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!

3-2-1- Speak: Combining Peer Feedback, Accuracy, Fluency, and Academic Speaking

Practice makes perfect, right? It’s not as simple as that, but there is some evidence that doing something again and again does lead to improvement. I’ve just been reading research about repeated readings leading to improved comprehension. As interesting as that is, this particular post is not research-based, per se. Instead, I’d like to describe an activity I have been doing in an advanced listening and speaking class, one which I first read about on twitter and then actually got to experience myself at the 2017 TESOL convention in Seattle. This activity, based on repeated speaking, combines a range of different skills: content and critical thinking, listening, accuracy, feedback, fluency, and academic discourse for a winning combination of great practice that students enjoy (so much so that I was inspired to write this post). Continue reading

The Power of PechaKucha

PechaKucha has become quite a popular presentation format, perhaps coming in just under TED’s level of infamy. Like TED, there are a number of “PechaKucha Nights” popping up in cities and at universities around the world. It has enjoyed this rise in status for good reason: people like the brevity, the visual appeal, and the informality.

PechaKuchas are typically 6 minute 40 second presentations consisting of 20 slides (or images) displayed for 20 seconds each. Each slide automatically advances until the end, ensuring a presentation that is fast-paced, information dense, and has an end in sight. This model means that a number of speakers can present in a relatively short period of time.

PechaKucha makes a great presentation tool for the English language classroom. The goal of this blog post is to detail some of these reasons and show how PechaKucha can be adapted for almost any context. My own project examples will also be given at the end.

1. They Are Short

30-minute group presentations are great in theory: students can share a lot of information and display in-depth research on important topics. But, how many can you fit in one class? In one week? In one term? PechaKuchas will never be as thorough as the long-form presentation, but for typical class sizes (10 or more) they can be fit easily into 1 or 2 50-minute periods, especially if they are modified.

The short time of PechaKuchas has a number of benefits. First, it means you can fit many presentations into a single day or two, even building in a period of Q&A that still doesn’t tack on too much in terms of time. Second, because you can do so much in so little time, you can give students multiple chances over a term or semester to give presentations. That is, you can give them multiple chances to hone their presentation skills. The long-form group presentation, or even the 10-minute individual presentation, does not usually allow for this. Third, you are working to the audience’s attention span. Paying attention is hard. Paying attention in a second language is even harder. There is a place and time to have an intense focus, but perhaps presentations are not the best, especially if the presenters are struggling or they did not follow directions completely (i.e. its their first presentation ever). The PechaKucha model allows students in the audience to have sustained but relatively short focus – a kind of practiced or scaffolded exercise in paying attention. And, given that the model is visual, somewhat informal, and is more conducive to speaking rather than “reading” a presentation, the PechaKucha presentation itself is usually more enjoyable to watch.

The typical PechaKucha is a 20×20 6:40 presentation. However, as you will see below, this can easily be modified into a 10×20 3:30 presentation (for larger classes) or even a 5×30. Really, any combination of times and slides could work so long as the presentation stays true to the principle of PechaKucha.

2. They are Visual and Text-Averse

PechaKuchas appeal to audiences because they are extremely visual. A single slide usually consists of one or two images, and, not text walls – no long blocks of text that the speaker then reads to the audience. Each slide’s visual can either serve as background support for the speaker or can be directly referred to by the speaker. Plus this type of minimalist structure is often considered a good design principle for presentations, namely because it puts the focus on the speaker.

4. They Require Practice

Because students cannot rely on the text on the screen, they must put greater emphasis on practicing their presentation, memorizing their presentation, and/or preparing notes. Timing here is also important. Because the slides automatically advance, students need to make sure their information is timed correctly. Therefore, they need to practice. Increased practice means increased speaking (in private or public, to one’s self or their friends), which hopefully means increase in fluency. This format moves students away from “reading a presentation” (from a script or from slides) to speaking more naturally.

5. They Promote “Skills”

PechaKuchas do not sacrifice skills for time. Discourse markers used during formal presentations can also be used during PechaKuchas. Warming up an audience, introducing topic, background, shifting topics, exemplification, definition, explanation – all of these moves and their rhetorical phrases can still be included. While PechaKuchas cannot allow for the long-form exposition or for in-depth explanations of background, research methods, stats, or analysis, they do offer something longer presentation formats do not: conciseness. For a successful PechaKucha, students need to be able to explain complex ideas or details in a compact way. They need to get to the point, and quick. This is a skill that is useful inside and outside the classroom, for almost any context!

6. They Can be Modified

As I mentioned above, PechaKuchas can be modified. Here are a few examples of modified PechaKuchas I have recently used:

  • Course: Listening and Speaking
  • Level: upper-intermediate, pre-advanced
  • Topic: ___ & the Brain
  • Class Size: 12

10×20 PechaKucha (3:30)

After watching a model PechaKucha and explaining the traditional PechaKucha format, students were given the following instructions:

  • You must use the PPT I give you.
    • I distributed blank, pre-formatted PPTs to students. They had to simply add images, save, and upload.
    • There were 11 slides in total. The final slide was a “Thank You for Listening” slide that ended the presentation.
  • You must not write any text.
    • Actually, on the title slide, they were allowed to write their title and their name.
  • You must memorize not read your presentation.
    • Some students DID read their presentations. While this was bad for their grade, it was a great opportunity for the class to learn that spoken English is much easier to understand than English that is read aloud.
  • You must practice your presentation for Audio Diary 3. I will give feedback before your presentation.
    • Students practiced their presentation and audio recorded it. They sent it to me, along with their script or notes, and I gave feedback on grammar, structure, and pronunciation.
  • Course: Listening and Speaking
  • Level: upper-intermediate, pre-advanced
  • Topic: open
  • Class Size: 12
 10×20 PechaKucha (3:30)

Students did a final presentation based on an interesting topic and their own survey research. I gave them an example presentation outline that could help them structure their PechaKucha:

  • Slide 1: Introduction to topic
  • Slide 2-3: Background/context of topic
  • Slide 4: Your research method/questions
  • Slide 5: Your survey data/ analysis
  • Slide 7-8: Your survey discussion/ interpretation/ implications
  • Slide 9-10: Conclusion

There was a 3-minute period of question and answer afterwards. This presentation took two classes (two days)

I also took the opportunity to go over more “presentation phrases” that we had learned from listening to lectures and TED talks.

  • Course: Reading
  • Level:intermediate
  • Topic: Book report
  • Class Size: 14
 5 slide PechaKucha (2:40)

Students used this as part of the extensive reading program. They have read various books all term and ended with a presentation on their favorite book.

  • Slide 1 – 10s – Introduction/Title of book
  • Slide 2 – 60s – Plot/Summary
  • Slide 3 – 30s – Favorite scene/character/part
  • Slide 4 – 60s – Evaluation and recommendation
  • Slide 5 – 0s – Thank You

This was a highly structured and short PechaKucha due to the limited class time and the limited time during the week to do it. However, students worked hard and employed a number of skills we had worked on for reading, namely summarization and evaluation.

I’m not disparaging the long-form presentation. There is certainly a place for that, especially in EAP. I am, however, trying to stress that PechaKucha – in its original or modified forms – may be more appropriate or more effective in certain contexts.

Of course, maybe you already do something like this in your class.You don’t need to call it a PechaKucha (in fact, for the last example above, I didn’t). The basic principles of being brief and having only visuals is common sense and hopefully common place. For those looking for a new way to do presentation, or some ideas on how to adapt their current projects, its my hope that the principles of PechaKucha inspire greater presentations for the sake of the student….and for the sake of the audience who has to listen to that student (the teacher included).