Reverse Reading 2.0

A while ago, a Nicola Prentis wrote about an interesting conversation activity called Reverse Reading. It enjoyed some popularity and even prompted her to write a short book of lesson-plans based on Reverse Reading. The idea is quite simple: turn a reading lesson into a conversation lesson by writing questions that use target vocabulary in the reading as well as asking questions about the concepts in the reading. This has a few benefits, first, according to Nicola, it avoids situations in which a text is used as a prompt for discussion but the class becomes more of a reading lesson than a conversation one. Instead of “tacking” on conversation questions, foreground them and then work backwards to language analysis and reading. Other benefits include exposure to new vocabulary, phrases, and grammatical forms. You could either pre-teach the vocabulary, making the Reverse Reading the second exposure (and the actually reading, if done, the third) or students could discuss vocabulary while discussing the questions. One other benefit is that these questions force students to consider their background knowledge (or lack thereof), a very important step in the learning process.

I really liked this idea and used it on several occasions with success. It is easy to design and serves as a great way to preview language and ideas. Recently, however, I have been using it a bit differently. For certain texts, I start with the Reverse Reading. I draft questions using target vocabulary, with all questions pertaining to ideas in the text. Students either preview the vocab before the conversation or while discussing the questions. They discuss the questions with the emphasis on their own ideas and opinions. They jot down brief answers as they discuss the questions. Then, students read the text and complete any other comprehension activities I may create. Finally, students use the Reverse Reading questions again, but this time, they must answer from the perspective of the text, referring to specific paragraphs or lines to support their answer.

I added this last step as I wanted students to pay more attention to details while also accepting, rejecting, or revising their previous ideas based on the information on the text. This second round of questions also requires them to use textual evidence, using phrases like “According to” or “___ states”, giving them practice in oral referencing, a very useful academic skill.

Here is an example based on the reading “The Workforce of the Twenty-First Century” from Making Connections 2. This was for a B1~2 reading course:

Reverse Reading Questions (target vocabulary in bold)

  1. What is the difference between a developed and a developing country?
  2. How is today’s workforce different from the workforce of the past?
  3. Do you think there is a greater demand for skilled or low-skilled workers? Why?
  4. What are some advantages of outsourcing?
  5. Why do some people criticize outsourcing?
  6. When manufacturing jobs disappear, who should be blamed?
  7. What is commonly manufactured by skilled workers?
  8. What do you think prevents people from working in another country?
  9. What attracts people to work in another country?
  10. Do you think foreign workers keep their salaries or send it back to their home country? Why?

For this particular example, the questions require a lot of information finding as opposed to critical thinking. However, you can certainly build that into the questions you make.

I have also used this idea in conjunction with jigsaw reading. First, students answer the questions together. Then, they read their respective articles. Then, they come back together and answer the questions based on the articles, teaching the main concepts of their article to their partner(s).

Here is an example based on readings of Jefferson’s Notes on Slavery from Newsela and Frederick Douglass’ speech “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery”, also on Newsela. This was for a pre-university listening and speaking class that focuses on US History.

Reading Questions (Question 1-4 refer to reading 1; 5-9 are for reading 2)

  1. Why do you think many whites had objections to including blacks in America after the slaves were free?
  2. Do you think the differences between races are due to differences of nature, differences of education, or something else?
  3. Do you think children learn through imitation (copying their parents and friends)? If so, what do you think slave-owners’ children learned from their parents?
  4. Do you think that sadness and suffering inspire poetry and songs? If so, what effect do you think this had on slave and African-American music?
  5. Why would an ex-slave find hypocrisy in being asked to celebrate the Fourth of July?
  6. What do you think is a better method to persuade someone: discussion or criticism? Why?
  7. Do you think slave-holders thought slavery was wrong? Why or why not?
  8. Do you think the laws recognized slaves as people, property, or animals?
  9. What different justifications do you think upheld slavery?

Students had already learned about slavery from other readings and lectures, so they had to draw on their new background knowledge to answer these questions for the first round of reverse reading, and that knowledge was reinforced while reading and especially during the second round.

I have not done this yet, but a third idea for reverse reading would be to use it with listening texts, with students referring to notes during the second round of questions.

In summary, drafting questions using target vocabulary, grammar, and ideas, and then using these questions before AND after a text helps build exposure to vocabulary, activates background knowledge, helps to assimilate new information with old information, requires close reading, referencing, and critical thinking. That seems like quite a powerful reading activity!

Orwell’s 6 Rules of Writing

Based on Politics and the English Language

  1. Just like one should never throw the baby out with the bathwater, one should never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which they are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use excessively lengthy vocabulary in situations in which a rather abbreviated term would do.
  3. If it is possible to remove a word, always.
  4. The passive should never be used when the active can be employed.
  5. Never use foreign phrases, academic argot, or discipline-specific parlance when an everyday English word is the mot juste.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than being a grammatical pedant.



Silence is Golden

Anyone who has experience with East Asian students has probably noticed their inclination towards being reticent. Not all, mind you. We have heard or perhaps thought to ourselves about how their silence can negatively impact their language learning or study abroad experience; that their silence is a sign of shyness, inability, or lack of critical thinking. If you read my recent blog post on introversion, you would know that quietness should never be taken as a negative sign – some people, for issues that range from temperament, culture, or genetics, don’t speak as often. Painting with a broad brush, it is safe to assume that East Asia (Japan, China, Korea) appears higher on the introverted spectrum on average. However, this really should not be a problem. Continue reading

Adventures in Close Reading

I have written several times about close reading, and I have played with it in class here and there, but it hasn’t been until this most recent term that I have used it consistently and as a central part of a course. I am teaching reading to a small, low-level group of students and close reading was employed as a solution to some of their reading problems. Continue reading

Is it time to SLAy PPP?

A recent discussion on Geoff Jordan’s blog, “Why PPP makes no sense at all,” has gotten me thinking more about the role of SLA research in language instruction. Most teachers, in their quest to be pedagogically principled, have taken a more evidence-based approach to their teaching. SLA research is one of the sciences that should underlie how we go about teaching. One of Jordan’s key arguments is that PPP as most conceive it flies in the face of sound SLA research. PPP is often seen as a rigid, linear methodology that assumes learners will learn what is taught, practiced, and produced. Jordan’s oft-repeated response is:

Students do not learn target forms and structures when and how a teacher decrees that they should, but only when they are developmentally ready to do so.

In quoting Ortega (2009), Jordan continues later:

Instruction cannot affect the route of interlanguage development in any significant way.

Geoff’s first argument should not be doubted by anyone. PPP as most think of it is not evidence based. SLA research makes it clear there is a developmental order of language learning. However, leaving PPP aside for the moment, I’d like to focus on the second of his arguments. Continue reading

Introspection on Introversion

A recent person setback has had me thinking of introversion. The setback was due to my own introversion and not being one to palaver often. Although my particular temperament was not expressed in negative terms, for many, introversion is a deviation from the extroversion norm – it is seen as a a lack rather than a positive trait or even benefit. I learned this and more from the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I found this book extremely informative, and more importantly, cathartic in that I no longer see my introversion as a deficit but as a positive attribute, one that I can harness for my own success. Here are some of the random things I learned from Susan Cain’s book: Continue reading

The Grammar Gods Must be Crazy

To many, Betty Azar’s English Grammar coursebook series is the book for grammar instruction. People even know the books by their nicknames: blue, black, and gray. Betty Azar herself, a nice woman whom I briefly met once, is often considered a guru of grammar – a grammar god, if you will – by many. I have even heard some sing her and her books’ praise: “We get to teach with Azar!”. I don’t get it. If Azar is a god and her books the holy word, I am an atheist, and this post is iconoclastic. As you’ll see, I don’t like her books and I don’t believe in their method. But, the great irony is… I use Azar. I use it because it’s there – all 300+ pages of it. I was given it. My students were given it. I don’t like to waste paper. It is used as part of a discrete skills grammar class, a type of class that is very common in intensive English programs (this deserves a separate post). A book like this usually is the syllabus for such a class. But not for mine. This post is going to briefly outline how I take Azar’s book, which to me seems like a glorified workbook paraded as a coursebook, and turn what could be quite a boring and unprofitable class into one that I think meets students need, both functionally and grammatically. Continue reading