Focusing on the use of authentic materials.
You might think that students have to be quite competent in a language before they can start accessing authentic reading and listening materials, or before you can start using them in your teaching. In fact, if you select material which is straightforward and reflects, at least in part, what the students have covered so far, and then create a task which is easy for the students to tackle, you will find that using authentic texts is fun and highly motivating for the students! Authentic texts may be taken from a variety of sources.
To find out how to create exercises using software such as Hot Potatoes see the section on Technologies on this website.
The CEELBAS Language Repository contains a range of teaching resources, aimed primarily at postgraduate students and researchers, in which authentic texts are used in a variety of ways.
However surprising it may seem at first, poetry can be be used very successfully to introduce or consolidate grammar points, even with beginners. Poems are suitable for language teaching because they often are:
Additionally, once a poem has been looked at for its language content, it can be read aloud (perhaps first by the teacher, then by students in pairs), which is a useful and fun way of practising pronunciation and consolidating the material orally/aurally. And, in languages where word stress is fairly unpredictable, such as Ukrainian, this is an ideal way of consolidating stress patterns as, in a poem with evident metre, the stress should be easy to predict.
Finally, this is an activity which learners enjoy. Many students express a liking for poetry, and find it motivating to be reading verse in a language they are only just beginning to learn. To quote one ab initio student of a Slavonic language: ‘some of the things we read made a great impression on me (particularly the poem […], which I had stuck up on my wall all through the year)’. A carefully selected poem can provide an interesting challenge to (young) adult learners, as this type of material is emotionally and intellectually suited to students (material such as children’s rhymes, which are often included in language textbooks) may not always be appropriate for adults, as they are usually intended for young native speakers, tend to include quite complex language (for example, diminutives) etc. Given below are some examples of poems which fit the criteria mentioned above.
An interesting way of presenting aspects of the culture of a country is through its traditional proverbs and sayings. Students enjoy reading these and finding equivalents in English or another language.
It is easy to find themed lists of proverbs (either online or in books) in most Slavonic and East European languages. Proverbs tend to consist of advice (so really useful when covering imperatives) or statements and/or comparisons, which can be used to practice the present and other tenses. Because proverbs generally deal with everyday situations, it is easy to find, say, 10-12 which contain fairly straightforward vocabulary, and are suitable for inexperienced learners of the language.
Lists of proverbs can be used either just for reading practice, for comparison with other languages or can be incorporated into matching exercises. Given below are some links to online resources using proverbs.
Songs are often used in teaching, and can be a welcome change from other class activities. They are also an excellent way of introducing the culture of a given country to learners of the language. And, if the students are that way inclined, a little bit of singing in class can generate fun.
As with all authentic texts, however, any songs need to be carefully selected and prepared. A song which is played to students without preparation can create anxiety in students, that they aren’t understanding the words. Many times, songs are presented to learners just so that a song can be included in the lesson plan. The value of this is debatable.
When selecting songs for use in class, it is worth asking yourself the following questions:
There is a wide variety of materials (many to be found online) discussing the use of songs in the teaching of English as a foreign or second language, and, also, of the mainstream languages such as French or Spanish. Many of these resources can be adapted for use in teaching Slavonic languages.
Among the relatively small number of resources on less-widely taught languages, the following may be of interest:
Reading and recognising titles (of news items, films, contents pages of books) is another lively way of getting learners used to reading short texts in the language.
If there is access to the Internet in the teaching room (or smartphones can be used), students can view selected news websites in the language, and try to work out what a particular news item is about. This is minimally stressful, as the titles are usually short, contain a high proportion of personal and geographical names and students may already have an idea of the day’s news items, which may help them to grasp the content.
For research students, contents pages of books (either in hard copy or online) provide a useful exercise in reading study-related content in a concise form.
Getting students to guess film titles in the language is also a useful activity, which, whilst being fun, also practises deductive skills. Examples of exercises using film titles are given below.