Tuesday, October 21, 2014
By Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
Students rarely find anything more difficult to do. There are just so many steps and potential pitfalls. First students have to understand the primary text. Then, they have to identify the key points. Finally, in order to avoid copying, they have to use synonyms to restate the main points and shift those words around to form grammatical constructions that differ from the original. Any one of these steps is difficult on its own. Doing them all together is enough to make even the coolest secondary school student break into a sweat.
Right now, some of my students at the British School of Brussels are studying for the IGCSE E2L exam, which they will take next year. One of the sections of the test is a summarizing component in which the students must read and summarize an academic passage. The students struggle with this part of the exam more than the other readings and writings they have to do. Having the vocabulary to understand and restate the key ideas from the passage is a huge challenge for them. But, more than anything, they have trouble transforming the structure of the original sentences.
Summarizing demands a high level of grammar flexibility that challenges even advanced students. For instance, they need to be able to make passive sentences into active sentences and vice versa. They also need to have a range of options from which they can pull alternatives to the classic “if … then” conditional structure. In order to reach this level of flexibility, students need repeated practice with the target structures. That’s why we do gap fills and all those other grammar activities in Azar’s books. However, after a certain number of traditional grammar exercises, my secondary students’ eyes tend to glaze over. When they are beginning to get that fidgety look, I open YouTube and rev things up with a music video.
Let Her Go
The key to making this work is to find a song that has a lot of the grammar structure you are targeting in the lyrics. For example, when we are covering paraphrasing the conditional, I like to play Passenger’s “Let Her Go.” Ideally, I find one of those unofficial music videos that shows the lyrics as the song plays, or, if I am especially organized and forward thinking, I print off a copy of the lyrics for each student. Basically, after reviewing the possible words that express conditions (provided that, unless, otherwise, or else, etc.), I play the song and pause it after each phrase. Either as a class, or individually, I have students come up with alternative ways of expressing the same message. For instance, when the lyrics say, “Well, you only need the light when it is burning low.” the students paraphrase with something like, “If the light is burning low, then you need it.” or “You don’t need the light unless it is burning low.” The students enjoy the challenge and, of course, they love listening to the music.
Some Other Songs
Here are some my favorite suggestions for songs that help students change grammatical structures without losing the meaning when paraphrasing:
- “Let Her Go” – Passenger (conditional)
- “If I Were a Boy” – Beyonce (conditional)
- “Moves Like Jagger” – Maroon 5 (conditional)
- “Parents Just Don’t Understand” – DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (reported speech)
- “Blow Me One Last Kiss” – Pink (the subjunctive)
I would love to hear what works for you!