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

Posts tagged ‘reflection and action’

Watching myself teach – the encore

I have just submitted my Reflection and Action (RA) Stage 4 for my Delta, and it feels like a weight off my shoulders! The four stages are, briefly:

  1. Teach an experimental practice lesson, where you try something you have never done before.
  2. State your teaching beliefs, highlight your main weaknesses, create an action plan to deal with them and describe how you will collect data connected to your plan.
  3. Show how you have progressed with your action plan and what data collection methods have helped you. Create another action plan, highlighting different weaknesses if necessary.
  4. Describe your teaching beliefs now, and whether they have changed. Show what was most useful from the RA process and create a plan for the future (watch this space to find out how my blog will be incorporated into this).

I’ve already shared a video from a class I taught in January, and I learnt so much from it, I decided to do it again. The quality is a bit better this time, helped in large part to being in a bigger classroom! I have put up two excerpts here, which I would be interested to hear what you think of.

The group were B1 intermediate, mostly from Brazil, with one German and one Saudi. We were working on the money vocabulary from unit 2a of New English File Intermediate (pages 20 and 147), including listening to the song Ka-Ching. The lesson was 1h45.

The first video shows all of the times I gave instructions during the lesson, including a couple of remedial instructions when students didn’t understand. One student got very stressed because they really didn’t understand the first two exercises – I haven’t included this in the video, obviously, but I think it’s important to know that before you watch. Instructions are one of the areas I highlighted in my Stage 3 action plan, and I still need a lot of work on this. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I’ve tried writing instructions down, and have also audio recorded myself, but neither of these seem to have helped particularly. The only thing that seems to have changed is that I now use a few more instruction-checking questions, but clearly not enough! The same video also shows examples of me feeding back from exercises and drilling pronunciation.

The second video shows a focus on ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’, which were causing students some problems. There is a black-screen transition in the first video to show you the point at which this was covered in the lesson. (I divided them so you don’t have to watch 25 minutes if you don’t want to!)

Apart from looking for instructions suggestions, I’m not going to ask specific questions as I don’t want you to miss the gorilla 😉

Thanks in advance!

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Photo by me, shared on eltpics

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!

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? 

Reading a short story

This week, my colleague Lesley and I decided to work on a short story with our (two classes of) pre-intermediate students. We chose the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia. We have four hours a day with them, divided into two two-hour lessons, so we dedicated the afternoon lessons to the story.

This post is intended as a list of ideas for using a short story, rather than a series of lessons you could necessarily follow yourself. If you want to follow it exactly, you need to find an abridged version of the story – I can’t find a suitable one to link to, unfortunately.

Monday

We showed the students pictures of Irene Adler (x3), Dr. Watson (x4) and Sherlock Holmes (x4), in that order, taken from various TV and film adaptations of the story. The students had to describe the people and decide what they had in common. Until they got to the final group of pictures, they didn’t know it was connected to Sherlock Holmes. After each group, we wrote a set of sentences on the board about the characters (the names were added later).

Character sentences

We then brainstormed everything the students already knew about Sherlock Holmes. Of my seven students, one had read a short story and two had seen the film. This is what we came up with:

Sherlock Holmes mind mapAfter this preparation, it was time to start reading the story. I read aloud while the students followed. I stopped on the second page of our abridged copy, so that the students had seen the description of Adler, Holmes and Watson, giving them enough information to add attach the names to the pictures.

To stop the students from trying to understand every last word of the story, I asked them to highlight every word they understood in their copies. This idea was inspired by Kevin Stein and really motivated the students. I put % on the board, and asked them to estimate how much they had understood so far, getting answers from 70-99%. They then worked together to fill in some of the gaps, highlighting any extra words they understood. Estimating the percentage again after this exercise, all of the students raised it. I pointed out that they didn’t need to understand every word to understand the story, but that it’s a good idea to focus on a couple of new words, and this is where we left lesson one.

Turn into and outsmart

Lesley had decided to start from the title, discussing what a scandal was. I never ended up doing this explicitly, but should have done at some point.

Tuesday

On day two we started by recapping what the students remembered from the first two pages of the story. I showed them the Watson/Holmes pictures again, and asked them to decide which Watson assisted which Holmes, based purely on the images. For example, Jude Law with Robert Downey Jr. and Martin Freeman with Benedict Cumberbatch. We talked about how they decided, using clues like the age of the photo and the kind of clothes they were wearing, as well as prior knowledge of the film. This introduced the idea of observation, and linked to a quote I had on the board: “You see, but you do not observe.”

In the next page of the story, Holmes lists four things about Watson which he has observed:

  • Watson is enjoying married life.
  • He has put on weight.
  • He was caught in the rain recently.
  • He has returned to his career as a doctor.

The students had to identify the paragraph where Watson confirmed each observation by writing a key word next to it, which the students decided would be married, fat, rain, job. They were very motivated when they realised this was easy to do, as they had initially said they couldn’t understand.

For the next sections of the story, Lesley and I had prepared pictures taken from screenshots of a YouTube video. I haven’t uploaded these, as I think they are probably covered by copyright. The students had to read the part of the story where the King describes his problem, and match what he said to the pictures. They then worked together to complete a gapped summary of his problem:

Sherlock Holmes gapfillSherlock Holmes completed gapfillFor the last ten minutes, they divided a piece of paper into four and wrote sentences describing everything they knew about the four main characters. For example:

  • Sherlock Holmes: He is observant. He lives at 221B Baker Street.
  • Doctor Watson: He is married. He works with Sherlock Holmes.
  • Irene Adler: She is very clever. She has a photo of the King and her.
  • The King: He wants to get married. He needs Sherlock’s help.

Wednesday

We started by recapping the summary from the end of Tuesday’s lesson. The students were amazed at how much they could remember! They also added to their sentences as we’d run out of time on Tuesday.

The next part was picture-based again, this time with the students predicting what they were about to read about. They  had pictures of Sherlock Holmes in disguise as a tramp, Godfrey Norton arriving at Irene Adler’s house, then leaving, and Adler leaving. There was another summarising gapfill for them to complete at this point.

Once they had checked their answers, they had to guess what would happen next. They were right in suspecting that Norton and Adler would get married, but were surprised when they read and discovered that Sherlock Holmes was the witness!

To finish the lesson, we read about Holmes’ plan to get the King’s photo back from Adler.

By this point, the students were flagging a little, but I told them we would finish the story the next day and they perked up a bit!

Thursday

The students read about how Holmes and Watson put the plan into action. They then watched three short clips from the TV episode, showing:

To finish the story, the students had to say what they thought would happen in the final four pages, then read to check whether they were right or not.

They then started to work on an 8-10 sentence summary of the main events of the whole story, which they had to finish for homework.

Friday

All of the students did their homework 🙂 They worked together to decide which sentences were necessary in the summaries, as some students had written a lot more than eight to ten.

I divided the class into two groups of three/four students each. Each group had to choose any scene from the story and reenact it. They had about 25 minutes to plan what they would say and do (luckily there was a spare classroom next door). They then performed their scene, to much raucous laughter – one student played the King visiting Sherlock Holmes. In the story he is wearing a mask, but she made do with her sunglasses and headscarf, which none of us expected! It was probably much funnier being in the room, but affective filters were definitely lowered! While watching the scenes, the other group had to decide who was playing who, and which part of the story it was. The task wasn’t very difficult, but they had used a lot of English to prepare for it, and they really enjoyed it, as they told me afterwards.

For the final half hour of the week, we played Hot Seat/Backs to the Board, using words taken from the story. We hadn’t really focussed on anything in particular, but words and phrases the students had picked up and started using during the week included: witness, framed photograph, panel (which Adler hid the photo behind), tube (which the smoke bomb was made of), false alarm, observe, Your Majesty…

When I asked them to think back to the first lesson and how they felt when they first looked at the story, the students all said it looked hard, but that now they could understand. There was a great sense of achievement on looking around the room.

Doing it again

I definitely would! And I wouldn’t change much at all – the students were engaged, motivated, and picked up a lot of new language along the way. Hopefully it will inspire them to read a little more in English, and remind them that it’s not necessary to understand every word of something to get the main points. One student did go home and look up all of the unknown words on Monday evening, but that was the only time she did it.

The final lesson was one of the most entertaining I’ve had for a long time. The students were very motivated by the role play, and put a lot more energy into it than I expected. (The role play was included as part of my Delta Professional Development Assignment.)

What other ideas do you have for using short stories in class?

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.)

What shape is your classroom?

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Photo by me, also shared at http://flickr.com/eltpics, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Today, mine was plane-shaped. A simple thing like moving the chairs into a different formation, and me standing at the front giving a very brief safety briefing (In case of emergency, the fire exits are in that corner…), was enough to get students imagining they were on a plane and meeting strangers for the first time. It only took a couple of minutes to move the chairs, and it created the right atmosphere immediately.
It helped me to easily set up a role play – something which I’m trying to introduce to my lessons as part of my Delta reflection, by getting students in the right mindset. It was also easy to end the roleplay, as all I had to say was “Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the seatbelt sign and we will soon be coming in to land.”
Have you ever tried anything like this? Apart from buses and planes, what other environments have you created?
(This is the first in what I hope will become a series of shared mini reflections on some of the activities I try out during my Delta.)

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