Text reconstruction activities

Levels: elementary to advanced.
Ages: older kids; teens; adults.
Type: a variety of activities to do with reconstructing texts.
Skills: listening; speaking; reading; writing.
Language focus: grammar – textual cohesion; other grammar and vocab points as they arise.

Introduction

Text reconstruction activities…

  • are a way to maximise the usefulness of a text so that good materials don’t go to waste. It’s a bit like saving unused pasta to make salad for the next day. A good text can be used for so much more than a straightforward reading lesson.
  • are a way to ensure that students get variety in their grammar input – a whole range of stuff may crop up: C/U nouns; pluralisation; verb patterns; use of linking devices; word formation – basically anything may come up. This is a helpful way to help balance the needs of short-term with those of long-term students.
  • are a valuable way to recycle language, especially vocabulary/collocations, in context. You could choose to do it as a lesson 3, or even a lesson 4, using a text the main teacher has used earlier in the week.
  • can be done with minimal preparation and materials.
  • should be done with texts the students have already read – ideally a day or two earlier.
  • are best if they reconstruct a text which was interesting the first time round. Boring texts tend to be boring to reconstruct.

Five text reconstruction activities

  1. Order the phrases
    Take out 8-10 phrases from a text; students put them in the order they heard/read them (from memory). By doing so, they are essentially obliged to re-construct a spoken version of the text. This works best (but not only) with stories. After they have
    done so they could re-write the whole text in their own words, using the given phrases in the appropriate place. (This would take quite a long time).
  2. Sentence anagrams
    Take one key sentence from the text and put the words in alphabetical order. Students have to put it back together. This can throw up a wide range of interesting grammar and can be quite a challenge. You could do the same thing with six or so sentences, stuck up on the walls: students move around and work on whichever sentence they wish.
  3. Replace the function words
    Take out all the articles, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, etc, leaving only the nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. Students have to re-grammar the text. This throws up all sorts of interesting grammar and is not as easy as it might sound. Encourage students to realise that alternatives to the original may be just as good or may slightly alter the meaning.
  4. Which verbs were used before these nouns?
    Take out all (or most) of the nouns, put them in a list. Students use their memories and general language awareness to remember which verbs collocated with them. They compare with the original and see if they were right. It’s worth drawing attention to other words which collocate with them – and which words do not.
  5. Dictogloss
    You read a few lines of a text at normal pace. Students write as much as they can down, then work in pairs, then threes/fours, then as a whole class (or two big groups?) to come up with a final version which they negotiate with each other. While they do so you will hopefully hear them saying things like ‘but does it need the or a?’ ‘is it infinitive or –ing?’ etc. Note: the first time they do this they will probably not believe that you’re only going to read it once so make sure you check this instruction thoroughly). Read up about dictoglosses and find out alternative ways of doing this really useful activity.
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is an EFL teacher and teacher-trainer, as well as a singer and guitarist.
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