Monday, April 22, 2013

Cheetah Robot text to improve reading skills

I often have students read articles about innovations in their field. This promotes class discussion and helps focus them on model text types (for example, process descriptions: see Posts 2, 7, 16, for example). In addition, I use these texts to work on students' reading skills. An example I used recently is an article from MIT's website: MIT 'cheetah' robot rivals running animals in efficiency (March 8, 2013), which describes their "Cheetah Robot" and the energy-efficient motor they are developing for it.

Link to article:

When I assign an article for students to read, I also give them a list of questions about the topic as well as language features to look for in the article. This helps to focus them on features they might not otherwise notice, and also provides points of discussion for the classroom. And, quite frankly, it also increases the chances that students will actually read the text carefully before the lesson!

The language features I like to focus on are those that are somehow related to the text type (description, process, explanation), and the innovation itself (in this article: movement, energy, improvement, e.g.). Here are some features that I had students identify in this article, with only a few examples of each (there are many more for each feature):

Areas of the text that explain or give examples:

  • about the size and weight of an actual cheetah
  • such as a push, or a change in terrain
  • such as energy lost through a heavy-footed step
  • simulating the structure of tendons along a bone
  • also known as cost of transport
Words/phrases that collocate with "energy":
  • wasted energy
  • minimize energy waste
  • energy dissipates
  • capture this energy
  • reduce energy loss
Verbs of what researchers "do":
  • design
  • propose
  • analyze
  • simulate
  • hypothesize
Examples of language that indicates change:
  • quickly adjust
  • respond to outside forces
  • minimize
  • (further) reduce
  • made a huge difference
  • fewer gears
  • less machinery
  • more efficient than
  • more powerful
  • simpler
Verbs of movement:
  • outpace
  • trot (continuously)
  • gallop
  • traverse
  • move along
The feedback I've gotten from students indicates that they appreciate the focused work on vocabulary and how it helps them learn vocabulary relevant to their field. In addition, they practice a way of reading a text that they hadn't done before.

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