Thinking backwards

Published on 7th April, 2011 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

Sometimes it’s more rewarding to develop or find our own texts, rather than using ready-made ones. After all, it can be satisfying to identify a text or task which suits the learners’ needs or interests, rather like cooking a successful meal ourselves instead of buying a ready-made one!

The question is, where and how do you start? Clearly, texts can be used for a multitude of reasons, but for this tip, let’s imagine that you need an additional text or context for consolidation of a certain language area, eg your students need further practice or exposure to the passive or cleft sentences.

The trick is to think backwards and to think naturally. Ask yourself ‘Where and when do we use this language naturally?’

For example, given that the passive shifts the focus from the agent to the thing, a natural focus for this is any text centred on an object: inventions, processes, experiments, buildings etc. Thus, descriptions of buildings, such as those found in a guidebook, have naturally occurring examples of the passive. So, a (local) guidebook or perhaps an internet science forum could supply two natural contexts worth investigating.

Another example might be (pseudo) cleft sentences, eg what I believe is … This shifts the emphasis in a sentence and signals to listeners that something important is coming. Thus, this form is often used when expressing personal opinions. As this is frequently found in spoken language, a materials-seeker might consider a live discussion on a topic which provokes strong feelings, such as how languages are learnt. Radio podcasts from stations with an emphasis on speech such as BBC Radio 4 may be an option. Alternatively, it might be more practical to simply make your own recording, with a fellow teacher!