The clever thief and the foolish waiter

              A long time ago, there was a thief in Kuala Trengganu. The thief stole many things. He took money, chickens, food, and clothes. If he wanted something, he took it.

              One day the thief went into a coffee shop. He looked at the people sitting at the tables. But, the thief did not sit down at a table. He looked at the pictures on the walls. He looked at the things on the tables. He looked at the bottles on the shelves.

              At last the thief picked up a nice chair. He carried the chair to the door. Then he walked outside with the chair. He crossed the road. When he got to the other side, he put the chair on his back. Then he started to walk across the field with the chair.

              A waiter ran out of the coffee shop. He looked for the thief. He saw the thief. He shouted at him, “Stop! Bring back the chair.”

              When the thief heard the waiter, he stopped. Then, he put the chair down on the ground and sat down on it. The waiter saw him sitting in the middle of the field. He began to walk towards the thief.

              “Waiter, come here,”said the thief.

              “Yes, sir! What do you want?” asked the waiter.

              “Bring me a cup of coffee, please,” said the thief.

              “Do you want milk and sugar?” asked the waiter.

              “Yes, I do,” said the thief.

              So the foolish waiter went back into the coffee shop to get the coffee. Then the thief picked up the chair and ran away.


              What is true of ourselves is also true of our students: much of what we try to remember nevertheless gets quickly forgotten.

              For example, young children learning to read in their first language encounter a new word about 80 times on the average before they begin to automatically recognize it! As we get older, we may do a little better, but not that much better.

              However, it is also true that the more we work with new language, the better we remember it.

              In the following, we describe a way of introducing a new story in which two techniques are used to fix the new language in the students' memories: repetition and questions. Each additional repetition provides another model for the students, as does each new question. These techniques are not original with us, but instead are probably as old as language teaching itself.

              "The clever thief and the foolish waiter" has been adapted from an Ethiopian folktale. It is written for beginning readers, the group of readers that need as much help as they can get.

              The beginning learner is often overwhelmed by the new language -- everything is new and nothing is familiar. Thus, the additional repetition is extremely helpful to the students.

              Hand out a copy of the story to each student. Then, read the students the whole story, allowing them to read along silently.

              Then, begin again with the first line and continue through the whole story, one line at time, roughly according to these steps (illustrated with the second line of the story: The thief stole many things.):


              Read the line again to the class. (first repetition)

              Have the whole class repeat the line. (second repetition)

              Have one of the students repeat the line. (third repetition)

              Checking for comprehension and fixing it in memory:

              Ask a progressively more difficult series of questions about the line, e.g.

              Did the thief steal many things? Yes.

              Did the thief steal many things or few things? Many things.

              What did the thief steal? Many things.

              Who stole many things? The thief.

              What did the thief do? Stole many things.

              What happened? The thief stole many things.


              Repeat the line again. (fourth repetition)

              Have the whole class repeat the line (fifth repetition)

              Then, follow more or less the same process with the next line.

              By the time you have worked through the whole text line by line, the students will be quite familiar with the story. Conclude the lesson by rereading the complete story. Now, the students should be able to understand story rather easily -- leaving them with the feeling, not entirely an illusion, that they are making progress.

              To understand the questioning technique it is necessary to realise one reason why some easy questions are harder for students to answer than other easy questions. The reason is that different questions require the students to produce different amounts of language.

              Examine the example questions above. Some questions only require a yes or no answer. Other questions give a choice and only require the student to recognize the correct answer and then repeat a phrase that he has just heard. Others require one or two words answers. Others require at least a phrase as an answer. And, a few require a whole sentence as an answer.

              Use your own judgment. Vary the sequence, depending on the class. Whenever the meaning of a word or phrase is unclear, stop and explain it. Write out the difficult words or phrase on the board if necessary.

              Spend less time on lines that are almost identical with other lines, unless the students need the work.

              Variation also exists in the questioning technique. Since some students are always more advanced than others, the weaker students might be given the easier questions, and so on.

              Although other ways of presenting texts should also be used, this technique is relatively easy to use as well as quite effective.