The task is simple: get a newspaper article or a book page and create a new text that can be read from top to bottom using some of the words in it, be it in the form of a simple sentence, perhaps some sort of hidden message or poem, or even a snapshot from a story. And yet, there is something about manipulating established texts that makes it work so well with students, challenging meaning or tone and playing with the language at all levels.
Admittedly, erasure or blackout writing is a popular activity in L1 language arts classrooms, but there are several valuable language learning advantages it offers in the EFL classroom as well:
1. Flexibility: Students can write at their own level, from very simple sentences to more elaborate and sophisticated types of text.
2. Accuracy: No matter the level, the students engaged in this type of activity will need to draw from various language skills as they build their sentences, choosing their words carefully and discarding others when they can’t go together, or looking for that word category that should continue the sentence they are working on among the limited possibilities. In all cases, the students will be analysing the meaning and form of the language items they choose as they try to achieve a specific purpose or effect.
3. Creativity: Most of the times, when facing several options the students will usually go for the most unique, different, mysterious or entertaining due to the nature of the task itself. In general, the more different from the original text, the better.
After modelling the activity, I usually have teams of students work on a text in class so that they can get familiar with the procedure, and then assign another text for individual work. The samples below, for instance, were done last week by teenage students with certified B1 and B2 levels of English. The students worked on these at home for a few days, checked their final option with me before publishing, and then shared them with the rest of the class. Having teams of students read other classmates’ texts and come up with plausible interpretations, or discussing the type of story or context in which they would most likely expect to find each of them, are all ways that help the students analyse each other’s work and improve their reading comprehension skills.
This week we are voting for the ones we like most and will soon use a few as narrative writing prompts. Would you be able to choose from any of the samples below?