Distance Delta: one down, three to go

This is the second post bringing together some of the ‘wisdom’ I have gathered while studying for my Distance Delta. The first post is here, in which I explained how Delta is structured if you get lost in this post!

One down, three to go

At the beginning of November I taught my first observed lesson. It was based on the first conditional, and did not go particularly well, although I haven’t had my grade yet so may just scrape a pass. Despite that, I learnt a lot from the process.

A second pair of eyes
The cracks are starting to show! (my photo)
  • A second pair of eyes. Whatever you do, however little time you think you have, make sure you go over your lesson plan with somebody else before you teach it. That would have made a real difference to my lesson. I had one overlong stage in my plan. If I’d considered it more, had more time to think about it and, especially, spoken to someone else about it, I would have realised before I was in the middle of the lesson that there was no way that practice would take that long with those students!
  • Context, context, context. It sounds basic, it is basic. I thought I had it. But it wasn’t solid, and I didn’t communicate it to my students. Make sure you get your context across in more than way, for example orally and with an image. Again, mine wasn’t solid enough.

Don’t feel sorry for me though! It was a definite learning curve, and I won’t make those mistakes again, I hope, which is the point of the whole process.

Experimental Practice and Professional Development Assignment

Two tips, now that I’ve had my experimental practice feedback. Both of them apply to the PDA in general too:

  • Be SMART. Make sure all of your aims are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed. Wikipedia has a good explanation of what this means in real terms. Mine were a bit wishy-washy at the end of my experimental practice.
  • Data. Include scanned examples of the data you have collected in it’s original form. You don’t need to have all of it, a sample is enough. For example, if you have collected student questionnaires, scan a couple of representative ones and put them in your appendix.

Module One exam preparation

  • Quizlet. If you’ve never used it, start now! It’s one of my favourite websites. I’ve written a guide for students here. I collected all of the Delta-related sets I can find and put them into one group. Many terms appear multiple times, but that means you can choose which exact definition you want to use.
  • Start learning phonemic symbols now! Throughout the Delta you will come across phonemic symbols again and again. In one part of the exam, you have to include examples of phonemic script or you will lose marks. To make this process easier, I’d recommend making yourself familiar with phonemes as early as you can. I find the English File pictures useful to help you remember which sounds go with each symbol. To help you learn how the sounds relate to one another, Adrian Underhill’s pronunciation chart is very useful. Here he is explaining how it works. Cambridge also have a set of resources to help you familiarise yourself with phonetics.
Learning the phonemic chart
Cookie’s started learning already (Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @senicko, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license)


For my LSA 1 (first observed lesson) I read The English Verb by Michael Lewis. For me, this was an interesting alternative way of looking at  English grammar. It seemed to make a lot of sense, and helped me to understand why some seemingly illogical parts of the tense system actually make perfect sense.

I have started to work my way through Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill. He explains clearly how the sounds of English are made, and how he put together his chart. I haven’t got to the practical teaching ideas yet, but judging by his blog, I imagine they will indeed be very practical.

For my second observed lesson I have read a lot about listening. I’m planning to write a fuller blog post about it, as this reading has changed my ideas a lot, but so far the books I would recommend are Listening by Tony Lynch and Anne Anderson and Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field.

Don’t forget to use the articles in the reading section of the Distance Delta website if you are studying that way. Quite a few of them are available as pdfs and they are a good way to get a few further reading ideas too.

If you can manage it, start your Module 3 reading as soon as possible. This will help you to fend off the situation I had a couple of weekends ago, when I felt really stressed because I hadn’t done anything for it up to that point. (I’m feeling a lot better about it now)

Generally, read as much as you have time to do, but make sure you start writing at some point! Tefalump has a very funny blog post about the stages of writing an LSA, with advice about reading in stage 2.

And two bonus tips…

  • Don’t forget to use your local tutor. I was trying way too hard to be independent at the beginning of my Delta, and didn’t ask my local tutor anywhere near enough questions. This partly goes back to what I said above about a second pair of eyes too – remember that going over something with someone else can really help to clarify your ideas. Needless to say, since the end of LSA 1, I’ve asked a lot more!
  • Take some time off before you start. Not always possible, and a bit late for me to realise this now, but if you can, have a holiday before the course starts. This should help you to feel fresher and more ready to face the course. I’m flagging a bit now after a busy summer, and can’t wait for the longer Christmas break!
Put your feet up
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @Raquel_EFL, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0

That’s all for now. I’m sure there’ll be more as the course continues!

An improvised monologue

I spent Saturday reading all about listening in preparation for my second LSA (Language Skills Assignment). While working through Penny Ur’s Teaching Listening Comprehension, I came across a few ideas which I’d like to try out. From both that and Listening (Anderson/Lynch), I’ve realised how little ‘natural’ English our learners generally hear. They often hear scripted things from the CD/mp3/films, or ‘teacher’ English from us, but not a lot of false starts, stuttering, repetition, and all of the other features of a normal English conversation. This was my variation on a grid activity suggested by Ur which I did with pre-intermediate students.

  • I introduced a few adventure sports using pictures.
  • Students drew a grid in their books (sorry for it’s a bit of a mess!):
    like                             |                  would like

  • I had a similar grid on my paper, where I had listed a few of the adventure sports:
    like              /                  would like
    √                       skydiving    /climbing
    x                        skiing         /snowboarding
    .                   rollerskating   /
  • I monologued about the sports above, telling the students what I like/don’t like doing and what I would (not) like to try. I made it into a kind of story, mixing up the sports: “When I lived in the Czech Republic, I went skiing, and I really didn’t like it because…” The first time they listened, all the students had to do was count how many sports were in each box.
  • After students had compared in pairs (in true CELTA fashion!), I then monologued again, in a different order, but with roughly similar elements to my story. This time, students had to write down which sports were in each box. We then checked it on the board.
  • Finally, students created their own tables, and did the same two-step process – listening and counting, then listening and writing.
The only place I was happy for my skis to be
The only place I was happy for my skis to be

Did it work?

Mostly, yes. One of the students even said it was much more useful doing listening like this. I ended up doing the monologue four times, as the first time students thought they were counting sports for themselves – they didn’t realise it was about me! Once they got the hang of it though, they seemed to be motivated, and were concentrating hard to try and get the right answers. They also enjoyed the chance to do it themselves afterwards.

It also served as a useful basis for looking at ‘like + ing’ and ‘would like to + infinitive’ which was the main focus of the lesson.

Doing it again

I’d pull out a few more phrases from my own monologue to help students build their own stories. I also needed to make it clearer that it was a listening exercise when I started! Apart from that, I’d follow a very similar procedure again.

(This is one of a series of shared mini reflections on some of the activities I’m trying out during my Delta. The first was here, the second here.)

The loneliness of the long-distance Deltee

Just a quick post.
I knew this would happen. You get a few weeks in and it all gets on top of you. Suddenly you start thinking “What am I doing?” “Why am I bothering?” “Why can’t I go out and enjoy the sunshine like everyone else?”
Today is that day. I know I’ll get through it. I know it’ll all be worth it in the end. But that end is 8 months away, and right now, that feels like a very long time.
So I’m going to take a break, eat some lunch, go for a walk, and come back and try again later.

Picture role plays

I’ve been investigating role plays as part of my Delta reflection. I rarely use them because I never enjoyed them as a language student, but I think some students would respond to them very well.

Today I adapted an activity from Role Play by Gillian Porter Ladousse, called ‘Picture role plays’, with pre-intermediate (A2+) students.

  • I put a few pictures from eltpics around the room. Each picture showed a minimum of two people, and it was relatively easy to imagine that they were having a conversation. First, students walked around in pairs discussing what they could see. To prompt them, I had the question words Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? written on the board.
By the river
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/
  • Each pair chose their favourite picture and took it back to their desk.
  • They chose one person in their picture to write a mini biography of.
  • These were quite short, so I then asked students to read all the biographies and add one question under each.
  • The students then had to ‘inhabit’ the person they wrote a biography of and have a conversation with the other person in their photo.
  • Finally, they wrote out the conversation.
In the rain
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @inglishteacher, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Shaun Wilden brought picture role plays to my attention during his seminar at the recent IH Online Conference. You can watch his session here and read the original description of the activity here.

Did it work?

Yes and no. The quieter students were very creative in the biography, and added lots of extra details. My favourite was ‘My grandmother loves playing chess and is the world champion.’ However, when it came to the roleplay, the conversation was quite stilted. They did ‘inhabit’ the role a little, but for the quieter students this was very difficult. The more confident students really seemed to enjoy it, and were arguing quite a lot about the correct language to use.

We had been practising indirect questions during the week, and one or two of the quieter students got them into their conversations. However, I didn’t have a particularly clear aim for the activity. It was very much a ‘Friday afternoon’ activity.

Doing it again

With role plays, you definitely need some kind of clear aim. Why do the students need to imagine the conversations between the people in the photos?

Most of the language work I did with the students was in their pairs. It would be useful to work more with the language and build on it further.

We didn’t have time to repeat the role play, and this is definitely something the students would benefit from.

Do you have any other advice?

(This is one of a series of shared mini reflections on some of the activities I’m trying out during my Delta. The first was here.)

Ana Inés Salvi on her IATEFL research (guest post)

Like Sandy, I was very lucky to be awarded with the IATEFL – International House John Haycraft Classroom Exploration Scholarship, which gave me the opportunity to disseminate a successful story, and meet and share experiences and ideas with other practitioners.

My research was on learner autonomy and exploratory practice which is a kind of practitioner/ teacher research which involves learners in researching their own learning. This research was motivated by an interest in engaging learners in the classroom. I realised that by giving them more control over their learning process they became more involved and interested in learning. Also, suggesting working with their own interests and issues led to a deeper engagement with their learning experience.

I conducted this research in two different contexts: a summer school with teenagers and a pre-sessional course with postgraduate students at university.

If anyone is interested in watching my presentation, it is now available in the Teacher-Research section of the IATEFL Research SIG website at http://resig.weebly.com/teacher-research.html

Ana Inés Salvi

Note: Ana sent me this a few months ago, but unfortunately I managed to save it as a draft, rather than publishing it. Sorry! If you want to read about my IATEFL experience, click here.

An extension on a dictogloss

I used this activity with pre-intermediate learners, but you could adapt it for pretty much any level.

The dictogloss

Choose a short text, maximum 100 words, suitable for the level of your students. Our text was:

Hi Marek,

Italy are playing Germany in the World Cup tonight. If you’re free, we could watch it together. It’s on Sky Sports. I haven’t got satellite TV, but we could watch the match in The Castle. It starts at 8.00. What do you think?


Taken from ‘English Result Pre-Intermediate Student’s Book page 34

We had been practising phrases for making invitations the day before, so the learners were already familiar with the concept, but we hadn’t looked at a written invitation.

Read the text to your students at normal speed. Before you do this, tell them they need to write down key words  – don’t try to write every word! These will probably be nouns and verbs. They compare their key words to a partner. If they don’t have much at all, read it one more time, but no more.

Learners now work in pairs or small groups to construct a text which is a complete piece of logical English. You can decide how similar you want them to make it to the original text. My students don’t focus on accuracy, and aren’t very good at ‘stealing’ good English from other places to use in their own texts, so I wanted them to produce a text which was as similar as possible to the original. This prompts learners to discuss/consider language a lot more than is usual in class, and they are generally very engaged.

(I gave my students the first line ‘Hi Marek’ and the last ‘Niko’ so that they weren’t too confused about the names.)

Finally, ask them to compare their text to the original and note any differences. At this point students will often ask questions about why a particular form is used in the original – be prepared to answer these questions.

The extension

Now that learners have had time to thoroughly process the text, ask them to turn over all of their paper. They then work together to reconstruct the complete text on the board as a class (or in fairly large groups if you have a big class – 5-6 students).

Students compare their text with the original again. Ask them about any differences. For example, my students put ‘It’s starts’ not ‘It starts’ and ‘watch in The Castle’ instead of ‘watch the match in The Castle’. By asking them to explain why the original was different, they noticed the difference.

Clean the board, and repeat. The second time they worked together, my students produced the text almost perfectly, with only one capital letter and one article missing.

I tried it a third time, but here it went downhill, with quite a few more mistakes – it’s up to you how many times you do it!

The extension on the extension

To finish off the process I asked my students to write an invitation to another student in the class, using some of the phrases from the example. I suggested they try to remember the phrases first, then compare their invitation to the original. One student wrote something completely different  which didn’t make a lot of sense (there’s always one!) but most of them produced very well-written invitations. Completely by chance, each of my 6 students wrote to a different other student, so they then had a written ‘messaging’ conversation to arrange their meeting or offer excuses if they had refused.

At the end of the lesson, I asked how easy it was to write their own invitation, and pointed out to the students that this process of remember/write/check is something they could do at home. They were engaged throughout the lesson, and really annoyed with themselves when they made mistakes the second time they wrote on the board.

My Words – the new IH app

At the IH Online Conference 3 this morning a brand new app was launched. I’ve downloaded it, and have already started recommending it to my students.

It’s called ‘My Words’ and allows students to create their own personalised dictionaries in any of about 20 languages. For each word students can add the following:

  • translations in one or two languages;
  • a definition/example sentence;
  • a category (self-defined, so it could be e.g. furniture/food or week one/two or…);
  • the part of speech;
  • the pronunciation, recorded from anywhere, for example their teacher or an online dictionary, or even a film;
  • a photo, taken themselves.
IH My Words app screenshots
Taken from http://ihworld.com/mywords

Later, they can search for the words in a variety of ways, including by definition. This means that if they remember the definition but not the word, they can still find the word.

To delete a word, you need to click ‘list’ at the bottom, then swipe the word and a ‘delete’ button will appear.

The only drawback at the moment is that there is no way to rate the words so that only the most important words for you appear in the app. IH are looking for feedback on the app, so why not download it and let Sophie know what you think? sophie.montagne@ihworld.com

As soon as I restart my Chinese studies, I’ll be using it in earnest!