MaWSIG Pre-Conference event (IATEFL Belfast 2022)

This is my first PCE as a member of the MaWSIG committee. We ran a day of sessions called ‘Exploring dichotomies: bridging gaps and joining the dots’. This was the programme:

These are my notes from each session. If you were one of the speakers, please feel free to correct anything you feel I may have got wrong! There may be some slightly odd sections when my iPad w

Writing effective materials about traumatic subjects – Tania Pattison

Tania lives in Canada, so this talk is centred on a Canadian context, but can be applied anywhere in the world.

She did a materials writing project based on a tragic episode in Canadian history. She’s going to share 10 tips for writing materials based on topics which aren’t typically in course books.

She wrote about this for IATEFL Voices, issue 283, published in November 2021, if you’d like to read more.

The episode Tania wrote about was the way that indigenous people were treated in Canada over a number of years, and the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). One of the TRC recommendations was that newcomers to Canada and people in the education system need to be taught about what happened. Tania worked on EAP materials for a college in Canada, which had to include materials related to TRC. She’s not indigenous, or even Canadian so she asked herself how she could write about this in a sensitive, accurate way, while fulfilling her goal of writing EAP material.

These are her tips.

1. Know why you’re doing it

  • Are you trying to fill a gap in student knowledge?
  • Raise awareness of world issues?
  • Work on critical thinking?

2. Keep your own values in check

Any attempt to impose your own values on students becomes ‘an exercise in self-indulgence rather than effective’.

Guy Cook, IATEFL debate 2021

3. Consider your timing

Make sure students already know each other and feel comfortable with each other before you approach this kind of material. Give them background information first – for example, Tania had information about Canada’s government and some basics about the country first, as the materials were for newly-arrived students.

Allow time for students to process the materials – you may want to have less material in these units. Make sure it’s a point in the course where you can determine whether the students are ready for this type of material.

4. Scaffold your materials.

Find out what students already know, and what stereotypes people may already have. You may need to dispel these before you start working on anything else.

5. Be mindful of the balance between teaching language, skills and content

You can’t suddenly switch from harrowing content to a grammar lesson. Think about how to make transitions between parts of the lesson.

If you can, incorporate skills into your teaching, for example website analysis, critical thinking.

6. Let the voices of those affected take centre stage

Never speak about us without us.

Roberta Bear, Indigenous Canadian teacher, 2017

Can you use first-hand accounts from those involved? Artwork? Guest speakers if you can? Those could be the basis of the materials.

7. Don’t sugar-coat it

Recognise that something terrible happened, or is still happening. Show the reality.

Use trigger warnings – be prepared for students to excuse themselves from activities.

8. Allow flexibility in the way the material is to be delivered

Take cues from how student are reacting.

If you’re writing for other teachers, include ideas for different approaches in the teacher’s notes.

9. Build in opportunities for individual reflection and response

The issues might not be unique to the situation you are writing about – it may allow students to talk about other issues from other places and times that aren’t foreseen in the materials.

Phrases like ‘Use your own judgement’ or ‘There is no correct answer’ are useful in instructions and teacher’s notes.

Many learners have been waiting their whole lives to engage in these kinds of conversations and find Canada, or the right teacher, is giving them the space to do so.

Amy Abe, Indigenous Canadian teacher, 2017

10. Try to end on a positive note where possible

This may not be possible, but if you can, aim to leave students with a sense of optimism.

Can you find a way to celebrate an oppressed culture, show improvements that have taken place, etc.? Examples Tania used were encouraging students to attend an art gallery with indigenous art, or to find out about college statistics regarding indigenous students and the support they have available for them.

Chanie Wenjack was the child whose story Tania wrote about – he died when he was a child and ran away from the boarding school he was forced to attend. Now, it’s the name of a lecture theatre at the university Tania attended, and the name of a school: The Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, Trent University, Canada.

When properly approached, these discussions can be some of the best, with students coming away with invaluable lessons learned.

Tim Johnson, University Affairs, 2015

Responses to questions

If you’re writing materials for teachers and students you don’t know, your teacher’s notes become very important. Make it as clear as possible regarding different ways you can approach this material, and different ways students may need to process this information.

Working with young learners, they know about what’s going on in the world even from a very young age, so we need to address these topics, but we need to feel how ready they are – what background knowledge do they have? What are they ready to process? Some children may be more scared by not talking about these challenging issues than if we cover them.

We also need to know about the potential backgrounds of the students (and teachers) we’re writing for. Some of these issues may trigger areas which our students have personal experience of and don’t want to or aren’t ready to talk about yet. We need to leave space within the materials to allow processing of these issues, and not force anybody to discuss anything they don’t want to – there needs to be an escape clause too.

Practical strategies for writing inclusive ELT materials – Amina Douidi

Amina is an intercultural and diversity consultant.

Intercultural language education is about integrating the teaching of language and culture / cultures. It needs to go ‘beyond presenting isolated snippets of information about the target language culture’ (Liddicoat, 2014) and the integration of the learners’ languages and cultures (Liddicoat, 2008).

Intercultural communication competence is about the refinement and development of intercultural skills, knowledge and attitudes of interacting with the world of cultural difference that complement language competence (Byram, 1997). We don’t assume that our learners come to the classroom as blank pages, hence the inclusion of refinement here.

It’s a particular challenge for writing materials for English teaching, as opposed to other languages, because of the way that English has been appropriated globally.

Interculturally oriented materials:

  • Promote Global Englishes and/or English as a Lingua Franca, in order to continually challenge native-speakerism.
  • Recognise Global North / Global South power imbalance, inequalities and status quo. Recognise our own identities and how they might impact on the materials writing process.
  • Promote a decolonial discourse and challenge methodologies (Kumaravadivelu, 2006; 2016) and concepts rooted in an imperialist worldview. Create space for learners within the lessons.
  • Promote intercultural skills: mediating, interpreting, and relating, curiosity, interaction and curiosity.

Global majority is a new term which is intended to replace the idea of racial minorities.

Amina asked us to reflect on our own writing:

These are the principles Amina would like to promote these ideas.

Principle 1: Variety of representation

Amina has selected variety rather than diversity.

The 4 Ps (Yuen, 2011):

  • People: Global North and Global South
  • Places: The historically privileged and the historically marginalised
  • Perspectives: dominant and silenced narratives
  • Practices: judgement-free, contextualised, and well-informed account of cultural behaviours, customs and traditions, focused on the individual – rather than stereotypes / overarching narratives, focus on a single narrative – rather than cultural facts

Principle 2: Complexity of representation

  • Addressing topics of social and cultural relevance to learners (e.g. gender roles)
  • Challenge fixity of cultural constructs: normalise the possibility of change / changing opinions / changing your mind – just because you don’t like modern art now, doesn’t mean this will always be true
  • Contextualise systemic inequality beyond personal responsibility – what is the history of this practice? E.g. Why don’t people vote?
  • Show intersectionality as the norm: we’re not just one identity, we’re many. Amina is educated, a PhD holder, a woman, a wife, a multilingual speaker, not just one…all of these.
  • Sustaining inclusivity: there is no ‘correct’ amount of diversity to include.

Principle 3: Intentionality in instruction

Include these ideas within rubrics and learning outcomes. For example:

  • Mediation
  • Curiosity: finding out about other people’s practices e.g. what do you eat for breakfast?
  • [2 others which I missed]

The ‘Five savoirs’ shown in the slide above are possible ways we can think about intercultural skills. They shouldn’t necessarily be turned into learning outcomes, but they can be things you can consider in your writing.

Discussion

As an editor, you need to acknowledge the fact that materials writers have spent a lot of time on their materials already. You don’t necessarily want to come in and scrap the materials completely because they’re lacking intercultural elements. You may need to tweak the materials by adding a task, changing a task, adding a question or two.

Queer materials writing: sharing research perspectives and (some) experience – Thorsten Merse

Torsten is a professor of ELT education at the University of Duisburg-Essen, who is particularly interested in LGBTIQ+ and queer theory at the intersection with critical coursebook analysis. He is a researcher, but has some experience of writing materials himself.

He acknowledges that it’s easier to critique materials than to write them in the first place. He also recognises that he speaks from a position of privilege, that we are able to talk about this in our context, but this might not be possible everywhere int he world.

Thorsten says: Coursebooks can cause transformation. If something appears in the course book, teachers might think about including it. If it’s never there, they may never consider it, even if they would be willing to do so.

In Queer EFL Teaching and Learning, there has been a systematic invisibility of these identities. There is a lot of sexual identity in coursebooks, but it’s so normal we don’t even think about it: for example, the typical family. It’s about challenging norms which are there. We often circulate single stories in our profession: ‘the single story of heterosexuality’, and although there are some shifts (for example, not everyone is now white), there is still not much in the way of queer identities in materials. There are some research links in the photo below:

Queer EFL teaching and learning has started to become a more researched topic, and is now being researched more. There have been conferences about Queering ESOL, podcast episodes (Angelos Bollas got a mention) and it’s becoming more visible.

In Germany, there is now a requirement to include the diversity of sexual identities in some curriculums.

English as a school subject ‘engages learners in themes such as social, economic, ecological, political, cultural and intercultural phenomena, problems of sustainable development as well as the diversity of sexual identiities

Curriculum English from Lower Saxony, NsK, 2015 (Thorsten’s translation)

Merse and his colleagues looked at three ELT coursebooks for year 9 at comprehensive schools, looking at representation of diversity in general: sexual, gender, and other skills. They looked at images and the text surrounding them, exploring visibility, voice and agency of diverse identities. They started from the assumption that heteronormativity and cisgender would be the default.

They grouped these into prevailing features – not what we should do, but what actually happened in the course books they analysed.

Representational strategy I: heteronormativity

This is often the default.

100% clarity: male, female, cis

No trans or inter

In cases of ambiguity, the texts clarify, for example through pronouns

Representational strategy II: LGBTIQ+ invisibility

No representation of any facet of LGBTIQ+ diversity at allOf

Often written out on purpose

Representational strategy III: ???

Problematising queer identities, with no opportunity to challenge being gay as being a problem identity, for example in the text below.

Representational strategy IV: The stand-alone and stick-out representation

More positive representations

But only one in the whole book

And not necessarily

Exotic, an add-on, but well meant

Representational strategy V: a full unit

The acronym was spelt out. The whole unit dealt with the question of gender identity.

New strategies

  • Background diversity of LGBTIQ+ coursebook characters just happen to be LGBTIQ+ without requiring explanation.
  • Ambiguity and openness: create tasks and activities where learners can bring their own experience into ‘gaps’.
  • Explicit focalisation of LGBTIQ+ create cultural and linguistic learning opportunities through engaging learners in LGBTIQ+ content
An example from Thorsten’s materials

Challenges

  • How much LGBTIQ+ is enough? (OR: How much normativity are you willing to have taken away from you?) – not necessarily a valid question, but one that you have a lot
  • Fear of ‘wrong’ or ‘too extreme’ representation of LGBTIQ+ lives, issues and people
  • ‘The danger of a single story’ – balanced representations
  • Making thematic matches that makes sense rather than appearing odd (for example, a discussion about a koala keeper – sexuality not relevant, but a discussion of toilets in a school – definitely relevant)
  • Selecting and curating authentic sources, or creating pedagogic texts, for materials production

Bridging a 30-year gap in materials writing – Sue Kay

Here’s Sue’s write-up of the talk.

Sue is talking about how she took the Reward resource packs and is trying to update them 30 years after they were originally written. The first pack was released in 1994.

The writers wanted to think about how to make them more relevant and useful for today’s classroom, including ideas like diversity, inclusion, and making them deliverable both face-to-face and online.

Simon Greenall wrote the Reward coursebooks which the resource packs were written to accompany. Simon observed lessons Sue was teaching, and Sue showed him some materials she’d written to add communicative elements to to the classroom. Simon asked her to write the resource packs.

In ELT in the nineties, the cassette started to lose ground to the CD. Typical books were Headway, Streamline, Thinking First Certificate. Jill Hadfield’s Communication Games and and Play Games with English by Colin Granger were popular resource books. Michael Lewis wrote The Lexical Approach in 1993. The CEFR first draft was written in 1995, but wasn’t published until 2001. Corpus-based dictionaries became popular in the 1990s.

What wasn’t happening in ELT in 1994?

  • No broadband internet for finding authentic materials quickly.
  • No way to quickly check word frequency in a corpus-informed online dictionary.
  • No checking CEFR level. There was no talk of ‘Diversity and inclusion’ – Tyson Seburn did his talk ‘This talk will make you gay’ at IATEFL 2019.
  • English as a Lingua Franca only came to fore around twenty laters.
  • There was no green agenda – ELT Footprint was founded in May 2019.
  • 21st century skills were not a thing.
  • No considerations of neurodiversity, such as dyslexia.
  • No digital delivery.

These are the filters through which they’re re-writing the materials. They’re trying to maintain the humour and fun of the original activities, while considering these factors now.

Obvious changes

Activities which were based on student input didn’t really need to be changed, apart from considering digital delivery.Fonts in some activities

Fonts in some activities need to be replaced to make them more accessible for students who might struggle to read them

With references to holidays, they’re aiming to have a green filter, reducing the amount of international air travel for example.

This activity has been updated to reduce the ageism in it, along with other phrases which might be removed or updated.

Updating a pair work activity

In this activity, students put the phrases in order based on what is typical in their country. They then read a story and reorganise the phrases based on that story. They then tell their story to a partner by looking at the phrases, not the story.

They created two updated versions of the activity. This one is for face-to-face delivery:

They changed the title, and for the phrases, they separated meeting online / face-to-face, widowed (relationships aren’t only about first relationships), meeting families (not parents), ‘became exclusive’ added as an up-to date phrases. These are the new stories:

These are the new stories:

They’re universal stories, which could apply to any culture, situation or sexuality.

In terms of the methodology for the face-to-face activity, the steps were largely the same, but some tweaks are there. For example, rather than thinking about what is typical in your country, students are now asked to think about a relationship they’re familiar with.

For online delivery, there is a spreadsheet. There are new teacher’s notes to show how it can be delivered in the online classroom.

When they started to consider how to adapt materials for online teaching, They did a survey related to pair work and group work online. These were the results:

Mingles

Does anything jump out at you as being inappropriate? How would you adapt it this to the online classroom?

These are the changes they made.

They removed some wording, changed some wording, and added in some green wording.

For online delivery, they created a spreadsheet with different tabs – one for each question. They gave very clear instructions in the teacher’s notes to show how this mingle could be run in an online classroom – this is a very clear format which makes mingles possible online.

Picture research: what can we do for each other? – Sharon McTeir

Sharon runs her own company, called Creative Publishing Services which focused originally on design and typesetting. Now her specialism is picture research, mostly for ELT contexts, dictionaries and education.

What does a picture researcher do?

  • Research
    In different contexts, libraries, commissioning photographers
  • Clear permissions and rights

Changes in picture research

There are fewer image libraries, as they have been amalgamated into big companies.

It’s harder to find natural images. Many of them are staged.

Fewer picture researchers are being hired. Instead writers are asked to do it, editors assistants and interns might be asked to do it, or staff in the big UK image libraries, or outsourced to companies in India and China.

Why use a picture researcher?

  • Relationships – building up a relationship with them
  • Years of training in copyright law
  • Awareness of how different photo libraries can be used
  • Providing a carefully considered image for that situation

Diversity and inclusion

Race, gender, animal rights, sensitive historical images, and tokenism are all areas which are now considered.

Writing a picture brief

You need to include all of the following information about the business:

  • Project title / ISBN
  • Print / digital
  • Print Run / Licence period
  • Territory

And about the end user:

  • Business / academic / etc.
  • Age: adults / young adult / children.
  • Any special needs / considerations.

Sometimes it can be useful to say what you don’t want, rather than what you want.

Answers to questions

Photo shoots don’t have to be expensive. Sometimes it can be cheaper to have a day of working with a photographer than trying to find the perfect images and ensure the permissions are all signed off on.

Many publishers have exclusive agreements with specific picture libraries.

Avoiding tokenism: working together to find a better way – Aleksandra Popovski

Alex is the outgoing MaWSIG coordinator and she’ll be the next Vice President of IATEFL. She’s also in the classroom with her students every day, and regularly produces materials to use with her students.

Tokenism is inclusion for the sake of inclusion, to help make you or your organisation look good. Coursebooks are cultural constructs and carry a lot of cultural messages.

Equality, ELT materials should not look like political manifestos – that’s not what not what they are. It’s not propaganda material. Materials should provide a springboard for discussion, a springboard for critical thinking, and we should remember that they’re there to improve English skills.

There is no framework for avoiding tokenism in ELT, so we need to take these from other fields. These are some suggestions.

Alex says that we need to tell more stories, covering a wider range of stories. It’s impossible to cover them all. When we write about a different culture, we should not write about the usual aspects of that culture we already know. That can create stereotypes, which becomes the story. We should talk about different people’s stories, within that culture.

Here are examples of some of the alternative stories you could tell about some of these cultures:

Do your research before you start writing

Look for more than one story.

Write about things you know, you are familiar with, lived experiences.

Make an informed decision about what to include in your materials.

What do you already know about the culture? What are your opinions on this topic? How might this influence your writing?

What cultures aren’t represented in the materials you use? How could you find out about that culture? Where would you do the research?

A framework you could use is a KWLH chart:

  • What I know
  • What I want to know
  • What I learnt
  • How I write about it

No showcasing

Do not put anyone or anything on display just because it seems special or different to you.

Create a character with personality, not just inserting an image.

Create a character with a real purpose and meaning in materials. Don’t just put them there, but use them again throughout the unit and the materials.

Create connections

Materials writers aren’t just producers of exercises, of grammar rules. We are writers of stories, who should be real and relatable for our students. Avoid one-off characters and events whenever you can. Weave stories, and create connections throughout materials.

Have a ‘sidekick’

Ask somebody to work with you to read / trial your materials. They could be a ‘fixer’, making sure you’re not tokenistic. This is something editors can do if you’re working with them, but classroom writers should consider this too.

Overall

There were lots of threads of inclusion, diversity, and considering carefully how we approach our materials writing so that we are thinking about them from the beginning, rather than retro-fitting. A fascinating PCE!

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.

 

Images in the classroom (IH Torun Teacher Training Day 2016)

ELTpics session IH Torun TTD Sandy Millin 23rd April 2016 title slide

This was a slightly shorter version of an online workshop which I ran in January 2015 for International House called Picture This. You can find all of the links to the posts and online tools I mentioned, plus a recording of the one hour webinar, on the Picture This page.

You might also be interested in my recent review of the book Working with Images [affiliate link] by Ben Goldstein.

The talk was part of the Torun Teacher Training Day, which also featured talks by Marjorie Rosenberg, Hugh Dellar, Glenn Standish, and various local teachers from Torun and Bydgoszcz, including some from IH Bydgoszcz.

Working with Images by Ben Goldstein (a review)

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

Working with Images by Ben Goldstein (cover)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Materials writing

Following on from the excellent MaWSIG pre-conference event, I ended up going to quite a few more talks related to materials writing during the conference. Here are summaries of said talks.

Designing materials: from theory to practice? – Sonia Munro and Susan Sheehan

Sonia and Susan work on the MA TESOL at the University of Huddersfield. The course originally had only a traditional dissertation at the end of it, but they have now added the option of a more practical materials design project rather than a dissertation. Students have to create 15 hours worth of classroom materials for a specific context and do a 30-minute viva. The only course participants who now do a dissertation are those who are required to do so by external forces, such as those who are being funded by a Ministry of Education. All others opt for materials design.

Why did they choose to offer this alternative? Feedback on the dissertation module was not as positive as for other modules on the MA, with participants complaining that they couldn’t collect the necessary data from their students over the summer. Materials design doesn’t just help those who are creating materials; it also helps teachers to be more critical when choosing materials for their students.

The viva allows participants to show the theoretical underpinnings of their materials, but Sonia and Susan noticed that there was a huge range in the ability of course participants to do this. Tomlinson (2003) mentions that many established writers start with intuition based on their own experience in the classroom, but MA students don’t have that luxury and must demonstrate that they have clear reasons for their materials design. In the viva, they have to present their materials and demonstrate the theory behind them, then participate in a discussion building on this. Some participants could do this easily, but others were unable to demonstrate any awareness of theory at all. To be successful, they need to:

  • Draw on a wide range of sources, not just readings suggested by tutors;
  • Demonstrate critical engagement with theories and sources;
  • Show a clear relationship between theory and practice, demonstrating they understand this;
  • Analyse materials that are typically used in their context and use these as a springboard for their own materials;
  • Notice the good points and limitations of the materials they use as a reference;
  • Show an awareness of their context: What are the constraints? Are these materials appropriate?

These are the main problems their MA students had in the viva:

  • Only citing a narrow range of authors.
  • Not referring to SLA (second language acquisition) theorists.
  • Sticking to authors writing about materials design only.
  • Not referring to authors specific to their context (e.g. EAP).
  • Not mentioning issues like Global English or English as a Lingua Franca.
  • Conflating literature and theory and not going deeply enough into the theory.
  • Not demonstrating enough criticality: for example by comparing authors or mentioning the weaknesses of the research. Being quite superficial.

To increase the students’ engagement with theory, Susan and Sonia would like to:

  • Make the use of theory more explicit and show students how to find theory more usefully.
  • Emphasise that theory is the core of the module.
  • Stop students from getting lost in the aesthetics of the materials – they tend to spend too long on this and not enough time on the theory.
  • Train students to do better literature searches.

I haven’t done an MA yet, but would like to at some point in the future, so I think this will come in very useful when I get to that stage.

Frameworks for creativity in materials design – Jill Hadfield

I’ve been connected to Jill on facebook for a while, and she’s been able to help me out a couple of times, so I went to this talk to be able to meet her in person for the first time. It gave me lots of ideas for potential workshops in the future, and furthered my understanding of some of the principles behind materials design, following on from the talk above. It’s also encouraged me to consider in more depth the principles I believe in/follow/use (What’s the right verb?!) when designing materials, teaching, and training.

When Jill was writing her latest book, Motivating Learning [affiliate link], with Zoltan Dörnyei, she started keeping a reflective journal to help her uncover the principles behind her own writing. She then analysed her journal and categorised her comments to try to find underlying patterns. She was motivated to do this by theorists who posited that materials writers tend to rely on intuition rather than theory, but as she said “We do have principles, but we’re too busy writing materials!”

Jill divided up the principles from her journal into two areas: framing principles and core energies. Framing principles ask questions like ‘What makes good materials?’ Here are some of Jill’s examples:

They are a kind of limit, and you shouldn’t include anything which does not adhere to one or more of these principles. In contrast, core energies suffuse your work. They are the underlying themes of your materials, which resurface again and again, but may not be obvious in every activity. In Jill’s journal, these were Affect, Creativity and Play. The example Jill gave to show the difference between the two types of principle was that she believes all activities should be communicative (framing principle), but that there are times when activities should be cognitive, logical or serious depending on the aim (which could be seen as contradicting some of her core energies).

In analysing her journal, Jill realised that she wrote most when she was dealing with problems, and very little when the writing was going smoothly. She seemed to have a lot of tacit principles underlying her writing. Here are some of them:

  • Does this activity fulfil the aim in the best possible way?
  • Is the staging in the best logical sequence?
  • Does staging scaffold the students by providing achievable steps?
  • Are the groupings appropriate to the task and do they provide variety and balance of interaction?

She also noticed a system of checks and balances that stopped her forward progress at times. These included trying out the materials by putting herself in the position of the teacher (imagining), the student (trying out), or the writer explaining the materials to the teacher (dialoguing). Through this process, she sometimes discovered that her activities didn’t do what she wanted them to, which meant she had to rethink them.

Once she has finished writing, Jill uses checklists based on questions formulated from her principles. These help her to ensure quality, coverage (a range of activity types/interaction patterns etc) and analyse covert syllabuses (a hidden agenda). Covert syllabuses can be positive, for example by promoting rapport within the group through activities focussing on dynamics and groupwork, or negative, such as those implied by the kind of images that might be chosen to illustrate a course book (see Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones’ talk at the MaWSIG PCE).

Jill shared lots of possible tasks which you could do to examine your own priniciples, or which could be used as the basis for workshops. Here are just a few examples:

  • Pyramid discussion, where participants first detail their own principles relating to materials design, then compare them with others.
  • Look at the principles you have related to classroom practice and consider them in more depth. Which of them are supported by research? Which of them do not seem to have theoretical support? Why do you think this is?
  • Give participants a range of different activities from published materials, chosen to demonstrate a range of writing styles. Analyse how much they like doing the activity, how often they create similar activities and how much they like creating that kind of activity.
  • Analyse the principles you have come up with in more depth. What are the potential advantages and drawbacks of having these as principles? Can these principles be justified by theory and classroom practice? What questions should you ask yourself about being driven by personal preference in your writing?
  • Dialoguing: participants work in pairs, with one as the classroom teacher and the other as the materials writer. The writer must justify their design decisions to the teacher. Record the conversation, play it back, and see if there are any decisions the writer wants to rethink.
  • Imagining: go through the activity step-by-step, as if you’re using it in class. Record yourself talking through the process, then listen back and analyse it critically. Is there anything you would change?
  • Trying out: put yourself in the students’ shoes. Record your interactions. Listen back and ask yourself questions. For example: Did the activity produce the language required? Did it produce enough of it? Was it engaging? Did everyone have equal turns?
  • Spoken protocols: participants design an activity and verbalise their decisions as they make them. Record this and listen back, with participants trying to verbalise what unspoken design principles are influencing these decisions.
  • Take an activity you have designed and try altering one element, for example, changing it from a pair to a group task. What effect does this have?
  • Develop your own checklists based on the principles you have uncovered. Use them!

Uncovering culture – Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones

When Ben and Ceri started teaching, cultural content in coursebooks looked very different. It tended to reflect and/or reinforce cultural stereotypes, drawing on students’ prior knowledge of the world. There was a lot of pop anthropology or negative etiquette, ‘othering’ the cultures discussed by distancing students from it: ‘They do it like this, not like you do.’ It also reinforced the idea that everyone in a country acts in the same way: ‘Americans eat fast food’. Subliminal cultural content was also common, for example in the choice of images used.

Ceri and Ben wanted to move from this global, stereotypical image of culture, making it more relevant to the students’ lives, combining the global and the local to make it ‘glocal’. For example, rather than an article describing food of the world, including McDonalds as the food of the USA, you could:

  • Compare menus served by McDonalds in different countries.
  • Question what junk and healthy food really is.
  • Look at the designs of McDonalds restaurants, and how they differ around the world, for example the McCafé.
  • Find local news articles featuring McDonalds.

Continuing the food theme, try exploiting these food flags, designed for the Sydney Food Festival. Each image showcases food typical of that country. Students can identify the food, then decide whether they think it really does represent the country. Finally, they create a flag for their own country and other students discuss whether it’s truly representative.

Food-Flags
Image from peacechild.org

‘Breaking’ stereotypes in this way can be a very productive exercise in the classroom. Something similar can be done with postcards too: do they reflect true experiences of what it is like to be in the country?

Ben and Ceri have written various course books together. The most recent are the Eyes Open series, written for secondary school students and published by Cambridge University Press. They have used ideas to exploit culture throughout, and showed examples like this one during their presentation.

There is a move away from stereotypes, showing a more multicultural view of Britain. Texts also have links to the outside world, so that the restaurant mentioned is a real place which students can visit the website of if they want to.

You need to build a bridge between the materials on the page and the lives of the students. One way to do this is to have the voices of ‘insiders’, rather than ‘outsiders’, talking about their own cultures. The example Ben and Ceri gave was a video about dabbawallas in India, leading on to a discussion of whether this system would work in the students’ own countries: What kind of food would they include in the boxes? Who would cook it?

Another avenue for uncovering culture is to emphasise the trans-cultural flow of ideas, rather than separating out cultures artificially. One way to do this is through YouTube videos and the associated comments, like those by Bethany Mota, who often shares videos about food. The ‘unboxing‘ meme is a productive one, and this video of an American opening a pizza in Korea gives lots of language students could draw on to make their own video, making the connection to their own lives and culture.

Here is an abridged version of Ben and Ceri’s slides.

Can a picture tell a thousand words? – Hugh Dellar

You might think that this metaphor is as old as the hills, but according to Hugh’s research, it was actually coined about a century ago by an advertiser in the USA trying to sell advertising space on the side of trams! Hugh decided to continue this theme by advertising too, in this case the new edition of Outcomes, which he co-wrote with Andrew Walkley. 🙂

Hugh’s attitude to the use of images in materials has developed over his writing career. Originally he thought they were just a way of breaking up the page, and that the focus should be on language, because this is what students learn from. When his publisher changed and he was asked to incorporate more National Geographic content into his materials he was initially reluctant, associating them with doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms and pain! He also highlighted the fact that although many of their images are beautiful, they aren’t necessarily great for generating language. They say 1000 words, so you don’t have to. Instead, he finds images which have the potential to ‘bring 1000 words into being’ much more useful.

So what are the functions of the image in the ELT classroom?

  • To illustrate the meaning of lexis. Learners can label things, but it’s not great for longer phrases.
  • To test whether students have remembered lexis. This is great for nouns, but not so good for things which are more abstract.
  • Decoration.
  • Prompts for grammar drills. Hugh mentioned ‘English for voyeurs’, which is true whenever you use images to practise the present continuous!
  • To check receptive understanding (e.g. choose the picture which shows…)
  • To set the scene.
  • To generate language and ideas.
  • To generate discussion, stories, opinions, etc.

The last three are the ones which are the most fruitful, but they require a certain type of image, preferably with some kind of ambiguity or something unstated.

In Outcomes, the picture above is used to introduce a unit on business. One of the discussion points is why there are no women shown. It then leads on to a unit about business, including making phone calls.

The same principles which apply to images could also be used for videos. Again, just because it’s on YouTube, doesn’t make it interesting. There is no guarantee that the language in the video is intelligible, appropriate for the level of your students, or will ever be used by them again. Once you’ve found a suitable video, you still have to write the materials to go with it too! This is where video content accompanying coursebooks comes in. In Outcomes, video is exploited in a variety of ways, not just for traditional comprehension tasks. It’s also a way of improving students listening skills by analysing small chunks of language, and then attempting to reproduce them to experiment with their pronunciation.

You can watch the whole 30-minute presentation on YouTube.

MAWSIG Open Forum

The Materials Writing SIG has gone from strength to strength since it started a couple of years ago. At the open forum, they updated us on what has been happening over the last year and their plans for the next year, including MaWSIG May, a series of webinars which happened very successfully last year and which they would like to repeat. They also held a raffle, and this happened 🙂

In summary

All of these talks have given me a strong incentive to examine the principles behind materials design in more depth, which is something I hope to do if and when I ever get round to doing an MA! I really like the idea of the Anglia Ruskin course, which focuses heavily on materials design, but unfortunately it’s only available face-to-face and I can’t afford it at the moment. One day…

Picture this (IH Live Online Workshop January 2015)

Today I had the pleasure of presenting a Live Online Workshop for International House teachers around the world.

ELTpics webinar screenshot

The topic was the use of images in the classroom, including an introduction to ELTpics. This was the abstract:

Picture this: ELTpics and images in the classroom
Images are the language of the 21st century. How can we exploit them to maximise our students’ language production? This webinar will introduce you to ELTpics, a collection of nearly 25,000 images shared by teachers and other members of the ELT profession and available for you to use in the classroom. Learn how to make the most of the collection with activities to use the ELTpics images, those in your coursebooks and those your learners bring with them every day.

You can watch a recording of the session, which will take you 56 minutes:

Almost all of the activities were taken from the blogs of various wonderful people, as well as the ELTpics blog. Here are the links:

Information about how to credit ELTpics images can be found on the attribution page of the ELTpics website.

I also shared two mosaic makers. On BigHugeLabs, you can use the Flickr links or images which you have on your computer. For Fotor you need to have the images on your computer first. I think the Fotor mosaics look nicer, and you have more options for layouts on them, but you can include more images in a BigHugeLabs mosaic.

Finally, you can download the slides, which will give you a summary of all of the activities (not all of them have links above):

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

Christmas activities

Here is the collection of Christmas activities which I presented at the International House Sevastopol seminar on Saturday December 21st 2013.

Some of the activities are available on the web, some I have created, and some are versions of time-honoured none-Christmas EFL activities adapted to the festive season. If there’s no link, click on the picture within the presentation and it should take you to the activity. Hopefully the slides are self-explanatory, but if not, feel free to leave me a comment.

In addition, here are some photos from Christmas 2010 which my family gave me permission to take and share. I talked about one of them using fotobabble.

Lights on a garden tree Snow on Christmas Day! Barrel organ as part of Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Red phone boxes in the snow Stuffing the turkey Pigs in blankets Part-cooked turkey Table set with crackers Table set with crackers Turkey in the oven Fully-cooked turkey Ready to pull crackers Eating Christmas dinner, wearing cracker hats Christmas pudding in the microwave Pouring brandy on the Christmas pudding The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) Evening meal of Christmas cake and leftovers... Christmas cake IMG_4106

I realise that this is a bit late for many of you, but you can save it for next year 🙂

Cook or cooker?

Here is one of my favourite visual mnemonics.

Cook

 

Cooker

I came up with it a long time ago, and now use it every time a student makes a mistake with this pair of words. I’ve never noticed them make the mistake again! (Note to self: reverse the colours next time!)

Since this was so quick to post, I challenge you to share your own favourite mnemonics, visual or otherwise, for those pesky mistakes students will keep making. I’ll add a list to this post as they’re published.

Getting to know you with key words

I came up with an easy to prepare getting to know you activity today, which took about 30 minutes with 12 upper intermediate students.

Divide A4 pieces of paper into quarters – as many as you need for one quarter per student.

Students fold their piece of paper in half.

They draw a picture of themselves on one half, then write key words related to their lives on the other half – as many or as few as they choose.

The final step is a mingle where they show their pictures and key words to other students in the class, and use these as prompts for conversation.

I put the names of all of the students on the board to help them too.

This was my paper:

ImageWhen I first tried to end the activity the students all said ‘No, I’ve still got to speak to…’.

Enjoy!

Picture role plays

I’ve been investigating role plays as part of my Delta reflection. I rarely use them because I never enjoyed them as a language student, but I think some students would respond to them very well.

Today I adapted an activity from Role Play by Gillian Porter Ladousse, called ‘Picture role plays’, with pre-intermediate (A2+) students.

  • I put a few pictures from eltpics around the room. Each picture showed a minimum of two people, and it was relatively easy to imagine that they were having a conversation. First, students walked around in pairs discussing what they could see. To prompt them, I had the question words Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? written on the board.

By the river
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

  • Each pair chose their favourite picture and took it back to their desk.
  • They chose one person in their picture to write a mini biography of.
  • These were quite short, so I then asked students to read all the biographies and add one question under each.
  • The students then had to ‘inhabit’ the person they wrote a biography of and have a conversation with the other person in their photo.
  • Finally, they wrote out the conversation.

In the rain
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @inglishteacher, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Shaun Wilden brought picture role plays to my attention during his seminar at the recent IH Online Conference. You can watch his session here and read the original description of the activity here.

Did it work?

Yes and no. The quieter students were very creative in the biography, and added lots of extra details. My favourite was ‘My grandmother loves playing chess and is the world champion.’ However, when it came to the roleplay, the conversation was quite stilted. They did ‘inhabit’ the role a little, but for the quieter students this was very difficult. The more confident students really seemed to enjoy it, and were arguing quite a lot about the correct language to use.

We had been practising indirect questions during the week, and one or two of the quieter students got them into their conversations. However, I didn’t have a particularly clear aim for the activity. It was very much a ‘Friday afternoon’ activity.

Doing it again

With role plays, you definitely need some kind of clear aim. Why do the students need to imagine the conversations between the people in the photos?

Most of the language work I did with the students was in their pairs. It would be useful to work more with the language and build on it further.

We didn’t have time to repeat the role play, and this is definitely something the students would benefit from.

Do you have any other advice?

(This is one of a series of shared mini reflections on some of the activities I’m trying out during my Delta. The first was here.)

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!

Day-to-day photos

Thanks to Fiona Mauchline’s At the deep end and Paul Braddock’s Mobile Storytime, I’ve just had a roomful of engaged and motivated learners for a whole two hours.

I teach this Elementary group for four hours every day (9-11 and 1-3). We’re doing a lot of pronunciation work in the first session, so I’m trying to do speaking in the second class to put the pronunciation into practice. Yesterday I set them the task of taking five pictures on the way home or on the way to school this morning (checking they all had cameras of some variety first!).

I did the same thing, printed the photos and stuck them around the room to start the lesson. Here they are:

First, I elicited ‘wh-‘ questions on the board. We looked at one photo and they asked me some questions about it. Then they walked around the room in small groups discussing what they could say. To finish this stage, I elicited their thoughts and told them why I chose to take each picture, as well as giving them any vocabulary they needed. We also added extra things to talk about on the board (e.g. feelings, opinions).

In small groups, students showed their photos to each other and asked and answered questions. Each student then chose their ‘best’ or ‘favourite’ photo from their set.

I placed a piece of scrap paper with ‘Questions for [X]’ on each desk and students put their photo on display. Students circulated and wrote questions based on the photos and their earlier discussions e.g. ‘When did you take this photo?’ As the students are elementary, there were obviously some problems with question formation, so the next step was for students to check the grammar and make sure the questions were ‘perfect’.

Next they wrote a short paragraph answering all the questions in continuous prose, before correcting each other’s work, with me underlining some things if students were insistent that they had finished 😉

This lesson has highlighted a couple of areas of grammar which require further work, so next week I plan to focus on question formation and there is/are, as well as doing some revision of irregular verb forms.

Thanks very much Fiona and Paul!

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!

How to join in with #eltpics

eltpics Shape collage
Made using shapecollage.com

All of the pictures in the image above are taken from the #eltpics photos on Flickr. #eltpics was started in October 2010 when three teachers (@VictoriaB52, @vickyloras and @cgoodey) decided to tweet pictures to each other on a given theme each week. As Victoria said in this interview with tefl.net:

The idea blossomed, so we asked ELT folk on Twitter to join in and share our diversity. In 3 weeks [we had] over 200 images from 20 countries on our Flickr site.

As of this week, we’re up to 3000 images in 30 categories including all of the following:

eltpics topics wordle
Made using wordle.net

You can see the 10 most recent pictures in the bottom-right hand corner of this page.

So how can you join in?

1. If you are not a member of Twitter, sign up for free.

2. Find out the topic for the week by searching for the #eltpics hashtag or asking @sandymillin, @fionamau or @cgoodey (the current curators of the site). A new topic is announced every Sunday. (By the way, if you have any topic suggestions, feel free to let us know!)

3. Choose the photos you want to share and upload them to a site like flickr, yfrog or twitpic. You can also use a Twitter client like Tweetdeck. Please ensure that the photos are your own and that you have the copyright.

4. Tweet the links to the pictures you want us to upload. Don’t forget to include the hashtag #eltpics so we can find them! If you want to help us out, you could also mention the set you want us to add the photo to.

5. Sit back and wait for us to tell you they have been uploaded. If we don’t reply within a couple of days, please let us know, as we sometimes miss one or two pictures.

Using the pictures

All of the photos are shared under a Creative Commons licence:

Attribution-NonCommercial
CC BY-NC

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

If you’re not happy with your pictures being shared and used in this way, please don’t send them! 🙂

Once they are on the flickr page, all of the images are available for teachers to use in their classrooms, for materials or for teaching-related blogposts. We would love to hear how you use them.

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