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

Archive for the ‘Materials, Activities and Ideas’ Category

Introducing ELT Playbook 1

Since April 3rd last year, I’ve been working on this, and it’s now finally ready to share with the world:ELT Playbook 1 cover

ELT Playbook 1 contains a selection of 30 tasks to help teachers to reflect on what they do, centred particularly on the areas that seem to cause most problems for those new to our profession. It is based on my work as a CELTA trainer and as a manager of newly qualified teachers. There is also an associated online community where participants can choose to share their reflections and learn from others using the book, taking the first steps to building up an online support network.

Where can I buy it?

ELT Playbook 1 is currently available through the following retailers:

  • Smashwords (available in .epub, .pdf, .txt and more)
  • Amazon.com [coming in the next couple of days after I post this, as soon as the powers that be have approved it!]

All links above are affiliate links, meaning I get a few extra pennies if you buy them via this site.

It costs approximately 6.99 USD, 5 GBP or 5.50 EUR.

If you’d like a taster, here’s the contents page and first task, or you can see a blogged version of the first task on the shiny new ELT Playbook blog. You can also download samples via both Smashwords and Amazon before forking out your hard-earned cash.

Who is this series for?

  • Those who want to develop as a teacher, but who would like some support to learn how to do this, along with clear tasks to work through.
  • Teacher trainers or managers who would like ideas for professional development programmes (though please do credit the source).

And this book?

  • Teachers fresh off their initial training who would like to build on what they’ve learnt.
  • Those who have not yet completed an initial training course and would like something to start them off.
  • Teachers a few years after their initial training who feel they would like to go back to basics.
  • Those who would like to develop in a systematic way but are on a limited budget or working in an environment without available support.

Series aims

  • To provide a series of tasks you can work through to improve your teaching.
  • To help you to build a professional portfolio that can be used to show your development when applying for jobs.
  • To provide guidance in how to reflect on your teaching.

Why ELT Playbook?

According to the Macmillan Dictionary online (accessed 17th August 2017), a playbook is ‘any set of strategies to achieve a goal.’ I believe it is just such a set of techniques and strategies that teachers need to develop both inside and outside the classroom to describe themselves as truly professional. This is reflected in the fact that the term ‘playbook’ has moved from the sportsfield to the boardroom over the last few years.

It is also important to emphasise the ‘play’ part of ‘playbook’. We already have plenty of work to do, so it’s important that any professional development we do complements our work in an enjoyable and stimulating way, rather than adding unnecessary extra stress. None of the tasks should take you longer than 2 hours, and many of them should be achievable in under an hour. They are designed to fit in relatively easily around a busy career and the demands of home life.

How do I use ELT Playbook 1?

You can do the tasks in any order: you could start with something you feel you particularly need to work on, you could complete a whole category, or you might prefer to work through the book from beginning to end. If you do one task a week, you should have enough for an average academic year, with a couple of weeks left over to help you when you are particularly busy at work or home. You can also repeat tasks as many times as you like, perhaps reflecting on them in different ways, or seeing how your responses change over time or with different groups.

That means that just this one single volume could provide you with years of professional development, if you so choose! Having said that, if ELT Playbook 1 is successful, I hope to develop a series of similar playbooks for other areas of ELT, and I would very much welcome feedback on which areas you would find it most useful to focus on.

I hope you enjoy using the book.

Thanks

Big thanks to everyone who’s been involved in getting this ready, though they might not realise they helped me!

  • Penny Hands, for editing it and supporting me through the process of finalising everything.
  • Adi Rajan, for inspiring the name.
  • Ola Walczykowska, for designing the cover and the logo.
  • Lindsay Clandfield, for letting me know about the existence of The Noun Project.
  • Karen White, for teaching me how to deal with icons in ebooks.
  • Mum, always.
  • Everyone who’s listened to me talking about it over the last few months.

It’s taken longer than expected to get here, but hopefully it’ll all be worth it! Enjoy 🙂

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Why should they care?

In lessons I have observed, it is often a little step that is missing that could make a real difference to the students’ engagement in a particular activity. By asking yourself ‘Why should they care?’ at every stage of the planning process, it’s easy to make little tweaks that could help students to get more involved.*

Do you recognise any of these situations?

Speaking

You ask students to discuss a question like this in pairs:

Tell your partner what you did at the weekend.

They each monologue for about 30 seconds, and the whole activity peters out after less than two minutes. Neither student really listened to their partner, and apart from saying a few words in English, they haven’t really got anything out of the activity.

Why should they care?

Here are a few little tweaks that might avoid this situation.

  • Give them a listening task too. These can also be used as questions for feedback after the activity.
    ‘Find something your partner did that you didn’t.’ > Feedback = ask one or two students to say what their partner did and why they didn’t do it.
    ‘Decide whose weekend was more boring.’ > Feedback = put your hand up if you had the most boring weekend.
  • Add challenge.
    Students have 15 seconds to tell their partner what they did – time it strictly. Afterwards they change partners and tell someone else what their partner did. Give them thinking time first to decide/rehearse what to say in that time.
    Students can only say two sentences before their partner speaks. Give an example, and make sure you include questions!
  • Change the interaction pattern.
    Students mingle, speaking to as many others as possible. They have to find one person who did the same three things as them/did none of the things they did/did something they wish they’d done.
    Play Chinese whispers with two teams racing to correctly write down one thing each person in their team did.
  • Give them some functional language you want them to use.
    ‘No, really? Why did you do that?’
    ‘That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.’

If you want more ideas for how to adapt speaking activities, I’ve got a whole e-book of them!

Writing

You ask your students to write a blog post about a place they want to visit. Some of them write a paragraph, others write a whole page.

Why should they care?

  • Get them interested in the topic first.
    Talk about the most popular places a tourist can visit in the students’ countries.
    Get them to decide three things which make a place worth visiting, then compare the list with a partner and narrow it down to three things from their combined lists.
  • Show them what you expect from them.
    Give them a framework, e.g. Paragraph one = a description of the place, including at least three pieces of information about it. Paragraph two = why they want to visit it. Paragraph three = why they haven’t visited it yet/when they plan to visit it. > This can also be used for marking if necessary, giving you an objective way of deciding if they get full marks for content.
    Show a couple of examples from real blogs.
  • Change the interaction pattern.
    Allow students to choose if they want to work alone or in pairs.
    Get students to write a paragraph, then pass it on to the next student/pair who write the next paragraph, then pass it on again for the final paragraph.
  • Give students other choices.
    They could write about a place they don’t want to visit/the last interesting place they visited/the most boring place they’ve ever visited.
    Let them decide on the format: a blog post, a poster, a newspaper article, a comic strip…

Listening

There is a three-minute audio recording about straw bales in the course book your school requires you to use. 30 seconds in, the students are clearly incredibly bored, and starting to fidget.

A straw bale

Image from Pixabay

Why should they care?

  • Use an image.
    Show them the picture above. Give them a minute to imagine this is real – they think about what they can see/hear/smell/touch/taste. Then tell a partner.
    Give them the image in the middle of a piece of paper. They should draw the bigger picture, then compare it to a partner. Do they have similar pictures?
  • Set them a challenge.
    Get them to think of a minimum of five different things they could use a straw bale for, then compare to a partner.
    Somebody has dumped a straw bale in front of the school. It’s too heavy to lift easily. How will they move it?
  • Make sure they have a clear task to do while they’re listening.
    The first time they listen, they could check predictions they’ve made before listening.
    Get students to come up with three questions they want the answers to. They can be as simple as ‘Why am I listening to a text about straw bales?’ 🙂
  • Use the audio in other ways.
    Break it into 30-second chunks. After each chunk, students should tell a partner what they remember. They could also come up with one question they think will be answer in the next section.
    Pause the audio at a particular point and ask the students what they think the next three words are. You can decide on these points before the lesson if you want to focus on particular pieces of language. This can build students’ confidence when listening to English if you choose chunks of language students are already familiar with.

Reading

There’s an article about gender pay gaps in the news, which you think is an important issue and should be discussed with your students. Some students have previously said they would like to read ‘real’ things in class, but in the lesson the students just aren’t interested in the article, and you end up moving on to something else after a few minutes.

Why should they care?

  • Deal with part of the topic first.
    Have pieces of paper around the room, each with the beginning of a statement. Students walk around and write as many sentences using these beginnings as possible in two minutes. Examples might be ‘Women are…’ ‘Men are…’ ‘Women can’t…’ ‘Men can’t…’ ‘It’s important for women to…’ ‘It’s important for men to…’
    Ask students to list five jobs where people get paid a lot of money, and five where they don’t get paid much. They compare lists with other students, then decide whether they think more men or women do those jobs.

Gender pay gap word cloud based on http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-42580194

  • Use a word cloud. Wordart.com allows you put a whole text into their creator.
    Students have five minutes to write as many sentences as they can using the words in the word cloud. These become predictions – they read the text to check what was included.
    They choose one big word, one medium word, and one small word, then predict how these are connected to the story. You could also give them the headline to help.
  • Reflect real life.
    Show students the headline. Ask them if this is something they would read about in their own language. Encourage them to discuss why or why not. If they say they would, ask them to read it. If they wouldn’t, ask them to choose another article from the BBC homepage (give them a time limit). In both cases, get them to tell a partner what they think they’ll still remember about the article tomorrow.
    We often read online articles by skimming them quickly as we scroll down the page. If you have a projector in your classroom, replicate that process. Scroll down relatively slowly, but fast enough that students can’t read everything. When you get to the bottom, minimise the window and ask students to tell their partner what they saw, what they understood, and what (if anything) they’d like to go back and read in more detail.
  • Work with the language.
    Ask students to find phrases which describe companies or replace the name of the company, e.g. ‘major companies’, ‘organisations with 250 or more workers’, ‘the carrier’, ‘the firm’. They discuss why these phrases were selected in each case.
    Get them to list five different sentences with a percentage in them, e.g. ‘Many financial firms feature in the list, including the Co-op Bank – where mean hourly pay is 30.3% lower for women.’ or ‘It said 7% of apprentices last year were men, compared with zero in 2016, while 41% of roles involving helping at children’s tea time were filled by men – compared with 25% in 2016.’ They can analyse the structures these percentages appear in, e.g. ‘X is % lower for Y.’ or ‘% of X were blah blah blah – compared with % in year’

Grammar points

You’ve recently taught students how to use the passive in news articles. In a follow-up piece of writing, there is no evidence of passives at all.

Why should they care?

  • Contextualise.
    Make sure that example sentences you use are all taken from clear contexts, not plucked at random from thin air. Context can really help students to understand new grammar.
    After doing a practice exercise, ask students to choose three sentences. For each sentence they should add a minimum of two sentences before and two after, making a longer paragraph or dialogue. They could leave a space where their chosen sentence appeared for other students to remember what it was.
  • Get them to notice how it’s used outside the classroom.
    Ask students to open an article from English-language news at random. They should underline all of the passive structures they can find. Afterwards, they can compare usage of the passive in different kinds of article – for example, is it used more in articles describing a crime? A sports event? An election?
    Send students on a treasure hunt. Ask them to find one example in the news of each kind of passive you have studied, e.g. present simple passive, past simple passive, present perfect passive. They should find as many as they can and write out the full sentence, all within a specified time, for example 15 minutes.
  • Compare and contrast.
    Give students pairs of sentences in the active and the passive, with each sentence in the pair conveying the same information. Ask them to choose their ‘favourite’ sentence in the pair and say why. For example: ‘The dog ate the cake.’ ‘The cake was eaten by the dog.’ ‘Somebody stole my bag.’ ‘My bag was stolen.’
    Show students a 2-3 sentence paragraph including a passive structure. Ask them to translate it into another language they know. They then use the translation to analyse differences between how the idea of a passive is expressed in their own language(s). For example, emphasis on the object might be conveyed through a change in word order but no change in the verb form.
  • Add it in.
    Give students a short news article in pairs. Ask them to add three passive sentences into the article, wherever they like. They can then compare the results to another group.
    Tell students you expect to see a minimum of two passive structures in the news article you want them to write. Include this in criteria for peer checking before the article is handed in.

Vocabulary

You introduced a range of words connected to clothes in your last lesson, like ‘button’, ‘zip’, ‘sleeve’. During a revision activity at the beginning of this lesson, the students need a lot of prompting and they can’t really remember any of them accurately.

Why should they care?

  • Find out what they know.
    If you’re working on vocabulary from a particular lexical set, do a board race first. In this case, divide students into two teams. They race to write as many clothes words on the board as possible in five minutes. Teams switch and work out the points for their opponents: one point for completely correct, half a point if there is a spelling mistake.
    Show them pictures of clothes – three or four items is enough. Ask them to list as many things they can see in the pictures as possible. Point to various things and ask ‘What’s this?’ to prompt students to notice features like the buttons or sleeves, not just the items of clothing themselves.
  • Help them to notice the gaps in their knowledge.
    Display all of the words you’re planning to teach on the board. Ask students to draw pictures for as many of them as possible, but not to worry if they don’t know any of them – they will by the end of the lesson! To reinforce this, repeat the same activity at the end of the lesson and point out how much they’ve improved.
    Give them the first and last letters of the words, like this ‘b_____’, ‘z__p’, ‘s_____e’. Ask them to complete the words to describe parts of clothes. Again, they shouldn’t worry if they don’t know them.
  • Add extra processing.
    Don’t just ask students to read words from a flashcard, show them the picture and get them to remember the word. For extra challenge, they could then spell it. It’s better to do this chorally or in pairs/groups, rather than putting individual students on the spot, as this may affect their confidence if they can’t do it or increase their fear if they think they might be next.
    Display all of the pictures on the board/floor. Students should write as many of the words as possible in their notebooks, then compare the spellings with the vocabulary list. To add challenge, you could get them to switch notebooks with somebody else for the checking stage.
  • Make it real.
    Ask them to choose a word which is new for them. They should think of one time they would expect to say/write the word, and one time they would expect to read/hear it. For example, they might say ‘button’ if they’ve lost a button, or read it in a craft magazine which tells them how to make a teddy bear.
    They choose three new words they want to remember, and write them into short sentences connected to their lives, e.g. ‘I’ve lost three buttons from my coat.’. As an extension, they could then google the sentences and see if they exist on the internet anywhere.

All of the vocabulary tips can be connected to the idea of ‘hooks’. This is a metaphor I use to describe how you remember new information. The more hooks you hang something on, the more likely it is to stay where you put it. When you think about learning new vocabulary (or grammar for that matter), you need to give the students as many hooks as possible to ‘hang’ the new vocabulary from and keep it in their heads.

Pronunciation

When you ask students to repeat sentences after you as part of a drill, they sound really bored and/or refuse to do it.

Why should they care?

  • Do you care?
    Record yourself doing some pronunciation work. Listen back to it. What do you think your tone of voice and body language conveys to the students? What does your intonation sound like?
    Before you drill anything, imagine somebody is going to ask ‘What was the point of that?’ Do you have a good answer for them?
  • Play.
    Experiment with different tones of voice, speeds, characters (the Queen, Arnold Schwarzenegger…), positions (standing, sitting, superhero poses)…
    A really popular activity at my school is a stickman drill, where students are in teams. Each team gets a stickman, with one or two extra features of their choice, like a hat or an umbrella. Each team repeats the sentence. Whoever the teacher decides did it best can remove part of their opponents’ stickmen. The aim is to have the most complete stickman by the end of the game. [I still haven’t actually tried this, but I’ve seen it used many times!]
  • Add challenge.
    Don’t just ask students to repeat the same sentence again and again. Get them to change parts of it. For example, in the first sentence of this paragraph, you could change the verb (ask), the person (students), the infinitive phrase (to repeat the same sentence) or the time adverbial (again and again). This is known as a substitution drill. Students or the teacher can decide what changes.
    Use key words or images as prompts, so students have to remember the language without having it all in front of them.
  • Add extra support.
    Give students a minute to read and remember the language you’re going to drill, then close their books during the drilling process.
    Break down longer sentences into smaller chunks, then put them back into the full sentence. This is known as backchaining if you do it from the end of the sentence.

*I recognise that a lot of the tweaks I’ve suggested above may more appropriately answer the question ‘What can I do about it?’, but I find the phrasing ‘Why should they care?’ adds a bit more impact when I’m asking my teachers!

Have you tried any of these tweaks? What other little tweaks do you use to encourage students to care more about activities in class?

P.S. This blogpost has been in the back of my mind for a while now, and reading this post about lead ins by CELTA train is what made me actually write it today 🙂

DIY festive homework (guest post)

When I walked past my colleague’s desk at work a few days ago, I noticed a really interesting handout, and asked her if she would be willing to share it with the world. I’m very happy that she agreed 🙂 Over to Katie…

‘Tis the season for teachers to hand out Christmas holiday homework, and if your students are anything like mine, ’tis also the season for students to ignore their Christmas holiday homework until half an hour before their first lesson back in January. So I came up with an idea that will hopefully motivate them to actually do something different every day, without having to personally visit them on Christmas day and force them to talk to me.

The format is simple and can be adapted for any level, but mine was for an advanced class (hence the uninhibited use of the word “regale”). I’ve made a calendar for my students, with a box for every day between our last lesson of the year and the first lesson of next year. Every day they choose a task from the list, and they note down which one they did into the right day. On their return to the class in January, they use the calendar to recall the different things they got up to over the holidays. My hope for this exercise isn’t necessarily to test or challenge my students, so I won’t take in any of their work to be marked. Instead the aim here is to train them to keep working at their English even when I’m not standing over their shoulder.

The list is based on my class and what I know might be interesting to them, but you should edit the list to make it appropriate for your class. I’d especially recommend adding in any online resources that you regularly use with your students, but to keep all the tasks relatively low-effort.

Christmas homework handout

Here’s the list again, for ease of copying and pasting:

  1. read your book for 20 minutes
  2. watch a film in English
  3. write a New Year’s resolution and summarise it in exactly 20 words
  4. go to bbc.com/news and read a news story
  5. put a photo on social media with an English caption
  6. write an email to Katie wishing her a Happy Christmas & tell her what you’ve been doing (your@emailaddress.co.uk)
  7. listen to some music, look up the lyrics and try to sing along (obviously only songs that have English lyrics!)
  8. write a diary entry about something interesting that happened to you
  9. watch something in English on YouTube & tell someone about it
  10. learn a Christmas song in English and sing it to your mum/uncle/pet/neighbour
  11. compose a haiku about Christmas Day
  12. go into a shop and pretend that you don’t speak any [Polish], and ask them to speak English to you
  13. write a Christmas recipe out for Katie to try at home (please make it very clear, and with minimal pickling)
  14. regale your family members by speaking to them in only English for part of the day (even if they’re not sure what you mean)
  15. look at your textbook, sigh, and say “maybe I won’t do anything in English today today” *ONE USE ONLY*

Bio

Katie Lindley

Katie Lindley has been teaching at IH Bydgoszcz since September 2016.  She hasn’t published any books (yet), or spoken at any conferences (yet), but the 9-year-old girls in her kids’ class think she’s brilliant.

I hope you enjoy adapting Katie’s festive homework, and I’m sure you’ll join me in asking her to write more posts in the future!

The shy teacher’s drill

On Monday my intermediate group were looking at modals of obligation, based on a text about how to become a millionaire. We had a set of sentences which I wanted to work with. They went something like this:

  • You have to be very hard-working.
  • You shouldn’t take long holidays.
  • You don’t have to be born rich.
  • You must have a clear idea of what you want to achieve.
  • You should (something I can’t remember…)
  • You mustn’t (something else I can’t remember!)

We checked the meaning by matching the sentences to a set of key words, and then I thought it was important to work on stress patterns. I also wanted them to memorise some correct sentences, as at an earlier stage of the lesson they’d produced things like:

  • You have to very hard-working.
  • You don’t have to born rich.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Told students to listen.
  2. Said all six of the sentences as quickly as possible.
  3. Put students in pairs and told them to practice doing the same.
  4. If they decided they’d finished, I made them do the same thing backwards, starting with the final sentence.
  5. When I thought they were ready, I challenged them to say the sentences as quickly as me. I counted 3, 2, 1 and we all spoke at the same time, with the aim being to finish at the same time as I did.

Students seemed to really enjoy this activity with lots of laughter throughout, especially when they were racing me. They worked hard to correct each other. I didn’t have to do any remedial drilling in this case, as the challenge of speaking as fast as possible meant they produced the correct stress patterns pretty naturally.

And why is it for shy teachers? Because once I’d said the sentences at the beginning, all I had to do was listen until they were ready to race me at the end, at which point I was speaking at the same time as them. That meant I only ‘exposed’ my pronunciation once in front of the class, which I know is something that some teachers are worried about. They got lots of drilling, and I did hardly anything 🙂 Win-win!

What other drills can you think of which do the same job?

A tree in the Bornean jungle, complete with a ladder to climb it

The picture I was trying to upload on Monday when I first wrote this post, at which point the WordPress app decided to crash. There was a link in my head the first time, but now I can’t remember what it was! It’s a tree in Borneo with a viewing platform at the top…you can hide there from other people if you’re shy (?) Other guesses are welcome!

A story wot I wrote

A couple of days ago I came across a notebook I used to practise my handwriting when I was about 7 or 8. One double-page contains the beginnings of a short story, and disappointingly I didn’t finish it. In the tradition of good stories, the beginning raises more questions than it answers 😉

——

Jim Bolley was a boy of 8. He had curly red hair and liked walking and jogging.

Jim was walking home from school one day, when he spotted a flight of stairs. He climbed up the stairs. When he got to the top he came to a door which had a keyring with four keys on. He held the one that had been in the door.

As Jim opened the door, he saw three doors behind it. Jim tryed all the keys and then the door opened. He looked down and saw a cloak, a pair of boots, and a hat. So he put them on.

Then Jim tryed two of the keys in the next door, but it would’nt open.

‘If I’ve tried the other two keys, then the door must need all three.’ thought Jim.

So Jim used all three and the door opened. Behind that door was a ring, a pen and an inkwell full of ink.

He moved on to the last door and used all three keys. The lock clicked and he opened the door. Behind the door was a desk, a car and a watch.

Jim got the things out of the cupboards and put them at the top of the stairs. Jim opened the desk to put the pen and inkwell into it. As soon as they touched the desk, they turned into a manuel which said on the front:-

How to use the objects By Myst.Rey

On the first page it said:

Invisibility cloak     2

Silence boots           3

Flying hat                 4

Magic ring               5

Pen and inkwell     7

Size desk                 8

Car                           9

Watch                      10

——

I’d love to know what I was reading to prompt 8-year-old me to write this story. This was in the early 1990s, so well before Harry Potter, who is probably the owner of the most famous invisibility cloak now. I definitely remember having a joke book with puns like the one on the cover of the manual – there’s were probably a little more skilled though!

I also find it interesting that I spelt ‘tried’ incorrectly twice, then correctly the third time, but didn’t go back and correct myself. I also had trouble with ‘manual’, and there’s a lot of repetition in there. I’d got rid of some of it at the beginning of the story, but doors and keys feature frequently. There’s also a bit of punctuation which I don’t think I’ve seen for years:-

A picture of my notebook

And the story leaves lots of questions unanswered:

Where are the stairs? Just out in the room? Or was Jim walking down a long corridor to get home? For some reason I’m picturing the doors and the lock in a castle – some kind of big heavy key ring with old iron keys, but then, how on earth did he not notice it before?!

How did the car get into the third room? Why a pen and an inkwell, not just a pen? Why on earth did I decide that he needed a manual? Who wrote it?

Finally, why does the magic ring need two pages of the manual, but everything else just gets one?

Maybe you or your students have the answers 🙂

The Proficiency Plateau (guest post)

At the beginning of my career, I was lucky enough to work with a whole range of dedicated teachers at International House Brno. One of them was Lily-Anne Young, who at that point had been teaching the same proficiency-level group for a couple of years. She worked with the same group for many years, and is therefore always the person I go to when I need help with teaching very high-level students. She has now agreed to write some guest posts for me, which I hope you will find useful. Over to Lily-Anne:

What do you do with students who already have, or don’t need, CAE/CPE but want to keep working on their English? The non-native speaker teachers, translators, business & tech people and many others? The ones who have hit the proficiency plateau?

Having taught a C2 class for 10 consecutive years, with many returning students, this is an area I have dealt with, struggled with and love. It’s demanding, challenging and potentially soul destroying, yet I, and some other people, thrive on this.

Expectations are incredibly high. It’s up to us and the learners to meet those expectations. To do this, it has to be a mutual experience: negotiated content, constant communication, reciprocal feedback, respect and the teacher as a facilitator.

In this introductory post I’m going to share some of the observations I have made over time and consider the implications for both teachers and learners.  In future posts I will share some activities which have proved successful with my students, and make further salient observations.

Who are these amazing people?

O’Maley (Advanced Learners, OUP) [affiliate link] points out that learners at this level are usually:

  • Highly educated
  • Teachers, educators, translators, academics
  • Middle or senior management

Based on my own students, past and present, they:

  • may be suffering from the Proficiency Plateau;
  • are highly motivated;
  • but may be wondering just how they can, usefully, improve their skills;
  • cannot be pigeonholed (as if we would ever consider such a thing);
  • love to challenge the teacher and to show off a bit;
  • all have different areas of language expertise, obsessions and gaps.

The Proficiency Plateau

I am coining this phrase as my own (I hope nobody else has used it). Teachers often talk about the Intermediate Plateau, yet the same situation can be hit at all stages of learning a language and once learners have achieved C1/C2 level it can seem almost impossible to measure progress and achievement.

What does it mean?

It means that you are going to work with students who, as with most learners, have a wide range of interests, from the mundane to the bizarre, but who also have much of the language needed to express complex ideas. This gives us a much wider range of available topics and scope to play with language than we have with lower levels and coursebooks.

It means that they are going to ask you questions you may not know the answer to off the top off your head or can answer but can’t explain. Hence, you need to be able to think on your feet and be willing to admit that you are not an encyclopedia, dictionary or Google.

It means that you have to adapt coursebooks, resource books, find suitable authentic materials and create lessons from them which meet the diverse needs of the learner(s). Which takes us on to:

Materials

There is a dearth of ready-made materials for advanced learners who don’t want to do CAE/CPE/IELTS  (or have it). This is mainly due to a lack of market demand and I believe/hope, based on the fact that my C1 students are getting younger every year, that this may change. (Yes, I am older but the C1 students are still in secondary school – that’s a big change from 10 years ago when my students were 30+).

In the meantime there are published resources which you can use and adapt – after all, we teachers are very skilled at that – and the CAE/CPE books can give you an idea of which language areas you may wish to target in the development of your course.

However the main resource for us has to be authentic materials.  Everybody has their favourites and I have mine, which I will reveal at a later date 🙂

Going beyond language

Push the boat out; above and beyond; the call of duty; hit the nail on the head. These are all wonderful phrases to know but you have to encourage your learners  to use them in appropriate situations, not just parrot them to show off knowledge. Likewise we have to motivate the learners to use their language effectively.  

To do this I work with authentic materials, some of which are provided by them and some by me, then use those materials to create classroom situations in which they can practise both language and skills.

So here is a, not exhaustive, list of some of the skills my learners and I work on together:

  • Humour
  • Sarcasm & irony
  • Criticism & compliments
  • Swearing (be careful with this)
  • Different accents
  • Different Englishes
  • Poetry, nursery rhymes, literature
  • Reading between the lines
  • Presentation skills
  • Marketing/negotiation/persuasive skills
  • Making appropriate choices between synonyms depending on contexts

Thus, I prefer to take the emphasis away from measuring progress and focus on encouraging my students to explore not only language, but also how English has so many variations and to develop skills which they may or may not have when using their own language.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and I have whetted your appetite for more.

Lily-Anne Young

Lily-Anne is a DipTesol qualified teacher with over 15 years experience in teaching in various locations and covering the whole gamut of teaching situations. Working as a freelance teacher trainer and senior teacher, based in Brno, CZ, she has recently decided to try to share some of her knowledge with other professionals via conferences and other peoples’ blogs.

In particular she has an interest on how to work with and help very advanced learners as this is an area she has been working in for a long time and many people find daunting.

In her spare time she plays in an amateur badminton league and tries to understand her Czech speaking boyfriend.

What are you thinking about?

When I was a full-time teacher, my thoughts went something like this:

  • Why do I have to get up this early?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • I hope my students are enjoying their lessons.
  • I really hope I’m actually teaching them something!
  • Hmm…that didn’t really work.
  • Oh my god, how could that lesson possibly have gone that badly?
  • This blogging malarkey is fun. I’m learning so much from everyone.
  • I don’t want this year to end because I’ll really miss my students.
  • …and so on.

Now, I’m a Director of Studies, CELTA trainer and materials writer, and my thoughts have (mostly!) moved on.

  • Why can’t I get back to sleep?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • Where am I going to find the last teacher I need?
  • What teacher development should we offer this year? Is it giving everyone what they need?
  • Will this timetable ever be finished?
  • How can we make sure everyone feels comfortable at school?
  • That was really snappy/short/sharp/angry – apologise now and don’t let it get worse.
  • I wish I had more time in the classroom and to work on my own teaching.
  • I wish I had more time.
  • I really want to work on that CELTA course, but the dates don’t fit.
  • Where will my next CELTA course be? When will I know?
  • How can I encourage people to buy my book?

Richer Speaking cover

  • I’m really excited about this project – I can’t wait to be able to share it!
  • Don’t forget to put in your IATEFL proposal.
  • I need to make sure I still find time to get thoughts out of my head onto my blog.
  • I have too many ideas for my blog and not enough time!
  • Switch your computer off at 9:30. You know you’ll sleep better if you do.
  • Stop it. Look after yourself.
  • …and so on.

What are you thinking?

How to learn a language every day (IH Journal Issue 42)

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

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