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A no-prep workshop*

*or at least, very very low prep!
Thursday night: nobody had suggested any queries or problems for our one-to-one troubleshooting session tomorrow. What should we do instead? There wasn’t really time for me to prep anything else, and Ididn’t know what to pick anyway. Cue a quick email:

Please think about 2 things you’re proud of in your lessons (group or 121), and 2 questions you most want answered. We’ll use that as the basis for the session tomorrow.

At the start of the 60-minute session I spread out a pile of A4 scrap paper on the floor. Everybody took a piece, folded it in half, and wrote two questions they had, one on each half. They put them on the floor for later.
They then took another piece, folded it again, and wrote the two things they were proud of. This took a lot longer, and I had to point out that ‘proud of’ doesn’t have to mean finished or perfect, just something you’ve worked at and know you’ve improved. We got there in the end! It reminded me of Sarah Mercer’s IATEFL plenary, when she told us to spot our strengths, the inspiration for the strength spotting task in the Teacher Health and Wellbeing section of ELT Playbook 1.
Everybody mingled, chatting to everybody else, holding up their strengths in front of them, including me. We talked about why we chose them, what we’d done to work on them, and asked each other questions. That took about 10-15 minutes.
I asked for a show of hands to see if any of the strengths matched any of the questions. Only 3 or 4 of the 20 teachers put their hands up, so I changed my mind about the next step.
Instead of pairing people off, I ended up putting them in groups of 4 or 5. They had about 15-20 minutes. This time they all read out their questions in their group, then chose which ones to discuss and offer answers to in a free discussion.
Meanwhile, I took photos of all of their questions and wrote them into a single list. It was an excellent indication of the range of concerns that our teachers have, from classroom management and better pacing to more effective listening lessons and challenging students more. This is a great starting point for deciding the topics of our upcoming workshops.
At the end I asked for another show of hands: who’s learnt something today that will help them with their teaching? Every hand went up.
The feedback was very positive. Teachers said they particularly enjoyed the small group work and the freestyle nature of the session. It worked well at this point in the year as everyone is settled and feels comfortable as a group. Definitely a format I’ll use again!

Not bad for one quick email 🙂

A mini action plan for 2019-2020

Here are three things I’d like to work on in my teaching this year:

  • Systematic revision/recycling of language.
  • Include more reading, perhaps through a book chart.
  • Use notebooks systematically with my students.

If everything goes to plan, I’ll be teaching a low-level teen class. I only have three hours a week with them and we use a coursebook (that won’t be changing), but I think all three of those things are doable without a lot of extra time needed.

What are you working on in your teaching? And how would you suggest I do those things?

Reducing my environmental impact

Here’s a list of some of the things I do to try to reduce my impact on the environment. They’re not particularly earth-shattering, and I’m very aware that I fly far too much, but maybe if we all did lots of little things, it could make some kind of difference. I also realise that I’m privileged to be able to make some of these choices and that not everyone can do this.

  • Recycle as much as I can.
  • Write on scrap paper.
  • Reuse envelopes.
  • Don’t use straws.
  • Drink water.
  • Use just enough water when cooking or boiling the kettle.
  • Use charcoal in a glass jug to filter my water, rather than plastic water filters.
  • Use clothes and washable sponges instead of disposable plastic-based sponges and kitchen roll.
  • Use toothpaste tablets/DentTabs instead of toothpaste.
  • Use shampoo bars instead of bottled shampoo.
  • Use soap bars instead of soap from a dispenser.
  • Dry my hands on my clothes instead of using paper towels or a hand dryer.
  • Write with pencils instead of pens.
  • Save pens to be recycled.
  • Switch off lights when I leave a room.
  • Switch off my phone at night.
  • Never leave things on standby.
  • Switch off my computer completely.
  • Take my own bags shopping, including for fruit and veg.
  • Choose products in paper metal or glass instead of plastic if I can.
  • Almost never order takeaways.
  • Make my own bread and cakes instead of buying ones wrapped in plastic.
  • Keep my electronic devices for as long as they are usable, rather than replacing them every couple of years.
  • Only charge my devices when the battery has run down, and unplug themonce they’ve charged.
  • Walk or use public transport – I’ve never wanted to learn to drive, partly for environmental reasons.
  • Have reusable water bottles.
  • Eat almost no meat at home.
  • Reduce the amount of dairy I eat.
  • Choose the most local fruit or veg.
  • Eat what’s in season.
  • Buy only as much food as I need and eat all of it before it goes off or freeze it if I think I won’t be able to.
  • Use my own lunchboxes to take away leftover food from restaurants.
  • Only buy clothes and shoes when I really need them.
  • Buy clothes from charity shops or secondhand instead of new.
  • Use Bookcrossing.com to pass on books I’m unlikely to ever read again.
  • Use a solar-powered lamp in my bedroom.
  • Use a solar-powered fan.
  • Use rechargeable batteries.
  • Put extra clothes on or use extra blankets before I choose to turn up the heating.

What haven’t I thought of? What else do you do?

Sorting the attic

I’m currently trying to sort through piles of paper which I’ve built up in my mum’s attic over the past 15 years. As you can imagine, it’s something of a journey of discovery. Here are some notes I found from a presentation on FCE speaking activities I attended 10 or so years ago. It looks like a fun activity, but I can’t find any notes which explain how to set it up or run it. What would you do with it?

P.S. I’m not sure my art skills have improved much since then!

Adding choice and reflection to teen classes (guest post)

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

ELT Playbook Teacher Training now available!

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover

ELT Playbook Teacher Training launches today! It contains a selection of 30 tasks to help trainers to reflect on what they do, centred particularly on areas that seem to cause the most problems for those new to teacher training. These include transitioning from teaching to training, planning training, giving spoken and written feedback after observations, and running workshops and input sessions.

It’s now available as a paperback through the BEBC website and can be shipped all over the world. If you’re at IATEFL Liverpool 2019, you can get 25% off at the BEBC stand (stand 17) in the exhibition. You can also find information about lots of other independent authors and publishers at stand 2.

As with ELT Playbook 1, you can share the results of your reflections using the #ELTplaybook hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, or in the ELT Playbook facebook group. Once you have completed all five tasks in any section, or all 30 tasks in the book, you can claim badges to display on your social media profiles or CV.

ELT Playbook Teacher Training all badges previewHere’s a sample task and the full list of all of the tasks in the book to whet your appetite. Looking forward to seeing people’s responses to the tasks!

Christmas homework for teachers (guest post)

Following on from Katie Lindley’s Christmas homework for students last year, Charlotte Giller was inspired to create some relaxing Christmas homework for teachers to do. 

If you are a teacher who finds it hard to even occasionally put yourself first, you might like to consider that our well-being impacts directly on our learners’ achievements. As Sarah Mercer observed in her insightful webinar for the IH Wellbeing season earlier this year, happy teachers make for happy and successful learners. So take time these holidays to rest, relax and recharge and use the plan below to help you timetable this. If you struggle to do it for yourself, then you can do it for your students 🙂

Christmas homework for teachers 2018 (by Charlotte Giller)

Charlotte GillerCharlotte Giller is an English teacher and trainer based in Valencia, Spain.

Reference: “Language Teacher Psychology” Ed. Mercer, S. and Kostoulas, A (2018) Multilingual Matters

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