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

[This started out as a comment in reply to To the senior English language teachers of Ireland…  on the ELT Advocacy Ireland blog. However, it got so long that I decided it was more suited to a blog post.All quotes are taken from that post. All views expressed in this post are entirely my own, and I am willing to be talked around if you believe I’m wrong and have the evidence to back it up.]

I do sympathise with posts like this on conditions in the ELT industry, and know how lucky I am in my job, my career path, the opportunities I’ve had, and the wonderful schools I’ve been lucky enough to work at. However, I have to take issue with sentences like “How can you conscionably earn millions every year and treat your staff so despicably?” which don’t have any evidence to back them up. Running a language school is an expensive business, and although I know there are obviously people who deliberately exploit the teachers and the staff, I don’t feel that it is always done on purpose.

For example, I used to work in a school (outside Europe) which really was running hand-to-mouth. We ran a CELTA course in the summer: if we got 6 trainees we could afford to pay rent for the school that month and pay the tutors, one of whom was the director of the school. If we didn’t, she would go without pay that month. If we got 8 trainees, that was rent for the following month too. 10, and we had two months rent. The magic 12 meant we were fine until the end of November, but neither of the two courses I did even hit 10. The rest of the year, we struggled to get enough students to cover the pay of myself (the DoS) and the Director, plus wages for 3-5 freelance teachers who did a few hours a week each. There was no question of sick pay or holiday pay for the freelancers: if there were no lessons, there was no money. In an ideal world, yes, all of those things would have been covered, but if you wanted to run a quality language school with trained teachers working legally with visas if they needed them, you had to charge more for classes to cover your costs than the ‘cowboy’ schools did, but the students wouldn’t pay our prices if there was a cheaper school down the road, a school which to them seemed exactly the same.

I’m not saying this is a typical situation at all, and I strongly believe that professionalism is essential, but ranting about these ‘rich’ language school owners without having the facts and figures to back up the rant is, I believe, not going to get us anywhere.

There’s enough room in the boat for everyone, but only a select few are kept in the boat at all times. The owners choose which ones to keep in semi-permanently and which ones they’ll haul aboard when they need to power through the summer months, before flinging them back overboard again when costs are at an optimum level. It suits them to have us grasping, it’s amusing to them.

This, I believe, is an unhelpful black and white picture which uses an over-dramatic metaphor without taking the reality of the situation into account. At schools in English-speaking countries, numbers in the summer can be vastly different to numbers in the winter. What to do when you have all of those extra teachers? Where do you find them? How do you pay for them all in the winter when you only have 100 students, compared to 300 in the summer? Recruitment procedures should be more transparent, and we should be able to question decisions that are made and speak about them honestly. Recruiters should be able to back up why they have chosen to (re-)employ teacher A over teacher B. That way, teacher B will have a better idea what they need to do next time to try and get the job, in an ideal world of course. I do not believe these decisions are always made easily, though I do feel they’re sometimes based around favouritism and drinking buddies, rather than experience, which is very wrong and should certainly be challenged. If you need a regular, year-round job, and have chosen the ELT profession in an English-speaking country, perhaps you are in the wrong place – we need to be making this abundantly clear to those entering our profession so that they know exactly what it is they’re getting themselves into.

I also know that in schools I have worked at where I have had discussions about money, at least half of what comes into the school normally goes on teacher wages, even without funding CPD or paying for administration time worked. In reputable schools (which I’ve been lucky to spend most of my career at), this includes taxes, national insurance, etc. Then you factor in administration staff, rent, utilities, building upkeep, materials, and it’s hard to see where all of this magical extra money to pay for these things is going to come from, if the students won’t pay higher fees. Perhaps the first campaign should be to encourage schools to publicise their account books, so we can see exactly where the money is going and question them in a mature and adult manner about what happens to any excess cash there might be.

To be considered for a position at an ACELS accredited language school, you need a minimum of a Level 7 degree and the investment of a four week training course which costs a minimum of €1,000. This level of investment is not reflected in an ELTs take-home pay, nor in the respect shown to them by the industry. Perhaps the most galling thing is that we are not even considered to be teachers by the government or The Teaching Council because the CELT/A is not a recognised teaching qualification. Students are sold courses taught by ‘world class’, ‘qualified’, ‘experienced’ teachers.

I strongly believe that we need to support teachers to improve working conditions, but we cannot do this with our heads in the clouds, imagining that the money is going to come from nowhere. Education is our business, and it’s not just the school owners who need to learn. We also need to train students that cheaper doesn’t mean better, and in fact they should be paying for this higher quality of teacher/trainer/school. Who, after all, outside the private language school/ELT bubble, really knows what CELTA and Delta are, how much they cost teachers (generally out of their own pocket), and what they mean in terms of professionalism? And that’s without taking into account the qualms of those people within ELT who knock those qualifications. How do we expect students to be able to make a reasoned decision about which school to choose if all they have to go on is potentially spurious claims of ‘highly-qualified teachers’ when they don’t know what they means and when all they really have to go on is price? Sometimes word-of-mouth can help us out, but that takes time to build up, and time without students is time without money, that magical money we can use to pay the teachers with. Inside our bubble, we know that native speakers are not automatically better teachers than non-natives; we know that a professional teacher has to work hard and invest a lot of time and money to create their professional identity. But where is that awareness outside the bubble? Where are the ELT teachers in popular culture? Where is the discussion of professionalism in a multi-billion dollar industry in the wider media? And it is our job to train up our students to be able to communicate across cultures, surely an essential act in our globalised world. I, for one, had no idea English-language teaching even existed in this form until I was an adult, having grown up in the UK, where it is nowhere near as obvious as in non-English-speaking countries, where you can’t turn around without seeing an advert for English lessons.

Why should school directors make an effort to share information with us if we attack them and put them on the defensive? If our bosses are distant, we need to bring them in and call them to account. It is our responsibility to build relationships too. If we cannot feel loyalty to our schools, and do not help to build a feeling of community there, why should our employers care about us? If they do not see us day to day, how should they know what we need from them? Intuition? Telepathy? I know this is an idealistic view, but we work with people, and those people are not just our students. We need to be in contact with our managers too, right up the food chain, and they need to be trained in communication skills so they know how to work with us, another thing that seems to be sadly lacking in a lot of ELT schools.

Finally, as long as the discussion remains inside the bubble, things will never change.  Why should they try to change things if the pressure is only coming from below, and not from the governing bodies of the profession?

There are a lot of questions here. I certainly don’t have the answers. Maybe you do?

As a CELTA tutor, I’m always searching for materials which will make life easier for my trainees, so when I saw Rachael Robert’s book The CELTA Teaching Compendium appear on the round, I knew I had to take a look. I wasn’t disappointed.

CELTA Compendium cover

Rachael’s e-book is arranged as a series of short entries based around key CELTA concepts such as ‘rapport’ and ‘setting up pairs and groups’. Each entry starts with a definition of the concept, telling trainees why it is an important area to know about and offering tips to deal with key pitfalls, like finishing a lesson early or realising you’re going to run over. There are often examples too, such as of stage aims or what and how to elicit. There was even a new idea for me in the pre-teaching vocabulary section, that of getting students to write a sentence connecting two or more of the items you plan to introduce. As Rachael acknowledges though, that idea only works if the vocabulary items are already half-known. The entries end with a summary of three bullet points pulling together the most important things to be aware of. In the pdf version, these are in a blue box, making them stand out clearly when you are skimming through. There’s also a bibliography of further reading at the end of the book, which I was pleasantly surprised to find my own Useful Links for CELTA page in 🙂

It took me ninety minutes to read the epub version from cover to cover, or whatever the ebook equivalent of that is, while I was at the airport on the way to my current CELTA course. I found it easy to access and highly practical. I also liked the way it addressed trainees directly, as if Rachael was in the room chatting to them instead of her words being on the page. Rachael’s sense of humour is also evident, and I laughed more than once while reading the Compendium, particularly when talking about how to use variety to manage pace when teaching young learners and adults. The sections are easy to navigate, with the concepts listed in alphabetical order, main concepts hyper-linked to each other within the text, and a contents page at the start. I also really like the cover design.

There are only two minor faults I can find with the book. The first is that there is no separate entry for context, an area which trainees often have problems with, though it is referenced various times in the book. The other is that Rachael’s suggestion that it’s a good idea to write the exact start time of lesson stages on your plan, which I believe can be quite confusing if you end up starting late.

The book is aimed at those currently doing a CELTA, and to those working within private language schools, with a reference to ‘what they’re paying for’ in the error correction entry. However, I believe it’s useful to anyone wanting to build up an understanding of basic concepts in language teaching, as it is so clear and practical. It’s also affordable, at just under $5. If you’d like to get yourself a copy, you can find more details at the round, and buy it in various formats from Smashwords and for Kindle from Amazon [the latter two are affiliate links]. Thank you very much to Rachael for putting this together, and for those involved in publishing it at the round – it’s definitely a valuable addition to our profession.

This was a post I’d been meaning to write for a long time! Since doing the Delta exam a few years ago, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to mark writing. To find out what the current results of this experiment are, take a look at my latest post for TeachingEnglish British Council, describing how I give feedback on short pieces of writing of up to 300 words. How do you approach marking?

Marking writing

This is a summary of the #CELTAchat which took place on Twitter on 5th June 2017. #CELTAchat happens once a month, and is a chance for trainers to discuss issues connected to running the course. Summaries of previous chats can be found on the CELTAchat blog.

CELTA banner

This chat was based on observation tasks, allowing us to share ideas to help us make the most of these tasks. You can work your way through a full Storify of the chat, or read my summary below.

Amy Blanchard suggested the topic, having seen this tweet from Angelos Bollas:

A definition

Observation tasks are given to trainees to complete while they are watching colleagues teach, mostly fellow CELTA trainees in the examples shared during the chat.

Teaching practice and the associated observations are a key part of the CELTA course. Using tasks to focus observation can benefit trainees. The process of observation also helps trainees to get to know the students more quickly, hopefully making it less daunting when they come to teach them.

Examples of tasks

Lots of possible tasks were shared, some overlapping with others. In no particular order:

  • Give two or three CELTA criteria to each trainee to observe for, though Giovanni Licata suggested that this is more useful in the second half of the course.
  • Diagrams of seating plans for trainees to annotate. Useful for observing T-SS and SS-SS relations and highlighting TTT v STT problems in an objective way. It’s learner-focussed and can show who is engaged and participating (or not!)
  • T-S interaction with seating plan. Looks at eye contact and who speaks, plus where T moves in room.
  • A task focused on recommended staging/features of a skills or systems lesson. For example, it’s good for the trainees to focus on whether there was a purpose for reading or was meaning clarified in systems lessons.
  • Tasks that address lesson frameworks are useful: reading/listening, grammar, vocab along with the seating plan.
  • Get trainees to list stages and what teachers/students are doing when. If they can’t identify the stages, it may mean the teacher wasn’t clear about what they wanted to do!
  • One that works for ALL lessons: make notes on what one student is doing during the lesson in relation to a given task.
  • Observation of SS’ progression throughout lesson important, e.g coherence between tasks and learning thread.
  • How trainees handle unexpected events in the lesson, e.g. dealing with language issues or responding to learner questions.
  • At the IH AMT conference 2017, Danny Norrington-Davis talked about the task of trainees listening to learner output and practising correcting /upgrading language. This encourages them to practise responding to learner needs.
  • A focus on specific points in the lesson, e.g. delivering instructions, or TTT vs STT:
  • Trainee-generated tasks, though in the example below Giovanni believes that it is good for observation tasks to move the attention away from teacher’s action points sometimes:
  • Trainees to observe whilst thinking about their own action points,not those of the person teaching.
  • Depending on local laws and trainee/student wishes, you could also encourage trainees to record themselves or their colleagues, or take photos, e.g. of the whiteboard or classroom set-up.
  • Use teaching logs, by drawing a timeline and following the stages/timing:
  • For lessons towards the end of the course, trainees could draw a cartoon or comic strip of the lesson.

If this isn’t enough for you, John Hughes has a lot of ideas for observation tasks on his blog.

Considerations

As you progress through the course, try to make observation tasks relevant to the areas trainees most need to improve in. This can be tricky at the start, when you don’t know as much about their needs. You can also directly link observation tasks to input sessions (note to self: maybe each input session could end with a possible observation task?)

How do we address potentially waning motivation amongst trainees to observe and feedback? They have to observe a lot.

  • Using a variety of targeted observation tasks can help here.
  • It’s important to emphasise the fact that opportunities to observe colleagues when working full-time can be minimal.
  • Get them observing trainees in other TP groups to mix things up a bit.
  • You could do an observation without a written task, like the graphs or cartoons above.

Refer to observation tasks in your feedback, and encourage them to refer to them in peer feedback. This helps trainees to see connections between what they’ve observed and tutor and peer feedback.

Some trainers encourage trainees to copy peer observation notes for their colleagues. It can be useful for the reflective assignment.

My two cents

Since I only managed to join at the end, I thought it would be a good idea to write the summary and catch up on what I missed. In the process, it’s occurred to me that I’m not brilliant at setting observation tasks consistently, or on following up on them in feedback. My next CELTA course starts on Monday 10th July, so I think I’ll make this a focus to help me improve my training, having worked on making my feedback clearer in the last few courses. I’m looking forward to taking part in more #CELTAchats in the future!

Issues 42 of the IH Journal has just been published.

IH Journal Issue 42 cover

My article is about various ways to make language learning part of your daily life, without expending too much effort. Hopefully it will be useful both for students and for teachers wanting to explore new languages.

As always, I’d recommend taking a look at the whole issue,  which you can access through the links on the right-hand side of the main IH Journal page. Some of my highlights from this issue are Katy Simpson describing three reasons why we should all be (ELT) feminists, lots of ideas from Kylie Malinowska to make the most of YL coursebooks, and Maria Badia’s ideas for using the Oxford Owls e-readers, a resource I had no idea existed, but will certainly be recommending to parents in the next academic year. Emily Hird pulls together some of these threads by showing us how to be more aware of everyday sexism in materials we use, and suggests some ways of dealing with it.

A simple paper quiz

I first experimented with this activity when trying to make a very dull induction week session about contracts and school requirements a tiny bit more interesting. I’ve recently tried it as a way of practising quantifiers with my students. In both cases it went down really well, taking about 30-60 minutes from start to finish.

A bit of origami

You can prepare the paper before the session, or you can give students the instructions below to prepare their own.

  • Take a piece of A4 paper (scrap paper is fine).
  • Hold it landscape.
  • Fold it in half, joining together the two short edges.
  • Unfold it.
  • Fold one half to the middle, and repeat.

The final result should look something like this:

Quiz paper with numbered sections

Creating the questions

Ask students to fold the paper so that they can see the A5 half only (column 1 in the diagram above).

Give them a topic/task and a time limit to write as many questions as they can.

  • For teachers in induction week, each group had a section of the contract appendix and a couple of other short admin documents.
  • For students practising quantifiers, they could write questions on any topic they wanted to based on information they found on their phones, with two caveats: it had to be a gapfill, with the gap being a quantifier we’d just studied, and the question had to be something they thought other students could answer.

After each question, they should draw a line across all five columns/the whole A4 page.

They should also make a note of their answers on another piece of paper.

Completing the quiz

Students from group A pass their quiz to group B, and so on. B answer the questions in the right-hand column, furthest away from the questions (5 in the diagram above) – this is very important! Make sure that you check by asking a question when giving instructions and by monitoring closely (there’s always one group who write in the wrong place!)

When B have answered all of the questions, they fold their answers underneath and pass the paper to group C, with only columns 1-4 visible. C write their answers in column 4, then fold it under again. Group D write in column 3, and E in column 2.

Group A then get the quiz back and check the answers to find the winner for their quiz. The teacher then tells the class who won each quiz, and an overall winner is decided based on which team won the most quizzes. Be prepared for arguments! It’s better to base it on overall winners for each quiz than on the total number of questions answered correctly across all the quizzes, as different groups will probably have written different length quizzes.

My students

If you only have a small class, like I did, group B can write in column 5 and group C write in column 3, leaving space for their answers to be marked in columns 4 and 2.

Here are two completed examples from my mostly teenage students. I was particularly impressed by the not-quite-Monty-Python references. Some of the questions were quite controversial as multiple answers were possible, and they didn’t always understand the vocabulary used by other groups. This prompted debate afterwards, but they argued in English and learnt some extra words, so it was OK in the end! You can decide how much you want to vet the questions, but I think it’s more fun if the students are in charge.

Quantifiers quiz - completed student example

So what else could you use this kind of quiz for?

Boardwork (guest post)

This is the second time I have had the pleasure of hosting a post by Amy Blanchard on my blog. The first time, it was all about Peace Boat, a Japanese scheme to promote peace and cultivate a wider understanding of different cultures. This time Amy is talking about her first conference presentation, which she did at this year’s InnovateELT conference. Over to Amy…

Amy's talk

(photo by Innovate ELT photographer)

Last weekend I had the opportunity to present at the third annual InnovateELT conference in Barcelona. The brainchild of the lovely people at ELTJam and hosted by Oxford TEFL, it’s become famous for a diverse and friendly crowd, relaxed and productive atmosphere, and innovative format: 10-minute plenaries in the garden, sessions involving learners, and 30-minute talks. I delivered one of these short sessions on the topic of using the whiteboard. No, not interactive, just the act of writing with a pen on the board. As a CELTA tutor, observing lessons and boardwork is a key part of my role. It’s something that frequently comes up in feedback. Yet there is no dedicated session on boardwork, nor did I have one on my initial training course.

Is boardwork still considered relevant in this era of technology, projectors and digital books? I think so, and attendance showed I wasn’t the only one, with a good mix of teachers and trainers alike.

The session began with a short discussion between the attendees: what do they write on their board? The following were all discussed as possibilities. Ultimately, teachers who know their students can make the best decision about which of the following might be useful to have on the board for their particular classes.

A menu

Seeing the content of the class in advance can be motivating for learners. Knowing what is coming up can make them feel more comfortable and give a sense of achievement when it’s done. Personally I use it more with my younger classes than with adults. My YLs often need to know that there’s something more appetising on the horizon, and they feel more secure knowing the routine of the class.

Aims

Again, this is not compulsory but can motivate students, especially if they are phrased in a way that makes the menu content make sense. So ‘telling anecdotes’ rather than ‘practising past simple’.

Admin

A few people used their board to highlight information for their students: course dates, exam dates, instructions to tasks, page numbers, and homework. Set homework immediately after the lesson component it refers to, and try to avoid leaving it to the end of the class; this makes it seem like an afterthought.*

Points system

Some teachers have a separate chart for this, or many now use Class Dojo or a similar system. Either way, seeing a visual representation of behaviour can be useful for YLs.

Errors for delayed correction

The majority of attendees use their board for noting down errors and give corrective feedback. One important thing to note – if you do write an error on the board, make sure you cross it out clearly. Leaving it on the board can reinforce it in students’ minds, even if you’ve told them it’s incorrect.

As we discussed these points, I drew areas on the board for each section. Have a system and be consistent in where you put this information. Learners find what they need more quickly if they know where to look.

Emergent language

The majority of the talk focussed on what all teachers said they use their board for: emergent language. This is ‘unplanned’ vocabulary which emerges during the lesson due to students’ needs. Giving students language when they need it is a huge part of our job and it’s important that we help them to the best of our ability. In order to clarify and consolidate this language, it’s vital we put it on the board. Remember that the students’ notebooks typically reflect what we put on the board. We need to consider what information we can add to the vocabulary to make it most useful for students.

One of the morning plenaries at Innovate was given by a polyglot, Lýdia Machová, who shared her tips for language learning. One of these was to learn vocabulary in context. Recording vocabulary with co-text (i.e the language with which it appeared) can help our students remember the meaning and give them a better idea about how it is used. Highlighting difficult phonemes, stress and features of connected speech helps them remember the pronunciation long after the lesson has finished. Using different colours to highlight dependent prepositions or the separability of phrasal verbs helps them learn even more, or – as Duncan Foord put it in his plenary, What Have Teachers Ever Done For Us? – helps resolve their doubts before they even appear. I demonstrated these points with the words photography, photograph and photographer. 

Amy's whiteboard, showing stress patterns for photograph, photographic, photographer, and vertical extension for call off (the wedding, the match, but not the flight)

One of my favourite ways of exploiting and developing new language is through vertical extension. By eliciting more examples from students, we can check their understanding and help students to use the word by highlighting common collocations. It can also be useful to point out things that do not collocate, as this is often a problem for students. I demonstrated this technique using the phrasal verb call off.

If our board is systematic and informative, hopefully our students’ notes will be, too. It’s very important to give students time to copy, so that they can concentrate while the language is being discussed. I recommend monitoring to ensure they copy accurately. This also gives shyer students the chance to ask questions.

Colours are important too. Personally, I’m a stickler for writing in black. Although everything looks clear when you’re stood up at the board, if you’re sitting at the back of the class, or have problems with your vision, red and green pens can be really hard to read.

By the end of the lesson, the board should be covered in lovely new language. Use the last 5 minutes of the class to review it, either through some extra drilling practice, or a game of Backs to the Boards/Hot Seat that just requires you to point at the language.

Encourage students to take a photo of the board. If you have an online platform or whatsapp group, they can share it (great for absent students!) or just keep them on their phone to flick through next time they’re bored on the bus. It’s also useful for the teacher to take a photo; an easy way of keeping a record of new vocabulary to recycle and consolidate in future lessons. Furthermore, taking a photo of your board is a wonderful way of reflecting on the lesson, and on your board work. You’ll see things you could have added or expanded, and ways to make things clearer.

Teachers are also sharing pictures of their boards on twitter, using the hashtag #ELTwhiteboard. It’s a wonderful place to connect with other teachers, to ask for advice and to pick up some great ideas for lessons. Get involved!

This was a 30-minute, streamlined talk that only had time to focus on a few aspects of using the board. The biggest omission is the issue of who writes on the board. Do your students write on the board? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @admiralwamy

* Ur, P. 100 Teaching Tips (Cambridge 2016) p.6 [affiliate link]

Amy Blanchard

Amy has taught English all over the world including many years in Spain for International House. She is now a freelance CELTA tutor and can be contacted at: amybtesol@gmail.com

From rules to reasons

At this year’s IATEFL conference, I bought a copy of From Rules to Reasons by Danny Norrington-Davies. I can only afford to buy a couple of books at each conference, so I have to choose carefully. I went for Danny’s this time because:

  • I’m interested in alternative ways of thinking about grammar teaching, as I don’t feel the coursebook-led way we teach reflects the way I know I learn, and I’ve been led to believe it doesn’t reflect Second Language Acquisition theory either (I can’t comment on this as I’ve never read any SLA theory myself!)
  • Grammar lessons can be downright boring if students feel they know it all already, but they often can’t then apply their knowledge to their own language production.
  • I’ve seen Danny present a few times, including at this year’s conference, and I’ve always found his ideas to be very interesting, though I’m not very good at applying them (or any ideas I get from conferences!), so having them in a book might make me more likely to experiment with them.
  • It’s Danny’s first book, and I like being able to support friends 🙂

I finished reading it last week, and found Danny’s suggested alternative approach intriguing. In a (very small!) nutshell, we should encourage our students to think about the reasons why a particular writer or speaker is using particular language in a particular text at a particular time. The emphasis is on how the language is being used in that context by that person. Danny gives some theoretical background for this at the beginning of the book, including arguing why it can be more useful for students to consider reasons than rules, and examples of possible follow-up (replication) tasks that are based on them using the language in a similar context if possible, or in a different but related context (transformation, I think – I haven’t got the book in front of me now!)

In his book, Danny includes 18 lesson plans, some text-based and others task-based, which serve as models for anyone wanting to experiment with his ideas. Each plan includes examples of reasons formulated by students working with the same plan in the best. This practical thread of the book gave me a much better idea of how it might work in the classroom, and gave me the impetus I needed to try it out with my own students, so last Wednesday I experimented with an upper intermediate class.

We were looking at a report in a coursebook about places to eat in London, which would be followed by them writing their own report about Bydgoszcz, the city we live in. To get them to think about some of the language in the text, I pulled out a few phrases and put them on PowerPoint slides along with an alternative sentence that could be used instead. Students walked around the room writing the reasons they thought were behind the writer’s choice of phrasing. They then folded them under so others couldn’t see what they’d written. Hopefully you can read some of them below, but here are a few of them:

  • More formal (by far the most common!)
  • Offensive language (if you are poor)
  • It’s opened to all of readers (There are many options)

Why this phrase? - four examples Why this phrase? - four examples

Some of the comments were from the point of view of an exam marker, rather than a real-life reader:

  • It makes reader think writer has bigger word list.
  • Writer wants to show off his range of vocabulary.
  • Range of words.

For me, this backs up one of the arguments in Danny’s book that most speaks for looking at reasons and not rules: (my wording!) reasons treat the language as language, and not as a means to passing an exam.

After the students had looked at their own reasons, I gave mine, which went something like this:

  • Generally speaking, – emphasising the generalisation by putting it at the start. Varying sentence patterns, so not just S-V-O.
  • if you have a limited budget – more polite than if you are poor
  • has to offer – more open than has, it implies you have access to it and London is inviting you in, not just that these restaurants exist
  • relatively inexpensive – a more positive connotation than cheap, and therefore more attractive, as you’re more likely to buy/pay for something relatively inexpensive than something cheap which may also be poor quality
  • The majority of – more formal, seems more scientific (or at least, it does to me!)
  • nearly always means – more impersonal, varies the sentence structures used
  • tend to be, a bit – varies the language, and varied language makes something more interesting to read. tend to be also shows that it’s not always true, in contrast to the factual nature of are – the writer is saying they might be wrong, and giving themselves a get-out clause if they are!
  • There are many options – more impersonal, and therefore more formal. Again, varies the sentence patterns in the text.
  • serve high-quality food – ‘advertising speak’ – you’re more likely to choose high-quality food over great food. It’s also specific about what makes it great – the quality as opposed to e.g. the presentation or the price.

Having gone through these reasons briefly with the group, followed by a quick look at the assessment criteria (it was a continual assessment text), they then wrote their own reviews. Marking them, I noticed the students had used a lot of the phrases we’d looked at, possibly because we’d spent more time on them, possibly because I said they needed to when we looked at the criteria, but maybe, just maybe, it was because they understand the reasons behind why a writer might choose to use this language.

In short, I would encourage you to get a copy of From Rules to Reasons by Danny Norrington-Davies, and try out his ideas in your own classroom.

(You can also read a review of the book by Chris Ożóg in the June 2017 issue of the IH Journal.)

Revision squares

Tuesday evening. 7:15pm. I walk out of the cover lesson I’ve just completed, working with a lovely group of pre-intermediate teens. Running through my head: right, I need to take the key downstairs, pick up my stuff, and pop into the supermarket on the way home. Followed almost immediately by: [Four-letter word], I forgot to find cover for the last lesson! That’s my evening out the window! Cue 10 minutes of running around trying to work out where to get some food from to get me through the rest of the evening (thanks Shannon and Emma!), telling people how stupid I am, and canvassing for ideas for an unplanned cover lesson with low elementary adults I haven’t met before.

As (nearly) always with these things, the lesson itself was absolutely fine. Two students came, one of whom had forgotten to do his homework. The first 45 minutes were spent working on pronunciation of comparatives from the homework, and with them testing each other, plus practice of very large numbers. For the other half of the lesson, I gave them the choice of unplanned functional language (the next spread in the book), unplanned superlatives (the spread after), or revision (which they’d also had, along with a test, in the previous lesson). They went for revision, and this is the activity which I came up with, based loosely on collaborative profiles, an idea suggested by my colleague Sam just before the lesson (thanks!) I joined in to, so see if you can work out which drawings were mine!

Pawel page 1

Pawel page 2

Revision squares

  1. Fold A4 paper into 6 squares (or 8 if you have more language points).
  2. In the first box, each person draws a person.
  3. (Optional) In the second box, the next person asks three questions about the person. (This didn’t work very well, as I hadn’t thought it through, and I decided I wanted different people’s drawings on each paper, not the same person every time in our group of three.)
  4. In the second box, the next person answers the questions about the person/writes a basic profile describing them.
  5. Pass the paper on (do this after each stage to get a truly collaborative piece of work). Under the person, draw where they live.
  6. Write about where they live.
  7. Draw two or three hobbies, plus one thing they can’t do.
  8. Write about them.
  9. Draw three things they do every morning.
  10. Guess what…write about them!
  11. Draw their last holiday.
  12. Write about it.

Ola page 1

Ola page 2

As the paper was passed on, I encouraged the students to read what others had written and link their texts if they wanted to. I also corrected texts as part of my turn, because it was obviously a bit easier for me to write! The students asked me questions about what they were writing, and about my corrections. There was also negotiation in English as we tried to work out what other people had drawn. Obviously with only two students, it wasn’t that hard, so you might have to think about how/if you want to correct/join in if you’re using the activity with a bigger group. To round it off, we all read all three stories quickly and decided which person we would like to be friends with and why.

Steven page 1

Steven page 2

In about 30 minutes, these elementary students produced about 100 words of English, and practised:

  • question forms
  • interpreting and replying to basic questions
  • There is/are
  • rooms and furniture
  • like + -ing
  • can/can’t
  • hobbies
  • daily routine
  • past simple
  • holiday vocabulary
  • prepositional phrases of various kinds (time, place, manner)
  • vocabulary they wanted to use, based on their drawings

We had an empty box as we ran out of time, but I think I probably would have done something with future plans, like plans for the next weekend, though I don’t think they’d got to that in their book. Alternatively, drawing their family, their job, their favourite clothes…lots of options!

I’m pretty sure it could be adapted for a wide range of other language. I’d be interested to hear what you decide to do with it.

Over the long May bank holiday weekend I’ve spent a lot of time in the attic of the house I grew up in, finding all kinds of ‘treasures’ and things I’d completely forgotten about. This page was in a notebook which I think I was writing in while I was working in a factory in Germany during the summer of 2003. It shows a list of things I wanted to do at that point in time – I’ve clearly long been into writing lists of goals!

Some of my old possessions: my aims in life when I was in Germany in 2003

Looking back on the list of things that I prioritised as an 18 year old, some things haven’t changed:

  • I still want my (hypothetical) kids to speak more than one language.
  • I would love to find a partner.
  • One day, I’ll add playing an instrument to my daily habits, and I’ll make some form of progress with it.
  • Australia is still a dream destination, though now I think it’s topped by New Zealand, Japan, China, South Korea… looks like I’ll just have to do a tour of East Asia and Down Under 🙂
  • I’d like to be able to ride a horse, though I’m not quite sure my body will be up to it. At some point, I’ll have a go and see what happens!

I’ve achieved three things:

  • I teach 🙂
  • I’ve bought a flat – it has two floors, so it’s almost a house 😉
  • I own a Traveller’s Atlas.

Some things are highly unlikely:

  • See Will & Grace be recorded – although they’re returning for a new series, I’m pretty sure I won’t have enough time or money to make it over there!
  • Go to a Robbie Williams concert – again, money and time make it unlikely, though maybe, just maybe…
  • Have a company in Germany. I love the country, but I didn’t know about the rest of Central Europe back then 🙂 Also not sure I can be bothered with the stress of owning my own company!

I’m part-way there with a couple of them:

  • I finished my degree, but clearly didn’t know that a Masters normally comes before a doctorate 😉 Not sure if I’m enamoured enough of studying to pursue that one through to it’s conclusion, but you never know. I have a tendency to get bored and then agree to things that I occasionally regret when I’m in the middle of them!
  • At one point at the end of my degree, I was C1 level in three languages, French, German and Spanish. Pretty sure that counts as fluent 🙂 And I’ve made a start with quite a few others

And I don’t really remember what these were for:

  • Japanese business: I’m pretty sure I never intended to be part of a Japanese business. Maybe I just wanted to keep learning about some of their management techniques which I’d been introduced to at school?
  • Psychology: I’m guessing that’s something else I wanted to find out more about. I should probably rekindle that interest, especially following Sarah Mercer’s IATEFL 2017 plenary.

So there you have it: proof that dreams don’t just come true, they evolve and develop 🙂 What do you think your 18-year-old self dreamt of that you’ve achieved now? And what is still a work in progress?

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