The power of weeding

olive picking boys

Stephen Krashen’s big idea in ‘The power of reading‘ (1993) was that reading for pleasure, or free voluntary reading (FVR) as he referred to it , was in many cases more conducive to language development than direct teaching alone. He cites lots of research to back up his view. I read the book in the late nineties when I was teaching English to very diverse multilingual groups of adults at the Brasshouse Centre in Birmingham, and it had a huge influence on the way that I conducted by classes. From then on I started encouraging all my learners to consume graded readers as much as possible. I did this by arranging lots of activities to promote reading for pleasure in class. For my Masters degree I researched the role of drama as a way to promote reading for pleasure and I ended up writing my dissertation about that subject too.

As a language learner, I’m also aware of the importance of reading for pleasure in the languages that I know something of, and I’ve tried reading novels in Danish, Portuguese and Spanish. Of these I would say that it’s only in Danish where this has been a pleasurable experience for me however! In the other languages there are just two many words I don’t understand to make it much fun.

But maybe it isn’t all about fun. I’m now wondering whether, if we really want people to absorb the language of the texts they are reading, they probably have to do some work sometimes – certainly in terms of noticing.

I like Brown’s (1994) proposal that learners adopt a Green Cross Code of reading, in order to notice collocations in the texts that they encounter.

β€œWhen you see a word, even in particular a word with which you are already familiar, STOP, LOOK LEFT, LOOK RIGHT, LOOK LEFT AGAIN, AND, WHEN SATISFIED, PROCEED!’

As a child growing up in 1970’s Britain the Green Cross Code was regularly drummed into us at school as a strategy to get across a road safely. I really like the idea of applying this principle to reading, but maybe even this is not enough for some learners to ensure take away value to the language of texts. Maybe they need some activities which really push them to notice the language.

One such activity that I have recently started using again after a long break is the idea of Text Weeding. Like so many good ideas, I think this one comes from the work of Mario Rinvolucri, but I can’t remember in which of his many books I first read about it. I think it was ‘More Grammar Games’ (CUP 1995).

It works like this. We take a short text. This could be something from the coursebook, from authentic reading material, or a text that we create specifically for this purpose. We then rewrite the text adding in some ‘weeds’ -that is words which are not supposed to be there. Here’s one that I created for a group of children in Palestine a few weeks ago. Can you spot the 10 weeds?

The olive harvest moon takes off place all over cooked Palestine during the month of October every day year. The whole family ticket gets lost involved. It’s hard luck work but also lots of love fun. I wish I could do up it again one day break.

If you’re clever about the choice of words that you insert you can use the activity to raise awareness about some common collocations too (takes off, takes place and hard luck, hard work etc)

Of course a much more common activity with short texts like this is to do the opposite of weeding which is filling the gaps. I think that weeding encourages more processing than gap filling however. In fact I think it pushes the learners to follow the Green Cross Code of reading; to zoom in on every single word and especially to notice what goes on either side of each word.

What do you think about text weeding? Do you, or could you, use it in your classes? What other strategies do you use for encouraging learners to notice the language of texts? Please share your ideas in the comments below.


Brown, Phillip R. (1994): Lexical collocation: A strategy for advanced learners. Modern English Teacher, 3 (2), 24-27.

Krashen, Stephen (1993) The Power of Reading; Libraries Unlimited

Rinvolucri, Mario and Davis, Paul (1995): More Grammar Games ; CUP

12 thoughts on “The power of weeding

  1. Nick, this is a great idea. I absolutely loved this. I am definitely going to try this out and see how it works πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing.


  2. It’s not only zooming in. We always need to see the larger picture to decide smaller details. I bet that the students will read the whole text before weeding. Zooming out will help them to understand what they’re looking for and pick out undesirable words.

    Today, I tried the weeding strategy with my students. I gave them a piece from their coursebook. The text was full of opposite pairs of adjectives, and they had to weed the unrelated adjective of each pair. It was short, nice and very orientated towards the target language of today’s lesson. It was like a revision activity for some items.

    It can be great to teach listening. For example, students listen to a song to pull weeds( words which are not in the song). It is preferable to give them the written form of the song with the weeds, so they listen and remove words which are not supposed to be there.

    Regarding the text itself, I think authentic texts would be a perfect choice if the aim is reading but if we aim at teaching grammar, I think we should weed texts that students are familiar with.


    1. Yes, you’re right Amal. It’s not just about zooming in on individual words; students need to access the wider context of the text in order to do the weeding. This is why I think it’s such a useful task. The version that you did today sounds great by the way. I like the idea of them weeding out adjectives because this really requires them to think about what the overall meaning of the text is.


    1. Yes, these are two of the boys that I picked olives with a few years ago in Beit Liquiya. I really do wish I could do that again one day. How’s the harvest this year? Someone from Tulkarm told me it wasn’t very good this year.


      1. We have only a few olive trees, around 30 trees. They produced 900 kilograms this year. We spent three days to finish the hard job. Some were pressed for oil and some for brine πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Nick
    Your additional word weeding looks a lot of fun as well as an opportunity for the readers to think about the double-parked collocations in there. I remember a class of Portuguese students (13 year olds) who liked reading and then listening to a story, with some differences in the written text and the spoken version. After they had read the story and answered a few questions on it I asked them to listen and circle any words that were different on their texts. I suppose this could also focus on collocations or whatever other lexical area a teacher wanted to draw students’ attention to.
    The text wasn’t familiar to the students – it was an odd ‘true story’ involving some number coincidences, but they seemed intrigued and were perhaps more confident readers in a smaller class.


    1. Hi Mr or Mrs Teachereducationstuff,
      I love the way you’ve continued the traffic theme with the ‘double parked collocations’ or should we say ‘double decker parked collocations’ πŸ™‚
      Your example is nice too and it throws up this interesting dilemma about whether we want to do these kinds of activities before listening (so that they really have to process the language) or while listening (so that they really have to listen). I keep changing my mind about which way works best. What do you think?


  4. Hi.
    I taught my students different stories . I asked them to find the story elements: setting, start , plot , finish . I asked them to exchange the information they found to write new stories . It was really wonderful for my students and they like this activity a lot. I think it looks like weeding. Doesn’t?


    1. Hi Luzan, Thanks for your comment. I very much like the activity you mention; asking the students to discover what the elements of a story are and then asking them to use these elements to create their own stories. I wouldn’t say it was ‘weeding’ though.To me it sounds more like planting…


  5. Hi Nick
    As you know ,I have tried this strategy in my classes and it has been very successful and motivated .This strategy involves many skills together and challenges students to bring back their knowledge of the language and the logical sequence of the ideas.
    Recently,I’ m thinking of trying to mix two short texts together and get ss to separate them from each other .Can we consider this a kind of weeding ???


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