lesson

In another lesson, I used the split dictation technique for teaching the story of “Romeo and Juliet” to my students. Previously, we had looked at all the characters in the play and placed picture cards of major characters in the play on the chart (as below), naming them and practising different relationships between them, e.g. Lord Capulet is Juliet’s father. This meant teaching words such as “father”, “mother”, “cousin”, “nephew” and others.

Again, I used a split dictation for the summary of Act 1 of this particular play. Almost all the gaps involve a verb in present simple, at minimum one word, but usually a longer phrase. You can see that this time the bits that Students A and B are to read to each other are coloured in red and green – this proved easier for students to follow than numbering the sentences as done previously (the example above in this post); this time, I also didn’t feel I was confusing my learners by dismantling the original text’s paragraphs. These certainly should be modelled at all times.

At the completion of this task, the students were asked to underline the verbs in the gaps. For instance, in the last sentence of Prologue, the verb is “hate”, and in the last sentence of Scene 1, the verbs are “is” and “does not love”. We revisited here the grammar of when the suffix –s is used in the conjugation of present simple verbs and when it is not as well as the use of “is” and “are”. This awareness will be crucial to the completion of the final task ahead of the students this lesson.

Using the EAL Nexus resource as seen below, I asked the students to write several sentences now using the apostrophe ‘s about the relationships between the characters in the play. This substitution table was useful for students at lower levels of the English language acquisition. Others simply didn’t have this table and either received only two lists (one with the names of the characters and another with the relationships vocabulary) on the middle level, or received no additional resources (the top level) as I deemed them able to write their own sentences completely independently (I was right).

I also wanted to make sure that the students can talk about the relationships between the characters. The activity presented below is another type of a split activity, although it is not a text, of course. It is a type of a barrier game, sometimes called “half a crossword”. Student A gets a crossword with some answers written in, but not others, and vice versa for Student B. They need give each other clues to complete the crossword.

Some versions of these crosswords have the clues printed for students to read out to the other learner, thus focusing specifically on listening skills. However, I was quite confident that the students should be able to speak the clues to each other themselves so that we could practice both listening and speaking skills. We have a starter sentence here under the crossword, but not much else. Students have to say to each other sentences such as, “This character is Romeo’s friend” (the answer being “Mercutio”).

Such crosswords serve another great purpose, of course: they lock the students into correct spelling of words, there being a specified number of boxes for letters provided.

We can reuse the substitution from the previous (writing) task, of course, by altering the first column to say “This character” and providing it to our weaker students. I did so, and it acted as a speaking frame this time.

Now it’s time to extend the use of the language. With our students, we looked at the present simple use of the verbs in the summary, and we looked at the possessive ‘s attached to names to show relationships. Let’s use these to make the sentences longer and more complex. You can see (scroll down to the next image) how we can at this point, starting with very simple sentences such as “Benvolio is Romeo’s cousin” make them into more complex. A part of the original sentence now becomes a subordinate clause “who is Romeo’s cousin” and we add the relevant information from the text to tell us more about this character.

The students were asked to do just that, following introducing them to the idea. You can provide additional differentiation by:

  • using a substitution table such as the one in the image below (perhaps for the weakest students). For lack of space, the table here can be used to make just 3 sentences, but, of course, you could extend this to as many as you wish.
  • asking students to highlight or underline the fragments in the text that tell us what the characters do (the bits in black fonts here); it is for the learners to determine who these are about, and to write about the relationships between the characters.

These are some of the ways in which splitting texts for pair work can be used when working with EAL learners.

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