Tuesday, December 20, 2005

www.Breaking News English.com

"Www.BreakingNewsEnglish.com" is a website that focuses on using newspapers to teach English. The link above is a typical lesson. It is actually a large collection of tasks that you can selectively build a lesson from. There are so many you probably wouldn't want to use them all.

The tasks are categorized as warm-up, before, while, and after reading-listening, listening, discussion,speaking, and homework. Answers are also included. I found this site from a British Council link so the site must maintain a high level of quality in the material they provide.

One limitation is that the newspaper text that is the focus of the lesson is a very small extract from a larger news article. This subtracts a little from the text's authenticity and doesn't allow students to dig very deep into the issues. On the other hand, this strategy of a small amount of text with many activities could lead to repeated exposure of the student to words in different contexts which is a good strategy for vocabulary acquisition.

The tasks section has 1,921 words and the article only has 195 words, so there is almost ten times as much task as there is reading. Some teachers might want more reading and less task.

The "Warm-Up Section" section seems too long. It also probably assumes more background knowledge than a student will have about Arab gulf states. The focus on finding what students consider interesting is nice and could help the teacher motivate students and make the lesson more enjoyable. Some of the tasks might profitably be taken out of this specific lesson and put into a general guidelines for every lesson section.

In the "Before Reading/Listening" section the word and phrase matching is a nice way to give the student the sort of repeated exposure to vocabulary that will build the automatic recall they need for reading fluency. I find the true/false questions tedious and distracting. Again more reading, less task.

The gap-fill task in the "While Reading" section is a nice way to attack the article. Hopefully, they vary the format everyday, using various forms of dictation, comprehension question, information transfer, and gap-fill. Again fewer tasks, but more various and creative approaches to tasks would be desirable.

While "Discussion" and "Speaking" are potentially the most useful sections, the small newspaper text size is once more a problem. The text is so small that it can't really provide the answers to these questions. Some of the questions, like whether the student would like to visit or not, don't seem relevant to the article's content.

I really got a lot out of this site. The critcisms could equally be applied to my own material writing. In fact the reason for the critique is to improve my own writing. Despite the shortcomings this is overall an excellent site.

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