Monday, 30 April 2012

Bulgaria Skills

Reading and listening are essential parts of the language learning process. But students often struggle with them. These are some of the reasons why.
These are the problems that my colleagues came up with from around the globe.

Feel free to write your own solutions to these problems in the comment section below.
·       Students often try to understand every single word, or try to translate the text into their own language
·       Students don't always read the instructions carefully and so don't understand what they are listening for
·       They get lost so easily, try to understand every word or complain the speakers are going to quickly.
·       Students equate reading with misery, school and tests, they don’t even read in their own language
·       In tests the wording of each item can cause problems: weaker students tend to focus on the exact words they see in the question, and are confused when they don't find them.
·       This sound bite generation… anything longer than a couple of paragraphs and they lose interest
·       I don’t have a lot of time in class, so I skip the listening or find it easier to read the text to the students
·       They don't get it when there is cultural info in the text...because they generally focus on form and literal meaning.
·       It’s so difficult to pay attention to a voice coming out of a box in the corner of the room, you can see them looking out of the window.

Some Solutions to these problems 
·      Prepare the students well for the tasks they face. Get lots of discussion and interest about the topic.
·      Set interesting tasks, maybe that personalise the reading or listening.
·      Allow students to break the text down into manageable chucks. For instance allowing them to stop and discuss with a partner during the listening.
·      Set interesting follow up tasks that encourage students to use what they have read.

Below are some practical ideas that I didn’t have time to show you in the session but are worth reading through.

Mind maps
Use mind maps to brainstorm information before the reading activity or to help introduce cultural information. Then when students read ask them to complete the mind maps. It shows greater understanding of the text than comprehension question questions alone so moving from simple comprehension to gaining knowledge.

Who’s the author?
Put the some pictures of people on the whiteboard, ask the students to read the text and decide who wrote it . Get them to give reasons and discuss their answers. This is getting them to start to negotiate meaning in a text, to think of the author and their reasons for writing.

Write your own questions
Tell the students what you are going to listen to. Ask them to write their own questions about the subject. Then they listen and see if their questions are answered. Try doing this with the pictures as well to help.

Say stop
Allow the class to stop the recording during the listening if they feel a bit lost or confused. Get them to compare their notes in pairs first and then continue.

Facebook updates

As students to write a Facebook update for one of the characters in the listening.

Some tips
Don't be afraid to break listening and reading texts down into shorter segments. Students do have a short attention span - don't fight it... accept it and adapt. :-)

Show you are interested in the text as well, even if you have heard the tape 100 times still oooh and ahh in all the right places.

Use pairwork after reading and listening exercises before class feedback. Give students a chance to check with their friends if they have the same answers. This will make them more confident when giving you the answers. It is what we do in real life; when we read or listen to something we often chat about it to our nearest and dearest.

Can you find a way to get your students up and active either before or during a reading activity?A little bit of movement helps to get oxygen to the brain and that increases attention span. Or can you open a window and have a blast of fresh air?

And Finally.
Make sure there is something do do before during and after the listening or reading to make it engaging for the students


  1. Many, many thanks Mr Davis!
    It was a real pleasure to listen to you in Sofia and now to have your useful and refreshing ideas in hand is a treasure!

  2. Larissa, thank you so much for your kind comments. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Bulgaria and hope I come back again. I hope the ideas help your teaching in one way or another.