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Vol 32 No 2, April - June 1994
Page 43
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TAIWAN 


The Taped Report: A Warm-Up Activity
by Yeh Chieh-yue


In Taiwan, high school students are busy preparing for the cut-throat university entrance examinations. The winter vacation after the first semester in college, therefore, is the first vacation they can fully enjoy in their school life. Since this is the first vacation at their own disposal, most of them do not know how to arrange their time. They just fool around all day long watching TV or sleeping. They seem to have lost their aim in life, which in the past was entering a good university. As a result, after one month of idle life, they become very dull in class.


On the one hand, I feel happy for the students who can finally enjoy the vacation they deserve. On the other hand, I feel sorry for them and myself, who have worked so hard in the first semester to improve their listening and speaking abilities - skills that have been long ignored since they are not tested on either in senior high school or on college entrance examinations. In the first few weeks of the second semester, it has often occurred to me when I am talking to my freshman students that our efforts in the first semester were in vain. I can clearly tell from both their facial expressions and oral responses that they cannot follow me as well as they did in the first semester.


This problem has troubled me for a few years. I do not want to spoil the students' vacation by giving them too much homework; nevertheless, to see the students losing the ability they have worked so hard to develop is the last thing a teacher wants. To solve the problem, I give the students a homework assignment - a taped report - for the winter vacation.


Every student in the class is supposed to give a two-minute taped report on the most significant or unforgettable experience he has had during the vacation. The student is required to write his name on the tape label, but he should not identify himself in the recording. The tape should be turned in on the first day of the spring semester.


Since the students' listening and speaking abilities are not as good as their reading and writing abilities, and Chinese students are usually shy, I divide them into groups of five or six to reduce their anxiety. Then, I play each tape three times; students can take notes if they want to. After the first listening, each group is required to discuss the main idea of the tape. I listen in on their discussions and then give them some guiding questions for the second listening. This time, they are supposed to listen for the details. Again, the students discuss and compare their notes before answering the comprehension questions. Afterwards, I ask them to guess who the speaker is - this is the activity they enjoy the most! Of course, the speaker should not reveal the secret to anybody in the group. Finally, I play the tape a third time for the students to check what they have missed.


While playing the tape, I found that the students concentrate on listening - their faces smiling. They are interested because they are eager to know how one of their classmates, a person with whom they are familiar, spent the vacation. They are smiling because they are wondering who the speaker might be. To my surprise, the students' performance on the tape recording is better than it might be as a real oral report. This is probably because the students can use the tape recorder to perform their best; they can monitor their own language and do self-correction.


I usually play five students' tapes either at the beginning of a class as an appetizer, or at the end as a dessert. Since each freshman English class has about 30 students, who meet two hours, twice a week, I can finish playing the tapes in the first three weeks of the semester, a time long enough for the students to warm up after a long vacation.


While playing the tapes, I am afraid that some students' accents might affect their classmates' willingness to listen, so I tell them that they learn English to communicate with people of different nationalities, not just with native English speakers. In other words, they learn English as an international language. If they want to communicate with people in the world, whether travelling or at an international conference, they should try their best not only to speak standard English, but to understand English spoken with different accents. As a matter of fact, students' accents and mistakes create a lot of laughter during the listening. In addition, quite a few students even use some background music in their tapes, which makes the recording more interesting.


Since the taped report is in oral form, and less formal than a written report, the students can talk about anything that comes to mind. Consequently, the students are apt to make some mistakes that they might not make in a written report. To help students develop an ability to correct themselves, I require each student to transcribe and correct his own tape after they have made the recording. They are usually able to do this without my assistance.


The taped report serves well as a warm-up activity for a new semester. Students brush up on their spoken English by recording something about themselves that just happened. They also can improve their listening ability by listening to a topic they are interested in. Through listening, they can better understand each other; they can also compare their performance with their peers. Through discussion, they can share information with each other. They learn to tolerate their classmates' accents and mistakes while trying to get the message. Above all, they learn to respect each other. They consciously realize that language is learned for communication, not just for examinations. Furthermore, transcription and self-correction promote the students' sense of responsibility. They become aware that they can improve their English by themselves.

 

Yeh Chieh-yue teaches freshman English, grammar, and guided writing and methodology at National Cheng-chi University. In 1982 she received an MA in TESL from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
 

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Vol 32 No 2, April - June 1994
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