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.
“When 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