Advancing Learning: Mediating a Text: A Practical Guide to Task Creation

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Advancing Learning: Mediating a Text: A Practical Guide to Task Creation

Since the release of the newest update to the CEFR, the Companion Volume (2020), mediation has been catching on all over the world of foreign language teaching.  For the authors of the CEFR, the term mediation refers to when ‘the user/learner acts as a social agent who creates bridges and helps to construct or convey meaning, sometimes within the same language, sometimes from one language to another’ (Council of Europe 2020:90). Despite the recent interest in this language activity, however, mediation does not yet appear by name in most coursebooks. With this in mind, we aim to give practical advice to teachers and/or materials writers interested in creating mediation tasks.

Three macro groups of mediation activities are defined by the CEFR: Mediating a text, Mediating concepts, and Mediating communication. In this article we’ll focus on the first type, Mediating a text, which ‘involves passing on to another person the content of a text to which they do not have access, often because of linguistic, cultural, semantic or technical barriers’ (2020:91). 

Within the category of Mediating a text the CEFR lists the following types of mediation activities:

  • Relaying specific information
  • Explaining Data
  • Processing text
  • Translating a written text
  • Note-taking
  • Expressing a personal response to creative texts (including literature)
  • Analysis and criticism of creative texts (including literature)

Later on, we will set out a process that teachers and/or materials writers can use to create tasks for all of the types of Mediating a text listed above. First, however, we’ll provide a few sample tasks for each type to familiarise the reader with these language activities and also show how useful our process can be for creating effective, engaging activities for the foreign language classroom.


EXAMPLE TASKS:

Relaying specific information (Council of Europe 2020:93-95)

The following is an activity designed for B1 adult and teenage learners:

Students are given written texts with instructions on how to do or make something.  Depending on their level, this could be the steps in a recipe to make homemade pasta or the procedure to install a new operating system on a computer. Organise students into pairs: Student A and Student B. Student A gives instructions to Student B and Student B takes notes.  When Student A has finished, Student B repeats the instructions back to Student A to check that they haven’t left out anything important.  Student A repeats or clarifies steps as necessary. Reverse roles. At the end, students briefly summarise in open class what they have learnt to do or make from their partners.

As a follow-up activity, students could write an email to a family member or friend to tell them what they have learnt to do/make in class and explain the procedure/instructions to them as well.

Translating a written text (Council of Europe: 2020:102-104)

This is a task we have designed for B1 adult and teenage learners:

Organise the class into pairs and explain the task:

A friend from the US has been contacted by a long-lost Spanish relative who found her on a genealogy website, but your American friend speaks very little Spanish and forwards you the email, asking for help understanding it. Students read the email and then, in pairs, reply to their friend summarising the most important points in the email from the Spanish relative, but not translating the whole text word for word.

A follow-up activity could be asking the students to do a role play in which the Spanish friend helps the American friend to write a reply to her relative’s letter, suggesting how to write in Spanish what the American friend would like to say.

Note-taking (Council of Europe 2020:105)

This is an activity we have designed for C2 Economics university students:

Students work individually: tell them to imagine they are undergraduate students of Economics at MIT and that they are to attend the first lecture on the principles of Microeconomics1. A friend of theirs can’t make it to the lecture and asked them if they could voice message her a brief explanation of the three or four key points from the lecture.  Students watch the video and take notes. Once the lecture has finished, let students compare notes and decide on the most important concepts to communicate to their friend. Finally, in pairs, they record the voice message taking turns summarising the information from their notes.

Expressing a personal response to creative texts (Council of Europe 2020:106-107)

This activity, based on class book club, could work equally well for levels B2 to C2:

At the beginning of the year, students choose a book related to their interests and which they will read throughout the course.  Periodically, set aside class time for students to discuss plot, characters and themes.  At the end of each session, ask students to write a summary of what they have talked about (e.g. short summaries of chapters, short descriptions of the characters, their opinions). Gather their summaries/descriptions in a class logbook, which, at the end of the course (and hopefully the end of the book) the students can look back at to write reviews. These can finally be put together in a class magazine for everyone to read.

Analysis and criticism of creative texts (Council of Europe 2020:107-108)

The following activity is designed for C1 to C2 students:

Give students (or ask them to find) texts on the same theme - these could include excerpts from books, essays, poems, etc.  Once they have read their texts, students give short presentations to summarise the writer's view.  Tell students to take notes while their peers are giving their presentation, and encourage them to ask the speakers questions in case they need clarifications.  At the end, ask students to write an essay summarising the different writers' views.


HOW TO CREATE TASKS:

Now that we have seen how the language activities for Mediating a text can inspire specific tasks, let’s define the steps to take for teachers/material writers to create similar ones.

The first step we took in creating the above tasks was to parse the meaning of Mediating a text.  There are basically three key concepts in the definition provided in the Companion Volume (Council of Europe 2020):

  1. the social aspect of mediation: the participants at each end of the mediation line, i.e. language users/learners (‘passing on to another person’);
  2. the information contained in verbal/visual texts (‘the content of a text’);
  3. the barriers that prevent understanding between the participants in the process (‘to which they do not have access’).

At the centre of any mediation activity, then, is the mediator, who, acting as a social agent, negotiates meaning contained in a source text (spoken or written) and makes it available for a specific interlocutor/audience, taking into consideration their linguistic, cultural or social background, via a new target text (spoken or written) of his/her own creation (Dendrinos, 2019).

After unpacking the meaning of Mediating a text, many other questions started to pour in: What texts should we select to raise our students’ awareness? How should students work with the texts to acquire useful mediation skills? How do we create communication barriers for students to practise/learn mediation strategies?

1) Source texts. Key to selecting an appropriate source text is considering in which situations the students will find themselves outside the classroom (personal, public, occupational, educational) requiring mediation, and what topics the students will be most interested in.  Both ‘should be sufficiently close to their needs and interests so that [learners] have sufficient existing schemata to enable them to respond to the requirements of the task’ (Stathopoulou, 2015).  That said, exposing students to as wide a variety of language and registers, not to mention respecting the themes appearing in course syllabus, are not less important duties of a teacher.  So do your best to strike a balance between students’ needs/interests and the course specifications.

2) Approach to source text: Texts that lend themselves to reading or listening for gist/selecting the main ideas in a text will be better for:

  • Relaying specific information
  • Translating text

On the other hand, texts you would most often read or listen to for detail, that is, identifying the key points, will be more suitable for:

  • Note-taking
  • Processing text
  • Expressing a personal response to creative texts
  • Analysis and criticism of creative texts

Finally, if the texts only report visually organised information, i.e. data in the form of graphs and charts, they will obviously be more suitable for Explaining data.

3) Target texts: Target texts can take a variety of forms in each of the seven activity types: informal oral reporting, informal written summary, rough spoken/written translation, formal or informal email, written report, presentation, etc. Both the mode and the type of target text to produce will depend on the target audience on the other end of the mediation line, as well as the objective of the mediation process. For example, business English students listening and taking notes in a meeting would be expected to summarise them for either their boss or colleagues, whereas the target audience of a book review would be fellow avid readers.  A children’s story would have to take into consideration what a child would/wouldn’t understand about the adult world.

4) Scaffolding: Sometimes students might need language input before doing a task, either because they might not have enough vocabulary to understand the source text or enough functional language to create the target text.  However, mediation tasks should not be conceived of as language practice activities.  After doing numerous mediation tasks with our students, we have come to believe that ideally students should be first given the opportunity to mediate (be it successfully or unsuccessfully), with an optional post-task stage in which they could focus on form if it’s obvious the students need to refine their linguistic resources. In our experience, students have a better picture of what they can and can’t do after the task, and are therefore more likely to engage with the language input.

5) Preparation time: Preparation time will largely depend on the type of mediation activity and on the length and complexity of the texts to mediate and produce. If students have to explain what they found most interesting in a text, or roughly translate the content of an email, less preparation time is necessary. However, expressing criticism of creative texts will require a great deal more reading/thinking before being expected to perform the productive side of the mediation task. If necessary, teachers could ask students to work on the source and target texts at home: students can record (if the target text is oral) or write it (if it is written) and send/hand it in to the teacher for assessment.

6) The Companion Volume: Here teachers will find detailed descriptors for each of the activity types and for each level of proficiency, and above all, practical ideas to select:

- the types of source texts the students can be exposed to;

- the types of receptive skills required to approach the texts in each activity;

- the type of target texts students should be able to produce;

- the mediation strategies the students will need to produce a text.


CONCLUSION:

All language users, learners and teachers alike, are potential mediators: we mediate every day, be it with family, friends, colleagues or strangers. Sometimes it’s because we want to offer our help, other times because mediation is urgent and unavoidable.  As language teachers, we should allocate class time for our students to develop the skills they will need to mediate successfully.  We hope the tasks and process described above will not only inspire other teachers to use mediation tasks, but also to create more activities for their students to practise skills, acquire strategies and become more competent mediators.


1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vss3nofHpZI


REFERENCES

Council of Europe (2020) Common European framework of reference for languages: learning, testing, assessment: Companion volume. Council of Europe Publishing, Strasbourg

Dendrinos, B. (2019) Mediation as negotiation of socially situated meanings within and across languages (online). Retrieved in July 2020 from http://ecspm.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/DendrinosECsPM-2019.03.22.pdf

Stathopoulou, M. (2015) Cross-language mediation in foreign language teaching and testing. Multilingual Matters, Bristol, Buffalo, Toronto.


About the authors

Riccardo Chiappini (left) and Ethan Mansur (right) have both worked in ELT for more than 10 years. In addition to collaborating on articles for ELT magazines, they have co-written materials for prominent publishers and institutions like the Spanish Ministry of Education. Most recently they helped with the integration of mediation into the new edition of the That’s English! coursebook series. They have also co-presented on the topic of mediation at ELT conferences around Spain.

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