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The CELTA Teaching Compendium by Rachael Roberts (a review)

As a CELTA tutor, I’m always searching for materials which will make life easier for my trainees, so when I saw Rachael Robert’s book The CELTA Teaching Compendium appear on the round, I knew I had to take a look. I wasn’t disappointed.

CELTA Compendium cover

Rachael’s e-book is arranged as a series of short entries based around key CELTA concepts such as ‘rapport’ and ‘setting up pairs and groups’. Each entry starts with a definition of the concept, telling trainees why it is an important area to know about and offering tips to deal with key pitfalls, like finishing a lesson early or realising you’re going to run over. There are often examples too, such as of stage aims or what and how to elicit. There was even a new idea for me in the pre-teaching vocabulary section, that of getting students to write a sentence connecting two or more of the items you plan to introduce. As Rachael acknowledges though, that idea only works if the vocabulary items are already half-known. The entries end with a summary of three bullet points pulling together the most important things to be aware of. In the pdf version, these are in a blue box, making them stand out clearly when you are skimming through. There’s also a bibliography of further reading at the end of the book, which I was pleasantly surprised to find my own Useful Links for CELTA page in 🙂

It took me ninety minutes to read the epub version from cover to cover, or whatever the ebook equivalent of that is, while I was at the airport on the way to my current CELTA course. I found it easy to access and highly practical. I also liked the way it addressed trainees directly, as if Rachael was in the room chatting to them instead of her words being on the page. Rachael’s sense of humour is also evident, and I laughed more than once while reading the Compendium, particularly when talking about how to use variety to manage pace when teaching young learners and adults. The sections are easy to navigate, with the concepts listed in alphabetical order, main concepts hyper-linked to each other within the text, and a contents page at the start. I also really like the cover design.

There are only two minor faults I can find with the book. The first is that there is no separate entry for context, an area which trainees often have problems with, though it is referenced various times in the book. The other is that Rachael’s suggestion that it’s a good idea to write the exact start time of lesson stages on your plan, which I believe can be quite confusing if you end up starting late.

The book is aimed at those currently doing a CELTA, and to those working within private language schools, with a reference to ‘what they’re paying for’ in the error correction entry. However, I believe it’s useful to anyone wanting to build up an understanding of basic concepts in language teaching, as it is so clear and practical. It’s also affordable, at just under $5. If you’d like to get yourself a copy, you can find more details at the round, and buy it in various formats from Smashwords and for Kindle from Amazon [the latter two are affiliate links]. Thank you very much to Rachael for putting this together, and for those involved in publishing it at the round – it’s definitely a valuable addition to our profession.

Reflections on Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task-Based Approach (Coursera)

I’ve just submitted my final assignment for the Coursera and University of London course entitled Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task-Based Approach. For the first time while doing a MOOC, I’ve actually managed to keep up with the timing on it, and do it in the specified six weeks. It makes such a difference when you’re doing it in your holidays instead of when working full-time 🙂 You can read about what I thought as I started the course. I wrote the reflections below as I was doing it.

Coursera logo

Things I liked

  • Interactive transcripts, so you can click on a line and go directly to that part of the video.
  • Tasks to think about while you’re watching each video.
  • When you’re asked to discuss something in writing, you can do it from right there in the window, without having to click through to another window to find a forum. There’s also a request for you to respond to at least two other posts, which should hopefully mean more real discussion than on FutureLearn.
  • If there is a discussion question, you have to contribute before you can read other people’s answers. This means you’re not influenced by what they’ve written, and there is less of a worry that you’re repeating what other people have said. When you submit your comment, the other responses appear automatically.
  • I’m rubbish at ‘pre-reflection’ unless I have somebody to discuss things with. I can never be bothered to write notes about something which I know I’m about to learn. If I’m feeling particularly good, I might think of it for a whole thirty seconds before I click on. Having the option to post in a forum with your ideas in parts of the course made me spend a bit more time on some of these tasks.
  • As with FutureLearn, it’s easy to see what you have and haven’t done so far. There’s a very clear blue ‘Resume’ button to help you work out what to do next when you return to the course.
  • After introducing a set of dichotomies which can be used to describe types of task, there was a poll asking you which kinds of task you use in the classroom. When you submit your results, you can see what other course participants have answered.
  • Lots of examples of tasks and reading texts are described/shown throughout to help you understand the theory.
  • The lecturers used work they had previously published, and critiqued it based on how their opinions/research has developed over the years.
  • More robust requirements than FutureLearn in order to be granted a certificate: completing assignments and peer reviewing the work of others, not just marking a certain amount of tasks complete (though that may just have been the Italian course I did)
  • The tasks we need to complete are very practical, have clear requirements and have a well-defined communicative purpose. For example, in the first week we had to create an information sheet on behalf of a Department of Educaton for L2 teachers summarising the information we’d learnt during the week (this is a short version of the rubric!) I think I’ll definitely be able to use the information sheet in future training sessions I do.
  • There are clear criteria for peer review, and it doesn’t take very long. It also encourages you to look at other people’s work, instead of skimming past it. I particularly like this reminder: “Remember, English isn’t everyone’s native language. Focus primarily on how well the work meets the grading criteria.”
  • ‘To maintain academic integrity, we check it’s you each time you upload an assignment.’ – never even occured to me, but great to know they’ve thought about this! They do it by matching typing patterns (didn’t know this was possible!) and using your webcam.

Things I didn’t like so much

  • You have to play a video to the end for it to be marked as complete. I find having to wait for people to finish talking frustrating when I can skim the transcript much faster. I ended up skipping to the end of videos and playing the last few seconds to get round this.
  • One or two of the videos don’t have transcripts 😦
  • Coursera has a similar disregard for punctuation and proof reading in some of the video transcripts. Here’s an example from week 1: “Why would this activity constitute a pedagogic task. Peter general, off sited the definition of the task. Describes pedagogic tasks in terms of […]” This is also true of some key words: “You probably understand why recognizing the correspondence between a written sign, a graph theme, and sound, a phoneme, is a skill.” [grapheme!] and dates “Keith Morrow who name is strongly associated with an emergence of communicative language teaching recognized the importance of this area in 1918, as this exercise shows.” [1980!]
  • You have to scroll to the top of the page again to move on once you’ve completed each task. Perhaps the ‘previous/next lesson’ bar could be sticky, so it moves as you go down the page.
  • A certain level of background knowledge of methodology is assumed for some tasks, but I don’t remember this being mentioned before signing up. For example, this discussion task assumes you might know some of what it asks (though ‘participation is optional’):

TBLT has received much attention from researchers, practitioners, and policy makers recently. Discuss what theoretical and practical rationale(s) might underlie TBLT.

  • It’s not possible to edit forum posts if you want to add/change anything.
  • At the end of each unit, you should peer review work by three other participants. If you’re one of the first people to do the work, it says they will email you when other work is ready to be reviewed. This never happened.


I found this course fascinating and incredibly useful. It was the right amount of input versus output, and I feel like I’ve learnt a lot from it. I’m also going away from the course with a lot more questions to answer, which is exactly what I would expect from something like this: it’s motivated and inspired me. It was the MOOC equivalent of a page-turner that you can’t put down – I kept wanting to go back to do the next bit, regardless of how tired I was or how late it was! I also now have some materials ready for a potential future course I’m putting together, so it’s killed two birds with one stone. Thank you to everyone involved in creating the course for such stimulating content!

Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task-Based Approach (Coursera)

Why I’m doing it

This course, run by University of London and UCL Institute of Education, was recommended by Helen Legge. Having just finished a course on FutureLearn I thought it would be interesting to compare the two MOOC platforms. I won’t go into anywhere near as much depth in this post as I did on the Italian course though! I’m also interested in finding out more about Task-Based Learning, something I’ve only touched on in passing on a few courses I’ve done, and have never explicitly tried out. Finally, reading is an area I’ve been reading up on over the past year to try and balance all the research I did on listening for my Delta. Many birds, one stone 🙂

Coursera logo

First impressions

As soon as you arrive on the Coursera site, it emphasises deadlines, and there are reminders of these in various places, including at the top of the to-do list. This is coupled with getting grades (“If you submit late, you might not get a grade.”), a word which I don’t remember ever being mentioned on FutureLearn.

Every Coursera task has an estimated time next to it, very useful for working out what you might be able to fit in in one sitting. Each section terminates in a peer graded assignment (due in 5 days for me) and ‘review your peers’ (due in 8 days), both of which are graded. This will potentially give more purpose to the community/discussion side of the MOOC than on FutureLearn, where it often seemed to lack purpose. There are clear links to references and further reading to enable you to take your learning further.

It’s a six-week course which I know I won’t have much time to do the second half of. You can see all of the tasks for the whole thing, including the deadlines, unlike FutureLearn which releases the tasks a week at a time. I wonder if the Coursera tutors are able to be as responsive as FutureLearn were, adapting the course based on feedback each week. Progress can apparently be carried over from one session to another, with most courses having a new session starting every few weeks. This is very different to FutureLearn, where many courses only seem to run once a year from what I’ve gathered (please correct me if I’m wrong).

These impressions are just based on skimming the interface: I’ll actually start it tomorrow. Anyone want to join me on the course?

If all goes to plan, I’ll share another post when I finish the course to reflect on what did and didn’t work. If you decide to join the course to, I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Future Learn Italian course – weeks 5 and 6

Week 5

I accidentally did the first five tasks of week 5 before I did week 4, so I’ve decided to combine the last parts of the course into a single post.

I watched the video about food before, and never asked for food from a deli while I was in Italy because I had no idea what to say. I should have worked through this section before I went! It’s taken me a long time to work up the courage to ask for food from counters, as it’s something I never did in the UK (and still haven’t I don’t think!) In Poland I had to learn that you ask for things in ‘deka’, or multiples of ten grams, so 200g is 20 deka. Apparently in Italy, you say ‘un etto’ for 100g, ‘due etti’ for 200g etc – interesting 🙂 The communication video also introduces the names of containers (tin, bottle etc), then asks you to name some containers in the discussion, but introduces ‘glasses’ which weren’t included in the list. Always check your controlled practice only has the target language in it, and nothing else… Made me wonder if I’d missed anything, but ‘glass’ is definitely not in the video!

The first quiz makes you put words into lines of a dialogue, which works well. The second asks you to categorise items as ‘food and drinks’, ‘quantities’ or ‘containers’. This is a good idea, but the three categories are always listed in both Italian and English. Perhaps the English could be removed in later questions to increase the challenge?

The second video is Mike cooking for Anna and Lisa, so it now makes sense that food is introduced after clothes (week 4) as it leads into this video. It’s a nice context for apologising, the topic of the next section. ‘Olive’, ‘spaghetti’ and ‘vegetariana’ are the words selected for pre-teaching, which seem a bit pointless really, since they’re all the same in English, the language of the course.

It leads in to vocabulary about the order of courses in Italy, something which confused me when I first arrived: I couldn’t understand the difference between a ‘primo’ and a ‘secondo’, but later learnt that the first is normally something with carbohydrates (rice, pasta etc), and the second is normally meat or fish with salad or vegetables. Mystery solved! The two quizzes to practise make use of matching functions on Quizlet, one to match courses to pictures, and the other to match sentence halves.

The grammar focus is on using ‘mi piace’/’mi piacciono’ to express likes, clearly showing how the verb structure is different in Italian as compared to English. There’s also a friendly reminder that everything gets easy with practice. It’s nice that they’re trying to reduce the pressure, but I feel like the challenge could be upped sometimes.

The cultural notes are about a couple of common expressions: I like how these are introduced as chunks within clear contexts. In this case, there’s something a bit tantalising: “However, they can vary from region to region within Italy.” Unfortunately, they don’t follow through by telling you if the three expressions introduced are peculiar to Siena, or used elsewhere too. Skipped the discussion point task again, for the sake of finishing the course (and because I can’t be bothered at this point…)

For the final section of this week, the focus is on discussing the weather, introduced through the video and both the communication and vocabulary sections. There’s a Quizlet quiz to help you practice the phrases, again with no capital letters in either Italian or English. Later, there’s an inline quiz and a LearningApps one – it’s good that they’re mixing up the ways you can practise the new language. I’m doing all of the inline and LearningApps quizzes as I still find them motivating, but can’t be bothered with Quizlet at this point. Grammar is the prepositions ‘a’ and ‘in’, with an inline quiz, and the exploring Italian section is about ways of expressing surprise. I like that at the end of each of these sections it emphasises that the words are only used in spoken Italian.

Week 6

The final week of the course begins with describing an apartment. The variety of set-ups for the videos makes them more interesting, with this one as a Skype conversation between Mike and Anna, including her using her phone to give Mike a tour of the apartment (something I’ve done with my friends many times!) Other ones have been set in a shop, a supermarket, on the cathedral steps, in a park etc. They feel a little more authentic that way, and production standards continue to be high. I also like the fact that there are little jokes in there linking back to previous videos, strengthening the idea that it’s a story, not just isolated scenes.

The comprehension quiz on the video is really difficult. It’s asking me to remember the relative positions of the rooms at one point, something I wasn’t paying any attention to while watching. This emphasises the importance of the ‘task before text’ dictum, as learners should know what to focus on before they listen to/watch something.

In the communication video, there are links back to previous units, showing how the same language is being reused in different situations. I’ve also just realised that communication is always prioritised over vocabulary, which is prioritised over grammar: very good in my opinion, as if you stop partway through the week, you’ve done the most important things first! There’s a quizlet set to practise, again with the typical mistake of translating ‘com’è’ as ‘how’ not ‘what’ in the question ‘What is the apartment like?’

The house vocabulary set is extended in the next video, which finishes with a picture quiz where you have to unscramble the words, something which has been used occasionally earlier in the course. As before, these are extra words, and they encourage you to use a dictionary to help you. I cheated and just looked at what other people had written in the comments. I also noticed I’m not the only person still completing the course – the last comment was written four hours before I looked, and there have been two or three comments most days since the course ended. The first quiz asks you to categorise items (rooms/other areas/objects), with the same lack of a push to understand the Italian by removing the English names for the categories as the quiz progresses. The second asks you to complete dialogues in which quite a few items are recycled from earlier in the course. These are only in Italian, so you have to understand what they say to choose the correct item.

Grammar is the Italian equivalents of ‘there is/are’, contextualised through the original video in the section, then extended by showing how they could be used to describe a photo of your family. It’s useful to see it used in two different contexts like this, and is also a bit of recycling from earlier in the course. The section is rounded off with a look at the different uses of  ‘tutto’, including one which is in spoken Italian only.

The next clip is about arranging to do something in your free time, like going to the cinema. This leads into a set of functional language for making and responding to suggestions for arrangements. The first quiz only has two options for each question, so you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right by just guessing – not particularly challenging. There’s a LearningApps quiz to follow up, with a longer dialogue to complete. Again, only two options per space. It’s good that this uses the characters from the video, Mike and Lisa, so you feel like you know the characters, who you’ve built up a store of knowledge about over the course. There’s also another little joke at the end of the dialogue, raising a smile – bits of humour help.

The vocabulary video introduces more free time activities, and you’re encouraged to write a couple of the activities that you like to do in the discussion. I did bother this time 😉 There’s a bit more processing required in the quiz, as you have to choose the correct word order from four different options – this is more motivating for me than choosing between two words to fill a gap. There’s also more revision, as it uses a variety of different conjugations and pronouns, testing your understanding of them. The second quiz also has some level of challenge: you read a sentence about things you can do and choose the correct location from a list of six. Much better quizzes this time round.

Grammar is negation this time round. Although this is a pretty easy grammar point which could have been introduced earlier in the course, I suspect they saved it until now to highlight other uses of the word ‘non’, like in the suggestion ‘Perché non…’ The quiz involves putting words into the correct order, but again, frustratingly, none of sentences in the multiple choice are punctuated. There’s also a question which tests something that wasn’t covered explicitly in the video – the use of ‘non’ with a reflexive verb. Examples were given, but the rule wasn’t highlighted and I clearly didn’t take it in as I got the answer wrong. One good thing is that alternative correct answers for structures with ‘mi piace’ are offered in the comment when you submit a correct answer.

‘Allora’, another word which I heard all the time in Italy but didn’t really understand, is the subject of the article at the end of this section. Nice to have this cleared up!

I really don’t get why the discussion points are 2/3 of the way through each week: “In this step, you have a chance to practise what you have learned so far and what you will learn by the end of the week.” How can you practise something you haven’t learnt yet?! I suspect this is one of the reasons why I’ve been so reluctant to do them.

The final clip of the course is Mike finally starting the language course he came to Sienna for, though he probably doesn’t need it, since he apparently hasn’t made a mistake in any of the videos so far! It’s nice to see that Mike’s teacher is Sabrina, who’s been presenting all of the functional videos and some of the grammar ones during the course. A few of the students in the class introduce themselves and give their reasons for studying Italian: it’s good to see a range of nationalities and reasons. It’s all in open class, which is great for the sound quality on the video, but doesn’t strike me as hugely communicative! Mike’s final line is another little in-joke from previous videos.

‘Expressing motivations’ is the functional language for this section, practised through a two-option multiple choice quiz. I was rushing to finish so didn’t read all of the questions properly and got 6/7. Oops! There’s also an extra LearningApps quiz, matching sentences about motivations to pictures – nice idea. Vocabulary extends this by adding more possible reasons for studying Italian, and you’re invited to share your reasons in the discussion thread. After the inline quiz, there’s a Quizlet set requiring you to match sentence halves. It’s good to see richer sentences being used by this point in the course, testing your understanding more and pulling lots of things together. Again, I actually bothered with this, playing Scatter(my favourite function) for about five minutes, and ending up in second place on the leaderboard. 🙂

The last grammar focus looks at ‘dovere’ and ‘volere’, two very important irregular verbs. There’s also some revision of ‘potere’, and all three are covered in the quiz.

The course input closes off with a focus on ways to express your likes and dislikes, but because it’s the ‘Exploring Italian’ article, there’s no practice to follow up on it, although some people have used the comments to do this. This is a shame, as it’s very useful language, arguably more so than some of the other language chosen for focuses during the course.

All of the presenter-fronted videos in this section have ended with them saying goodbye, a nice touch, and with an invitation for you to study Italian in Siena. I wonder how many students actually go from studying this online course to doing a full-time paid one at the university. It’s certainly a good advert for the city and the university, though it’s a lot of work too!

Anna and Mike in Siena

Anna and Mike in Siena

To encourage participants, there’s a discount of up to 20% on the course fees if you’ve completed the FutureLearn course, and you can register your interest through the final page. Finally, you can pay for a certificate of completion if you’ve marked at least 90% of the steps complete, or a certificate of participation if you’ve marked 50% of them complete. Needless to say, I won’t be doing this for this course, but I may consider it for another course at some point. Sorry FutureLearn!


Despite the many holes I’ve picked in this course, no MOOC is ever going to be perfect, especially considering that it’s all being offered for free (unless you want to pay for the certificate at the end).

As a taster course, I think this worked pretty well, though the lack of productive practice is frustrating. I know you can use the discussion, but there’s no real communicative purpose to this, and there’s no production at all within the controlled practice exercises. It’s good to see the creators responding to comments from students each week – they clearly read and respond the comments while the course is running.

The FutureLearn interface is very easy to find your way around and you can see your progress clearly in a variety of places, including a to do list, a progress wheel (with more of the wheel completed as you go through the course), as well as the number of the step you’re on and how many more in that week as you work through the activities. It’s definitely something I’ll do again, and I already have a management course waiting for me (though I’ve completely missed the four-week window it was run in), as well as the rest of the ‘Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching‘ course which I did one and a half weeks of a while ago before being overwhelmed by work, then getting distracted by this Italian course! I’d definitely recommend exploring their list of courses and registering for ones you’re interested in, even if there are no dates at the moment. They email you when the course is coming up, which is what I did with the dyslexia course – I think I was doing the third iteration of it.

And now that I’ve finished the course, I’m off to complete the post-course survey, then voglio mangiare pasta al pesto. 🙂

Future Learn Italian Course – week 4

After a couple of crazy weeks at the end of the school year, two weekends of travelling to Warsaw for CELTA and two days off sick with a bad virus (completely recovered now!), I’m now well behind with the course, as tomorrow will be the beginning of week 6 and I’m only just starting week 4. This shows the importance of having time in the evening or at weekends if you want to keep up/not spending your evenings messing about on social media when you sh/could be studying… 😉

This week starts with going to the supermarket, and a dialogue at a deli counter. This was one of the things which most scared me when I first started living abroad, as in the UK I never bothered with the deli counter, and just picked up what I wanted from the shelves. I started using them in Russia, and in Poland, I use them all the time, so I think this language will come in very useful for me.

Mike at the deli counter

For some reason, the transcript is in English. I don’t really know why this is, and it definitely defeats the object of the comprehension quiz which follows! Luckily I didn’t have time to see any of the answers before I noticed.

Just managed to do steps 1-5 of 36 in this sitting, and since my friend arrives tomorrow evening, I suspect the next time I’ll get chance to study will be in at least a week, by which time the course will have finished (although I’ll still be able to access the materials) and, more importantly, I’ll be in Italy 🙂

A little while later…

Or to be more precise, nearly two months later, it’s now 12th August. I spent a month in Italy, and have now been back in Poland for at least two weeks, and I’m now wondering whether it’s worth continuing with the Italian course. I stopped using the memrise course a few days before I left Italy, not helped by very irregular net access while I was there. That, coupled with an intensive CELTA, meant I definitely didn’t have the time or energy to bother continuing with the FutureLearn course while I was there. I managed to get around fairly well with my prior French/Spanish knowledge, the few words/phrases of Italian I’d managed to learn, speaking German (with the fluent speaker who looked after my flat!) and (mostly) resorting to speaking English when I needed to say something. I’m interested in Italian, but time is precious 😉

But…I’ve started so I’ll finish (though I suspect nobody other than Lizzie is reading these posts!)

Continuing where I left off…

I’ve now realised that the video of the deli I watched above was actually from week 5, and I didn’t notice until now. Oops!

Week 4 actually begins with a video about habits. As always, the comprehension questions test your memory, and sometimes use phrases and vocabulary that haven’t been covered on the course at all so far, like the last question: “Anna e Lisa vanno a pranzo da Mike a mezzogiorno.” I have no idea what ‘a pranzo’ means, and I’m guessing many of the other words from Spanish/French. I’m assuming the sentence means “Anna and Lisa will go for lunch at Mike’s at midday.” but I could be wrong.

The communication video relies exclusively on translations, with each phrase written out and translated into English. This would be the perfect place to use images as extra support, with phrases like ‘goes swimming’ and ‘sleeps’ among the vocabulary. It would be an extra ‘hook’ for learners to hang the new language on.

After a short quiz, the next communication video is about days of the week. I’m continuing to be lazy and just reading the transcripts for these now because it’s faster to scan them than listen, and I don’t feel like I need to hear the pronunciation for most of these things. The discussion task for the comments section is “Which day is your favourite day of the week and why? “Il mio giorno preferito è la domenica”, because I can sleep in! Tell us in italian what your favourite day is and, if you want, you can add why in English, in the discussion below.” It’s fairly typical of these in that it doesn’t seem to have any real communicative purpose – there’s no real reason to tell anybody your favourite day of the week. How about writing which days you study this course on? Then people can compare their answers in some way, and it’s also useful information for the course writers. The quiz for days is good within the restrictions of a multiple choice: you have sets of three days and have to choose which set is in the correct order, though it works through the week in order, which helps a lot. There’s an optional quiz outside the platform to help you practise the days too.

Reflexive verbs are the first grammar point and are explained clearly, with two fully conjugated examples, and two other examples from previous lessons highlighted but not conjugated. It’s good to see links between the weeks. After the quiz, there’s an article about fillers (though they’re not called that) used in spoken Italian, with some transcripts and the chance to listen to the sentences. The sentences are from the video, but the recordings are somebody else, and the fillers seem a bit over-emphasised. On the plus side, at least you can listen to them, which you haven’t always been able to do with similar articles earlier in the course.

To finish this section, there’s a section on double consonants. They’re divided into ones which are pronounced more forcefully and those which are pronounced longer than single consonants. I thought at first that was because the person being recorded knows that these would be pronunciation examples, but listening to some of the words on forvo, I’m not so sure. To me they all sound more forceful in the audios of the words chosen – I can’t differentiate between the two groups. I’d like to be able to compare the ‘longer’ group with words with single consonants so that I can hear the difference.

The next section starts with a video of the group getting breakfast at a coffee bar. The transcript under the video is in English (maybe for all of the videos, but I didn’t notice before?) and you can download the transcript in Italian. I’d prefer the other way round so that I’m not overly reliant on the English, but can access it if I want to. I find it interesting that they chose ‘euro’ as one of the words to pre-teach, but not ‘cornetto’, which is actually a false friend (in British English at least!)

Cornetto ice cream

What ‘cornetto’ means to me

Reading the ‘communication’ transcript about how to pay the bill, I find it annoying that there seems to be a complete disregard for punctuation at times:

Let’s see what we say when we have to pay the bill for example when we go to a bar as Mike, Anna and Lisa do in the clip Let’s watch […]

I realise that some poor sod has had to type up the transcript, but it perhaps should have been proofed before being put on the site. To practise there’s a dialogue reordering activity on LearningApps (another interesting function of that site) and four Quizlet flashcards in a set (where they include ‘cornetto’), but nothing within FutureLearn.

The next step is a focus on food vocabulary, including some useful cultural notes, like when it’s acceptable to drink cappuccino. The vocabulary input here is supported by pictures, which is good. In the LearningApps quiz, you write the missing letters to complete the words. However, most of the words have a double vowel at the end, which is quite confusing :s There’s a pdf version of the quiz within FutureLearn, which doesn’t have this problem.

The grammar here is the indefinite article, and there’s a link back to the week 2 video if you want to review the definite article – again, useful to have a link between the lessons. Two quizzes test you here, first selecting the correct indefinite article, then choosing whether you need a definite or indefinite article. Useful revision.

The article at the end of this section answers a question I had throughout my time in Italy: what on earth does ‘ecco’ mean? I heard it all the time! In this case, it just means ‘Here you go/are’ when things are handed over. Again, you can listen to phrases from the video, but somebody else saying them. The discussion point is designed to get you to revise by writing a text about what you eat/do and when, but I can’t be bothered. Lazy student! I ticked ‘Mark as complete’ anyway, which highlights one of the problems with a course like this: you’re relying on self-reporting to find out whether the students have actually done activities or not.

The next day

The final section for this week of the course is about buying clothes. I find it a little odd that this is introduced before buying food, which is arguably more important, but maybe that says something about Italians versus Brits! Having said that, Lisa looks beautiful in the dress she wants to buy 😉

The vocabulary video focuses on clothes and shoes, but I’m not really clear about what ‘vestito’ and ‘abito’ mean. Initially it seems like they’re ‘dress’, as in, ‘She’s wearing a beautiful red dress.’ But from the video, it looks like they actually mean ‘formal clothes’ as he says they can be used for a man or a woman, with pictures of a dress and a suit. Hmmm. This is one of the problems with using images with vocabulary, and demonstrates that you still need to check it carefully, as it may not be completely clear. The activity at the end of this video is the first one for a while with a real reason to do it: “Unfortunately in the next slide our graphic put the wrong words next to the image. Can you help us match them up correctly?” It might be obviously fake, but it’s more motivating than some of the other tasks! Two quizzes from LearningApps help you to practise the clothes and colours together. This is useful as you’re seeing the colour adjectives change form right from the start, and not internalising the masculine singular form only, though as with most of the quizzes (apart from the occasional crossword), it’s receptive only with no production.

‘Potere’ (‘can’) is introduced in the grammar video, and the conjugations are tested in order in the quiz. Mixing them up a little could provide more challenge, though I recognise that this may be too much for somebody for whom Italian is a first foreign language. I wonder if FutureLearn offers the option of randomly mixing questions in exercises?

The last input for the week is about words used to encourage/convince somebody to do something, with the first example taken from the video (again with random audio) and the other examples put into a selection of short conversations. As always, there’s no clear task other than just to look at the examples. Some people have taken it upon themselves to write encouraging phrases in the comments, but it’s noticeable that this number (200) is much lower than in the matching task from the colours/clothes video (1100).

A disclaimer

By the way, I’m aware that I’m going through the whole of this course picking holes, and just wanted to emphasise that it’s well put together and you can learn from it, but I feel the whole experience can be improved in lots of ways to make it more useful for learners. Reflecting on what does and doesn’t work for me as a learner will hopefully help me if I ever come to design a similar course in the future, and I hope anyone from FutureLearn/University of Siena or who is thinking about doing the course takes these comments in the way that they’re intended.

Michel Thomas: Language Master

A couple of people I know have spoken highly of the Michel Thomas CDs for learning languages. I’ve never tried them, but one of them recommended this BBC documentary from 1997 on Youtube which I’ve just watched:

My initial impressions are that his method is a combination of:

  • intensive learning (9 hours per day for 5 days in this case – I think)
  • taking time to do lots of repetition within the lessons, and going back a step whenever necessary
  • small groups – only 8 students in this case
  • reducing the affective filter as much as possible, with comfortable seating and mood lighting
  • positive reinforcement – if you can’t say something, the teacher goes back, or supports you to be able to say it
  • translation – all words and phrases are translated from the first language of the learners (from English to French in this case)
  • breaking down the language to a manageable chunks – starting with words which are similar in your language
  • lexical chunks – no explicit focus on grammar rules, especially where the rules are similar between the two languages, and no metalanguage (grammatical/linguistic terminology). The example of le faire being used to translate do it, then encouraging learners to produce see it as le voir is a case in point
  • everything going through the teacher – there didn’t seem to be any student-student interaction in the classes in the film
  • the teacher taking full responsibility for everything in order to reduce pressure on the students
  • no memorising – ‘you should clear your mind and that should come naturally’
  • no reading or writing
  • no homework (though with 9 hours of classes each day for a week, you probably don’t need it!)

Looking at the website, one of the selling points is to ‘Learn a new language the way you learnt your own’. I don’t think that can be true, since none of us learnt our own language by translating it from another one, though it’s true that we didn’t read, write or do homework at the beginning!

I’ve listened to the 5-minute audio sample of the Arabic course, and it seems they always start with loanwords into and out of the language being learnt, i.e. English words that have moved into Arabic, and Arabic ones that have moved into English. These are then used to construct sentences by adding simple bits of grammar to them. This is clearly a good place to start, providing you have an awareness of both languages.

Reservations and reflections

The intensity of the classes means you can learn a lot without requiring homework, since the learners are getting a lot of exposure within a short time. This ‘miracle’ would probably result in a higher rate of learning than the classic 2-3 hours per week in any situation without any of the other parts of the ‘method’, though how much higher depends on the teacher and the course. Small groups also help here.

Reducing the affective filter and making students feel comfortable in the classroom should always be part of our aim. If we could all have classrooms with armchairs, I’m sure that many students would feel more comfortable. Positive reinforcement is also very important – if you believe you can speak a language, you will be able to.

Translation may work very well with a monolingual class, but what do you do with multilingual classes? Especially if you don’t know their language(s)?

Lexical chunks are clearly a much less stressful way of learning than through listing of grammar rules and doing lots of exercises. They’re just a lot harder to ‘put in order’ in terms of syllabus design, so unfortunately grammar still rules in most materials. Removing metalanguage is generally a good thing if it makes it easier for learners to understand, but can make it harder for them to study independently if they want to go away and practise outside the classroom, as it will be more challenging for them to find extra materials to practise the same things outside the classroom.

The teacher has complete control of everything going on in the classroom. This seems to take some of the freedom out of language learning, as you can only say what the teacher wants you to say. What if you want to say something different? I would hope/assume that changes at higher levels. It’s also incredibly intense for the teacher, as they are the focus of the entire lesson.

Learners should be given the option to read or write, at least at the end of the lesson. It’s an extra way of remembering what they’ve learnt, and helps them progress in all four skills, not just speaking and listening.

What level is it possible to progress to with this method? It seems like it could be particularly useful for beginners, elementary, even pre-intermediate (A1-low B1), but what about higher levels? According to Wikipedia, the ‘Total’ courses should help you to achieve A1-A2 level in grammar, and the ‘Perfect’ courses should take you to B1-B2, again just in grammar. Vocabulary building is dealt with separately, although some vocabulary is introduced throughout the grammar courses.

Michel Thomas

Have you had any experience of the Michel Thomas method? How did you find the methodology? Did it work for you?

Future Learn Italian course – week 3

This is a continuation of my reflection notes made while doing the Future Learn Beginner’s Italian course. You can also read about weeks 1 and 2.

One of the benefits of doing the Future Learn course in the correct weeks is that you benefit from the moderators being online. It’s possible to sign up for a course and complete it whenever you like, but during the set period of the course (in this case six weeks), various moderators are available to respond to questions in the discussion thread, normally within 24 hours. Last week I posted a comment to ask about online dictionaries, and was referred to a list by one of the moderators which included both translation and monolingual online dictionaries. I was impressed at how quickly I got a response. This was useful, though in future it might be more beneficial to have a page on the course where you can go to for extra resources like this, as I would never had found it without the moderator. Moderators would then be able to refer participants to it if they can’t find it themselves.

Another advantage of studying the course in the specified time is the ability to use the tips sent out in the summary email at the end of each week. These are pulled together based on comments and questions from the discussion threads. At the end of week 2, this included a response to user requests which I was very pleased to see:

To help you to practise listening comprehension, a downloadable audio version the dialogues will available from next week.

Perhaps the dictionary links could also have been included here?

Week 3

The video story is working well for me. I’m enjoying learning more about the characters, and am quite pleased that they don’t seem to be going down the line I’ve seen before in this kind of video of boy meets girl, lots of slightly strained sexual tension, then they fall in love at the end of the story. Instead, Mike and Anna both have partners (Sarah and Leonardo) who they tell each other about in the first video for this week, introducing descriptive language. As mentioned previously, I also like the fact that the videos are at normal speed, but you have lots of options to help you: no, English or Italian subtitles; watching at half speed, downloading the transcript, and from this week, downloading the audio.

Generally, the videos are very well produced, both for the story and the language introductions.

As in previous weeks, the ‘Try it yourself communication’ activity again relies on you being able to use the four or five phrases they’ve introduced so far, or going off and finding your own phrases/using what you know already. These are examples of what has been introduced: If they don’t have long, black hair or aren’t tall or thin, there aren’t many people you can describe 🙂 I know they’re trying to separate the functional language and the vocabulary sections, but I don’t really feel like commenting because I don’t know what to say. I feel like a more specific prompt would be useful. This is the task at the moment:

Do you have any questions about how to describe people and things? Are you unsure about something? Share your comments and questions in the discussion below. Don’t hesitate to help other learners if you know the answer, or to share links to helpful resources.

I clicked ‘mark as complete’ without adding anything.

The vocabulary introduction is the next stage. To me, it would make sense to flip these two steps in the course. There is an extra practice activity though you have to do a bit of guesswork – are her eyes green or light? Is her hair short and black, curly and black, short and curly?

Noun and adjective agreement video: refers back to previous grammar units very clearly, so it’d be easy to find them again if you wanted to. Slight confused by this random question at the end of the grammar quiz, which doesn’t appear to practise noun and adjective agreement, and must have slipped past whoever was checking the course!

Mike e Leonardo sono _____. gentile/studenti

The ‘Exploring Italian’ section throws out a whole load of new language again, and does nothing with it apart from showing us a couple of example sentences. The phrases include: “stare insieme con (to date someone)” and “essere fidanzat-o/a/i con (to be engaged to)” Questions in the comments section reflect this: can we have the audio or hear the pronunciation? Speculation on the grammatical forms… On the plus side, the examples mostly use the characters from the video, so at least the context is maintained. [In the end of week email, the moderators said that audio files will be available for these sections from next week. Great to see how they respond to the comments.]

Italian sounds: vowels. Aha, it turns out they can easily put in sound files, as there is one to accompany each of the words used to introduce the vowel sounds. I feel like this would be a more useful way of introducing the vocabulary, or at least they could have a vocabulary list with the audio to accompany the videos so you can listen repeatedly to particular words you want to practise with ease. Lots of comments in this case to show that the differences between /e/, /ε/ and /o/, /ɔ/ haven’t been made clear. It’s OK for me because I understand the phonetics, have lots of practise differentiating sounds, and the example words they’re using to equate the sounds are from English, my mother tongue, but a lot of the course participants will have trouble distinguishing these pairs as they are so similar. A little more explanation would be useful, or indeed, a video showing you the physical differences between the sounds, rather than just an audio file!

The directions video goes nicely with where I’m up to on the Memrise Learn Basic Italian course: level 5 is called ‘Here, there and everywhere‘ and covers directions too (and, randomly, numbers and times!) The first question in the comprehension quiz asks you where Mike wants directions to. The answer was given in the introduction to this video, when the phrase ‘post office’ is pre-taught. This is an example of the importance of choosing which language to pre-teach carefully and/or ensuring that comprehension questions actually require you to comprehend the materials! The use of a map in the video with Mike and a stranger is also reflective of my experience as a tourist. I’m enjoying seeing clips of Sienna, and like the fact that it’s not just in the sunshine! Mike feels like a real person in a real city with (fairly) real reasons for needing to speak Italian.

I like the fact that the ‘focus on communication’ video begins by the teacher acknowledging that although we often use GPS nowadays, it’s still useful to be able to ask for directions. The communication quizzes generally test passive recognition of collocations, which I think is fairly useful. There was another quiz on Learning Apps to help us, this time matching the two halves of sentences. It’s good to explore this app, which I learnt about last week. Lots of people have been motivated to post in the comments, mostly writing short conversations with directions in them. These add extra reading practice. There is also peer support when people have questions about the language, for example what ‘vicino’ means, which was mentioned in the video, but never explicitly taught. I learnt it from memrise yesterday! (They teach it in the next video)

More vocab for directions in a video (the previous video was focussed on communication, or what I would class as functional language). It’s noticeable that the previous three or four stages have had about 200-300 comments, but this stage has nearly 1000. This is the difference when there is a clear task to complete. I’m not sure if this would be possible, but perhaps the interface could be adapted so that you can post your comment, then read the others. At the moment, you have to view all of the comments to see the box to post your own, so often it’s difficult not to look at other people’s answers before you write yours. There are so many different ways that people have chosen to give directions to Mike to help him find Anna – a genuinely engaging and motivating productive task, probably the first one on the course so far!

It’s now two days into week 4 and I haven’t finished week 3 yet, and didn’t have time to do any over the last three days since the last things I wrote…

Because I know I won’t have time to catch up next weekend either, and want to finish the whole thing before I get to Milan, I’m tempted to rush (though not enough to stop writing this!) Instead of watching the full video for the conjugations of ‘andare’ and ‘venire’ I listened to enough to hear the pronunciation of the verb forms, then looked at the transcript. This was probably more useful than watching the video more times as I spent time thinking about and trying to memorise the verb forms, instead of just listening to the next thing the teacher said. I’d like to be able to see the forms and listen to them individually, as I’ve said before about the vocab. Managed to get most of the quiz right, but have trouble with tu/lui/lei endings because of Spanish – I feel like there should be an -s for tu!

Introduction to consonants – good that there are Italian example words which you can listen to as many times as you like. However, I don’t really like the fact that there are English example words because these can be misleading. For example /p/is aspirated in the British English ‘pit’, but not in the Italian ‘papà’, at least that I can hear.

Discussion point task at this point:

Write a description of you or someone that you know in the comments. You may include:

  • Hair colour
  • Eye colour
  • Height
  • Etc.

For example: Mia moglie è bionda, ha gli occhi marroni, non è molto alta, ma è molto carina e simpatica!

I have no idea! I can’t really remember any of these words and initially thought we hadn’t even studied them, then looked back up this post and realised they were at the beginning of this section. Directions in the middle confused me – seems like a very random order! Having looked back, this was my contribution, which required quite a lot of effort to produce:

Mia mama ha capelli longhi. Non ha capelli neri. Lei non è alta, non è piccola.

The final section for the week promises to introduce these things:

You will learn to ask for the time and the related vocabulary. Moreover you’ll also learn the names of public places and the present tense of the verbs ending in –ere and –ire.

This feels like a lot, though it may be the fact that it’s 21:30 as I write this. Not sure I’m mentally in the right place to manage all of this, but I want to try and finish the week!

The video has a few lines of dialogue, then some text messages. I think that’s the first real reading practice we’ve had so far on the course, and it’s an interesting and different way to introduce it, again well-produced too. The subtitles have the times in numbers and in words, which is great. In the comprehension quiz, I have no idea what some of the words in the final question mean ‘Anna incontra Mike oggi pomeriggio:’ but have managed to guess the answer. ‘incontra’ is like ‘encontra’ in Spanish, so I know that means ‘meet’, but I have no idea about the last two words.

How to tell the time: “You have already learned the numbers.” Hmm…not really. I’d recognise them at a push, but I wouldn’t say I’ve learnt them yet. Just started doing them on memrise, which will probably be what helps me to remember them.

There’s a Quizlet quiz to help you practise some of the questions. This is good for recognition, especially the scatter mode, which is the only one I can be bothered to play at this time of night. One of my bugbears in general (not just on this course, but in many online materials) is the disregard for punctuation, especially capital letters. Learners need to see how and where capitals are used correctly, as rules for capitalisation vary and some languages don’t have them at all. There are no capital letters at all in the set at the moment 😦

The second video about time has lots of examples of times, in sentences too. Very clear. It was also good that they clarified that in informal spoken Italian you normal use 1/2/3, but when talking about official things e.g. opening hours or train times, you use the 24-hour clock. The ‘try it yourself’ quiz tests whether you recognise if times are formal or informal, rather than your understanding of the numbers themselves.

The extra practice quiz involves writing out a time in words, but only accepts one possible answer in each case, which is a bit frustrating when you have something like 20.45 and there were three possible ways to say it in the video. I couldn’t be bothered with this after one question (again, time of day/tiredness).

The next grammar video introduces new conjugations for verbs ending in -ere and -ire, comparing them to -are. It’s all in a clear table on the slide, so you can see that many of the forms are the same across all three conjugations, reducing the processing load needed to retain the information. “Don’t worry if it seems difficult. It will become familiar very quickly.” – I like these supportive messages 🙂

The grammar test always puts the options in the ‘correct’ order (I, you, he/she/it etc), so if you can understand the question, you don’t necessarily need to remember the verb form very confidently, just the order. Having said that, it’s helping me to remember that -i is a second person ending, not third person (Spanish again), because I keep seeing it in the same position in the list.

The last set of consonants are introduced to round of the unit. These ones are different to English, or have no equivalent. If they have no equivalent, there is an example from Spanish, though I’m not sure these match up, at least to my South American experience. I guess many people may know those sounds, but otherwise it seems odd. I’ve just noticed that all of the phonetic symbols are there too – my eyes had completely skipped over that column with the consonants! Two new symbols in my IPA arsenal now: /ɲ/ for ‘gn’ in ‘gnocchi’, /λ/ for ‘gl+i’ in ‘figli’ and ‘gli+a/e/o/u’ in ‘familia’ etc. The latter sound is equated to ‘ll’ in Spanish ‘llave’ or ‘llamar’ which I don’t think is the same sound.

OK, it’s 22:11 now, and I’m not sure how much of this I’ll actually retain, but I’ve at least seen it. Numbers continue to be a challenge, and I clearly can’t remember the description vocabulary, so should probably revise both of them. I know it’s not going to happen though, because I’m busy and unless it comes up on the course I won’t make the time to do it.

I haven’t downloaded any of the slides or extra resources yet, and just go back to the page I need using the ‘to do’ list if I’m not sure about something. Still feel like I’m learning, but pretty passively. This is mostly my own fault, but I also don’t feel like the course is making me be particularly active at points when I should be able to produce target language. It tests you at various points, but normally before rather than after the fact.

Roll on week four…

FutureLearn Italian course – weeks 1 and 2

I’m in the process of completing the FutureLearn beginner’s Italian course, which is free to participate in, although you need to pay if you want to get a certificate of completion.

While I’m doing the course, I’m hoping to write notes on my responses to the activities from a teaching perspective. Week 1’s are a few general thoughts on the course, and from week 2 onwards they’re quite in-depth reflections on how each activity is set up, my responses to them and what I feel I have learnt/could learn from them. Not sure how useful they are to anyone other than the course creators (or even to them?!) but since I’ve written it, I thought I’d share… 🙂

Very happy that due to a couple of weekends with no other plans and a national holiday, I’m on track with the course (it’s halfway through week 2 on the timeline at the moment). I’m mostly watching the videos in between doing other things, like my physio in the morning or the washing up in the evening, so it fits nicely around life. Not sure if that will continue, but I hope so, since week six is timed perfectly to end on the day that I fly to Milan for my first ever trip to Italy 🙂

Week 1

Videos at normal speed – options for half-speed, subtitles in English/Italian, can watch as much as you like. Pre-teaching some vocab and set up context beforehand – all positive points and help the learner get supported exposure to ‘normal’ Italian. Comprehension task is more of a memory test – can you remember which city she said?

Multiple-choice questions can sometimes be guessed without having looked at the content, but better on this course than on the dyslexia one, where you really didn’t need to read the content to answer them! (By the way, I’m half-way through the dyslexia course and will write about that when I’ve finished it…currently looking like that will be at some point in August)

Jobs – spelling test. Useful! Interesting activity design.

Spelling Italian vocabulary

Scaffolded nicely through the week. Could be useful to have the vocabulary in some kind of clickable form so you can just listen to the words you want to, not all of them (they’ve done this a little with some Quizlet grammar quizzes, but not with the vocab) All slides are downloadable for review, but would be more useful with the sound too

Grammar videos, e.g. intro to regular -are verbs and fare is clear, and he says that it’s normal to make mistakes at the beginning – supportive message. Would be useful to have more time to repeat the phrases after each one, and perhaps a ‘can you remember’ type activity within the video to aid memorisation, though I know it makes videos longer than current 4 minutes.

Week 2

Clear task before you watch video: “Watch the conversation between Mike, Anna and Lisa. Who is oldest? Who is youngest?” Advice to switch off subtitles, or use Italian only – little bits of learner training are useful.

Focus on communcation (ages) – one brief question and answer, then a little test – good way to introduce functional language.

Numbers and age (vocab) – all of the numbers, plus six phrases connected to stages of life (e.g. baby, teen, middle aged) in about 5 minutes. Woah! First time I’ve struggled to keep up (thanks to French/Spanish) – information overload. Receptively (the numbers he asked at the end and the multiple choice – can guess from three options), not too difficult because of other languages. Productively, no time to repeat, though you can watch the video again as many times as you want to and download the slides – lack of opportunity to drill yourself repeatedly on one word. Perhaps better to break into separate videos (0-10, 11-20, 21-100, ages), with some practice between each. A Quizlet set would also be very useful at this point (there have been a few scattered through the course so far, mostly for conjugations)

Grammar – conjugation of ‘avere’ (to have) – practise it alone, then combining it with ‘essere’ (to be) – good to see some revision. Comments on the quiz remind you of which forms you’re using once you’ve answered, though that only helps if you know grammar terms like ‘second person singular’ All quizzes have short sentences – good that it’s not just matching person to conjugation, but giving you a tiny bit of context.

Exploring Italian gives you some useful extra phrases for conversations from the original dialogues, e.g. ‘Veramente?’ ‘Really?’ – not accompanied by audio or any practice at all though. For example, maybe you could watch the original video again at this point to hear them being used in context. Or a little gapfill? Feels like this is extremely useful language that isn’t really being taught

Personal details comprehension questions are pretty impossible – the address one is OK, but you need to memorise an entire phone number, then answer a question using the word ‘indirizzo’, which hasn’t been introduced previously. ‘Mike ha un indirizzo di posta elettronica.’ – I interpreted this as ‘Mike doesn’t like email.’ (!), not Mike has an email address. Again, comprehension questions should be at same time as video, not a memory test.

Introducing formal/informal in a clear, easy way – the clips from the videos are great because they put all of the functional language into clear contexts and add a bit more language around them.

Culturally the difference between via/viale/strada is interesting, and sets you up for the quiz afterwards where you have to decide whether a word is connected to an address, email or telephone number, but that’s a minute that would perhaps be better spent elsewhere.

Lots of grammar terminology being thrown at you in the grammar videos at this point, without necessarily checking/glossing e.g. singular/plural, definite article. Should become clear as you work through the video, but a brief definition/comparison to English the first time it’s introduced might help e.g. ‘singular, when you have one, or plural, when you have many’ (see later…)

Discussion point 2/3 of the way through week two asks you to describe your family. There’s an example, but it’s before you’ve been introduced to any of the family vocab (which is the last third of this week’s course), so it relies on you understanding the example, making guesses, and using what other people have written. I guess it’s test-teach-test, but could be off-putting. Why not get us to do this after we’ve been introduced to the vocab? On the plus side – lots of reading practice in the comments. 859 things for me to read if I so choose 🙂 Comments demonstrate that a lot of the people doing the course have some level of Italian already, as they’re adding lots of things which haven’t been introduced. Fairly normal for a beginner’s course in any of the big languages, but could be off-putting for someone who is genuinely a complete beginner.

Good to see a Quizlet set after the communication video to help you practise some of the family vocab (family, sister, father, mother), along with some of the other things which have come up – extra jobs, one or two numbers. Would be good to have other key family words in there (brother, child, son, daughter, husband, wife) rather than using ‘sister’ so many times, though all sentences seem to be taken from the video – good for context. There’s one English mistake in there ‘How is your family?’ rather than ‘What is your family like?’

Family vocabulary video is good because finally the words are introduced twice over with time for you to repeat them, once in the context of Marco’s family tree, then repeated again. At the end, they ask you to find some words yourself (cousin, grandchild, uncle) ‘using the family tree and a dictionary’. It would be useful if they recommended an online dictionary to use, as for learners with no experience, they will probably just go to Google Translate. Actually, that’s what I did too. From that, I don’t know if ‘cugino’ is the same for masculine and feminine – there’s no information to support the learner as there might be in a learner’s dictionary.

For practice, there’s a link to a crossword. Would be useful to see more of this kind of thing throughout the course as an option to go further. This really tested whether I’d taken it in, and made me go back and look at the words again, something I haven’t really been motivated to do at any other point in the course so far. The only other repetition I’ve done is to watch each video in Italian twice, and to watch the numbers one twice. I didn’t bother to do any more practice with them, as I know I can recognise them, but I’m also very aware that I can’t produce many of them at all. I learnt about a new app in the process which looks brilliant – lots of options for creating interactive activities.

Definite article video is much more scaffolded than previous grammar videos, with an explanation of what that terminology means and when you use the definite article. Grammar quizzes separate the singular and plural articles, and as with all the grammar quizzes, if you get it wrong, there’s a comment underneath to help you self-correct. Might be useful to add one more quiz pulling them together and making you choose between singular or plural. I know that adds time to the week, but the two 10-question quizzes could be reduced slightly to balance it.

Summary of the week video seems a bit pointless to me (but then I’ve never been a fan of that kind of thing!) I just clicked on the transcript as it’s faster to skim. To me it would make much more sense to have the discussion task where you share family info at this point in the week, after you’ve studied it, so you can actually put it into practice.

General feelings about week 2: useful language has been introduced, but there’s a lot of it, and not much opportunity to practise. Receptively, I feel like I know more; productively, I’m not so sure, especially the numbers, and the family words which are more different to English.

Special Educational Needs by Marie Delaney (a review)

Special Educational Needs cover

I picked up Special Educational Needs [affiliate link] at IATEFL just before Marie Delaney’s talk on the challenges and opportunities of teaching students with SEN, which I summarised here. It is part of an OUP series called ‘Into the classroom’:

Into the Classroom explains new developments in teaching, and how to introduce them into your classroom. Short, easy to read and practical, this series helps you make sense of new developments that you need to bring into your classroom.

Short: yes, definitely. It’s an A4 book, with just 101 pages from start to finish, including three appendices, two of which contain key terms with clear jargon-free definitions.

Easy-to-read: it took me about four or five hours over the course of two days. It’s laid out in logical sections, starting with a general overview of SEN, then general tips for teachers, then individual chapters focussing on the main SEN that an English language teacher may have to deal with, including dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism. Suggestions and tips are all signposted and easy to find. The pages are well-spaced out and easy to navigate.

Practical: all of the tips seem like they should be easy to implement, although as Marie says in the introduction, it’s better not to try and do it all at once, especially if you have little previous experience with SEN. Throughout the book, tips on how to communicate with parents/carers and the students to find out what works for them are given. There are key sections on building self-esteem, and on helping other students in the group to work with those with SEN to reduce the feeling of isolation and increase empathy. The fact that one size most definitely does not fit all is emphasised, and there are many ideas for how to differentiate your lessons to ensure everyone is getting what they need.

The only slight problem I have with the book is frequent mentions of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners, rather than focussing on varied activities. This is a minor point though and does get in the way of the general usefulness of the book.

You can find sample pages from the book, along with supplementary materials to extend some of the chapters, in the OUP Teacher’s Club. It requires free registration, but there’s a lot of useful stuff in there, and I’d recommend it! I only seem to be able to find links to the e-book at the moment, which is about £11. I suspect that means the paperback version is still very new, and perhaps at IATEFL they had some of the first copies.

This book would be very useful for anybody who would like a beginner’s guide to SEN and practical tips for how to support students who have them. Special Educational Needs [affiliate link] is one of the quickest and easiest to read methodology books I have ever come across, and it would definitely tempt me to read others in the series. Highly recommended!

Working with Images by Ben Goldstein (a review)

I was given Working with Images [affiliate link] when I was doing a CELTA at IH Palma, as they had a couple of extra copies left over after a conference. As one of the curators of the amazing resource that is ELTpics, I am very interested in how images can be used in the classroom, although I have to say that in the past I have tended to stick to tasks involving describing the story behind an image or using modals of deduction (because they’re easy, not because I don’t know about many other ways to use images!)

Working with Images by Ben Goldstein (cover)

This is a useful resource book full of ideas for different types of images, not restricted only to photos as is often the case. It includes ideas for analysing adverts, icons, and works of art. There are activities for every level and age group, and it is accompanied by a CD-ROM with all of the relevant images. Every activity is explained step-by-step, and often includes many variations to adapt it to other age groups or images, or to extend the core activity.

A lot of the activities could also be used in conjunction with ELTpics sets:

Having read all of the activities, I certainly have a much better idea of how versatile images are and the range of different ways that you could exploit them in the classroom, moving beyond storytelling and grammar activities.

There are activities that will prompt critical thinking and visual literacy, particularly those in the section about advertising, such as 6.6 Adverts everywhere, which encourages students to consider how the positioning of an advert can effect their response to it. 2.19 Coursebook Images challenges students to say what kind of images should appear in a coursebook, and think about how representative the images in their coursebook are.

For those of you who want to incorporate PARSNIPs (a variety of potentially taboo subjects, covering politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms, pork) into their lessons, activities like 6.8 Subvertising look at how advertising messages we are familiar with can be subverted to make us think about a company or an issue in a different way. 5.7 Culture Shock uses signs to prompt students to consider differences in attitude and exposure to different situations in different cultures, such as the sign ‘no ice cream or guns’.

Working with Images [affiliate link] would be useful to have in a school library as a reference for teachers who would like to push themselves, although I suspect that as with many resource books like this, teachers would also need to be prompted to use it or it will just sit on the shelf gathering dust. That’s not to say that it isn’t full of great activities, just that it can sometimes be difficult to know where to incorporate them if you are working from a syllabus.

My challenge now is to start trying out some of the activities I keep reading about in resource books more actively in the classroom, slightly hindered by the fact that I now only teach for three hours a week! I’ll take it into school for our teachers to use, and hopefully it will be just one of the books which I use next year as I try and make our professional development for second years at the school more research driven. Watch this space to find out if I manage it…

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