Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

I’ve decided to start prioritising cooking when managing my time and mental health, and have been really enjoying my food recently, experimenting with lots of different combinations. Rediscovering the joys of food and cooking rather than it being a chore is a huge thing as over the past five years raw fruit and veg has been mostly off the menu while I was trying to see if any foods might be affecting my ulcerative colitis. Recently the doctor and I have decided the answer is probably not, so now I’m basically eating what I want 🙂 This means I keep getting over-excited by being able to buy fresh fruit and veg at the market, over-estimating how much I might need, and then trying to work out how to use it all up before I have to throw it out.

Here’s the incredibly non-technical (no quantities!) but very delicious recipe I made this evening to use up strawberries and rhubarb. It took about 10 minutes to prepare.

  • Chop rhubarb.
  • Chop strawberries.
  • Add brown sugar.
  • Add vanilla essence.
  • Mix.
  • In the lid of the dish, mix lots of oats, some ground almond, coconut and flaked almonds.
  • Pour over the top of the fruit and spread it out.
  • Dot bits of chopped butter over the top. It’s super lazy crumble, because there’s none of that breadcrumbing that crumble normally requires!
  • Cook in the oven at 180 for about 30 minutes or so.
  • Eat.

Oh, and it’s vegan and gluten-free 🙂

No photo of the crumble, I’m afraid, as somebody else has borrowed my camera, but here are some strawberries courtesy of @thornberryscott from ELTpics, shared under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

I found Lauren Perkins’ IATEFL 2019 talk incredibly useful, and it’s already inspired changes in the way I run workshops, something I’ll be blogging about soon. Before I shared what I’d done, I asked Lauren to write this post summarising her design principles for effective in-service workshops. Thanks for agreeing to do it Lauren!

At IATEFL Liverpool 2019, I delivered a session on ‘Designing Teacher Development Workshops’. The 45-minute workshop was designed in the same way that I would design any other workshop: following a set of key design principles and including some experiential learning activities, with the intention of practising what I was preaching.

Some background: The problem with workshops

When I first read Simon Borg’s blogpost on Workshops and Teacher Change in 2016, I had just spent the previous 4 years working as a teacher trainer on workshop-based teacher development courses in Thailand. Borg highlighted the “inherent limitations of workshops”: the assumption that by simply increasing teacher awareness and knowledge, teachers will change what they do in the classroom. He argued that such sessions rarely promote teacher change. After reflecting on my own workshops, I came to agree with him. This led me to read more about workshop design, with the aim of finding out how to make workshops more effective. I found that four principles emerged, which I then matched to different activities. When I design workshops now, I try to include at least one practical activity that follows each of the four principles. I’ll go into some of the ideas behind each of the four principles and then describe in more detail the practical activities related to each principle below, but first here is a summary:

Design principles Practical activities
1.    Draw on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs – Find Someone Who- Blind needs analysis

– Brainstorming

– Pair discussion

– Needs analysis survey

– KWL grid

2.    Provide opportunities for collaboration and dialogue – Discussion tasks

– Mind-mapping

– Jigsaws

3.    Include experiential learning and teaching practice – Microteaching

– Video observation

– Demonstration

– Loop input

4.    Promote reflection, contextualisation and follow-up – Reflection questions

– Action points

– Adaptation ideas

– Peer observations

Principle 1: Draw on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs

If a workshop is for in-service practising teachers, then all participants will come to the session with prior knowledge, experience and beliefs about teaching. As Borg stresses in his blogpost, it is important to recognise this existing knowledge and experience before teachers engage with new ideas. Participants are more likely to accept new teaching concepts if their prior knowledge and experience is acknowledged.

Depending on the context of the workshop (i.e. school, conference, training centre etc.), the trainer might not know anything about participants’ backgrounds. For example, as my workshop on ‘Designing Teacher Development Workshops’ was held at an international conference, I had no idea who would be attending, what they already knew about workshop design, or their experiences of delivering workshops. It was necessary, therefore, to find out this information at the beginning of the workshop. Here are some practical activity ideas for drawing on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs:

Find Someone Who

Create a short Find Someone Who activity that includes specific descriptions about participants’ experience, knowledge and beliefs related to the content of the workshop. Participants mingle and find someone who matches each description. For example, this is the worksheet I designed for my workshop:

has delivered a workshop to teachers before, knows what 'microteaching' is, knows what 'loop input' is, thinks that workshops impact what teachers do in the classroom

Blind needs analysis

Ask all participants to close their eyes at the beginning of the workshop. Ask them a couple of questions to find out their existing knowledge or experience. e.g. “Put your hand up if you have delivered a workshop before”, “Put your hand up if you know what microteaching is”. By making the needs analysis ‘blind’, participants will hopefully feel comfortable putting their hands up and you will be able to quickly find out more about their prior experience, knowledge and beliefs.

Brainstorming

Put participants into small groups and do a quick 3-minute brainstorm on everything they know about the topic of the workshop. For example, if the workshop topic is ‘Games for young learners’, ask groups to brainstorm games they already know.

Pair discussion

Give participants two or three questions about their prior knowledge, experience and beliefs to discuss in pairs. For example, if the workshop is on ‘Using songs in the classroom’, you could ask participants to discuss the following questions:

  • Have you ever used songs in the classroom? If so, when and how?
  • How do you think songs can be used for helping students learn English?

Needs analysis survey

Write 10 needs analysis questions on strips of paper and stick them on the wall around the room. e.g. ‘How long have you been teaching?’, ‘What do you find most difficult about teaching?’ etc. Participants walk around the room on their own, read the questions and think about their own answers. Ask each participant to take one question each (if there are more than 10 teachers then put them into pairs) and ask them to survey the whole group by asking each participant the same question and noting down their answers. Participants summarise the results visually (i.e. in a chart or graph) and display them for the whole group to see in a gallery walk.

KWL grid

At the beginning of a workshop, ask participants to create a grid with three columns: what they know (K), what they want to know (W), what they have learned (L). Participants complete the first two columns and then return to the third column at the end of the workshop. (Sandy gave me this idea – thanks Sandy!) [and I learnt it from a previous IATEFL, so thanks to whoever that was!]

Principle 2: Provide opportunities for collaboration and dialogue

Teachers will not only learn about teaching from the trainer, but also (perhaps even more so) from each other. By giving workshop participants the opportunity to discuss, question and share ideas with their peers, there will be more opportunities for them to learn from each other. There is always time in a workshop for a 5-minute discussion; at the beginning to share what they know, in the middle to check their understanding, or at the end to relate the topic to their own teaching context. After all, workshops should involve audience participation in order to distinguish them from talks and presentations. Here are some ideas for making workshops more collaborative.

Discussion tasks

Ask participants to work in groups and complete simple tasks that promote discussion. For example, ask participants to rank or categorise ideas related to the workshop topic and discuss their opinions at the same time. e.g. ‘Rank the qualities of a teacher from most to least important’.

Mind-mapping

Put participants into small groups and ask them to create a mind-map of a topic. Give each participant a different role in the group to help with collaboration e.g. a ‘writer’, a ‘dictionary’, and a ‘designer’.

Jigsaws

Divide participants into groups and give each group a different text related to the workshop topic to read / summarise / brainstorm their own ideas. Regroup participants so that at least one participant from each original group is in a new group. In their new groups, participants take it in turns to share what they have read / summarised / brainstormed to other group members. [Here’s how to set up a jigsaw activity if you’re not sure how to do it.]

Principle 3: Include experiential learning and teaching practice

There are clear similarities between teacher-learners in the training room and learners in the classroom. As Tessa Woodward points out in her book Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training [Amazon affiliate link], teacher development activities should “capitalise on the parallels between trainees and students”. During workshops, we should let participants experience the same processes they are supposed to use in their own classrooms. This will make it more likely that they will transfer what they have learned from a training context to a teaching context.

Even if there isn’t enough time for teaching practice in a short 45-minute workshop, there should be time for a quick demonstration of a classroom activity related to the topic of the workshop. If you’ve ever been a participant in one of my workshops, you’ll know I’m a big fan of loop input activities. Although such activities in the training room can get a bit tiresome (and a bit too ‘meta’), some workshop topics just lend themselves to loop input. It would be a shame, for example, to deliver a workshop on Task-Based Learning without any tasks! Here are some practical ideas for including experiential learning and teaching practice in workshops:

Microteaching

Participants practise teaching in a roleplay-type activity in which some participants are teachers and some are students. For example, if the topic of the workshop is ‘Giving instructions’, participants could practise setting up an activity in groups of five: one participant is the ‘teacher’ and four participants are the ‘students’.

Video observation

Show participants a short video clip of a teacher in the classroom. For example, if the workshop is on ‘Storytelling’, ask participants to watch a video of a teacher telling a story in the classroom and make notes on the storytelling techniques he/she uses.

Demonstrations

Ask participants to pretend to be students and demonstrate an activity. For example, for a workshop on ‘Communicative activities’, you might want to demonstrate a ‘running dictation’ activity using texts that you would also use with a class of students.

Loop input

Participants do an activity in the same way as described in the ‘demonstration’ above, but with the content and the process aligned. For example, to make the ‘running dictation’ a loop input activity (rather than a demonstration), use texts that describe ‘how to do a running dictation activity’ instead of texts that you would use with a class of students. 

Principle 4: Promote reflection, contextualisation and follow-up

Another way to encourage participants to transfer ideas from the workshop to their own teaching context is to promote reflection and follow up. Workshops should help teachers to reflect on their practice and relate the content of the workshop to their own context. By including a follow-up activity for teachers to complete when they are back in their classrooms, we can encourage them to put ideas into practice. In this way, teachers are less likely to go back to their classrooms and forget everything that they have learned in the workshop. Here are some ways of promoting reflection and follow-up: 

Reflection questions

Give participants two or three questions to reflect on at the end of an activity or workshop. For example, after a ‘running dictation’ activity, write the following questions on the board:

  • Did you enjoy the activity? Why (not)?
  • Could you do this activity with your students?
  • How could you adapt this activity?

Action points

Ask participants to choose one activity from the workshop to try with their students when they go back to their classrooms. Ask them to specify which activity, how they will adapt it, when they will try it and who they will try it with.

Adaptation ideas

After each workshop activity, always ask participants to brainstorm how the activity can be adapted for their teaching context. For example, ask participants how to adapt the activity for large classes / low-level learners / different topics etc.

Peer observations

Encourage participants to set up a peer observation, ideally with a co-worker who also attended the workshop. Having someone else observe their teaching will make them more accountable for completing their action points and will encourage post-workshop reflection.

Reflection

To conclude the workshop on workshops, of course there had to be some reflection.

I asked the participants to think about their training contexts and discuss these questions:

  • Could you incorporate any of the practical ideas into your context?
  • How could you adapt these ideas for your training context?
  • Decide on one action point.

Thanks to everyone who came to my session. I would love to hear from you if you have tried out any of these practical ideas in your own workshops. If you have your own ideas on how to design effective workshops, please share them here.

References and further reading

Borg, S. 2016. ‘Workshops and Teacher Change’. Simon Borg’s blog. http://simon-borg.co.uk/workshops-and-teacher-change/

Graves, K. 2009. ‘The Curriculum of Second Language Teacher Education’ in Burns, A. and   Richards, J. (eds.) The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]

Hayes, D. 1995. ‘In-service teacher development: some basic principles’. ELT Journal 49/3

Woodward, T. 1991. Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]

Woodward, T. 2003. Loop input. ELT Journal 57/3. https://academic.oup.com/eltj/article-pdf/57/3/301/1187562/570301.pdf

Lauren Perkins is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, currently based in London. Most of her teaching and training experience has been in Thailand, but she has also worked with teachers in Myanmar, Indonesia, Palestine, Rwanda and Bangladesh. Her interests are in classroom interaction and materials-light teaching. Follow her on twitter @Lperkinselt.

I recently observed a teacher who wants to work on the feedback stages of her lesson, making sure that she is as responsive as possible to the needs of her learners and helping her as part of her DipTESOL studies. Most of the reading and methodology we’ve found about feedback has been connected to error correction and upgrading language. We haven’t been able to find very much about feedback on content and skills work and how to do it effectively. Please share if you can recommend anything!

In our post-observation discussion, one thing we discussed was the pacing of feedback, and that not everyone was fully involved in feedback stages. Feedback also didn’t really feed into later stages of the lesson. We identified that this was partly because the method of post-activity feedback chosen didn’t always appropriately match the activity itself – something neither of us have been specifically trained in. As a result, we came up with a series of questions to use to help her (and me!) when planning a lesson to work out how to get the most out of post-activity feedback.

  1. What is the purpose of the task?
    For example:
    Is it comprehension of specific information?
    Brainstorming ideas for a storytelling activity?
  2. How can you most efficiently find out whether the purpose of the task has been achieved in the lesson?
    For example:
    By looking at students’ books while monitoring.
    By students putting their ideas onto mini whiteboards, then walking around and looking at other people’s ideas.
  3. What is the feedback stage actually for?
    For example:
    To make sure the students know the correct answers. To get a general idea of how well students have initially understand what they listened to.
    To steal ideas from other students ready to use later in the lesson.
  4. Where is the learning happening? For who? How many students are actively involved in this?
    For example:
    In pairs, students don’t just say what’s correct, but why, referring back to the text/transcript. If they’re not sure about something they circle it. The teacher monitors and notices what is circled to deal with in the next stage of the lesson.
    You ask them to add ideas from other people to their whiteboards.

What other questions would you suggest? Would you use them in this order? Would you edit/remove any?

Listening attentively

Still my favourite listening picture…

For example, in the lesson I observed there was rather a long listening task where students had to fill in a table with 4 rows and columns about the problems presenters had had during their presentations. Students checked their answers in pairs, then some of them wrote up the notes onto the whiteboard. Of the eight students in the class, four were writing up answers and the others were watching. In the peer check, one student who has general problems with listening comprehension had struggled a little with some of the points in the listening, but most were fine. It took a relatively long time (3-4 minutes) and once it was confirmed that the answers were correct, they were rubbed off the board.

Using the questions above, how would you approach the feedback from the activity in your lesson? How could it feed into later stages of the lesson to develop the students’ listening skills beyond pure comprehension?

Think about, for example, how many Japanese speakers of English get looked upon unfavourably for their English, and […] never receive any praise for being speakers of English, whereas think about how many white people who live in Japan and learn Japanese are adored, admired, praised for their ability to speak Japanese.

But if you think about it, English and Japanese, it’s the same pair of languages, the same distance, the same difficulty in learning it, right?

But if a Japanese person speaks English, they will never get any admiration for it, and often will get, actually evaluated negatively: oh yeah, but their English is not so good yet.

But if it’s the person who has learnt Japanese from an English background, they get all kinds of praise and support and self-affirmation out of it.

So that’s a form of oppression going both ways: privilege in one, and oppression in the other.

Lourdes Ortega, interviewed on the TEFLology podcast

This is something I’ve found annoying in the past: it’s lovely to be praised for my own language learning, but when I praise people back: your English is just as good as my Polish or better, they say “But Polish is so hard!”

It’s no harder than English for a Polish learner: all languages are easy and all are difficult. It’s a question of motivation, and while distances between them may help or hinder learning at different stages of the process, if you speak the same pair of languages, you should be equally proud of your ability to speak them, and you should be praised equally.

The things we say to language learners have a real impact!

Every May, International House World Organisation runs their Teachers’ Online Conference (TOC) event. This is a day or two of short talks on a huge range of topics presented by teachers from across the IH network. They are recorded and you can still watch talks from previous years. I’ll add the recordings from this year once they’re available (in the next week or so).

This year, the event happened on Friday May 17th. My presentation was designed to help you reduce your planning time, but still teach an effective lesson. It’s based around adapting a double-page coursebook spread to maximise the usefulness for my students while not adding huge amounts of planning/materials creation to my day.

If you want more minimal preparation ideas for exploiting a coursebook, here are 101 of them (approximately!)

Here are links to the rest of the  English language online conference and the Modern Languages conference.

Planning questions

The questions I suggested you could use when thinking about planning are:

INSTEAD OF

  • How can we do these pages?

ASK YOURSELF

  1. What do my students need the most?
  2. What do they already know?
  3. How much time do they need to bridge the gap?
  4. How can I maximise engagement?
  5. What can the book support the students in?
  6. What’s missing? What do I need to add/change?
  7. How much variety is needed? How can I add it?

Another possible set of questions I’ve come up with in the last couple of days is:

  1. What do my students want to know (how to do)?
  2. What aspects of that language/skill/function etc. do they already know? How will I find that out in the lesson if I’m not sure?
  3. How can I help them bridge the gap between what they can already do and what they want/need to do? What problems might they have with this language/skill/function? What can they/I do about them? (Is there something in the book that already deals with this? Do I need to add/change something?)
  4. How can I check/make sure students realise they’ve improved?

I’d be interested to know what happens if you try out either of these sets of questions as a planning approach as they’re a reflection of what I think I do when I approach planning, and I’ve only written them down this week!

Elementary functions lesson

Speakout Elementary Students’ Book, Frances Eales and Steve Oakes, Pearson Longman, pp.92-93

These are my notes for the Speakout Elementary coursebook spread above, which I used to generate the questions. You can see me voicing them and adding extra detail in the recording of my session.

“Teaches itself” – Everything is here – could work through page from start to finish, and SS would learn. But book-bound, little variety and most importantly… probably too long – potentially 2-3 hours of lessons here if you really exploit it. Start with timing – 90-minute lesson, take away warmer/homework check = 70 minutes-ish left over.

Need to prioritise. What’s main aim? What’s most useful to my students? Unlikely to have time to do justice to both function and telling a story so pick one to really work with in depth. Ask students which one in previous lesson? At elementary = aim should be building confidence, rather than rushing through and ‘finishing’ everything. Repetition, practice, chances to use the language.

So I choose apologies (I think my students will be able to use this every lesson – they’re always having problems! And useful when they travel/meet new people) Stories are great too, but I’ve got to pick one – not enough time to do justice to both.

Where could you start? How can you engage them in the topic?

The image in 3A might not generate much conversation, though the story is good. Set up situation – clear context. Going into work. You had this problem from image (either cartoon or p93 pictures). What did you say to your boss? Mini roleplay – test what they already know. Start from communication rather than language (TBL) + help students to notice the gap. Tells you how much you need to teach them later.

Could also start with images from p93 – what are the problems? Who apologies? Why? Start with finding out what students already know.

Or the excuses vocab from 2A/2B if they’re a lower level and really need the help, or this could follow looking at the images if it turns out they don’t know the language – they’re producing ‘lost keys’ ‘didn’t wake up’.

> Materials needed = images scanned/photoed from your phone (with copyright information!) rather than spending time Googling other images, or the book software if you have access to it, or a quick cartoon you can draw on the board of one of the situations from the book, or you need 3A/3B from book/board. If in book, ask students to cover ex 4 onwards.

Various options for next stage: if you’re confident, you can work with student-generated language and build up dialogue with them on board, adding in phrases from 4A/4B/4C as needed – could be engaging if you can keep everyone involved, could also be very teacher-centred! Less teacher-centred = they write out their roleplay in pairs/groups and you go round feeding in language. If less confident, work through 4A/4B/4C as is. = meaning, form. Language bank gives some extra practice if needed.

BUT what’s missing? What about pron, drilling, memorisation, student confidence? Will they be able to use these phrases accurately and fluently later? This is where your time will probably go in an elementary functions lesson! What could you do that’s minimal prep here? Key word drill, deletion drill, first letter drill, remember/test/write – all useful. Decide how much needed in the lesson.

> Materials needed: book, board, choice of key words (but students can help you decide those in the lesson – better if from them!)

Lots of practice of phrases, now back to context and communication.

Show them the framework from 5A (in book/photo on board with copyright/key words written on board – up to you, but minimal prep!) – pairs think of conversations between teacher and student, practice for a couple of minutes, ask if anyone wants to perform.

Could use 5B to show who apologises to who, or could elicit from students on board – probably more engaging and creative

They come up with more conversations, perhaps in a mingle – they haven’t moved yet in the lesson! Or use 5C as is – they listen and guess = engaging, reason to listen. Feed back on what they’ve done / Language upgrades / Ask if they’ve improved their confidence.

Intermediate grammar lesson

I ran out of time to discuss this in my presentation – I wanted to show how you could use the questions generated by the elementary spread to plan with another coursebook/level. I’m imagining planning a lesson for a group of 12 students, aged 16-45, about half and half teens and adults, with a 90-minute lesson of which the first 20 minutes are revision/HW check.

Here are my answers to the seven planning questions:

  1. What do my students need the most?
    Aim is to get them using relative clauses (which I know my intermediate students don’t use from observing them in previous lessons), not learning about Che; communication key – lots of speaking.
  2. What do they already know? (in this case, at the planning stage what do I think they already know?)
    Have seen defining clauses before, but probably don’t use. Maybe first time with non-defining within our school, but teens are likely to have seen it at school fairly recently and will probably be faster.
  3. How much time do they need to bridge the gap? (in this case, what’s my prediction when I’m planning?)
    Time spent on seeing what they already know about relative clauses, and giving them plenty of time to produce their own = start planning with the end of the lesson? Adults will need more time than teens.
  4. How can I maximise engagement? (when answering this, I ended up writing out a whole plan!)
    Teen students unlikely to know about him, and I’m not sure the adults will be that interested in him either. So raising interest important (could find another person to describe, but that creates loads of work and we want minimal prep!) Right from start, get them talking about films about famous people & they could return to this at end of the lesson producing their own description of person/film for example. Should be more accessible for all ages (could be real film or one they wish existed) – so a twist on the topic.
    To segue to the reading, do a KWL chart. Or they could write 5 questions they want a film about Che to answer, rather than testing their knowledge (which I suspect most of them don’t have!) – student-generated = more interesting. Or use the photos but not the quiz? Lots of options!
    When they were talking about their own people/films, did they use relative clauses? Probably not – so point this out to them before 1d to give them a reason to pay attention. 1g is OK as text follow-up, but won’t use that many relative clauses. But you could use it as another test of whether they’re producing relative clauses, since they’ve seen examples of them now – retelling a text is a great way to see what language they already use.
    Bridge the gap by working with sentences you collected while monitoring when they were talking about their films, or predicted they’d get wrong before the lesson (this is a good approach if you’re less confident/find it difficult to hear what students say) – with relative clauses, the biggest problems are normally the form (word order, which relative pronoun to use, producing sentences like GGB is the actor who he played Che where the word the pronoun replaced isn’t removed) and the intonation difference between defining and non-defining clauses (Can they ‘hear the commas’?), so these are the things you should plan to help them with. Do memorisation work with Ex 1d to keep it in context – get students to reproduce sentences without looking (probably with some form of key word prompt), or read-remember-cover-write-check, or translate the sentence into their mother tongue then back into English with their books closed. In all cases, compare the differences between what they wrote and the original – they’ll notice the problems and you can point them out if they don’t! None of these ideas require extra prep! Keep the grammar bank in reserve if they really need extra form help, but you’ll lose the context of Che/famous people here.
    For pron work, they read all of the sentences in 1d in pairs as quickly as possible, though without worrying about the pron of words like Che, Bernal and Rosario! You can get them to write he or it above the sentences to make it easier. Do an open class drill of any sentences that cause problems, including pointing out the commas and the difference that makes to intonation if they had trouble with it.
    Another possible activity for practice: students write out a sentences from 1d, but separated (The photo is probably one of the best known photos in the world. It was taken in 1960.) on scrap paper, then test each other by mingling with one piece of paper each and asking their partner to recombine them verbally. You don’t need to prep this – it’s a challenge to work out how to separate the sentences and students will learn from this, also chance to mingle and move around. This activity can take quite a long time though, so decide in the lesson whether it’s needed and have your scrap paper ready. No point spending ages prepping it yourself if you’re not going to end up using it! Could be reused as revision in future lessons too if you collect the scrap paper.
    Then they do the writing/speaking about their film again at the end but with a new partner, and you can praise them on how many (more) relative clauses they’re using and/or how accurately they’re using them now compared to before!
  5. What can the book support the students in?
    See point 4.
  6. What’s missing? What do I need to add/change?
    See point 4.
  7. How much variety is needed? How can I add it?
    They’ve moved, changed groupings, worked with heads up and heads down, and produced something creative (talking about their films). There’s speaking, listening (to their partners), writing (if you do the scrap paper activity), reading, grammar, pronunciation, and probably a bit of vocab from the reading or fed in during the speaking activities.

In conclusion

The lessons as described above:

  • are relatively flexible
  • leave the students space to show what they know
  • allow you to respond to their needs by filling gaps in their knowledge instead of trying to cover everything because it’s in the book (and are therefore more focussed and engaging)
  • require no extra materials, or some quick-to-prepare materials if you want to do this, using what’s in the coursebook as a jumping-off point
  • include time for memorisation and confidence-building
  • prioritise communication
  • upgrade language
  • have a range of activity types, not just completing exercises from the book
  • give students the chance to notice their progress
  • require minimal preparation beyond thinking about the answers to the questions! No cutting up 🙂

ELT Playbook 1 cover

If you want to have a go at this kind of brainstorming yourself, there’s a task called ‘One activity, multiple tasks’ in ELT Playbook 1. Find out how to get your copy via the ELT Playbook blog and share your ideas on social media or in the comments below.

If you want more minimal preparation ideas for exploiting a coursebook, here are 101 of them (approximately!)

I created this list a couple of years ago for a workshop to help early career teachers see how they can exploit the materials available in a coursebook without needing to spend hours reinventing the wheel or cutting things up. The list is designed to:

  • help teachers add variety to lessons
  • go beyond their materials
  • think about skills lessons in a different way, not just testing but teaching
  • add bits of learner training to lessons
  • be a bank of ideas for activities teachers can pull out in the lesson if they need to change something
  • give teachers tasters of bits of methodology they might not be aware of (like metacognition or ways of improving

It is not designed to be a comprehensive list – 4 sides of A4 is quite enough as a starting point. It’s also not designed to be a critique of coursebooks – that’s for another place and time. There might be one or two ideas which are ‘Sandy Millin originals’ 🙂 but generally they were collated from throughout my career so far, so thank you if you’re the source of any of them!

Feel free to use the list or the handout in training sessions/workshops, but please credit the source. My 60-minute workshop went something like this:

  • In small groups, teachers shared their own ideas of things they do to exploit coursebooks.
  • The list was cut into sections and placed around the room.
  • Teachers had time to read it, add question marks next to anything they couldn’t understand, and add their own ideas to the paper. This is why there’s an empty bullet point at the end of each category.
  • I demonstrated/explained any confusing activities.
  • Teachers decided which activities they would try out in the next week (I can’t remember if we had time to do this, but I’d make sure if I ran it again!)
  • We took photos of the annotated sheets and emailed them to everyone after the session.

You can download the handout as a pdf or a .docx file.

Coursebooks

Image taken by Sue Annan, from the ELTpics collection and shared under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence

Vocabulary

  1. Test students: get them to draw pictures, which you can then use to:
    – Play games: point to…, find…, take…, run to…, what’s missing (…all the typical ones)
    – Give each group a pile of pictures – they turn them over and make sentences
    – Show a picture – they race to write the word (in notebooks, on mini whiteboards, on the board)
  2. Categorise words (meaning):
    – I like, I don’t like
    – In the bedroom, In the kitchen, In the living room, In the bathroom
    – Know/Don’t know
    – With /i:/ /e/ /3:/ etc (pron)
  3. Using the exercise in the book: do it as is, then…
    – cover the words and work with your partner to say them (pron)
    – cover and write the words, while looking at definitions (form)
    – look at the words and remember the definitions
    – one student closes book, other open and tests them
    – groups of 3/4: one student = teacher, says definition. Others race to say word – point for each/they become the next ‘teacher’.
    – point to the word/picture on software, students say it
  4. Memorisation:
    – Close your book and write down all of the words.
    – Board race of all of the words.
    – Translation Chinese whispers – e.g. English, Polish, English, Polish
    Evil memorization of sentences around gap-filled words (show on software, they write in answers, switch off software, they remember sentences)
    – Little books: students make a book out of A4 paper, then write a word on the first page. Next student draws a pic of the word on next page. Next student looks at pic (not word!) and writes word, etc. At the end, see how different final picture is from original word. (Chinese whispers)
  5. Pronunciation (pairs first, then remedially drill problem words, especially for higher levels):
    – Different types of drill: stressed syllable, stickman…
    – Point to the picture, they say the word – as fast as possible (use their pics from idea 1)
    – Students write out words – one each (can have more than one of each word) – use for disappearing drills

Exploiting images

(particularly for warmers – on coursebook software or in their books, or PowerPoint if you want to spend more time prepping)

  1. Students discuss in pairs: 1 minute to think first, then…
    – What can you see?
    I see, I think, I wonder
    – What was it like five minutes before/after?
    – Create personalities for the people.
    – Add something to the picture, then tell your partner what and why.
    – Have you ever been anywhere like this? Seen anything like this? Would you like to?

Grammar/functional language

(see also the vocab ideas above!)

  1. Eliciting it (after students have already seen it in context!):
    – First letters of each word
    – First word of sentence – they find it in text. Add a word at a time until someone gets it.
    – Sentence hangman
    – Hum the stress pattern
  2. Pronunciation (hand over to students ASAP):
    – Different types of drill: key word, first letter of each word, substitution…
    – Draw/ask students to draw an image to represent a sentence (e.g. a door for ‘Can you open the door?’ – use these as prompts.
    – ‘Grammar’ sentences e.g. you / work / office? = ‘Do you work in an office?
    – What are the stressed/unstressed words?
    – Can you say it as fast as me? Backchain to help them with this.
    – Use rhythm to aid memorization. Try jazz chants:
  3. Exploiting controlled practice:
    – Say the sentences as quickly as you can.
    – One student says the answer, the other student says the whole sentence.
    – Translation mingle: write one sentence on a bit of scrap paper. Translate it to Polish. Mingle – say Polish sentence, other person says English. Encourage them to give feedback: That’s right. You’re nearly there. That’s completely wrong!
    – Students create 2-3 extra questions to extend the activity.
    – How many of the sentences can you remember from the text?
    – Close your books. Can you retell the story? (If it’s a complete text)
    – 1 student says a sentence from the activity. The other student remembers the one before it.
    – Contextualise the sentences: put them into a longer ‘text’. If they leave a gap, other students can try to work out which sentence it is.
  4. Semi-controlled/freer practice:
    – Type up 6-10 sentence starters taken from the book (e.g. ‘As soon as I got home yesterday…’). Have some scrap paper. Students write the endings, then mix them up. Move around the room. Other groups then match endings to starters.
    – Draw the sentences: Students fold a piece of A4 paper into 8 boxes and put small numbers in the corner, like so:
1 2 1 2
3 4 3 4

They draw a picture each for four different sentences on the left, and don’t write the sentence! They pass the paper to a second group, who try to remember the corresponding sentences. A third group checks if they are correct (with or without books depending on how evil you feel).
– Students create their own ‘find someone who

Exploiting reading/listening texts

  1. Explore context/genre:
    – Where would you see/hear this text?
    – Who would be like to read/listen to this kind of thing? Would you?
    – What other titles could the text have?
    – Which features of this text make it an article/blogpost/radio interview e.g. The introduction of the people at the start…
    – What features make this readable? Or make a listener want to continue listening? If any!
  2. Extend the text:
    – What happened next?
    – What extra question could the interviewer ask?
  3. Mine the text:
    – What phrases do you want to steal?
    – Choose a sentence. Remember, cover, write, check.
    – How could you say the sentence in a different way?
  4. Improve listening skills:
    – Do a micro dictation of problem sentences.
    – Focus on some of the connected speech, then get students to repeat it.
    – Ask students to reflect on what made a text easy/difficult e.g. speed, accent, topic.
    – Play, pause, students say what’s coming next, then listen and check.
  5. Look at ’40 things to do with a text’ http://teachertrainingunplugged.com/other-writing/40-things-to-do-with-a-text/

Extending speaking activities

  1. Read Richer Speaking 🙂 https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/richer-speaking/
  2. Work with another partner:
    – After error correction from the teacher (this helps them to upgrade language)
    – To find out if their new partner is similar/different to their previous partner.
    – To report on partner 1’s answers. They could then change again to report on three people’s answers (partner 1, partner 2, and partner 2’s first partner!)
    – After the teacher has fed in some extra functional language.
  3. Change the situation:
    – Have the same conversation as if you are a manager and employee / parent and child / old person and teenager…
    – Would the conversation be the same in a café? An airport? At a friend’s house?
  4. Reflect on a task (a.k.a. metacognition):
    – What extra words did you need? How did you get them?
    – When did the conversation stop? (How) did you get it started again?
    – What made the task particularly easy/difficult? What could make it easier in future?

Extending writing activities

  1. Upgrade your writing:
    – Add five adjectives/a conditional/two more sentences…
    – Rewrite it so it’s more formal/informal/legible (!)
    – Proofread it for commas/capital letters/past simple forms/your favourite spelling mistakes
    – Add a title/subtitles
  2. Switch texts and:
    – check it for content – does it include everything?
    – correct three spelling mistakes
    – choose a word/phrase you want to steal and add to your text
  3. Walk around and read texts while:
    – adding post-it note comments
    – choosing which [holiday you would like to go on] – try to avoid ‘the best’ as this is subjective

Exploiting the coursebook software

  1. Use the extra functions:
    – Games
    – Audioscripts
  2. Block things out (either using the in-built function or putting another window over the top!):
    – Parts of images/vocabulary banks – what’s missing
    – Half a text – remember the other half
    – Only show the first letter or two of words in a vocab list – race to write them on mini whiteboards
  3. Check the answers:
    – Students write the answers in when projected on the board.
    – Show the answers and ask students if they’ve got them right.
    – One person can look, the other can’t and has to listen to the answers.
  4. With practice exercises:
    – Sentence pictionary: one person can look and has a mini whiteboard, the other has their back to the board. You circle a sentence number. They draw the sentence and their partner has to remember it.
    – Hot seat/backs to the board: circle/underline words in the word bank for them to define.
    – They race to define 4/6 words as fast as possible: guesser puts them on a mini whiteboard.
  5. Display texts for students to:
    – Run and point to the vocabulary item you define (team game). Items can be hidden in a vocabulary bank or hidden in a reading text/audioscript.
    – Remember a sentence and write it down, then look and check.

I was introduced to Helen Chapman at IATEFL Liverpool this year and I’m really glad I was (thanks Phil!) 🙂 She has lots of fantastic ideas for the young learner and teen classroom, both of which I’m sadly lacking, so following her on Twitter and reading her blog have been useful. A few days ago she posted an intriguing image of a lolly stick and some whiteboard graffiti on Twitter, and I asked her if she’d tell me more in a guest blog post. Here’s the result:

I’ve been a fan of adding a review/reflection stage to lessons with teenagers for the last few years, and more recently, I’ve been trying to include an element of choice in my classes. I’ve found this to be a really beneficial use of class time.

Why add a review/reflection stage?

Reviewing learning immediately after that learning has taken place aids memory. It can also anchor that learning, and make it more meaningful.

I like adding this stage at the end of the lesson, so learners can have a chance to breathe (as the main bulk of the lesson is done) and also take stock of what we’ve done in the lesson. It’s also totally learner-centred, and can contain satisfying short tasks which give a sense of achievement.

As it’s a quiet, reflective time, it’s also a nice opportunity to chat to students one-to-one, and get a good look at which tasks they prefer doing, and where their strengths lie. This means I can write really personal comments on student reports at the end of term, even for a relatively large class.

Why include learner choice?

Offering choice is a way to motivate and engage teenagers, as it is more likely they’ll be spending at least some of the lesson doing something they enjoy. It also makes them feel they have some agency in their own learning, which avoids teens feeling patronized (helping build rapport with you).

So often we ask learners to compare answers, or show each other what they’ve been working on, but they’ve all been doing the same task – teenagers may not see the value in that (show your group your list of suggestions to help the environment… when everyone in the group has a list of suggestions to help the environment!). Giving choice actually makes teenagers want to listen to what their classmate says, or to see what they’ve been working on. It sparks a genuine curiosity.

How can I include reflection and learner choice in my teen classes?

Why not try lolly sticks? Prepare different reflection/review tasks on each stick. Colour-code the tips of the sticks by activity type.

In the last 15 minutes of your lesson, have learners choose a lolly stick at random. As they are colour-coded, learners can choose the colour that corresponds to something they most feel like doing.

I like to let the learners know that they can switch lolly sticks if they want. Someone may not fancy drawing something that day, or may prefer to do something silently alone. I think teenagers like the flexibility, and it also shows that, as teachers, we respect their moods and preferences. Everyone has bad days where they may prefer to work alone on something!

What kind of review tasks work?

I like to include a range of activity types, such as:

Finding links and seeing patterns

  • Find a link between the last three lessons we’ve done.
  • Look through your notebook at the vocabulary we’ve studied in the last month. Organise the words into 4 categories.

Free speaking / Getting to know you

  • Ask one classmate ten questions about themselves.
  • Write ten facts about yourself or a classmate.
  • Chat to a classmate for four minutes – about any topic.

Class admin

  • Make a revision card for an absent classmate.
  • Design a three-minute starter activity for the next lesson.
  • Review a classmate’s notebook. Give oral feedback.

Reflection on learning

  • Write a tweet summarising today’s lesson.
  • Write about your favourite part of this lesson.
  • Draw graffiti on the board to show what you learnt today.
  • Draw a picture of what we’ve learnt in the last month of lessons.

Vocabulary building

  • Read a paragraph from any part of your Student’s Book. Write down four words you want to remember.
  • Look at the vocabulary list in the back of your Workbook. Find 5 words you don’t understand. Look them up and write the definitions in your notebook.
  • Look at the vocabulary list in the back of your Workbook. Find 5 words you know, but don’t use often. Write sentences demonstrating the meaning of the words.

My teen groups couldn’t do this!

Of course your teen group may struggle at first. After all, they make almost no choices for themselves in life, and almost certainly not in their learning. Their schools may encourage rote learning, and may control teenagers’ learning by keeping them in lock step. You need to support them in making choices and working on something independent of you, or their classmates.

How can I make this work for me?

  • Set up a routine in every lesson, so learners know what to expect.
  • Explain the rationale behind a stage like this. Teenagers are able to have this conversation with you, and you may even like to negotiate with them as to how long this stage should be.
  • Support the learners the first few times they do this. They most likely will be looking to get the ‘right answer’, or will be waiting to be told what to do. You’ll need to encourage them but also make it clear that this stage is not for the teacher to check or correct. You may wish to comment on what the learners are doing, and respond to the content, but this stage is it about the teacher’s evaluation.
  • Make it clear that you value the work they are doing during this stage. I like to mention it in termly reports, and during parent-teacher meetings.

I don’t have time to prepare this!

You’ll notice that the activities are not dependent on the content of the lesson. This means you can reuse the same lolly sticks every lesson. If you prepare them once, you can keep them in a box in your classroom and just get them out every lesson. You can also use the same set for different teen groups. No photocopies, no extra preparation- simply a meaningful stage for the last 15 minutes of every teen lesson.

Since I started including a reflection stage and some choice into my teen lessons, I’ve noticed they are more engaged, motivated, curious and reflective learners. Try it, and see if it works for you!

Helen Chapman is a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. Currently based in Morocco, she has also taught in Spain, Poland, Portugal and the UK. Her interests include Early Years, Primary (especially developing the whole child) and EAP. She is also fascinated with exploring teacher beliefs, and with the integration of learner reflection in lessons. She writes an Early Years and Primary ELT blog (https://helenchapmanelt.wordpress.com) and tweets @HelenChapmanELT

Tag Cloud