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

Posts tagged ‘beginner’

Conversation jumble with ELTpics

I’ve recently been sorting out some of the files on my computer and came across a worksheet I created for low-level students to help them practise punctuation within a basic conversation. I thought I’d share it with you as I’m sure there’s somebody who’ll find it useful.

The sheet uses ELTpics by Kevin Stein and Laura Phelps. Kevin, I just realised that I said you lived in South Korea – obviously I wasn’t quite so aware then, and was just keen to use one of my all-time favourite ELTpics! Sorry 🙂

There are no contractions in there, but you might want to encourage the students to add them, maybe as a second stage after they done the un-jumbling task. There are also no exclamation marks, as I originally designed it for beginner Arabic and Chinese speakers and I thought that would be a bit too much for them to deal with. I’ve included them in brackets in the answers below.

[I believe you need a free SlideShare account to be able to download the worksheet]

Here are the answers:

A: Good morning. (!)

B: Hello. What is your name? (!) (What’s)

A: My name is Kevin. And you? (name’s)

B: I am Laura. Where are you from? (I’m)

A: I am from America. I live in South Korea. What about you? (I’m)

B: I am from the UK. What do you do? (I’m)

A: I am a teacher. What do you do? (I’m)

B: I am a teacher too. I love my job. (I’m) (!)

A: Me too. (!)

Camera

If you’ve created materials using ELTpics, why not share them with us (I’m one of the curators)? If you need inspiration, take a look at the ELTpics blog and start exploring the collection, which now has over 25,000 images!

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Photo box

While I was doing my CELTA, and before I knew about eltpics, I saved photos from magazines in an old biscuit tin. Shortly after my CELTA, I put said tin in my mum’s attic, where it stayed for the three years I was in Brno. When I came back to the UK to work in Newcastle, I thought it was time to retrieve some of the materials banished to the attic and try to make use of them. It took another eight months for me to finally find a good use for the photo box, and they have now become a staple of my current beginner classes. You could substitute eltpics or pictures drawn by students. Here are some of the ways I have used them.

With all of the activities, I modelled first, then the students copied the model to do the activity. I have never given explicit instructions as the students would not understand them at this level.

What’s her name? What’s his name?

After introducing the structure ‘What’s _____ name?’, elicit a selection of names and write them on slips of paper. Save them after the class (I keep mine in the tin with the pictures) as they will come in useful again and again. I wrote girls’ names in pink and boys’ names in blue to help the students. They don’t have to be English names – my students just decided that was what they wanted, and all of the names shown in these pictures come from them.

Ask the students to attach names to the photos by asking ‘What’s his/her name?’ They could also pick up a photo and a name to take on the identity of that person.

Other structures we practised here were:

  • His/Her name is (not) _______.
  • Is his/her name _______? Yes, it is. No, it isn’t.
  • He/She is (not)  ________.
  • Is he/she ________? Yes, he/she is. No, he/she isn’t.
  • (By grouping pictures or using ones with more than one person) What are their names?
  • Their names are ______ and ________.
  • Are their names ______ and ________? Yes, they are. No, they aren’t.
  • How do you spell _____?
Names and photos

What’s his name? What’s her name?

Where is she from? Where is he from?

Using flags, add an extra stage after eliciting the name. You can practise similar structures to those above, and by including pictures of objects you can add structures with ‘it’ too.

  • Where is he/she/it/Jake from?
  • Where does he/she/it/Kate come from?  (introduced by my students)
  • Is he/she/it/Ivy from _______? Yes, he/she/it is. No, he/she/it isn’t.
  • Does he/she/it/Harry come from ________? Yes, he/she/it does. No, he/she/it doesn’t.
  • What country is he/she/it/James from?
  • He/She/It/Lucy is (not) from __________.
  • He/She/It/David comes/doesn’t come from ____________.
Pictures, names and flags

Where is he from? Where is she from?

Colours

Spread a selection of pictures, both people and objects on the table. Ask students to point to a picture showing a particular colour: blue/red…. You could make it harder by including more than one colour in your requirement: blue and green. You could also practise ‘What colour is it?’

Objects/Possessives

First, revise the name questions as above – I normally get students to do this as they are assigning names to the photos. Then, put an object with each name/photo pair. You can use this to practise:

  • Does he/she/Michael have ________? Yes, he/she does. No, he/she doesn’t.
  • He/She/Jack has __________.
  • He/She/John doesn’t have _________.
  • What does he/she/Anna have?
  • Do they have ______? Yes, they do. No, they don’t.
  • They (don’t) have ________.
  • What do they have?

We played a guessing game using the ‘doesn’t have’ structure. One person said a negative sentence, for example ‘He doesn’t have matches.’ The others were allowed one guess (only!), before the first student said another sentence. The other students had to work out which person it was using the fewest guesses.

With the same photos and flashcards, we also practised:

  • It is his/her/their/Jack’s _________.
  • They are his/her/their/Jack’s ________.
  • Is it his/her/their/Jack’s __________? Yes, it is. No, it isn’t.
  • Are they his/her/their/Jack’s ________? Yes, they are. No, they aren’t.
Names and objects

What does he have? What does she have?

Clothes

You could do practise any of the structures listed for ‘objects’ above. You could also practise the obvious structure of: ‘What is he/she wearing?’ ‘What are they wearing?’ I introduced colours as adjectives at this point:

  • She is wearing a grey jacket.
  • He is wearing a black jacket.
  • Michael is wearing a white shirt.

The course

I have managed to teach at least 50 hours of lessons over the last five weeks based largely on a combination of these pictures, some flashcards, a (non-interactive) whiteboard, and trips to the school cafe to introduce other students. The pictures have formed the backbone of drilling and repetition, while providing variety through their mix and match nature. I’ve had a maximum of four students, so this variety has been important. I will continue to use them throughout the course, and will share any more activities as and when we do them. If you have any more ideas on how to use the pictures, with any level (not just beginners), please feel free to leave a comment.

Enjoy!

A beautiful symmetry

Two weeks ago I started studying Mandarin for the first time.

My school offers weekly two-hour evening classes, and in the two classes so far we have covered the basics of ‘What’s your name?’ ‘What’s your surname?’ ‘I’m English. And you?’ ‘I’m a teacher/student.’ I am one of two students, and we have a native speaker teacher, who also speaks English. Outside class, I thought I should practice what I preach and find some extra things to help me study, in addition to the materials our teacher gives us. I have started compiling a list of the resources I’ve found, and if anyone has any others to recommend, please let me know. My three favourites are currently:

During the first lesson, I was reminded how alien a new foreign language can sound, especially when it is as different as Mandarin is from English. It was also a timely reminder about how scary it can be for students to be confronted by a wall of sound, with no distinguishable features or similarities to your own language, and how easy it is to cling to your L1 in such a situation – my classmate and I discuss most things we have to do in English before attempting them in Mandarin. Being used to the teaching method and having studied various languages before, I have a slight advantage as I can guess what some of the language is or what we are expected to do in tasks, but even this is not enough at times. This is not to say that our teacher is in any way lacking; in fact, she provides us with clear tasks and models all of the language needed. She is also very patient, which is necessary because what we produce must have sounded horrible to her! I’ve really enjoyed the lessons so far, despite leaving with a headache both times (!) and I’m looking forward to continuing with them for the rest of my time in Newcastle. The bug has definitely bitten!

One day, this will all be perfectly clear!

One day, this will all be perfectly clear! (from http://flickr.com/eltpics by me)

So, what does that have to do with a ‘beautiful symmetry’ then?

Well, four days ago I started teaching two Chinese men English. They are both in their early twenties, and probably had about fifty words of English between them when they arrived (separately) in Newcastle a week ago. I didn’t know I would be teaching them until after they had their placement tests on Monday, so this was a happy coincidence.

Their first class with me probably felt a lot like my first Chinese class, although at least they can write Roman letters as they are used in Pinyin 🙂 But apart from that, we were starting with an almost completely blank slate. There are two students for two hours every morning, and one of them has an hour of personal study programme time and another two hour lesson in the afternoon, which we mostly use to consolidate what I introduce in the mornings, and to try it out on students around the school. In eight hours, the total time of the morning lessons, we have so far looked at:

  • What is your/his/her name? My/His/Her name is…
  • How are you? I’m fine. And you?
  • Where are you from? Where is he/she from? I’m from… He/She is from…
  • Where do you come from? I come from… (introduced by the students)
  • 1-20
  • A-Z; How do you spell…?
  • colours

This has included a small focus on I/my, you/your, he/his and she/her differences, which don’t exist in Mandarin – one pronoun is used for both functions in each case.

So far, all of the lessons have been based on flashcards, cut out letters, a set of felt-tip pens, a box of pictures from old magazines, board pens and the whiteboard. I have also invited in almost every person who has walked past the classroom so that my students could practise introducing themselves! Taking advantage of the wifi, I showed them how to play the scatter mode on Quizlet (guide) and they have already become quite competitive. We have also recorded some conversations on Audioboo for them to use as examples when they are at home. I am using Edmodo to record what we have done and give the students exercises to practise more at home.  If you would like to see what we have been doing on Edmodo, please let me know via Twitter or by leaving a comment here with a way to contact you.

I’m really enjoying the challenge of teaching beginners, especially the look of happiness on their faces whenever they manage to have a successful conversation or complete a challenge I have set them, like putting all of the number flashcards in order as quickly as possible, and beating the fastest time from the previous day. It has reminded me how important it is to be patient as a teacher: students at all levels need space to take in what you are teaching them, and this is particularly important at low levels. Patience also includes an ability to stay interested as a teacher: if you get bored with recycling ‘What is his name?’ ‘What is her name?’ again and again, then teaching beginners probably isn’t the right place for you! Creativity is important here too, to keep up both your own and the students’ interest in what you are doing.

I’m looking forward to seeing how much they remember after a three-day weekend, and to my third Chinese lesson, which happens on Tuesday too!

Revising numbers and letters

I did this activity in an IELTS class this morning as a fun way to practise listening part 1, where you have to write information down including numbers and letters. These could be product codes, reference numbers and other combinations of numbers and letters.

You could also use it with lower level students to practise the alphabet or vocabulary you’ve studied recently.

Dictate a place name, interspersed with letters and numbers. This was my example (be careful with ‘o’ and zero):

w1o3lv4e79r12h6amp8t10on

Students should write it down as just a series of letters and numbers. Tell them it’s a place which they have to find by underlining the letters. The answer here is ‘Wolverhampton’, the town where I grew up.

They then think of a place name and add some numbers to it to dictate to a partner. They could also choose some vocabulary from a recent class, names of people, or reverse it by having a date with letters interspersed in it.

Diary of a beginner: seventh lesson

To see the previous lessons, click here.

In today’s lesson we started off with a quick revision of the long vowel sounds covered at the end of the last lesson because H said he hadn’t listened to them at all. He remembered almost all of them, but struggles with the /3:/ sound in bird.

I then used Cuisenaire rods to elicit the forms that we did last time. This was the result for ‘I’ (without the words!):

Cuisenaire rods grammarI then held up the ‘I’ white rod and said ‘you’ and we repeated the pattern, then did the same for he/she/it. He needed to use his piece of paper to remember the forms the first time round, so we ended up doing it twice: once with the paper, once without.

Before the lesson I had laid out a set of pictures cut from magazines:

Pictures on deskI pointed at people/things in the pictures and asked a set of simple questions, along the lines of:

Is he a teacher?

Is it a dog?

designed to elicit Yes/No short answers, referring to the Cuisenaire rods if necessary. We then switched roles so that H was asking the questions. He started to experiment more with the language, adding a few colours, this/that and my/your. I haven’t done colours with him, so I checked quickly and he knows most of the basic ones except for brown, purple and grey.

I decided to build on the possessive pronouns my/your for the rest of the lesson. He wrote another table similar to last week’s one:

Possessive pronounsI know the sentence ‘It is its cup’ is a little odd, but he was happy with the pattern, so I don’t think it matters too much.

I made a quick list of all of the things we’ve covered, plus some of the extra language he brought up in the picture activity above. It looks like this at the moment:

Vocabulary

Numbers

1-20

Time

Monday-Sunday, January-December

The Alphabet

A-Z

Colours

Knows: red, blue, black, white, green, yellow, orange, pink

Added 19/6: purple, gray, brown

Jobs

Teacher, student, fireman/firewoman, actor/actress, shop assistant, singer, sportsman/sportswoman, secretary

Pronunciation 19/6: hairdresser, waiter, journalist, nurse

Added 19/6: policeman/policewoman

Things

cup, table, chair, armchair

Animals

dog, cat, mouse

Transport

bike, car, train

 

Grammar

To be

I am, You are, He/She/It is (+ – ? yes no)

Possessives

my, your, his, her, its

I’ll try to keep the list up-to-date. H was very motivated to see all of the things we’ve managed to cover so far.

His homework is to listen to recordings of the three colours he had trouble with (he asked for them with Czech too), the jobs he had trouble pronouncing and the sentences from his grid for my/your/etc.

This could be our last face-to-face lesson as I’m leaving Brno a week today. We’re planning to try out teaching via Skype, so watch this space!

Diary of a Beginner: Sixth Lesson

Last weekend, H and I had our sixth lesson. He led this lesson, starting off with a little card he’d written with 5 sentences on it:

  • I am a teacher.
  • You are a student.
  • He is an actor.
  • She is an actress.
  • It is a dog.

Because he’d had so much trouble in the previous lesson with the idea of ‘I am’, ‘You are’, ‘I am not’, ‘You are not’ and the question forms, I decided we would write out these sentences in the different forms. These were the results:

Positive and negative forms (I, you, he, she, it + be)Question and short forms (I, you, he, she, it + be)As you can see, we did various things to highlight forms. The arrow shows that ‘not’ is how we make a very negative’ – in Czech ‘ne’ is used to say ‘no’ and is added to a verb to make it negative. I used an orange pen to show how the apostrophe in a contraction replaces missing letters. I also drew a line under the phrases to show how the contractions correspond to the longer versions.

This was a real lesson in how to teach beginners for me – there are so many things we take for granted with our students, and we ended up having a lot of discussions in Czech to help H understand various concepts – I dread to think how he would have felt if we couldn’t have done this. I know native speakers who don’t speak the learners L1 can teach beginners, but I can see how much easier it is using a mix of both languages. For example, even the concept of different word order for a statement and a question was very difficult for H to grasp, since in Czech this doesn’t change.

Other problems with L1 became apparent here too: there are no articles in Czech, so he couldn’t understand why he needed one in English even though his original sentences had them already. In the end I showed him the contents page of New English File Beginner and told him not to worry about them – they would be covered in unit 2A and we’re in 1B. The existence of contractions is another thing which Czech lacks – all words are equally stressed, so he found it hard to see why there might be more than one form of these phrases.

The last problem with L1 interference was with ‘dog’ – in Czech ‘pes’ is a masculine noun as it ends in a consonant. Therefore it is always replaced by the subject ‘he’. I extended the idea to ‘It is a bag’/’It is a table’ etc to show other ways to use ‘it’, but H decided to keep his original example sentence.

All of these discussions just from five ‘simple’ sentences!

Once we’d created these tables, we practised the I/you forms using the grammar bank activities in NEF Beginner. Here again we had a couple of problems. Although the two-line dialogues were accompanied by pictures, it wasn’t always clear who was speaking. In the end, we labelled the people in the pictures as A and B to make it a bit easier. H also can’t understand why we say ‘You ARE late’ instead of ‘You ARRIVE late’ like in Czech. I said to him that I can’t understand why they say ‘You ARRIVE late’ and pointed out that that’s why you have to learn other languages 😉 I recorded the conversations so that H could listen to them at home.

After all of that, we only had five minutes left, so I decided to introduce the five long vowel sounds from the English File pronunciation chart. I also gave him these to listen to at home. Ordinarily I wouldn’t rush him with all of these sounds, but we only have three more weeks in which to have lessons, so he asked me to try to do all of them before I leave.

In the end, it was a very educational lesson for both of us!

Diary of a beginner: Fifth Lesson

(If you’re interested, you can read about the first, second, third and fourth lessons.)

The first 45 minutes were spent revising what we’ve covered before, and I can definitely see that he is remembering things now. He’s making progress because we had time to do some writing today.

It took 5 minutes to go through my alphabet cards in a random order and say all of them, then pick them up when I said them – this is a real improvement!

I spelled the numbers and he wrote them, predicting the last couple of letters. The only one he still had trouble with was ‘twenty’, spelling it ‘twenteen’ by analogy with Czech where the ‘tens’ are counted in multiples of ten, so twenty is like ‘two tens’. I also taught him the idea of ‘double’ for the same letter twice, i.e. ‘double E’ = ‘ee’

For the days of the week I showed him the cards and he said them. I then asked him to write them all down in order. With a little prompting he remembered ‘How do you spell…?’ but had to be reminded to use it! He still struggled with Wednesday and Friday, but especially with Thursday which he has real trouble pronouncing and confuses with Tuesday (all of which I have to keep assuring him is completely normal!)

With the months, he put the cards in order, then closed his eyes while I took one or two of them away and he remembered them.

We revised the consonant sounds that we’d done previously and added the final six sounds. Unsurprisingly, he really struggled with the two pronunciations of /th/. He realised that he’d been pronouncing ‘this’ and ‘thank’ wrong, so was trying hard to correct himself.

We spent the last ten minutes of the lesson looking at ‘I am’, ‘You are’, ‘I am not’ and ‘You are not’ using New English File Beginner. First he looked at and spontaneously translated a dialogue, then listened to it. We then looked at the four phrases in the examples and thought about what they mean. There was a slight problem with the example sentence in the book because the dialogue used “You are late.” for ‘You are’. In Czech this would be translated as ‘You arrive late.’ without using ‘be’ at all. I showed him that this was the equivalent for ‘be’ and that this is the verb we use in this phrase in English.

He constantly surprises me with the amount of words he knows already, but they are still very isolated at the moment, with very little grammar to link them together. Highlighting to him that he knows this words is very important, especially when one of his final comments before leaving (in Czech, not English!) was “How will I communicate with people if I can’t speak?” I explained to him that he just needs time, that this was just the first time he had seen these things and that he needs 20+ times to really start to fix it in his head.

Diary of a beginner: Third and Fourth Lessons

The third lesson with my beginner student was two weeks ago.

We started by revising numbers and letters. I then tried to revise the days and the months, both of which I had sent him to practise after the second lesson. He hadn’t noticed them in his email, so didn’t know them at all. This really proved to me that the listening he does in his car is what makes him learn the words, as without it he was completely lost.

He had however recieved the third file I sent him, based on the 12 consonant phonetic sounds from the English File set introduced in lesson two. We spent a few minutes practising these and he remembered all of them without a problem.

After all of that we had about 25 minutes left (the lessons are one hour long). We used an information gap from the New English File Beginner Teacher’s Book, which I can’t reproduce here due to copyright laws. We each had the same 12 pictures. Under the pictures was either the word or a line. We asked each other “How do you spell…?” to complete our sheets. If he did not know a word, he asked “What is it?” first. I then recorded the words and the spellings for him to listen to at home. I also re-sent him the months and the days for homework, along with corresponding sets on quizlet (months, days).

We’ve just had our fourth lesson together. Even with a two-week break, he remembered everything really well. This is what we did:

  • Numbers: he put the flashcards in order, then closed his eyes while I removed 2-4 cards. Each time he had to say which numbers were missing. Then he said all of the numbers 1>20 and finally 20>1.
  • Alphabet: I placed the letters randomly on the table and he said them. Then I said a letter and he took it. No problems at all this week 🙂
  • Consonants: he remembered all of the words. I then got him to try to write them down as he only gets listening practice out of class. If he didn’t know how to spell the word he asked me. If he already knew it, he spelt it for me. This was good for practising spelling, and also to think about some common English sound-spelling relationships.
  • Days of the week: a year ago I was very happy to find a card game for children based on the popular book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In the card game, the players should put down the days of the week in the correct order (Monday, Tuesday…). When they have played all of the ‘days’, their caterpillar turns into a butterfly. The cards are really well illustrated, and I jumped at the chance to use them. I used two sets of ‘week’ cards (there are four in the pack). First he put one set in order, helped by the fact that each card also says “Day 1”, “Day 2” etc on it – especially useful for Tuesday/Thursday. I explained the story to him in a mixture of Czech and English, helped by the pictures on the cards. We then played pelmanism with both sets, with him saying the words as he turned over the cards. Despite the fact that the cards are designed for children, I think he appreciated their quality and understand the value of pelmanism for his pronunciation.
    For those of you not familiar with the story, here is a youtube version:

  • Months: he said the months, then wrote them down. As with the consonants above, he could ask me for difficult spellings.
  • Six more consonant phonetics: I introduced /h/, /n/, /m/, /l/, /r/ and /w/, the latter being the most difficult as this sound doesn’t exist in Czech. He also wrote these words down. Listening to this recording is his homework.

What do you think I should do in the next class? Should I revise everything at the beginning as a confidence booster? I’m planning to start introducing some of the most common question / answer pairs, but probably won’t have time to do a lot in class. Which would you say are the most important for a businessman in his 30s (i.e. “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” etc)?

Read about the first and second lessons.

Diary of a beginner: Second Lesson

Alphabet Soup

Alphabet Soup (created using http://www.wordle.net)

I’ve just finished my second lesson with the beginner I’m teaching and blogging about (read the first post to find out more). For homework he had to practise the alphabet using the audio file I had sent him previously.

We started the lesson by using my laminated letters to randomly practise, and he got all but H and Y without a problem. Last week he’d struggled with more than half of the lessons, so it was great to see such a quick improvement – one of the reasons I enjoy lessons with beginners!

Next, I said the numbers 1-20 in a random order for him to write down. When he had trouble I spelled the word and highlighted anything he needed to rememeber. For speaking practice, I then said a number and he had to spell it out loud.

Once we’d consolidated numbers and letters, we moved on to eliciting any and all English words he already knows, designed to be a confidence builder and an evaluation task at the same time. He wrote the alphabet down the side of the page, then wrote any words he could think of. When he had spelling problems, I helped him out.

Through this we got on to talking about the phonetic alphabet, with me attempting to explain in A2/B1-level Czech what it is, how it works and why it’s useful! We got there in the end, and once he’d understood that we talked about whether he wanted to learn it or not. He decided he did, so this week’s homework will be me going through the key consonants which are similar sounds in Czech to start him off. That should give him at least 12 of the sounds straight away. I’ll use the English File symbols and pictures, as I think they’re the most useful version of the phonetic alphabet, using pictures to help you remember the sounds.

Do you teach the phonetic alphabet to students in general? And to beginners in particular?

Diary of a Beginner: First Lesson

I’ve just started teaching a new private student. He’s a complete beginner in his 30s, having studied Russian at school and learnt a little German when working as a waiter a few years ago. He’s recently decided that he really needs to study English as he’ll soon need it for his job (he’s a salesman in the Czech Republic). He constantly travels and spends many hours a week in his car. The lessons will be sporadic, depending on when he is away. I thought it would be interesting to catalogue my approach and his progress here, which he has agreed to.

Our initial meeting was conducted almost exclusively in Czech, as he really couldn’t understand anything I said to him. He couldn’t count to ten, so we decided to start with numbers. During our meeting, I recorded myself counting to 20 using Audacity, leaving gaps between the numbers for him to say them. I also sent him a copy of a powerpoint presentation I had made previously for young learners, without adapting it as I wanted to get him started as soon as possible.

(Feel free to download and use this with your own students if you think it will be useful)

The plan is for him to do as much self-study as possible, with internet support where applicable. He will listen to the audio files in his car and use the presentations as he likes (printing them, on-screen or on his phone). We will then consolidate what he has done by himself by practising it further in class. If there is time, I will introduce the next topic in the sessions too.

I have decided not to use a textbook and to record the audio myself, as I feel this will personalise the lessons as much as possible.

What do you think of this approach? Have you ever taught in a similar situation? Do you have any advice?

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