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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

Bonus task: Self-talk and teacher confidence (ELT Playbook 1)

Here’s a bonus task to complement the ‘Teacher Health and Wellbeing’ section of ELT Playbook 1, a book I self-published this year which is designed to help early career teachers reflect on their teaching. Download the task as a pdf (Self-talk and teacher confidence), or read on…

Teacher health and wellbeing
Self-talk and teacher confidence

Task: 25 minutes
Reflection: 25 minutes

Make a list of things which you say to yourself about your teaching, for example ‘I can’t control this class’ or ‘That board race went really well’.

Categorise them into positive, negative and neutral.

  • ŸWhy do you think you say these things to yourself?
  • Would you say them to a friend?
  • Do you think your students or your colleagues would tell you the same things?
  • How often do you say them to yourself?
  • For those on the ‘positive’ list, how did you arrive at this point? How could other teachers do the same?
  • For those on the ‘negative’ list, what do you think are the roots of these issues? What effect do they have on your confidence? How can you diminish their effects?
  • What effect does your confidence have on your teaching?

Via your blog, share one of the positive things that you say to yourself. Describe how other teachers can reach the point where they can say this to themselves too. Use the #ELTplaybook hashtag on Twitter or facebook.

Record yourself talking about the effects of confidence on teaching. Refer to your own experience if you want to.

Draw a picture of what’s going on inside your head when you teach now. If you want it to change, draw a second picture of how you’d like it to look.

In your teaching journal, write about the roots of one of the negative things you say to yourself and how you could diminish the effects of it.

ELT Playbook 1 cover, showing title, a pale blue book, and the author's name (Sandy Millin) with a computer mouse coming out of the 'y'

If you want to continue reflecting on your teaching, why not get your own copy of ELT Playbook 1 from Amazon (ebook or paperback) or Smashwords (ebook)? [affiliate links] You can also find out more by looking at the ELT Playbook blog, where you can see examples of badges you can earn, as well as a sample task from the book.

Doctor Classroom

It’s been a long day. At least, long by the standards of my current job. I got to work at 10, and didn’t really stop until 9, even planning two lessons while I was eating at the local shopping centre this evening, because I know I won’t have time tomorrow. It’s the busiest time of year, with a new batch of teachers, timetables still in flux, lots of placement testing, one-to-one students waiting for timetables, constant questions, and the inevitable teething problems that go along with all that. Freshers’ flu is very much in evidence, with quite a few of the teachers suffering from all the new bugs we’ve been exposed to, and I’ve been hovering on the edge of a cold all week.

But despite all that, I feel great 🙂 I covered a late lesson this evening, hence the long day, and I feel like I spent the majority of it giggling. It’s a great group, who gel brilliantly and are very supportive of each other. They’re open to correction, and because they’re advanced, it’s possible to have some in-depth conversations about language with them. They regularly made me laugh, and I forgot about the cares of the rest of the day. The injection of teaching was just what I needed 🙂

Coursebook review questions

Following my recent post about coursebooks, Ian Parr asked on Twitter if a site existed for teachers to write reviews of coursebooks. As far as I know, there isn’t one, but I think it would be great idea, as at the moment I think the only way I know about which coursebooks to use are from publishers’ reps and word of mouth. I don’t think I’ll be setting such a site up any time soon, but if I did, these are the questions I would like people to answer about the coursebook they are using and the context they’re using it in:

  • Which book and edition are you reviewing?
  • Which country are you in?
  • Is the group monolingual or multilingual? Which languages do they speak other than English?
  • Do your students have any literacy challenges in English or their other languages?
  • Is the book localised as far as you are aware, or is it an international edition?
  • What age(s) are you teaching?
  • Are your classes organised by level, age or some other criterion?
  • Approximately how many students are you working with in an average group with this book?
  • What kind of facilities do you have? For example are you using a whiteboard/blackboard/projector/IWB…?
  • How much teaching experience do you have a) in general; b) in this context; c) with this level/age group; d) with this book/series?
  • To the best of your knowledge, how much learning experience do your students have a) in general; b) in this context?; c) with this series? For example, how many years have they been learning English in a private language school?
  • How many lessons do your students have and how often? What percentage of the course do they use the coursebook for? How easy has it been to select material from the coursebook for your students? What has helped/hindered you to make these decisions?
  • How long is your average lesson? Do you feel having the coursebook helped reduce your planning time?
  • Who chose your coursebook? Were you involved in the decision? If yes, in what capacity? For example, did you teach test lessons?
  • What is the balance of skills and language in the book? Is there enough of both?
  • What kind of topics are included in the bokk? Are there any which your students found particularly engaging or boring?
  • Are the reading/listening texts at the right level of challenge?
  • Are speaking/writing tasks engaging and communicative?
  • Is new language introduced and practiced in context? Is the meaning clear? Are there enough examples of practice activities? How much support do your students need to understand beyond the help the get from the book?
  • How easy is it to adapt the coursebook to the needs of different students in your group? For example, are there extra activities you can give to students who need more help?
  • Is it easy to navigate the book? For example, how clearly labelled are references to grammar explanations in other places?
  • Does the audio use a range of voice types (gender, age, accent, nationality, etc)? Is there a range of text types? How closely do the extracts reflect authentic use of English?
  • Are images included to support the students? Or are they just used as decoration? How clear is the layout? for example, is there text on top of images anywhere?
  • Which extra components have you used? For example resource pack, workbook, CDs, tests? Did you feel they really suppemented the course or were they unnecessary?
  • If you used the teacher’s book, do you feel it helped?
  • Overall, what are the most challenging things you have found when using this coursebook? What are the most positive aspects of it?
  • Would you use this book again with the same group of students? What other contexts do you think it might work or not work in?

I know there are a lot of questions here and I would be surprised if anybody answered them all  but you never know. What would you add to the list?

Coursebooks

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

Time out

A couple of hours of playing Chinese chequers (my set is almost exactly the same as this one!), chatting, and eating take-away pierogi – the perfect ending to the week.

What did you do to take time out this week?

Hampton Court Palace clock (24 hours on one face)

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