Uzbekistan State World Languages Universityt
ISSN (печатный вариант): 2073-0071
Using theme-based language instruction, which is one type of content-based instruction, can be helpful for various age groups and proficiency levels. Brinton (2003) supports the use of this approach when the purpose for EFL students is language acquisition. According to Brinton (2003, 203): “The thematic content stretches over several weeks of instruction, providing rich input for lessons that are either language-based (i.e., with a focus on vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar) or skill-based (i.e., with a focus on listening, speaking, writing or reading). In this environment, students can successfully acquire language.” For EFL teachers, developing thematic units around their required curriculum can be a way to build a larger context in which to teach language that spans a group of lessons and can provide more opportunities for communicating in English. In foreign language situations, it can be challenging to find real life communicative contexts in which to use the target language. When teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at any level, the class-room has to be a place in which language is not only taught but also used “meaningfully” in the classroom, it is not taught only in isolated chunks or by breaking the language into its grammatical or semantic components. Instead, language is being used within a context that either mirrors real world discourse or possibly uses subject matter content, such as science, math, business, law, etc., depending on age of the learners and their purpose for studying English. A unit of instruction, as referred to in this article, consists of a series of lessons that are connected to each other, possibly by a theme, grammatical point, or language function. A lesson, as defined by Brown (2001, 149), “is popularly considered to be a unified set of activities that cover a period of classroom time, usually ranging from forty to ninety minutes.” Therefore, a thematic unit is a series of lessons, possibly for four to five classroom periods, that are connected by a topic or theme that connects students with language in a communicative manner. Support for Use of Thematic Units There is much support for using this kind of foreign language instruction. Haas (2000) states: “Planning thematic units allows the teacher to incorporate a variety of language concepts into a topic area that is interesting and worthy of study and that gives students a reason to use the language.” In addition, Brinton 2003 points out that using this type of instruction provides optimal conditions for language acquisition because “ (1) language is being continually recycled throughout the unit and (2) students are given multiple opportunities to use the new language they acquire as they read, discuss, and write about the topics”(201). Brown (2001) also points out that the use of theme-based instruction can be effective for EFL because it promotes automaticity, meaningful learning, intrinsic motivation, and communicative competence, which, he says, “put principles of effective learning into action” (236). Furthermore, use of thematic units integrates all four language skills communicatively, and as Oxford (2001) explains, it is this type of skills integration that “exposes English language learners to authentic language and challenges them to interact naturally in the language”. If thematic units can be connected to familiar, interesting, and relevant topics for students, including grade level content for school age students, such units can provide opportunities to engage in real communication that can move beyond teaching language merely in its grammatical and semantic parts. In addition, as we will see in this article, thematic units can be a dynamic way to integrate all four language skills communicatively and promote learner autonomy through project-based instruction and experiential learning. Characteristics of Dynamic Units This article will suggest some ways to make your EFL units more dynamic. These techniques can be applied to all grade levels as well as proficiency levels and can be applied to classrooms that are required to follow a set curriculum as well as classrooms that have more creative freedom. As we will see in the examples provided in this article, dynamic units for EFL instruction have five characteristics; 1. Incorporate real life situations in instruction. 2. Integrate all four language skills communicatively. 3. Encourage learner autonomy or learner choice. 4. Use experiential learning. 5. Apply project-based learning. These characteristics are not completely separate from each other since incorporating real life situations that are genuinely communicative tend to integrate the four language skills naturally. However, the five characteristics are all, in their separate ways, important for an EFL teacher to consider when developing units of instruction based on a particular theme in order to spark learner interest and provide real opportunities in the classroom for communication in English. Five steps for Planning Thematic Unit Now we will look at five steps toward building more dynamic units. Within each step are suggestions for application, which revolve around a specific example of a unit that can be applied in many different contexts--Eating Out With Friends. Step1. Examine curriculum standards and required units for the class. First, consider what your students are required to learn, based on the curriculum standards set by your Ministry of Education and/ or your school; then develop a theme that can support the current educational goals of your particular program or class. From there the challenge will be to build a thematic unit that can provide the leaner with a larger context within which students can make meaningful connections while learning a foreign language. Therefore, a study of the grade level curriculum for students in their required subjects might also be useful. However, regardless of age level or relevant subject matter content, the starting point for the thematic units should come from your EFL program’s curricular goals; once you meet those goals, you can move toward what interests and motivates learners the most. Application: Eating Out With Friends Unit Many EFL textbooks have a chapter or section on food and drink or ordering food in a restaurant. It is a common topic for language instruction that has real-life application particularly because international travel is a main purpose for learning English. The language functions for ordering food at a restaurant and asking for the check or card are easily found in most textbooks for English at the adult, secondary, and even primary levels. Step 2: Choose a theme that is meaningful and relevant to students. There are several considerations when selecting an appropriate theme (Curtain and Dahlberg 2004). The theme should: • be motivating, interesting, and relevant to the learners and teacher. • connect to real-life situations, including content from across the curriculum for schoolchildren. • appeal to and /or develop various learning styles and intelligences. • Provide a context for meaningful, authentic discourse and interaction . • Facilitate the development of appropriate, useful and real-world language functions and communication modes. • Connect to the target culture, wherever possible. The most important aspects of choosing an appropriate theme are that it be interesting and meaningful to students and that it have potential for real-life application. Step 3: Brainstorm ideas that can incorporate real-life situations and tasks. Using a web, or list can be helpful to brainstorm ideas. The approach to brainstorming can be based on tasks that are necessary for communication or based on different subject or content areas. The approach to brainstorming depends on the purpose or approach to your particular EFL classroom. However, thematic units do not necessarily have to incorporate content from different school subjects. Step 4: Choose, organize, and order the activities. After brainstorming ideas for a particular theme, it is a good idea to put these ideas in a chart. See Figure 1. Putting the activities in a chart helps you to see what kinds of activities can be used and what content is covered. In addition to creating a meaningful context in which to teach language, it is also important to order the activities effectively. When organizing and ordering the activities in a unit, you will want to think about: 1. varying the tasks and language skills. 2. choosing the activities that are the most useful to your learners . 3. ordering the tasks to mirror the real life application of the tasks. 4. connecting one activity to the next, i.e. from receptive to productive skills. 5. Sequencing the content in order to recycle language and scaffold students’ learning. This is an important step in planning individual lessons within a unit. In order to make sure that the unit is relevant and motivating for the learners, it might be helpful to give the learners some power to choose which activities might be most useful and interesting for them. Whenever possible, try to give the learners some autonomy in the planning stages. Step 5: Incorporate projects that can encourage learner choice and autonomy Once you have chosen the activities and established the order of the activities, you can develop a project in which the learners can use the language communicatively by experiencing the language in a realistic situation. This project should connect to all of the lessons and be an integral part of the unit. Use of project-based learning or project work offers the following positive points for foreign language learning: It focuses on real-world subject matter and topics of interest, is student-centered, is corporative, integrates skills authentically, has a real purpose, is motivating, and fosters learner autonomy (Alan and Stoller 2005; Stoller 1997) . A good project should encourage learners to cooperate with each other using the target language communicatively, and it should incorporate all of the language learned in the whole unit. The project should also allow learners to make choices and think critically about the subject matter. The project for this unit is ongoing, and students work together in the same groups throughout the duration of the unit. In groups of 4 or 5, students create their own restaurant, which entails deciding on the type of cuisine, type of dining i.e., and the name of the restaurant and then writing a description of the restaurant, an appropriate food and drink menu, and a map with directions to the restaurant. Then the students will prepare their restaurant for others to see on Restaurant Day, which is scheduled at the end of the unit. Goal 1: Each group will prepare a restaurant and classmates will be their customers. Preparation of the restaurant will begin after students learn about different restaurants when using OpenTable.com or reading hard copy samples from that site. On Restaurant Day, the restaurants will be set up in different areas of the room, and students will take turns practicing English while making a reservation for a customer, giving directions to the customer, and then hosting a group of friends eating out. Figure 1 Organizing tasks with a chart Real-life Tasks Skills Language Content Inviting through email and accepting an invitation Reading, writing Letter form-greeting, body, signature Present Progressive/Future Tense I am going to…What are you doing on…? Will you be free…? Asking opinion What kind of cuisine/ food do you prefer? Vocabulary: cuisines, types of dining, price range, types of drink and food Making a dinner reservation over the phone and an Internet reservation through Open Table.com Listening, speaking, reading, writing Requesting/ making reservation I would like to make a reservation for…on… Would you like to…? Scanning for information and vocabulary: locations, party size… Calling the restaurant for directions and giving directions to your friend Listening, speaking Giving directions: Imperative Go straight… Turn left/ right at… Reading a menu and ordering food Listening, speaking Request I would like… Could we have…? Would you like…? Writing a thank your email to friends Reading, writing Thank you letter form- greeting, body…/ Thank you so much for... I really appreciated… Past tense Goal 2: Each group will go out with a group of friends in two or three. Students will first engage in inviting and accepting invitations, making reservations, and finding directions to the restaurant, which will occur during class time in the various lessons in the unit. On Restaurant Day, students will engage in a role play in which they eat at one of their classmates’ restaurants. Finally, students will send thank you notes to each other and tell another friend what happened at dinner. With these goals, students will participate in a project that will encourage creativity with the language content as well as real communication in English. In addition, it will provide a way for students to experience the language for all the different tasks involved with eating out with friends since foreign language contexts cannot provide a real world experience in English. Conclusion More detailed lesson plans must be designed for each day of instruction; however, the five steps suggested in this article with the examples for application have given some useful ideas for how to conceptualize a theme and develop effective units for EFL instruction. Units of instruction which have these characteristics will most likely lead learners to improve their ability to communicate in English and make classes more lively and motivating. Even in countries where real-life communicative contexts in English are hard to find, EFL teachers can still plan creatively around their required curriculum in order to build dynamic thematic units that can bring authentic communication into the classroom.
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