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4 Reacting and evaluating:
the oral interpretation

María Emilia Moreschi

This chapter is concerned with the oral interpretation, an educational genre in which students respond to a source text and show their ability to understand and interpret it. It is typically produced by students at at upper-intermediate and advanced levels of instructions in schools, institutes and teacher training institutions. Special emphasis is placed on the description of the textual structure of the oral interpretations as a macro-genre and on its mode as students shift from written-like to oral-like texts within an academic context. Finally, the chapter offers teaching-learning activities for the successful production of oral interpretations.

4.1 Toward interpreting source texts

When students are given a text to read, they are also expected to respond to it in various ways. We generally ask students about their first impressions on a piece, and later we tend to gradually guide them toward a more careful and detailed discussion of ideas or elements in the source material. The more skilled the EFL students are, the deeper the insight we want them to gain in their analysis. This is why it is vital to encourage our students, especially at upper-intermediate and advanced levels of instruction, to respond to source texts by interpreting and evaluating them critically, making use of the right language choices in order to respond effectively. The texts that students are usually asked to produce orally or in writing belong to the general family of texts known as response genres, several of which are used in the educational context. One such genre is the interpretation (Rothery, 1994, pp. 156-163; Martin & Rose, 2008, pp. 93-4) or, as Christie and Dreyfus (2007, p. 235) call it, the thematic interpretation, foregrounding that it involves the discussion of texts in the light of a particular theme (2007, p. 235). These authors mention a wider variety of texts students can respond to – the texts can be verbal and/or visual, literary or non-literary pieces. In our local EFL Teacher Training College at Universidad Nacional de Cuyo (UNCuyo), in Mendoza, Argentina, students prepare similar texts: interpretive responses to the reading material (short stories, novels, essays, articles) or movies, documentaries, lectures or podcasts they discuss in class in the same language courses. In their interpretations, they show their appreciation of characters and events in a story, their understanding of characters’ motivations and the themes, cultural values, or the general point being made in the context of literary or non-literary texts or audiovisual material, all in the light of a particular topic chosen for discussion. More advanced students, who have developed argumentative skills, often take a step further in their analysis and give it an argumentative turn in which they argue for a thesis, typically related to a problematic or controversial issue (Martin & Rose, 2008, p. 109). In this chapter we are specifically interested in the interpretations that students produce orally, both during the school year and for their final oral exam. Their presentations typically last between 5 and 15 minutes. Students are expected to show their understanding of the source text, that is, their ability to interpret some aspect of it. Their insights into the source text are evaluated as is their ability to organize their ideas and their choice of language resources to express them.

The aim of this chapter then is to describe the function these texts fulfill and the way oral interpretations are organized into unfolding stages. We will discuss the characteristics of the oral mode as students shift from the more frequent written mode in which they are more used to producing texts, to orality. Toward the end of the chapter, we will propose activities that can be used as we prepare students to produce an oral interpretation.

4.2 The function of oral interpretations in educational settings

The oral interpretation can be defined as an educational genre and a very important one considering students’ overall literacy development. An oral interpretation is a social activity that takes place in educational settings in which students show their ability to understand, analyze and interpret classroom material and their effective use of linguistic and interpersonal resources typically at upper-intermediate and advanced levels of instruction. To students, these oral texts are a means of transmitting knowledge and showing how thoroughly and effectively the reading or listening material (literary genres, essays, journalistic articles, movies, documentaries, speeches, interviews) has been treated in class discussion with teacher and classmates and later interpreted by them in the light of a ‘theme’ or ‘idea’ they are assigned to explore. In this way, students show to what extent they can engage with the text critically and independently. To teachers and instructors, oral interpretations are means of assessing whether students have acquired the skills targeted in a course, including their critical treatment of ideas and the way they express and organize them. The better we can explicitly describe what an interpretation is, how it is organized and what language resources are typically used, the better prepared our students will be when they are assigned their work. In the case of an oral interpretation, explicit discussion of the genre, its function in the educational context and the way it typically unfolds is particularly important, as in most schools, institutes and colleges it is referred to as an ‘oral presentation’, actually referring to its ‘mode’ – the way in which language is used. We are not really naming a social activity but rather the channel we use for the activity to happen. This chapter will discuss the genre in an attempt to encourage teachers to call it by its functional name: oral interpretation, and to teach it in terms of its specific function.

Based on our analysis of our sample texts, effective oral interpretations are carefully planned and edited texts; they are organized as a monologue, differently from other oral texts in which people take turns while communicating, such as class discussion; their structure is mostly determined before completing it, as opposed to more dynamic texts in which what one person says depends on what the other person has previously said, for example, in a conversation. They typically have a predetermined goal or purpose, and, once such purpose is fulfilled, they come to an end, as opposed to what happens in a more casual and spontaneous dialogue that can go on and on.

In terms of subject matter, oral interpretations can vary widely, depending on the source text or film on which they are based. Students’ treatment of the topic is typically relatively commonsense, that is, it is based on their own critical analysis of sample texts, expressed with language resources that are fairly simple and congruent, mostly representing concrete events in the world. The degree of specificity or abstraction with which the subject matter is treated will largely depend on the source text itself and on the treatment the text receives in class discussion, as students build the field with the teacher and classmates. Specialized terms that capture elements of fiction (characterization, character development, increasing tension, resolution) can be found, or vocabulary that represents a special area of experience in the source text that a student is reproducing (for example, a documentary on segregation). Similarly, the degree of abstraction with which students express themselves will depend largely on the theme or idea they choose to discuss: character’s attributes, character development, character’s disappointment, for example. A lot of work with field can be facilitated by the teacher working on it before students are asked to work on their themes in their interpretations.

In terms of tenor, students address an audience they actually know – their teacher and their classmates – and they can anticipate fairly well what knowledge on the topic and what vocabulary their listeners will be familiar with and what their stance is likely to be on the topic that is discussed. Students will be attempting to build solidarity with their audience. This entails construing an understanding or shared standing in terms of the ideas, values and evaluations at stake in the text. In so doing, students will be facing a key rhetorical challenge: the creation of a textual voice or persona with which they will relate to their audience, capture and maintain their interest, attention and solidarity throughout the talk. The establishment of this relationship critically begins as the presentation opens, and needs to be maintained all along the talk. In order to do so, speakers make use of varied rhetorical strategies which we will describe later on in the chapter. Additionally, also in terms of tenor, students can plan a more or less interactive presentation with their audience, assigning it an active role or one in which the audience is just receiving the information delivered. We will discuss these features of tenor below, in Section 4.10.

We have very briefly reviewed the contextual characteristics of the oral interpretation genre: its social function and its mode, field and tenor features. They all have a direct impact on the meanings made and the language resources students need to be able to use effectively. As their level of instruction in EFL increases and their literacy skills improve, they will adjust the contextual features of their texts to a more academic register and reflect a progression from commonsense, often colloquial expressions, to a more formal, specialized and academic register. We will take up this change later in the chapter, in Section 4.10.

4.3 Oral interpretations in EFL course books

Even when this chapter focuses specifically on oral presentations delivered by students at Teacher Training College, we analyzed EFL course books and educational websites used locally in schools and institutes for students at an upper-intermediate or advanced level of instruction. Our purpose was to determine to what extent interpretations, particularly oral ones, are actually or potentially a teaching and learning object. In general terms we found that interpretations are rarely taught explicitly. What we also observed, however, is that there is often opportunity for them. Lessons in course books are typically planned around a text on a particular content area (a brief article, for example) or a narrative text that is to be discussed in class. These texts can often be enough for students to prepare an oral interpretation in which they explore a theme (an idea they discuss to interpret the source text). Alternatively, teachers can provide additional material to complement what is included in the lesson – an article, a short story, a film, for example – in order to build a more solid content area that students can respond to or interpret. So whether an oral presentation is explicitly called for or whether there is opportunity for it, we would like to encourage that it be part of what we actually teach our students. We often tend to relate the teaching of texts to the written mode. Orality is a key mode in language use, one that students need to practice and master for later use in higher education and in their professional life. The skills involved are multiple, ranging from cognitive skills as the critical consideration, analysis and evaluation of source material, the organization of their own thoughts around a key idea they need to discuss, the effective selection of language resources they need in order to represent an area of experience and to evaluate it, and the paralinguistic resources they will need to resort to as well. The multiplicity of skills involved make this a very relevant genre to teach.

4.4 Our study

Our analysis of interpretations draws especially upon work by authors such as Rothery (1994, pp. 156-163), and Martin and Rose (2008, pp. 93-4) on response genres, a family of text types by means of which stories are evaluated in the form of four related genres: the personal response, the review, the interpretation and the critical response. Rothery describes the interpretation as a response text that shows that “one is able to ‘read’ the message of the text and to respond to the cultural values presented in the narrative” (1994, p. 156). Christie and Dreyfus define this genre as a text type involving the discussion of “selected texts – verbal and/or visual – in the light of a particular theme (2007, p. 235).” These authors mention a wider variety of texts that students can respond to – texts can be verbal and/or visual; literary and media pieces – and state that the analysis of such texts is carried out around “a particular topic or theme” (2007, p. 237). Christie and Dreyfus focus on two main features in their analysis of thematic interpretations: the “strong organization” of these texts, which ensures the fulfillment of its overall purpose; and the student’s ability to create “abstractions about the matters being discussed” (2007, p. 236). These two concepts are important to our study for we seek to encourage our students to work conscientiously on the way they organize their ideas, to be able to make generalizations (typically expressed as abstractions) about the topic being discussed and to support them with concrete details from the source texts.

Taking these descriptions of the interpretation genre as our starting point, we study oral interpretations as recontextualizations especially in terms of mode (oral) and tenor (formal academic). The oral interpretations that students typically produce and that we have analyzed in our research are, in fact, oral responses to material analyzed in class or proposed as extensive reading material in language courses. The overall purpose of these interpretations is for college students to show they can approach a text critically, interpret it and effectively organize and express their ideas about the author’s intentions, the values at stake or the themes that they propose.

Our study of oral interpretations is based on the analysis of approximately 15 sample texts produced by first-, second- and third-year students at the Teacher and Translation Training College, UNCuyo, in Mendoza.[1] These texts were evaluated as variably successful by teachers and all of them got a passing grade, for they met at least the minimum standard. The sample texts were delivered during students’ final oral language exam, were recorded during different exam sessions, and later transcribed for analysis.

We will now move on to report some of our findings, first in terms of how oral interpretations are structured as they unfold toward the fulfillment of their purpose. We will then discuss the mode of interpretations: their being oral texts delivered and followed in real time.

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4.5 A general model of oral interpretations

As we have discussed, response genres are texts students write in order to evaluate and interpret the source texts they have worked with in class or read on their own. The response genre interpretation shows that a student “is able to read the message of a text and to respond to the cultural values presented” there (Rothery, 1994, p. 156). We follow Rothery’s representation of the textual structure of interpretations: the stages include an initial Evaluation, which presents the ‘message’ of the text, a Synopsis that selects certain elements of the story to illustrate the message, and a Reaffirmation of the evaluation, which elaborates the message[2]:

ch04_1 copy 2

As the source texts students use in language courses are varied, the Evaluation stage may concern the message (in the case of a narrative), other important ideas or issues explored in the source text, or appreciations of its author’s intention. The Synopsis stage can include the selection of elements of a narrative, or of information from the source text that serves as evidence to illustrate the student’s evaluation. Finally, the Reaffirmation stage typically includes the elaboration or restatement of the message of a story, or of some aspect of an article, a talk or a movie, for example, that was interpreted.

Let’s consider Sample 1[3] to illustrate how the staging of interpretations occurs as the text unfolds. In this interpretation, Lucas, the student who prepared the text, chose to analyze three texts by Ray Bradbury, all course readings. The main purpose of the student’s presentation is to show how the fictional world created by Bradbury in his stories is quite similar to the world we live in today, considering the impact technology, or rather its abuse, has on our lives. Let’s go over key moments in his text. For the Evaluation, the student proposes two main ideas: people’s lack of interest in reading and the absence of face-to-face interaction when we communicate nowadays. He states:

So, the purpose of my presentation will be to make a comparison between the fictional world, the society depicted by Ray Bradbury, and our society nowadays, ok? The first thing that I will compare is the loss of interest in reading. You know, there are some characters or there are some parts of the short stories in which we can see this idea, er, on the short stories. [1]

Later, the student goes on to say:

Well, that was the first point. And the second point is the lack of face-to-face interaction that was present in Ray Bradbury’s short stories. [1]

After announcing what exactly he will be evaluating as he interprets Bradbury’s texts, he moves on to select some examples from the stories that support his point. He incorporates information from the source text, a synopsis of it. For example, he takes up the idea of loss of interest in reading as follows:

Ok, in Fahrenheit 451 we see that books are disappearing from the world and that firemen work to persecute people who own books, and if they find any, they burn them. Also, in the case of Leonard Mead in ‘The Pedestrian’. Actually, he was a writer, but being a writer in this society, in this particular society, was not considered a profession, and books didn’t sell anymore. We can see that there was a loss of interest in reading. This was regarding the fictional world of Ray Bradbury.

But then, nowadays, it happens something similar because there’s still loss of interest in reading. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, that is an organization from the United States that promotes the arts and literature, well, a study made by them concluded that there is a dramatic decline in reading. […] [1]

Later, he selects information and includes it in the Synopsis stage to illustrate the second point of his Evaluation, namely, the lack of face-to-face interaction:

As we know, I think that the first example we can bring into discussion is Mildred, because she was all the time in front of the parlor. We can’t say that that was face-to-face interaction because it was like a video conference session. Er, that was the first example, Mildred. And the second one was well, what happened to George Hadley’s children. They were all the time playing in the nursery. They loved the nursery more than they loved their own parents. So they didn’t… they didn’t go out. They didn’t have face-to-face interaction […] [1]

The Reaffirmation stage, where the initial evaluation is elaborated, specified or restated may also work as a rounding off of the presentation as a whole. This is what happens when the student reaffirms the second point of his evaluation. He uses that information to start giving his presentation a closure. Let’s first consider how the stage Reaffirmation is realized with respect to the first point the student makes, people’s lack of interest in reading:

All those are pieces of evidence that show that we don’t like to read and that this interest that Ray Bradbury had when he mentioned these ideas of the books that nobody read, well, he was right because we continued to be addicted to technology. Well, this is not part of the presentation, but I particularly avoid books. I prefer to listen to audio books, to read faster, to make it more dynamic maybe, as some of the students of this University. [1]

Even though his reaffirmation is not particularly effective (his only supporting evidence seems to be his own personal taste), he does make some effort to elaborate on his appreciation of this theme that recurs in stories by Bradbury. He takes up the Reaffirmation stage again, when he elaborates on the second point – the lack of face-to-face interaction:

So, er, I think that, er, again it was something that Ray Bradbury saw and wanted to give us a message: that we, er, try to, er… I mean
SS: to prevent us?
S1: Yes, yes, he tried to prevent us from doing it. Ok. And there’s something I found interesting that was that, according to Jim Taylor, which is a psychologist, I found in an interview, er, in the National Deseret News, which is an online magazine, he says that if we continue to be so dependent on technology and if we don’t have face-to-face situation, we are not developing our verbal skills and our emotional intelligence. [1]

After reaffirming his evaluation and before closing his presentation, Lucas expresses his personal opinion on Bradbury’s stories. Even though subjective evaluations are not highly valued in a formal examination, it is a resource that we have noticed many students include, especially when closing their talk. We will refer to this function students carry out later on in this chapter.

This brief overview of Sample Text 1 shows how the general response genre interpretation has been recontextualized in terms of mode by an undergraduate student in a final exam situation. The student chose a point he wished to make in order to evaluate or interpret a text from the program, chose information to substantiate his point and, in so doing, reflected his critical analysis of the story.

In the particular context that we are interested in, interpretations regularly fulfill an additional function besides those implicated in the stages of the interpretations as originally described by Rothery. Students typically take their time before moving into the interpretation itself and create a general experiential and interpersonal context for what they will specifically evaluate in their text. Actually, observation of student practice and teacher evaluations clearly reflects that highly rated presentations always start with a clear announcement of the topic chosen for discussion and of the purpose of the presentation, as well as an initial contextualization of the topic.

Let’s go over Lucas’ announcement of the topic of his presentation and its contextualization. We underlined the section of the text in which the author describes the phenomenon he is interested in.

Ok, hi, everyone, I’m Lucas [S1/last] and I’m going to talk about something that has to do with society, related to the short stories by Ray Bradbury, ‘The Pedestrian’, ‘The Murderer’, ‘The Veldt’ and to his novel Fahrenheit 451.

Before starting with the specific point of my presentation, I would like to bring into discussion this idea of the ambiguity that… I mean, that technology can have in society. Because some people think that technology can have positive effects, ok? Like, er, it can help us in the development of medicine, er, in the field of – I don’t know – science, or communication. Also, people think that, well, they can work, shop, chat, all from the comfort of their seats, at home, without moving from their houses. However, there are people who, well, they think that, er, they are not against technology but against the overuse of technology. And, er, this was the case of Ray Bradbury, who foresaw what was going to happen today, and he was right, because if you do not own a mobile phone, a TV or, I mean, if you don’t have access to Internet, you will be for sure considered a stranger, ok? [1]

Lucas puts his oral interpretation in context by providing the audience with extra information –information not necessarily found in the source texts analyzed – about technology: it is an issue that has to do with society and it represents an ambiguity for society. Before strictly analyzing what occurs in Bradbury’s stories in relation to this topic, the student discusses both the positive and the negative effects of the use of technology. He then makes a nice transition toward Bradbury’s vision and how he foresaw the negative consequences of the abuse of technology on society.

At this point we will revisit the representation of the textual structure of oral interpretations we included above and propose the following, which better reflects the generic potential of interpretations delivered orally:

So our revised representation of interpretations delivered orally includes an initial contextualization that effectively prepares the audience by activating experiential information about a particular area of experience that is typically presented in an engaging way, foregrounding its significance. Only after this context is set, is the evaluation itself announced. The Evaluation and Synopsis form a unit (indicated by the braces) that can reoccur in the text more than once (as in Sample 1, in which Lucas takes up more than one aspect in his discussion – lack of interest in reading and the absence of face-to-face interaction). If the interpretation were a longer or more complex one, the author could, actually, take up more aspects which would, in turn, be evaluated and substantiated with evidence from the text.

4.6 Beyond staging: embedding genres in an interpretation

We will now move on to consider the opening stage, Contextualization, in more detail, explore its functionality and the way it is expressed in our sample texts.

As we analyzed the presentations we recorded, we noticed that students typically begin their texts by restricting the vast realm of experience that a presentation could be about to the specific area they are going to deal with. In so doing, they effectively prepare their audience by activating what they know about the topic or, alternatively, by providing information they might need to know in order to follow more easily. For example, the author of Sample Text 1 could have included some basic information on Bradbury, what he wrote and when he wrote it to help us to better appreciate the discussion that follows in the presentation about his vision of the impact of technology on our lives. He could have further elaborated the positive and negative effects of the use of technology as well. This introductory contextualization is very important in experiential terms (it anticipates the relatively specific realm of experience the text will be about); interpersonally (it establishes the first contact between a presenter that is carefully guiding his/her reader and trying to engage it with a topic that is significant in some way); and textually (it positions this important information text initially to make the text more effective).

As we examined the type of information students provide in this stage as they tell their audience about the general topic they will discuss, we realized that students typically include what Martin and Rose (2008) call a ‘descriptive report.’ The function of descriptive reports is to “classify and describe the key features of a phenomenon” (2008, p. 142) in general or generic terms and it typically includes two stages: Classification and Description. We have already discussed reports in Chapter 3 and can now see this elemental, primary genre as part of another, more complex one.

The presence of a descriptive report fulfilling the function of the stage we have called Contextualization is a feature of the generic structure of texts that are somewhat more complex: a genre (a descriptive report) embedded within another, more complex one (the interpretation) fulfilling the function of a specific stage (Contextualization). This is very common with genres that students need to produce as they advance in their literacy development. We discussed genre embedding in Chapter 1 (Section 1.3) as we described the importance of primary or elemental genres (for example, the descriptive report) as building blocks that are called upon as parts of other, more complex genres. Embedding is technically the process by which a genre is called on to function as a stage in the development of another genre (Martin, 1994, p. 102). Embedding can be represented as follows:

Being able to identify genres that take on the function of a particular stage is very productive in teaching-learning terms as we can be more specific about what happens in the text as students try to contextualize the idea they will explore. We can explain to them that they will be identifying, maybe defining, briefly classifying and describing an area of experience that will help their listeners to particularize the exact area of experience the interpretation will be about.

As we analyzed our sample texts, we observed that the Synopsis frequently contained what Rothery and Stenglin (1997, p. 235) call an ‘observation’, a genre that depicts events that do not unfold in time but rather present experience as “a snapshot frozen in time”, typically followed by a comment expressing feelings, judgment or, most frequently, evaluating the effects of the event on the speaker. The stages an observation unfolds along are Observation ˄ Event ˄ Comment.

If we go back to the Synopsis stage in Lucas’ presentation (Sample 1), we see that as he takes up the first point in his Evaluation – the lack of interest in reading – he brings in two main events from the stories he is analyzing. As he tells us about them, he is not really retelling event after event in time, but rather reproducing the event as if he were observing it as a frozen scene. After he describes the events, he evaluates their significance, which is directly relevant to the point he is trying to make in his interpretation. Let’s read the example:

Ok, in Fahrenheit 451 we see that books are disappearing from the world and that firemen work to persecute people who own books, and if they find any, they burn them. Also, in the case of Leonard Mead in ‘The Pedestrian’. Actually, he was a writer, but being a writer in this society, in this particular society, was not considered a profession, and books didn’t sell anymore. We can see that there was a loss of interest in reading. This was regarding the fictional world of Ray Bradbury. [1]

The significant events fixed in time the student describes are books disappearing from the world and firemen working to find people who own books; burning them if they are found and, with respect to the second story: what being a writer meant; it not being considered a profession; books not selling anymore. This picture of events is followed by a comment (which could have been further specified in terms of the point being made) which rounds off his observation. If we think of it, observations are a very effective genre to embed in the Synopsis stage to substantiate the point being made. Jordens (2003, p. 107, in Martin & Rose, 2008, p. 67) explains that observations concern the appraisal of “states of affairs” that symbolically stand for evaluative meanings we wish to make. The events in the Bradbury’s sci-fi world that Lucas reproduces ‘stand for’ the ‘lack of interest in books’ in Lucas’ terms. So the inclusion of observations is a very appropriate strategy, we could say, even when students are most likely not aware of the decisions they are making. If we help them to ‘see’ what typically happens in the Synopsis stage, they are much more likely to make effective use of this resource to produce an effective Synopsis.

We have found another instance of embedding that occurs regularly enough in the texts we analyzed. Our sample texts reflect that, especially as they round off their presentation, students usually make a personal statement explaining the reasons why they chose to discuss a certain topic and/or why they chose the particular texts they dealt with in their talk. In fact, what students tend to produce at this point – typically in the Reaffirmation of the Evaluation stage – is a ‘personal response’ genre. Personal responses express one’s feelings about a text. Let’s observe an example from Lucas’ presentation. As he is about to close his discussion, he becomes openly personal and shares his feelings and motivations:

And as a way of rounding up my presentation, I would like to say why I have chosen this topic. Because as you could see, as you can see, I feel fascinated with Bradbury’s short stories: he was a genius, he had the ability to perceive what was going to happen fifty, sixty years before… How did he do this? I don’t know. But this is what struck me. Ok? [1]

After interpreting the source text and substantiating the evaluation he makes with information from the source text, Lucas becomes personal and expresses his strong inclination for the text (I feel fascinated; he was a genius; this is what struck me). In so doing, he calls for the solidarity of his audience with respect to his personal preferences more than with respect to what is actually central – the key points about Bradbury’s fiction he has been trying to make. This is his last contact with his audience and he tries to consolidate the relationship that has been established interpersonally. This is understandable, though not the most highly valued wrapping up for an academic text. In fact, personal responses are “the least valued response type in formal examinations” (Rothery and Macken, 1991; Macken-Horarik, 1996, in Martin & Rose, 2008, p. 93).

The global function of an interpretation, as we said above, is to interpret a text critically taking up a ‘theme’ or ‘point’ to explore. It is not really a text about the student’s inclinations or feelings. Wrapping up an interpretation with a final evaluation of the writer’s skill, or the strength or relevance of the point made in the source text would be much more effective and valued by teachers, as we have observed. It is still an evaluation, actually a subjective one, but not about the author´s feelings or personal likes or dislikes on the source text, but rather about the phenomenon (issue, idea, theme, point) that is being explored. In our experience, explaining this difference in the ‘target’ or the ‘object’ of this final evaluation (from the student’s feelings or inclinations to the evaluation of the phenomenon itself) is critical. Students need to understand that our purpose in not to suppress their opinion (an impression they often have!) but rather to help them choose the most relevant, effective target of evaluation that is in keeping with the global function of the text.

Here are other final evaluations that students include as they finish off their presentations. In the following two examples the authors are attempting to move away from their own likes or inclinations and to focus on the phenomenon as the key target of the evaluation they make. We have underlined the relevant sections in which attitude is expressed:

S1: Ok, to conclude, I’d like to say that I chose this topic because I find high technology a very serious and actual topic… er…

SS: Actual meaning current?

S1: Current, yes. Because although the story was written several years ago, we share some similarities between the future Ray Bradbury imagined and our present. [2]

But at the end, we get to see that she is Mango Street and she realized that she has to come back and help those who can’t go out from Mango Street. And I think these are two really strong characters and they are really important to me because they make me think about which is the role of women in today society [*].[4]

In the first example, the student positively evaluates the themes Bradbury deals with in his story and his vision. And in the second example, the presenter is even more effective in highlighting Cisneros’ skillful characterization and the impact Mango Street had on her as a reader, which, in turn, positively evaluates the text itself.

We have described the genres that the oral interpretation includes to fulfill the function of three of its stages. We are thus describing the oral interpretation as a macro-genre, as it contains other genres embedded in it: we have found that students almost always include a first Contextualization stage which has important experiential, interpersonal and textual functions. Furthermore, we have suggested that this stage fulfills its function by bringing in a descriptive report that effectively includes preparatory information for the audience. Something similar happens in the Synopsis stage, in which we typically find an observation that effectively introduces a ‘snapshot of events’ that are closely related to the ideas being discussed. Finally, we suggested that toward the end of the presentation, students tend to include or embed another genre, the personal response in which they often overdo the expression of their own inclinations.

These finer distinctions on the way an interpretation is put together could seem to suggest that this genre, or macro-genre, is too complex even for an upper level of instruction. Yet, we find that understanding in more detail how the text does what it does sheds light on it and helps us to teach more effectively what happens as the text unfolds.

We could push the graphic representation a step further to capture the finer distinctions we have made on the structure of an oral interpretation, a macro-genre. We could anticipate that there could be other choices that students might make to express the function of the Contextualization, Synopsis and Reaffirmation stages. For example, in the Synopsis stage, students could use an exemplum or an anecdote. The representation below reflects what we have observed so far.

ch04_3

4.7 Beyond interpretations: the oral exposition

As we analyzed oral interpretations delivered by students at a higher level of instruction, we noticed that some of them made a natural transition toward a different type of rhetorical purpose: they were not only interpreting source texts in terms of a theme or idea, often a controversial one, but also taking a stance and supporting it. This shift is critical in terms of literacy development and will occur much more effectively if we explore what exactly it entails and teach it explicitly.

The transition is from oral interpretation to exposition, another genre that is central to undergraduate literacy and oracy. In an exposition students are expected to take a stance with respect to a theme or issue that is controversial in nature. Once students define this stance, which is potentially a problematic one in terms of audience solidarity, they need to substantiate it with evidence from the source text which can be, again, a literary or journalistic text, a movie, a lecture, a podcast or any audiovisual material. We draw upon Martin and Rose (2008) as we analyzed this genre. These authors define an exposition as a text in which “a thesis is expounded and argued for” (2008, p. 109) and typically unfolds through the stages Thesis, Argument and Reiteration of the Thesis. The thesis announces the idea that will be taken up and argued for. In so doing it also anticipates the general structure of the exposition: what aspects will be considered in the arguments that follow. The Argument naturally contains the ‘case’ that is built in support of the position taken. Each argument draws upon the source text and substantiates the thesis. In Chapter 5, Section 5.2.2, we discuss the structure of what we call an ‘argument block’ in the context of opinion editorials.

The transition from interpreting a source text as we have been discussing so far to taking up an idea that is debatable, substantiating it and persuading readers that the position taken is the most reasonable one is a major process, and it obviously requires explicit teaching and learning. It may come very naturally to a good number of students who may have had this training at home or in school. But reasonable persuasion is a skill that many of our students do not possess so it needs to be taught. We will briefly flesh out in more detail the structure of the expositions, oral in mode, that we analyzed.[5]

Interestingly, just as what we observed in oral interpretations, oral expositions also include an initial Contextualization stage in which students introduce the area of experience that their presentation will be about. We observed, again, that this information is typically expressed as a descriptive report. This is not really surprising, as the functionality the report fulfills is the same as in the oral interpretation: it describes an area of experience directly related to the thesis idea that will be explored. Let’s observe the stage Contextualization in Sample 4, Consuelo’s presentation, where she discusses guilt management. Here, once again, we have underlined the section of the text in which the author describes the phenomenon she will discuss in relation to her thesis:

For this presentation, I chose to explore the topic of the human feeling of guilt and how it is explored, or how it is differently illustrated in the novel Atonement, by Ian McEwan, and in the feature article ‘Mandela’s Children’, by Alexandra Füller.

I will begin by saying that all of us at a certain point in our lives have done something that we regret. To err is human, they say. When our actions only affect ourselves, well, we can feel anger, sadness, irritation. We can try to make amends, or even learn a lesson. However, when our actions come to affect others, different emotions come into play, and also different actions should be required. One of these emotions is the uncomfortable feeling of guilt. According to psychologists, when they have caused physical or psychological pain to others, it is appropriate to feel guilt, because this feeling <un> xxx </un> will make us feel regret and will make us react; it’s more as a sort of internal alarm that will make us realize that something was wrong and will prompt us to carry out some actions. The question would be, what type of actions we’ll be able to carry out [4].

We can see that the student first needs to provide the audience with general ideas about the ‘uncomfortable feeling of guilt’ we can experience before taking her stance with respect to this issue in the light of the source texts she has chosen to analyze. In order to set the context, she refers to different emotions people can experience and includes information she has obtained by doing research on the topic, thus positioning herself as a credible speaker. She tries to engage her audience and build solidarity around the feeling of guilt which is construed as a shared experience (all of us; we regret; we can feel; etc.). Consuelo’s report is relatively objective, as she just describes feelings and possible consequences of having done something wrong and feeling guilty about that. An analysis of other samples reveals that information included in this initial report could also strategically anticipate the stance that later will be taken up and substantiated in the exposition. Textually, Consuelo has organized the information in such a way that she makes this section a very effective one (from something that we regret; to various feelings and actions; to a very specific feeling, the uncomfortable feeling of guilt; to a very specific action, what type of actions we’ll be able to carry out).

So again, given the need to prepare the audience for the presentation that follows, we propose Contextualization as a stage in oral expositions, as follows:

Following the contextualizing information, the thesis or key idea that will be supported or argued for is announced, as in Sample 4:

In the two texts I told you, Briony Tallis and Stefaans Coetzee are clear examples of someone who had done, have committed terrible mistakes and have hurt others. However, I believe they did not experience this emotion of guilt in the same way and that’s why they reacted in such a different way also. So my purpose in this presentation is to analyze and compare how the emotion of guilt affected these two characters, considering the actions, the reactions they took or the actions that each of them took. I will begin by evaluating Briony’s case, then I will move on to compare her with Coetzee’s actions, trying to highlight how much more valuable and effective I believe Coetzee’s actions were. [4]

Consuelo has two source texts: the novel Atonement, by Ian McEwan, and the feature article ‘Mandela’s Children’ by Alexandra Füller. Her thesis is that one of the characters managed his guilt more effectively than the other one. To support her thesis, Consuelo presents two main arguments:

In Briony’s case, I believe that, when she acknowledged her error, her mistake, her feeling of guilt was not strong enough or deep enough, in my opinion. And that is why her actions were only intended for herself. Of course I should say Briony never had malicious intentions, but it should also be said that what she did was not a simple blunder.

But something different occurred in the case of Coetzee, because I think that, well, he, like Briony, did something terrible, but, unlike Briony, I think he found a way of… like turning his feeling of guilt or responsibility into actions more intended to others, more intended to the victims. He focused more on that. [4]

As the evidence she draws upon is narrative in nature, her arguments, not surprisingly, are observations in which she represents incidents, not as they unfold sequentially but rather as a snapshot frozen in time. She then comments on them, evaluates the incident, and judges characters’ behavior. In so doing, she consolidates the case she is building:

When she was thirteen, and a very naïve child, her strong and vivid imagination led her to wrongly believed that Robbie, the son of the family’s charlady, er, had abused her fifteen years old cousin, Lola. And she, Briony didn’t have any conclusive evidence, but she stood so firmly in her accusation that Robbie was sent to prison and spent three and a half years in jail until he was released only on the condition he went into the British Army at the beginning of Second World War. Then he <un> xxx </un> the troops were sent to French territory, where he finally died.

So, er, I know probably Briony was not able to assess at the beginning originally all the pain she would cause and which will be the final outcomes of her doings. But anyway, I don’t think, I don’t consider that the courses of actions she chose were… well, at least for me were questionable. [4]

The text above has been split in two to clearly show that the first section describes the incident itself (underlined) and the second section (dashed underlining) constitutes the student’s evaluation of the incident, which, in turn, can be analyzed as a personal comment.

We can now propose the following, more delicate version of our representation of an oral exposition:

ch04_3 copy

We are not suggesting that arguments are always built by embedding an observation. The nature of the source material is critical, of course. In expositions (both oral and written), we have also observed reports, explanations, and other story genres. As we cannot further elaborate on this in this chapter, we invite you to go to the discussion of how arguments are typically built in the context of opinion editorials, in Chapter 5, Section 5.2.2.

We need to continue working on interpretations and expositions as macro-genres to identify and describe all the genres that are typically called upon to fulfill functions as stages in the more complex genres. We have included our findings so far even when they are not yet complete and are, in a sense, preliminary, as we think they already have potential for teaching and learning. We hope the notions of macro-genres and embedding have been clearly developed so that they can be considered for other genres we wish to teach. Genre embedding is, in fact, a quite extended phenomenon in genres in higher literacy and it lends itself nicely to teaching primary genres as building blocks that will fulfill functions in longer, more complex genres.

Oral interpretations are very productive types of genres for students to show their critical, interpretive skills, their ability to organize their ideas and to express them with effective language choices. Being able to clearly define the social activity they are engaging in, avoiding the vague label ‘oral presentation’ is already a step forward toward visibly teaching what we would like our students to learn. As they advance in their genre literacy development, the move toward more persuasive texts is only natural. Interpretations become expositions and more complex rhetorical and language choices are called upon.

4.8 Interpretations and orality

We will now move on to consider in more detail the implications that the mode of oral interpretations has on more delicate features of the text. Mode refers to the way in which language is used. The distinction we are interested in is the contrast between oral and written mode. In terms of our teaching practice, the issue is how we can help our students to prepare and effectively deliver texts that are oral.

When students are assigned an oral interpretation, they typically plan their text in writing, study this version and deliver orally what was, really, a written text. So students try to deliver in a relatively fluent manner a text that was planned much in the same way as when they write a letter or an essay, for example. They use resources that can work very well for the written page, but not necessarily for oral delivery. What tends to happen, as well, is that students plan and write their texts without taking into account their audience and its needs, two factors that are particularly important in an oral context of situation.

We will briefly review the features of oral texts and those that we would expect to find in oral deliveries of interpretations by students in the classroom or to teachers in a final oral exam situation. In Chapter 1, we reviewed the following table, an adaptation of Eggins’ (2004, pp. 92-3) comparison between oral and written texts:

ch04_3 copy 2

As we can see, texts are classified as either oral- or written-like. This is very often the case. Texts can have features of typically oral texts even when they are written. For example, a magazine article that aims at interacting as much as possible with young readers may address questions and comments to its readers, adopting, once and again, a turn-taking organization (asking questions, making commands) that is typical of spoken texts. Or, as we reviewed in Chapter 3, Section 3.2.3, reports for children that typically try to engage and involve them actively in the exploration of experience can be partly interactive. An oral text, on the other hand, as a lecture, for example, can have features of a written text: a synoptic structure (it is organized rhetorically), (more) prestige lexis, and it is the result of editing and revision. These distinctions are important for texts to be effective. Students often find it very hard to present orally. They feel a lot of pressure just because they are facing an audience, typically their classmates and teacher, and typically as well, they are being evaluated. So what exactly is implicated in the oral mode is an important part of what we can explicitly teach them.

We have organized the features of orality in an oral interpretation in terms of the impact that mode has on i) the structure of the text, ii) the language choices made, and iii) the way the text is delivered. Based on the general features of oral mode we have discussed so far, we can expect the following impact on each area:

We will briefly discuss most of these features referring specifically to what we have observed in oral interpretations that received high scores, produced by undergraduate students at an upper-intermediate level of instruction. Of the features listed above, we will not take up context-dependent referencing and non-standard grammar as clearly the oral presentation can, at least partly, be context-dependent and this should not be a feature that students would have difficulties with. With respect to non-standard grammar, there is not much to say, really, as oral interpretations are a response genre typically delivered in an educational context and, thus, standard grammar will be expected.

4.8.1 Mode and the structure of interpretations

In the first part of the chapter, we discussed the structure of an interpretation and mentioned the sections in which the writer anticipates and recapitulates content. Interpretations that are drafted to be delivered orally include these anticipating and recapitulating phases even more frequently. It is a crucial function that is fulfilled in the text to support the audience’s processing of the information in real time, as they listen, with no possibility of going back to reread an important idea, for example. Let’s consider some examples in which the presenter attempts to carefully guide his audience, all taken from Sample 1[6]:

Anticipating

-Before starting with the specific point of my presentation, I would like to bring into discussion this idea of the ambiguity -that… I mean, that technology can have in society.

-The first thing that I will compare is the loss of interest in reading.

-As we know, I think that the first example we can bring into discussion is Mildred, because she was all the time in front of the parlor.

 

Recapitulating

-All those are pieces of evidence that show that we don’t like to read […]

-And as a way of rounding up my presentation, I would like to say why I have chosen this topic.

 

Both anticipating and recapitulating

-Well, that was the first point. And the second point is the lack of face-to-face interaction that was present in Ray -Bradbury’s short stories.

As we can see, Lucas, the author of this interpretation, carefully anticipates the ideas he is about to discuss and, in so doing, lays out the organization of his presentation. The anticipatory or shell noun that he uses (thing) to express what he will be discussing is not particularly effective. Will he be comparing experiences, behavior, opinions? Not really clear. This is, in fact, a key area for us to help our students with: anticipation and recapitulation are about content as much as they are about the way the text is organized. A good anticipatory statement (for example, the traditional thesis or topic statement that we ask our students to write initially in a text or paragraph) has this dual function: it lets the reader in on what content is to come and it anticipates how this will be done (how ideas will be explored; in what order). So, for example, the statement:

Ok, hi, everyone, I’m Lucas [S1/last] and I’m going to talk about something that has to do with society, related to the short stories by Ray Bradbury, ‘The Pedestrian’, ‘The Murderer’, ‘The Veldt’ and to his novel Fahrenheit 451.

anticipates we will be told about something but not exactly what. A little further on, he states:

The first thing that I will compare is the loss of interest in reading.

Here again, content could be more effectively anticipated by saying:

The first consequence of the overuse of technology that I will compare is the loss of interest in reading.

The following example also fails to clearly anticipate content:

I’m going to talk about two cases that are related to the use of drugs and alcohol consumption.

 

First of all, I’m going to explain a little bit what alcoholism and drugs are. [5]

Once again, the text anticipates some information about the structure of the presentation – two cases will be explored and some introductory information on alcoholism and drugs will be provided – but we do not really know what about the use of drugs and alcohol consumption will be discussed. This, of course, will be revealed as the presentation unfolds but it gives the audience the additional task of gradually coming to understand what exactly the point of the interpretation is.

Something similar occurs when meanings that have already been discussed are distilled and recapitulated, as in the example below:

One of the things that made me talk about this subject is that, while reading about the movies, many of the actors were cast after a talent search in poor Los Angeles neighborhoods and one of the actors said in an interview that he had never had a teacher like Ms. Gruwell who helped their students reach their goals and dreams. And up until that point, it had been very difficult for him to finish anything in his life. This showed me that, just like me, he didn’t know that great teachers like Ms. Gruwell existed and he was suddenly very aware of the fact that having a good teacher can make a big impact and changes in someone’s life. [6]

In this example, the experience of one of the actors is told. In the last sentence of the paragraph, the speaker tries to capture this experience with a weak this showed me that […] that puts the audience in the position of having to quickly, in real time, process what this exactly stands for and assign it the meaning his disappointing experience, for example. It would be much more effective to recapitulate by explicitly mentioning the meanings that are being referred back to.

The work that is called for is effectively distilling content, that is, the experiential information one wishes to capture and the lexical item that will express the meaning effectively. Shell nouns are important resources here. We will only briefly review their importance. They can range from very general to more specific, and they are very effective in structuring the text globally or more locally, as the following table attempts to display, more or less rigorously:

As we can see from this very reduced list of shell nouns, the more general the meaning captured (toward the left of the cline), that is, the less saturated with specific meanings a lexical item is, the more careful we need to be that the meanings it refers back or forward to are clearly recoverable. An effective attempt to distill meaning and give the text internal cohesion is the following:

As I said, I’m also using the essay ‘Think Outside the Box but Stay Inside the Grid’. In it, Emma Black also shows this, er, sense of commitment to her students. [6]

This statement anticipates that more is going to be said about the same topic – sense of commitment – that was discussed immediately before in the presentation. The student very effectively captures the meanings already made and prepares us for what is to come in the text. This is, in fact, a very good instance of cataphoric referencing using a shell noun that can clearly be placed in the column to the right in our table above!

Signposting along the text can contain these shell nouns which distill content of the subject matter, as in most of the examples taken from Sample 1 above, or they can also refer to the stages of the presentation that are coming, as in:

And as a way of rounding up my presentation, I would like to say why I have chosen this topic.

 

Ok, to conclude, I’d like to say that I chose this topic […] [2]

In both cases, the audience knows that the closing remarks of the interpretation will follow.

So orality calls for careful signposting as the text unfolds to let the audience in on where the text is coming from and where it is going. Students tend to think they are being too repetitive but often can acknowledge that, when they are part of the audience themselves, they appreciate being guided carefully. Considering and discussing the needs of the audience is an essential part of learning how to be a good presenter of oral texts.

Another feature of the structure of oral-like texts is their turn-taking organization. As the text unfolds, interactants take up moves in turns that follow each other more or less regularly. This, clearly, is not a feature of oral interpretations. They are basically monologic texts and the main, extended move is taken up by the speaker who presents his/her discussion on a source text to an audience that is assigned the key role of receiver of information. Yet, even typically monologic texts can include some interactive elements that assign roles to its readers. In our sample texts, the presenter includes the following interactive moves:

[…] according to a study made by them, one in four people in America didn’t read anything in 2010, I mean, no books, no newspapers, ok? [1]

How did he do this? I don’t know. But this is what struck me. [1]

What should a parent do? Parents should monitor the use of technology, be familiar with technology and find alternatives for their children’s free time. [2]

Think about how many <pvc> inabitants </pvc>.

SS: inHABitants…

S1: inhabitants are in the United States [1]

In the first example, the speaker adds a final request for confirmation. In so doing, he assigns the audience the role of confirming that what he is saying is clear, that they agree or that he is making sense. In the second and third example, the presenter is asking a question which s/he actually answers, but is, even if briefly, assigning the role of respondent to the audience. In the last example, the speaker is actually giving an order, and the audience is expected to comply. These changes in the speech role adopted by the speaker and assigned to the writer can be very effective and students can be made aware that they can be included in their presentation to engage their audience actively in the discussion and to establish effective communication with them. The presence of some interactive features even in monologic texts is an important feature of orality. We can try to help our students to move away from presentations in which they merely stand, deliver, not really engaging actively with their audience. Of course, we can help them with idiomatic ways of doing this. The final confirmation request in the first example above could be rephrased as:

[…] according to a study made by them, one in four people in America didn’t read anything in 2010, I mean, no books, no newspapers, can you imagine? / Isn’t it surprising?

We can go over these possible variations in the speech role students take up. Besides giving information in most of their presentation, they can also ask for confirmation, respond a question or request that their audience think, consider or even give an example.

Another feature of oral texts is their dynamic structure, that is, their being staged interactively as the texts unfolds. This does not mean only following the conventional, expected staging in an interactive text but also taking up turns that are based on how the interaction unfolds, often unexpectedly, in real time. Even when we would be tempted to think that this would not be a feature of an oral presentation by students, it is one we can consider, even if in a limited way. As students present, they are often aware that, for example, they started out too quickly or that they mispronounced a word, that they skipped a whole section or that their audience seems partly distracted by the noise outside the room. Their first instinct is probably to just keep going and try to get the presentation over with as quickly as possible. Yet we could encourage them to react dynamically to these events and actually go back, acknowledge that they went through a section too quickly, that they mispronounced a word or that they wonder if a section was clear and needs restatement. They can be helped to react naturally by reviewing phrases like:

I’m sorry. I think I said that too quickly / I rushed over my purpose / the last idea.

 

Maybe I’ll say that again, more slowly.

 

I wonder if that was clear enough.

 

Should I go back and restate what I just said?

Students often feel that openly acknowledging they spoke too quickly or not clearly enough will count against them, yet we can always stress that delivering an oral presentation is an authentic communicative event in an educational context and that what is being evaluated is not only the content of what they are saying but also the way they are using language to make sure their ideas are communicated effectively.

Another impact of orality on the structure of the best oral presentations that we analyzed is the frequent inclusion of explanatory or defining phases all along the text. They provide information that the audience may need in order to fully understand an idea in real time, with no time to look up information elsewhere. Let’s consider the following examples:

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, that is an organization from the United States that promotes the arts and literature, well, a study made by them concluded that there is a dramatic decline in reading. [1]

And on the other hand, drug is a chemical substance that affects the function of the nervous system, altering perception, mood or consciousness and the most commonly drug used in Argentina is marihuana, but people also use cocaine, ecstasy and LSD, and, er, and others. And in most of the cases these two disease are related and are very common among young people and one of the most important reasons of death. [5]

Hello, for today’s final colloquy I’ve chosen to talk about ‘bicultural identity’ in relation to the novel The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and the text ‘The Teacher who Changed my Life’ by Nicholas Gage. Bicultural identity is one’s self-definition under the influence of two cultures. [3]

In the first example, the presenter includes a dependent clause that defines an antecedent (the National Endowment for the Arts) that is important as a source in the text. Awareness of what the source institution actually is and does is important for the audience to value the information that is being provided. The second example includes a definition of what a drug is, an important notion in the context of the discussion that follows. In the last example, the presenter defines the notion of bicultural identity which is central to his presentation, so he needs to make sure his audience knows exactly what it means and he can probably anticipate this may not always be the case. The best strategy is to define it. Dependent clauses and appositions are also useful and easy to deliver. The last example from Text 2 could have been expressed in these two alternative ways as well:

Hello, for today’s final colloquy I’ve chosen to talk about ‘bicultural identity’ in relation to the novel The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and the text ‘The Teacher who Changed my Life’ by Nicholas Gage. Bicultural identity – one’s self-definition under the influence of two cultures – is central to these readings and to our experience of society today.

 

Hello, for today’s final colloquy I’ve chosen to talk about ‘bicultural identity’, that is, how we define ourselves when we are under the influence of two cultures. I will explore this idea in relation to the novel The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and the text ‘The Teacher who Changed my Life’ by Nicholas Gage.

We can review these choices with our students so they can incorporate important information naturally in the unfolding text. These structures are, of course, also very frequent in written discourse. We just need to make our students aware of the importance of making sure their audience has all the information they might need as the interpretation unfolds in real time.

4.8.2 Mode and the language of interpretations

One of the characteristics of the language of oral texts is the more frequent use of everyday lexis. This is, in fact, a general tendency, but it does not always hold true. Students sometimes get the impression that because a text they are presenting is oral, they can be more informal than what the actual situation calls for. Their choice of everyday lexis is sometimes reflected in their greetings (Ok, hi, everyone, I’m Lucas [S1/last] and I’m going to talk about […]) and in their vocabulary choice (kids; stuff; [he has] issues). Depending on the situational context of the presentation we can decide to ask them to adjust their language choices more toward a written-like mode, as an educational or academic setting would require, or we can make them adjust their vocabulary choices to particular contexts we describe (a presentation in a reading club with friends; as part of a documentary on an author and his/her works) as an exercise to practice adjustments of register. Some of these changes are not strictly about mode only, but also involve tenor, that is, the way the speaker relates with his/her audience. We are discussing them together here as the change to an oral mode often brings changes in tenor that students are not completely aware or in control of. Even when these adjustments in formality can seem to be accessory, particularly given other major language problems our students may have, they are important. Making a good presentation depends, at least partly, on the effectiveness with which we adjust the register of our text to an educational context. This practice is important in this context or in the context of an oral presentation given at work, to our colleagues, our boss or to an interviewer who is considering whether to hire or promote us.

A second very important impact that orality has on the way we use language is related to what is described as grammatical complexity and lexical density. Let’s consider two sections from our Sample Text 1.

Ok, in Fahrenheit 451 we see that books are disappearing from the world and that firemen work to persecute people who own books, and if they find any, they burn them. Also, in the case of Leonard Mead in ‘The Pedestrian’. Actually, he was a writer, but being a writer in this society, in this particular society, was not considered a profession, and books didn’t sell anymore.

All those are pieces of evidence that show that we don’t like to read and that this interest that Ray Bradbury had when he mentioned these ideas of the books that nobody read, well, he was right because we continued to be addicted to technology.

Both sections are syntactically complex; clauses are related through coordination: addition (and that firemen work […]; and if they find any […]; Also, in the case […]) and dependency and embedding (and if they find any […]; but being a writer in this society, in this particular society […]). The frequent coordination and dependency between clauses makes the discourse resemble the way we use language orally, connecting ideas one to the other, on and on. Besides being grammatically complex, it is a type of discourse that can be described as eventive: it is more about events than about ideas. We can easily identify participants doing things in particular circumstances. This is a good choice for students who are presenting orally, unless they are already quite advanced and have a solid enough command of the language. It will be easier for them to reproduce that type of discourse than a more lexically dense and abstract alternative such as:

The alarming disappearance of books together with the persecution of owners of textbooks is portrayed in the novel Fahrenheit 451.

This reformulation is actually much simpler in terms of syntax: The alarming disappearance […] is portrayed in […]. Yet, at the noun group rank it is much more dense, with pre- (the alarming) and post-modification of head nouns (of books together with […] of textbooks). Lexical density is a feature of language use that students need to develop and we can encourage, as discussed in Chapter 2, Sections 3.2.1 and 3.4.2, in the context of reports as experience is recreated and described in written discourse. If students are delivering orally, however, discourse that is lexically dense is harder to reproduce and, actually, it is very demanding on the audience as well. This does not mean that parts of an oral presentation will not become somewhat more dense. Typically, sections in which key ideas are anticipated or reviewed become more lexically dense and more abstract notions are included, expressed by nominalizations, as in:

  • […] they are not against technology but against the overuse of technology.
  • The first thing that I will compare is the loss of interest in reading.
  • Well, that was the first point. And the second point is the lack of face-to-face interaction that was present in Ray Bradbury’s short stories. [1]

In these three examples, experience is represented in more abstract, generic terms and the head nouns are all pre- or post-modified – the overuse of technology; the loss of interest in reading; the lack of face-to-face interaction that was present in Ray Bradbury’s short stories. These sections in the text are anticipating ideas that will be discussed in the following stage, the Synopsis; in most cases, with reference to concrete events related to concrete participants. The functionality of these statements – anticipating in a compact manner the ideas that will be discussed – calls for the use of resources such as nominalizations that make it possible for us to express processes (X overuses …; X has lost …; X does not have) as ‘things’ or ‘ideas’ (overuse; loss; lack of), and dense noun groups that help us to pack information around head nouns.

What our students need to be aware of, then, is that their oral texts should be as lexically sparse as possible. They can try to unpack dense noun groups with heavy pre- and post-modification that they may have included in their written drafts and turn them into unpacked reformulations which may involve more complex syntax as they refer to single participants at a time, the activities they are involved in and the associated circumstances.

So if a student has a draft with a clause that reads:

I will explore the widely held yet mistaken assumptions that technology is always associated with positive effects that promote our well-being

we can fairly well anticipate they will have a hard time reproducing this statement naturally, fluently or without stressing themselves out. This statement has a friendlier version both for the speaker and for the audience:

I will explore the assumption that is held by many people that technology has only positive effects and always promotes our well-being.

Or, in an even more unpacked version:

Many people believe that technology has only positive effects and always promotes our well-being. I would like to explore how true this assumption is.

4.8.3 Mode and the delivery of interpretations

The last aspect related to oral interpretations we will discuss is the impact that orality has on the way we use language as we speak in real time. This is especially important for EFL students struggling to speak as fluently as possible. Orality inevitably involves what is generally called spontaneity phenomena such as false starts, hesitations and, in very interactive texts, interruptions, overlap and incomplete clauses. As students deliver oral presentations, however much they rehearse, they are very likely to hesitate and make false starts, once and again. Let’s observe some examples from our sample texts in which we have underlined the relevant sections:

  • […] this idea of the ambiguity that, I mean, that technology can have in society. [1]
  • Like, er, it can help us in the development of medicine, er, in the field of – I don’t know – science, or communication […] [1]
  • Also, people think that, well, they can work […] [1]
  • And here, in Latin America, there is, er, we have the Cerlalc, which is Centro Regional para el Fomento de la Literatura en América Latina y el Caribe […] [1]
  • So they didn’t… they didn’t go out. [1]
  • Well, we live in high technology world but there can be a negative side resulting from the inappropriate or the overuse of technology. [2]
  • All right, so, some disadvantages about the bad use or the over use of technology may be, er, regarding children, of course; all right, number one is that technology can change the way children think because using too much technology can change the child’s brain. [2]

     

In the first three examples, the presenter hesitates and verbalizes his hesitation with expressions such as I mean; well; I don’t know or sounds like er. The next two are examples of false starts, with some hesitation (there is, er, we have the Cerlalc; they didn’t… they didn’t go out). The last two examples, from Sample 2, illustrate the use of continuatives as the speaker is leading herself on with expressions such as well and all right.

These marks of orality are difficult to avoid. Presenting orally in a language that is not theirs, building subject matter that makes sense and really communicating with their audience is a huge challenge. Careful rehearsal until the text is almost memorized will build students’ confidence and help to minimize hesitations and false starts. Yet we can expect them to be a feature of their delivery.

We could write a whole chapter only on the role of prosodic and paralinguistic resources in oral presentations, not just as critical features of orality but as very effective meaning-making devices. Prosodic features or supra-segmental phonology includes significant aspects such as intonation (and the huge potential or rising and falling intonation), rhythm and its possible variations (combining stressed and unstressed syllables) and stress (at sentence level). They are all powerful meaning-making resources. Paralinguistic features of delivery such as pace (varying the tempo or speed of delivery strategically), loudness (adjusting volume for effect), gestures and eye contact all complement and/or enhance meanings made verbally and actually make meanings on their own. We will not explore this area of delivery but will encourage discussion of these resources even if in the simplest terms with our students. Showing them the effect of these resources with our own delivery or with that of a presenter in audiovisual material can be very effective to foreground how these meaning-making resources can enhance their delivery.

Very related to how a presentation is delivered is the way that students deal with problems with language they may have as they speak. Self-monitoring their own speech in real time is a very useful but difficult skill to acquire. Here are three examples from our students’ texts:

And here, in Latin America, there is, er, we have the Cerlalc, which is Centro Regional para el Fomento de la Literatura en América Latina y el Caribe […] [1]

 

So, what a parent should do with this problem? What should a parent do? [2]

 

Ok, to conclude, I’d like to say that I chose this topic because I find high technology a very serious and actual topic … current, yes. [2]

 

and well, er, and they weren’t conscious neither because they had consumed that substances too… those substances too. And finally he faint… fainted, and he threw up while he was unconscious and that didn’t let him breathe and died. [5]

Students’ awareness of the mistakes they make as they are presenting and their correcting themselves as naturally as they can count very much in their favor, not against them. One way to develop this skill is through what Dickersen (1989) calls “covert rehearsal”, that is, the time we spend talking to ourselves in the target language in stress-free conditions, paying attention to the language we produce. We can first listen selectively just to certain aspects of what we are saying (subject-verb agreement, for example) and increasingly add features to focus our attention on. This practice should, in time, lead to self-monitoring, that is, being able to pay attention to aspects of pronunciation or grammar as we speak even in high-pressure conditions.

As teachers we can also help our students to self-monitor by being responsive and supportive of their attempts to correct themselves, even if they are somewhat clumsy at first. We can take these attempts as evidence of extensive practice and hard work that will, in time, lead to self-monitoring even in high-stress situations, as is delivering an oral presentation.

We have reviewed the different ways in which orality affects the way in which an oral presentation unfolds. We have commented on features we observed in the sample texts we analyzed and we also added suggestions that would improve these sample texts which are, in fact, already successful ones based on the grades they received. As we know, our students are learning English to eventually communicate with people in educational, public and professional contexts. We need to raise their awareness of the importance of how we use language when we speak and in what ways orality is different from writing. Yet, even when our focus has been orality, it goes without saying that most of the resources we have discussed are also pertinent to written texts. Effective texts, whatever their mode, are typically reader-friendly: they carefully keep track of audience’s needs, facilitating the transmission and processing of experiential and interpersonal meanings. This is the powerful enabling job of the textual function we have been discussing.

4.9 Teaching oral interpretations

In the following section we include activities related to the ideas we have been discussing along the chapter. We will organize them following the stages of the teaching and learning cycle that we introduced in Chapter 1 and have taken up again in Chapters 2 and 3. We start off already with the deconstruction stage of the cycle as our chapter is concerned with features of orality, not really with field.

4.9.1 Deconstruction

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Making textual structure visible

Working with the script of a sample oral interpretation can make students aware of the overall textual structure of the text and the minor phases in which anticipations and recapitulations are made. We can project a sample text, ideally one that is first played in a recording, and have students mark the moments that the text unfolds along. They can comment on the function that seems to be fulfilled in each stage or we can provide a list of functional labels or questions that capture the meanings made for students to match with the different sections in the text. As we go along the text other minor functions, such as anticipations and recapitulations, can be highlighted. Based on the observations shared, we can put together a model of the text. Deconstructing and modelizing a sample text (or more than one if necessary and time allows) is a very important step before students are asked to prepare their own texts. The resulting model of the text can be shared by teacher and students and used all along the preparatory stages and the actual production of students’ oral interpretation.

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Signposting effectively

If the stages of the oral interpretation are clear enough to students, we can focus on signposting alone. It is a key feature of oral texts. We can work with a sample text (or part of it) and highlight with our students all the attempts made by the author to guide its audience. We have included below an excerpt from Sample 1, just as an example.

Ok, hi, everyone, I’m Lucas [S1/last] and I’m going to talk about something that has to do with society, related to the short stories by Ray Bradbury, ‘The Pedestrian’, ‘The Murderer’, ‘The Veldt’ and to his novel Fahrenheit 451.

Before starting with the specific point of my presentation, I would like to bring into discussion this idea of the ambiguity that… I mean, that technology can have in society. Because some people think that technology can have positive effects, ok? Like, er, it can help us in the development of medicine, er, in the field of – I don’t know – science, or communication. Also, people think that, well, they can work, shop, chat, all from the comfort of their seats, at home, without moving from their houses. However, there are people who, well, they think that, er, they are not against technology but against the overuse of technology.

And, er, this was the case of Ray Bradbury, who foresaw what was going to happen today, and he was right, because if you do not own a mobile phone, a TV or, I mean, if you don’t have access to internet, you will be for sure considered a stranger, ok? So, the purpose of my presentation will be to make a comparison between the fictional world, the society depicted by Ray Bradbury, and our society nowadays, ok?

The first thing that I will compare is the loss of interest in reading. You know, there are some characters or there are some parts of the short stories in which we can see this idea, er, on the short stories.

Ok, in Fahrenheit 451 we see that books are disappearing from the world and that firemen work to persecute people who own books, and if they find any, they burn them. Also, in the case of Leonard Mead in ‘The Pedestrian’. Actually, he was a writer, but being a writer in this society, in this particular society, was not considered a profession, and books didn’t sell anymore. We can see that there was a loss of interest in reading. This was regarding the fictional world of Ray Bradbury.

But then, nowadays, it happens something similar because there’s still loss of interest in reading.

[evidence included has been omitted]

All those are pieces of evidence that show that we don’t like to read and that this interest that Ray Bradbury had when he mentioned these ideas of the books that nobody read, well, he was right because we continued to be addicted to technology. Well, this is not part of the presentation, but I particularly avoid books. I prefer to listen to audio books, to read faster, to make it more dynamic maybe, as some of the students of this University.

Well, that was the first point. And the second point is the lack of face-to-face interaction that was present in Ray Bradbury’s short stories.

As we know, I think that the first example we can bring into discussion is Mildred, because she was all the time in front of the parlor.

Highlighting the signposts in a sample presentation can help students to visualize how we can guide our readers along the way. We can also review the sample text critically and discuss how anticipating and recapitulating could have been used more; in a different, more effective way or using other language resources.

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Defining and explaining

As we deconstruct an oral interpretation with our students, we can shift their attention to any notions (entities, processes, phenomena), people or institutions that are defined or explained during the presentation. Additionally we can identify notions that are not defined or explained but could facilitate the audience’s comprehension. Once students are aware of the functional need to clearly define or explain information we are not sure our audience will know, we can ask them to practice incorporating defining or explanatory information into their texts if needed. They can use dependent clauses or appositions, two simple and straightforward structures. They could work with segments as the following ones in which the information that defines an idea or entity could be included more naturally into the text:

Hello, for today’s final colloquy I’ve chosen to talk about bicultural identity in relation to the novel The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and the text ‘The Teacher who Changed my Life’ by Nicholas Gage. Bicultural identity is one’s self-definition under the influence of two cultures. [3]

I will explore the notion of resilience in the context of the short story XX. Resilience is the ability to recover from adversity or difficulty. I will show how two of the characters developed this trait, while two others did not. [*]

The notion of multitasking is central to understanding the behavior of millennials as they live their lives. Two of the characters in the text XX fail to understand each other, and a central conflict they have is that XX multitasks twenty-four hours a day, while YY is disoriented and overwhelmed by this practice. Multitasking is engaging in several things at the same time or one after the other, quickly shifting our attention. [*]

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Evidence!

An essential quality of successful oral interpretations is the speaker’s support of the evaluation he/she has made initially. As discussed earlier, this detailed presentation of relevant information takes place in the Synopsis stage, where the speaker supports his/her main idea with evidence from the source texts. In our analysis, we observed that students frequently include an observation to do the job: typically a snapshot of events that supports the idea being discussed. Besides an observation, students could bring in quotes from the source text that become smoothly incorporated into their own. This can be practiced by working together on a key idea/evaluation from a source text that the whole class is familiar with and needs to be supported. We can distribute strips of paper with evidence that they need to consider and choose from as more or less appropriate or effective.

Here are two main evaluations made by the student in Sample 1:

Below are the strips with pieces of evidence the student included in his presentation that need to be arranged. The use of connectors will also help students to organize the evidence for each evaluation in the same manner as was done by the student from Sample 1:

We can have students work in groups and then check their choices with other groups before we present the sample to show them how the speaker actually organized his evidence. We could also have a follow-up activity in which students think of more pieces of evidence that would support the two main evaluations made in the sample, or even think of better ways of phrasing the evidence presented by the speaker.

A more challenging task would entail presenting students with different statements containing specific evaluations in response to different source texts they all know. Students can work in groups and find evidence in the texts that supports each evaluation. We could later ask them to prepare the segment (Evaluation and Synopsis) and deliver it orally (in the joint or independent construction). This exercise is very useful for students to practice the key stage in many informative and persuasive texts in which a statement made (the Evaluation) is supported with evidence (the Synopsis). A more extended version of these two stages in the context of persuasive texts is discussed in Chapter 5, Section 5.2.2, on the ‘argument block’.

4.9.2 Joint and independent construction

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Getting ready to deliver – part 1

We can prepare to deliver an oral presentation that we have written with our students. We can work with the written version of the text projected on the board and then take the time to read it, rehearsing how we would deliver it. We can make a point of using prosodic and paralinguistic features to make or to enhance meanings and ask students to consider features such as those listed below. They can practice their own renderings of a section of the text which they work on independently, in groups and then with the whole calls, as they start to feel more confident.

We can also start by giving an oral rendering of a section ourselves so students become aware of the potential of these resources; or deliver using resources very ineffectively so they evaluate their potential via contrast. Students will probably tend to overuse or exaggerate some of the resources, but this initial, more conscious practice should become more natural as they use them more frequently.

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Getting ready to deliver – part 2

As students prepare to deliver their own presentations, they could be asked to rehearse without having a full version of the written version with them. We have noticed that if they have the full text, they often fail to avoid looking down at it once and again as they present. As they will need some support, they can develop the skill of using a card in which they write the key phrases or words that will help them to keep oriented as they present, something like:

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Getting ready to deliver – part 3

As students get ready to deliver their presentation, they can follow a checklist related to delivery they can make sure they have considered, something like the following:

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4. 10 Appendix

The following mark-up and spelling transcription conventions were used in the sample texts included all along the chapter and in the Appendix. We have followed the Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English (VOICE Transcription Conventions)[7]

  • SS: Utterances assigned to more than one speaker (e.g. an audience), spoken either in unison or staggered, are marked with a collective speaker ID SS.
  • ANONYMIZATION: A speaker’s last name is marked [S1/last], etc.
  • PAUSE: Every brief pause in speech is marked with a full stop in parentheses. (.)
  • REPETITION: All repetitions of words and phrases (including self-interruptions and false starts) are transcribed.
  • UNCERTAIN TRANSCRIPTION: Word fragments, words or phrases which cannot be reliably identified are put in parentheses ( ).
  • PRONUNCIATION VARIATION: Variations on the levels of phonology, morphology and lexis as well as ‘invented’ words are marked <pvc> </pvc>.
  • UNINTELLIGIBLE SPEECH: Unintelligible speech is represented by x’s approximating syllable number and placed between <un> </un> tags.
  • DISCOURSE MARKERS: HESITATION: Hesitation is spelled ‘er’
  • LAUGHTER: All laughter and laughter-like sounds are transcribed with the @ symbol, approximating syllable number (e.g. ha ha ha = @@@). Utterances spoken laughingly are put between <@> </@> tags.

Sample texts

The sample texts are included following the order in which they appear in the chapter.

[1] Lucas – Language 3 (2nd year Teacher Training College)

S1: Ok, hi, everyone, I’m Lucas [S1/last] and I’m going to talk about something that has to do with society, related to the short stories by Ray Bradbury, ‘The Pedestrian’, ‘The Murderer’, ‘The Veldt’ and to his novel Fahrenheit 451.

Before starting with the specific point of my presentation, I would like to bring into discussion this idea of the ambiguity that… I mean, that technology can have in society. Because some people think that technology can have positive effects, ok? Like, er, it can help us in the development of medicine, er, in the field of – I don’t know – science, or communication. Also, people think that, well, they can work, shop, chat, all from the comfort of their seats, at home, without moving from their houses. However, there are people who, well, they think that, er, they are not against technology but against the overuse of technology. And, er, this was the case of Ray Bradbury, who foresaw what was going to happen today, and he was right, because if you do not own a mobile phone, a TV or, I mean, if you don’t have access to internet, you will be for sure consider a stranger, ok? So, the purpose of my presentation will be to make a comparison between the fictional world, the society depicted by Ray Bradbury, and our society nowadays, ok?

The first thing that I will compare is the loss of interest in reading. You know, there are some characters or there are some parts of the short stories in which we can see this idea, er, on the short stories. Ok, in Fahrenheit 451 we see that books are disappearing from the world and that firemen work to persecute people who own books, and if they find any, they burn them. Also, in the case of Leonard Mead in ‘The Pedestrian’. Actually, he was a writer, but being a writer in this society, in this particular society, was not considered a profession, and books didn’t sell anymore. We can see that there was a loss of interest in reading. This was regarding the fictional world of Ray Bradbury.

But then, nowadays, it happens something similar because there’s still loss of interest in reading. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, that is an organization from the United States that promotes the arts and literature, well, a study made by them concluded that there is a dramatic decline in reading. Well, an author, er, from a well-known magazine called USA Today states that in 2009, according to a study made by them, er, one in four people in America didn’t read anything in 2010, I mean, no books, no articles, no newspapers, ok? In America there was no interest in reading

SS: How many, according to statistics?

S1: One in four! I mean, that’s something alarming. Think about how many <pvc> inabitants </pvc>.

SS: inHABitants…

S1: inhabitants are in the United States. These are statistics that are alarming. And here, in Latin America, there is, er, we have the Cerlalc, which is Centro Regional para el Fomento de la Literatura en América Latina y el Caribe, and well, that also makes studies about this, and it works with Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Peru. And according to this study, well, more than half of the inhabitants didn’t read for pleasure.

SS: DON’T read…

S1: DON’T read for pleasure, yeah. Because it was a study that was made between 2004 and 2011, that’s why I said ‘didn’t’. Forgot to say that.

All those are pieces of evidence that show that we don’t like to read and that this interest that Ray Bradbury had when he mentioned these ideas of the books that nobody read, well, he was right because we continued to be addicted to technology. Well, this is not part of the presentation, but I particularly avoid books. I prefer to listen to audio books, to read faster, to make it more dynamic maybe, as some of the students of this University.

Well, that was the first point. And the second point is the lack of face-to-face interaction that was present in Ray Bradbury’s short stories. As we know, I think that the first example we can bring into discussion is Mildred, because she was all the time in front of the parlor. We can’t say that that was face-to-face interaction because it was like a video conference session. Er, that was the first example, Mildred. And the second one was well, what happened to George Hadley’s children. They were all the time playing in the nursery. They loved the nursery more than they loved their own parents. So they didn’t… they didn’t go out. They didn’t have face-to-face interaction. Something similar happened to Leonard Mead because, er, his society, as we know, was brainwashed because they were all the time, or they spent several hours watching TV, and he said that he hadn’t found a single soul in ten years of walking at night. I mean, he didn’t have face-to-face interaction but just because he couldn’t because the society was… suffered from the impact of the… of technology. And the last one is Albert Brock, that in a way also was all the time busy and he joined business video conferences, er, he communicated only with his family; they only called him to ask him favors <un> xxxx</un>, his friends only called him to <un> xxxx</un> But he didn’t go out. He didn’t make outdoor activities, nor face-to-face situation.

So, er, I think that, er, again it was something that Ray Bradbury saw and wanted to give us a message: that we, er, try to, er… I mean

SS: to prevent us?

S1: Yes, yes, he tried to prevent us from doing it. Ok. And there’s something I found interesting that was that, according to Jim Taylor, which is a psychologist, I found in an interview, er, in the National Deseret News, which is an online magazine, he says that if we continue to be so dependent on technology and if we don’t have face-to-face situation, we are not developing our verbal skills and our emotional intelligence. What, what he’s trying to say, if you want to be good at sports, you have to practice. If you want to be good at learning a second language, you have to read, you have to, you have to talk. If you want to be good at conversation, you have to practice, you have to have immediate feedback… is that the word?

SS: yes.

S1: And I, and I will agree with him because, er, as we learnt in Phonetics… body language. Body language is something that conveys meaning… Facial expression… well and this is my second topic.

And as a way of rounding up my presentation, I would like to say why I have chosen this topic. Because as you could see, as you can see, I feel fascinated with Bradbury’s short stories: he was a genius, he had the ability to perceive what was going to happen fifty, sixty years before… How did he do this? I don’t know. But this is what struck me. Ok? Again he saw that if we continue to be so dependent on technology, we can have serious consequences, and the future generations too.


[2] Natalia – Language 3 (2nd year Teacher Training College)

S1: I’m going to talk about how technology can negatively affect children’s health, which is related to the story ‘The Veldt’, written by Ray Bradbury. And I’m going to give some possible solutions, focus on one and then share a personal experience.

Well, we live in high technology world but there can be a negative side resulting from the inappropriate or the overuse of technology. And that negative side can have some serious or, er, long-term consequences. All right, so, some disadvantages about the bad use or the over use of technology may be –er – regarding children, of course; all right, number one is that technology can change the way children think because using too much technology can change the child’s brain. In the short story ‘The Veldt’, Peter and Wendy were spending so much of their time at the nursery. But the problem was that the walls of the nursery were projecting death images, which is not normal for kids. So it’s clear that the happy-life home and the nursery were far important in Peter and Wendy’s lives, making them feel obsessed with high technology and causing them serious mental problems.

Another disadvantage of an overuse of technology is that technology changes the way children feel, because using too much technology may change the way a child empathize and a child’s own mood. And in the short story this is reflected through Peter and Wendy having a distant and cold relationship with their parents: they never look at their parents’ eyes and they got really mad and nervous when George tried to shut down the happy-life home and the nursery.

And the final disadvantage that I’m going to mention is that more use of technology with less physical activity leads to obesity. So, what a parent should do with this problem?

SS: If it’s a question, it should be a direct question.

S1: Sorry?

SS: What’s the question?

S1: What a parent should do. SS: Is it a question? Or are you suggesting what a parent should do to avoid…

S1: It’s a question.

SS: How would you formulate a question?

S1: @@@. What should a parent do?

SS: Ah, ok.

S1: @@@.

Parents should monitor the use of technology, be familiar with technology and find alternatives for their children’s free time. So, focusing on the obesity problem, parents should encourage their children to play sports. And why should children play sports? Well, there are several reasons: because it’s fun, and kids have a positive body image and a higher self-esteem; they are less likely to take drugs or smoke; they develop discipline; they learn how to deal with disappointment; and they develop leadership and teamwork skills.

Ok, so now I’m going to share with you a personal experience. Last year I worked as a nanny and I took care of a nine-year-old boy whose mother is a doctor. So she spent almost all her day working at the hospital. And I realized she doesn’t care about his physical activity because he left her child…

SS: He or she?

S1: It’s the mother… she… she left him somehow locked inside their house for more than six hours a day. As a nine-year-old boy the only thing he could do was watching TV or playing video games, and that’s it. And well, besides he doesn’t like sports and I think it is because he never got the necessary motivation from their parents to play sports.

Ok, to conclude, I’d like to say that I chose this topic because I find high technology a very serious and actual topic… er…

SS: Actual meaning current?

S1: Current, yes. Because although the story was written several years ago, we share some similarities between the future Ray Bradbury imagined and our present.


[3] Pablo – Language 3 (2nd year Teacher Training College)

S1: Hello, for today’s final colloquy I’ve chosen to talk about bicultural identity in relation to the novel The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and the text ‘The Teacher who Changed my Life’ by Nicholas Gage.

Bicultural identity is one’s self-definition under the influence of two cultures.

Throughout the novel The Namesake, Gogol’s identity crisis is shown in the form of the dichotomy between the Bengali and American cultures. In the case of ‘The Teacher who Changed my Life’, Nicholas’ background is Greek and American. In The Namesake, Gogol Ganguli was born to a Bengali migrant couple in the U.S. but never identified with his parents’ culture.

As the story unfolds we learn that Gogol found it very hard to relate to his parents, mainly in terms of culture. Meeting his parents’ cultural expectations was something that always loomed over Gogol.

He never showed interest in his Bengali language classes or in having Bengali friends. And the fact that some girls he liked were not Bengali did not stop him from dating them or having a romance with them. As he was entering adolescence the defiance common in puberty was heightened by the duality present in Gogol’s life. He was certainly inclined to the American culture, not the Bengali one.

The American culture represented freedom from his family, the rejection of his parents it was the culture all of his peers and friends shared and it was the moral and attitudinal base of the country where he lived. The Bengali culture, on the other hand, represented his parents’ expectations and obligations on him, and the alien family back in Calcutta with whom he felt no connection whatsoever.

Gogol felt completely American, but later on in his life, some people believed he was an immigrant, as for example Maxine’s mother did. Also, his first principal at school thought he couldn’t speak English when she first saw him. In turn, every time Gogol visited Calcutta he felt foreign to that place his parents originally called home, and to the people who lived there. So he never really felt at home, not until he left his parents’ house and went to live by himself. Later on, he found in Maxine and Maxine’s house and family the nearest state to the ideal American home his heart had always yearned.

In the case of Nicholas Gage, he didn’t want to remember his Greek past at first because of all the hardships he had to go through before arriving in America and the memory of his mother’s unfortunate fate that always accompanied him.

The first challenge Nicholas had to face after arriving in the U.S. was the language barrier. Nicholas was initially discriminated against because he could speak no English, and so he was sent to a class for “mentally retarded” children. Although there aren’t so many details about the struggles he might have experienced throughout his life because of being a Greek-born American, there is evidence in the text of the Greek community he and his family were tied to, and of the Greek festivities and food of which he always partook. The fact that Nicholas went to an American school and related to Americans in almost every new situation in his life, and, at the same time, took part in Greek celebrations and activities and was also very committed to do justice to his Greek past shows that Nicholas existed in between two cultures and was an active member of both.

To conclude, bicultural identity almost always implies conflicts an individual must face assimilating into both cultures or finding a balance between them. In the same way, an individual may face difficulty balancing his identity within himself due to the influence of both of his cultures. In Gogol’s case, he clearly favored the American culture and rejected the Bengali one, even though at the end of the novel there seems to be some kind of reconciliation with his Bengali heritage thanks to his father’s gift and story.

In Nicholas’ case, his Greek ancestry and the memory of his mother were always present in his mind and made him remember his Greek heritage and everything that he owed it, and the justice he sought to do it.


[4] Consuelo – Language 4 (3rd year Teacher Training College)

S1: For this presentation, I chose to explore the topic of the human feeling of guilt and how it is explored, or how it is differently illustrated in the novel Atonement, by Ian McEwan, and in the feature article ‘Mandela’s Children’, by Alexandra Füller.

I will begin by saying that all of us at a certain point in our lives have done something that we regret. To err is human, they say. When our actions only affect ourselves, well, we can feel anger, sadness, irritation. We can try to make amends, or even learn a lesson. However, when our actions come to affect others, different emotions come into play, and also different actions should be required. One of these emotions is the uncomfortable feeling of guilt. According to psychologists, when they have caused physical or psychological pain to others, it is appropriate to feel guilt, because this feeling <un> xxx </un> will make us feel regret and will make us react; it’s more as a sort of internal alarm that will make us realize that something was wrong and will prompt us to carry out some actions. The question would be, what type of actions we’ll be able to carry out?

In the two texts I told you, Briony Tallis and Stefaans Coetzee are clear examples of someone who had done, have committed terrible mistakes and have hurt others. However, I believe they did not experience this emotion of guilt in the same way and that’s why they reacted in such a different way also. So my purpose in this presentation is to analyze and compare how the emotion of guilt affected these two characters, considering the actions, the reactions they took or the actions that each of them took. I will begin by evaluating Briony’s case, then I will move on to compare her with Coetzee’s actions, trying to highlight how much more valuable and effective I believe Coetzee’s actions were.

Of course I will not deny that Briony’s and Coetzee’s contexts were completely different and probably, these differences could account for the different ways of… course of actions they followed. Apart from the obvious fact that one of them is fictional and the other one is real, there were differences. They were of different ages, they had <un> xxx </un> different backgrounds and contexts, their intentions were completely different, and a different number of people were affected. Nevertheless, and without trying to deny this, I think that, for the purpose of my presentation, they are both equally valid cases, because in both situations a terrible mistake occurred and people got hurt. So, taking this similarity as a starting point, I will now move on to my comparison, to see how different Briony and Coetzee acted when they began to feel guilty about… when they realized what they did and began to feel guilty about it.

In Briony’s case, I believe that, when she acknowledged her error, her mistake, her feeling of guilt was not strong enough or deep enough, in my opinion. And that is why her actions were only intended for herself. Of course I should say Briony never had malicious intentions, but it should also be said that what she did was not a simple blunder.

When she was thirteen, and a very naïve child, her strong and vivid imagination led her to wrongly believed that Robbie, the son of the family’s charlady, er, had abused her fifteen years old cousin, Lola. And she, Briony didn’t have any conclusive evidence, but she stood so firmly in her accusation that Robbie was sent to prison and spent three and a half years in jail until he was released only on the condition he went into the British Army at the beginning of Second World War. Then he <un> xx </un> the troops were sent to French territory, where he finally died.

So, er, I know probably Briony was not able to assess at the beginning originally all the pain she would cause and which will be the final outcomes of her doings. But anyway, I don’t think, I don’t consider that the courses of actions she chose were… well, at least for me were questionable. Because what she did was, when she was nineteen, she decided to set her opportunity of going to Cambridge aside, and disregarded her plans of becoming a writer, and instead she enrolled to become a nurse at the beginning of the war. And trying to strip away her identity and hide herself because she was ashamed.

Evidently, some sort of internal analysis led Briony to believe that becoming a nurse would serve as some sort of penance for what she had done. But I don’t see they can be considered like valid measures to help Robbie or Robbie’s family, or to clean up his name and honor. In that sense, there were only attempts.

For example, once she felt prompted to phone her father and tell him all the truth but, as she ran out of change, she gave up. Or she wrote many drafts for a novel in which she confesses the truth, she confessed the truth, but she never had it published. But I think Briony was afraid to. So, I have to say that for me it’s obvious she was not comfortable with what she had done. But she only pursued her personal atonement. If she had felt really guilty, or deeply guilty, she could have done more. She could have talked to Robbie’s mother to make her feel better, or she could have rectified her legal testimony. There were other things that she could have done more directed to Robbie. So, what I think is that she tried to deal with her old remorse, and that’s why everything she did remained in the domain of her personal processes, and, er, or analysis, or feelings. She couldn’t go beyond that. She… the feelings of cowardice and selfishness, in my opinion, were stronger than her guilt. And that’s why she couldn’t carry out real restorative actions.

But something different occurred in the case of Coetzee, because I think that, well, he, like Briony, did something terrible, but, unlike Briony, I think he found a way of… like turning his feeling of guilt or responsibility into actions more intended to others, more intended to the victims. He focused more on that.

Coetzee was only nineteen when he placed two bombs in the city of Worcester in South Africa, and killed four people and injured nearly seventy. He had had a very, very difficult background, and he had been some years under the tutelage of an extremist racist, who taught him, who trained him for this situation, but also taught him to be a racist, and trained him, taught him to execute <un> xx </un> and planted the seed of hatred in him for years. Surprisingly, after spending thirteen years in prison, Coetzee’s feelings about his actions began to change, and he began to feel guilty and responsible for what he had done. In prison he learned about anger management and restorative justice, and he met people who made him understand that he would never be free if he didn’t stop being a racist. So he… All of these feelings created in him the need of doing something for the victims. So he, after some years, was able to get what he had wanted. He could meet the victims in person, and I think that required a lot of courage from him. Two victims of the bomb assisted… attended the meeting and there, I believe, Coetzee not only had the courage of apologizing in front of them – that must be something very difficult – but he also was able to offer them all the answers that were required from him. They replied everything they needed to know. And he also was generous to offer his own testimony, his own experience as a living testimony to help South African children in the future. So, my point is that, unlike Briony, I believe that Coetzee was not content solely with his own punishment, that he looked for something more, that he looked, he focused more on trying to do something for the victims and he placed a difficult position himself so as to be in front of them, but to do something that made them feel better.

So, to wrap up, I think that the way Briony acted contrasts shockingly with the way Coetzee acted. Briony, in my opinion, had all the time freedom she would have need if she would have liked to do something else, or she would have let… er, I think that her feelings of cowardice, probably, were stronger, and she couldn’t do something to really help the victims. Instead, er, Coetzee was able to turn his feelings into restorative actions. Actions that were not focused on him, but that were intended to make the victims feel better. I think that in this concept of restorative actions is where the main difference between them lays.

And going back to the beginning of my presentation, to err is human, that’s right, but probably what should define us better as human beings is the effort made to amend our mistakes. These restorative actions I think are the best way for a person to cope with guilt, and to er, help, to amend, in a way, what someone has done.


[5] Josefina – Language 2 (1st year Teacher Training College)

S1: I’m going to talk about two cases that are related to the use of drugs and alcohol consumption. First of all, I’m going to explain a little bit what alcoholism and drugs are. On one hand, alcoholism is a pattern of alcohol use that involves problem controlling your drinking, and er, it involves er… a series of er… sorry, I’m so sorry. Can I start again? I’m so nervous…

SS: Ok, start again.
S1: Alcoholism is a pattern of alcohol use that involves problem controlling your drinking and er… as the essay Alcoholism says, there are many things that can cause it. Some of the reasons might be because they come from alcoholic families, or for peer pressure; that’s mostly among adolescents. Er, and it’s considered one of the most serious disease because it can cause a variety of serious illnesses such us ulcers, malnutrition or cancer. And on the other hand, drug is a chemical substance that affects the function of the nervous system, altering perception, mood or consciousness and the most commonly drug used in Argentina is marihuana, but people also use cocaine, ecstasy and LSD, and, er, and others. And in most of the cases these two disease are related and are very common among young people and one of the most important reasons of death.

And well, as I said before, I’m going to talk about two boys that suffer different consequences because of alcohol and drugs. One of them is… was called Cristian and, well one night he and his friends had gathered at a friend’s house in the country and, er, they were in a barbecue and drinking alcohol and using drugs, some of them were marihuana and LSD, and it wasn’t the first time that they did this. In another occasion Cristian had had a kind of mystic experiences and that night he started to shout that he was burning inside and his friends didn’t pay much attention to him because they thought that it was one of those episodes and well, er, and they weren’t conscious neither because they had consumed that substances too… those substances too. And finally he faint… fainted, and he threw up while he was unconscious and that didn’t let him breathe and died. He didn’t die because of the drug effect but if he hadn’t consumed, anything of this would have happened.

And the second situation was a few months ago and his name is Facundo and that night he had gone out with his friends and when he came back he decided to walk, but one of his friends was in his car and offered him a ride. There were already five in the car so he had to sit above one of his friends and the one who was driving was very drunk and was driving very fast and didn’t pay attention to any of the driving signals and crashed.

SS: Actually, it’s traffic signs.

S1: Ah, ok, traffic signs, ok. And, er, he crashed a municipal lorry and Facundo went out the window screen and fractured his skull, and he was in coma for a few months, and now he’s recovering but he can’t do many things and he’s still in hospital.

SS: Is he conscious?

S1: Yes. He can move some parts of the body but it’s difficult for him to talk and walk, but yes, he’s conscious.

SS: Do you know him?

S1: Yes. Cristian was friend of mine and Facundo is friend of one of my cousins.

Well, what I wanted to show is that despite the fact that we know how harmful alcohol and drugs are, we act as if the consequences of that never affect us, and it’s very dangerous and alarming. Facundo and Cristian are only two examples of this. But in Argentina around 21 persons die per day on an average in car accidents and half of them die because of alcohol, according to the organization Luchemos por la Vida. I tried to search for information about the use of drugs in Argentina, but I couldn’t find anything certain about this so I couldn’t bring the information. And that’s all.


[6] Valentina – Language 2 (1st Year Teacher Training College)

S1: I’m going to talk about why the guideline we receive from our teachers is so important and the best way they have to leave a good impression on their students. To do this, I chose the essay ‘Think Outside the Box but Stay inside the Grid’, by Emma Black, and the movie Freedom Writers, directed by Richard LaGravanese and based on the book The Freedom Writers, by Erin Gruwell and her students.

Education is… er, can affect us in various, er, in a very serious way, and in a very direct way. We’re supposed to learn in School many things so that when we graduate and have to face the world, we are well-prepared to do it. So, since, er, education is very important in everyone’s life, I think it’s wise to say that having a good teacher is crucial for students to succeed. I read in an article that to be a good teacher you have to be able to connect with your students, both inside and outside the classroom.

And I saw this the first time I watched the movie Freedom Writers years ago. It left me thinking for two reasons. The first one is I didn’t know a teacher could care that much about her class. And the second one because the students in that high school face problems and lifestyles I’d never thought of before, like the gang riots in California and the constant conflicts between the minorities and white people in the US.

Erin Gruwell, as a first-year teacher, is not just that to her students. She becomes a mentor to them. She teaches them, throughout the movie, how to appreciate life, and how to understand each other despite the differences, and to believe they can achieve everything they want in life. Er, in example of this is when she makes an assignment in which they have to grade their own work and one of the students gives himself an F. Because of this, she talks to him and says she won’t let him fail in the subject, and she gives him a second opportunity, because she wants her students to succeed. She also she shows her efforts when she stays after School so her students can stay in the classroom and finish their homework, because they live too far away from the School, and by the time they get home, it’s too late for them to do any work.

As I said, I’m also using the essay ‘Think Outside the Box but Stay Inside the Grid’. In it, Emma Black also shows this, er, sense of commitment to her students. She, er, has elementary students, so she stays after school so that she can help them if they didn’t understand something. And she uses these new and innovative methods so that they can learn in a fun way and understand the school subjects better. For me, these are the type of actions that one remembers as a student. Teachers leave a good impression in the students every time they show that they really care about them, knowing and learning what they teach. For example, when Emma cares so much about their students learning that she creates games so that they don’t get bored and pay attention to her classes. Or when she tries to understand the ways in which they can concentrate and accepts them for that. Also Mrs. Gruwell gives her students a unique way of learning by giving them diaries in which they can write about their lives in a unique way… in any type, poetry or exemplums, anecdotes, whatever they want.

A good part of the impression we have of our teachers comes from what we see in classes. When we see that they are passionate about what they teach, just as Ms. Gruwell is in everything she explains to her students, and when we see that they are passionate about being an educator, they leave good memories on us. And they, er, we don’t just remember the teachers who were mean or didn’t care enough.

One of the things that made me talk about this subject is that, while reading about the movies, many of the actors were cast after a talent search in poor Los Angeles neighborhoods and one of the actors said in an interview that he had never had a teacher like Ms. Gruwell who helped their students reach their goals and dreams. And up until that point, it had been very difficult for him to finish anything in his life. This showed me that, just like me, he didn’t know that great teachers like Ms. Gruwell existed and he was suddenly very aware of the fact that having a good teacher can make a big impact and changes in someone’s life.

So, to conclude, I would like to say that, even though I don’t think that more common methods or less innovative methods are <un> xxx </un> students, I do believe teachers who select the methods for each of the classes have a very effective way of teaching, and, er, they can create a more comfortable and more enjoyable environment for their students.


  1. Six of these samples have been included in an Appendix at the end of this chapter. They will be used along the chapter to illustrate the ideas discussed here. All the presentations have been recorded, transcribed and analyzed with permission of the students who prepared and delivered them.
  2. As in pre­vi­ous chapters, we use the caret sym­bol to indic­ate the sequen­cing of stages.
  3. The sample texts have been included without any modifications with respect to their original version. There are some language and expression problems, which is natural in the context of EFL. However, they do not interfere with comprehension.
  4. Examples from other sample texts not included in the Appendix are indicated with an asterisk [*].
  5. Both the interpretations and the expositions that were presented orally are usually all referred to as ‘oral presentations’, clearly only a reference to the mode of the text, and not to their intrinsically different communicative purpose.
  6. Most of the examples in this section of the chapter are taken from Sample 1, included in the Appendix. Examples from other sample texts not included in the Appendix are indicated with an asterisk [*].
  7. VOICE Project. 2007. VOICE Transcription Conventions [2.1]. (Retrieved January 16, 2019).


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