Instruction: Distinguishing Similar Sentences

Instruction to help second language learners understand the subtle differences between similar sentences. It’s a skill that students need to master in TOEFL reading passages.

Objective: Students will analyze the highlighted sentence, the choices of similar sentences, and choose the one with the same meaning.  Students will look at each sentence and simplify and identify the key messages and their relationship within the sentence and make notes to record their work. After analyzing all sentences students will choose the correct answer.

Environment: 1:1 online synchronous

Student: First year female university student; second language learner. The student uses the course to develop academic reading skills, not to take a TOEFL test. The student takes a separate English course in the university.

Book: TOEFL iBT Reading: High Intermediate, Publisher: LinguaForum

Step 1: Warm-up discussion: Agree or disagree with following statements.
Thoughts are impossible without language.
Thoughts were influenced by language.

Step 2: Have the student look at the highlighted sentence and do the following: extract the core idea in each part of the sentence and look at the connecting words. Jot these as notes. The student should look at the answer choices and repeat the process.

Highlighted Sentence: Whereas earlier linguists had claimed that thoughts are impossible without language and therefore controlled by language, Sapir and Whorf claimed that thoughts were merely influenced by language.

Example notes:
Simplified 1st part: linguist said no language, no thoughts
Simplified 2nd part: Sapir and Whorf said: you can have thoughts and they are influenced by language
Connecting word: Whereas

Answer choices simplified notes:

  1. linguist said thoughts impossible without language, S and W said they were not influenced by that idea
  2. S and W said language affects thoughts, they felt language and thinking impossible
  3. lingugist said thoughts and language not connected, SW the connection was not influential
  4. L said can have thoughts if you have language, SW said language helps to make thoughts

Step 3: After analyzing have students choose the correct answer. If the answer is correct continue to the next problem. If the answer is not correct, examine and explain where the mistake occurred. The correct choice is #4.

Supplemental Assessment: Have students write a reflection about the activity to get their personal thoughts. In particular students should think about the problems where mistakes occurred and explain what might have led to the mistake. Because these are second language learners, it may be more effective to have them write in their native language if the goal is to better understand the specifics of the problem. This can then be used as data to analyze and categorize to be used for developing future lessons.


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