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

Posts tagged ‘grammar’

How to write CCQs (concept checking questions)

As every CELTA trainee knows, a CCQ is a Concept Checking Question. What they often don’t know is how to approach writing them. They can be the bane of trainees’ lives and they took me a long time to get my head around. Don’t worry if it takes you time as well. Here’s my advice for how to go about it.

Step 1: Research the language

Vocabulary

Choose a marker sentence containing the vocabulary in context.

Look up the word/phrase in a good Learner’s Dictionary, for example:

Even better, look it up in two or three and compare the definitions. Write them all down. You’ll need these later.

Make sure you are checking the same meaning as the one you are teaching. For example, ‘ages’ in the sentence ‘It took me ages.’ is not the same as in the sentence ‘The Iron and Stone Ages were a long time ago.’

Grammar

Identify two or three ‘marker sentences’ from the context which make the use of the grammar clear.

Use the language information in the course book you are using to learn about the grammar point at the appropriate level for your students. There may also be extra information at the end of the course book unit, in the final sections of the course book, and/or in the teacher’s book or work book. Use the information you find to write the meaning or use of the grammar point in your own words. Aim not to use the grammar points in your explanation. For example, if you are explaining the present perfect don’t use the present perfect in your explanation. 

If you want to beef up your understanding or the course book is confusing you, use a grammar book designed for teachers. I recommend Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener (Amazon, BEBC) and Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott (Amazon). Both of these will tell you about problems students might have with the grammar point, and suggest some ideas for CCQs. A new book aimed at helping new teachers with grammar is Learning to Teach Grammar by Simon Haines (Amazon, Delta, BEBC) – I haven’t used the book, but the previews look like it would be incredibly useful. [All Amazon links are affiliate links in this paragraph.]

As with vocabulary, be careful to research the exact area of the grammar which you are teaching to the students. For example, present continuous for actions in progress and for future arrangements are two different areas of meaning which need two different explanations (and therefore CCQs) when you first start teaching grammar.

Step 2: Boil it down

Take your definitions of the vocabulary item or your explanation of the grammar. Reduce it to two to four key words or concepts that you express in as few words as possible. Occasionally you need more than four, but this is very unusual. Here are some examples.

Vocabulary

It took me ages to understand CCQs.

I eventually understood CCQs.

  • Oxford definition: at the end of a period of time or a series of events
  • Cambridge definition: in the end, especially after a long time or a lot of effort, problems, etc.
  • Macmillan definition: at the end of a process or period of time in which many things happen
  • My reduction: at the end, after a long time

finally understood CCQs.

Grammar

I’m going to meet my mum tonight.

  • Talking about the future
  • Plan
  • Decided before I speak
  • In my head, not my diary

Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided before, in my head

I’m meeting my mum later.

  • Talking about the future
  • Plan
  • Decided before I speak
  • In my diary (probably)

Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided before, in my diary

I’ll meet you later.

  • Talking about the future
  • Plan
  • Decided now (as I speak)

Further boiled down to: future, plan, decided now

If you’re struggling with this process when describing tenses, it can help to change the verb to another tense and think about the difference between the new and the old sentence. As you can see in the examples above, there are subtle differences which hold most of the time (often enough for you to help students understand them!) 

Step 3: Make your questions

Look at the keywords you have created. Turn them into questions (sometimes easier said than done!)

The easiest questions to create are yes/no questions, but I don’t believe that the learners necessarily process the language if they only answer yes or no. I prefer questions which get the students to repeat the keywords I have identified to summarize that area of language. The best CCQs:

  • Are as short as possible. Don’t be polite or bury the question in unnecessary fluff: get to the point.
  • Are in the present simple or past simple.
  • Don’t contain the target language! (So no present perfect in your question about the present perfect.)
  • Use only language below the level of the students.
  • Require thought to answer.
  • Can be endlessly reused every time you check the meaning of that grammar point or vocabulary area.
  • Can clearly show the difference between similar grammar points in an unequivocal way with only slight variations (see below).
  • Are in a logical order starting from the biggest part of the meaning and moving to the most specific. Consider it like a flowchart, with each CCQ taking you on a different path, leading to a different tense/word choice (Read the examples below, then read that bullet point again if it didn’t make sense on your first pass!)

Here are examples taken from the key words above. Always keep your target language in a marker sentence to make the questions clearer.

Vocabulary

Decide if the word can be shown with a picture or an item of realia, or demonstrated through mime. If so, stop here. However, you might want to use one or two CCQs to supplement the picture or the mime to clarify the boundaries of the meaning e.g. the difference between ‘chair’ and ‘armchair’.

The three example words I’ve selected can’t be easily shown using any of these methods, though a timeline or gesture or series of words (don’t understand, don’t understand, don’t understand, understand!) might help to emphasise the idea of a long time. That means it’s important to have CCQs in case a student is confused about how to use the word.

It took me ages to understand CCQs.

  • How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.
  • (optional) Is ‘ages’ more formal or more informal? More informal.

I eventually understood CCQs after reading this blogpost.

  • Did I understand at the start or the end? At the end.
  • How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.

I feel like I finally understand CCQs.

  • How long did I need? A long time or a short time? A long time.
  • Was it easy or difficult for me to understand? (Probably) difficult.

Notice that the order of the questions reflects the order of the concepts in the dictionary definitions. This can be a useful guideline – it works most of the time.

Grammar

I’m going to meet my mum tonight.

  • Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
  • Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
  • Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Before.
  • Is it in my head or in my diary? In my head.

I’m meeting my mum later.

  • Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
  • Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
  • Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Before.
  • Is it in my head or in my diary? In my diary.

I’ll meet you later.

  • Is it about the past, present, or future? The future.
  • Is it a plan or an idea? A plan.
  • Did I decide now (when I’m speaking) or before? Now.

Step 4: Use them when you’re planning

One of my least favourite phrases on a lesson plan from somebody who is new to teaching: “Ask CCQs”. Please please please tell me exactly what you’ll ask and what answers you expect to hear from the students. This is far easier and more efficient than trying to think of them on the spot in the lesson – I still write exact CCQs on my plans now.

Complete any controlled practice exercises yourself which you plan to give the students. For each answer, use the key words you wrote in Step 2 to help you decide why that is the correct answer.

Step 5: Use them in the lesson

You can use CCQs to check if students understand the marker sentences. Make sure that the context the sentence is from is very clear. Don’t use isolated, decontextualised sentences as this will make it harder for the students to answer the questions correctly.

You can also use CCQs to help students decide if they have the correct answers in controlled practice exercises when they are choosing between different words or tenses. Having very short, clear keywords makes this efficient. CCQs which require the students to repeat the key words can reinforce the meaning for the students. This is where including reasons with the controlled practice answers in your planning will make things more efficient in the lesson, and make more learning happen.

In summary

  1. Research the language.
  2. Boil it down.
  3. Write your questions.
  4. Use them when you’re planning.
  5. Use them in your lesson.

Trainers, what other CCQ advice do you give?

Teachers, what other problems do you have with CCQs?

Useful links

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to concept checking both grammar and vocabulary. 

Here’s a fun introduction to CCQs.

Fergus Fadden has a webinar explaining how to create and use CCQs.

Useful links for CELTA is a collection of hundreds of resources to help you during your course.

Mistakes trainees make in CELTA TP (teaching practice)*

*or “5 things no CELTA trainer ever said but which they see on every course!”

Albert Einstein, with 'I didn't say that' in meme font

Please don’t do these things! Read on to find out what to replace them with and why.

Spend 10 minutes lecturing students about grammar

That’s definitely not how we learn grammar: by listening to somebody else tell us about it for ten minutes, often in confusing, over-complicated language, with only minimal examples. Also, the students have probably heard versions of the lecture before. The problem isn’t whether they can understand your lecture and explain the rules to somebody else, it’s whether they can actually use the language.

Instead of lecturing, get the students doing a task showing whether they can use the grammar as soon as possible.

If you’re not confident with this area of grammar, the task might be asking them to match rules to examples, with all of the examples taken from a clear context introduced earlier in the lesson. Often this is what a grammar box does in a coursebook (a light version of guided discovery), if you’re using one. Focus on the form, drill pronunciation, and give them controlled and freer practice activities. This is called present-practice-produce or PPP. While it’s not always the most efficient way of teaching language, students can still benefit providing they get enough practice and feedback on their performance.

If you’re a little confident, get students to start with an activity where they have to produce this specific language point. A controlled practice exercise can be turned into a mini test (in a test-teach-test or TTT model), which you can use to find out which parts of the grammar the students are having problems with. Check carefully whether the exercise tests their knowledge of meaning or form, and consider how you can test their pronunciation too. One activity I like is to give them a couple of minutes to say all of the sentences as quickly as possible in pairs. Don’t put them on the spot in open class to do this as that might put them off English for life if they struggle! Once you’ve gathered information about what they can and can’t do, fill in the gaps with your teaching, for example, by revising the negative form only because they’re already OK with the positive form. Test them again at the end of the lesson. This is a good approach because it allows you to target your teaching to the problems they have, instead of the broad brush approach of TTT.

If you’re very confident, give them a fully communicative speaking or writing activity which might lead them to using the target language of your lesson – you can adapt this from a freer practice exercise in the coursebook. An easy example would be having students tell each other a story at the beginning of a lesson on past tenses. You can find out the range of tenses they’re using (only past simple and past continuous? only present tenses?), as well as spot problems with form and pronunciation of the language you’d like to focus on. Then choose one or two grammar (or lexis or pronunciation or discourse) areas to focus on in your teaching to upgrade their language. Give them more opportunities to practice, perhaps with controlled practice, but most importantly with another speaking or writing activity where the focus is on communication, not accuracy of language, but where they can use the definitely use the target language. This is called task-based learning (or TBL), and is a useful approach because the focus is primarily on communication using all of the language resources at students’ disposal, not only using the specific target language the teacher has chosen for today.

Present all vocabulary items separately before students do their first vocabulary exercise

This might feel like you’re being helpful, but it removes all of the challenge from the vocabulary exercise, generally takes a long time, and reduces the opportunities students have to struggle a little, make mistakes, and get feedback – where the real learning happens. If we’re not struggling, we’re not learning.

Instead, let the students have a go at the exercise first. If they work alone, give them a chance to compare in pairs before you check their answers with them. Make sure you have analysed the meaning, form and pronunciation of all of the words in your lesson plan, just in case, but you don’t need to go over all of them with the students, only the problem words.

Even better, let the students work in pairs to do the exercise. That way, they can support each other with questions they find challenging and learn from each other. You can also hear them pronouncing the words. When monitoring during the activity, you can identify which words you need to check the meaning of more carefully and which ones you need to drill.

This might mean you go from looking at the meaning, form and pronunciation of eight words, to the meaning of two, the pronunciation of four, and checking the spelling of two other problem words. As you can imagine, this will take a lot less time, and students will be more engaged because it’s only dealing with their problems, instead of going over ground they’ve already covered before. It also means more time for the all important practice and feedback on it.

Read every question from a comprehension exercise aloud before you start the activity

While it’s great that students are aware of the questions before they do the reading/listening activity, this means students are listening to you for a long time. If you’re displaying the activity too, they’re trying to read and listen at the same time, which we normally do at different speeds. While this can help some students, for others it will interrupt their processing and make it harder. If you’re not displaying the questions, the students are trying to work out how much attention they should be paying – should they answer the questions? Remember them? Or what? If you ask students to read out each comprehension question, you’re generally putting them on the spot (they’ve rarely rehearsed) asking them to pronounce things that were meant to be read not spoken, and possibly are quite challenging. Other students are struggling to understand what they’re hearing, and again possibly getting distracted by the written form of the questions.

Instead, if it’s questions for a listening activity, give students 1-2 minutes (depending on how many questions there are) to read the questions in silence. You can give them a little task if you like e.g. underline any words which you’re not sure about. I don’t tend to do this though, as I’ve either already taught them a challenging word or two from the questions, or they’ll ask me themselves if they don’t know it and I’ve built up a relationship of trust and asking questions openly. It might also be worth highlighting the pronunciation of one or two words with strange sound-spelling relationships, such as queue, to prepare learners to notice it in the audio. Then ask learners if they’re ready to listen and play the audio.

If it’s a reading, it’s generally enough to highlight one or two words students might not understand in the questions, trying to elicit the meaning where possible rather than just telling the students. Then let them do the reading – they don’t necessarily need separate time to read all of the questions first.

Drill all the answers

After a reading or listening activity, you don’t need to drill the correct answers as students are answering the questions. It shifts the focus of the stage from ensuring that students all have the correct answers and know why they’re correct, to a pronunciation drill. If they’ve already got an answer with a similar meaning, they’re likely to start doubting themselves. They might not want to volunteer an answer if they’re worried about pronunciation. It can particularly confuse students when you shift back and forth between asking for an answer, drilling a version of it, asking for the next answer, drilling it, etc. as they don’t know what to focus on: the answers or the correct pronunciation?

Instead, make sure the students have all of the correct answers first. Here are a few ways to do this (some of them are Zoom-specific):

  • Teacher nominates students for verbal feedback (what we most commonly see, but this can take a long time and be very teacher-centred)
  • Students nominate each other.
  • All students answer the question verbally. (works well for short answers e.g. a, b)
  • Thumbs up/down if you agree with my answer.
  • Reveal the answers on PowerPoint from behind boxes – one at a time / all at once
  • Move pictures or words to provide visual support to oral feedback.
  • Type on the screen to provide visual support to oral feedback.
  • One student reads out all of the answers, the others say if there are any problems.
  • Display the answers with a couple of mistakes. Students have to find them.
  • Zoom: Type in the chat box – everybody types the same answer at the same time, controlled by the teacher.
  • Zoom: Type in the chat box – 1 student types each answer, e.g. Student A types 1, B types 2, C types 3, etc.
  • Zoom: Use the stamp function in annotate to tick/cross statements. (tell them it’s under ‘view options’ – only on computers, not phones)
  • Zoom: Get students to send answers only to you in the chat using the private message function.
  • Zoom: Students type all the answers, but don’t press enter until you tell them to (especially good for two or three short answers)
  • Zoom: Write longer answers in Google Docs/Padlet, preferably while doing the activity rather than afterwards.

If there were any major pronunciation problems which really impeded communication, make a note of them and go back to them once the students have all of the correct answers. If they didn’t impede communication, it’s OK not to worry about them.

The teacher must be in complete control of everything the students say and do throughout the lesson

This includes but is not limited to:

  • Lead ins which are a question and answer session between the teacher and the whole class, with only one student speaking at any one time
  • Long teacher-centred grammar presentations
  • A complete lack of pairwork or groupwork, only whole class, teacher-mediated activities
  • Feedback stages which consist of the teacher nominating each student in turn to basically repeat when they just said during pairwork

While each of these activities may (very!) occasionally be useful, if you never give the students any space or freedom to experiment with the language during the lesson, they won’t learn. Again, if we’re not struggling, we’re not learning. If you try to make sure that everything they ever produce is perfect, some students will shut down completely and stop trying to communicate. If you fully dominate the lesson, the pace often drops, students lose engagement and (particularly with kids and young learners) you start to have problems with classroom management as students don’t want to be there. I once heard this salient reminder from a feedback session (substituting my name for the person concerned): “Remember, Sandy, it’s not the Sandy show. You’re there to help the students, not do the work for them.”

Instead, hand over control to the students as much as possible. Set up pair and group work and monitor from the sidelines, being prepared to help when needed. Do this right from the start of the lesson, and take yourself out of the question. Find other ways to work with grammar (see the first point above). Vary your feedback stages so they’re not as teacher-centred. Let them decide how long activities should take, or choose which game you’re going to play (if they already know a couple). Give them opportunities to make the lessons and the language their own.

(A tiny bit of theory)

If CELTA trainers never tell their trainees to do these things, why do they happen on so many courses? I think I’ve seen all five of these things on every course I’ve done!

My feeling is that the apprenticeship of observation has a lot to do with it. This is a term coined by Dan Lortie in 1975 describing the fact that we spend many hours in classrooms as students and therefore form very fixed pre-conceptions of what a teacher should do and be. For many trainees, CELTA is the first time they’ve encountered a student-centred approach to teacher, where the aim is to set up the conditions for students to learn and facilitate activities and practice, rather than lecture them and control everything. When planning a lesson and not sure what to do, trainees are unlikely to remember a minute or two the couple of hours or so of a demo lesson or an observation showing them how we’d suggest they do a particular activity, especially if the trainee doesn’t really believe this is the ‘correct’ way to teach. Instead they fall back on ‘tried and tested’ methods of teacher control, lecturing, and reading aloud and nothing much changes until they get trainer feedback.

I know some trainers try to combat this by doing an early session on the course encouraging trainees to think about what being a good teacher actually means and how we learn both inside and outside the classroom. This helps trainees to uncover their beliefs and begin to question them straight away. I’d be interested to know what other ideas people have for resolving this issue, or at least bringing it to light as quickly as possible.

100 ideas for exploiting activities

On 3rd June 2020, I presented a webinar for IH Bucharest demonstrating how to exploit activities in lots of different ways, with minimal planning required by the teacher. Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to use every activity in the same lesson, but the ideas I shared were designed to demonstrate how you can make a single exercise lead to a much wider range of practice activities, depending on what your learners need help with. The slides are here (though they’re much more useful when presenting than referring to them later! See below the slides for a more useful link!):

All of the ideas in the webinar were originally designed for a face-to-face classroom, but most of them can be used as is or with only minimal adaptations in an online classroom. They were originally shared on my blog in the post One activity, multiple tasks, based on a task from ELT Playbook 1. ELTPB 1 is a book of short tasks for teachers to help them reflect on their teaching.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher Training is also available, both at prices designed to fit a teacher’s pocket!

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

During the webinar, I mentioned Sarah Mercer’s CAN DO for improving engagement:

Competence (mindsets and self-determination)

Autonomy (give choices, learning strategies)

Network (of relationships: T-S, S-S)

Do (action to beat boredom)

Oh! (grab and keep their attention)

(from Sarah Mercer, IH Barcelona conference, 7th February 2020)

You can find out more by watching her webinar, the foundations of engagement: a positive classroom culture. She has recently published a book with Zoltan Dörnyei called Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (Amazon affiliate link). I haven’t read it yet, but I have no doubt it’s full of useful advice!

If you’d like more ideas to make your planning easier, 101 things to do with a coursebook page (all of which take less than 5 minutes to prepare!) covers a whole range of different ways to adapt coursebook activities. Why should they care? has lost of ideas for helping students engage with the materials or activities you are using.

My ebook, Richer Speaking, costs less than $1, and contains 16 ways to adapt speaking activities to help students get more out of them. You can find four of the ideas for free in this post.

Richer Speaking cover

If you’d like ideas specific to teaching online, particularly using Zoom, then try ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom. Some of these may take a little longer to prepare, but I’m a firm believer in teachers doing less work and students doing more!

Let me know which ideas you’ve tried out and how they go with your classes.

Enjoy 🙂

What a difference a week makes

Personal stuff

A week ago I wrote about how frustrated I got every time I went outside my flat. After a relaxing weekend, a chance to talk over my feelings with friends and family (thank you!), and a chance comment on Tuesday about case numbers in our region being pretty low (10 cases in the last 7 days as I write this), I started to feel a lot better.

I’ve been for three walks in the last week, and while I still got frustrated with people, I was able to calm myself down much faster. This was easier when I closed my eyes and waited until they had gone past, in the manner of a small child: if I can’t see them, they’re not there 😉

After those small steps, there were two huge ones.

Our flamenco teacher is allowed to have classes with up to 5 people, so that’s how many of us were in the room on Thursday night. I live by myself and have been getting shopping delivered, so being in a room with actual human beings for an hour was an adjustment. It felt normal quickly, but I wanted to notice it and remember that feeling. The lift home which my friend gave me was also strange: the first time I’ve been in a vehicle of any kind for about 10 weeks.

The other step is something I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time: I finally got around to buying myself a bike. That means I now have the freedom to go further afield if I want to without having to rely on public transport. I just need to motivate myself to carry it down and up three flights of stairs every time I want to use it!

So as you can see, I’m in a much better place this week. Thank you to everyone who sent me a message after last week’s post!

My Zoom lessons

Our teen elementary lessons this week were extra practice of ‘have to’ and a break from all grammar!

Do we have to do this all again?

The concepts of ‘have to’ and ‘don’t have to’ really challenged our students last week, so Jude and I decided it was worth dedicating another lesson to it.

We also wanted to do a bit more work on adverbs, so for the warmer students worked in teams in breakout rooms to add sentences to Google Docs to describe pictures. For example, She acted badly. He shouted loudly. This activity showed that about 80% of the students have got the idea of adverbs, and none of them remembered ‘suddenly’ from last week.

The homework check showed that both groups continued struggled with the form of ‘have to’ or avoided it completely.

With group 1 the rest of the lesson went:

  • Dictation (see below).
  • Rewrite the text in groups in breakout rooms, replacing ‘I’ with ‘she’ and making other necessary changes so the grammar agreed.
  • I highlighted the question and negative forms again and they copied them into their notebooks.
  • Go back to your homework, try to correct it, then we’ll confirm if the answers are right or not.
  • 5 minutes left: in the chat answer the question: What jobs does your mum/dad have to do in the house?

With group 2, they’d got enough of the homework right to check it then, and I’d prompted them while they were comparing answers in breakout rooms to deal with the remaining problems. Their lesson went:

  • Dictation.
  • Rewrite text.
  • Question and negative forms again.
  • Write sentences about a mystery job for other students to guess (they only had 10 minutes for this, so the guessing happened next lesson).

For the dictation, they all wrote this text in their notebooks.

A day in the life of a teacher! I don’t have to get up early because my lessons start at 3pm. I have to correct some tests and check my students’ homework. I have to plan my lessons, so I have to read about grammar. When the lessons finish, I don’t have to cook dinner, but I have to eat, so I’m going to order a pizza. After dinner I want to watch Netflix, but I can’t because I have to plan my lessons for tomorrow. Luckily, I don’t have to go to bed early - I can stay up as late as I want. What do you have to do?

To help them manage the process, I said I’d read each sentence three times and held my fingers up to show which repetition it was. They could then ask me to repeat it again if they wanted me to.

In hindsight, we should have done some kind of pre-listening gist task, raised interest a little more first, had some elements they could change…but hindsight is 20/20.

In general, the lessons seemed fine when we were planning them, but when we taught them they felt uninspired and only partially engaging. The students seemed to enjoy the challenge of the transformation and they concentrated during the dictation, but I’m not sure how much they’ll remember this in future. On the other hand, they needed this focus on the grammar to fully understand (yes, I know that’s not ideal).

Look, it’s a penguin!

After lots of consecutive grammar lessons, it was time to take a break. We had a tiny bit of grammar at the start, with group one playing a wheel from wordwall. They read the prompt, then wrote the sentence in the chat box. They really enjoyed it and asked for more.

Group 2 read their sentences from the end of the last lesson in groups in breakout rooms. The other students guessed which job it was.

We used a story page for the basis of the lesson. We started with a couple of screenshots from the story, with students writing ‘I see…’, then ‘I think…’ sentences in the chatbox – a routine they’re familiar with. I encouraged them to use adjectives and adverbs, make predictions using ‘going to’ and say what the people ‘have to’ do. A couple of students got very into this.

I played the video for them to check their predictions.

In breakout rooms, they completed a gapfill comprehension task in groups where they had to finish the sentences by reading the story.

With group 1, I did a memory challenge. They saw frames from the story with words blanked out which they had to remember. Then I played the video, paused it, and they told me what’s next. They then went into breakout rooms to practise acting out the story in groups of 3, came back and performed it. However, they weren’t listening to each other as they were all telling the same story.

With group 2, I skipped the memory challenge. Instead I walked them through the story and got them to change details. For example, instead of a lost penguin, they chose another animal. Instead of going to the park, they went to the zoo/beach/mountains. In breakout rooms they chose their favourite idea for each bit of the story, then rehearsed it. When they acted it out, the others were a bit more engaged because every story was different.

Teacher training

Friday 22nd May was the 12th IH Teachers Online Conference, 10 hours featuring 30 talks from teachers across the International House network. You can watch all of the talks on YouTube. My favourites were by Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone, Shannon Thwaites and Danny Coleman. Here’s the full programme. My talk was on making and using paper fortune tellers. I got so many ideas from the talks, and only have a couple more lessons to try them out in before the end of the year! Thank you to everyone who gave talks, and to Shaun Wilden for putting it all together.

On Sunday 24th May I took part in an event organised by IH Moscow (thanks for inviting me Anka Zapart!). I really like the format, which is manageable :

  • 10 minutes of house rules
  • three 20-minute presentations
  • 10-minute break
  • three 20-minute presentations
  • 10-minute general Q&A session

Each presentation featured activities teachers had tried out in class, and there were a few bonus activities in between. There’ll be a recording which I’ll also share. Lots of the teachers use Miro.com in their lessons, which I hadn’t seen before. It looks like a very versatile tool. You can have three virtual whiteboards with the free account. Vita Khitruk has compiled an example board with different ideas for games – I love the idea of ‘climbing’ a mountain with little challenges.

A series of post-it note pictures with challenges on them for students to complete - the notes follow the shape of the mountain

Some of the other things I learnt about/was reminded of were:

  • Playing noughts and crosses with an image behind the grid. To win the square, students have to describe that section of the picture. (Anka Zapart)
  • Duckiedeck.com/play has lots of games for young learner classes, for example this costumes game which you can use to get kids to describe what she’s wearing and practise words like put on/take off, or room decorating. You need Flash. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • Sesame Street has a restaurant game that kids enjoy too. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • WheelDecide can be used for lots of different ideas – here’s an example for present simple questions. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • WaterAid has some topical games which you can adapt to the classroom, including Germ Zapper, which you can use to practise objects in a room and prepositions. (Tatiana Fanshtein)
  • SentenceDict allows you to get good example sentences for any word, including being able to search for simple sentences only. (Vita Khitruk)
  • A reminder that Tekhnologic templates are very versatile and easy to adapt. (Irina Chan-Fedorova)
  • Kids can be very motivated by habit trackers, such as ticking a box for each of four challenges every time they do them: do homework, use Quizlet, watch a video in English (Masha Andrievich)
  • Use a ‘discourse clock‘ to help very young students say a lot more when doing mini presentations. (Anka Zapart)

A paper clock with moveable hands showing (at different times) big and small, a colour wheel, food icons, a house/a fish tank/trees

You can watch the full recording here:

Useful links

James Egerton has a lesson plan for upper intermediate and above learners based on an article about Zoom fatigue. James Taylor has one on working from home, with an entertaining video showing different ‘types’ of home-workers. He also wrote an article for the IATEFL Views blog on the resilience and creativity of English language teachers. Jill Hadfield’s IATEFL Views post shows snapshots of lockdown life in New Zealand, and a few activity ideas too.

Nik Peachey has a one-page interactive summary of six areas teachers need training and support in to successfully teach online.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

There’s always a story

The personal stuff

I’m aiming to be more conscious in how I use words right now, as I’m more and more aware of how much impact tiny changes in wording can have (social distancing/physical distancing anyone?) As Terry Pratchett says in A Hatful of Sky:

“There's always a story. It's all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything's got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.”  ― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Things I’ve stopped saying/writing:

  • In these difficult/challenging times
    They’re as difficult/challenging as you feel they are, this differs for everyone, and nobody needs to be reminded.
  • The new normal 
    Yes, I know I wrote a post called that a few weeks ago. Normal is what you decide it is.
  • As soon as this is over, I’m going to… / I wish I could…
    These phrases frustrates more than help. There is no end date on this thing, but one day we’ll look back and it’ll be in the past. It’s like growing up: there’s no fixed point when you become an adult, but you definitely look back and you’re not a child any more. Why not say ‘Next week, I’m going to…’ and give yourself things that are manageable now to look forward to? And create a jar of post-lockdown plans.

Things that frustrate me when I see/hear them:

  • Now that you have all of this time on your hands…
    An assumption that is not universal. My workload has stayed pretty similar, and I know others who are busier than ever and are not necessarily taking breaks as they would have before. I know we are lucky to still have work and things to do that are similar to pre-coronavirus times, but you are lucky to have a different range of stressors than previously (I’m not going to say to have nothing to stress you out, because I know that’s not true either). Yes, we might not be able to do all the things we would like, but there are so so so many things we can choose to do. 
  • We/I don’t know what’s going to happen.
    We never do. Now is no different. We need to change what we can and accept what we can’t.

I entirely realise you may not agree with this, but that’s why it’s the personal stuff…it’s how I feel, and you’re allowed to feel different. We’re all allowed to deal with this in our own way. 

However, one thing is always true: if you’re finding it difficult to deal with, please don’t do it alone: ask people for help. You are absolutely not alone, and this is more true than ever before. COVID-19 affects the entire human race and, quite literally, none of us are immune to it or the side-effects of restrictions that it brings along with it. Look after yourselves, and don’t bottle up the frustration.

Here’s some fantastic advice from Stephen Fry on dealing with anxiety and stress whilst self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s 2 minutes and 39 seconds of time well-spent to listen to him talking. And here’s Phil Longwell’s post on Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing for teachers. 

My Zoom lessons

This week our lessons with elementary teens introduced a story, the longest text they’ve read so far, and worked on adjectives and adverbs.

Are you sitting comfortably?

I decided it was finally time to teach my students how to use annotation themselves – previously only I had used it. We had 10 minutes at the start of the lesson where they could write or draw whatever they wanted on a blank slide. I turned on ‘Show names of annotators‘ so I could check who was doing what. We were going to play a game, but it took so long to figure out the annotation that we didn’t bother!

They’d finished 8 sentences for homework where they wrote about things they and their family were (not) going to do. In breakout rooms, the students compared their plans and helped each other improve the grammar if needed. As a mini writing assessment, they copied the sentences in the chat box. I told them I was testing their writing and I wanted to check their work, and only one student complained slightly 😉 

By this time, it was break time – a prime example of how everything takes so much longer in Zoom!

The story we were using came with pictures to put in order. Before listening, students wrote sentences starting ‘I see…’ (e.g. I see a boat. I see a boy. I see a computer.) then ‘I think…’ (e.g. I think he’s good. I think the computer is important.) in the chat box to engage them with the story.

The first time they just read and listened to it, then showed thumbs up/down/in the middle on their cameras to indicate whether they liked it or not – the first time I’ve included a pure enjoyment reading/listening task in my lessons!

In breakout rooms, students put the pictures in order. They underlined the part of the text which went with each picture. I had to go to the rooms a few times to clarify how to do this as we’d never done this before (the readings we used were never really long/challenging enough in the rest of the book, or were far too hard and we skipped them!)

The final part of the lesson was a reading assessment which we did using a Google Form. There were seven three-option multiple choice questions, with images to support their understanding of the options.

With the first group, we had just enough time to manage this. With the second, we had a few extra minutes but not enough time to do anything else, so I told them their scores and encouraged them to keep resubmitting. This was very quick and easy because the form was self-marking (yay, multiple choice!) and they all submitted it at least three times in the time we had available, some more, focussing on the questions they had problems with. The image below shows only the resubmissions, not the original ones – there are 8 students in the group!

I used conditional formatting to show problem questions (thanks Ruth!) so I could tell the students which ones to retry quickly.

As you can see, question 5 was a particular problem. By the way, this is a rare example of some coursebook reading which provided a good level of challenge – most of the ones I come across are either far too easy or far too hard! 

Making things interesting

The homework from the previous lesson was to write a very short story, around 3-4 sentences. Whenever I’ve set non-workbook homework before, only one or two students have done it. This time, only one or two didn’t in each group 🙂 One girl wrote two 1.5 page stories – I know she used Google Translate to help her, but I don’t really care – I’m so impressed at her motivation!

The lesson started with them in breakout rooms reading their stories to each other. The ones who hadn’t written one were in a separate room and had to write something very short: who went where to do what. The aim was to use the stories at the end of this lesson, but realistically I knew that probably wouldn’t happen, so they’ll be used on Monday instead.

To set the context, students looked at the pictures from Monday’s lesson and retold the story. In both this activity and the one where they told their own stories, I only heard a couple of adjectives and no adverbs, so I knew the lesson would be useful 🙂

We looked at four sentences from the story with and without adjectives. I asked if 1 or 2 is better in a story and why (2, because it’s longer and more interesting. I get a better picture in my head.)

I was pretty sure the students wouldn’t know the names for parts of speech in English, but would in Polish, so I had a list of the translations on my plan. I showed them the ‘2’ sentences with adjectives and nouns highlighted, elicited the parts of speech, told them the English word, then asked them to write down ‘Adjectives talk about nouns.’ and colour it in as on the following slide.

(Adjectives are yellow. The nouns they describe are blue.) Justin Time was in a strange room.   What’s that horrible noise?   Chelsea was there too. She was very sad.   ‘Well done! The world is safe again now,’ said Justin. (The next part is in a box) adjectives   nouns   Adjectives talk about nouns.

This was the beginning of a very staged process to give them a really clear written record. In a physical classroom or with older students, I would probably give them a worksheet to go through and fill in the gaps working at their own speed alone or in pairs, but this was the only way I could think of to keep everyone with me in a Zoom lesson.

We worked through four different adjective sentence structures and they wrote then read out their own versions of the sentence, and colour-coded it. This gave them the chance to personalise the grammar point. Fast finishers could write extra sentences. 					   (in/on/at)   (a/an)   ADJECTIVE     NOUN  Justin Time was   in       a    strange   room.  Justin Time was   __      _   ______   ____.

After break, I showed them three different things from my flat. They had to ask me questions using an adjective and a noun e.g. What’s that brown bear? Who’s that cute baby? I answered with an adjective and a noun too: That brown bear is my favourite teddy bear. That cute baby is my friend’s daughter, Megan.

They then got three things of their own and played the same game in breakout rooms.

We repeated the grammar introduction process with adverbs and different colour-coding, but didn’t have time to practise them in this lesson.

(Adverbs are purple, verbs are orange) She laughed horribly.   I think we can escape easily.   Chelsea took the boat safely back to the harbour. (in a box:) adverbs   verbs   Adverbs talk about verbs.

The students were generally engaged in the grammar introduction process because it was broken down so much. I probably got them personalising the language a lot more than I would have done in a lesson I’d taught in a physical classroom previously. This is definitely something to remember later!

Zoom thoughts and tips

When using the annotate tool, students on phones and tablets only have the ‘pen’ option. They can’t type, stamp, draw boxes, or any of the other fun things those on computers can do.

On Thursday I did a Zoom training session which I’ll be sharing later. Dan, one of the participants, suggested assigning each student a question number from an exercise. They type the answer to only that question in the chat box. Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before 😉

My colleague Connor has been playing with the free VoiceMod software with his young learners. This allows you to change how you sound with a huge range of effects. He used it to add some fun to pronunciation drilling, with the kids trying to copy the way his voice sounded. It’s Windows only at the moment, with Mac and Linux versions in development.

I’ve been trying to get my second teenage group to consistently have their cameras on because it makes a huge difference to how the lesson feels. This recent Twitter thread made me frame my thoughts differently (click this tweet to see the whole thread):

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

It might be worth showing reluctant students that they can use speaker view and pin the teacher’s video. When using full screen they can hide the rest of the students, including their own video. It may just be that they don’t want to see themselves – I get it, I tend to try to minimise my video when I’m just chatting to one or two people on Skype or similar. 

Useful links

Scott Donald has a thought-provoking post about why you shouldn’t necessarily ‘hover’ in breakout rooms when students are doing activities, but instead give them some space to get on with it. 

Jane Maria Harding da Rosa’s blog is back 🙂 In her most recent post, she shares personal anecdotes about chanting and how it helps students remember new language. I’d highly recommend her articles called Creating Chants and Don’t Drawl the Drill if you’re looking for ways to improve your drilling and help students remember new language for longer, both in the online and offline classroom. If you’re teaching asynchronously, you could do this through recordings.

The Virtual Round Table conference happened on 8th and 9th May. I attended Graham Stanley’s session demonstrating how to set up an escape room in your online classroom. The recording is here:

There’s lots of useful information on escape rooms in ELT on this blog, including the definition of an escape room if you’re new to them: https://escaperoomelt.wordpress.com/

Hana Ticha is teaching asynchronously (i.e. not via a video conferencing tool like Zoom). She talks about the pros and cons of synchronous and asynchronous teaching, and how she aims to overcome the cons of asynchronous teaching in this post.

Kate Martinkevich shares a post from the Learning Scientists blog on six strategies for effective distance learning and notes how it could be applied to ELT.

Jim at Sponge ELT describes how he includes experimental lessons in the teacher development programme at his school, and some things teachers have been experimenting with when teching online.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

What we do

There isn't a way things should be. There is just what happens, and what we do. Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

The personal stuff

Last week would have been Terry Pratchett‘s birthday, hence the quote above. It was also the 30th anniversary of Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. To mark the occasion, and to provide a little light relief, Gaiman and team have put together this conversation between Crowley and Aziraphale:

I’ve been really enjoying all of the culture that we’re now able to access from our homes. Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, National Theatre plays (consistently showcasing the most amazing staging I’ve ever seen!), Royal Opera House performances, and Shakespeare plays from The Globe. That’s why I donated to Acting for Others this week – I’m lucky enough to still have money coming in, but many performers are out of work for who knows how long. If you have a few spare pennies at the moment, consider donating to a charity that means something to you as a lot of charities are struggling right now (and if you don’t have any, don’t worry about it! I hope you do soon!).

The other change that I’ve really enjoyed in the past few weeks is the number of international group conversations I take part in every week, both with old friends and making new ones. Also online quizzes, online games with friends and family, and Crafternoon (genius, Laura!). As somebody who’s lived abroad, moved around and lived alone for most of my adult life, this is a great way of maintaining continuity within different areas of my life and making me feel less lonely (luckily I don’t feel like this very often any more!) Thank you to all those organising these 🙂 I really hope they continue when the world opens up again (not when things go back to normal – normal doesn’t exist).

My Zoom lessons

I’m going to…no, I’m not!

I’m very lucky that it’s taken 7 weeks before internet problems have interrupted a lesson. In my second lesson on Monday it cut out at exactly 18:17 for ten minutes, then at 19:17 for ten minutes – weird! Apparently my provider had problems across Europe. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that when I came back the first time Zoom had reopened my personal meeting room instead of the room for my lesson, so I lost an extra 15 minutes before I realised that I was in one place and my students were in another. That meant a total of 40 minutes of our 90 had been lost (we only managed to get to ‘I’m going to…’ in the lesson described below). Thankfully, this was the first of two lessons on the same language point so we could make up for lost time on Wednesday.

The warmer was really successful with group one: Silent TV from Film, TV and Music [Amazon affiliate link]. Thanks to Jude for spotting it! They had to mime one of the TV genres from last week’s lesson for their classmates to guess. I put them in breakout rooms, and it was very entertaining dropping in and out as they got really into it. With group two (as expected!), they didn’t go for it at all. Instead when I went in the rooms I discovered they’d all come up with their own versions. One groups drew pictures of the genres to show classmates (like pictionary), another were listing examples of programmes from that genre, and the third were describing what you see on that kind of programme. I applauded their creativity 🙂

To test whether these elementary teen students already knew the ‘going to’ structure, we did a drawing dictation. I described my plans for the May Day weekend, and they drew pictures. At each point I showed which part of the grid they should draw in using a mini whiteboard:

These were the results from group one:

They got really into it, showing me their pictures after every couple of sentences. This also helped me to check they’d understood the sentences.

They went into breakout rooms in 3s, working together to remember what I’d said. I dropped in and out to see if any of them were using ‘going to’. One or two were attempting it, with results like ‘I go speaking with my friend.’ ‘I going play game.’ but most of them weren’t (as expected!)

I showed them the whole text so they could check what they’d remembered, and to expose them to the language one more time before presenting it.

We then went through a series of slides (I; he/she/it; we – and by extension you/they; question form), eliciting the structure using the Zoom annotation tool (so I typed ‘____ going ____’ for example)…

I sit on my balcony in the sun. I use my computer.

…then showing the full structure with colour coding to highlight the different parts.

I'm (blue) going to (pink) sit (underlined) on my balcony in the sun.

As a written record after each slide, the students wrote personalised sentences using that form. For example, ‘I’m going to play in the garden.’ ‘My sister isn’t going to watch Netflix’. I was able to correct the form of all of these as the students asked if they could read them out – everybody ended up reading out their sentences to the whole class, which didn’t take that long as they finished at different times.

In hindsight, I should have include the time marker in the sentence e.g. On Saturday. We did this verbally, and I clarified that it was the future repeatedly, but visual support would have helped.

They then drew their own weekends. The final step was to go into breakout rooms and guess what their partner was going to do. If student A got the right answer, student B had to show them the picture. This worked really well and students were attempting to use the form, and seemed to enjoying the guessing game.

And you?

The second lesson started with ‘find the mistakes’ based on form problems both groups had had on Monday. I copied the sentences into the chatbox one by one for them to correct.

I’m going watch Netflix. Marta going to read. You is going to go shopping. They are going to seeing their friends. I’m don’t going to play Minecraft. My mum not going to make lunch. We are no going to see my grandma. We’re going to cinema.

With the second group, I then asked them to copy the following into their notebooks – this was a replacement for the part of the lesson we’d missed on Monday.

You are going to go shopping. (NOT You going) They are going to see their friends. (NOT seeing) I’m not going to play Minecraft. (NOT I don’t going) We’re going to go to the cinema. (NOT going to cinema)

The homework slide used the same colour coding as the previous lesson, and I spent time with the second group to make them check the forms carefully in their workbooks, as we hadn’t been able to go through them on Monday. They had much more intensive correction throughout the lesson, including brief pauses where I clarified aspects of the form that group one had grasped by the end of Monday’s lesson.

(I'm = blue, Are = orange, is = yellow, not = red, infinitive = underlined) 2 I’m not going to miss The Simpsons. 3 Are you going to watch it all? 4 I’m going to watch that. 5 Are you and your brother going to finish your homework? 6 I’m going to record In the House. 7 Dad is going to watch the football. 8 Mum is going to see her programme. 9 Karina isn’t going to miss her reality show. 10 I’m going to do some work.

To introduce a short listening activity, we did a chain drill of ‘Are you going to… on [day]?’ ‘Yes, I am.’ ‘No, I’m not.’ – student A asked student B, student B asked C, C asked D, etc. I drilled them all chorally first so they would be more confident producing them. This allowed them to personalise the topic a little and understand the prepared them to match the phrases they heard to the pictures (taken from Project 2 4th edition).

Are you going to...? Yes, I am. No, I'm not. (images of football, homework, piano, bed, swimming pool, messy room)

The listening answers provided the context for more short answer practice: Is Marco going to go swimming? No, he didn’t. Are Di and Kris going to do their homework? No, they aren’t. By the way, I insisted on ‘going to go’ not just ‘going’ as some of them understandably confused the structure with one of motion, and all of their examples were things like ‘I’m going to my grandma’s.’ ‘I’m going to the video games.’ I think it’s clearer when they include a full verb every time when students first learn this structure, even if it sounds a little odd.

For the final practice I prepared breakout rooms for pairs of students, but didn’t start them yet. Instead, I told them who their partner would be – first they just had to write down their name: ‘Sandy, write Emma.’ ‘Emma, write Sandy.’ Then they had 5 minutes to write as many predictions as they could in their notebooks about their partner’s weekend, including family members, e.g. ‘Sandy isn’t going to go to the cinema.’ ‘Sandy’s mum is going to speak to her.’ When they went to the rooms, they had to ask Yes/No questions to find out if they were right or not and tick/cross the sentences. To round off the activity in the main room, they wrote as many correct sentences as they could in the chatbox in five minutes.

Again, this lesson worked really well and the students were engaged throughout. I feel like both groups now understand the structure of ‘going to’ for future plans and can spot and correct the mistakes they make. Let’s see if they remember it next week!

Thoughts and ideas

Char and I were chatting about why young learner classes are much more tiring for everyone concerned when they’re online than in the classroom. She pointed out that you no longer have all of those little transitions or natural breaks that you would in the physical classroom, for example when they move from sitting on the floor to sitting on the chair, or those routines that always seem to take ages, like putting their coats on and getting their bags at the end of the lesson (5 minutes at least!) These give everyone a mental break in the lesson. We talked about finding activities to replace them that aren’t too cognitively demanding, such as adding in some song routines at the start and end of the lesson, or adding in little dances between activities. Is this something you’ve noticed? How do you deal with it?

When preparing the drawing lesson, I discovered Google AI experiments, some of which I think have a lot of potential for the online classroom.

In AutoDraw, you scribble on a whiteboard and it suggests images you might be drawing. You can click on the one you want. Here’s the first very random picture I produced when experimenting with the features:

Submarine under waves, with a yellow and blue monster holding a red suitcase (yes, it's as disorganised as it sounds!)

In Semantris blocks, you write words which are connected to the ones in the blocks. The AI guesses what you’re talking about and removes that block, plus any of the same colour which are connected to it.

In Semantris arcade, you write words which are connected to the one with an arrow next to it. If it’s classed as highly associated with the target word, it moves below the line and all the words below the line disappear. The game gets faster as you play. (Both of these games make more sense when you play them than from my description!)

Thing Translator works by taking a picture, identifying the object, then telling you the word in one of 10 languages.

Useful links

James Egerton shared ideas for including movement in lessons. I had an idea inspired by James which might work: play some music for everyone to dance to. When it stops, they need to make a shape that represents a recent piece of vocab. Everyone then calls out what they can see: James is an elephant, Sandy is a lion, etc.

Alex Case writes about how to organise drawing games on Zoom and useful language for giving instructions on Zoom.

Kate Martinkevich shared this post from Ditch That Textbook with 10 tips to support students with slow internet.

The TEFL Commute are producing a series of short podcasts called ‘Who’s Zooming Who?’ featuring conversations between Lindsay Clandfield and Shaun Wilden about teaching online. So far they’ve discussed what language to teach students to help them with Zoom, online whiteboards, and Zoom itself.

Reading a letter seems like a lovely idea, and something students could get involved in – that genuine authentic reason for reading aloud that some teachers have been looking for for years 😉

And here’s Caitlin Moran’s contribution to the series with advice to parents who are homeschooling:

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Being creative 3: One activity, multiple tasks – a minimal preparation workshop based on ELT Playbook 1

Way back in December I ran a 45-minute conference session based on a task from ELT Playbook 1, ‘One activity, multiple tasks’, which appears in the ‘Being creative’ section of the book.

ELT Playbook 1 cover

The book features 30 tasks designed particularly to help new teachers to reflect as they start out in ELT, but they are also suitable for managers and trainers who need ideas for professional development sessions. I was also partly inspired by the ideas in The Lazy Teacher Trainer’s Handbook by Magnus Coney [affiliate link], which advocates minimal planning and exploiting the knowledge in the room wherever possible. The final reason I chose this was that I was running out of time to plan my session as I was organising the whole day, and I needed to run two workshops! The other one was about how to learn a language, in case you’re interested.

Before the session, I choose an activity at random from a teacher’s book. The one I ended up with was to revise future forms, taken from page 146 of English File 3rd edition Teacher’s Book Intermediate Plus. It features a page of questions like this:

  1. A   Mum! I’ve dropped my ice cream!
    B   It’s OK, don’t worry – I’ll get / I’m getting you a new one!
  2. A   I’m freezing!
    B   Shall I turn on / Will I turn on the heating?

…and so on. There are 12 mini dialogues like this, each with two options to choose from – students can also tick if both are possible. At the bottom of the page is an ‘activation’ activity, where students write two mini-dialogues, one with will and one with going to. This planning stage took me about 15 minutes – 10 to decide what I was going to do in the session (i.e. which ELT Playbook 1 task I was going to exploit!), and 5 to pick and photocopy the activity.

In the abstract for the session it said that teachers would come away with lots of ideas for how to exploit activities. As the session started, I told them that those ideas would be coming from all of us in the room, not just me!

We started by them completing the original exercise. I demonstrated how to do quick feedback by getting different pairs to write their answers on the board, then just dealing with any questions where there was confusion. We were about 10 minutes into the session at this point.

In the same pairs, teachers worked together to list as many ways as they could think of to set-up, vary or exploit that same activity. They did this on the back of the sheet (minimal materials prep!) I put a few prompts on the board to help, something like: speaking, writing, listening, reading, alone, pairs, groups, class, etc. and elicited one or two examples to start them off. They had 10 minutes to make their lists.

At the same time, and once I’d checked they were all on track, I made my own list* on the back of my paper (minimal prep! Also, I ran out of time to do it before the session and thought it might be useful if at least some of the ideas came from me!)

We put our lists face up on our chairs for the ‘stealing’ stage. We read everybody else’s lists, putting a * next to any activities we didn’t understand. More *** meant that lots of people didn’t understand. This took about 5 minutes, so we were 25 minutes through the session.

Next people added any of the extra activities they liked the sound of to their own lists. 5 more minutes, 15 minutes left.

For the next 10 minutes, different people demonstrated the activities that had stars next to them in front of the whole group. As I expected, most of the ‘different people’ were me – I’d deliberately picked some slightly obscure things to stretch their range of ideas a bit!

In the final 5 minutes, I told them about ELT Playbook 1 and suggested they try this kind of brainstorming with other activities they want to use in class to help them vary their lesson planning. Right at the end, they had to tell their partner one activity they’d thought of or heard about in the session which they planned to try next week. The whole session went pretty well, I think, and I got good feedback afterwards. 🙂

*My list

These are the ideas I came up with in 10 minutes:

  • Remove the options.
  • Mini whiteboards.
  • I say A to the group, they predict B. Then in pairs.
  • Gallery walk (one copy of each question stuck up around the room)
  • Evil memorisation (one of my favourite activities, learnt from Olga Stolbova – the third activity in this blogpost)
  • Say all the sentences as quickly as possible (AQAP on my lesson plans!)
  • Banana sentences (replace the key words with ‘banana’ for partner to guess)
  • Extend the conversations (what was said before/after)
  • Decide who/where/when/why it was said (by)
  • Take the ‘wrong’ answer and create a context where it would be right
  • Translation mingle (students translate one conversation into L1 on a slip of paper, copying the English onto the other side. They then walk around showing other students the L1 to be translated.)
  • One group does 1-6/odd sentences. The other does 7-12/even sentences. Give them the answers for the other half. They check with each other.
  • Say them with different intonation/voices to create different meanings/situations.
  • Remember as many conversations as you can with your partner. Lots of variations for this: freestyle (no prompts), with A/B as a prompt, with (own/sketched/teacher-generated) pictures as prompts…
  • Hot seat/Backs to the board with a picture prompt for student looking at the board to say sentence A, person with back to the board says sentence B in response
  • Board race. Again, lots of variations: list as many sentences/conversations as possible on the whiteboard; teacher/a student says A, teams run and write B; combine with ideas above like banana sentences…
  • Teacher says first half of the sentence, pausing at a convenient point. Students say second half. Then in pairs. e.g. “Shall I…” “…turn on the heating?”
  • Students have A sentences. They write their own Bs on separate pieces of scrap paper, then mix them up. Another pair tries to match the As and Bs together.
  • Change A to the opposite/a slightly different phrase. What’s an appropriate B? e.g. “I’m boiling!”

Thanks to all of the people I’ve stolen those ideas from over the years 🙂

Let me know if you try out the brainstorming activity, the session, or any of the other tasks from ELT Playbook 1. I’d love to know how they work for you!

Disaster movies – a lesson plan (or two!)

This year I’m teaching a Proficiency group, with free choice of the materials I use and topics we cover. In the first lesson, we brainstormed a list of key words that could act as possible topics and each time I exhaust a topic I ask the students to choose the next thing they’d do from the list. This seemed like a really good idea at the time 😉 Then they chose…

Disaster!

I was completely stuck for inspiration, as the only thing in my head was Brexit and having only met them a couple of lessons before, this wasn’t a route I wanted to go down yet. Instead, I headed to the TD Lab Staffroom facebook group and asked them to help me out. If you’ve never come across the group before, Shaun Sweeney set it up as a way for teachers to ask for audio recordings on particular topics. And it was Shaun who rescued me, with a one-minute recording talking about what he thinks of disaster movies which he has agreed to me sharing here. That was the spark I needed, and it prompted two complete 90-minute lessons 🙂 Here they are…

Lesson 1: Intensive listening and spoken grammar

I started by displaying the collage of disaster movie posters from this website. Students discussed the following questions:

  • Do you like films like this?
  • Are there any you’ve seen? What did you think of them?
  • Are there any you’d like to watch? Why?

Next, I showed them a picture of Shaun. They had to predict whether he likes disaster movies or not, then listen and check. Here’s the recording (confusingly with a picture of me!):

Those were the easy stages!

The next part was the real challenge: listen what Shaun said and transcribe it word for word. Before the lesson I’d uploaded the recording to our Edmodo group, which all of the students had joined during our first lesson. Now they divided into groups based on how many people could easily access the recording via their smartphones, with one phone per group. They had as long as they needed to transcribe it, and could go back and forth as much as they wanted. To transcribe one minute of audio it took them around 30-40 minutes. If they didn’t know what something said, I encouraged them to play it repeatedly and make a guess. When one group finished, I skimmed what they had written and underlined sections for them to listen to again.

Once all of the groups had something, I switched on the projector and took dictation, replaying the audio section by section as we went along. Anything that they didn’t have exactly as it was in the recording was underlined in my transcript, and we went back and listened again. It took us 10-15 minutes to get the full transcript onto the board, and all of the students present were engaged throughout. As we did it, I explained possible reasons why they may have misheard things, for example words that sound similar, connected speech linking words together, or weak forms which almost disappeared. I made sure that every sound was transcribed, not just ‘grammatically correct’ utterances. The only thing that nobody in the class could hear was the ‘ll in Now I’ll generally… right at the start, which prompted a discussion of the difference between present simple and will to describe habits. Here’s the transcript we ended up with, including underlining to show areas which my students had trouble picking out:

Shaun’s disaster film transcript

In pairs, students had to identify all of the features of the text which are part of spoken grammar, not written grammar. They discussed it in pairs, then went to the board and circled everything they could find. We have a whiteboard and projector set-up, which makes activities like this much easier! Here’s the same transcript with all of the features of spoken grammar I could identify highlighted in yellow:

Shaun’s disaster film transcript with features of spoken grammar

We only had a few minutes of the lesson left, so we quickly listed these features, including:

  • repetition (it’s…it’s…; going to die, going to die, going to sit)
  • ‘simple’ linking words (and, but, or)
  • emphasis (you’re just going to sit…)
  • fillers (um…yeah…like)
  • unfinished utterances (one of the worst films)
  • approximation (probably around Christmastime)
  • lack of concrete ideas/listing information (something like Towering Inferno or something with a volcano, or people are stuck in a tunnel)
  • opinion phrases (I have to say; well I can’t get into it at all)
  • time phrases to structure speech (when I was a kid; more recently)

I’m sure that’s not exhaustive, and I know for a fact those aren’t the technical terms, but they’ll do! I emphasised that it’s not vital for students to speak like this, but that they still sometimes sound like they’re reciting from a piece of paper instead of speaking naturally, and that it’s OK to include any of these features in their speech 🙂

For homework, I asked them to read Mike Russell’s Make Your Own Disaster Movie cartoon and look up any of the vocabulary they didn’t know.

Lesson 2: How to create your own disaster movie (reading and speaking)

A slightly different combination of students in this lesson meant we started off by recapping what had happened in the previous lesson and giving everybody time to re-read the cartoon. We probably spent about 20-30 minutes clarifying various items of vocabulary with students trying to help each other to understand words, or me showing them how to find the information they needed in the OALD using the projector (they’re still pretty new to using monolingual dictionaries consistently, despite their level!) These are the words we decided to record on our word cards:

  • bicker
  • estranged family
  • wild conjecture
  • nature’s wrath/the wrath of God
  • lump things together, like it or lump it!
  • mankind’s hubris
  • a dormant volcano
  • mayhem
  • cat-burglar (this was their favourite, and has come up in pretty much every lesson since!)

I had cut up an article from The Guardian along similar lines to the cartoon, called How to write the perfect disaster movie. I gave each section to one student. They read it and wrote 3-5 key words or phrases on the back. The perfect disaster movie article to put in order

With their summaries (without looking at the original text), they then mingled to find out all of the ingredients that Paul Owen believes make the perfect disaster movie. As a class, they decided what order all of the sections should be in by sticking them to the board (with me out of the way). They read it all to check whether they were correct.

With two ‘menus’ for disaster movies to help them out, the students now worked in small groups to create their own storylines. We had about 10 minutes for this, with time for them to present their stories to the rest of us at the end. In the true spirit of disaster movies, these made very little sense but were very entertaining, with one featuring a volcano that stopped air traffic and a monk who decided that a sacrifice to the ancient gods was required to stop it, and the other starring a cop who was a single dad being fired from his job, a meteor shower set to destroy Earth, a magnet on the moon to stop it and a female scientist to coordinate the rescue attempt, who inevitably fell in love with the cop 🙂

Thanks Shaun!

Overall these were two very enjoyable lessons which the students got a lot of vocabulary and intensive listening practice out of, both things which they have told me they want. And all inspired by just one minute of audio!

Typical problems for Polish learners of English

Here is a list of some of the things I have noticed students doing since I arrived in Poland three years ago. Caveats:

  • My numbers here are based on impressions – there is no formal research to back it up! If you want more scientific and in-depth information about problems which Polish learners have with English, look at pages 162-178 of Learner English: A teacher’s guide to interference and other problems edited by Michael Swan and Bernard Smith [affiliate link].
  • I realise that some of the things I’m correcting might not be in line with English as Lingua Franca, but they should be useful if you have students who want to take exams like Cambridge Proficiency. They’re often things which teachers don’t notice in my experience.
  • Having said that, I’ve skipped /th/ (who cares?!) and features of connected speech like weak forms because everyone has trouble with those things in English!

Please feel free to add to the list, or correct anything which you think I’ve got wrong!

Grammar

The following do not exist in Polish (or, indeed, any Slavic language) so students tend to avoid them initially, then over-use them for a long time before they get them right:

  • Perfect tenses
  • Continuous tenses
  • Articles

By my estimate, they tend to start getting them right at around high upper-intermediate (B2) level, and are normally pretty consistent by advanced. Articles are the last things to stick – I think at C1 they get about 90% of them correct, and C2 is when they’re 99% correct.

In Polish, conditional sentences are marked in both clauses. When producing English conditionals, Polish learners often use would or will in the ‘if’ clause: *If it will rain, I won’t go.

Nouns are gendered in Polish. When replaced by a pronoun, masculine nouns become on (which is ‘he’ or ‘it’ in English), and feminine nouns become ona (‘she’ or ‘it’). At low levels, students sometimes therefore use ‘he’ and ‘she’ in English.

Vocabulary

As in many languages, a single Polish word can be used for each of the following groups of English words:

  • make, do
  • say, tell, speak
  • borrow, lend
  • teach, learn, study
  • fingers, toes

come and go are also very confusing, though there are many, many different translations for these verbs. On that note, in Slavic languages ships and boats ‘swim’, rather than ‘float’ or ‘go’.

In Polish, you ‘make a photo’, rather than take a photo.

The preposition with is often added after verbs like contact and telephone, by analogy with Polish: *I need to contact with his parents. *I’ll telephone with Mark tomorrow.

My new favourite mistranslation is *guarantee guard instead of security guard 🙂 Another favourite is *I like eating Polish kitchen instead of I like eating Polish cuisine, or I like eating Polish food, which is the sentence I try to get students to say in this case. My students can sometimes be resistant to using food instead of cuisine!

Ordinal numbers are used in Polish in places where cardinal numbers are normally used in English. The main time I hear this is when students are referring to exercises or questions, so they say ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘third’, where I would say ‘Question 1’, ‘Exercise 2’, or ‘Number 3’.

The nouns ‘colour’ and ‘shape’ are often used when they are unnecessary in English. For example, *It has green colour. rather than It’s green. or *It has square shape. not It’s square.

For Polish learners (in Bydgoszcz at least!) ‘communication’ means the transport system, rather than being connected to sending information. A ‘karta komunikacja’ is a kind of travel pass, which they sometimes translate as a *communication card. I’ve heard sentences like *In Bydgoszcz we have a very good communication. meaning In Bydgoszcz we have a very good transport system.

‘Actually’ is a false friend. As in many languages, it means something like ‘currently’ or ‘up-to-date’ in Polish, depending on the context. ‘Buty’ is the general word for ‘shoes’, not just ‘boots’. ‘Pilot’ in Polish means ‘remote control’ in English.

My students overuse the word ‘hour’ in place of ‘time’. Examples of mistakes include *We start work at different hours. *It’s break hour. and *The hour of the concert was changed.

Pronunciation

Stress almost always falls on the penultimate syllable in Polish words, so students do this by extension in English too. For example, I heard students saying /viOlin/ in a recent observation. Not necessarily super important for international communication, but useful to know about when predicting problems.

The intonation range of Polish is much narrower than in English, so students often sound pretty bored or robotic. I find this is less common if students watch/listen to a lot of English (so teens!). Students need to be really encouraged to be expressive in English and push themselves to use intonation to carry/emphasise meaning.

Sound-spelling relationships are very transparent in Polish, in contrast to English. Some spelling combinations in Polish cause confusion when encountered in English words, particularly for low-level students. For example, ‘ci’ in Polish is pronounced like ‘ch’ in English, but ‘c’ alone is pronounced like ‘ts’ in English. The word specialist particularly confused one group I had – some pronounced it with ‘ch’ in the middle /spe-cha-list/, and others with ‘ts’ and an extra syllable /spe-tsy-a-list/.

The most confusing vowel minimal pair for Polish/Slavic learners is /æ/ and /ʌ/, which is important for me as I often get called Sunday 🙂 This causes confusion with pairs like cap/cup, hat/hut and began/begun.

I tend to group problematic letters together when teaching the alphabet, rather than using an alphabet song. Here are the groups I use, ranked by my opinion on the most to least confusing for Poles:

  • a, e, i, y
  • g, h, j
  • c, s
  • k, q
  • u, v, w
  • x, z
  • r
  • o
  • f, l, m, n
  • b, d, p, t

I don’t normally include the final two groups apart from for beginners, as these letters are pretty similar in Polish I think (though I haven’t learnt the Polish alphabet properly myself yet – oops!) Here are some alternative groupings:

  • f, v, w
  • i, j, y
  • g, k, q

Punctuation

In Polish, the equivalents to ‘you’ (Wy, Pan, Pani…) are capitalised when they are polite, and ‘I’ (ja) is only capitalised at the start of a sentence. Look out for sentences like this: *He helped me so i understood. *What are You doing? Some of my upper intermediate students still did this – I guess nobody had ever pointed it out to them that our capitalisation rules are different!

Months and days start with lower-case in Polish, not capitals as in English.

Clauses introduced by ‘that’ (że) take commas in Polish, so learners produce sentences like *I know, that he is famous. In general, commas are used much more often in Polish than they are in English, and with a much wider range of conjunctions.

As in most European languages, dots and commas in numbers are the opposite way round in English to Polish, so Polish 0,5 would be English 0.5 (nought point five) and Polish 1.234 would be English 1,234 (one thousand, two hundred and thirty-four).

Slackline games, Bydgoszcz

Another challenging thing I’ve seen in Bydgoszcz!

IATEFL 2018: In the classroom

This is a collection of talks I saw at IATEFL Brighton 2018 which have ideas that can be used in the classroom, or thoughts on methodology that may influence your classroom practice. They’re arranged roughly from what I perceived to be the most theoretical to the most immediately practical (as in, activities you could use in class tomorrow).

The frequency fallacy

Leo Selivan’s talk examined how useful frequency-based word lists really are. You can watch the full talk yourself, or read my summary. We can often over- or underestimate how frequent words actually are due to the availability bias, which says that if something is easy to remember, it must be more frequent. There are many different ways you can check how frequent a particular word is, for example by looking at the information in learner dictionaries. In the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, there is information about how common a word is in both spoken and written English. For example, abroad is in the top 2000 words of spoken English, and top 3000 of written English. 80% of English texts are made up of high frequency words, and they are used as defining vocabulary, so it can seem a good idea to focus on them in our teaching.

However, there are many problems with these high frequency words. We can assume that if you know high frequency words you’ll be fine, with a high-level of understanding. Polysemy (same word, different meanings) isn’t acknowledged in word lists, for example the different meanings of ‘rough’ in ‘He’s got very rough hands.’ and ‘It’s just a rough estimate.’ ‘Cast’ has 10 different meanings as a verb, without thinking about its meanings as a noun. It’s essential to consider co-text too. This implies that we should teach collocations straight away, not wait until higher levels. Another problem with frequency lists is the grouping of words, so ‘name’ and ‘namely’ are there as a single item (I think!). This implies that learning ‘name’ should mean understanding of ‘namely’, which it obviously doesn’t! Some words we often use in the classroom don’t appear on frequency lists, like ‘homework’. Leo challenged us to think of 6 words or chunks that we think of when we see the word ‘travelling’. Mine were ‘plane’, ‘alone’, ‘passport’, ‘go away’, ‘holiday’ and ‘backpack’. Leo pointed out that most of the ones we came up with probably aren’t in the top 2000 or 3000, but if we’re travelling, they’re really important, so we also need to consider student needs, not just general frequency of words.

Another issue is that chunks like ‘at all’ or ‘bear in mind’ are non-transparent, so although some or all of the words may appear on a frequency list, it doesn’t mean students can understand them by learning the component words. The PHRASal Expressions List (PHRASE List) and PHrasal VErb Pedagogical List (PHaVE List) are two new frequency lists designed to take this into account, by including non-transparent multiword items.

I found the talk very interesting, and it certainly made me think about how useful frequency lists really are, but I was left wondering what we should do instead. I know it’s hard to answer that in 30 minutes, but I’m hoping Leo will go into more detail on his blog at some point.

Adi Rajan summarised the talk much more thoroughly than I did!

P.S. Another talk about word lists at this year’s IATEFL was Vocabulary lists: snog, marry, avoid? by Julie Moore. Her blog post includes lots of links for further reading too.

Pronunciation and phonology

Mark Hancock’s was called ‘Towards a pedagogical phonology’ and looked at developments in the way he believes that phonology should be taught in a post-ELF world. He highlighted that accent snobbery is pointless, as there are so many different accents in the world and none of them are any better than any others. He also said that it’s important to expose students to a variety of accents, since no matter how ‘perfectly’ you might speak, you can’t control how your interlocutor speaks. It also doesn’t matter which accent you use to speak, as long as it gains you access to the international community.

The more common a variant is between accents, the more likely it is to be understood. This therefore makes it less problematic for listeners to understand. For example, ‘free’ is such a common variant of ‘three’ now, that it is almost always understood. It also generally doesn’t make you less intelligible if you pronounce something that is written, like the ‘r’ in ‘Mark’, but it might make you less intelligible if you don’t say it. We should aim to build or grow our students’ accents, rather than to replace them.

When we think about teaching pronunciation, we ultimately have to think about what is essential and what is superficial. Mark used the metaphor of aliens finding a car in space and trying to copy it. They don’t know that the scratches on the car are not a key part of what makes it work, so they copy them with the same level of care as they copy the engine and the wheels. In pronunciation, the equivalent of the engine and the wheels are things like syllables and phoneme distinctions, whereas the schwa, weak forms and elision are like the scratches. Having said that, it’s important to negotiate the syllabus with students, as they may have different ideas to you about what they want.

You can use this inverted triangle as a kind of hierarchy of pronunciation skills to be developed, with lower order skills at the bottom, and higher order ones at the top:

Multiple entry point model

The full set of Mark’s slides are available here, and there is a treasure trove of other useful materials on the HancockMcDonald site, which he shares with Annie Hancock.

 

Nicola Meldrum and Mark McKinnon shared some of the insights into pronunciation which they have come up with while running teacher training courses. They were working with A1 groups, and wanted to ensure that they modelled an equal focus on meaning, form and sound/pronunciation with all groups. This meant using natural speech and intonation patterns, even at very low levels, and highlighting what happens when form and sound don’t seem to match. Often students and teachers seem to focus on meaning and form, neglecting the sound of new language. They shared a 3-minute video of Toni, talking in Spanish (subtitled) about his experiences of pronunciation in class. It’s well worth watching, as Toni described how useful he found individual drilling, transcription of phonemes, and being able to concentrate just on the sound of new language at times, among many other insights. Before these lessons, he only used to focus on the written form and not the sound, and now he notices a real difference in how much more confident he is.

Nicola and Mark also recommended feedback focussed planning, where you consider what problems students might have with the sound of new language and plan how you can help them with it. Give students time and space by reducing the amount of ‘stuff’ to get through and leaving time for feedback. A supportive listening cycle is also useful here: time and a variety of tasks means students can spend time really understanding the sound of new language. They have written a series of blog posts covering all three of the concepts they mentioned during their talk: MFS (meaning, form, sound), SLC (supportive listening cycle) and FFP (feedback-focussed planning).

Older learners

Heloisa Duarte’s talk looked at what we can do to support older learners in the classroom. Depending on your context, older learners can start at anything from 45 to 70. As Heloisa said, there aren’t many generalisations we can make about older learners, but one thing we can say is that their parents didn’t force them to come to the classes! They tend to be highly motivated, perhaps wanting to learn English to talk to new family members, perhaps to move to an English-speaking country, or to feel better about themselves and boost their confidence. For others, it is just because they’ve always wanted to and now have the time and money to do it. The social side of courses can also be very important for these students.

Challenges for older learners include health problems, like mobility, hearing or eyesight. For example, the higher the pitch of a voice, the harder it can be to understand. There may be affective factors, such as previous bad experiences with English teachers, or a feeling that it is too late for them to learn, affecting their self-confidence. There may also be cognitive challenges: ‘I want to learn, but I forget.’ Some younger students may have the perception that older students are helpless, or less able to participate, and this is very rarely true.

Heloisa asked us to think about how we might adapt the lessons for three possible students. One of them was shown in one of my favourite adverts ever:

She advised us to help learners to acknowledge every victory they have, and work hard at boosting their confidence. She recommended Seeds of Confidence by , [affiliate link] published by Helbling languages, as a source of other confidence-building activities.

Other advice included:

  • Choose coursebooks with appropriate topics, making sure they’re not pitched too young.
  • Adapt activities to suit the interests of your students. One example she gave was to listen to ‘Old Macdonald had a farm’, then write an advert for him to sell his farm because he’s going crazy!
  • Use and teach memorisation techniques.
  • Revise and recycle as often as possible.
  • Find out about learners and value their experience.

Ultimately, it’s most important to adjust the classroom and lessons to your learners, rather than demanding they adapt to you.

Clarifying grammar

David Connolly shared some Venn diagrams he has used to help students to understand grammar points, rather than trying to navigate the long and often complicated explanations that appear in a lot of course books. I was particularly interested in this session as I have been experimenting with different ways of clarifying language points for a while now, as any of you who have been following my blog for a while will know (another articles chart, anyone?!) David emphasised that Venn diagrams don’t provide a complete explanation covering all exceptions to rules, with context still being key. However, they can be used as a starting point for understanding. Here is one example for the uses of past simple, ‘used to’ and ‘would’ for past habits:

He also had diagrams for vocabulary, for example the different between a table and a desk, something I’d never really thought about before.

The final set of diagrams I have pictures of are connected to ‘have to’ and ‘must’ in the present and past:

 

Bruno Leys showed us a lot of pictures of real English in use that he has noticed in the UK and abroad, along with the kind of questions and follow-up tasks he uses with them. I would highly recommend looking at the full presentation, here, to see both examples of the pictures and his reasoning for approaching grammar in this way. I’ve selected a couple of my favourite examples to give you a taster. These two are great as the present perfect causes problems for speakers of a lot of languages, including Slavic languages, and these pictures help to make the meaning very clear:

'Fat rescues' article We have moved

If you’re interested in using ELTpics to work with grammar in this way, you could try the Signs or Linguistic Landscapes sets. Bruno also mentioned the free-to-download e-book The Image in English Language Teaching, edited by Kieran Donaghy and Daniel Xerri.

 

Why should they care?

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

Do you recognise any of these situations?

Speaking

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

Tell your partner what you did at the weekend.

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

Why should they care?

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

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

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

Writing

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

Why should they care?

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

Listening

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

A straw bale

Image from Pixabay

Why should they care?

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

Reading

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

Why should they care?

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

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

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

Grammar points

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

Why should they care?

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

Vocabulary

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

Why should they care?

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

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

Pronunciation

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

Why should they care?

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

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

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

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

The shy teacher’s drill

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I did:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons you can watch online

For a lot of teachers, it can be hard to find the time or the opportunity to observe and learn from other teachers’ lessons. If that’s you, hopefully you’ll find these videos useful.

I’ve divided them into loose categories, with a sentence or two to help you decide which are the most relevant to you. Within the categories, they’re just in the order I found them! I’d like to thank the many people who’ve sent me links to these videos over the years (though unfortunately I can’t remember exactly who sent me what!)

Please feel free to tell me about other videos I may have missed in the comments, as well as any broken links. I’d particularly appreciate any VYL, YL or teen videos that may be out there, though I know they may be hard to find.

P.S. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched all of these from start to finish, just bits and pieces, so please proceed with caution…

Very young learners

Hubert Puchta introducing vocabulary and using Total Physical Response (TPR) and telling an action story (7 minutes)

 

An American kindergarten teacher working in a French-language immersion school (27 minutes) (via David Deubelbeiss)

 

Teacher Allen singing a song and teaching a demo lesson with Chinese kindergarteners (10 minutes)

 

Another kindergarten lesson in China, this time with 33 children (30 minutes)

 

Michael Roxas working on adjectives, using TPR and introducing clothes with a kindergarten group, working with a Chinese teacher (27 minutes) Michael has other videos of him teaching kindergarten on his YouTube channel.

 

 

 

 

Mark Kulek has lots and lots of videos of him teaching. This one shows him working with 25 Japanese 3- and 4- year olds (15 minutes) They are mostly in two playlists: Live Children’s English Classes EFL and How to teach kindergarten English class EFL. A lot of the clips are less than 5 minutes long.

 

 

This one shows Mark working with puppets (3 minutes)

 

Paul Pemberton teaching kindergarteners in China (30 minutes), including a really nice routine for getting kids to put their hands up

 

Shaun teaching 3 year olds in China for a parents’ open day (15 minutes)

 

Hannah Sophia Elliot teaching kindergarten in China (41 minutes)

 

Ann teaching children using a story bag (9 minutes)

 

Watts English have a series of videos showing children in Prague kindergarten. Here’s the first (20 minutes) Look at the Czech playlist for more, as well as the games bank.

 

Here’s an example of a teacher using a puppet as part of their WOW! method (5 minutes)

 

Savannah building rapport with a brand new group of students (4 minutes)

 

Tony using role plays as part of a demo lesson (23 minutes)

 

Najmul Hasan (a.k.a. Peter) also has a range of videos of him teaching kindergarten. Here’s one (25 minutes)

 

Rebecca Eddy teaching shapes to a kindergarten class in China (13 minutes)

 

This video is designed to show teachers how to run a demo lesson, but there are also lots of useful tips in there and examples of how to set up activities (9 minutes)

 

Tanner Applegate teaching 3 year olds in China (6 minutes)

 

Marco Brazil teaching colours to very young learners (4 minutes)

 

Teaching weather to kindergarten children, with a Chinese teacher also in the room (15 minutes)

 

Introducing body parts (4 minutes)

 

Thanks very much to Lucy, who suggested in the comments that I look up kindergarten ESL teacher on YouTube, which led to most of the above videos!

Young learners

Adi Rajan suggested the Teacher Development films available on the British Council website, accompanied by workbooks. Here’s one example (52 minutes):

 

Marisa Constantinides playing the ‘please’ game, and thereby demonstrating total physical response (TPR) (8 minutes) She wrote about this activity, plus two more with accompanying videos (Thanks for letting me know, Marisa!)

 

Ashley Haseley teaching sensory reactions in China (12 minutes)

 

Kaila Smith talking about teaching children in China, with lots of clips from her classes (4 minutes)

 

Pass the bag, a video of a game shared by Ian Leahy (90 seconds)

 

Sam playing a days of the week game with Thai children (2 minutes)

 

This video shows you how to do guided reading with elementary learners – it’s mostly describing the technique, but there are various clips of the teacher at work (11 minutes)

 

A counting game for kids (2 minutes)

 

This is a video describing various classroom management techniques shared by Ian Leahy. Although there is a voiceover throughout the entire video, there are lots of clips of exactly what’s happening. (16 minutes)

 

Gunter Gerngross demonstrating TPR with young learners (3 minutes)

 

Karlee Demierre using a body parts song (3 minutes)

 

Introducing animal vocabulary in a demo lesson, with lots of flashcard games (32 minutes)

 

Teens

A shopping lesson with pre-intermediate students using Solutions Pre-Intermediate (17 minutes)

 

Ross Thorburn introducing the rooms in a school (6 minutes)…

 

…and showing how unmonitored group work ran (35 seconds)

 

Ross Thorburn using flashcards with beginner young learners (1:10)…

 

…and with elementary young learners (1:30)

 

Ross also has tips for behaviour management, including live examples from class (5 minutes)…

 

…and demonstrating routines (7 minutes)

 

In this video, Ross introduces vocabulary, then takes his class into a shopping mall (8 minutes)

 

Adults (coursebook-based)

Sarah Troughear teaching a group using Life Pre-Intermediate, based on the topic of transport (60-minutes, including post-lesson analysis)

 

Clive Brown teaching a group using Life Upper Intermediate, based on the topic of documentary film-makers (37 minutes, including post-lesson analysis)

 

Andrew Walkley using an image to get students interested in a coursebook topic and lead in to a discussion (6 minutes)

 

Hugh Dellar teaching listening lexically – part 1 (13 minutes)

 

and part 2…

 

Stacey Hughes teaching using an e-book – find out more (10 minutes)

 

Me 🙂 teaching upper intermediate students – working with gerunds and infinitives (8 minutes) – find out more

 

Me clarifying the difference between ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’ with upper intermediate (9 minutes)

 

Me teaching money vocab to intermediate students (15 minutes)

 

Adults (non-coursebook-based)

Billy Hasirci teaching a demo lesson for a CELTA course (he’s the tutor!) He’s working with intermediate students, listening to a song (41 minutes)

 

Lindsay Warwick teaching second conditional (1 hour)

Hugh Dellar demonstrating the lexical approach, including lots of whiteboard work (18 minutes)

 

Elizabeth Kuizenga Romijn teaching high-level beginners (I would say elementary) cooking vocabulary using realia (38 minutes)

 

John Bartik teaching beginners the phrase ‘I like ______’ (13 minutes)

 

Chris Westergaard teaching animal vocabulary to a group of intermediate students (14 minutes)…

 

…and movie vocabulary to another intermediate group (10 minutes)

 

Functional language to help students debate, I’d guess at intermediate or upper intermediate level. I don’t know the teacher’s name, but it was shared on the ELT Experiences blog (17 minutes)

 

You can watch Luke Meddings teaching a dogme [What is dogme?] lesson by going to the British Council website. (40 minutes) There is a video of him using dogme with another group (26 minutes) and reflecting on it (24 minutes) available on the English Agenda website.

Martin Sketchley experimenting with dogme (9 minutes)…

 

…and doing a dictogloss (14 minutes)

 

Dr. Frances A. Boyd demonstrating lots of error correction techniques (14 minutes) (via Matt Noble)

 

Laura Patsko demonstrating how to do a pronunciation needs analysis with a multilingual class – find out more (16 minutes)

 

You can watch a process writing lesson by going to the British Council website. (37 minutes)

Fergus Fadden working on reading with an elementary group as a demo lesson (23 minutes) (Thanks Lucy)

 

Ross Thorburn teaching an IELTS speaking class, working on describing a city you’ve visited (15 minutes)…

 

…and teaching an intermediate class to give advice (20 minutes)

 

Andrew Drummond demonstrating a present-practice-produce (PPP) lesson structure using jobs (a demo lesson for trainees)… (21 minutes)

 

…and using PPP to teach the functional language of interrupting, followed by an analysis of the lesson stages (28 minutes)

 

Paullo Abreu (?) teaching second conditional (1 hour)

 

Olha Madylus teaching vocabulary and grammar to elementary students as a demo on a CELTA course (15 minutes)

 

Very small groups

Lavender teaching vocabulary (5 minutes)

 

Short clips

4 clips of Hugh Dellar (I think with upper intermediate students)

  1. Monitoring a discussion

 

2. Upgrading and clarifying language (3:30)

 

3. Setting up a speaking activity (1:20)

 

4. Clarifying language (3:30)

 

Martin Sketchley doing an activity with Arabic students to help them with spelling (6 minutes)

 

Katy Simpson-Davies using jazz chants (3:30)

 

Ian Leahy demonstrating 3 games, 1 each with adults, young learners and teens (3 minutes)

 

Ross Thorburn teaching adults to accept and reject invitations (3 minutes)

 

Conveying grammatical meaning, focussing on ‘used to’ and ‘would’ on Ross Thorburn’s channel (3 minutes)

 

Ross Thorburn giving instructions (3 minutes)

 

Olya Sergeeva demonstrating how to teach decoding skills to help students understand connected speech (5 minutes 30 seconds). This blog post explaining a little more accompanies the video.

 

Online teaching

Fergus Fadden teaching a lesson on Google + (13 minutes)

 

Mark McKinnon working on connected speech – the clip is part of a full blog post explaining what’s going on in the lesson.

Hugh Dellar teaching a one-hour Skype lesson based on Outcomes Advanced with three students from Krasnodar, Russia. It includes examples of Hugh works with lexis, as an advocate of the lexical approach.

 

Angelos Bollas teaching a CELTA demo grammar lesson to upper intermediate students on Zoom, showing you what it’s like from the teacher’s perspective:


Angelos again, teaching another CELTA demo lesson, this time using task-based materials using the Fluency First blog:

Trainee teachers

CELTA TP7, as uploaded by English with Stephanie, intermediate students, restaurants (45 minutes)

 

And TP8, focussing on functional language, again with intermediate students (35 minutes)

 

David teaching during CELTA uploaded by Insearch LearningCentre (60 minutes) – I’m guessing it’s elementary or pre-intermediate students, talking about a trip to Japan

 

Anastasia, a Russian trainee who did her CELTA in 2012 (47 minutes)

 

 

Please feel free to suggest any extra videos or to tell me if there are any broken links.

From rules to reasons

At this year’s IATEFL conference, I bought a copy of From Rules to Reasons by Danny Norrington-Davies. I can only afford to buy a couple of books at each conference, so I have to choose carefully. I went for Danny’s this time because:

  • I’m interested in alternative ways of thinking about grammar teaching, as I don’t feel the coursebook-led way we teach reflects the way I know I learn, and I’ve been led to believe it doesn’t reflect Second Language Acquisition theory either (I can’t comment on this as I’ve never read any SLA theory myself!)
  • Grammar lessons can be downright boring if students feel they know it all already, but they often can’t then apply their knowledge to their own language production.
  • I’ve seen Danny present a few times, including at this year’s conference, and I’ve always found his ideas to be very interesting, though I’m not very good at applying them (or any ideas I get from conferences!), so having them in a book might make me more likely to experiment with them.
  • It’s Danny’s first book, and I like being able to support friends 🙂

I finished reading it last week, and found Danny’s suggested alternative approach intriguing. In a (very small!) nutshell, we should encourage our students to think about the reasons why a particular writer or speaker is using particular language in a particular text at a particular time. The emphasis is on how the language is being used in that context by that person. Danny gives some theoretical background for this at the beginning of the book, including arguing why it can be more useful for students to consider reasons than rules, and examples of possible follow-up (replication) tasks that are based on them using the language in a similar context if possible, or in a different but related context (transformation, I think – I haven’t got the book in front of me now!)

In his book, Danny includes 18 lesson plans, some text-based and others task-based, which serve as models for anyone wanting to experiment with his ideas. Each plan includes examples of reasons formulated by students working with the same plan in the best. This practical thread of the book gave me a much better idea of how it might work in the classroom, and gave me the impetus I needed to try it out with my own students, so last Wednesday I experimented with an upper intermediate class.

We were looking at a report in a coursebook about places to eat in London, which would be followed by them writing their own report about Bydgoszcz, the city we live in. To get them to think about some of the language in the text, I pulled out a few phrases and put them on PowerPoint slides along with an alternative sentence that could be used instead. Students walked around the room writing the reasons they thought were behind the writer’s choice of phrasing. They then folded them under so others couldn’t see what they’d written. Hopefully you can read some of them below, but here are a few of them:

  • More formal (by far the most common!)
  • Offensive language (if you are poor)
  • It’s opened to all of readers (There are many options)

Why this phrase? - four examples Why this phrase? - four examples

Some of the comments were from the point of view of an exam marker, rather than a real-life reader:

  • It makes reader think writer has bigger word list.
  • Writer wants to show off his range of vocabulary.
  • Range of words.

For me, this backs up one of the arguments in Danny’s book that most speaks for looking at reasons and not rules: (my wording!) reasons treat the language as language, and not as a means to passing an exam.

After the students had looked at their own reasons, I gave mine, which went something like this:

  • Generally speaking, – emphasising the generalisation by putting it at the start. Varying sentence patterns, so not just S-V-O.
  • if you have a limited budget – more polite than if you are poor
  • has to offer – more open than has, it implies you have access to it and London is inviting you in, not just that these restaurants exist
  • relatively inexpensive – a more positive connotation than cheap, and therefore more attractive, as you’re more likely to buy/pay for something relatively inexpensive than something cheap which may also be poor quality
  • The majority of – more formal, seems more scientific (or at least, it does to me!)
  • nearly always means – more impersonal, varies the sentence structures used
  • tend to be, a bit – varies the language, and varied language makes something more interesting to read. tend to be also shows that it’s not always true, in contrast to the factual nature of are – the writer is saying they might be wrong, and giving themselves a get-out clause if they are!
  • There are many options – more impersonal, and therefore more formal. Again, varies the sentence patterns in the text.
  • serve high-quality food – ‘advertising speak’ – you’re more likely to choose high-quality food over great food. It’s also specific about what makes it great – the quality as opposed to e.g. the presentation or the price.

Having gone through these reasons briefly with the group, followed by a quick look at the assessment criteria (it was a continual assessment text), they then wrote their own reviews. Marking them, I noticed the students had used a lot of the phrases we’d looked at, possibly because we’d spent more time on them, possibly because I said they needed to when we looked at the criteria, but maybe, just maybe, it was because they understand the reasons behind why a writer might choose to use this language.

In short, I would encourage you to get a copy of From Rules to Reasons by Danny Norrington-Davies, and try out his ideas in your own classroom.

(You can also read a review of the book by Chris Ożóg in the June 2017 issue of the IH Journal.)

Memorisation activities

I put together this selection of memorisation activities for a CELTA course at LangLTC in Warsaw and thought it would be a good idea to share the activities here too. The activities can be used:

  • after error correction
  • to help students fix bits of new language in their heads before they need to produce it at a later stage in the lesson
  • to exploit decontextualised sentences, for example from a gapfill
  • to improve students’ confidence with bits of language
  • as learner training – once they’ve learnt them, a lot of the activities are things they can try themselves or with fellow students, without needing a teacher to set them up

They are taken from various wonderful people I’ve worked with in the past, plus a couple of my own ideas. If you think there are any that should be credited differently, please let me know. It would also be great if you could add your own ideas for activities in the comments. Enjoy!

Draw your sentence

Aims: To exploit students’ creativity. To personalise language.

Use this after students do a controlled practice exercise or study a new set of vocabulary.

  1. Students fold a piece of A4 paper into 8 boxes and put small numbers in the corner, like so:
1 2 1 2
3 4 3 4
  1. On the left half of the paper only (which should have 4 boxes), they illustrate four of the sentences/words in any way they choose, one per box. They shouldn’t write the sentence/word.
  2. Everyone puts the original sentences/words away.
  3. Give them the paper from another group. On the right-hand side of the paper, they should write the corresponding sentence/word.
  4. The original group corrects their answers and gives them feedback.

Mini books

A more high-tech version of ‘draw your sentence’, via Luke Raymond. Use this video to help you make your book:

 

  1. Page 1 (the front cover) shows the target word/sentence. Each student should have a different item.
  2. The book is passed to student B who draws a picture on page 2 to represent the target language.
  3. Student C looks at the picture and writes the word/sentence they think it is on page 3, without looking back to page 1. They fold the book so page 3 now becomes the front cover.
  4. The process is repeated until the book is finished.
  5. Much hilarity ensues as the students see the way the language has been illustrated and how it has changed throughout the book.

Students love the ‘Chinese whispers/telephone’ nature of this game 🙂

What do you mean you didn’t read the sentences?

Via Olga Stolbova
(I now call this ‘evil memorisation’!)

Aims: To encourage students to notice context. To make them aware of gaps in their language.

Use this after students do a gapfill exercise.

  1. Check the answers by writing them on the board (just the answers, not the complete sentence).
  2. Students put away the original exercise.
  3. They look at the answers on the board and have to recreate the original sentences. Expect protests! 🙂 Encourage them to write whatever they can remember, even if it’s just isolated words or phrases.
  4. If they’re really struggling/When you start feeling sympathetic, give them one minute to look at the exercise without writing anything, then close their books again and continue to work on reproducing the sentences.
  5. Students compare their recreated sentences to the originals. What were the differences?
  6. Optional extra evilness: put away the sentences you’ve just rewritten. Now say them all to your partner./Write them all again. You can also do this at the end of the lesson when they’ve done other things in between.

If students are depressed that they can’t remember everything, tell them you don’t expect this. I normally say that I want them to remember about 80% of the sentences immediately (with some effort), and about 50% by the end of the lesson, once we’ve done a few other things and they’ve had time to forget. It can be useful to show them the forgetting curve too.

Vocabulary revision game

Via Anette Igel

Aim: To revise vocabulary covered in previous lessons.

  1. Give each group a stack of small pieces of scrap paper (about 1/8 of A4 in size).
  2. They should write the English word/phrase on one side, and put either the translation, definition or example sentence on the other side. The game can also be played with word/vocabulary cards if this is something you use with your students.
  3. To create counters, rip one piece of small scrap into coin sized pieces. They write a letter or draw a symbol on each to indicate which is theirs. Alternatively, they can use any small item they can find (e.g. a paperclip, pen lid, etc).
  4. The final thing they need to prepare the game is either a coin, or a scrap paper ‘coin’, which can be made by folding another small piece up into a tight square, then writing ‘heads’ on one side and ‘tails’ on the other.
  5. The words should be arranged in a circle to create a game track. All of the counters should be placed on the same word to start.
  6. One player flips the coin. Heads = 2, tails = 1. To help them remember which is which, H has two legs, T has one leg. They move 1 or 2 spaces around the circle. When they land, they can do one of two things:
    1. If the word/phrase is face up, say the translation, definition or example sentence.
    2. If the translation/definition/example sentence is face up, say the word/phrase.
  7. In either case, if they are correct, they turn the card over and stay there. If they are wrong, they turn the card over and go back to where they started the turn.

The winner is the person who has moved furthest around the circle at the end of a specified time.

Back translation/Reverse translation

Aims: To help students notice differences between L1 and L2. To help them notice gaps in their language.

  1. Select one sentence per pair or ask students to choose one. Sentences could be from controlled practice exercises, tapescripts, reading, sentences produced by students…
  2. Each pair translates their sentences from English into L1. For multilingual groups, they work alone.
  3. Either: give the sentence to another pair immediately (if they share a language) OR take sentences away and return them to the same person/pair in the following lesson.
  4. Students translate the L1 sentence back into English.
  5. They then compare their English version to the original, and notice any differences. The teacher’s job is to point out whether the students’ English version is still acceptable, and to help them understand any mistakes or differences in meaning. Though it obviously helps, you don’t need to speak L1 to do this activity.

This could also be set up as a mingle activity. Student A says their L1 sentence, student B says it in English, then student B says their L1 sentence and A says it in English. If they get it wrong, the ‘L1’ student should say ‘No, try again.’ until they get it right. My students seem to get a lot out of this, especially with language that differs structurally from Polish, like verb + gerund/infinitive.

Drill, drill, drill

Aims: To improve student confidence before speaking. To help students internalise the language.

There are hundreds of ways to drill new language.

  • Point at words/flashcards, moving rapidly between them and returning to problem words often.
  • Whisper, shout, go slow, speed up, say it like an old lady/Arnold Schwarzenegger, be happy/excited/sad.
  • Boys and girls, call and response (e.g. half say question, half answer).
  • What’s missing? Students close eyes/turn around. You remove one or more flashcards/words.
  • Disappearing text (good for dialogues): start with the whole dialogue on the board. Gradually remove parts of it, either a line at a time or leaving behind key words, with students repeating it multiple times.
  • Key word drills (good for functional language): draw a table with numbered cells. Put one word from each sentence in each cell e.g. for the phrases How about going to the cinema?  What about seeing a film? Let’s watch a film. you could have:
    1. How    2. What    3. Let
    They say the phrase from memory. They can test each other by saying the number and their partner saying the sentence. Removing the words (but not the numbers!) increases the level of challenge. Follow up: can you remember all the phrases without looking?
  • Mingle: students have one picture/word each. They mingle, show their paper to their partner who has to say the correct word/phrase. To add challenge, they swap after each turn.
  • Circle drill: pass a flashcard around the circle. Each person says it in turn. You can also turn it into a dialogue e.g. Receiving student: What’s the weather like today? Passing student: It’s sunny. To add challenge, time the class to see how long it takes to pass around the whole circle, then repeat faster.

Some important things to remember are:

  • Make sure students know the meaning of the language before the drill.
  • Choral > group > individual. Don’t put students on the spot too early.
  • Model language naturally: you need to sound like a stuck record. It’s easy to overstress when correcting.
  • Keep the pace up. Add variety wherever possible. For example, can they drill it in pairs and listen to each other?

Mini challenges

Many of these can be done as pairwork after a teacher demonstration. Some are useful for fast finishers too.

  • Say all of the new vocabulary/sentences from the exercise as fast as you can to your partner.
    You can do this before drilling as a test, so that you only drill language students struggle with.
  • Can you remember the word/sentence before X on the list?
    If students really struggle, give them 1 minute to look and remember before doing the exercise.
  • How many of the words from the page can you write alone in two minutes? Compare with a partner.
    This can be at the end of a lesson after lots of work with the language, or at the start of the next class.
  • Mistake sentences: read the sentence with a mistake and students correct it.
    Mistakes could be false friends, articles, tenses (especially ones where connected speech confuses)…
  • Pause sentences: read a sentence but pause in the middle of the collocation. Do students know what comes next?
    Good for improving the ability to predict upcoming language when listening. 

Quizlet

Quizlet is an easy-to-use website which allows you to create lots of activities for the price of one – add some vocabulary and you immediately have about 6 games, plus the ability to print flashcards for lots more. For a full guide to how to use Quizlet and create your own content on there, plus links to level-specific groups, see http://independentenglish.wordpress.com/quizlet – it’s a bit out-of-date as the site has changed it’s layout, but most of what’s on there still holds. If you have at least 6 devices (phones, tablets etc) in your classroom, you can also play Quizlet Live – my students absolutely love it!

 

Quizlet Live with a room of 40+ teachers

Quizlet Live with a room of 40+ teachers in Kazakhstan

What are your favourite memorisation activities?

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Miscellaneous

This post is for the talks I attended at IATEFL Glasgow 2017 which don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories I’ve chosen this year.

Connecting minds: language learner and teacher psychologies (Sarah Mercer)

Sarah’s plenary discussed the importance of ‘psychologically wise’ teachers, who both understand the psychology of their students, and look after their own mental health. You can watch the whole plenary yourself, or read my summary below.

There’s also an interview with Sarah recorded after her plenary.

Sarah started off by telling us that psychology is not just motivation, cognition, or the abstracted, internal mind. It’s about emotion. We can have the best resources and technology in the world, but they can’t replace humans. She showed us a video of Mr. White, a teacher in the States who has created a personalised handshake with each one of his students. I really like this quote from him:

I feel like every student needs a little bit of joy in their lives. Every student.

Psychology is about the heart and soul of teaching, and psychologically wise teachers can make a huge difference to the lives of their learners. They develop positive relationships, focus on positivity and growth, and nurture their own professional well-being. Hattie’s (2009) meta-analysis lists teacher-student relationships in position 11 of 138 of importance of factors affecting learning. Rita Heyworth points out in her TED talk that kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. Language teaching is inherently social, and requires collaboration, communication, and socio-cultural competence. Psychology is a key part of what we do, but we rarely focus on it explicitly in training or our own practice.

Sarah Mercer and Christina Gkonou published a 2017 British Council Research Paper entitled Understanding emotional and social intelligence among English language teachers. I haven’t read it yet, but will, having had it recommended by the people I was sitting with during the plenary. Another book that was recommended was Better Conversations [affiliate link] by Jim Knight.

Covey (2004) talks about the emotional bank account. Positive actions in a relationship are like deposits and negative ones are withdrawals. How can you make deposits in your emotional bank account?

  1. Work on mutual trust and respect.
  2. Be empathetic.
  3. Be responsive to learner individuality (names, micro conversations). Communication is key.

Remember that learners are much more worried about speaking in front of their peers than the teacher. Do they know the names of everyone else in the group? Proactive discipline: if you build good relationships with students, you need less reactive discipline. You don’t earn trust just by being a teacher, you need to deserve it.

Sarah also talked about Carol Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindset theory. Research shows that you can shift your mindset, but it requires training and support. This connects back to James Egerton’s talk at the Torun Teacher Training Day last month. You may not ever be perfect at something, but everyone can improve on where they are now if they have time, motivation and opportunities.

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford

Mindsets are domain-specific: you might have a fixed mindset about speaking or pronunciation, but a growth one about your ability to write in a foreign language.  Lots of teacher trainees believe that they can develop their methodological knowledge, but not their interpersonal skills (Mercer’s study, my experience too!). Neuroplasticity supports the idea of a growth mindset. As teachers, we have to own up to mistakes, and show our own growth mindset. We should also think whether we talk about language learning as an ability or talent (fixed mindset), or as a process (growth mindset). Make sure you praise the process and effort, and give *informative* positive praise that is deserved, not empty words. The mindset alone is not enough though. We need to develop learning strategies and support our students.

If we build on weaknesses only, we become average. If we build on strengths too, we become A+ – From Average to A+ [affiliate link] by Alex Linley (2008)

It’s important to recognise our strengths, both as learners and teachers. How often have you ever sat back and really reflected on what you’re good at? Sarah asked us to share two or three things we’re good at as teachers with our neighbours. We need to consider building positive emotions in the classroom explicitly. Positive emotions help us to learn more!

Most importantly, we need to look after our own mental well-being.

You can't pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.

Our psychology as teachers is mirrored in our students through mirror neurons – if we’re happy, they’re more likely to be happy too. Holmes and Rogers, 2012 talk about the burnout cascade and the virtuous cycle of psychology and motivation – it can be a vicious or a virtuous circle, depending on where you start. This MUST start from us: we must start creating the positivity in our classroom. Happy people have more energy, better motivation, are more creative, are more productive, and are healthier. The very first thing a teacher should do in the classroom is smile.

When we talk about CPD it’s important not to add too many ‘shoulds’ – a lot of frameworks don’t include wellbeing, meaning teachers may not end up prioritising it. I’ve been trying to drastically reduce the amount of times I use the word ‘should’ – every time I do, I ask myself ‘Who said?’ It’s taken off a lot of the pressure I’ve previously felt. In her 1990 book Stress Management for Teachers, Sandra Mills breaks down health into physical condition (rest, diet, exercise), mental condition and emotional condition.

Self-compassion means knowing when enough is enough, when perfectionism isn’t appropriate, when to use positive self-talk. Don’t overstretch yourselves, learn to say no and set boundaries to protect yourself as a teacher. Professional well-being is not an indulgence, it’s a necessity. As Sarah said:

Pyschology matters. Relationships matter. Positivity matters. YOU matter!

Blog posts following Sarah’s plenary:

Aligning parents’ and caregivers’ objectives with young learner programs (Shay Coyne)

Shay noticed that she was only doing needs analysis for adult groups, not for young learners. She made a Survey Monkey questionnaire in Spanish to send to caregivers. They wanted a communicative focus, moving from receptive listening towards speaking, a broadening of their future prospects, more study than fun (see below for activities for each of these three areas), and they wanted English only. Shay challenges the last point, as most of the world is now bilingual, and we should bring the students’ two languages together. Students have opportunities for huge amounts of contact with English outside the classroom. By accepting the students’ own language, we’re modelling tolerance and diversity and establishing a collaborative, equal relationship between the mother tongue and English.

Caregivers want to be involved. They may have had bad experiences of language learning themselves before. Caregivers form a key part of the child’s life, so we need to keep them involved: parents as partners. Home and school are not two separate bubbles for children, they’re all one big learning experience: it helps you to be more collaborative between home and school.  They give a different perspective to tests and assessments, and can, for example, explain why a child has suddenly started to behave badly. This kind of partnership also improves social skills and behaviour of the child, as it provides a model for how to collaborate. Finally, it leads to better education outcomes. The child becomes more well-rounded and can navigate a multilingual, multicultural environment more easily. On another note, if caregivers are involved, children’s test scores will improve too.

Parents can be involved through governance (like textbook selection), meetings, volunteering for activities in the classroom. Caregivers can be invited for open days. We can train parents and caregivers to be able to form realistic goals, and retrain misconceptions like English only. Teachers should be trained with strategies for how to deal with caregivers, such as how to positively deliver messages, and how to deal with any potential conflict. Communication should also be two-way, both to and from the school. We should make sure that there is variation in how you interact with caregivers, and give them the option to decide how they want to be contacted.

To develop communication skills, why not try an English/Australian/Scottish corner in your classroom, use role plays for developing empathy, and discuss learning to bridge the gap between home and school.

To help students broaden their future prospects, work on projects, try out ‘genius hour‘ so children can do whatever they want for that hour (practises research and time management), work on videos (through e.g. Skype which they may have to use for job interviews in the future), try out My Language Passport from p98 of Teaching Children How to Learn [affiliate link] to acknowledge different languages.

To work on language, use songs, choose topics of interest, choose practical tasks that encourage experimentation with language and try Knowing your class p71 of Teaching Children How to Learn [affiliate link] so you can learn more about your students to make things more relevant to them.

Shay would like us all to foster caregiver involvement in education. Maybe we could create a framework for involving them. There is a potential negative reaction initially, but research shows that it’s worth it and quality improves because caregivers are involved.

Shay recommended the following books for further research [all affiliate links]:

  1. The Primary English Teacher’s Guide by Jean Brewster, Gail Ellis, and Denis Girard
  2. Teaching Children How to Learn by Gail Ellis and Nayr Ibrahim
  3. How Children Learn by Linda Pound
  4. Teaching Young Learners English by Joan Kang Shin and JoAnn (Jodi) Crandall
  5. Introducing English as an Additional Language to Young Children by Kay Crosse

She has also written a related article for the IH Journal about bringing parental objectives into YL lessons.

Teaching grammar for all the right reasons (Danny Norrington-Davies)

We try to contain the language with rules but the language keeps running away. – Andrea Bossato

Danny encourages his students to explore reasons for grammatical/linguistic choices, not rules, moving from examples to reasons. Why start with reasons, not rules?

  • Language existed before rules!
  • We can explore how meaning is created.
  • Students can make genuine discoveries about language by thinking about reasons.
  • We can see how different forms interact and we don’t just need examples that fit the rules.
  • We can explore similarities not exceptions, and give learners some ownership of the language.
  • We can use this approach to exploit any text or any communicative task, and avoid ‘sometimes’ rules. Pedagogic rules are often qualified with words like ‘usually’, and we write them as if they’re true, but they’re not.
  • We can avoid artificial simplification and rules that are not true.
  • Students can put reasons into their own words, rather than being given rules that aren’t always true.
  • Although it’s hard for students to create rules, it’s worth it, as they start to understand why language is really used, not just learn rules by rote (he got this as feedback from one of his students).

There’s nothing wrong with language; the problem lies with the rules we’ve created as shortcuts. Diane Larsen-Freeman emphasises that reasons underline rules.

Research shows that a lot of early learning is lexical, not grammatical, which is why it works well for functional language. He’s also used this approach successfully with modals. The lowest level he’s used it with himself is pre-intermediate, though he’s also seen it being used with elementary.

For example, to focus on relative clauses, give students a text with them and rewritten without them. Ask them to compare the two and say why the writer used them in the original text. Maybe to get students to actually use relative clauses, we should just keep making them notice them instead of doing exercises – Danny has found this has really helped his students.

Danny has recently published a book along the same lines: From Rules to Reasons [affiliate link]

Tweets from other sessions

Lindsay Clandfield and Jill Hadfield talked about activities you could use to promote interaction between participants on online courses. They were promoting a new book they’ve written called Interaction Online [affiliate link]. You can watch a recording of the full talk.

Lorraine Kennedy presented about the effectiveness of feedback. The session was recorded.

A useful poster:

Simplified articles chart

Once upon a time, I created many different versions of charts to help students work out whether they needed articles or not. Some of them were very complicated because I tried to include way too much information in them. Then I went to the other extreme. Now I think I’ve found a happy medium:

Articles chart

Here’s the Powerpoint version for you to download.

The 90% figure in the box is obviously a complete guess. I’ve found that most article choices can be covered by the chart, though occasionally you have to be a bit creative about it! The box gives students a set of fixed phrases which they can learn to start them off with the exceptions that aren’t covered.

‘Normal noun’ is something like ‘republic’ or ‘kingdom’. This covers the use of phrases like ‘the Czech Republic’, ‘the United Kingdom’, and also ‘the University of Durham’, but not ‘Durham University’. By the way, does anyone know why the latter two uses operate differently when it comes to articles?

Countable > plural > specific covers ‘plural’ countries like ‘the United States’, but also groups of islands like ‘the Maldives’ or ‘the Canary Islands’.

Uncountable > specific covers deserts like ‘the Sahara’ and bodies of water which aren’t lakes, like ‘the Atlantic’, ‘the Sargasso Sea’. Lakes are an exception as they don’t normally take an article: ‘Lake Tahoe’, ‘Windermere’.

Hopefully this will be my final version of this, although I know I’ve definitely said that before…

Über-simple articles

Having spent six of the last eight years working in countries where the mother tongue is Slavic, articles are a real problem for most of my students. This is an old photo from Sevastopol, which I’ve just rediscovered, of a diagram which I use again and again to help them understand the rules, although the percentage I attach to it changes from use to use!

Articles flowchart

I encourage students to use the chart whenever they’re not sure which article to choose or why an article has (not) been used. They ask a series of questions:

  • Is the noun countable or uncountable?
  • Countable only: Is it singular or plural?
  • Is it general or specific?

Most of the time, this is enough for them to choose the correct article, or to understand why articles have or have not been used in a reading passage they are analysing. I count ‘a/an’ for first mentions as general because you don’t know which one people are referring to yet. I also point out to them that if in doubt, ‘the’ is correct in 50% of situations!

Of course, if this isn’t enough and you want to cover the exceptions too, you could try my über-complicated articles chart in which I attempted to cover everything! It’s probably time to simplify that a bit 🙂

Out of the window

A very simple activity, which works very well as a filler, as revision, or as the prompt for a whole lesson. All you need is a window with something going on outside.

The view from our classroom

The view from our classroom at IH Sevastopol

Ask the students to look out of the window and tell each other/you what they can see. With my elementary students I encouraged them to use a few structures they’d recently studied:

  • There is/are…
  • Present continuous
  • NOT: I can see… I can see… I can see… (which is what they started with!)

Feed in any vocabulary and structures that they might need, and make a note of them on the board. The students should focus on speaking as much as possible for now, rather than note-taking. Give them time and space to think of ideas – it took my students time to warm up, but then they came up with lots of ideas.

When they’ve run out of steam (after about ten minutes for my group of four elementary students), let the students make notes based on what you put on the board, as well as ask more questions about language.

I repeated the activity a week later, and the students managed to remember about half of the new vocabulary they’d used the first time, as well as adding adjectives and more description without any prompting from me at all. They had resorted to ‘I can see…’ again, but after a reminder from me started to use ‘There is/are…’ and present continuous again.

I’ve read many times about this kind of activity, but this is the first time I’d used it, and it definitely won’t be the last!

[I wrote this post nearly a year ago, but never pressed publish. Better late than never!]

Useful links for CELTA

Anyone following my blog will know that CELTA took over my life in August last year (2014), and will continue to dominate until the same time this year (2015). I’ve been building this list in my head for a while, and it’s finally time to get it onto the blog.

It’s arranged into categories, with subtitles and topics in bold to help you navigate. There’s a lot here, so just use the bits you need as you need them rather than trying to look at all of them – if not, you’ll end up being overwhelmed!

A quick way to find what you need it to press CTRL + F (CMD + F on a Mac) and type a key word connected to what you’re struggling with, like ‘TTT’, ‘instructions’ or ‘writing’  – this will take you straight to the relevant section.

Please let me know if any of the links are broken so I can update them, and feel free to add suggestions to the comments. I also plan to add to it as I write/find more posts.

Before the course

CELTA is a very intensive experience, and it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Take a look at these to give you an idea of what to expect.

Ahmad Zaytoun has created an infographic that gives you the basics of what CELTA involves. Gabriela Froes shares 5 things she wishes she’d known about CELTA before she started, including tips for those with previous teaching experience considering whether to take the course.

Cambridge English has a 30-minute webinar called The Ultimate Guide to CELTA which details different types of CELTA and tells you what to expect from the course. (Thanks to Viacheslav Kushnir for telling me about this)

CELTA diaries is a series of videos following two trainees taking the course at International House Belfast. IH London have some helpful tips for trainees. Nicky Salmon tells you How to survive a CELTA course, with tips from trainers and past trainees.

Seth Newsome wrote about his experience on the course, reflecting on the positives and negatives, with links to other posts he wrote about the process of doing the CELTA if you’d like a bit more depth. Tesal described the challenges of the course and what he got out of itRachel Daw wrote a week by week diary of her course, showing you what it’s like in depth: one MTW TF, two, three, four. Anne Hendler was interviewed each week by Matthew Noble, himself a CELTA tutor, on his blog: before the course, week one, week two, week three, after the course. Vincent Sdrigotti, an experienced teacher of French origin, wrote about the ups and downs of the whole 4-week course as well as the preparation he did before it started. Here’s one quick quote from that post:

Is the CELTA worth it? As a course and as an experience I would have to give a resounding YES!!!

Although the interviews on Adi Rajan’s blog are called ‘Life after CELTA‘, they give you a great idea of what different professionals at various stages of their careers got out of the CELTA course and why it was worth doing, even if they already had a PhD in one example! [Note: when I checked on 4/10/20, these posts aren’t available, but hopefully Adi will share them again in the future!] My favourite quote is from Vaidehi Kenia:

What running 5 miles daily for a month will do to your physique, the CELTA will do for your mind.

Since March 2020, fully online CELTAs have been possible. Two trainees from the first online CELTA I tutored on shared their experience and tips of their full-time four-week course: Yawen Jin and Nadia Ghauri. Trainees from a part-time fully online course run from Cork, Ireland share their experience and tips, and there are specific testimonials from Yuhi Fujioka, and from Philip Ryan, whose course was forced to move online half-way through when lockdown arrived.

If you’re still not sure whether to do the course or not, Chia Suan Chong, a CELTA trainer, describes 10 things she likes about the CELTA, all of which I agree with. If you’re a more experienced teacher, you might be interested in Jason Anderson’s research on how trainees who came to the course with experience feel like they benefitted from CELTA.

Adam Simpson recommends 10 books to read before you start your CELTA. While you’re unlikely to get through all of them (due to the expense if nothing else!) I’d definitely recommend getting copies of either 1 or 2, plus 3, and possibly also 6. Another book that you might find useful is the Ultimate Guide to CELTA by Amanda Momeni and Emma Jones which is available as an ebook (thanks for recommending this Helen Strong).

Martin Sketchley tells you how to prepare for the CELTA in 9 easy steps, with advice about choosing a centre, things to do before the course and advice about working with your peers.

It’s particularly important to build your language awareness as much as possible before the course. Jo Gakonga has webinars on grammar for language teachers (30 minutes) and the present perfect for language teachers (42 minutes) – free samples of the introductory grammar course on Jo’s site. Jeff Mohamed’s grammar development course is recommended by some centres (for a very light version of this, Rachel Daw talks about 10 things she learnt from it when preparing for her CELTA). If you’re not sure about parts of speech in English (e.g. verbs, nouns etc), Pass the CELTA have an introduction to them. ELT concourse has a pretty comprehensive set of guides to various aspects of English grammar.

Another area that people often find overwhelming is the amount of terminology thrown at them. ELT Concourse helps you out by introducing some of it. I’ve put together a Quizlet class with most of the terminology you might come across (though remember the same thing might have different names in different places!) If you’ve never used Quizlet, here’s an introduction to it.

If you’d like to do a course before your course, you could invest a little money in the ELT Campus Complete CELTA Preparation Bundle, online training in key ideas, teaching methods and concepts, as well as a grammar refresher.

Brushing up on your technology skills could also help you out. You’re going to spend a lot of time in front of a computer, and every timesaver you can learn will make a difference. Regardless of how confident a Word user you are, it’s worth checking out my friend Liz Broomfield’s very clear posts about making the most of Word. She uses Word for Windows. If you have a Mac and can’t work it out, Google it first, then ask me and I’ll try to help – I have Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac.

If you’re planning to make flashcards, the quickest and easiest way is with Powerpoint rather than Word. Here’s are two beginner’s guides: a 17-minute video or a more in-depth pdf. One useful trick is printing handouts with 6 slides per page.

Keyboard shortcuts save a lot of time in the long run. These are 100 for Windows and some for Mac too. If you’ve got a long time before your CELTA, working on your touch typing will help you now and later. On a side note, set up a filing system on your computer and start naming files with lots of detail in the file name so you can find things easily in the future. “Document 1.docx” won’t help you, but “Personality adjectives and definitions NEF Pre-Int SB p6 and SB p145 U1B.docx” will. I always try to include the book, chapter and page numbers so I can use the search function to find things again quickly in the future.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, teachers increasingly need to know how to teach online, particularly using Zoom. I have a post with Ideas for teaching group lessons on Zoom which provides a starting point of activities (most are not Zoom-specific and would work on other platforms). If you’ve never used Zoom before, you may want to buy a (very affordable!) copy of Teaching with Zoom: A Guide for Complete Beginners by Keith Folse (Amazon/Smashwords affiliate links). ELT Campus have a set of webinars showing how to teach English online. Sara Katsonis describes her experience of being a CELTA trainee when the course had to move from face-to-face to fully online – she got a Pass A despite (or maybe because of?) the challenges.

Finally, for those of you thinking about trying to get a Pass A (the highest grade, which 3-5% of trainees get – I got a Pass B), here’s Pete Clements with what he did to get his Pass A, and a report from someone else who got one, along with the following very important advice which I completely agree with:

If you set up your goal as “I’m gonna gits me an A!” then, well, it’s a worthy goal and all, but you’ll probably give yourself an ulcer, and stress so much about whether you’re doing enough or doing well enough that your freaky-outy stress will cause you to lose focus and actually do worse. Don’t look for a magic bullet or secret formula – there is none, and trying to guess at the magical combination of factors that leads to an A will just cause you to get even more freaky-outy. Always remember that it’s not a competition, so if you see someone who seems to be doing better than you, hey, you’re in it for four weeks with that person and you are quite possibly friendly with them – you are not in a race. There is not just one gold medal. Their good work does not mean you’ll get edged out for the one top spot, because there is no “one” top spot.

By the way, when I did my CELTA, one of my fellow trainees got a Pass A with no prior teaching experience, so it is possible! However, in the courses I’ve tutored on so far, I’ve yet to see an A candidate. Update (May 2017): I’ve seen a couple of A candidates now, and they’ve been very hard-working, and followed all of these tips from Ricardo Barros, among many other things!

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Lesson planning

How to approach lesson planning: I wrote this post to help you manage your time when planning on CELTA and try to avoid the ‘But finding the materials and making them look pretty is so much more fun than filling in all those tedious forms’ trap. The Cambridge CELTA blog offers an alternative way to manage the planning process.

Nicky Salmon, a CELTA trainer, tells you how to write CELTA lesson plans to make the documents as useful as possible for you and your trainer, so that you’re ready to give your students the best possible lesson.

The ELT Concourse guide to lesson planning covers aims, procedure, staging and a useful checklist of things to consider when planning. They also show examples of present-practice-produce and test-teach-test lessons, along with a guide to helping you decide between these two possible ways of staging a lesson (there are many more!). Pete at ELT Planning lists lots of different ways of staging your lessons (though only the names) and explains why it’s been important to him in his post-CELTA career. Later he put together a post with a breakdown of how to stage different lessons, covering most (all?) of the main types of lessons you may teach on CELTA, both language and skills. He’s also got 12 tips for writing lesson plans, not all of which apply to CELTA-level courses, but which are still useful. John Hughes suggests a before/while/after you watch approach to video lessons, most of which works for reading or listening. Point 5 of a longer blogpost by Matthew Noble gives you a poster with suggestions for adapting materials and lesson planning.

Timing your elementary classes is a post I wrote in response to questions from my trainees about how to allocate timing when planning – it actually works for any level really, not just elementary. Jonny Ingham also has a guide to timing your lessons, as does CELTA Train.

Jo Gakonga has three webinars connected to lesson planning:

When writing aims, it can be useful to consider how SMART they are, as this will help you to know when and if you’ve achieved them – Andriy Ruzhynskiy shows you how to do this in a 10-minute webinar.

It’s important to provide a clear context for any lesson, whether it’s language or skills. Barbara Sakamoto explains why. ELT Concourse gives an example of context in action.

If you decide to create your own materials for your lesson, here are a few tips from the Oxford University Press blog.

The generally very useful CELTA Train blog has tips on considering anticipated problems and coming up with appropriate solutions, including examples for the most common areas.

For more depth, Mike Cattlin, an experienced CELTA and Delta trainer has written an e-book called The Art of Lesson Planning.

Finally, if you’re getting stressed before your lesson, the Cambridge CELTA blog has some great tips on overcoming observation anxiety.

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Classroom management and activity set-up

Standing at the front of a classroom can be a scary prospect. If teacher presence is a problem for you, the Times Educational Supplement can help you get the students’ attention. I’ve written a post with tips on getting and maintaining student attention. These tips from Fernando Guarany could also help improve your confidence as a teacher, as will Emma Johnston’s 15-minute webinar on confidence building for teachers.

Other people have the opposite problem and talk way too much. Jo Gakonga has a webinar on teacher talk and language grading (12 minutes). Elly Setterfield tells you how, when and how not to grade your language. Here are some ways to become aware of excessive TTT (teacher talking time) and what to do about it, including ways of making your lessons more student-centred – it’s an ELTchat summary from Sharon Noseley. Here are other tips on getting the TTT/STT (student talking time) balance right. Finally, this is what the students hear when you speak too much/unnecessarily in class.

Both of these will affect your ability to build rapport with students. Chris Ożóg offers more tips on how to increase your rapport in a 10-minute webinar. Cecilia Nobre offers useful tips on how to build rapport when you’re not John Keating from Dead Poet’s Society (though he does many of those things too!)

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to getting instructions right. You might want to follow them up with instruction checking questions (ICQs) if there’s a potential for confusion, or one of these alternatives from Ben Naismith. If you’re not sure when to ask ICQs or which ones to use, CELTA Train can help you. Edward Evans has a 10-minute webinar about giving efficient instructions, including how to check them, as does Jo Gakongagiving clear instructions (13 minutes). She also has one on setting up and running activities (12 minutes). Marc Helgesen has lots of tips for setting up activities effectively and Chia Suan Chong has 10 questions you can ask yourself to improve your activity set-up. Here is a 3-minute video of instructions for making a mini book by Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa – it’s designed for young learners, but the way she does it would demonstrates clear instructions that would work with adults too with only minor modifications. Point 5 of a longer blogpost by Matthew Noble gives you some golden rules for instructions. ELT Notebook summarises the whole instruction-giving process in a set of simple tips.

It’s important to remember the students’ names as quickly as possible. Adam Simpson gives you 10 techniques you can use to do this, as well as suggesting a few different ways to arrange the furniture in the classroom. Celeste Lalonde has some creative ways of putting them into new pairs and groups (though don’t spend hours planning this!). ELT Concourse has a guide to classroom organisation, with lots of useful diagrams, and another on grouping. Pete at ELT Planning reflects on the relative merits of different ways of organising the classroom.

Laura Patsko offers some general tips for a clear and useful whiteboard in the final section of her Whiteboard Wizardry blogpost. Peter at ELT Planning has a comprehensive guide to using the whiteboard with some very clear illustrations, including for classroom management. Anthony Schmidt also has examples of whiteboard use – there’s  no commentary, but it’s interesting to reflect on which layouts are likely to be more or less useful to the students.

Rachael Roberts explains how and why to monitor and provide feedback, and here are my tips on the same topic. Pass the CELTA shows how to monitor each kind of activity (reading, speaking etc) and some common problems trainees have. Karen McIntyre describes the many purposes of monitoring in a 10-minute webinar. Amanda Gamble offers many alternatives to the teacher eliciting the answers in open class at the feedback stages of lessons. ELT Concourse encourages you to consider how you’d give feedback in 6 different situations. Joe O’Hagen has a 10-minute webinar offering suggestions for providing feedback, particularly on speaking and writing activities, and Jo Gakonga has a 12-minute webinar.

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Teaching receptive skills

Reading

ELT Concourse ask what is reading, then show you how to teach it.

Fergus Fadden has a webinar on teaching reading skills (7 minutes). You can also watch Fergus in action teaching reading to an elementary class (22 minutes). Jo Gakonga has a webinar on exploiting reading texts (35 minutes). She also has an YouTube video showing how to set up a jigsaw reading activity and avoid the pitfalls (8 minutes).

Listening

ELT Concourse ask what is listening, then show you how to teach it.

Fergus Fadden has a webinar on teaching listening skills (9 minutes).

Marek Kiczkowiak has 15 tips for planning a listening lesson. Number 13 is particularly important!

If you can’t find the CD, Martin Sketchley suggests a few solutions. This might help you with your anticipated problems in a listening lesson.

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Teaching productive skills

Speaking

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

ELT Concourse looks at the differences between slips and errors, and how to handle errors in the classroom. They also ask what is speaking, then show you how to teach it. Simon Thomas offers tips on correcting students while speaking, and Zarina Subhan tells you why sometimes students don’t say much and what you can do about it, helping you to increase STT. CELTA train have created an infographic to help you decide how to respond to errors during speaking activities.

I have a step-by-step guide to setting up an information gap, a speaking activity in which each student only has part of what they need to complete the task and they need to speak to others to complete the information.

This post has ideas from five different teachers on how to maximise student talk time, the most useful of which is probably Dorothy Zemach (the first) demonstrating how to model the kind of conversation you expect your students to produce. Doing this makes them more likely to produce quality talk, not just short answers.

Writing

ELT Concourse ask what is writing, then show you how to teach it.

Catherine Morley has a step-by-step guide to planning a writing lesson.

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on giving feedback on writing. (34 minutes)

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Teaching language

General

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on analysing language and anticipating problems (21 minutes) and Fergus Fadden has a 7-minute one on language analysis. Pete at ELT Planning shows an in-depth example of analysis of a grammar item and a vocabulary one, plus general tips on how to analyse language. Alexandre Makarios explains why language analysis is important, gives an example of a poor one with tutor comments and offers tips to help you with yours.

Jo Gakonga also has a webinar introducing you to PPP, TTT and TBL – three different ways of presenting language, whether grammar, vocabulary or functions (35 minutes). It will tell you what the abbreviations mean! CELTA train describes ‘Presentation via a situation‘ a.k.a. situational presentations, and includes an example of one designed to introduce ‘used to’.

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to concept checking both grammar and vocabulary, as well as examples of clines. Marek Kiczkowiak offers seven ways of checking understanding without asking ‘Do you understand?’ and gives you 10 situations to test whether you can chose the most appropriate way to do this. ELT Concourse also looks at questioning in the classroom, and gives more ways to avoid questions like ‘OK?’ and ‘Is that clear?’ Concept Check Questions (CCQs) are the bane of many CELTees lives – here’s a fun introduction to what they are. Fergus Fadden has a webinar explaining how to create and use them (13 minutes).

Another common problem is how to elicit language from the students and Damian Williams has some answers. Pass the CELTA has a step-by-step guide to eliciting including lots of examples of what you can elicit and tips on what not to do. Jonny Ingham shows you to how to elicit vocabulary when pre-teaching in a reading/listening lesson.

Anthony Gaughan has an 8-minute audio podcast for CELTA trainees on what makes good controlled practice and how to make sure students really understand. CELTA train talks about how to make sure practice activities have a real communicative purpose, and includes a few examples that could help you.

Grammar

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes an introduction to timelines, including some beautiful examples which I’m very jealous of. Joanna Malefaki also has examples of timelines and CCQs. Marek Kiczkowiak offers tips for producing effective timelines. Gareth Rees shows some of the possible conventions of timelines (i.e. what the symbols mean). ELT Concourse has examples and asks you to guess what they show, then demonstrates how to build up a timeline with learners in the lesson. Anthony Gaughan demonstrates how to teach form without terminology.

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Vocabulary/Lexis

Do you feel “I need to teach vocab, but I don’t know where to begin!“? Adam Simpson can help you, particularly in sections 1 and 2 (3 and 4 are probably better left until after you’ve finished CELTA). Marek Kiczkowiak suggests ways to clarify the meaning of new vocabulary. ELT Concourse has a series of guides to teaching vocabulary.

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Functions

ELT Concourse have a step-by-step guide to understanding and teaching functions, complete with lots of examples. If you’re still not sure what a functions lesson looks like or is for, this 5-minute example from a real classroom based on students renting an apartment should give you a better idea, as will this full step-by-step lesson from Pete Clements. Languages International have a pdf document you can work through to find out what functions are and how to teach them (go to unit 4i). When you’re filling in your language analysis sheet, this non-exhaustive list of functions might help you identify what function the exponents (sentences/structures) you’re analysing have.

Pronunciation

Adrian Underhill explains how the phonemic chart (which he put together) works in this one-hour introduction on YouTube, full of great techniques for introducing the sounds to your students. He also has a very useful blog breaking down the sounds and showing you how to find them in your mouth, and how to teach them to your students. For a shorter introduction to the same chart, try Jo Gakonga‘s webinar: introducing the phonemic chart (37 minutes). Rachel Daw recommends books to help you familiarise yourself with the phonetic alphabet (best used before the course). ELT Concourse has a series of activities to help you feel more comfortable with transcribing pronunciation.

Use learner dictionaries to get the phonetics for individual words in American English and British English. Rachel’s English has individual videos for each sound in American English. For British English, try this from the BBC.

Pronunciation Bites has a collection of links to online transcription tools, along with reviews for each. It also tells you how to download IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) scripts onto your computer, and how to use them. Don’t forget to put the phonetics into Lucida Sans Unicode font to make sure they’ll print on any computer (I hope!)

ELTchat is a weekly hour-long Twitter conversation which happens every Wednesday. In February 2012 there was a discussion about the IPA, including reflection on its usefulness and suggestions for how to exploit it.

Nicky Salmon has put together a beginner’s guide to drilling. Julie Tice has tips on making drilling more fun and varied. Lee Shutler has some ideas too, and also talks about the benefits of drilling. ELT Concourse looks at the arguments for and against drilling, then provides examples of different types of drill. CELTA train does something similar, and throws in a video as a bonus at the end. Marc Helgesen’s tips about pronunciation, drilling and task repetition are in the second half of this post about classroom managementJo Gakonga has a webinar on teaching beginners, which includes tips on drilling (22 minutes).

Jo Gakonga has webinars on connected speech:

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Classroom techniques

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Cuisenaire rods are a useful tool for a whole range of activities. John Hughes has a video showing how they can be used, and Ceri Jones and I wrote a blogpost with lots more ideas.

Mini whiteboards are another great resource. Phil Bird has some ideas for how to exploit them.

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Observing and being observed

Rachel Daw summarised all of the things she learnt while observing her peers and receiving feedback on TP in the first two weeks of her CELTA course in CELTA Teaching Practice: some tips (an incredibly useful post!).

Martin Sketchley offers advice on preparing to be observed, much of which will serve you well in the real world too.

Nicky Salmon offers tips on how to reflect on your teaching during CELTA courses, including examples of language you can use. As she says, reflection is a skill which takes time to learn, but is one of the most important things you can do to develop professionally.

After the course, observing lessons is a great way to continue developing. Here’s a collection of online observations to help you.

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Teaching in different contexts

If you’re teaching young learners, try these links to start you off:

I have dedicated blogposts with links for business English teaching and doing the FCE (Cambridge First) exam (this one is for students, but should still be useful) – just one example of the many EFL exams out there. In any classroom you may have to test students, so this guide to testing from ELT Concourse will help you to think about the related issues. Teaching academic English is another possible avenue, and Adam Simpson has some tips to start you offJo Gakonga has a webinar on teaching beginners (22 minutes)

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Assignments

There are four assignments on the CELTA course. I’ve divided the links by assignment.

Focus on the learner

Jo Gakonga has a webinar introducing this assignment. (18 minutes) Remember that the rubric might be slightly different at your centre. Her tips are still useful though.

In the first part of the assignment you’re normally required to create a profile of the learner(s) you’re focussing on. These factors which affect learning from ELT Concourse may help you to do this.

You may also be asked to analyse the ‘learning style’ of the students. This article from ELT Concourse should provide some related food for thought.

Language-related tasks (language awareness)

See links in the Teaching language section of this post.

Skills-related tasks (authentic materials)

Jo Gakonga has a webinar introducing this assignment. (16 minutes) Remember that the rubric might be slightly different at your centre. Her tips are still useful though. She also has one on using authentic materials. (38 minutes) You can find other ways to exploit authentic materials in this summary of a one-hour Twitter chat (ELTchat) on the subject. Pete gives an example of his assignment on ELTplanning.

Lessons from the classroom

Jo Gakonga has a webinar introducing this assignment. (12 minutes) Remember that the rubric might be slightly different at your centre. Her tips are still useful though.

The links from the After the course section of this page will also help you here.

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Surviving the course

Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to help you survive the CELTA from Alexandra Koukoumialou and 5 secrets to success on your CELTA course from Tanya Hacker, and another 5 tips from somebody who completed the course at IH Bangkok (I can’t find their name unfortunately!)

The main problem most people have with the CELTA is the workload. It’s not unusual for some trainees to stay up for most of the night and forget to sleep, and there are always some people who don’t hand in lesson planning documents because they ran out of time. In a 10-minute webinar, Lisa Phillips offers some tips for time management for teachers in general, but many of them apply to the CELTA course too. Remember to ask for help if you need it – you’re not bothering people, and you might find they’re in a similar situation. As for your trainers, that support is what you’re paying for!

I know I included it in the lesson planning section, but these suggestions for approaching planning are designed to make your life easier, so I think they’re worth repeating.

Don’t forget to take some time for yourself during the course. You’ll benefit from it more than you will by just pushing on through, and no matter how important the CELTA is, your health and well-being should take priority. Get enough sleep, look after yourself and take regular breaks. If you need inspiration this might help:

50 ways to take a break

Here are a few of videos I send out to encourage my trainees to take a brief break – I won’t tell you what they are so it’s a lucky dip! One, Two, Three – each one is 3-4 minutes, clean, and should make you laugh!

And just in case you think you’re entering a serious profession involving a lot of work, take a look at EnglishDroid – he’ll burst your bubble quickly (this is a site to return to as you learn more about the world you’re entering!)

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After the course

You’ve survived! Well done! Now what?

Once you’ve finished your CELTA, you’ve got all this to look forward to. But first, you need a job. Here are a few places you can look (but there are many, many more!):

To help you Jonny Ingham tells you how to write a TEFL CV and Karenne Sylvester explains how to avoid overseas EFL teaching job scams. Gordon Scruton gives you questions for a potential employer, plus all important social questions about life outside the school. Rachel Daw talks about her experiences getting work as a newly-qualified freelance teacher and shares examples of questions she’s been asked in job interviews, as well as comparing the relative merits of working for a language school and being a freelancer. Lorraine Kennedy gives you 10 tips for ELT teacher job interviewsAdam Simpson gives you general advice about what to say and do in job interviews. You can find out about different countries and potential up- and downsides of working there using the country guides at ESL Base, though do try to get in touch with teachers yourself too – it’s worth asking any school you apply for if you can speak to one of their teachers. Once you’ve got the job, Elly Setterfield has a very useful series of posts specifically designed for new teachers, answers questions such as’What should I pack?’, ‘What if I hate it?’, and with Teaching Kids and Teaching Teens 101s. She’s also written about how non-native teachers can improve their confidence.

Isabela Villas Boas offers tips for a great beginning in a new teaching jobRichard Whiteside has 3 things to help new teachers. Lewis Waitt tells you about how to survive your first year as a teacher. Michael Walker has 5 tips for new teachers. Rebecca Cope describes what it’s really like, from the perspective of being six months into her own first year as a teacher. Elly Setterfield offers tips for planning on a daily basis, as it’ll be hard to keep up the amount of detail you had to produce during the course. Jennifer Gonzalez offers tips for starting a job mid-year. Although they’re aimed at mainstream teachers, many of the tips are relevant for those of you who have completed CELTA.

To continue the reflective cycle you started on CELTA, you could keep a reflective journal, as recommended by Dale Coulter. Another option is to write your own blog, which I’ve found really useful. However you choose to do it, Jason Renshaw explains why reflection should be a vital part of any teacher’s development (and offers another suggestion for how to keep a reflective journal). Oh, and if you want to send a few pennies my way, you could investigate ELT Playbook 1, an ebook of 30 reflective tasks designed for new teachers, written by me and only costing around 5GBP/5.50€ 🙂 If you complete all five tasks from a single section, you can earn yourself a badge to put on your CV or social media, showing potential employers and/or students that you are continuing your development after the course.

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

Blogs are a useful tool post-CELTA, and this post by me will tell you how to make the most of them. One of the things I enjoy about blogs is periodic challenges which bloggers start and anyone can join in with. The #youngerteacherself posts kick-started by Joanna Malefaki are a great source of advice for beginner teachers, as experienced teachers look back and offer advice to their younger selves. A couple of years before this challenge Chris Wilson wrote 10 things he wished he’d known before he started CELTA. ELTchat also had a chat called I wish I had known that when I started teaching! If you’re thrown into a classroom with a horde of children or teens, you should find these posts by Elly Setterfield very useful: Teaching Kids 101 / Teaching Teens 101.

Adam Simpson has a series of blogposts aimed at helping you develop post-CELTA:

There are lots of other online resources for professional development. Jo Gakonga has a webinars on continuing professional development on the web (37 minutes) and using Twitter for professional development (25 minutes). I’ve put together various guides to help you get into online professional development, including Twitter, webinars and facebook for professional development and a webinar called 10 blogs in 10 minutes. All of the names linked to in this blogpost will take you to Twitter pages if you’d like a few people to follow to start you off, as well as me of course! 🙂

The best resource on Twitter is ELTchat, a weekly one-hour chat on topics chosen by participants. Summaries of chats going back to 2010 can be found in the Summaries index on the website and cover pretty much every topic you could possibly imagine related to ELT teaching – if it’s not there, you can suggest it for a future chat.

International House offer a range of paid courses to extend your knowledge in a variety of areas, including language awareness (IH LAC), business English teaching (IH BET), teaching young learners and teens (IHCYLT) and teaching online (IH COLT). They are offered online, face-to-face at some schools, and in the case of the IHCYLT, blended. You get a discount if you work for IH, and some schools will pay for your course completely if you work for them for a particular period of time. Adi Rajan has also put together a list of post-CELTA qualifications; although aimed at teachers in India, it’s relevant worldwide. ELT Campus also runs courses online, such as this one for teaching English to Young Learners.

You can join a teaching association to get support. Ask around and you might find one in the city or country you’re working in, like ELTABB in Berlin. You could also join IATEFL (UK-based) or TESOL (US-based), international organisations which also have lists on their sites of country-based affiliates, like BELTA in Belgium or TESOL France (both of these websites also have lots of other resources). Here are some of the benefits of joining a teaching association.

Cambridge English Teacher and the International Teacher Development Institute are online communities with forums, webinars and courses you can follow. CET is paid, but you can get benefits like cheaper subscriptions to journals with your membership. iTDi contains lots of free content, and a couple of more extended paid courses.

Conferences are a great source of ideas. Both IATEFL and TESOL hold multi-day conferences each year, and although the IATEFL conference is the highlight of my year (!), they can be quite expensive. IATEFL streams some sessions from the conference, and these are available to watch after the event (for example Harrogate 2014). One- or two-day local conferences can provide lots of inspiration. There are also online conferences and webinars provided for free. David Harbinson has a long list of sources for webinars to start you off.

There are various journals and magazines dedicated to ELT, full of articles from around the world with lots of great ideas and issues to think about. The IH Journal is available free online. Most teaching associations have their own newsletter or journal. Other magazines include English Teaching Professional and Modern English Teacher, both of which are subscription only – you can choose whether to get them online or as a hard copy.

If this list isn’t enough for you:

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For CELTA trainers

(Just so you don’t feel left out!)

I wrote a weekly diary of a CELTA course I tutored on in Chiang Mai, with reflections on the day-to-day experience of being a tutor: week one, week two, week three, week four. I’ve also talked about integrating technology into CELTA.

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on ‘flipping’ CELTA input sessions. (22 minutes) She also has a wide range of resources for trainers on the ELT-training website, including lots of ideas for feedback.

Matt Noble regularly posts reflections on being a trainer on his Newbie CELTA Trainer blog, as does Ricardo Barros on his. Anthony Gaughan talks about a completely different way of doing CELTA on his Teacher Training Unplugged blog. He has also written an incredibly useful step-by-step guide explaining the process of becoming a CELTA trainer: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

John Hughes offers various ways of approaching lesson feedback. Felicity Pyatt joins the TEFL Training Institute podcast for an episode to discuss what to do when a trainee fails, which also includes tips for trainees on how to deal with the fact that they have failed an element of a training course.

If you’d like to work on your own skills as a trainer, you might want to get yourself a copy of ELT Playbook Teacher Training, my book of 30 reflective tasks in 6 categories, as you can see below (Amazon/Smashwords affiliate links).

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic meant lots of things changed, including the sudden need for provision of fully online CELTAs. Brendan O Sé from University College Cork, Ireland, blogged about running their first fully online CELTA. James Egerton talks about how IH Rome Manzoni took their CELTA course online and offers tips for other centres doing the same. Angelos Bollas has a demo lesson with upper intermediate students on Zoom which you might want to use to show trainees how it works from a teacher’s perspective:

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Everything else

Ruth Lavina shares 10 things she learnt on her CELTA, covering a whole range of categories above. I particularly like number 7, because trainees often forget it!

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As I said at the start, please let me know if any of the links are broken so I can update them, and feel free to add suggestions to the comments. I hope these links are useful!

Hitting the drawing board

This is a very simple two- or three-stage activity I’ve successfully used with small classes of young learners and teens to revise both grammar and vocabulary. They love drawing on the board!

Stage one: drawing

Drawing

Drawing the past simple

Divide the board into a space for each student/team.

Say a word (e.g. car, trousers) or a sentence featuring the grammar structure you want to practise (e.g. I went to the beach. I played with my brother.)

Ask the students to draw a relevant picture. They shouldn’t worry about their artistic skills, just draw anything that they feel represents the language.

Repeat, ensuring they don’t clean the board in between.

When they have about 10 pictures, stop! 🙂

Stage two: hitting

Hitting

Before giving students the flyswatters, I normally give them two rules:

  1. If you hit anyone with it, we stop.
  2. They’re very cheap. If you hit the board too hard, it’ll break and we’ll have to stop. (This happened once!)

Give the students flyswatters.

Call out one of the words/sentences.

The students hit the relevant picture.

Start with them hitting their own pictures, then move them around – this can be quite challenging if other students have interpreted the language in a more abstract way!

You can also ask one of the students to be the teacher. With small groups, you replace them as the player.

Stage three: cleaning (optional)

Repeat stage two, but this time, instead of flyswatters, give the students board rubbers. They clean the relevant picture each time you say the language.

When there are only two pictures left, they have to tell you the words/sentences.

Alternatives

You can also use paper rolled into a tube instead of flyswatters. Stage two works well with flashcards too.

Adults would also enjoy this game.

With larger groups it could be done in teams or on paper.

Simple, minimal preparation, and lots of fun! Enjoy!

How I’m learning Russian (part two)

At the start of May I wrote about my Russian lessons and what I was and wasn’t doing at home to further my learning. To finish the post, I made a commitment to study Russian for ten minutes every day and gave a list of activities I would try. So what happened?

Planning and recording

About two months ago I moved to a system of having a daily to-do list for everything. At the beginning of each week, it looks like this:

To-do list

To-do list

Each day I have a series of codes: ‘Ph’ = physio, F = feedly (blog reading to try and keep up!), R = Russian, FJ = flo-joe (FCE word bank) and, new last week because of the success of the others, W = walk. By having them on the list, I’m much more likely to make time for them every day. Other things to do are then added around them, as you can see from Monday. (On a side note, I’ve discovered this daily to-do list makes me much more efficient, as long as I’m realistic about what I put on each day based on the time I have available. Everything else is in another list at the side, and when I’ve finish the things for the day I can start on the less urgent things.)

Since I started doing this, I have very rarely missed a day of Russian. I record what I’ve done on an old calendar, along with my physio/exercise. I started using a similar system when I was trying to walk more last year, and I found that the gaping holes when  nothing was written made me feel bad, and I wanted to minimise them! This is the final result for May:

May 2014 Russian

May 2014 Russian

…and the work in progress for June:

June 2014 Russian

June 2014 Russian

As you can see, in the seven weeks since I wrote that post, I’ve only missed four days, all in May. You can also see that very often I spent considerably more than ten minutes on my Russian. It seems that once you get started, it’s easy to get sucked in and do more 😉

Towards the end of May I experimented with a trial version of Lizzie Pinard’s language learning flower, where she suggested colouring in the flower depending on what you’ve done. I didn’t realise that it should be divided into squares, and was already using the calendar, so only used it once, but it did make me realise that I was doing almost no writing.

Language learning flower

Language learning flower for May 2014

Writing

I took my own advice, and started to write a journal in Russian, which I asked my teacher to correct and reply to. Thankfully, she was happy to do that!

Russian journal

Russian journal

The mistakes I’ve made have taught me a lot, and because I’m a good language learner/very sad person/have way too much time on my hands, I rewrite every piece of writing I do into another notebook…

Colour-coded rewrites

Colour-coded rewrites

…using a colour-code to show the kind of mistakes I’ve made. I put the code into the front of my notebook so I can refer to it, and add to it if another category of mistake starts appearing.

Deciphering the rewrite code

Deciphering the rewrite code

From only three journal entries I’ve already noticed an improvement in my spelling of a few common words, and I’ve learnt new phrases from my teacher’s rewording of my sometimes clumsy production, as well as having a new page in my vocabulary notebook entirely devoted to stealing phrases from what she’s written. I’ve also put some of my favourite phrases onto the sentence cards I mentioned in my last post (more on them below).

Of course, the real reason I started to do this was nothing to do with improving my Russian. When I bought my journal, I couldn’t decide which notebook to buy, and being a stationery lover, I decided to buy both. You can’t have a notebook and not use it! 😉

Two notebooks, both alike in dignity

Which to buy? Both of course!

This may be another sign of how sad/geeky/pathetic I am, but I really feel that it’s important to have notebooks and folders you want to open, and pens/pencils/etc you want to use when you’re studying. It might seem like a minor thing, but anything that makes you smile will help.

Reading

Inspired by Lizzie Pinard (again), I bought myself a Russian book. I’d been trying to find something for a while, but everything was too expensive or seemed like it might be too difficult for a beginner/elementary student. Then I found this:

Game of Thrones in Russian

Hello Mr Bean 😉

That’s right, Game of Thrones, in Russian, with Sean Bean on the cover. What was that about having something you wanted to pick up? I already had the e-book in English, and we have a paper copy of it at school, making it the perfect choice as I wouldn’t have to buy another book to be able to compare the Russian and English versions.

Without Lizzie talking about how she’d been reading Harry Potter in Italian from the beginning, I would never have been brave enough to try GoT. Now I’ve finished the first chapter. It’s taken me about two hours in total, broken down into 10-20 minute stints, but it never felt like a chore. Instead it was a puzzle, as I compared what I could see on the page, what I could guess, and what I could remember from the story. Each page took about ten minutes, and I reread the whole thing many times, firstly in Russian more than once, then reading the English, then going back and reading the Russian, then reading both side-by-side. Each time I reread it I noticed more patterns and more words I recognised, and I really want to continue with this. I’ve also started a ‘Game of Thrones’ page in my vocabulary notebook, including such words as меч and книжал (sword and dagger), and useful phrases like Здесь что-то не так (‘Something’s wrong here’). In her post about 12 things she’s learnt about language learning, Lizzie mentioned that learning a new word is like making a new friend, and that’s exactly how it feels.

In general, I’ve always tried to read everything around me (signs, posters, packets…) Now I feel very comfortable with the Cyrillic script. My writing of it has changed over time, developing to become more natural, and requiring less conscious processing. The more I read, the faster I can pick out the words, although I still find I have to stop and go back quite a lot, especially with some of the really long words.

Listening

Back in January, I wrote about the downsides of beginning again in a new place:

I can’t do some of the things I enjoy, like going to the cinema and switching off. I can still go, but I have to think, not least because a lot of the films here are in Ukrainian, which I don’t speak at all. Watching a film at home is good, but it’s not the same.

Going to the cinema has always been one of the motivations for me to study more Russian, helped by the political changes here which mean that all films are now in Russian, not Ukrainian. This month I’ve finally taken the plunge and started going. I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past on June 1st, and Maleficent on June 9th. I’m planning to see the second How to train your dragon film next week. Before seeing each film, I watched all the trailers I could find in English to give me an idea of the story and so I would know some of the lines. For Maleficent I watched one in Russian too and looked up the words ‘curse’, ‘evil’ and ‘witch’, all of which I promptly forgot, but recognised when I heard them in the film. This afternoon I’m going to see How to Train Your Dragon 2, and through the Dreamworks YouTube channel I’ve seen the first five minutes of the film, plus about 8 other clips, so I feel like I know the story! Having said that, I don’t want to read too much, as I still want to enjoy the story as it unrolls.

It’s amazing how good it felt to sit in the cinema again, to let the language wash over me and enjoy the experience. I probably understood about 30-40% of each film, helped by my preparation, but that was enough, and every time I go I’ll understand more. In both films I heard words and phrases which I’d picked up in the process of journal writing and reading GoT, as well as through the more ‘conventional’ language learning. I even got one or two of the language-dependent jokes, giving me a high each time.

I bought and watched Up on DVD, which I also really enjoyed. When you’re starting off, I think it’s a much better idea to revisit familiar stories in books and films, rather than try to decode something completely new. You get a lot of motivation from it, but because you already know the story/world/characters, you have more processing capacity to deal with the language.

I’ve also listened to the song ‘Happy End’ with lyrics (thanks to my Russian teacher’s excellent website, which she didn’t tell me about until recently!), a short YouTube video (my first example of Russian comedy) and the first ten minutes of the dubbed version of episode 1 of How I Met Your Mother. I didn’t get on with that at all because I couldn’t deal with being able to hear the English underneath. I’d love to find it with only the Russian as it’s one of my favourite series, and it would be a great excuse to watch it all again!

Grammar and speaking

Most of the grammar we’ve studied in my lessons has come from my questions, based on things I’ve written/read/heard. It’s often said that Russian grammar is really complicated, and there’s certainly a lot of it for a beginner to get their head around. It’s true that I have an advantage because of my other languages, but I think it could be good for a learner to at least see lots of different grammar, but without worrying too much about trying to use it. For me, knowing that the grammar exists means that I’m primed to notice it, and am even starting to use some of it in the right place at the right time.

The best example of noticing was when I asked my teacher how to express comparatives (e.g. bigger/smaller/faster than), then came home, looked out my window at a banner I’ve been ‘reading’ all year, and noticed that it’s a comparative structure!

Better prices than those of others

‘Better prices than those of others’

This week I’ve also finished the memrise Learn Basic Russian course, which I started studying again about two weeks ago after a six-month break. It was interesting to go back to as I can see some of the grammar patterns I’ve studied in the sentences that are included in the higher levels.

The fact that I don’t really care if what I say is grammatically correct or not, as long as I’m communicating, does cause the occasional problem. However, I can mostly get my message across through set phrases, vocabulary, and the basic grammar I do know, along with mime, gestures, and the patience and goodwill of the person I’m speaking to. I’ve managed to buy a bikini by myself, as well as a pair of trainers which are suitable for the warm weather (no easy feat as I have inserts in my shoes which make buying shoes very challenging!) Both processes took 20-30 minutes, and I was really tired afterwards, but I persevered and got what I wanted.

(I think) I feel like lower-level learners should be made aware of how bits of grammar work, but then should be encouraged to read and listen to see how it’s used in context. They should also rote learn set phrases which they can ‘edit’ by slotting in other key vocabulary items as needed. I’ve done very few grammar exercises as part of my Russian studies, and these were mostly connected to cases. They helped me to memorise the form a little, but I really needed to be exposed to them a LOT to actually be able to use them.

Vocabulary, set phrases and pronunciation

In my last post I said:

In some classes, I give my teacher English sentence after sentence I’ve tried to say in Russian during that week, but didn’t know, ask her to translate them, then fail to learn them. This week we have a week off school and I’ve finally had time to dedicate to Russian. I’ve copied out the sentences onto cards (made from A4 pieces of paper cut into 16 rectangles, yellow because it’s a happy colour!), with pictures on the other side as prompts. There’s a huge backlog, and I have no idea how long it’ll take to actually learn them.

Every time I get a seat on the bus, I go through a few of the cards. I have about ten with me at any one time, in a handy mobile phone case my friend gave me, which has a pocket on the front. The ones I don’t know are in the main pocket, and when I think I know them, I put them in the front.

Sandy's sentence card holder TM

Sandy’s sentence card holder TM

During my lesson, I check them with my teacher, who tells me whether my pronunciation is correct or not. My very first Russian lesson was a fairly comprehensive guide to Russian pronunciation, which was a lot of information to take in, but gave me an excellent grounding for everything since. We’ve returned to it many times since, and have added one or two of the more obscure pronunciation rules. Having sound-spelling relationships clear in my head has made a huge difference, but stress placement is still very difficult for me. Like English, Russian has fairly unpredictable stress patterns, and the stress should be marked on every new word.

In a week, I can generally learn about 10-15 of these sentences, and it’s getting easier to memorise them as I start to make connections between the sentences, as well as to the language I’ve been exposed to through reading and listening. It’s incredibly motivating to see the pile of sentences I know get bigger and bigger, and I’ve cleared most of the backlog. This is the situation as it stands now:

i know the ones on the left

Left = ‘known’, right = unknown

…although I should probably go through the ‘known’ cards and see whether I still remember them! By memorising sentences, I have phrases I can deploy in the situations I most commonly encounter, and I can ‘edit’ them as and when I need them. I haven’t always been able to drag them up at the appropriate time, but at least knowing that I’ve been able to memorise them once has made me more confident. As my stock of phrases builds, I’ll be more and more likely to retain them, or at least, I hope so!

This reflects something Ann Loseva wrote in her post about grammar on itdi:

  • These linguistic discoveries need to go through cycles of repetition, to be re-discovered many times before I might hope for them to sink in.
  • The more I learn, the more confirmed I become in that we desperately need vocabulary if we want to actually produce sentences. It’s the first thing to escape memory, too.

When it all went wrong

Considering the amount of times I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to speak or understand Russian, I’m lucky that I’ve only had two situations where communication has completely broken down and I haven’t been able to patch it up.

The first was at the hairdresser’s. She’d cut my hair twice previously, so i though it would be easy: I’d just go and she’d do it. At most, I’d have to say ‘Cut it like before’. Except I forgot to find out how to say that… When I sat down, she held up my hair and said something, but I only understood the word ‘short’. I took that word, added the context of the weather suddenly being a lot hotter, and thought she’d asked me ‘Do you want it shorter than before?’, so I said ‘No’. The conversation descended into complete incomprehension, as neither of us could work out what the other was saying. In the end, my Russian teacher translated for us over the phone. Later in the appointment, we continued talking, and she told me she was surprised by my response to her first question, as she couldn’t cut my hair longer! In fact, we’d she’d said was something along the lines of ‘Do you want it short here?’

The other example was on the bus. I had my headphones on, and called out the name of the next stop, where I wanted to get off. Three men were standing in the aisle, and one of them laughed and started talking to me. I took off my headphones, but couldn’t understand what he was saying, even though he rephrased it and said it many times. Just as we stepped off the bus, I realised that he’d been telling me he’d called out the name of the stop at the exact same time as me. In English, that would have prompted a quick laugh and the end of the dialogue. In Russian, we were talking for a couple of minutes and I got quite frustrated! Context, and continuing to try to make meaning from what I’d heard after the conversation was over meant I finally understood. During X-Men there was also a line which I didn’t understand when I first heard it, but there was no dialogue for a minute or so afterwards, giving me time to process it again and work out what the character said (the line about JFK) 🙂 This is why it’s important to give students processing time after they listen, and sometimes pauses while listening.

In summary

  • Make study a ten-minute habit, rather than an hour-long chore.
  • Find ways to visualise what you’ve learnt (on a calendar, a language flower, a pile of cards).
  • Give yourself processing time. You don’t have to understand things immediately, especially when you’re starting out.
  • Study and learn from your mistakes, but don’t let them stop you from trying again.
  • Do the things that interest you – ignore people if they say it’s ‘above your level’, and try new things regularly.
    (On that note, I’ve only done three, maybe four, of the ten minute activities I suggested at the end of my previous post.)
  • Build up a bank of successful experience, whether it’s reading, writing, listening, speaking, or remembering words and grammar. Focus on all of the things you’ve been able to do (not what you haven’t), and notice how much more you can do the next time round.
  • Buy pretty notebooks and comfortable pens 😉

In a happy coincidence, that list is pretty similar to an infographic showing the ‘perfect language learner’ which I saw for the first time yesterday, courtesy of St. George International school in London:

The perfect language learner (infographic)

A final word

I’ve come a long way with my Russian over the last few weeks. I feel so much more confident, and I’ve (mostly) lost the helpless feeling I have when I’m out on my own. I still can’t communicate in many situations, but I can at least try. Writing my first post was the catalyst I need to build Russian into my life properly (one of the reasons I love blogging). I’ve found a whole range of things I like using my Russian for and I feel like it’ll be much easier to continue now. Thanks to everyone who offered me ideas the first time round, and I hope that you find something you can take away from this post.

How I’m learning Russian

I’d hate to have me as a student.

I very rarely do homework, so much so that my teacher has given up setting it for me.

I cancel about one lesson in four, normally the one on a Saturday. I’ve recently moved it to a Thursday in the hope that I’ll be more likely to have time then. I have two 90-minute lessons a week, the other being on Monday. We’ve never managed to make up a missed lesson, and since I pay on a lesson-by-lesson basis, this must create quite a lot of financial uncertainty, which I feel bad about.

At times, I hijack the lesson and tell my teacher exactly what activities I want to do. The last example of this was after she used a bilingual Quizlet set to introduce clothes words to me at the end of our Monday lesson. In a very rare spurt of motivation, I had twenty minutes on Wednesday night, and ten minutes on Thursday morning during which I managed to play with the words and kind of learn about 70% of them. I started the lesson by drawing pictures of clothes all over the board and writing the words next to them.

Russian clothes on the board

This took about 20 minutes. I then asked my teacher to define words for me, which meant she had to teach me verbs like ‘wear’, ‘get dressed’ and ‘put on’, and prepositional phrases like ‘on your head’, ‘on your feet’. She then turned the tables and made me define words for her. This whole process took 90 minutes, and meant we had no time to do anything she had prepared. I wrote notes throughout, and listened to and spoke more Russian than I had in any other lesson throughout the year. She told me: “You’re ready for it now.”

I constantly make demands about what I want from my lessons. My main demand is to have my lessons entirely in Russian (or as entirely as possible for a beginner/elementary student), but this is difficult because of the above statement/belief, that you have to have a certain amount of language to be ‘ready’ to speak/listen to more. This is not a choice I have in the real world, where I have to deal with whatever is thrown at me, and the person who’s speaking to me often doesn’t know how to change their language to help me understand.

We’ve also got into the habit of speaking English in class. In an average 90-minute lesson my teacher probably speaks about 10 sentences of spontaneous Russian which are not read from a piece of paper and/or accompanied by an English translation. I speak less than this, and occasionally read new vocabulary/sentences from the page, although this is not consistent – I probably only say about 50% of the new language that is introduced to me during any one class. Both of us have spoken a bit more Russian in the last couple of lessons because I’ve made more of an effort, but it hasn’t lasted long. The rest of the lesson is in English, including chats and all grammar explanations. I rarely have to produce any Russian that isn’t part of a drill based on an exercise from a worksheet. I’m trying to speak a bit more Russian in class now, but I don’t have a lot of the classroom language I need unless I ask for it to be translated, because I’ve never heard it or been made to use it.

Most of the published materials my teacher uses are taken from a text-only coursebook, with lists of vocabulary and dialogues, or a slightly more ‘designed’ coursebook with some pictures and tables. Both of them are through the medium of English. I have no idea how you find published materials to learn Russian if you don’t already speak English (this is true of a lot of none-EFL materials). We have occasionally used a website with some very entertaining short videos telling the story of John, a Canadian visiting Russia, which is available in various languages. The videos are very short – less than a minute each – and accompanied by subtitles in Russian or other languages if you want to read them.

We have never listened to any ‘real’ Russian in class, like music or videos, or any audio designed for the classroom. All of my listening practice comes from life outside the classroom, very rarely with support from an English-speaker to help me, but English speakers normally do the work if they’re there, rather than me! That means that most of the time I’m trying to piece things together myself, using what skills I’ve picked up from learning other languages, and the pre-intermediate Czech that I know. This has, of course, got easier as the year has progressed.

I demand context, trying to move away from isolated vocabulary. I constantly ask for the prepositions and cases that go with the verbs/nouns, even though I know I won’t remember them at the moment. I try to get as much new language in sentences as possible. Having said that, I find the Quizlet sets useful for building up sets of vocabulary in topics like the body or clothes. I’m trying to get exposure to as much language as possible while I have access to somebody who can mediate it for me. During a lesson which isn’t based on materials, we fill a notebook with random notes. There’s a lot of Russian here, but it’s almost all written – there’s very little speaking, very little controlled practice, and almost no free(r) practice at all, unless I instigate it. The bit of text you can see in the top-left corner of the page is the second half of twenty minutes worth of writing I did at home to force myself to produce an extended stretch of Russian.

My Russian notebook

In some classes, I give my teacher English sentence after sentence I’ve tried to say in Russian during that week, but didn’t know, ask her to translate them, then fail to learn them. This week we have a week off school and I’ve finally had time to dedicate to Russian. I’ve copied out the sentences onto cards (made from A4 pieces of paper cut into 16 rectangles, yellow because it’s a happy colour!), with pictures on the other side as prompts. There’s a huge backlog, and I have no idea how long it’ll take to actually learn them.

Sentence cards

Sentence cards with pictures

My teacher has a degree in teaching Russian. She is a native speaker of the language, who also speaks very good English and knows bits of other languages, so can occasionally tell me when grammar is similar to other languages I speak. She is a lovely person to put up with me. She puts a lot of time and effort into preparing lessons and materials. Here’s an example of a summary of tenses she made:

Russian tense summary

She’s also started making Quizlet sets for me after I showed her the site and she realised that it motivated me! I copy the sets she’s made and get rid of the English if I can, trying to make things Russian only. When I got ill and was given a special diet, she translated the sheet I was given by the doctor and made me a list of all of the food in Russian and English, with pictures for things I might not know. When I found out just before a lesson that my grandad had been taken into hospital, she took me for a walk in the park and we chatted, then wouldn’t let me pay for the lesson.

The last lesson we had was at my flat, and she decided to try something different. We labelled everything in my kitchen that I didn’t know the names of already. I’d been meaning to do this for ages but hadn’t got round to it. We did this entirely in English, with me asking ‘How do you say…?’ in English. I was never forced to use Russian, and I forgot to try. I could have practised using the words in sentences and spelling them – although I can read Russian confidently now, I still have no idea how to say a lot of the letters. We could also have played a describing game again, but I didn’t think about that until I was writing this.

Russian has taken over my kitchen!

Russian has taken over my fridge!

When I have time, normally in three- to four-hour blocks about every six weeks, I transfer the language in my class notebook to a vocabulary notebook, organised by topic. This is the first time I’ve tried this approach, and I mostly use it as a dictionary. Copying the words/phrases helps me to recognise them, but I haven’t really used the notebook to learn.

My vocabulary notebook - pictures

With pictures and colours where possible…

My vocabulary notebook - English

…with English where it’s not. (or when I run out of motivation)

My vocabulary notebook - mix of pictures and English

With colour-coding to show grammar patterns

I also use index cards to write out grammar and some vocabulary sets, particularly those connected to time. I try to have as little English as possible on the cards, and use regular layout and colour-coding to help me reduce the need for English. If there is English, I often write it in tiny letters that are difficult to see – I want Russian to be the first thing I see when I look at the cards.

Russian index cards

Verb conjugation, time and reflexives

Index cards everywhere! Time time time...

Time index cards, showing colour-coding

I then blu-tack them all over my flat. (Blu-tack is the one thing that I always take with me when I move to a new place!)

Index cards everywhere!

Cards start on the cupboard I look at when I’m getting ready in the morning/doing my physio exercises

On the front door

They graduate to the inside of my front door when I think I know them. (Loosely arranged by grammar point, e.g. verbs at the top, and with the really easy stuff at the bottom)

Surrounded with postcards to be more interesting!

Surrounding them with postcards makes me more likely to look at them (maybe…)

This is what my desk looks like in the process:

My desk when I'm studying Russian

 

Some conclusions

  • Both the teacher and the student(s) need to have a lot of willpower to conduct the lesson entirely in the target language.
  • The student also needs to be given the classroom language they need to be able to operate in the target language.
  • The teacher needs to be flexible, to respond to the language that the student needs, the time they have available, and the mood they are in.
  • The student needs to make an effort to study what has been learnt in class.
  • Language should be introduced in context, rather than as isolated items. It should be learnt as chunks to start with, then pulled apart for grammar later.
  • Seeing language once is not enough. Students need to manipulate it, play with it, say it, use it, in class to help them remember it.
  • The student needs exposure to real language in the classroom environment to prepare them for what they will encounter outside the classroom.

Some methodological terms which I can hear you shouting at me

Comprehensible input

Lexical approach

Repetition

Dogme

What did I forget?

What’s next?

March and April have been pretty busy, both personally and professionally. They came not long after I’d finished Delta, and this week off has been a great opportunity to catch up and get a handle on a lot of things. Most of the things you can see in the photos in this post were written out in a one-day marathon study session. Three days later I had another whole day of study, which meant I finally finished copying everything out and caught up. This is something I want to avoid in the future!

I have therefore decided that in May I am going to try something (new) for thirty days and study Russian for 10 minutes every day. This could include any of the following activities:

  • Using my sentence cards, where I try to remember them/write them out
  • Reading my index cards out loud
  • Testing myself using my vocabulary notebook
  • Playing on Quizlet
  • Reading one of the free magazines/newspapers I’ve collected – highlighting the words I can understand
  • Watching a YouTube video in Russian, like Cheburashka or Russian Winnie the Pooh
  • Listening to a song and reading the lyrics (I need suggestions for this)
  • Writing a short text in Russian, including to Ann (who I wrote one short email to last time she suggested this!)
  • Recording myself speaking, then listening back and correcting it

Any other ten-minute activities I could try? I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of the month!

Update: here’s part two of the post, showing what I did over the following few weeks.

Drawing dictations

I have no idea who I stole this idea from, but it worked really well so I’m going to share it here!

I used it with elementary students. They had done this exercise for homework:

We checked the answers in class, and they were fine, but I wanted them to really notice the language. One student drew a picture for each idea in the text, numbering them from 1 to 10 to help her. (She was early and this was a way to help her before the other students arrived!) These are the final five pictures:

Drawing dictation images

She’s a much better artist than me! By the time she had finished, the rest of the class had arrived. They used the pictures to reconstruct the text on the board. It’s a small group, so using the board enables them to easily change their mind about the text. Students could also use mini whiteboards, tablets/phones, or good old-fashioned pen and paper!

Reconstructing the drawing dictationOnce they were happy with their version of the text, they compared it to the original and asked me questions about differences they didn’t understand, particularly why ‘three-month-old’ had no ‘s’. They spoke a mix of English and Russian, and were engaged and motivated, arguing about whose memory of the text was better.

A homemade revision game

This is a very simple game which is perfect for revision, and requires almost no pre-class preparation. All you need is some small pieces of scrap paper, some kind of blutack to stick it to the table, dice for each group, and a counter for each student. The blutack is optional, but it does stop the paper from blowing away! You could use post-it notes instead, but sometimes they curl up making it easy to see the answers! It works best for revising grammar or vocabulary in closed questions.

Give a pile of pieces of paper to each pair/group of students. Ask them to go through the units of the book which you want them to revise. They should write questions for other students in the class, writing one question on each piece of paper, and write the answer on the back. They can create the questions themselves, or copy them directly from the book, along with any relevant instructions, like ‘Write the correct form of the verb.’ My students normally spend about 15-20 minutes doing this. Here are some examples from my intermediate group:

Examples of revision questions

Once you have a pile of questions, shuffle them all up (easier if you have scrap paper than post-it notes at this point!), then divide them evenly between all of the groups in the class. Each group should lay out a track of questions to create a board game, so it looks something like this:

The board game laid out

The groups then play the board game. When they roll, they should answer the question they land on. If they’re correct, they can stay there. If not, they have to go back to the question they were on at the start of the turn. The winner is the person who gets to the end first, or who is in the lead when they run out of time.

Creative students!

The board can even go up and down!

I got this idea from somebody at IH Brno, but unfortunately I can’t remember who. I use it almost every time I’m revising for a mid-year or end-of-year test, and it always prompts a lot of discussion. The group shown in these pictures even asked if we could keep playing it when I said the time was up!

IMG_6383

I like it because as well as reminding the students of the grammar and vocabulary areas likely to appear in the test, it always prompts a lot of discussion and shows them which areas they still need to revise.

Enjoy!

The English Verb visualised

The English Verb (affiliate link) by Michael Lewis was one of the most influential books I read during my Delta because it completely changed how I thought about grammar.

Last week I was teaching my FCE students about tense patterns to express hypothetical meaning and I created this completely unplanned diagram to try to get across the only half-remembered explanations in Lewis’ book about how the past simple, past perfect and ‘would’ really work. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy the book here to be able to quote anything from the relevant sections for those of you who are unfamiliar with it. The quality of the picture isn’t great either, but hopefully you can see enough to get the idea.

Visualising 'The English Verb'

The idea is that you start from now/real/present simple, and remove yourself one step away either in time (present -> past), or in imagination (real -> imagined) by using the past simple. You can also remove yourself one step in imagination (real -> imagined) by using ‘would’. To remove yourself two steps away, you use ‘past perfect’, i.e. two steps back in time, or one step in imagination + one step in time.

It’s not the best diagram ever produced, but the students seemed to understand a little. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have included ‘future’ on it, and I should most certainly have planned the visualisation and the example sentences before the lesson!

Have you ever tried to visualise Lewis’ description? How did/would you do it?

Linking words of contrast (FCE Use of English and Writing)

Here is a worksheet I put together to help my students with some of the linking words of contrast which commonly come up in FCE Use of English part 1, and which they can use in their writing. The first page has rules for using but, however, nevertheless, although, even though, despite and in spite of. I know it’s not exhaustive, but it’s hopefully a good start!

(You can download the worksheet by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

Answers: 1b 2c 3a 4c 5d 6d 7b 8a

Do you have any other suggestions for helping students to understand the differences between these words?

Related links

Useful FCE Websites

What were you doing at 10 last night?

What were you doing?
What were you doing?
What were you doing
At 10 last night?

I was sitting on the sofa.
I was sitting on the sofa.
I was sitting on the sofa
At 10 last night.

What were you doing?
What were you doing?
What were you doing
At 10 last night?

I was watching the TV.
I was watching the TV.
I was watching the TV
At 10 last night.

What were you doing?
What were you doing?
What were you doing
At 10 last night?

I was listening to music.
I was listening to music.
I was listening to music
At 10 last night.

What were you doing?
What were you doing?
What were you doing
At 10 last night?

I was looking at the sea.
I was looking at the sea.
I was looking at the sea
At 10 last night.

The entrance to Balaklava bay

What were you doing?
What were you doing?
What were you doing
At 10 last night?

I was on vkontakte.*
I was on vkontakte.
I was on vkontakte
At 10 last night.

What were you doing?
What were you doing?
What were you doing
At 10 last night?

I wasn’t doing anything.
I wasn’t doing anything.
I wasn’t doing anything
At 10 last night!

I made up this chant, inspired by Jane Harding da Rosa, to help my pre-intermediate students with the concept of past continuous to talk about ongoing events at a fixed point in the past. I had a few ideas for verses and they added more.

We also tried a variant where they asked:

What was she doing?**
What was she doing?
What was she doing
At 10 last night.

The verse was about a particular student, and the others had to choose a possible answer. For example:

She was listening to music.
She was listening to music.
She was listening to music
At 10 last night.

…to which the student who was being discussed had to respond with either:

Yes, I was. Yes, I was.
Yes, I was. You’re right.

OR

No, I wasn’t. No, I wasn’t.
No, I wasn’t. You’re wrong.
(followed by a verse of them saying what they really were doing)

Through the chant, the students had practice with the positive, negative, question, and short forms of the past continuous. It is also designed to help them with the rhythms of English, as they struggle with listening, especially with weak forms (something I identified using this post-listening reflection questionnaire from Mat Smith’s blog). They responded really well, and a week later were chanting it when they came into class. I tried it with my teens too, and they didn’t get it at all!

So, what were YOU doing at 10 last night?

*Vkontakte is a Russian equivalent of facebook, which is very popular among my students.

** Or ‘he’, of course!

Spicing up grammar revision

One of my advanced students asked if we could do a lesson about the differences between ‘would’, ‘should’ and ‘could’. I looked around but couldn’t find anything that really helped. In the lesson I came up with we ended up looking at them separately in depth, but there wasn’t much comparing and contrasting them, or any controlled practice, as I was pushed for time when planning. I did create one exercise, available below, with the help of the BBC World Service explanation of the differences.


(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

Answers: 1. should; 2. would; 3. could; 4. should; 5. should, would; 6. would; 7. should, would; 8. could [he didn’t have the ability to finish]; 9. would, could [I would if I could, but I can’t so I won’t 🙂 ]; 10. should, could, would

Over three and a half hours (two lessons), this is what happened:

  • I taught the class a few items of ‘playing card’ vocabulary, by drawing it on the board: ace, jack, queen, king, diamond, spade, club, heart, suit, picture card. To find out why, keep reading…
  • I put students into pairs.
  • Each student had three double-page spreads from Scott Thornbury’s Natural Grammar*, one each for ‘would’, ‘should’ and ‘could’. One page had the rules, and the other had exercises.
  • The pairs worked together to complete the exercises, and they could do them in any order. As they were advanced students, I didn’t need to present the grammar to them, and they were confident enough to ask me for help whenever they needed it.

Doing the exercises

Doing the exercises

  • As they completed each exercise, the pairs would come to me (i.e. they did one exercise, I checked it, they did another). I would tell them if they were 100% correct, or if not, how many errors they had, but not where they were. They would then correct the errors. If they still had errors the second time, I would tell them where. After the third time, I would put them right, if it took them that many attempts.
  • This is where the cards come in. Once an exercise was 100% correct, the students could take a random card. Between ‘would’, ‘should’ and ‘could’ there were 10 exercises, so once they had completed all of them, they should have 10 cards. This worked perfectly as I had 5 pairs 🙂

Pick a card, any card

Pick a card, any card

  • It took the students about 3 hours to complete the 12 exercises, with lots of to-ing and fro-ing and a lot of discussion. After that, the students worked together to decide whether the sentences in the worksheet above needed ‘would’, ‘should’ or ‘could’.
  • On the board, I drew the symbols for the four suits of playing cards in a random order (e.g. spades, diamonds, clubs, hearts). I also told them that aces = one in this game.
  • We then all sat around a single empty table.
  • The students had to choose one card from the 10 they had collected during the grammar exercises and place it face down on the table.
  • I told them the first answer: ‘should’. If they had the wrong answer, they lost their card completely. If they had the right answer, they could turn it over. The highest number won a point for the sentence (‘trick’). If two teams had the same high number, then the order of the suits on the board was followed (from the list above, the ten of spades would be better than the ten of diamonds, for example).
  • We repeated this for the rest of the sentences. When a question had more than one gap, they had to get all of the gaps correct to play for the point. I reminded the students that tactics might be important too, which resulted in one pair winning a point with a 6, because the other pairs had all thrown away 2s and 3s!

Making tactical decisions

Making tactical decisions

I realise that sounds quite complicated, but it went really well. Everyone got really competitive about the cards they selected after each grammar exercise, even though it was completely random! They enjoyed the game and said it made the grammar more interesting.

If you have any ideas for how I could have taught this lesson more usefully in terms of comparing the three modals, particularly for ways of providing freer practice, please please please share them in the comments!

*I get 10% of anything you spend if you click on the Amazon link and choose to buy something. Thanks in advance!

Short answers for agreeing and disagreeing

Students often ask me about the difference between ‘either’ and ‘neither’ and it normally results in me drawing a table on the board. I finally put this into a document and thought I would share it in case anyone else finds it useful.

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

Let me know if there’s anything you think I should add/change to improve it.

Watching myself teach

I’m constantly telling students to record themselves to improve their speaking. I finally took my own advice and recorded myself to improve my teaching. I procrastinated a lot before watching the video, despite knowing it would be useful, and the initial shock at my accent at the start (even though I’ve heard recordings of my voice many times before!) almost put me off, but it was worth it in the end.

It was a two hour grammar lesson with a (very friendly and supportive) upper intermediate group. I recorded it as part of my Delta Reflection and Action. The main thing I realised was that it was a bit of an uninspired PPP lesson (present-practice-produce), and I probably could have used something a bit more exciting and Delta-y, but the students learnt the language (or at least, remembered it the next day), so it wasn’t a waste of time. We were looking at uses of the gerund and infinitive based on New Cutting Edge Upper Intermediate Student’s Book page 88.

I was looking at my methods of language clarification, and the main thing I noticed was that I used a whole range of methods:

  • definitions;
  • explanations;
  • examples – both on the board and spoken;
  • concept check questions (CCQs) – where you ask questions to lead students towards the meaning of a piece of language;
  • giving students a dictionary;
  • gestures

Apart from the structure of the lesson and the language clarification, the main thing that I noticed was that I never seem to be still. I’m always moving around the room, looking at my materials, putting my hair behind my ear (!)…not sure if that’s a good thing, showing energy, or a bad thing, making the watcher nervous! I also don’t know if that’s normal, or only because I was filming the lesson. I forgot it was there most of the time, but you never know what your sub-consciousness is doing!

On the plus side, I think I was speaking at a manageable speed, using appropriate language, with some repetition, as you would get in normal language. I do speak faster to these students at times, but I feel in a grammar lesson it’s better to take your time. There is also a lot of laughter in my classroom, which I think is incredibly important. If the students aren’t comfortable enough to laugh, to ask me questions and to work together, then I’m not doing my job properly.

Unfortunately, I did the recording in a small room, and it was quite difficult to find a good position where the camera could film what I was doing at the board and when I was monitoring/moving around the room to listen to the students. A lot of the video is the back of one of my student’s heads! Here’s a little clip though, focussing on my time at the board (and the back of said student’s head), just to whet your appetite:

Enjoy!

Introducing past modals of deduction

London, the Olympics, train ticket

I wrote these on the board.

Based on these words, what did I do at the weekend? Are you 100% sure? How can you show this in your sentences?

I asked these questions. The students worked in groups to come up with one suggestion for each word, which they then put on the board:

20130114-221740.jpg

We went through the sentences. Is it grammatically correct? Does it talk about the right time? For example: while “She might visit the Olympic Stadium” is grammatically correct, it refers to the future, not the past. In the process, I introduced the perfect infinitive, formed by ‘have + past participle’. One student asked if she could say “She might went to London.” and we talked about why that wasn’t possible. By introducing the perfect infinitive within the first few sentences, the students were well practised at using it by the end of the lesson.

20130114-222704.jpg

This took 45 minutes, including me confirming that I did indeed go to London, and telling them that I lost the return part of my ticket, had to buy a new one – £121 – and then noone checked it (grrr!)

After a brief break, I asked the students to suggest another idea for ‘Olympics’ as none of theirs were correct. I asked them how sure they were, and elicited other words which could be used in place of ‘might’ if you were more or less sure. We also reiterated the form of the perfect infinitive:

20130114-223010.jpg

I showed them a picture of me at the Olympics, and they eventually got to the fact that I went to London for a (very enjoyable) reunion with some of my fellow Games Makers.

The students each had a slip of paper. They wrote three words about their weekend on the paper, plus their name, and left it on their desk along with a blank piece of A4 paper.

They circulated, writing a suggestions as to what the other students might/could/must have done at the weekend on the A4 paper, then folding the paper (consequences-style) so noone else could see their sentence.

When they had written on every other piece of paper, they returned to their desks and read what their classmates thought they had done. I asked how close they were. I also pointed out that all of our original modal sentences were with ‘might’, and asked if their paper had a range of modals.

To finish this stage, the students turned the paper over and used the past simple to write what they actually did. They then circulated and read what everyone had written.

As preparation for homework I showed them this picture from eltpics by @elt_pics (Victoria Boobyer):

20130114-223727.jpg

As a class, they suggested what could have happened. Once we’d covered the obvious “She might have broken/sprained her ankle.” I asked how? When? Where?

As homework, the students have to find a picture, preferably one that isn’t their own, and suggest what might have happened before it was taken.

What worked

The students were engaged by the personal nature of the activity. They were interested in trying to find out what their classmates did at the weekend. There was quite a lot of movement, catering for more kinaesthetic learners, something which I sometimes forget to do, and changing the dynamic. There was a lot of repetition of the target structure and the context was clear. Perhaps best of all for a busy Monday morning, it required minimal prep time.

What I’d change next time

The stage where we looked at whether the sentences were grammatically/temporally correct dragged a little because it was teacher-centred. I should have done a couple of examples then handed it over to the students.
I decided to use this method because I wanted to see whether the students could produce past modals of infinitive in a context which would definitely prompt them from native speakers. However there wasn’t a very clear reason for students to guess what the others had done. Perhaps I could have set up some kind of contest – find someone with the most similar weekend to you for example. Since a lot of them took advantage of the school trip to Edinburgh, this might not be the best example!

Clarifying Language

As part of my Delta Reflection and Action stage 2 action plan I said that I would try to:

move away from a teacher-centred, board-focussed model of language clarification

In two weeks time, I have to write up my stage 3 action plan, including reflecting on what has changed in my teaching since I wrote stage 2. It seems to me that I’ve not done much about this point, and I’d like to ask your help. 

When I wrote this I was focussing specifically on language clarification, as opposed to presentation. Most of my reading seems to be talking about moving away from PPP (present-practice-produce) towards a more guided method of introducing language. I think I’ve already made this journey, and can generally choose a presentation method to match the grammar point my students need (if, indeed, they need to be taught a particular grammar ‘point’ at all). What I wanted to focus on was how to clarify the meaning of this grammar if it was unclear to the students from my initial teaching.

Image

He just doesn’t get it…
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @yearinthelifeof, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

 

My natural instinct is always to go to the board, and I seem to end up spending a relatively long amount of time there. The students’ eyes glaze over, and they end up none the wiser. My explanation normally includes example sentences, perhaps timelines or pictures if relevant. I use concept checking questions, and I always have some kind of context, or at least I’m pretty sure I do. 

My question to you is: what have I missed? What could I be doing instead of lecturing from the board? 

An extension on a dictogloss

I used this activity with pre-intermediate learners, but you could adapt it for pretty much any level.

The dictogloss

Choose a short text, maximum 100 words, suitable for the level of your students. Our text was:

Hi Marek,

Italy are playing Germany in the World Cup tonight. If you’re free, we could watch it together. It’s on Sky Sports. I haven’t got satellite TV, but we could watch the match in The Castle. It starts at 8.00. What do you think?

Niko

Taken from ‘English Result Pre-Intermediate Student’s Book page 34

We had been practising phrases for making invitations the day before, so the learners were already familiar with the concept, but we hadn’t looked at a written invitation.

Read the text to your students at normal speed. Before you do this, tell them they need to write down key words  – don’t try to write every word! These will probably be nouns and verbs. They compare their key words to a partner. If they don’t have much at all, read it one more time, but no more.

Learners now work in pairs or small groups to construct a text which is a complete piece of logical English. You can decide how similar you want them to make it to the original text. My students don’t focus on accuracy, and aren’t very good at ‘stealing’ good English from other places to use in their own texts, so I wanted them to produce a text which was as similar as possible to the original. This prompts learners to discuss/consider language a lot more than is usual in class, and they are generally very engaged.

(I gave my students the first line ‘Hi Marek’ and the last ‘Niko’ so that they weren’t too confused about the names.)

Finally, ask them to compare their text to the original and note any differences. At this point students will often ask questions about why a particular form is used in the original – be prepared to answer these questions.

The extension

Now that learners have had time to thoroughly process the text, ask them to turn over all of their paper. They then work together to reconstruct the complete text on the board as a class (or in fairly large groups if you have a big class – 5-6 students).

Students compare their text with the original again. Ask them about any differences. For example, my students put ‘It’s starts’ not ‘It starts’ and ‘watch in The Castle’ instead of ‘watch the match in The Castle’. By asking them to explain why the original was different, they noticed the difference.

Clean the board, and repeat. The second time they worked together, my students produced the text almost perfectly, with only one capital letter and one article missing.

I tried it a third time, but here it went downhill, with quite a few more mistakes – it’s up to you how many times you do it!

The extension on the extension

To finish off the process I asked my students to write an invitation to another student in the class, using some of the phrases from the example. I suggested they try to remember the phrases first, then compare their invitation to the original. One student wrote something completely different  which didn’t make a lot of sense (there’s always one!) but most of them produced very well-written invitations. Completely by chance, each of my 6 students wrote to a different other student, so they then had a written ‘messaging’ conversation to arrange their meeting or offer excuses if they had refused.

At the end of the lesson, I asked how easy it was to write their own invitation, and pointed out to the students that this process of remember/write/check is something they could do at home. They were engaged throughout the lesson, and really annoyed with themselves when they made mistakes the second time they wrote on the board.

A revision game

On Friday I created a new revision game for my students. I hope you like it too!

Collect a series of mistakes your students make throughout the week/course, for example with tenses or collocations. Or choose a set of lexis you’ve recently taught. You need about 15 things.

Write a key word prompt at the side of the board for each of the mistakes. For example, if your students always say ‘I want to make a Masters’, your prompt could be ‘do a Masters’.

Turn it into a table, like so:
Table

Divide your class into teams of 4-5 students. I had two teams, so there were two empty columns, but if you have more, add more columns! You need one column for each team.

Each team needs a mini whiteboard, a pen and a board rubber. If you don’t have mini whiteboards, you could put a piece of paper in a plastic wallet and give the students tissues to rub out the sentences after they have scored for them.

Now that you are all set up, this is how the game goes:

  • Each team chooses a prompt from the table (they can use the prompts in any order).
  • They write a sentence using the prompt correctly. I was very strict and told my students that all punctuation had to be correct too.
  • They show the teacher the sentence. If they are the first team to use that prompt and the sentence is perfect, they get 2 points. If they are the second team to use it, they get 1 point. If there is a mistake, they don’t get any points. Instead, put a little cross in the corner of the box. They have to rub out that sentence, work on a different one, and then they can come back and try that prompt again later. (With 4 teams, give 4 points for the first team, 3 for the second and so on)
  • When one team has used all of the prompts, the game stops and the points are added up. The team with the most points wins.

They can use more than one prompt in the same sentence if they want to. Remind the students that it’s a race, and that they have to be quick to make sure that the other team(s) doesn’t beat them to all the high point scores!

This was my board at the end of a pre-intermediate class.

My board

Examples of sentences I accepted were:

  • When were you born?
  • I have lived in Newcastle for a year.
  • I like playing noughts and crosses.

Sentences I didn’t accept include:

  • Can I go home (no question mark)
  • He is a student. (not the same as on the board – I wanted to make sure they remember you can use ‘he’s’)
  • My career is teaching. (no ‘in’)

The next teacher saw the game, and asked me to explain it to her, so we played it with her upper intermediate class too.

Upper int boardIt took about half an hour to play. By making the students write a completely new sentence each time they make a mistake, instead of editing what they just wrote, they have to really focus on accuracy. The students were engaged, and really wanted to be accurate, because they knew they wouldn’t get any points if they weren’t!

I hope that all makes sense. Let me know if you have any adaptations.

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!

Watching movies

While at IATEFL Glasgow 2012, I was lucky enough to see Khulood Al-balushi’s presentation, in which she shared various ideas for using movies with your students, as well as offering advice on how to choose suitable movies, especially important in the Kingdom of Bahrain, where she works as a Curriculum Specialist at the Ministry of Education. I asked her to share her ideas via my blog, and she agreed. Over to Khulood:

How can you make your students benefit from watching movies they like ?

Since movies are a rich source for language learning and they are considered to be fun and enjoyable, here are some practical ideas that you can implement to make use of movies in the English Classroom:

Introductory activity

  • Make students watch a movie trailer of the movie you intend to use and present the following activity:
Trailer activity

This will help you motivate your students to watch and respond to the movie and can tell you if the movie is favored by the students. Otherwise you can look for a different movie.

Watching movie clips

You can make your students watch movie clips if the length of your lesson is short or if you intend to present a specific language skill such as reading, speaking, grammar or writing. The following are a few examples:

  • Students can watch a scene of the movie “The Cat in the Hat” and write down the process the cat uses to make cupcakes.
    Cat in the hat
  • Students watch a scene from the movie “Volcano” and answer the following question: “What would you do if you were in this situation?” to promote critical thinking and present a lesson about natural disasters.
    Volcano
  • Ask students to watch a scene from the movie” Cast Away” and ask them to think about the following question “What would you do if you were trapped on a remote island?” (critical thinking and second conditional)
    Cast Away
  • Students watch a scene from the movie “Titanic” and answer an activity that involves reading and vocabulary and promotes critical thinking by comparing the actual story and the selected scene. Click to download the activity: Titanic movie task
    Titanic
  • Students watch the movie trailer of the movie “Inkheart” and answer the following question: ” What if you had the power to bring a book to life by simply reading it aloud?” to promote speaking and critical thinking.
    Inkheart
  • For creative writing and speaking, you can show your students a clip from “Spy Kids 2” movie and ask them to imagine being in a virtual reality game and ask them to describe their game in writing and present it to their classmates.
    Spy Kids 2

Watching full-length movies

  • Students watch ” Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” and answer an activity that aims at discussing characters:
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Students watch the movie “Oliver” and read the book and then compare between the movie and the actual story by answering a given activity. Click to download the activity: The Movie versus the Book
    Oliver
  • Students watch the movie “Finding Nemo” and asked to produce a creative project such as drawing, creating bookmarks, designing a puppet show, performing a play…etc.
    Finding Nemo puppetsFinding Nemo bookmarks

Of course, all of these activities can be modified based on your needs and your students.

By: Khulood Al-balushi

Utopia

This morning my students spent over an hour discussing and debating their opinions of what a Utopia should be like. All of this was prompted by a single page from the Total English Intermediate teacher’s book.

On page 124 of the teacher’s book there is a list of rules about a possible Utopia, designed to revise modals of obligation and permission (must, have to, should). Students work alone to decide if they agree or disagree with the rules, then get together to debate a final version of their Utopia.

This single sheet prompted discussion about whether taxes were necessary, whether governments really need weapons, the benefits of living in a foreign country, and whether one language should be allowed to dominate the world.

Thank you very much Will Moreton and Kevin McNicholas!

Forms of the infinitive: FCE Key Word Transformations

Here’s a short worksheet I made for my FCE students to practise different forms of the infinitive ready for the Use of English Key Word Transformations.

We worked through it together and talked about the different forms – it does need a little more explanation than is given on the sheet. I used this webpage as inspiration for the sentences. It was one of the only ones I could find explaining more than just the base and perfect forms of the infinitive. If anyone has any other links or online exercises, please let me know.

Feel free to download the sheet and use it with your own students:

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Enjoy!

Key Word Transformations with Modals of Speculation/Deduction

We’ve been studying modals of speculation and deduction in class today. They are very often included in FCE Part 4 (Key Word Transformations). I couldn’t find any examples of this exercise which only tested these modals, so I made my own. If you have a link to a similar exercise, please let me know. Also, please feel free to add your own sentences. I wrote these ones quickly during a break, so was a bit short on inspiration! (I added a few after class using sentences my students gave me as a jumping-off point)

1.
I’m sure he’s not Michael Jackson. He died a few years ago!

BE

He _______________________ because he died a few years ago.

2.
It’s possible that in the sales cameras will be cheap enough for me to afford one.

ABLE

I __________________________ a camera in the sales if they are cheap enough.

3.
I think Sarah isn’t very ill, because I saw her shopping this morning.

BE

Sarah ____________________ because I saw her shopping this morning.

4.
Perhaps Filip is from the Czech Republic – he speaks Czech very well.

COULD

Filip ________________________ the Czech Republic because his Czech is very good.

5.
He is so rich that I am sure he is always happy.

MUST

He is so rich that ________________ happy.

6.
He looks so pale that I’m sure he has seen a ghost.

MUST

He _________________ ghost because now he looks very pale.

7.
I think Alice worked at a hotel last summer, but I’m not sure.

MIGHT

Alice ________________ at a hotel last summer.

8.
Jana speaks excellent Finnish so I’m sure she’s lived in Finland at some point.

HAVE

Jana ______________________ Finland at some point because she speaks excellent Finnish.

9.
Adam is so loud now that I’m sure he wasn’t a quiet child!

BEEN

Adam ____________________ a quiet child because he’s so loud now.

10.
She is so scared of dogs, that maybe a dog bit her when she was little.

BITTEN

She is so scared of dogs that she _____________________ a dog when she was little.

11.
I know he wasn’t in London on Saturday because I saw him in Newcastle.

HAVE

He _______________________ in London on Saturday because I saw him in Newcastle.

12.
She was so happy on Monday morning that I’m sure she had a good weekend.

HAD

She was so happy on Monday morning that _______________________ a good weekend.

13.
I think Will’s tired because he didn’t sleep much yesterday.

COULD

Will ______________________ because he didn’t sleep much yesterday.

14.
She was probably in a hurry because she forgot to buy a birthday present for her friend,

MIGHT

She forgot to buy a birthday present for her friend and that ___________________ she was in a hurry.

Answers

  1. can’t be Michael Jackson
  2. might be able to buy
  3. can’t be very ill
  4. could be from
  5. he must always be
  6. must have seen a
  7. might have worked
  8. must have lived in
  9. can’t have been
  10. must have been bitten by
  11. can’t have been
  12. she must have had
  13. could be tired
  14. might have been why

Please feel free to correct my answers if you notice a mistake too!

Enjoy!

FCE Use of English Part 2 Open Cloze: creating your own

Last week we looked at the FCE Use of English Part 2 Open Cloze for the first time. I wanted to help the students become aware of the kind of words that are usually missing from the texts in this part of the exam.

We had been looking at housework vocabulary, so I went on the internet and found this article about one woman’s attitude to housework. I chose a section of it and pasted it into a word document, which I printed for the students:

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Using flo-joe’s excellent Spotlight Paper 3 section, the students worked in pairs to highlight each of the things listed below, using a different colour each time. We chose a few examples of each on the board before we started.

  • Pronouns/relative pronouns
  • Articles/quantifiers
  • Modal/auxiliary verbs
  • Conjunctions
  • Prepositions

I also highlighted that there are a few words which don’t fit into these categories, but that this was enough to start us of. It’s important that the students realise that this part of the exam is largely testing grammar, rather than content. You can see all of the words highlighted in the second page of the document above (please feel free to correct me if you think I’ve missed any – I did it quite quickly!)

Finally, they chose 13 of the highlighted words to circle, evenly spaced throughout the text.

At home, I plugged the text into the OUP cloze maker (you need to log in, but it’s free), then created five versions of the cloze task based on the words students had circled. You can see them here:

It only took about 10 minutes to make all of them once I’d worked out how to use the cloze maker! You can also use texts from the FCE Result coursebook to create your own cloze tasks.

I think I got this idea from Phil Warwick, at a conference in either Brno or Bratislava, so thanks to him for inspiring me 🙂

Present Simple / Present Continuous

Using these two tenses together still causes my students lots of problems. It took me ages to find a good activity to practise them that didn’t involve gap fills and was challenging enough for upper intermediate level students, but the search was worth it.

The one I found was taken from the Reward Upper Intermediate Resource Pack (Unit 3b). In the original task the students look at a set of twelve pictures of people. They choose one in secret and write a profile of the person, including information such as what they are wearing, what book they are reading at the moment and where they usually go on holiday. The other students then read the profiles and decide which picture they wrote about.

I adapted it slightly by giving the students two minutes to draw their own pictures instead of using the ones from the book. This personalised it and provided much laughter! This is what we came up with:

7 people

Homework (an #eltchat summary)

This is a summary from the 9p.m. BST #eltchat from Wednesday 31st August 2011. To find out more about what #eltchat is and how to join in please go to the bottom of the post.

homework wordcloud

What can we call an effective piece of homework?

Do you believe homework is important for English language learners?

  • Homework is essential, but I think of it as pre-class preparation or follow-on work. (@hartle)
  • SS need a lot of exposure to the language and practice but effective homework should be short and to the point! (@naomishema)
  • Yes, students need to practise constantly, but depends on what the HW is as to how effective it is! (@sandymillin)
  • I provide various options for homework & do think its important to motivate learners to practice English outside the classroom (@shellterrell)
  • Homework provides more time for students to learn! (@katekidney) It gives them thinking time. (@sandymillin)
  • Homework is important to reinforce what’s been learnt in class (@herreraveronica)
  • Homework is important for consolidation and further development. (@lu_bodeman)
  • I like to provide homework if sts request it. If they do, I usually ask how much homework they want. (@ELTExperiences)
  • For language learners, hmwk provides the opportunity to apply the language learned within a real context . (@shellterrell)
  • Homework should work differently for kids at school and adults ‘only’ doing English classes – kids should have sth ‘fun’ like colouring / drawing. Adults perhaps have more motivation. (@sandymillin)
  • At IH Buenos Aires we have a saying “The lesson’s not over till the homework is done” but amount & type open to individuals to decide (@ljp2010)
  • I believe homework is an opportunity for more exposure to English and I tend to favour authentic skills work. Also a chance to process things, studies, and experiment. (@chiasuan)
  • I believe homework is an opportunity for students remember and practice everything they saw in the class! (@vaniaccastro)
  • Action research at Toyo Gakuen Uni in Japan has shown that if we don’t force students to use English outside the classroom – they don’t! (@mickstout)

How much homework should you give?

  • There is research suggesting homework is beneficial but there is also research suggesting TOO much or rote homework has the opposite effect (@Marisa_C)
  • I think the amount is variable and should in a way be up to the student. They should all do some but choose how long. (@sandymillin)
  • I’ve begun giving short homework once a week, online, something highlighting one particular element, and that is it! The funny thing I’ve discovered is that at least some of the SS take the lessons more seriously since I’ve started homework online (@naomishema)
  • It was said that if the homework is half done at school students are more likely finish it at home. True? (@katekidney)
    I think that’s true only with elementary school kids. But kids do need an example! (@naomishema)
  • I think it is crucial to know our students’ routine and plan achievable pieces of HW. (@raquel_EFL)
  • Don’t think VYLs should really have HW – they need time to play. (@sandymillin)
  • Homework can be a project of weeks/months so there is no pressure: “do this by tomorrow” attitude (@ELTExperiences)
  • I was able to run my genetics class last spring with NO homework without decrease in “rigor” (@smacclintic)
  • Age is an important factor and schedules too (@hartle)
  • Homework is effective if SS can see the point of it, rather than homework for the sake of homework (@sandymillin)
  • The Homework Dilemma: How Much Is Too Much? http://www.takepart.com/article/2011/01/18/homework-dilemma-how-much-too-much another interesting article RE 10-min rule (@annapires)

What homework should you give? – general

  • Don’t just tell the students to do page 43 of the workbook. (@ljp2010)
  • As a student, I won’t do it if it’s boring or I think it’s irrelevant to me. Teacher’s worst nightmare! (@ljp2010)
  • I try to make homework fun & relevant to their experiences! They have choices! (@shellterrell)
  • Like Khan academy idea of flipping classroom: homework theory and classwork experimentation http://ow.ly/1wtdr0 (@hartle)
  • Sometimes it is not a bad idea to let the students decide what they would do themselves for the next lesson – and ask them about it! (@katekidney)
  • Individual learning styles should also be taken into account (@adricarv) There’s no reason for everyone to do the same thing (@little_miss_glo)
    I always find kinaesthetic learners hardest to cater for. What kind of things can you do for them? (@sandymillin)
    It might be to learn and act out a sketch with movement (for YLs) (@Marisa_C)
    Videotape a sketch whose lines were written in class by groups/teams (@Marisa_C)
    Make a board game in English (@Marisa_C)
  • For kids I provide games to reinforce what we learned in class! Here’s how its listed in our wiki http://bit.ly/qAQCmc (@shellterrell)
  • These are homework tasks I have given to my adult English language learners in their wiki http://bit.ly/d1RhoD (@shellterrell)
  • For young learners I like to offer in my wiki activities parents can do with their children to practice the grammar/vocabulary in context. (@shellterrell)
  • I’ve been trying to post sites SS can use on Edmodo and show in class rather than set homework. I find students are motivated by sites like English Central, English Attack or quizlet where they can see that they’re getting points (@sandymillin) A word of caution about englishattack – its roll over translations into Hebrew are atrocious! Can’t check the other languages… (@naomishema) I tell SS not to use the translations when I show it to them. (@sandymillin)
  • Offer options so learners work on skills they feel they need to improve. Not all students have the same level so homework should reflect that. (@shellterrell) Choice is not only about which exercises to do for homework but which skills one needs or wants to work on (@Marisa_C)
  • I find knowing their goals at the beginning of the year helps my students determine their outside of class activities http://bit.ly/dzgSCs (@shellterrell)
  • There should be a balance between online work and print work which students can use for display purposes, e.g. in a portfolio (@Marisa_C)
  • We need to be smart about what we are giving for homework…for me all writing assignments are done in class (@shellterrell, @vickysaumell)
  • Reading makes great homework if you can convince the Ss. (@theteacherjames) Adults can benefit a lot from this (@Marisa_C)
  • For teens I just ask what they like to do: listen to English music, read graphic novels, etc. & tailor to that (@shellterrell) Try to find ways to integrate homework into students real lives: things they enjoy, are interested in & choose themselves. (@theteacherjames)
  • Homework is about giving students choices to work on problematic areas too. Provide a series of links then they choose (@hartle)
  • Homework should be connected to the syllabus (@Marisa_C)
  • Teaching ESP? Then you might want to assign stuff that they can do while at work. I did that with my aircraft mechanics (@little_miss_glo)
  • Set them things related to the work place. I did a class based on emails which SS brought to class. The homework was to collect them. (@sandymillin)
  • Show them what is available (often for free) online through facebook, publisher sites etc (@antoniaclare)
  • Written production as homework e.g. letters, diaries, can really help process what was studied. (@chiasuan)

What homework should you give? – specific

  • Some favourite homework I’ve done from my spanish class – photo stories, Spanish-Spanish dictionary, making a newspaper, project stuff… (@ljp2010)
    Project work is motivating too. Students take responsibility for learning. (@hartle) Projects like going to a website to get info in English. (@chiasuan)
  • How can we make the homework/self study more personal? My idea: get students to bring in a photo and talk about it. (@ELTExperiences)
  • SS put a photo on fotobabble.com and talk about it: http://bit.ly/nID10h (@sandymillin)
  • Real life homework task – read or listen to something outside class and come in with a question you’d like answered (@ljp2010)
  • Get students to post on noticeboard and build work together. Www.linoit.com good for this. (@hartle)
  • The funniest HW that I was involved with was phoning YLs at home and trying to chat with them to improve speaking skills in Korea. They were young (10 to 15 years) and the time the parents wanted me to phone was late evening when they were all eating. It took a while to speak to the parents in Korean and then ask to speak to the child and the child would not talk at all. I was also asked to do the same activity for businessmen for a school and I prepared topics, etc but they were too busy. (@ELTExperiences)
    I set up phoning homework with a class once and they LOVED it! (@ljp2010)
    Did something like that. Called them at a given time, gave some info that they needed to collect, and in class SS reported. (@lu_bodeman)
  • SS writing to teachers – personal emails – this is not seen as homework (@Marisa_C)
  • Kids love working online. I make them exchange e-mails or postcards with other kids around the globe. I have found a great platform at e-Pals. (@analuisalozano) Try postcrossing.com for one-off postcards (@sandymillin)
  • Get them to write the subtitles for Bollywood films (@ljp2010)
  • I often set TV programmes or films as homework for students. Sometimes I give them a selection of about 3-4 things they can choose to watch, and we do a jigsaw sharing of what they have seen. My students are in London, so I could use the daily TV guide & get them to watch documentaries, fashion programmes or drama- their choice. (@chiasuan)
  • I get students to collect new words or signs for class. Or interview their host families (@SueAnnan)
  • I would like to get sts to write blogs or contribute to an online school newspaper but haven’t done so yet. (@ELTExperiences)
  • Did @englishraven‘s live reading in class http://bit.ly/r1Gl1h about Edinburgh. HW was for SS to write about their own city/country – everyone did it! (@sandymillin)
  • A book club where they choose the book they want & have discussions? (@shellterrell) Extensive reading (reading for pleasure). Assign projects (book reviews, sts create worksheets, etc) (@theteacherjames) I bring a book box to class when I teach our adults and they pick a book (@Marisa_C) Doing an extensive reading project with Google Reader … Blog post about ithttp://ow.ly/1wthvj (@hartle)
  • Film club is great too. Watch the first part of film in class – finish for homework (@antoniaclare)
  • Adults enjoy finding an interesting article in the local paper and summarising it for class the next day. (@SueAnnan)
  • Take photos on way home, then do lesson based on it, like so: http://wp.me/p18yiK-dS (@sandymillin)
  • They could be asked to recite something while walking to school (@Marisa_C) For low levels I tell them to read all numbers they say in English / name everything they can when walking down street (@sandymillin)
  • The Baby Egg project with my teens. They enjoyed journaling about their children, etc http://bit.ly/pPpbGg (@shellterrell) Sounds like ‘flour babies’ by anne fine (one of my fave childhood books!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flour_Babies (@sandymillin)
  • Redoing commercials & advertisements with their friends http://bit.ly/qcrl90 (@shellterrell)
  • Get your students to bring in a computer game & talk about it (@ELTexperiences)
  • If your students like listening to music lyricstraining.com is excellent (@sandymillin)
  • I have recorded video read alouds to model fluency and posted them on Edmodo. (@MrMatthewRay)
  • Get students to watch videos, do tasks, then tweet responses http://englishtweets.com/ (@antoniaclare / @inglishteacher)
  • With young learners make placemats in class with vocab items and pictures. Then they eat on the placemats and memorize ’em! (@naomishema)
  • SS downloaded four adverts, then chose the most touching, funniest, horrible, and amazing (@analuisalozano)
  • Encourage students to read anything they can in English if it’s available. Cereal boxes, signs, anything. (@MrMatthewRay)

How do you share homework with students / parents?

  • Edmodo (http://j.mp/ZkQ5F) is a useful tool to share homework/selfstudy amongst students. Provides a platform to share ideas, etc. (@ELTExperiences) How I’ve used Edmodo in class with SS over the last year (including for HW) http://wp.me/s18yiK-edmodo (@sandymillin)
  • We use wikis too for our adult Ss to upload their homework which also includes presentations prezis etc (@Marisa_C) I’ve taught 2-year-olds to 80-year-olds :-). I find a wiki full of outside exploration activities motivates them a lot. (@shellterrell)
  • What we need is a website for sts like http://j.mp/5eT5mw (a maths website) for English language learners to assist homework. Are there any out there? (@ELTExperiences)
  • Have used class blog and discussion forum for homework using blogger and wikispaces (@inglishteacher)
  • The primary school that my son used to attend provided a newsletter for parents with projects at the back. (@ELTExperiences)
  • Once had a class blog on ning & we all continued discussions we had in class on the blog. It was brilliant…until ning decided to charge. (@chiasuan)

Grading Homework

  • My homework is optional & I tell my SS it’s for their benefit! Majority complete it each time. (@shellterrell)
  • Don’t grade homework! (@naomishema)
  • I grade homework in class … I do not like sending homework to Ss except that related to researching. (@analuisalozano)
  • I like to get sts to mark each other’s HW. Promotes learner correction, education and autonomy. (@ELTExperiences)
  • I use Markin to work on written work with a correction code then students can correct own work. Software http://ow.ly/1wteqp costs about €20 but worth it (@hartle)
    Activity one lesson one on this page of our class blog shows marked student work with Markin. Stds then correct & we discuss in class. http://ow.ly/1wtfol
  • If students resist any kind of homework, it should be included in their final mark or the course evaluation! (@katekidney)

Tracking homework

  • I give homework online but keep track on paper so that I always have it in class with me! (@naomishema)
  • I give pre class prep work on blog and follow up on linoit etc. Also copies. My students are young adults so I don’t track pre-class work but homework posted online and corrections too on blog. (@hartle)
  • I use Edmodo. It allows you to input grades etc even if HW not handed in that way & you can see overview of which students have done what (@sandymillin)
  • For children: Learning Log Brain Builders homework: http://bit.ly/dsC1TE (@DeputyMitchell)

Problems with homework

  • What do you do with students who don’t complete pre-class homework? (@naomishema)
    I don’t force homework, if the learner doesn’t do it then I will ask why & figure out a way to motivate. Usually that’s the problem (@shellterrell)
  • I like to refer to homework as self-study. Homework has too many negative connotations. I attempt to promote student autonomy when they are motivated not the other way round. I like to reduce the affective filter and as such no pressure on homework whether it’s presentations, grammar exercises, writing. (@ELTExperiences)
    I like to call it “activities to improve their English” not homework. I think when I deem it as “activities to further improve ur English” it gives them a why as to completing the tasks (@shellterrell)
  • I give limits on how long can be delayed. I’ve had bad experience – “mañana” turns into “never” (@naomishema)
  • A lot of adolescents think its not cool to do something optional (@naomishema)
  • I still have a problem with pupils with problematic home life – they don’t organize their time and do the little work I give (@naomishema)
  • As a SS, I leave HW to the last minute. (@sandymillin) Human nature, I think. But I think the key is making it not feel like HW! (@little_miss_glo)
  • What about if your institution has a homework policy based on student/teacher/parent expectation? (@ljp2010)
    If you have to give HW then negotiating what to do with SS is important, though I guess it depends on their age (@sandymillin)

What guidelines make homework effective?

  • Varied
  • With no (or negotiated) deadlines
  • Challenging
  • Motivating
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Clear aims – known to both the teacher and student
  • Choice (topic / level of difficulty / skills)
  • Like real life tasks (not just busywork)

A couple of videos to reward you for getting this far 🙂


What is #eltchat?

If you have never participated in an #ELTchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Wednesday on Twitter at 12pm GMT and 9pm GMT. Over 400 ELT educators participate in this discussion by just adding #eltchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please take a look at this video, Using Tweetdeck for Hashtag Discussions.

The international nature of #eltchat

Marisa’s first question on Wednesday’s chat was “What time is where you are?” The answers came in from all over the world:

It’s 11:03 P.M. in Athens Greece (@Marisa_C)

Same time in Israel! except we say 23:03! (@naomishema)

It’s 5:03 PM here in Buenos Aires, Argentina (@herreraVeronica)

It’s 3:04pm in Texas (@shellterrell)

In Italy it’s 10 pm (@hartle)

I’m in the UK, so it’s 21:03 (@sandymillin)

It’s 10pm in Brussels. (@theteacherjames)

It’s 3:08 pm in Ecuador. (@analuisalozano)

10:02 PM Brno, the Czech Republic (@katekidney)

Same time as @Raquel_EFL … 5pm in Recife. (@lu_bodeman)

It is 8.10am here in Dunedin, New Zealand (@mrkempnz)

It’s 6:20am Sydney, Australia (@LiamDunphy)

We look forward to seeing you there next time!

Jazz Chants

Last week I was chatting to my colleague, Katy Simpson-Davies, about experiments she’s doing in her class. She told me she was about to try out jazz chants for the first time, and wanted to film them. Since she’s just joined Twitter and been introduced to the world of blogs, I invited her to write a guest post for me about how she did it. Here’s the result. I think you’ll agree it’s a great start!

I first heard about Jazz Chants from a colleague who is particularly enthusiastic about using them with Young Learners. I don’t have any YLs, but I have an elementary class who really need practice just getting their tongue around some English sounds, so I decided to try out my first ever Jazz Chant with them.

We have a copy of the fantastic ‘Jazz Chants’ book by Carolyn Graham. I looked for one that helped the student practice a grammar point we’d been studying that week – ‘whose is this?’ There’s an index at the front of the book saying which chant is relevant to which grammar point. There are also notes before each chant with tips on how to present it.

Before doing the chant, I read through the useful advice at the beginning of the book about the different steps to follow in presenting a chant, and basically did it the way that was suggested. My students are from Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Check out the video below to see snippets of the various stages, from me reading it out for the first time, to their final full production of their own version. Here are the steps I went through:

  • I wrote the title of the chant (‘Taking Credit’) on the board first, and we went over the meaning of this.
  • I read the whole chant to them while they followed it on the handout. I drummed the beat lightly on the table (for their benefit and mine!)
  • We read the whole chant together, all the way through. I read it with them, to help them keep to the rhythm.
  • Next, I read one line and they repeated each line.
  • I divided them into two groups, and I said one line; the first group repeated it; then I said the response line; the second group repeated it, etc.
  • I drilled some of the phrases they had more difficulty with (for example, ‘it’s certainly not mine’.)
  • Then the two groups read it without me. I just drummed the beat on the table and listened. The first group read the first line, e.g ‘Whose book is this?’, and the second group responded, e.g ‘It’s mine.’.
  • I encouraged them to do it as a competition to see who could be the loudest, as some of my students speak very quietly. This wasn’t hugely successful, as I really was trying to get them to shout it, and you can hear it’s not that loud on the video!

The next day we did it again (and I recorded it this time with Sandy’s camera, which is much better quality!). I wrote the jazz chant on the board before the beginning of the class so they wouldn’t need their papers, as I wanted them to do it with gestures. We used props, i.e a book and some work, to illustrate what they were saying, and they pointed at people to give meaning to saying ‘mine’, ‘yours’, ‘hers’ etc (although we also talked about the fact that it’s not always polite to point!) Next, they went up to the board and changed some of the words. So instead of ‘book’ we had ‘glasses’, which was a good choice because it meant making everything plural, and we had ‘delicious water’ instead of ‘beautiful work’, and ‘professional camera’, instead of ‘awful work’.

I moved them further apart in a bid to make them talk louder, as they were supposed to be talking to each other. Unfortunately this isn’t great for the video, as I couldn’t fit all the students in the shot with them being on two different sides of the classroom! When we did the new version for the second time, I encouraged them to do it with more actions, and I sort of conducted by doing them myself as well. I really felt that doing the actions allowed them to have more fun, and ‘lose themselves’ in it more.

All in all, I thought it was a great way to get their mouths moving, and to make the grammar point really memorable. Some of the students have since been using ‘Whose is this?’ to enquire about folders, papers, pens etc, around the classroom, which seems to me to be a sign of success! I’ve already earmarked some more jazz chants I want to do next week, and I can definitely see why people rave about them.

If you want to know more about jazz chants, check out Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa’s TEYL blog (the colleague who first mentioned jazz chants to me.

Jazz Chants by Caroyln Graham is published by OUP, and the link for it on Amazon is here.

Happy chanting!

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!

If I were a boy (Beyoncé and the Lexical Approach)

As part of my CAM course I was required to teach an experimental lesson using an approach which I haven’t tried before. This is similar but a lot less intense than the DELTA experimental lesson. The lesson had to part of a longer series of lessons trying out a lesson descriptor (like PPP or TTT), again which we hadn’t used before. I decided to use Micheal Lewis’ Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment, which I had trouble with understanding and blogged about here.

I chose to try out the Lexical Approach since it linked directly to the descriptor I had chosen for the other lessons. We’d been looking at conditionals, and herein lay my problem – the Lexical Approach is for vocabulary, but I wanted to teach grammar with it. So, as with all of these things, I put out a call on Twitter, and Fiona Mauchline responded. With her help I put together the materials below. They worked well in class, but whether or not it was a true Lexical Approach lesson or whether the students will remember the phrases afterwards I still don’t know.

If you have any suggestions on how to improve the lesson or add more Lexical Approach aspects, please leave a comment below. Feel free to download and use the materials any way you like, crediting the source please. If you have any problems with it, I’m happy to help.

Enjoy!

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!

Articles Flowchart: Final Draft (I hope!)

Anybody who’s been following my blog is probably sick of this flowchart by now (first draft, second draft, third draft), but I’m planning for this to be the last post relating to it!

I’ve now used it in class, so have hopefully ironed out most of the problems. I corrected a couple of typos, an incorrect colour (which meant I miscounted the number of each article needed to complete the worksheet) and added a modifier to the musical instruments section. If there are any more, PLEASE let me know so I can annoy people with a fifth post!

Enjoy!

Articles Flowchart worksheets (.doc format)

Articles Flowchart answers (.doc format)

Articles Flowchart worksheet (.pdf format)

Articles Flowchart answers (.pdf format)

Articles Flowchart: Third Draft (Student Worksheet)

Here’s the last draft (I hope!) of the flowchart (first draft, second draft), this time as a worksheet for use in class. The complete flowchart with all of the answers is in the second draft. Here’s an articles lesson plan I posted earlier.

It’s available for download, and I’d be interested to know if you use it in class/if there’s anything I should change. Please credit the source. Enjoy!

.docx format

.pdf format


Articles Flowchart: Second Draft

So here’s the second draft of the articles flowchart in two formats (.pdf and .doc). I posted the first draft earlier – thanks to @cerirhiannon for giving me some suggestions to improve it. They are downloadable (click ‘view on slideshare’ and download from there) and could be used as reference materials for your students to decide/learn how to use articles in English. If you think there is anything missing (it’s quite likely!) please let me know. I would be interested to know how you use the sheets. I also wrote a post with an articles lesson plan which you might like to look at.


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