Listening and Reading with the “Sentence Detectives” Activity

I tried a new activity with my students today that I wanted to share. I like it because it requires students to process both oral and written input. I was inspired by an idea from Gianfranco Conti, who does an activity called “Sentence Detectives.” I deviated a bit from Gianfranco’s directions and adapted the activity for my students. Here are the steps I took:

Teacher Preparation:

  1. Find (or create) a written text of some kind. It could be a short story, a news article—anything! Just make sure it’s at an appropriate level for the students. They should know almost all of the words in it already.
  2. On a separate handout, write a list of several sentences. Some of the sentences should be taken directly from the text. The other sentences should be made up. It’s best if they are similar to the sentences in the text but not quite the same.

In Class:

  1. Read the text out loud to students. As I read, when I came to a word or phrase that I knew might be new for my students, I paused, wrote the word on the board, and briefly explained it.
  2. Pair students with a partner and give them the handout with the list of sentences. The students work together with their partner to identify which of those sentences were in the text they heard.
  3. After they finish, pass out copies of the text to each pair of students. The students read through it to see if they correctly identified the sentences.
  4. After going over the answers as a class, you can also discuss the content of the text. Ask students their opinions about the topic.

In Gianfranco Conti’s description of the activity, he didn’t read the entire text aloud to his students. He simply gave a very short summary of the text and then had the students guess which sentences were in the text. Of course, that’s a fine way to do the activity, too. His way requires students to make predictions, whereas mine requires students to use their memory of the text. Part of the reason why I made the changes I did was just to give my students more oral input. A lot of my students need to improve their listening more than their reading abilities, so I wanted to increase the amount of oral input they heard.

This activity can be used with any level of students; just change the difficulty of the text depending on the students’ level. For my high-intermediate students, I used an adapted news article on the “divorce test” in China. Click here to see the text and questions I used as well as an example of the same activity designed for beginning-level students.

Keep in mind that identifying the sentences should be a somewhat challenging activity for the students. If the sentences contain ideas that are very similar to–but not quite the same–as the article, it forces students to think critically, and it encourages more discussion in class. Also, the point of the activity is to get students reading the text. If students are 100% confident of their answers, they won’t have much of a reason to read. It works better if students have some uncertainty about their answers while completing the handout.

Consulting detective with pipe and magnifying glass [silhouette] by DooFi

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