Have you ever been lost in a book? Of course you have; we all have. Have your students ever been lost in a story in class or a reading? Do they get so caught up in the humor or the wonder of what will happen next that they FORGET that they are learning (acquiring) language? I imagine it has happened in your class. I know it happens occasionally in mine. Maybe it should happen more.
As I’ve been writing and creating materials for class recently, I’ve started to move away from a focus on recently covered structures and towards a focus on compelling stories. Then I read this article by Stephen Krashen:
The Case for Non-Targeted, Comprehensible Input
The article itself is very intriguing, and the timing of its publication along with my recent focus made it especially relevant to me. In the article, Krashen describes the disadvantages of a grammatical syllabus and the effectiveness of compelling input for language learners. (I won’t waste space summarizing it here. Click the link above to read the entire article. If you’re like me, you’ll read it a few times and mark several places for future reference) Among many other lessons, this article confirmed that my recent thoughts about a focus on compelling material are valid and shared by others.
In the past, I would take a few structures that were, by a textbook or frequency list, deemed important and try to create a compelling story based on them. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. What happens when you get to the end of a “unit” and your remaining structures are she was spoiled, she used to play with puzzles and stop laughing at me? How do you force them into an interesting story? Sometimes it’s impossible.
Now, I tend to start by creating a compelling story line. “Ooh . . . what if a magical frog started granting wishes to children . . . but the children never granted his one wish of having a real friend . . . so he ate them?” It’s very liberating when the focus changes from, “Let’s read to get repetitions of certain terms” to “Let’s read to get better at reading.” And the same is true for listening, speaking and writing.
Near the end of the article, Krashen gives advice to those of us who are writing/creating materials. He tells us to . . .
- create readings that are not targeted at certain structures and vocabulary
- focus on making the text interesting and comprehensible
- remember that if the students understand the text (and like it), then the text is appropriate
So, let’s do that. Let’s lose our students in compelling stories, readings, jokes, magic tricks and movie talks. Let’s allow them to effortlessly acquire language as we encourage them to forget they are doing anything other than wondering what will happen next.
This does sound ideal. How does this fit into the reality of assessments and such? Maybe that is my “crutch” since “compelling” is the toughest “c” for me. What is compelling to ME so rarely is compelling to the students. And what is compelling to them is generally way out of bounds for a classroom.
Good points. For me, it fits well when I have control of assessments. For most of my classes, I do. When assessments become more natural and similar to how we spend our time in class, everything flows smoothly. However, I do run into trouble in a couple of my classes – the ones for which I do not create the assessments but must try to align to what others (Non TPRS) are doing and how they are assessing. Fortunately, our department works well at accommodating different styles.
I love your perspective here. Do you have any sample readings to share?