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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Personalised Dictogloss to Practise Tenses

One way of diagnosing students' knowledge of tenses, or of getting them to focus on the difference between two tenses, is by doing a dictogloss. On Tuesday with my CAE class, we were revising the use of different tenses, and I began by reading out the following short text:

Last Sunday I took part in the Race for Life. 
This was the first time I had ever participated in a race, except for the odd fun run when I was at school.
I took up running in March and I have been training since then - two or three times a week. 
There were over 5,000 women doing the run, of all ages. It wasn't easy to run at first because some of the women were walking.
In the end I finished in 412th position! I'm now thinking of trying to increase the distance on my training runs. Maybe next year I'll do a 10K!
I read it twice. The students then had to write down what they remembered from the text. They then worked in pairs to try to reconstruct the text, paying close attention to the verb tenses used. They could ask me questions about any details they couldn't remember, but I would reply with one word answers. I then wrote all the verbs that appeared in the story on the board and the students could check that they had included everything. There didn't seem to be any problems with the use of tenses in this case, but you can always focus on some of the verbs and ask the students why they used each particular tense.

Today I have a teenage group who were looking at the main differences between the present simple and continuous last lesson. I am going to do a dictogloss with the following text:

I'm feeling nervous and excited. It's very noisy because there are so many people. I am with more than five thousand other people and we are all standing in a small space, like a outdoor corridor. I hear a man through the speakers. He is telling us how long we have before we start. The atmosphere is amazing. Everybody is getting ready to go. The man is reading some names and now five thousand people are singing "Happy Birthday" to those people! The man is now counting ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, go! Now there are lots of pink balloons in the air and we are all running. 
I will pre-teach some of the vocabulary so that the weaker students don't panic when I start to read. The first time they listen will be to find out where the speaker is. This is not explicit - they will have to imagine they are in this situation and guess where they are. Can you guess? The first example should help you!
The second time they can take notes. They will then work in pairs or threes to reconstruct the text. Again, I will write the verbs in their infinitive form on the board. If they find it difficult, I will put the verbs in the correct order. They will have to think carefully about whether each verb should be in present simple or continuous and why.

I am then going to ask them to write their own short text. They should imagine they are somewhere interesting (at a Cup Final, lost in a forest, in the A&E ward etc) and write how they are feeling and what they can see, hear etc. Hopefully, this will get them using both tenses appropriately.

Both texts are true and about an event I took part in last weekend. I think that giving a personalised touch to the materials you use can provoke more interest and discussion - the students may wish to know more, and it is more motivating for students to find out something about their teacher as a person instead of an impersonal text from a book. It may even motivate them to write their own!
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