The titles of school course books are seldom rich in deeper meaning and profound thought. The title Step by Step is no exception, but we hope that it expresses some of the ideas that this multi-media course book is based on:
We have decided to present literary texts according to their genres. The reasons for doing this are:
There are three versions of the short stories: A, B and C.
Version A is composed of short, simple sentences giving the basic facts.
Version B has longer, more varied sentence structures and gives more details.
Version C is the original text.
We have tried to find an appropriate balance between the three versions with regard to length, text structure and content.
During my years of teaching adult immigrants and refugees, it has often struck me that the vast amounts of time and energy that some of the weaker students invest in studying texts do not really lead to much learning. I have noticed that these students often need to look up several words in every single sentence. This indicates that the texts being used are too difficult, but it is also a sure sign that the level of understanding, learning and enjoyment will be extremely low. What the students learn from this experience is probably that English is very difficult, and that they are not very good at it.
For students who have just started learning English, it makes far more sense to read shorter, simpler texts which give them the feeling that they master the task, and that they are learning more of the language.
This is of course in line with Krashen’s theory of “comprehensible input”, which is a central concept in second-language development. Comprehensible input implies that students should be able to understand the essence of what they read or hear, but this does not mean that texts should only use words that the students understand. It seems clear that people learn a new language best when they meet texts and speech that are just a little more difficult than they can easily understand. In other words, students should understand most words in a text, but not all of them. For learning to take place, there should be new language items, but not so many that they hinder understanding and enjoyment.
Our approach is also to some extent inspired by Vygotsky’s “scaffolding”. In this case the “scaffolds” aim to:
The immigrant/refugee classes that I have taught have rarely been homogenous. As a rule there has been the whole range of grades on the exam, from 1 to 6. It goes without saying that the very ablest students can go straight to version C, while some of the beginners might spend most of their time on Version A (and occasionally B). Ideally, of course, most students ought to be able to progress from A to B and C during the course of a school year.
The point is that pupils who have difficulty reading a long, authentic text will be able to grasp the basic content by reading version A, which can then be used as an introduction to the more demanding versions.
A familiar maxim is that “a teacher should guide, not decide”, and in most cases pupils have a good idea which level they are at. However, they may occasionally need guidance. Some pupils may be uncomfortable reading the easiest version of a text, while others might choose a version that is too easy for them, for any of a number of reasons.
Reading the simple sentences in version A, and then practising linking them together into more complex structures, has proven to be an effective way of improving writing skills, and not only for the weaker students.
One night he wakes up.
The palace is on fire.
Gulliver goes to help.
As a rule, Version A is written in the present tense. Pupils can change the verbs to the past tense.
Pupils can expand the A versions by adding adjectives and/or adverbs where appropriate. When they have studied the text, pupils can dictate a few sentences to each other.
It is useful to compare the B and C versions of texts with regard to sentence structure, vocabulary and content. This is one way of ensuring that the ablest students read the C versions properly.
Pupils can work in groups of three, each reading a different version of the text (A, B and C). Then they tell each other what they got out of their text. The pupil with version A should begin, followed by B and C. Depending on the length of time the pupils are given, the pupil with version C may not have been able to read the whole text.
Even though pupils have read different versions of the text, it should be possible for all of them to:
There are tasks which focus on understanding the text and on aspects of language in connection with most of the texts in Step by Step, in addition to the ones in the online resources.
Under this heading we suggest some topics for discussion which may be used in pairs, groups or classroom discussion.
These items are spread out through the book and can be used as short gap-fillers or as introductions to an aspect of language you want to look at.
These may not be the funniest jokes in the world, but at least they are short. Sometimes, however, they might convey a serious message, for instance that we should let someone finish speaking before we criticise them:
Teacher: Make a sentence starting with “I”.
Pupil: “I is…”
Teacher: “No! Not I is, I AM!”
Pupil: “Ok, sorry. I am a vowel.”
These are mainly just a few short expressions with certain verbs (look, get) or prepositions (in, by, etc.). They are not exhaustive, and it should be possible for pupils to use a dictionary and add to the lists.
These pairs of sentences illustrate how just a small change in spelling, grammar, vocabulary or even punctuation can cause major changes in the meaning. They provide an opportunity to review aspects of language, and send a message that “little things mean a lot”.