Often the work of an ALT, especially at junior high level, is likened to being a tape recorder. We're asked to read things out loud so that students can repeat after us. This can get boring but if you consider the purpose and potential benefits of this activity, you can increase the value to the students of this activity.

New Words

You're probably asked to read out a list of new words at each class if you teach at junior high school. Increasing vocabulary certainly is a big part of learning language but you may find this part of the class lacks luster. How can you make reading and repeating new words better for students?

  • Pronunciation
    When introducing new vocabulary, it is a great time to slip in a little pronunciation work. Likely the JTE will push the students to try and sound like you, the native speaker but you can also take the initiative and point out common issue points like "th" sounds. Point to your mouth and show students how.
  • Phonics
    As well as pronunciation, you can do a little phonics work when introducing new words. Best done with shorter words, if you can slowly uncover the word left to right and sound it out as it appears, it can help students learn to sound out words on their own.
  • Articulation
    When reading single words in front of the class, it's common to read it out very clearly and articulate so students can hear and repeat every sound. This is great as a first step. But rarely in conversation do we speak like this. Try doing it clearly first, then speeding up and/or saying it with a more relaxed articulation. Relax vowel sounds and soften consonants to normal levels so students have a chance to hear and try this too.
  • Combined words
    Extending the point above, the way we say a word might change depending on the word that precedes or follows it. This is especially common with words that end in "t". Saying the word "get" by itself compared to saying "get up", the "t" is often a lot stronger in the first case. Let students hear this by using each new word in a short (three to four words) phrase.
  • Anecdotes
    Long lists of new words can be quite boring. Every so often, try sharing a personal story relating to the word. The shorter the better.
    Recently, the word "gosh" popped up in a junior high grade 1 class. I explained gosh is sometimes used in place of god. I explained my grandmother doesn't like "Oh, my god." and that she says "Oh, my gosh."

Readings

After new words, there's often a passage of text to read that you will read through with the students. You might be asked to read through once while the students listen, then it'll be read-and-repeat.

Try to gain the students interest in reading and understanding the text by talking about it (perhaps, like I do, mid reading). If you're reading about Nick the orca and the beautiful fin on his back, you could pause and ask students if they know what this is. (Gesture your whale lob-tailing or draw a quick whale on the blackboard and point.)

Maintaining Relations

One of the worst things you can do for students is build a bad relationship with a HRT/JTE. If you and the teacher get along, it's a lot better for your students. With that in mind, be conscious of what the JTE/HRT has planned for the lesson so you don't ruin it with your repeat-after-me extensions.

Also keep in mind English teachers in junior high often feel perpetually short of time. Make your repeat-after-me time great for the students without stressing out the teacher and making a two minute activity ten.

Incorporating these ideas isn't just about making new word time more interesting; many of these tips help build students listening comprehension skills.

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