Language under the microscope
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Delivery guides are designed to represent a body of knowledge about teaching a particular topic and contain:
- Content: a clear outline of the content covered by the delivery guide;
- Thinking Conceptually: expert guidance on the key concepts involved, common difficulties learners may have, approaches to teaching that can help learners understand these concepts and how this topic links conceptually to other areas of the subject;
- Thinking Contextually: a range of suggested teaching activities using a variety of themes so that different activities can be selected that best suit particular classes, learning styles or teaching approaches.
This section has been designed to enable learners to practise the skills they will need in order to deal effectively within Section A, ‘Language under the microscope’, which is dealt with in Component 01, ‘Exploring language’. The sources and activities within the section reflect the fact that this question is assessed under AO1 and AO3, and that the marks awarded for it are divided equally between these two assessment objectives.
The analysis of lexis and the analysis of grammar are assessed independently of each other in this section. The activities which follow are intended to help develop learners’ understanding of each of these areas of linguistic study. The sources on which the activities are based can be used to promote evaluative and analytical skills.
Approaches to teaching the content
The fundamental approach in terms of teaching the content is to encourage learners to develop the ability to respond to texts independently, focusing on the two areas of lexis and grammar as being particularly important in the construction of meaning. A range of text types has been used in order to give learners material on which they can practise; and in order to bring the topic alive, these are varied and engaging.
The idea of putting language under the microscope is used as a starting point in order to generate a series of activities which will, hopefully, capture learners’ interest while at the same time preparing them thoroughly for this element of the examination. As with other areas of the specification, there is an attempt to ensure that resources (which can be augmented by texts of the teacher’s/learners’ own choosing) range from the personal to the local, national and global, and topicality and relevance are given prominence, although not at the expense of the traditional ingredients of textual analysis.
Common misconceptions or difficulties learners may have
As well as the tendency to adopt a feature-spotting approach, addressed in the AS Delivery Guide, a further difficulty for learners can be the challenge of developing independence in their thinking and a sense of perspective. They need a wide repertoire of terms to use in their analysis, but should not attempt to adopt a formulaic response that fails to recognise the individual nature, arising from its unique combination of content, context, purpose and audience (for example), of each specific text. They should be aware of genre characteristics, and should recognise that in each text some features are more prominent and/or more significant than others, and that this will vary; there is no set ‘hierarchy’ of analysis of features they can impose universally.
Conceptual links to other areas of the specification – useful ways to approach this topic to set learners up for topics later in the course
Close analysis of lexis, semantics and grammar lies at the heart of this subject and is at the heart of the specification. This unit enables learners to think about these aspects of a range of texts in a very focused and specific way – almost literally putting language ‘under the microscope’.
The knowledge and understanding learners gain from this will serve them extremely well in all areas of the specification, ranging from coursework to the consideration of media texts to texts embodying geographical and historical diversity. The connection of language features with the context in which texts have arisen is a cohesive thread running throughout the specification, and this is an important module in terms of making that connection visible and explicit.
The beauty of this particular module is that its context is, effectively, the linguistic world we inhabit. Sources on which learners can practise their analytical skills range from articles to blogs to adverts to biographies to political speeches – and to everything in between. Although the exam source is likely to be reasonably substantial, while learners are honing their skills they can (and should) analyse as rich a variety of texts as possible, of varying types and lengths – the more diverse, the better.
Learners should also be encouraged to adopt a critical perspective, so that as well as being able to analyse language usage in the wide range of real-life contexts in which they encounter it, they also have the tools with which to challenge, and to think independently about, the ways in which information – spoken, written, and electronic – is being conveyed. Rigorous attentiveness to the details of language use, as expressed through the lexical and grammatical choices made by the writer/ speaker in relation to the text’s context, audience and purpose, is encouraged and developed. Resources to support the development of this attentiveness are included within this Delivery Guide, and there are also activities which invite learners to find resources of their own.
Introduce the module, asking learners to discuss in groups their experiences with the process of examining something under a microscope (literally rather than metaphorically at this stage) and what kind of data it can generate.
Then ask them to discuss in what contexts or situations microscopes are of use, within or outside of their own experiences.
Either show images of microscopic organisms/structures, or let them locate their own online. Working in groups, learners could find a range of images; others in the class would have to guess the identity/origin of each.
Discuss what it is about an image that makes it possible (or not) to guess its provenance.
Now get learners to consider the title of this section, ‘Language under the microscope’, using Learner resource 1. What might this phrase mean in the context of English Language study?
Work in pairs. Give each pair two sheets of A3 or poster paper. Ask learners to create a resource they can use for this unit (and elsewhere) by recording all of the terminology relating to a) lexis and b) grammar that they are aware of (one area per sheet).
If it helps, they can also write down definitions of terms they may be less sure of.
Sharing/exchanging ideas will allow all learners to supplement their original version of these resources, and will also provide the opportunity to identify terms they need to revise or study further.
The sheets should be stored centrally, if at all possible, so that they can serve as a resource for use with subsequent activities.
Learners should now try to use the fullest version of the previous activity that they were able to produce to practise analysing a specified text. In this case, the text that is being analysed is the wording of part of a sample exam paper relating to this section of the exam together with the relevant assessment objectives.
This will ensure that as well as having practice at approaching the text from the point of view of the two areas required for this question, ie lexis and grammar, learners also get to scrutinise the wording of the question very closely, and to look attentively at the wording of the relevant assessment objectives.
Print out slips with copies of the two assessment objectives for this exam, together with the wording of a sample exam paper (Learner resource 2).
Learners should be given a short, simple text (the opening of the Ladybird edition of The Three Little Pigs, published in 1965, (Learner resource 3) and should use it to practise looking at lexis and grammatical features in turn. Resisting feature-spotting, they need to inter-weave their terminology with an awareness of context, and the ways in which meaning has been constructed (AO3).
In note form, e.g. using bullet points, learners should highlight lexical features of the text, connecting them with context and/or meaning.
Repeat, but with grammatical features. It is worth noting that learners need to consider the parts of speech used in the formation of sentences as an integral element of the sentence construction process.
Examples can be read out in class or simply swapped. Learners could then select one of their responses and write it out in full, well-evidenced sentences, making accurate use of terminology and expressing their ideas fully and coherently (AO1).
Following on from the previous activity, learners can be given Learner resources 4 and 5 to show them responses completed with varying/increasing levels of complexity. Ideally these could be projected so that learners could critique them, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and could also see the way that responses can be developed and built upon.
Photocopy or print a short section from a text of learners’ own choosing, preferably one that is comparable in length with Learner resource 3.
Working in pairs or small groups, get learners to produce a series of responses to it, starting with more basic commentaries but then building up to more complex analysis. The premise is that a short and relatively simple source makes it possible for learners to focus very closely on a number of specific features, practising the skills they will go on to use with more extended sources later in the Delivery guide and also in the exam.
Give learners Learner resource 6. Although this text is a script of a speech, and the exam will always be a written non-fiction text, this text is still useful and valid for a Language under the microscope approach.
Outline the text’s context, or get them to research it, if time permits. Feed back centrally.
Divide the text into sections, one section per pair/group, and get learners to work together to produce a sample analysis on their section, focusing on each of the two key areas in turn. If it is possible to get these responses word-processed they could then be projected and discussed in class, if it was felt this would be useful/appropriate. Alternatively, pairs looking at adjacent sections could swap and give each other feedback.
It would be helpful to model the activity first so that learners could see what they were aiming to produce. If preferred, learners could be shown all or part of Learner resource 7 to help them.
Print out the grid (Learner resource 8) and cut into separate boxes each containing its own word (60 in total). Print out the categories sheet (Learner resource 9) on different colour paper. Learners then have to sort the words into the categories. Answers are given in Teacher resource 1.
As well as revising terminology, one aim is to encourage learners to remember that the same word can function in several different ways.
Depending on the ability and the needs of learners, the examples and/or categories could be added to/reduced.
As a follow-up task, learners could transfer the names of any new terms (or terms they had previously forgotten about) onto the A3/poster-sized terminology sheet they produced at the start of the module, Introduction(2).
Having revised relevant terminology, learners should now be encouraged to practise embedding it effectively in their analysis.
Give different groups/pairs a range of features from Learner resource 9 on which to focus, and issue them with one or more texts to use as a basis for this, i.e they should practise writing short analyses identifying and explaining the presence of a number of specific features within each text sample, linking them, for example, to the text’s context, audience or purpose. Brief sample texts are likely to be enough for this activity.
As an extension activity, learners could examine and discuss any patterns which emerge (e.g. adverts may contain a lot of words that are superlatives and/or pre-modifiers). Which genres may contain a preponderance of which word classes, and why?
Having focused on short texts, learners should now be given Learner resource 10 so that they can practise analysing a longer text.
As well as reminding them of the two main areas they need to focus on in their analysis, it may be useful to provide learners with some scaffolding to get them started, e.g. unpack lexis/semantics/grammar including morphology (what the specification refers to as ‘the structural patterns and shapes of English at sentence, clause, phrase and word level’) and find a couple of examples within the text to start them off.
They could also have access to and use their A3-sized list of features from the beginning of the module.
Either before (if a lot of support is needed) or after learners attempt their own analysis of Learner resource 10, it may be useful to look at some sample responses (Learner resource 11) and to evaluate them. Although these responses all make points which are valid, broadly speaking, some are more focused and/or developed and/or useful than others.
Learners could rank order them and then feed back and explain their decisions in class. They could also improve/build on the weaker responses and revisit their own work to see if there are any comparable improvements they could make to what they wrote initially. If writing by hand they would need to use asterisks/different colour pen in order to do this; if word-processing they could incorporate changes more easily.
(This activity will need to run over two lessons, unless instantaneous photocopying or printing is possible.)
Working in pairs or groups, and using Learner resource 11 as a starting point, get learners to read Learner resource 12 and then write a range of sample responses to it, based on the two areas of focus. Ideally these sample responses should be wordprocessed rather than hand-written.
Some of the samples produced should be stronger/more useful than others, as was the case with Learner resource 11. Once learners have completed this, photocopy or print several copies of these samples, and distribute them, so that others in the class can evaluate and improve/extend where possible.
In order to make the process of extending the original responses easier, remind learners of the need to acknowledge purpose, context, audience and mode, and to link them to the text’s language features.
In an ideal situation the new improved versions should then be returned to their originators.
Return to the notion of the microscope with which the module was introduced.
Revisit the idea of close-up scrutiny of texts making it possible to reveal more about them. Reinforce the fact that the language features which texts contain need to be linked to differing aspects of context, purpose, audience and mode.
If time and resources allow, invite learners to create wall displays showing images of microscopes (or lens-eye views) of a range of texts, each heavily annotated to show a range of features of lexis, semantics, grammar, syntax and so on. This would provide a visual representation of the Language/Microscope metaphor that could be referred to throughout the course.
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