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Exam reading practice: how to make it more autonomous and Montessori

So I've promised myself that I'll write a post for you during my week off school ... the week is nearly over so I guess I should start writing 🙈

EDIT: it's been a week now since I started writing this post 😂

You might have seen my previous posts on exam prep materials and activities. I wrote one about listening, one about grammar, one about writing, and one about vocabulary. So this time round it's time for reading! 📚

Confession time: I really dislike reading activities and I don't like teaching reading. I know my weaknesses as a teacher and this is one of them. So, as you can probably imagine, coming up with any sort of activity which would let my kids practise this skill was a struggle. I did, however, come up with one thing recently. I've turned one of the exam activities into a Montessori inspired material! 🥳 Do I hear your applause? Yeah, I think I can hear it 😂

If you're preparing your students to take their E8 exam, you're familiar with the "three texts + four sentences" activity. You know, the one where you have to match three different texts to four sentences that somehow describe them or sum them up; where one text is a match for two sentences. I've had many students within the last 4 years who have struggled with this activity so I wanted to give them lots of practice with it.

And here's where I'm going to pause for a moment to write about what I have come to realise this school year. There is no such thing as a "repetytorium" (exam revision book)! What I mean is that a book which would be a sum up of everything you need to know for the exam and would give you all the necessary activities to practise your exam skills just doesn't exist on the market. The majority of them are just course books which are in no way different to your common language course book, except for the "complete" word list at the beginning or at the end of each unit. Now, the word lists ... they are far from being complete. I have 5 different revision books from all the major publishing houses that are available in Poland. To make my vocabulary flashcards I have to use THREE of them to come up with a list of vocabulary that I know will let my kiddos revise ALL the vocabulary they need. So this is my first problem with calling a course book a "repetytorium". If you're using just one book throughout the school year you are not giving your kids all the necessary vocab to revise.

My next big revelation came when I started preparing the material I'm going to show you today. Like I said before, I do not like teaching reading so the last thing I wanted to do was write the texts myself. I took my 5 books to look at each page and pull out all the 4+3 exercises that are in them. I found 17! in total! in 5 books! 😮 Two of the books had 1! ... YES I SAID ONE! activity of this sort each! So now imagine that you're trusting this one publishing house to help you prepare your students for their exam and this book, that claims to be an all-in-one source for the exam prep has 1 activity of a certain type in it!! What the actual 🤬 I'm sorry, but it got me worked up so much! I was expecting to find at least 14 in each of the books. You know, 14 lexical topics that the books are usually organised by, so at least one activity for each unit. Nope ... 17 in total, from 5 books 😐

So just to let you know, if you're using one course book with your kids, you might want to look through it and check if you don't need to supplement it with more activities. That's the end of my rant 😂

Back to the actual activity. So I typed up every single activity that I found into a document on my computer and I tried to make it as Montessori as possible: aesthetically pleasing, involving the hand, with error control and isolation of difficulty... well the isolation of difficulty comes automatically when creating a material that practises one type of exam task. There's no gradation of difficulty because all the text from the books are on the same A1+/B2 level.

This is what is looks like in all its glory:

I will tell you this: it was not a quick and easy job to figure out how to make the cards and it definitely wasn't quick and easy to create the error control. But first things first - what it is 😅 So each text from each of the book activities (three in total) has been put onto a separate card, twice. Why twice? Because one of the texts is going to be used twice each time in this sort of activity and the students don't know which one, so they need doubles. On the back of each of the texts you'll find the error control: on the top, it shows you which sentence this text was supposed to be paired up with, and then in the actual text itself I've marked with different colour fonts where the answer was. Check it out in the picture below.

On top of that, we have the sentence cards, four for each activity. At the back of the sentence cards you'll find the answer key as well. You can see both sides in the picture above.

The student takes the sentence cards and arranges them at the top of the table/rug/board. Then they take the texts and read them. Once they decide which text works with which sentence they put the text under the sentences. When all the texts are matched with all the sentences, it's time to turn the cards over and check their answers. If something is wrong, they can stop turning the cards over and try to work the task out again. But they can choose to continue checking the cards and then see where they made the mistakes (if there are any). They can read through the texts again and make notes of all the new vocabulary, especially if not knowing what something meant stopped them from completing the task correctly.

There you go. This is what I made for them. I sooooo wish I could share it with you in my shop, however, I do not have the copyright to the texts I've used. Maybe at some point in the future, I'll try to write my own text, but I don't see that happening before this year's exam. I'm hoping that maybe I'll inspire some of you to look through your course books and try and think how to make any of the actives more Montessori friendly, though 😊

The autonomy with this activity comes with the fact that I made 18 examples (I took one from last year's mock exam) and my students will have a choice which one they want to do, when, or for how long. Some of them might choose to do all of them, some might do only a couple and decide this activity is not a problem for them. I only give them the tools, they decide whether-or-not/how/when to use them.

Watch this space for more examples of how to turn any book activity into a Montessori inspired teaching aid 🙂

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