An engaging article for a reading activity

Q. What do English, French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Welsh, Estonian, Icelandic and Esperanto have in common, apart from the obvious?  A. They are all languages spoken by writer and linguist Daniel Tammet. He also has the distinction of setting a European record for memorising the digits of pi (22,514 digits in 5 hours and 9 minutes), and he is the subject of an interesting New Scientist article I found this week entitled Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant.

This is just the kind of interesting article I look for when preparing reading comprehension activities for ESL classes.  Here are some ideas that I might use with a class with a vocabulary building focus.  The ideas could be adapted for CEF level B1 and above.

autistic-savant-pdf-1You can download a worksheet for the activities here and adapt them for your own situation: inside-the-mind-of-an-autistic-savantpdf-icon

Lead-in.  Write the word THOUGHT on the whiteboard or equivalent.  Brainstorm all the vocabulary the learners can think of related to this word and present it in a mindmap.  Highlight any words that appear in the article.

Prediction. Give learners the following list of keywords from the text (For a great tool for determining keywords and word frequency in an article that you want to adapt for ESL, see Online Utility):

  • savant
  • relationship
  • mind
  • autistic
  • lumpy
  • ability
  • intuitive
  • visualise
  • interconnected
  • realise
  • understanding
  • remember

From this list, ask learners to predict what they expect the content of the article to be.  Follow this discussion by giving the profile of Daniel Tammet and the introductory paragraph to the article:

tammet-profileAutistic savant Daniel Tammet shot to fame when he set a European record for the number of digits of pi he recited from memory (22,514). For afters, he learned Icelandic in a week. But unlike many savants, he’s able to tell us how he does it. We could all unleash extraordinary mental abilities by getting inside the savant mind, he tells Celeste Biever.

Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant, Celeste Biever © 2009 New Scientist

Vocabulary work.  I would choose a maximum of 12 words, preferably words that occur more than once in the text.  I have used the wordlist above in the worksheet, where there is a definition matching exercise.  For a more advanced activity the learners can fill in the gaps of a list of quotes from English literature using the word list.  I can just hear busy teachers saying « that sounds like a lot of work to prepare »!  I have found a great tool for doing this easily but that will be the subject of another post, so if you want to find out how I did it, subscribe to the englishonthe.net feed.

Reading. The article is formatted as an interview with questions and answers conveniently separated.  Give the learners a jumbled list of the questions, and ask them to discuss what can be learnt about Daniel Tammet by simply reading the questions.  Then they will be ready to read the article.  For a challenging exercise I might give them the article with the questions blanked out, and have them match the questions to the appropriate paragraphs.

Follow-up. Actually I’m still thinking about what I might do – so many directions you could go in with a good speaking or writing activity, depending on the class and level.  One idea was to  get learners to engage with Daniel Tammet’s blog – they could find an interesting post to write a comment on.

What would you do?  Leave a comment and share your ideas.

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