Receptive Skills

Following a session on Receptive Skills, we had to teach from either a reading or listening section of a coursebook and consider a variety of questions. This was the result:

Class: Level 7, Pre-Advanced (A7ucA)

Coursebook: New English File Advanced, SB p22-23, Exercises 4a-f (listening)

Topic: Childhood memories

Analysis of the exercises

  • Is the text authentic or graded?
    There are three texts. The first consists of five different people speaking about their earliest memories. The second and third are both taken from the same interview discussing scientific research into memory. None of the texts are graded, which is only to be expected at this level, as students should be able to understand the majority of utterances.
  • What is the purpose of the listening?
    The listening is part of an overall unit about childhood memories. Students use it as a prompt for speaking about their own memories, which should use be discussed using ‘used to’, ‘would’ and narrative tenses, the grammar focus for the unit.
  • Is the text being used for skills or language practice?
    The text is mainly being used for skills practice (discussed below), although it also re-exposes students to the narrative tenses studied during the previous lesson.
  • What are the sub-skills that are being practised?
    Ex a: Identify inferences of meaning conveyed through both intonation and choice of lexis.
    Ex b: Intensive listening.
    Ex c-d: Prediction.
    Ex e: Note-taking, intensive listening.
    Ex f:  Responding appropriately to a text.

Lesson plan and notes [ ]

  • Talk about the pictures on the page. [activate schemata before listening]
  • SB p22 Ex 4a: Listen to people talking about their earliest memory. Match them to their emotion. [SS could do this with no problems.]
  • Ex 4b: Listen again. How old was each person? What was their memory? Answer the questions using a table drawn in their books (Speaker / Age / Memory) [Two of the memories were difficult for students to pinpoint accurately as they were not aware of the meaning of the following items of lexis: ‘to be a penny short’, ‘to pine’. We discussed them and listened again, after which students had no more problems understanding.]
  • Ex 4c: Discuss the questions with your partner. [Served to activate schemata in preparation for the listening.]
  • Ex 4d: Listen and check your answers. Was there anything surprising? [SS confirmed their predictions, thereby becoming engaged with the text.]
  • Ex 4e: Write down the key words for the memory. [SS only wanted to listen once, although the book recommended doing so twice. This is a more life-like situation, as it would be unusual to hear exactly the same piece of text more than once.]
  • Retell the story. [SS were motivated and engaged. They rebuilt the text by activating a range of grammatical and lexical knowledge.]
  • Listen and check. [SS discovered how accurate their rebuilt text was. Most of the new versions were quite different from the original, helping students to understand the benefit of being able to listen to a text more than once when in class.]
  • Ex 4f: Do you have any early memories about any of these things? [Using the listening texts for inspiration, students had a long and spirited discussion about their early memories.]


The variety of activities and sub-skills practised meant that students were engaged with the listening throughout the lesson.

Technology / Homework

My first steps towards becoming a technologically active teacher are well on the way.

I’ve already posted about Edmodo, which is now being used by all of my groups, with greater or lesser rates of interest, depending largely on whether my students fall into the category of digital immigrants or digital natives. So far, what students have responded to most have been links to youtube videos related to whatever we’ve been doing in class. For example, after listening to a man talk about genealogy in New English File Advanced, my level 7 Pre-Advanced students watched clips from ‘Who do you think you are?’, a BBC programme which looks into the family history of celebrities from all walks of life. Each person watched the first 10 minutes of the programme at home, then chatted to their classmates about how the subject of the programme felt, what they wanted to find out and what they had discovered during the first section. For the first time in the history of my teaching, I had a 100% homework hit rate! Students were motivated, interested and really enjoyed watching a real programme. The students were really surprised when the subsequent homework from the workbook was about the same programme – it helped them to see the link between their studies and real life.

Another tool which I’ve become slightly obsessed with is voicethread. It’s a collaborative tool for videos and presentations, which users can add text, video or audio comments to as they please. My first attempt was a tongue twisters presentation, which I encouraged fellow teachers in the staffroom to record, followed by a few of my students. Feel free to add you own versions of them!

The only downside is that you can only create three voicethreads on the free accounts. I loved it so much that I actually paid for a class membership – something which I almost never do! Watch out for more of my voicethreads in future posts.

I’ve also gone back to basics in a lot of my classes. With only my poor little laptop, a dodgy internet connection and a whole class (admittedly of only up to 15 students!) to show things to, and without any projector to help me, Powerpoint is really useful. I’ve used it for simple, quick-to-prepare materials like having a visual backup during class feedback after controlled practice exercises, or as speaking prompts rather than using questions from a coursebook. The most time-consuming, but effective use I’ve found for it at the moment is to liven up my teen lessons, based on the book Success Intermediate, which none of my students seem to be particularly inspired by. Here’s an example of one presentation I made to practise adjective word order using clothes vocabulary.

One more use for Powerpoint, which I tried out in the summer at Ardingly (see ‘The End of Ardingly’ post below), is to revise vocabulary using a hidden picture game. The teacher clicks to gradually reveal a picture and a word, all of which can be used to describe people (Beginner – Pre-Intermediate levels). It’s not my idea originally, but unfortunately I really can’t remember where I got it from.

Although it doesn’t look like much in this version, feel free to download it through slideshare and use it yourself. My young learner groups are particularly enthusiastic about this game. Definitely a stirrer rather than a settler!

The great thing about the Powerpoint presentations with the classes which use Edmodo is that I can then post it there and they can use it again at home, something which my students really seem to appreciate.

So, that’s it for now. I’ll post more about my experiments as I try them out.

CAM Session 1: Thoughts and Action Plan

The first session of the IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology (CAM) was as inspiring and stimulating as I expected it to be. My school, IH Brno, is offering CAM for the first time this year, so I’m studying in a group of 12 teachers as we’re all trying hard to develop professionally as much as possible. I’m by far the least experienced, as I’m only just entering my third professional year of teaching (I taught for a year pre-CELTA in Paraguay too). Everyone else in the group has at least 7 or 8 years! On the plus side, this means I’ve got plenty of other people’s experiences to draw on.

In the session, we looked at the overall structure of the course and at one specific issue from each teacher in the group. We did this through a mingle to gather ideas and get an idea of what each of us was concerned about. I can already see lots of opportunities for my own development, and that was after only one session!

Our homework was to great a personal action plan focussing on the areas we would like to improve in. As part of the course we will be doing research and experimenting with new things in class. The four areas I’m planning to look into are listed below, along with my rationale and the way I plan to follow up on them. I’ve tried to be as exhaustive as possible when listing the sources I’m planning to use. If you have any extra ideas, please put them in the comments.

Don’t forget to come back to the blog to find out how I’m getting on.

Integrating technology into my courses

  • To make my teaching more dynamic.
  • To be more relevant to my students’ 21st-century lifestyles.
  • To provide variety – no everything is based on the coursebook.
  • To provide opportunities for students to study in a personalised way.


Making homework an integral part of my courses

  • To encourage students to study outside class.
  • To expose students to native-speaker culture (British or otherwise).


Presenting and grading writing

  • Focus on Advanced students, especially those preparing for CAE.
  • Motivating students to write, as this is something they are often unwilling to do, even when preparing for an exam.
  • Being consistent and constructive in my marking and comments.


Provide student-driven lessons

  • Increasing motivation by studying what students need / want to study.
  • Empowering students – allowing them to direct the course.


  • Peer observations
  • Follow up on other teachers’ suggestions from CAM Session 1
  • Reading:
    • ‘Learner-based Teaching’ by Colin Campbell and Hanna Kryszewska
    • ‘Learner-Centredness as Language Education’ by Ian Tudor

One month in…

(Originally posted on my googlesites blog, 26 September 2010)

After a month back at IH Brno my timetable has finally settled down, just in time for a public holiday on Tuesday 28th September! I have a range of classes covering:

  • three general English classes (one Intermediate and two Advanced)
  • a teen class
  • a YL class
  • a one-to-one with a near-native 9-year-old
  • an FCE Intensive class (5 x 3 hours per week)
  • a CAE standard class (2 x 90 minutes per week)
  • a one-to-one with a proficient ex-translator and Legal English specialist
  • two other one-to-one adults
  • an ESP financial English class
  • two other company classes (one studying Business English and one General)

So, a little bit of everything really!

And as if all that weren’t enough, I will also be studying for my Certificate in Advanced Methodology (CAM) starting on the 1st October. I will use this space for my course journal, as well as for my aforementioned thoughts on technology in the classroom, which so far has run to creating a space on Edmodo for all of my groups. The FCE Intensive group have really embraced it, replying to questions and posing their own, as well as submitting homework through the site, and generally taking the ‘community’ out of the classroom, and practising their writing skills at the same time! There’s an example of some of their exchanges below. Hopefully this can be repeated with at least some of my other groups!

An example of Edmodo use by my FCE Intensive group
I’ve also done a technology survey with almost all of my groups to find out what they already aware of. In the next month I hope to put the information I’ve gained to use and start encouraging students to make the most of the technology they have at their fingertips.

The end of Ardingly 2010

Ardingly College
Ardingly College

(Originally posted on my googlesites blog, 11 August 2010)

As summer school draws to a close for another year, it’s time to reflect on my experiences this year.

I teach for Kaplan (formerly IH WELS) at Ardingly College in West Sussex, between London and Brighton. It’s my third summer working at the site. The syllabus includes topic and project work, with the topic changing each day, and the project running for a whole week.

I have taught three different levels for both topic and project: Intermediate, Beginner/Elementary and Pre-Intermediate, in that order, each with their own unique challenges, some of which I have detailed below, along with my solutions.

With the Intermediate students my main challenge was keeping them interested in the topic and keeping their language use high, without having too much writing – something which I found difficult to avoid. I tried to overcome the problem by having mixed-nationality groups, as always in my summer school classes, but also by finding stimulating speaking activities to feed into the written work. One example was during the ‘Imaginary Island’ project. I used this idea about Developing a Nation from to encourage students to think about the important elements of a country’s infrastructure. One group spent nearly an hour arguing about whether schools or shopping malls were more important!

The Beginner/Elementary class mainly consisted of 9-11 year olds, with one 15-year-old Arabic student who could produce almost nothing in spoken English, and less in written English. There was also a 9-year-old Libyan at a similar level, 2 Koreans who were very shy, but quite good when prompted, and 6 other students whose L1 used Roman characters, and who could communicate quite a few things. The challenge here, then, was dealing with mixed levels. To promote their written skills and avoid them being left behind by the rest of the class I created sheets with dotted text for the Arabic students to trace – although it took a bit longer at the planning stage, it was definitely something they appreciated. Once I got to know the group, I also tried to group the weaker / shyer students with the most supportive of the other students. These two approaches helped a lot, but I would be grateful for other ideas if anyone has any!

The final challenge in the Pre-Intermediate group has been encouraging a mono-lingual class to communicate in English – we only have Chinese students for the final week. I’m working on project this week, and have decided to create travel brochures about China with the students, since in my experience most summer school students are fiercely patriotic and desperate to tell you everything they possibly can about their country – one of the most interesting aspects of summer school as far as I’m concerned! The project has been very motivating and prompted a lot of heated discussion within the groups, but unfortunately largely in Chinese unless I am standing next to the group at the time. Ideally, I would like to reduce the use of L1, but as SS are on task and talking about the project (at least, as far as I can tell), it’s not something I’m going to lose sleep over. However, if you do have any suggestions, please let me know!

So that’s it – only 24 hours left to go and then I have two weeks to catch up on my sleep and enjoy the peace and quiet before I return to the Czech Republic. See you there!


Update – September 2010

Since I wrote this blog post I have found out that this truly was ‘The End of Ardingly’ as Kaplan won’t be at Ardingly next year, due to the decision to only offer summer schools for 12-18 year olds. They will replace it with a central-London location.

The start of a new academic year…

(A slightly edited version of a post copied from my Googlesites blog, 10 August 2010)

…and my (Academic) New Year’s Resolution is to use more technology in my classroom. In my two years of teaching at a school with only two computers in the staffroom and my laptop as resources, I have only used it to do a couple of webquests, some Powerpoint-based exercises in class and for my own research. I also keep all of my materials on my computer.
So far, I have created a website with Googlesites, signed up to twitter (@sandymillin) and read How to Teach English with Technology by Gavin Dudeney and Nicky Hockly.
I already have some ideas for wikis, GoogleDocs and digital cameras. Watch this space to find out how it all goes!