What is OTISA, anyway?

Have you tried out the OTISA online literacy resource yet?

We’ve designed OTISA – Online tutoring: improving student achievement – to support the Australian Curriculum in English.  This table shows what is covered by the resource and how it links to the AC.

In particular, we believe it provides excellent support for the teaching and learning of grammar.

We acknowledge that grammar is best taught and learned in the context of reading and writing, but we also believe that learning needs consolidation.

Which is what this resource provides.

Before each set of activities, students can read or listen to a brief revision of the main points. And the activities themselves are self-correcting, with explanations.  You could follow up on classroom work, for  example, by setting in-class or homework activities for students to confirm their understanding.  Importantly, your online access allows you to view how your students have performed, and will tell you whether or not learning has taken place. This information, of  course, will help you to decide on your next teaching steps with groups or individual students.

OTISA also provides focussed and concise professional learning for teachers.  If you would like to brush up on your grammar knowledge, and read practical suggestions related to the teaching of parts of grammar in context, you can do this quickly and easily. With your colleagues, you could use some of the suggestions as a basis for planning.

Available on subscription, OTISA provides students with access both at school and at home.

If you would like to explore the resource, please email info at otisa dot com dot au (email address written like this to avoid spam!)   to receive your one week trial teacher subscription.


Using the reading strategy: Making connections

For parents
This builds on last week’s blog which explored how you can improve children’s comprehension by asking them to ‘make connections’.

Text-to-self connections
As you read to or with your child you can demonstrate this strategy by thinking out loud, making your own connections. For example,

‘I think I saw a monkey like that at the zoo.  I remember that the zoo-keeper was feeding him lots of vegetables.’
‘I can remember when my mother did something like that!  I was very cross!’
‘This reminds me of …’

(But, of course, don’t overdo it.  If you’re reading with your child the strategies that you demonstrate shouldn’t take away from the pleasure of the reading itself.)

After you have made a connection as you think aloud, you could go on to say something that helps your child to understand the value of the connection:

‘So I already know what monkeys eat.  But I don’t know where they come from, or how long they live.  Let’s see if this book tells us about that.’
‘That helps me to understand how the girl in this story feels’.

 When you do this, you’re showing your child how to make connections that help reading comprehension.

Choose books that reflect close-to-home experiences, ones with which the child can identify, so that you have an opportunity to encourage the making of connections.  You can prompt your child to make his/her own connections by asking questions such as

  • ‘Have you ever felt like that?’
  • ‘Has anything like that ever happened to you?’
  • ‘Why do you think X behaved like that?’
  • ‘How many different kinds of  (dogs/spiders/whatever is the focus of the informative book) do you know?

And to make sure that they understand how the connection helps them to understand, you can ask:
‘How do you think that will that help you to understand this book/character?’

At first they might not be able to do this, but with frequent practice and assistance from you they will come to see how making connections helps their understanding. Good readers often make the connections unconsciously, but some children will need help to do so.

Text-to-text connections
You can assist your child to make text-to-text connections by choosing:

  • books by the same author that have the same character
  • short stories of a similar genre (adventure, horror, comedy, mystery etc)
  • poems that follow a similar theme (eg poems about animals or a similar idea)
  • books by the same illustrator (eg Shaun Tan, Graeme Base)
  • books that provide different versions of familiar stories (eg The Three  Little Pigs)
  • resources that present comparable information  (eg a couple of books on whales or dinosaurs, two websites on the same topic).

When reading with your child, ask questions such as:

  • Do you think that Harry is different in this book?  Why?  Why not?
  • Isn’t this book a bit like that other one we read?
  • Which book/website do you think is more useful to you?  Why?
  • Which Anthony Browne book do you like best? Why?
  • What are some of the things that are the same/different about these two stories?

Text-to-world connections
It is only to a very small extent that our own experience helps us to learn about the world, the people in it and the events that occur.  Most of what we learn about the world we learn from books, magazines, television programs, film and the Internet.

So for readers to be able to make text-to-world connections, they need a reasonable knowledge of the world.

  • Have conversations with your children about (appropriate) things that happen in the news.
  • Encourage them to watch documentaries appropriate to their age group and talk about what they have learned.  Re-telling in their own words what they have read or viewed is another strategy that can be used to help develop understanding.
  • When reading a book with your child, ask questions such as
    – Have you heard this idea before?
    – Have you heard about this problem before? What do you remember about it?
    – Is this what happens in the world?  Would people really behave that way?  Does this make sense?
  • Make your own text-to-world connections in order to demonstrate how it is done:
    – This is like what I heard about on the news the other night …
    – I read about this in the newspaper …

Teachers try to develop these text-to-world connections in all aspects of the curriculum.  Helping your child to build his or her background knowledge in order to be able to develop these connections will increase understanding in many school subjects.

A reading comprehension strategy: making connections

For parents

Good readers use what they already know to help them to understand new ideas and experiences that they come across in books.  They make links between what they are reading and their own lives and experiences; they make links between what they are reading and other books, newspaper or magazines they have read or films or television shows they have seen or websites they have visited; they make links between what they are reading and what they know of the world in general and how people behave in that world and how things ‘are’.

The process of recognising something or someone in the story that reminds the reader of their own experiences, is sometimes referred to as a text-to-self connection.  Young readers are usually most interested in themselves and how everything connects to them, so this kind of connection is the one that they make first.

As they read, they are thinking, ‘This part reminds me of a time when I ….’ Or ‘My grandma is like that!’ or ‘I sometimes feel scared, too.’

Making these kinds of connections helps readers to understand how a character feels and why a character might behave the way he or she does.  It also reminds the reader what he or she already knows about the topic which might be the focus of an informative book, thus helping them to make connections and better understand the new material in the book.

Good readers also make connections between what they’re reading now and what they’ve read or viewed before.  This process is sometimes referred to as a text-to-text connection and is the kind of connection that comes after text-to-self connections.  For good readers it will happen naturally; others will need somebody to point out the connections before they start to develop and use the strategy for themselves.

‘This is just like that other book I read by this author.  It was about a boy and his father, too.’

‘This book really reminds me of that other one I read about a footballer.  The boy in that book had lots of difficulties to overcome, too, and he was successful in the end, as well.’

‘This is a different story about the three little pigs.  This story is told from the wolf’s point of view!’

‘ Hey, the documentary about whales said that too!’

When readers make connections between different things that they read and view, they are learning to recognise patterns.  They recognise patterns in terms of a particular author’s style and the kinds of things he or she writes about; they recognise patterns in terms of story outlines; they recognise patterns in illustrations by a particular illustrator.  In this way everything they read does not come to them as something completely new: there are familiar signs that they know and understand and this helps them to understand the parts that are different and new.

When reading informative books good readers are able to recognise information that they have seen elsewhere and so are able to confirm that it is likely to be reliable information.  When they read contradictory information, good readers know that they will need to check further to see which piece of information is correct.

The most sophisticated kind of connection is the one that is made between what the reader is reading and what he or she knows of the world as a whole – a text-to-worId connection.   Very young readers don’t know much about the world and so this kind of connection is a difficult one for them to make.  Older readers, however, know more about their immediate community and what happens in it, as well as the world presented to them via the media.  They hear about events in the news and view examples of how the wider world operates by watching various shows on television and in films.  When they make connections between what they read and what they know of the world, they are adding to their understanding.  They begin to understand ‘big ideas’ or themes which are relevant to their lives.

In the next blog we’ll look at ways in which you can help your children to develop this comprehension strategy.

Why am I reading this?

Good readers know that why they are reading will determine how they read.

Why they are reading will decide how quickly they read.
If they are reading something that they need to remember, perhaps for a test, then they read slowly.
If they are reading something that it is important that they understand, then they will not only read slowly, but they will also re-read to make certain they have understood.
If they are reading for pleasure, then the rate of reading is not important, and they might read much more quickly.
Why they are reading will decide how carefully they read.
If they are reading something in order to get the ‘big picture’, to work out what the magazine or newspaper article is all about, then they will skim the words rather than read each one individually. They will focus on the opening paragraph, on the opening sentence of other paragraphs, and on the concluding paragraph. The rate of reading will be fairly quick.

If they are reading for a particular piece of information then they will scan the article or chapter, searching for key words. When they find those key words  they will stop and read the surrounding sentences or paragraph carefully to see if they information they require is to be found there.

Readers who lack confidence tend to waste a lot of time, and create a lot of anxiety for themselves, by thinking that they have to read every word no matter what their purpose is in reading. You can help your child to read more efficiently, by (a) identifying their purpose in reading and then (b) showing them what kind of reading is going to be most appropriate for that purpose.

Teaching activities to help students understand direct and indirect speech

These are activities designed to consolidate student understanding of the difference between direct and indirect speech.
• From a picture book or novel select an extract that contains both direct and indirect speech. Draw students’ attention to the use of inverted commas, or talking marks, as well as the use of other punctuation within the talking marks (for example, commas, full-stops, question marks and exclamation marks).
Then ask students to identify the actual words spoken by the character or characters and to use these to create a comic strip that shows what happens in the extract. (There are many software programs, such as Comic Creator, that will allow them to do this.)
• Select from a novel an extract in which there is a fair amount of indirect speech. Ask students to convert the indirect speech into a script. Pair students so that they can act out their script and check each other’s use of punctuation.
• Ask students to identify examples of reported speech in a newspaper or magazine interview and to give these to a peer whose task is to convert the reported speech into direct speech. For example, the reported speech might say:

  • The actor said she always enjoyed coming to Australia because of the warmth and sunshine.

When written in direct speech, the item might read:

  • The actor said, ‘’I always enjoy coming to Australian because of the warmth and sunshine.”

Another student could check the direct speech and provide feedback and a further activity might require students to write the questions that they think the interviewer might have asked.
• Students write a report of what was said in a role-played panel interview. Brainstorm the names of famous people, living or dead. Select six names to be on a panel and allot roles to selected students.
All students write questions that they would like to ask these people.
Each student in the audience selects a person on whom they will report, and as the role-play occurs, students take notes in order to be able to write a report of what was said. The report should contain at least two examples of reported speech (indirect speech) and two examples of direct speech. (You might consider videoing the interviews in case students need to view more than once.

The Punctuation element on http://www.otisa.com.au contains further online interactive student activities designed to consolidate an understanding of punctuation.

Visual Literacy (photographs): a suggested lesson plan

 According to the glossary of Australian Curriculum English…

Texts can be written, spoken or multimodal and in print or digital/online forms. Multimodal texts combine language with other systems for communication, such as print text, visual images, soundtrack and spoken word as in film or computer presentation media.

Here is a simple lesson plan to introduce students to the experience of reading and understanding a visual text.

  1. Select an interesting photograph and share with your students via the whiteboard or an ICT tool such as VoiceThread. Use the following questions with the whole class to discuss the photograph and make meaning from it.
  2. Then provide each pair or group of students with another photograph and ask them to discuss their photograph using the same set of questions.
  3. When they have finished, they could present their findings orally to another pair, group or the whole class.
  4. As a writing activity, they could write a story about the photo, a diary entry for one of the people in the photo or a statement from the photographer to explain the photograph.
  5. With older students you might talk about how images can be manipulated in order to present a particular point of view, and why this might be done.

Questions to ask about the photograph
•    Where might this photo have been taken?  (What clues in the photo helped you to answer this question?)
•    When do you think it was taken?  (What was the time of day, era, season? Again, what clues helped you to answer this question?)
•    Who is in the photo? What are they doing?
•    Is there anything in the photo that you don’t understand?
•    Why do you think the photographer might have taken this photo?
•    Where would the photographer have been standing when he took the photo?
•    Does the photo look as if it was arranged by the photographer or just taken as events happened?
•    Do you think the photograph has a particular message for the viewer?
•    Has the photographer made use of light and shade?  (If so, what effect has been created?)
•    What is the centre of interest in the photograph?  (Where does the photographer want us to look?)
•    What might be happening outside the frame?  (Are there likely to be more people, for instance?)  If you knew what was happening outside the frame might this change your understanding of the photo?