Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher

Archive for December, 2010

Plugging In and Tech-ing Off

Over the last week or so I’ve been one of the many travellers stuck at airports, first in Prague, then in Brno. Luckily I eventually got through to England, but not before quite a few hours taking advantage of free wi-fi to do all of the #edtech things I’ve been intending to do for ages but couldn’t because of my teaching load.
Here’s a summary of a week in the life of an #edtech (relative) newbie:

  • I’ve just participated in my first ever #eltchat on Twitter (@sandymillin). The topic was “How do we overcome / avoid teacher burnout?” and there were loads of great ideas from around the world. They inspired me to create this wordle, including the ideas which I think came up most often:

From #eltchat "How to avoid teacher burnout?", 22 Dec 2010 (created using http://www.wordle.net)

  • I’ve added three new posts to my blog:
  1. my first ever response to a blogging challenge – ‘Vocabulary Box-ing (with added monsters)‘: a description of how I recycle vocabulary in response to Emma Herrod’s post
  2. my own challenge for my students – ‘Video Poetry
  3. this post right here! ;)
  • I’ve changed the look of my blog. I think the new theme reflects me more than the old one – I like to think of myself as colourful and energetic and hope that comes across from the blog!
  • I’ve posted a lot more on Twitter – currently at 138 tweets, of which about 40 were from the #eltchat and another 50 or so have come during the last week. I realised that I had only been watching and not participating. Speak up, or no-one will hear you!
  • I commented on other people’s blogs. Here is a couple of the posts I can remember responding to:
  1. Jason Renshaw’s “A Christmas confession from an ELT writer in therapy…
  2. Alex Case’s “Using your TEFL skills over Xmas
  • I subscribed to Google Reader, so I don’t have to remember the names of all of the blogs I want to follow. I can just click in one place and find all of the posts immediately and efficiently.
  • I’ve also joined vimeo and diigo to share my videos and bookmarks. Still have a lot of work to do to finish sorting the 238 bookmarks I uploaded to diigo though!
  • I contributed pictures to the #eltpics group on flickr. I even had the 1000th picture posted to the group :) If you haven’t heard about it already, each week there is a theme. Anybody can post pictures using the #eltpics hashtag on twitter and they will then be shared through flickr. All images are under a Creative Commons license so that can be freely used by ELT teachers around the world.

Tweet with my picture: 1000th picture on #eltpics Flickr stream

So the first week of my Christmas holidays has been busy, busy, busy! I’ve really enjoyed finally being able to participate in so many things that I’ve just been watching and thinking about for the last two months. Hopefully, planning and classes will still leave me time to join in now that I’ve taken the plunge.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Video poetry

Karlstejn Castle, near Prague

Karlstejn Castle

For the last couple of days I have been ‘stuck’ in Prague as my flight to Bristol was cancelled. I use inverted commas deliberately as I’ve been making full use of my time here to explore places I’ve not been to on my previous two visits to the city. To that end, yesterday I visited Karlstejn castle, built to house the Czech crown jewels in the 14th century.

“What does that have to do with ELT?”, I hear you cry.

Well, once I’d left the castle, I decided to walk up the road away from the town to see if I could see anything. There was nothing much except for snow and forest, but this inspired me to create what I have dubbed a ‘video poem’.

As a slightly obsessed EFL teacher, I thought about how I could use this with my students, while I was walking back down the hill, and decided to create another ‘poem’ in Czech. When I want my students to do something which I think they might be reluctant to do (I know a lot of them hate listening to themselves speak), I often try to do it myself in Czech to show them that I’m happy to put myself in their position.

So, how does this relate to my teaching? I’ve decided to set a Christmas challenge for my students through Edmodo. It goes like this:

“Find something which inspires you to think in English during the holidays. It could be a place, a person, a picture, anything. Film it and say a few sentences about what you can see. If you don’t have a video function on your camera, take a picture and write a few lines. I’ve made an example in both English and Czech when I was inspired by the snow near Karlstejn castle. I’ll collect them and we can all share our Christmas experiences…and practise your English at home!”

I hope it inspires my students to use their English outside class, and I’m looking forward to the results. As this is not based on lesson, but purely on Edmodo, it’ll be interesting to see how many (if any!) of my students respond. If you have any ideas of the best way to collate / publish their work, please let me know in the comments.

Enjoy!

Vocabulary box-ing (with added monsters)

I’ve just read Cecilia Coelho’s post about using a vocabulary bank with her classes, which was a response to Emma Herrod’s vocabulary blogging challenge. This is the first challenge which I’ve taken part in, so here goes…

As a relatively new teacher, I’m still constantly finding new activities to revise and practise vocabulary. The one which I use most is very popular at my school (IH Brno), and was introduced to me by Lily-Anne Young. With all of my groups, especially the adults, I have created a vocabulary ‘box’. All new words which are introduced to the students are written on folded slips of paper. The word / phrase is on the outside of the paper, with a definition and example sentence on the inside. I then use them in most sessions with a variety of activities, often variations on a theme. Here are some of them:

  • I / a SS read(s) a definition. The SS call out the word. The first person / team keeps the word.
  • Spread the cards on the table / floor. SS are divided into teams. Each team has a fly-swatter. Somebody says a definition and the teams swat the correct word. The team that gets the word gives the next definition. (from Anette Igel)
  • A selection of cards are placed around the room. Each SS / team has a ball of scrap paper. Somebody reads a definition and the SS must through the paper at the correct card. They then get to keep it. (from Lily-Anne Young)
  • Divide the cards between all of the SS in the class. They mingle and give definitions. When the other SS guesses the word correctly they take the card. If you want to make it competitive, you can give them a time limit and the winner is the person with the most cards at the end.
  • Give SS 5-10 cards each. They have 20 minutes to write a story including as many of the words as possible.
  • Put the SS in teams. One SS comes to you to see a definition. They run back to their team and tell them the word. The team must create a grammatically correct sentence using the word / phrase. (based on a game for pronunciation revision from ‘Homework’ by Lesley Painter)
  • Use 9 of the words to create a noughts and crosses board. SS must use the words/ phrases in a short conversation to win the square.

In order to avoid ending up with too many words in the box – you could easily have a couple of hundred by the end of the year – I ask SS to put a small mark in the top corner of each card after the activities if it has been correctly used. When there are three marks in the corner of the card I ask SS if they think they know the word. If they agree we remove it from the box. I normally keep the cards and a couple of months later pull them out and do a quick revision activity with only the old cards.

With most of the groups I encourage SS to write the words on the cards during the session, then take them home to write the definitions / example sentences. Occasionally the words don’t make it back to class, but there are always more than enough cards to keep us going!

With teens I use a pared down version of the vocab box. We just have large slips of paper with only the words (generally I can remember the context of most of them). They fight over who gets to write on the cards after each vocabulary activity!

For YLs, I use a variation of the vocabulary box, called a vocabulary monster. I got this idea from a book in 2004, but I have absolutely no idea which book it was – if anyone can provide me with the source I would be eternally grateful, as it’s stood me in good stead through the years! This is how to make one:

  • Stick two A3 pieces of paper together along the short side, making a long thin piece of paper.
  • Fold a piece of A4 paper in half and attach it to the bottom of the paper to make a pocket – make sure the sides are sealed, but not the top. This is the monster’s plate – you can draw a picture on there or ask your kids to do it.
  • Use two pieces of A5 paper to make a mouth and stomach and draw your monster around this. I’m not an artist, but I can manage a monster :)
  • The final result should look something like this (the second pair of legs was added by the confused software which I used to stitch the photos!):

You can use word or picture cards with the monster. At the end of the class put the words into the monster’s ‘plate’ pocket. At the beginning of the following class, take out the cards and show them to the SS. They should call out the words / draw a picture / do the action / use the word in a sentence. If they do this correctly, the card goes in the monster’s mouth. If not, it stays on the plate. In week 3, any correct words from the mouth go into the stomach. In week 4 any correct words are taken out of the monster. If SS use the word incorrectly it always goes back to the plate. Obviously if you have a large class, it’s your call whether to move the word on or not – it depends what percentage of the class you think is comfortable with the word. I’ve used this with 5 or 6 small classes and they’ve always really enjoyed it.

These activities are just a taster – the great thing about the vocabulary box is that the cards can be used for literally hundreds of activities, and require almost no work at all to prepare. It’s great for warmers, coolers, revision lessons and waking up sleepy students half way through a lesson. And the best thing is, you can use scrap paper for all of it, so you’re not even wasting resources ;)

Enjoy!

DELTA-type lesson aims

As part of CAM, we had to plan a lesson using DELTA-type lesson aims. The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that these are the same aims which appear in my ‘Evaluating Lessons‘ post – I cunningly managed to use one lesson plan to cover all or part of four CAM modules :)

Here are the lesson aims which I wrote:

Main aim: By the end of the lesson the learners will be better able to write a review of a book or a film.

Subsidiary aims:

  • They will have been introduced to and practised the use of participle clauses to replace both active and passive subject + verb constructions in relative clauses and following conjunctions. (Devastated by the fact…, Because he is devastated; carefully keeping, who is carefully keeping)
  • They will become more accurate and confident in using adjectives they have previously learnt for describing books / films (depressing, entertaining, fast-moving, gripping, haunting, heavy-going, implausible, intriguing, moving, thought-provoking)
  • They will become more accurate and confident in the use of adverbs of degree to modify (the above) adjectives, including the difference in register implied by the choice of different adverbs. (a bit, slightly, a little, really, very, absolutely, rather, pretty, quite, incredibly, extremely)
  • They will become more aware of the typical contents and layout of a review. (Introduction including author / director’s name; plot outline; strong points of the book film; weak points; whether the reviewer recommends the book; who the book is suitable for)

The stage aims looked like this:

  • Activate schemata so SS are prepared to think about books / films.
  • SS are able to activate the review-writing skills they already have to create a framework for language input.
  • SS create an initial list of the contents of a review based on their pre-class knowledge.
  • SS modify the list of review contents based on input from a detailed reading task.
  • SS notice the difference between two texts, one with and one without participle clauses.
  • SS analyse the purpose of the use of participle clauses.
  • SS practise the use of participle clauses in a controlled exercise.
  • SS identify adverbs of degree based on pre-course knowledge.
  • SS analyse the purpose of the use of these adverbs.
  • SS practise the use of adverbs of degree in a controlled exercise.
  • SS analyse the differences in register created by the choice of differing adverbs of degree
  • SS use the new language (participle clauses / adverbs of degree) and the detailed framework for a review created during the lesson to decide how to modify their review from the beginning of the class.
  • SS rewrite the review, taking into account the modifications decided on in class. Doing this as homework gives them time to absorb the new language and review framework.

It was difficult to write such specific aims, and I’m still not sure if they use the right kind of wording for DELTA-type lesson plans. I tried to find examples of DELTA lesson plans, but they’re very difficult to come across – I know that people are unlikely to publish the work that they have completed during a course, but it would certainly be useful for people like me when trying to decide whether to take the plunge or not. In a way, that’s one of the reasons I am writing this blog – to enable people to see what CAM entails and decide whether they would like to follow in my footsteps. Thus far, I’m finding the whole course very useful, despite the paucity of blog posts! There will certainly be many more after Christmas when we have the majority of the sessions.

Evaluating Lessons

As part of my CAM I had to teach a lesson and then evaluate it. It was my first attempt at Task-Based Learning (more on that in a later post). The evaluation was done in two ways:

  • a self-created questionnaire which I filled in after the lesson.
  • a questionnaire for the students, again which I created.

This is my completed self-evaluation. I based the questions on a handout we were given during the input session, some ideas from ‘Learning Teaching’ by Jeremy Harmer, and my own knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses (hence, for example, the question about instructions).

  • Did you fulfil the lesson aims? What evidence do you have to support this?
    • They will have been introduced to and practised the use of participle clauses to replace both active and passive subject + verb constructions in relative clauses and following conjunctions. (Devastated by the fact…, Because he is devastated; carefully keeping, who is carefully keeping)
      We practised the use in class. Two of the SS will need more practise of this to feel comfortable with it, but the other four had no trouble with the clauses. All three groups managed to include at least one participle clause in their final film review.
    • They will become more accurate and confident in using adjectives they have previously learnt for describing books / films (depressing, entertaining, fast-moving, gripping, haunting, heavy-going, implausible, intriguing, moving, thought-provoking)
      All groups correctly incorporated at least one of these adjectives in their reviews.
    • They will become more accurate and confident in the use of adverbs of degree to modify (the above) adjectives, including the difference in register implied by the choice of different adverbs. (a bit, slightly, a little, really, very, absolutely, rather, pretty, quite, incredibly, extremely)
      Although this was not something which the students included in their reviews, they became aware of register differences which they did not know about before the lesson.
    • They will become more aware of the typical contents and layout of a review. (Introduction including author / director’s name; plot outline; strong points of the book film; weak points; whether the reviewer recommends the book; who the book is suitable for)
      The review improved between the first and second versions as students were more aware of what they needed to include in the review.

  • How involved were the learners in the lesson? Were they responsive to the materials, tasks, each other?
    The learners were really involved in the tasks. They spoke English throughout the whole lesson, and were enthusiastic about writing, which is unusual! The tasks were motivating for them.
  • How closely did you follow your lesson plan? Was it necessary to deviate for the lesson to be successful?
    I didn’t need to deviate at all. The lesson worked without a problem.
  • How realistic was your timing for these learners?
    It was realistic – one task took 5 minutes less, and one 5 minutes more, but overall it was as I planned.
  • Was there sufficient variety in the interaction patterns during the lesson?
    Yes. There was pairwork, groupwork and individual work.
  • Were your instructions clear at all times? Did learners need more / less explanation than you gave them originally?
    The instructions I gave were clear. SS understood what they had to do.
  • What did learners need more / less of in your lesson which you had not included in the plan?
    Nothing – everything they needed was covered effectively in the plan.
  • Was sufficient error correction given? Was the correction clear? Did SS activate the corrected language at all?
    This was only an issue during the controlled practice. SS activated the corrected language by changing answers in their book and then saying the sentences out loud. They then used the newly acquired language in the writing they produced.
  • What were you pleased with at the end of the lesson? Why?
    I was pleased with the way that the students responded to a TBL lesson. They were always engaged and enjoyed the writing – this is unusual as writing is often seen as a ‘boring’ topic.
  • What features of the lesson would you change in the future? Why?
    The only thing I would change is to make it clear to students that they should spend the first five minutes brainstorming ideas and planning when writing their first draft. I wrote this stage in my plan, but failed to do it in the lesson. Apart from that I would teach the same lesson again, depending on the students.

To collect feedback from the students I decided it would be easiest to create a form using Google Docs. Here is a link to a pdf version of the document (SS completed it online).

Lesson Evaluation for SS to complete

Here are a couple of the students’ comments:

  • “I liked the idea of correcting the text we’ve written right in the lesson (for example making the sentences shorter by using participles). I also found it interesting to read the other’s work and trying to compare it or to find some mistakes.”
  • “The most useful thing about today’s lesson was that we could immediately apply new things we’d learnt in the writing and therefore remember them better.”

Overall it was a very useful exercise, and something I will probably repeat when doing further action research. It was certainly good for my ego too! :)

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