What can you see in texts?

Learning to see further in and with texts

How do you select texts to use with your EAP students? Do you choose them yourself or encourage students to bring articles that interest them to class? What do you notice in a text that helps you to decide it will be useful for your students? Below is a text from Access EAP: Foundations (Unit 4, lesson 3 p. 70) that was adapted for use with low proficiency EAP students (CEFR B1) from a published academic article. What features of this text seem salient to you? If you were using it with a group of students, what tasks would you develop?

Liu, Yanming & Black, Robert (2003). Using Computer-based Learning in Traditional Classrooms. Language Teacher Education and Computers, 25 /4.
The use of computer-based methods for teaching, especially on the Internet, is growing in education. Most universities now offer some of their courses online (Jamieson, 1997). Recent studies (Forbes, 1998; Torres-Correa, 1999) have tried to evaluate the effectiveness of computer-based teaching and to assess student satisfaction with online courses. They compare student achievement and student attitudes toward computer-based and classroom teaching. These studies report no significant difference in achievement between students who study only using computers compared to students who study only in traditional classrooms.
Several advantages of computer-based learning have been discussed. Jamieson (1997) found that online learning increased student numbers due to the convenience of studying at home. Torres-Correa (1999) reported that online learning was attractive for students with low incomes because it was less expensive. However, Jenkins (2000) carried out a survey of students who were studying and working at the same time. He found that some students had problems finding time to work and study. Others said that they missed the chance to work with other students or a tutor. Few studies have investigated the combination of computer-based and classroom learning. The purpose of this study is to assess the effectiveness of computer-based learning for improving independent learning in classrooms.

We see in texts what we’ve been trained to see as a result of our initial teacher training and subsequent professional development. This point was illustrated for me by George Woolard, whom I worked alongside briefly in the late 1990s. At that time, the use of large computer-based corpora to research patterns in text had really taken off. George published a series of vocabulary books based on the Lexical Approach and the importance of teaching collocation. He talked about his own professional development from viewing texts as triggers for conversation and personal stories, in which verb grammar and topic vocabulary was the focus, to noticing collocations and sentence patterns in texts. These patterns were often pre-formed routine expressions, which could help students extend their fluency.

Image by Richard Reid from Pixabay 

At the time, I was employed in a temporary capacity to cover an EAP class for an absent teacher. The class were half-way through a functional EAP syllabus and had reached the point where they were exploring cause & effect. I’d taught mainly General ELT up to that point and was aware of a functional approach in conversation, expressing likes, dislikes and asking politely for what you want. I hadn’t thought of texts as functional. My subsequent EAP development involved noticing a wider range of features in texts and moving through the following stages in exploiting texts to develop materials: Students will

  1. enjoy the topic of this text
  2. practise the present perfect with this text
  3. discover definitions in this text
  4. learn functional lexis, e.g. for cause and effect, from this text
  5. identify problem-solution organization in this text for use in their writing
  6. identify the purpose, audience, typical structure and style of this genre
  7. understand the conventions of this text so they can present themselves as members of their academic community.
  8. ask critical questions of this text in order to engage with the process of building knowledge in their field.
  9. reflect on the alignment (or lack thereof) between their own views and the ideas in this  text to help them set aspirational goals and direct their own learning.

I used the text above to work on efficient reading, using general to specific text structure, and critical evaluation of the text as a credible academic source. It might have been tempting to highlight the verb tenses but instead I focused on the noun phrases, which are much more relevant to academic reading and writing. Further tasks provided scaffolding to borrow ideas from sources with appropriate paraphrase and accurate citation. Pre-writing tasks compared and contrasted viewpoints in the text with the students’ own stance on computer-based learning. The final writing outcome was to reproduce the genre as an introduction to an essay on the advantages and disadvantages of computer-based learning. Even at this relatively low level of language proficiency, students have the cognitive ability to engage with the requirements of scholarship set out in the final three points in my list.

Nordquist, Richard. “What Is the Lexical Approach?” ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-lexical-approach-1691113.

Woolard, George (2005) Key Words for Fluency. London: Thomson/Cengage Learning.

Author: Olwyn Alexander

I'm an author and researcher in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). I collaborated with two friends and colleagues, Sue Argent and Jenifer Spencer, to write EAP Essentials: a teacher's guide to principles and practice, now in its second edition. Sue and I also wrote the course book series, Access EAP: Foundations and Frameworks.

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