Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Importance of Context

Reading skills, along with listening, speaking and writing are important skills to have when learning a foreign language.  While reading an authentic text, many students freeze up when they come across a word they don't know.  Their first instinct is to jump into a dictionary or an online translator.  However, those tools are not always available, especially when taking an exam (AP prep anyone?).

An important skill ANY student needs (not just a foreign language student) is the ability to figure out word meaning based on context if a certain word is unknown.  The ability to use context will help students feel more confident when reading any text when resources may not be available.

One thing I stumbled across at a foreign language workshop was an AWESOME reading to practice this skill.  The reading has some excerpts from "A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess.  It is in English but has random gibbersh words inserted into the story.  It is a great activity for giving students some skills and confidence in using context to figure out an unknown word.

What I did was type up the excerpt and underline all of the words that would be "unknown" and asked students to have discussions about each.  I asked them to infer everything they possibly can.  Is it a noun, verb, adjective, etc?  Is it a type of something?  Can we figure out what the actual word replaces?

After the discussion we discuss as a class.  We go word by word and talk about what we know about it and how we know it.

For example:

"My rooker trembled as I took out of my carman the little klootch I had for opening up."

We talk about the word "klootch" first and determine it is definitely a noun and likely the word "key" because we use it to open something up.  Then we talk about "carman" and determine it must be a pocket, purse or bag because that is where a key would be taken out of.  Finally we discuss "rooker" and guess it is a body part, likely a hand, because it is described as trembling.

Activities like this are very important to instilling confidence in students as they read through texts that may include words they don't know.  With this skill, students will succeed in situations where they may not have resources like dictionaries and translators.

Want a copy?  I have it for free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Photo from


Monday, September 15, 2014

Using Your Smartboard as an "Entry Slip"

While many students need the full four or five minutes of passing time, many others do not.  Quite often, students will come into my class a solid two to three minutes before class and just sit there staring into space.

Rather than waste those extra few minutes I might have with some students, I will often project interactive games onto the smartboard.  My students know that when they see a game, they may play it.  

What is really fun about these games is that it creates a competitive edge among the students.  Can you beat the best score?  Can you improve on your last score?  

The games I project will always have something to do with what they are currently learning.  Vocabulary, grammar, verbs... you name it!

My two favorites are quizlet and classtools.

With quizlet, I create a set of flashcards.  Sometimes I will purposefully set them up to not just be translations, but sometimes of verb conjugations or even question/response type things.  I then set the quizlet set to the game of "scatter" and students can play it on the white board when they walk in.  This is also great because students can make their own sets on quizlet and play games even at home on their computers.

With classtools, you can create TONS of different interactive games.  My favorite is the dustbin game.  This game is great when you have categories of things.  Students must drag the terms into the correct "bin" (category).  This is also a timed race.

I noticed an exponential improvement on many topics when I put these games on the board at the beginning of the hour.  The competition drives students to remember the terms.  I also use this as something to do if there is a few minutes to kill at the end of an hour as well.

Check them out!

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