>It is not easy to find authentic newspaper materials that are at an accessible level for students and interesting as well. Krashen always recommended reading materials that were L+1, a level just slightly above the student’s level which causes the student to have to “reach” a little.
I have scoured the Internet for years for such things. Something I like is from a column called “The Boss” in the NY Times. They have a simple life story of a top boss. Typically the story touches on things about the person’s childhood, school, influence of parents, first jobs and the lessons of life.
They are also success stories and lots of students have some hopes to be successful in life and find these stories interesting. At the bottom is an example of one of “The Boss” stories that you can find in the NY Times.
HOW TO USE THEM & THE PROBLEMS WITH PRE-TEACHING
There are a couple approaches involved in reading. I don’t recommend “pre-teaching” the vocabulary from the text as many course books do, notably in China is “New Concepts” (which is actually a very old concept course book being written in the 1960s and only receiving superficial modifications just recently.)
Although pre-teaching sounds like a practical idea it is very boring for the students. Good teaching allows an element of mystery and curiosity and the thirst for knowledge. Good teaching provides the salt first and then the water. The good teacher gets the student to search his memory, his personal resources in his recollection, and draw on what the student already knows to apply to the problem. Good teaching also gets him to personally recognize what he doesn’t know which causes him to be curious and want to learn it.
So typically, before letting the students look at the material, get them to talk about what they know about some of the points in the story.
Pre-teaching sort of digests the text for the student leaving little mental exercise beyond simply trying to remember what he was told a couple minutes ago.
Encourage the students to guess the meaning of what they don’t understand. You’ll find, in a text as below, that there are a few words the student may not know and may not really need to retain.
GUIDING THE STUDENT’S VOCABULARY ACQUISITION
I think it was H.D. Brown who talked about the Active Vocabulary, Latent Vocabulary and the Unknown. Some vocabulary the students encounter is destined for their Latent Vocabulary, words that will be important for them to be able to read or recognize when they hear them but are not necessary for them to be able to produce them on the spot like their Active Vocabulary. Some words they may only see once or twice in their lifetime and could well do without ever learning them. So equal stress should not be made on all words that students will encounter. Some words should be pointed out more than others because they will be more useful for students.
I’ve always said that language learning is like packing a suitcase. You’ve got to choose what you will likely need and leave the rest behind. Our students don’t have an unlimited capacity to retain everything and that’s one place where the teacher is most needed. Decisions about what to teach are as important as decisions about what NOT to teach.
It is not a sin to finish a reading exercise with the student not understanding 100% of the words. The teacher has to remember that sometimes English is a buffet. The student does not need to eat everything but he should eat enough to grow.
In the sample text below the intermediate student might need to acquire vocabulary like: headhunter, recruiter, certified, pulled me out of school, over the course of my career, I was No. 2 for eight years, early on.
However, this following vocabulary may not be as important to retain in the student’s Active Vocabulary: Amgen (company name), squadron commander, adventurer, overstate, hammered people, flight physical, class of ship, at the top of his lungs.
Still, the student could be encouraged to guess some of these and should be encouraged to find that he can figure some of these out without a dictionary. He may be able to figure out: adventurer, overstate, hammered people, class of ship.
Some words the student can easily forget without serious damage to their English competency like: Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (name).
Of course it is an ideal time to do some speaking after all the time invested in reading the text. There is a lot of vocabulary covered in what they just read and some speaking can help to consolidate it and allow the student to test his understanding and usage of it.
If my goal was solely speaking and I wanted to use a text I’d use a very short one. “The Boss” is too long for that purpose. But if we used a long text for something else then let’s roll into a speaking exercise. Here are a couple ideas that could be done in pairs or small groups:
1. Students could be asked to talk as if they were the characters. In “Say It” fashion, they could do a short monologue explaining themselves and what happened and why they felt the way they felt and adding in made-up details and parts of the story.
2. They could try to isolate various aspects of the story such as the lessons of life and people of influence and discuss those. Then they could follow up with their own personal lessons of life and people of influence.
Ready for the Admiral
As told to GLENN RIFKIN – June 20, 2004
I had no background in health care or biology before I came to Amgen. The only time I touched biology was in ninth grade, and I didn’t do very well.
I was working at MCI when I got a fax one day from a headhunter, asking if I knew anybody who wanted to be president of Amgen. I had never heard of Amgen and didn’t know what it was. This was 1992. I checked it out and asked some friends, and called back the recruiter and said, “Yes, I want to be president of Amgen.”
It was already a 12-year-old company with 2,000 employees, two successful biotech products, and it was clearly going to be a success.
I was ambitious, and I wanted to be a C.E.O.
My dad, who is still alive, was a naval aviator and a career naval officer. He flew jets early on and was a squadron commander. It’s hard to overstate the psychological impact, as a young boy, of seeing airplanes come out of the sky, knowing that your father is flying one.
My mother was a very strong, independent woman who was a real adventurer. She loved travel, the arts, literature. When I was a senior in high school, my mother pulled me out of school to go to the Los Angeles Philharmonic to see Isaac Stern play the violin.
I went to the Naval Academy at Annapolis and studied aeronautical engineering on the misconception that it had something to do with flying airplanes. When I failed the flight physical in graduate school because of poor eyesight, I had to decide, at age 23, what to do with my lifelong ambition thwarted.
A friend had joined the submarine force, so I decided I’d go see Admiral Hyman G. Rickover about that option.
Rickover was famous for grilling people, and he asked me why I hadn’t come to see him when I was at Annapolis. I told him that I wanted to fly, but since my eyes didn’t work, he was the second choice.
It was not the answer Rickover was accustomed to getting. He usually hammered people for failing grades or poor performance, and I had none of those things.
After about 45 seconds, he said, “Get out.”
In those days, that was the highest praise you could get from him. It meant you’d been accepted.
Later, when I was the chief engineer of the Memphis, which is in a certain class of attack submarines, on its initial sea trials, I encountered Rickover again. Admiral Rickover would ride every ship on its initial sea trials. So there I was in the control room and Rickover was screaming at the top of his lungs, “Where’s the chief engineer?” He thought the ship wasn’t performing properly.
I told him: “Admiral, you’re wrong. I’m the chief engineer of this ship, and you certified me, and I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. The performance you are looking for is from another class of ship, and here’s the data.”
There was a real twinkle in his eye before he went on to attack me on another point.
That experience paid off when I left the Navy and was interviewing for a high-level job at General Electric. Jack Welch asked me, “Have you ever taken a risk in your life?”
I replied that at 27 years old, when you are guiding an attack submarine all alone in the teeth of the Russian fleet in the North Atlantic, that was a risk.
I mentioned Tom Clancy’s “Hunt for Red October,” which gives a pretty accurate depiction of what it was like.
I guess he agreed because I got the job at G.E. and later became part of Welch’s staff. I left the Navy because I was a typical young guy in a gigantic hurry.
In fact, over the course of my career, the one place I’ve been patient is at Amgen, where I was No. 2 for eight years before becoming C.E.O.