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

Posts tagged ‘speaking’

Conversation shapes

Have you ever watched in despair as students have a ‘conversation’ which is actually just two monologues? Or tried in vain to interact with a student who only gives one-word answers, however encouraging you are?

I know when I’m B1 or below, it’s difficult for me to pull my weight in a conversation and I need a lot of support from whoever I’m talking to. In the classroom we can provide this support in a variety of ways. We can supply sentence stems that students can complete, we can show them the first two or three turns of a conversation, or we can provide them with a whole range of questions or other functional language which might be useful in the conversation they are having.

These are all interventions we can make before or during students speak in class. But what about after the conversation? How can you help students to reflect on the success of that conversation? Here’s one idea I haven’t tried yet but it would like to: show students the conversation shapes below and ask them these questions:

  • Which shape is like a conversation you might have in your own language?
  • How would you feel in each of these conversations if you were a person A or person B? How actively would you participate in the conversation in each example?
  • Which shape is like the conversation you just had? Do you think you were person A or person B?
  • How successful do you think it was as a conversation?
  • What could you change in the conversation you just had to make it more like shape 3? What help do you need from the teacher to do this?

Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with A talking a lot, and B saying almost nothing Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with both A and B producing a single long monologue Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with A and B taking turns of varying lengths, sometimes overlapping

You can download a PowerPoint of all of the images at Conversation shapes if you want to adapt them for your own lessons, though please retain the credit.

I think this activity is an example of metacognition, which is the act of monitoring and making changes to learning strategies you use. The reflection helps learners to become aware of the processes they use when they are having a conversation, and what they can do to have more successful conversations in the future. Here’s a beginner’s guide to metacognition from Cambridge.

What other strategies do you use to help learners have more successful conversations?

100 ideas for exploiting activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competence (mindsets and self-determination)

Autonomy (give choices, learning strategies)

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

Do (action to beat boredom)

Oh! (grab and keep their attention)

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

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

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

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

Richer Speaking cover

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

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

Enjoy 🙂

Richer Speaking: how to get more out of speaking activities (IH Barcelona conference 2020)

On 8th February 2020, I had the pleasure of presenting at the IH Barcelona 2020 conference. I shared 4 activities from Richer Speaking, my ebook of 16 ways to get more out of the speaking activities you do in class with minimal extra preparation. 

To find the full details of the richer activities, plus another 12 ways to extend speaking activities, get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]. It costs around $1/€1, so shouldn’t break the bank! As always, I don’t claim that these ideas are original, but it’s handy to have them in one place and see how they can be applied to specific activities.

If you’d like more reflection activities, you can find all the links to buy ELT Playbook 1 at eltplaybook.wordpress.com. There’s a 10% discount until 29th February 2020 if you buy it via Smashwords [affiliate link] using the code WG94S.

Here are my slides:

 

I did a version of this presentation in July 2019 which I’ve fully written out here.

Thank you to those who attended my talk, and I’d be really interested to hear from you if you try out any of these activities in your classroom. And don’t forget to get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]!

Hollywood meets an old people’s home

In a collaborative planning meeting today, we came up with a plan for a speaking lesson based around a single activity from Speakout Intermediate called ‘My life in film’. The image below is taken from the 1st edition, and we were working with the 2nd edition.

A film strip with five boxes: Early days, then, later, a big decision, now

The groups we were planning for have a mix of ages from 16 to 60+, so we thought of a tweak to level the playing field and make sure everybody was starting from the same point. Here’s how the lesson goes:

Guided visualisation

Students close their eyes, and the teacher says something along these lines, pausing at appropriate points for students to think:

You’re 80 years old and you’re in an old people’s home. Look around you. What can you see? How do you feel right now? Go out of the room and down the corridor. Where are you going? Who is walking past you? Where are you going?

It’s time for lunch. What are you eating? What can you smell? What can you hear?

You get some visitors. Who are they? How do you know them? How long have you known them for? What do you talk about? How do you feel about their visit?

After a suitable pause, students tell a partner what they experienced in the old people’s home. As feedback, elicit a couple of general impressions from the visualisation – don’t ask students to repeat whole chunks of what they experienced, as the pace will probably drop and others won’t be particularly interested.

Setting up the situation

Tell students that a film director has come to the old people’s home. They want to choose somebody’s story to turn into a film.

Display the film strip from Speakout and elicit ideas for how to complete it for you (the teacher) – demonstrate just taking notes.

Planning time

Give students about 5 minutes to make notes in their own film strips, including asking you for extra vocabulary. They can be as true or as creative as they like.

Getting into role

As a class, brainstorm one or two ideas of questions/comments directors could use to find out more from the old people in the home and to respond to the stories they hear. For example: ‘That can’t be true!’ ‘What happened after that?’ Students think of more ideas in pairs. As feedback, get them to (simultaneously) write the ideas on the board or use something like mentimeter to submit them electronically.

Pitching ideas

Arrange students into a ladder, with two lines of chairs facing each other. One line will be the directors, the other the old people.

The old people have 3-5 minutes to talk about their lives, while the directors listen and ask questions to find out more.

After each turn, directors move along one seat. The old people stay seated as it’s harder for them to be mobile!

The teacher sits either beyond one row or at the end of the ladder and takes notes on what they are – we are using this activity as a speaking assessment, and this gives the teacher lots of chances/time to listen to the students.

Making a choice

The directors listen to three old people, then choose the person whose story they’d most like to film and write their name on a piece of paper in secret.

Directors and old people switch roles and the pitches and choice stages are repeated.

Off to Hollywood!

Students discuss in new pairs which stories they particularly enjoyed listening to and why. Meanwhile, the teacher looks at all of the names, then declares whose stories will be filmed as a way of feeding back on the content of what the students have said.

For language feedback, the teacher can share some of the great language they heard, and/or highlight some problem areas for students to work on.

If you try this activity out, I’d love to know whether your students get into it. It’s always fun to plan things like this, but I don’t get to use them myself very often!

What I learnt at the ETAI 40th anniversary conference

On 3rd and 4th July 2019 I attended the English Teachers’ Association of Israel (ETAI) international conference. They were celebrating their 40th anniversary, so there were a few special events. This included a musical celebration hosted by Leo Selivan and Jane Cohen, which I really enjoyed. Attendees were mostly from Israel, but Poland, Serbia, Greece, Austria, and other countries were also represented. I learnt a lot about how the Israeli school system works, and particularly the shift to try to get more speaking in the classroom, hence my own session on Richer Speaking.

Ideas from the conference

Penny Ur has written A guide to talking which is a useful beginner’s guide for getting more speaking in your classroom, including a selection of ready-to-use activities.

There are resources available for 7th grade students to help teachers get their students comfortable with speaking (aged around 12). Let’s Talk includes games to teach the language of basic role plays. We were shown these by Rachelle Borenstein and Renee Binyamini.

Early on in her courses, Timna Hurwich asks her students to discuss the Einstein quote below and answer the questions ‘When is a mistake good?’ ‘When is a mistake bad?’

I happened to see the same quote in this street art two days before this conference presentation!

Mitzi Geffen said “There is no glue on the bottom of your shoes!” which I think is a great way to remind teachers to move around the classroom, or ‘circulate and facilitate’ as she put it.

She shared how she helps reluctant students get over their fear of speaking in an achievable way, in this case when she wanted them to talk about a project they had done at home.

  • Step 1: each person stands at the front and says “My name is [Sandy] and my project is about [Einstein].” Everybody claps. They sit down again. When they’ve all done that, Mitzi points out that they all spoke and nothing bad happened!
  • Step 2: in the next lesson, other students have to ask questions about the project. They can use the questions they based their project research on. As everybody has the same questions, it’s easy to be successful, and takes the pressure off the presenter to work out what to say next.

Mitzi also suggested a really simple structure for brainstorming ideas for a debate, using the phrases “Yes, and…” or “Yes, but…” Anybody can add an idea. For example:

  • Chocolate is really delicious.
  • Yes, but it’s unhealthy if you eat too much.
  • Yes, and you can get fat.
  • Yes, but you can exercise more.
  • Yes, but exercise makes you tired.
  • etc.

Marta Bujakowska woke us up with a series of lively activities, including a conditional chain of actions, and countable/uncountable conversations. I’ve asked her to write a guest post so won’t say any more here!

James Kennard suggested we rethink some of the terminology connected to leadership and management. He emphasises that we often talk about them both like they should be part of the same job, but that the role is almost always given the title ‘manager’, unless you’re in a political party! Would it make a difference if we changed the terminology? He tried it at his school and it didn’t change much, but still something to think about. He also believes that ‘focus’ is a better word than ‘vision’ when it comes to describing your priorities as an organisation. Leaders need to identify the focus of the organisation and articulate it to others, so that members of the organisation can make the right decisions every time, in line with this focus.

Books as bridges: why representation matters

The two talks given by Anne Sibley O’Brien were probably the most influential for me. She was born in the United States, but when she was 7 her family moved to Korea, and she grew up there. You can read more about her story in the interview Naomi Epstein did with her. Her background has led Anne to work in diversity education, and she is the author and illustrator of various children’s books. She talked about the development of our identities, including racial identities, bias, and contact theory. Her perspective is unusual as she grew up with a minority identity, but a privileged one. We all have a mixture of identities, and generally some of them fall into majority and some into minority categories.

We learn who we are by the mirrors that are held up to us and what is made salient to us.

For Anne, she was constantly told that she was American and white, but her Korean friends were never told they were Korean, thus emphasising her difference. Majority identities are taken for granted because they are ‘normal’ and they end up disappearing. Minority identities are highlighted and everything you do becomes tied to that identity.

For example, consider being the only girl in a football team, versus being a boy in the same team. The fact of being a boy is unlikely to be commented on in this case, whereas being a girl will probably always be commented on. Members of a majority identity stop seeing what is actually there or can never see it, whereas members of a minority identities can often say quite incisive things about the majority identity because they have to be aware of the other side too, not just their own. For example, white Americans often don’t see how race affects the everyday lives of non-whites.

Children already notice racial and cultural differences from a very young age – I think Anne said that it’s around 6 months old. They get their attitudes about race from community norms, more than from parental norms (consider the analogy of accents and where children pick them up from) and from their environment, including who visits their house and what is and isn’t talked about. Three year olds already know that we don’t talk about skin colour. Consider when you’re describing pictures in a book to a child: you would probably say that it’s a blue ball, or a yellow car, but you’re unlikely to say it’s a brown or a pink baby. This is an example of our silence when it comes to race.

We all see the world through lenses, but we’re often not aware of what we see.

Our brain uses cognitive processes to make it easier for us to deal with the world. It sorts things in an unbiased way all the time, for example familiar/unfamiliar, same/different, like me/not like me, etc. This sorting initially does not contain judgement, but then we layer associations onto the categories, which can add bias. For example, same = good, different = bad.

The brain creates bias based on what it’s fed. If it only sees ‘white’, it will create white bias, but by making conscious decisions about what we feed our brains, we can change the bias. We all carry bias, but if we don’t understand this, how can we help others? If you’d like to find out more about your own biases, Anne recommends projectimplicit.net.

We can also help children by referencing people they know and books they have read to start a discussion about race, instead of staying silent.

Aren’t we amazingly different? Look how we’re the same!

As we get to know each other, it can reduce prejudice and inter-group anxiety. This is known as contact theory. Anne has worked on something called The Storybook Project (?), where children and their teachers looked at 1 book a week for 6 weeks showing positive interactions between people of different races, followed by a short discussion of how much fun the children are having in the book. They found this made a difference to how children felt about interacting with people from the groups represented.

She also works on the diversebookfinder.org website to help people think about who is represented in the books they use, and how. Are there interactions between two named characters of different races? Are they positive?

Her two latest books I’m New Here and Someone New [Amazon affiliate links] tell the same story of three children arriving at a new school (one Guatamalan, one Korean, one Somali) from the perspective of the children themselves in the first book, and from the perspective of the other children in the class who don’t know how to react in the second book. I will definitely be getting copies of these!

Thank you to everyone at ETAI for organising the conference, and especially to Naomi Epstein and Leo Selivan who encouraged me to attend. As you can see, I had a really good time!

Richer Speaking: how to get more out of speaking activities (ETAI 2019)

On 4th July 2019, I had the privilege of presenting at the English Teachers Association of Israel (ETAI) 40th anniversary international conference. Here is a summary of my talk:

Richer Speaking: how to get more out of speaking activities

This session will demonstrate a range of low-preparation ways to adapt speaking activities that appear in coursebooks and other materials, based on my self-published book ‘Richer Speaking. These adaptations are aimed at helping students to speak comfortably for longer and produce higher quality language while minimising the effort for you!

To find the full details of the richer activities, plus another 12 ways to extend speaking activities, get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]. It costs around $1/€1, so shouldn’t break the bank! As always, I don’t claim that these ideas are original, but it’s handy to have them in one place and see how they can be applied to specific activities.

Richer Speaking cover

What do I want to know?

Original activity

Tell your partner about you.

Richer activity

Before speaking, come up with three questions you want to know the answers to. Pool the questions with a partner and add two more to your list. Tell your partner about you. If your partner gets stuck, ask one of your questions.

Feedback stage

Did you find out what you wanted to know?

Rationale

This gives students a real reason to listen, and helps them come up with ideas for their own speaking turn too. It also helps to create more of a conversation instead of two monologues.

Language challenge

Original activity

Any list of conversation questions.

Richer activity

Answer the conversation questions. Afterwards, list the language you used (either in English or your own language). For example:

  • Grammar: tenses, sentence structures (conditionals? relative clauses? etc.), modal verbs…
  • Vocabulary: phrases, collocations, key words…
  • Pronunciation: intonation, stress for emphasis…

Consider what other language you could use. Look at your notebook or coursebook to help you. Change partners and repeat the activity.

Feedback stage

Did you use all of the language on your longer list?

Rationale

This challenges students to use a wider range of language and adds a reason for them to repeat the same speaking activity. It can be particularly good for exam students who need to show off the range of language they know.

Who am I?

Original activity

A role play. In the session I used one from Now You’re Talking! 2 by Rivka Lichtner (A.E.L. Publications, 2018) where an Israeli teenager sees an American celebrity on the street. The teenager thinks the celebrity looks familiar and tries to speak to them, while the celebrity is on holiday and wants to hide their identity. [I love this idea!]

Richer activity

Create a mini biography for a teenager or celebrity in this situation. Here are some ideas:

  • Celebrity: Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you visiting Israel? Why are you hiding?
  • Teen: Who are you? Who do you think the celebrity is? Why do you want to talk to them?
  • Both: How do you feel right now? Why? What did you do before the conversation? What are your plans later?

Optionally, exchange biographies with another student. Read your biography, then put it away. Meet as many celebrities/teens as you can in the time limit.

Feedback stage

Teens: Did you find out who the celebrities were?

Celebrities: Did you hide successfully?

Rationale

By giving students time to prepare before they speak, they can get into the role more fully and the role play should be much more interesting for them. Adding dimensions such as feelings and how this conversation fits into the character’s whole day can make it feel more realistic and part of a larger story.

Not me, you!

Original activity

Talking about why two cartoons are funny. Again, the cartoons in my session were taken from from Now You’re Talking! 2.

Richer activity

For 1 minute, think of as many reasons as you can for why these cartoons are funny. Choose an object with your partner (for example, a pen or a coin). List ways that you can pass a conversation over to a partner. For example:

  • What do you think?
  • Do you agree?
  • How about…?
  • I really don’t think…, but maybe you do?

Have a conversation with your partner. Every time you pass the conversation to them, give them the object. When the teacher says stop, you shouldn’t be holding your object! Don’t be the last person speaking!

Feedback stage

Who is holding the object?

Rationale

Because students don’t want to lose the game, they push themselves to find something else to say to be able to hand over the conversation to their partners. This extends the conversation and gives them turn-taking practice.

Reflection

ELT Playbook 1 cover

To finish off the session, we used these reflection questions based loosely on ‘Supporting students in speaking tasks’, an activity from ELT Playbook 1.

  • Choose 2-3 speaking activities you’ve done in the last school year. Could you adapt them using these ideas?
  • Do you often include stages like these? Why (not)?
  • What other support do/could you give your students to help them:
    • prepare to speak?
    • speak for longer?
    • repeat activities in a varied way?
    • have a clear reason to listen?

If you’d like more reflection activities like this, you can find all the links to buy ELT Playbook 1 at eltplaybook.wordpress.com. There’s a 10% discount until 31st July 2019 if you buy it via Smashwords [affiliate link] using the code YM64U.

Thank you to those who attended my talk, and I’d be really interested to hear from you if you try out any of these activities in your classroom. And don’t forget to get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]!

Why won’t they speak?!

Following on from Monday’s lesson, I deliberately made sure that my intermediate class today would have lots of opportunities to speak, starting immediately with the first activity. I hoped this would make a difference to the atmosphere in the room, and briefly, it did. After a while though, regardless of what I tried to do to get a response, it seemed that nobody wanted to say anything. I’d done everything ‘right’: put them in pairs, given them thinking time, played music (at their request) so they weren’t speaking into silence, suggested possible answers (yes, no, maybe for some questions), given them chance to make decisions (do you want to listen to anything again, or shall we move on?) and was generally greeted with silence, increasingly so as the lesson progressed. There were only 6 students, we’ve been working together since the end of September, and they seem to be quieter and quieter rather than more confident as the year goes on. They get on well with each other, and have been happy to speak to everyone else in class when we do mingling activities. I’d spoken to each of them individually during tutorials before our winter holiday in February, and talked about reasons to speak more and what might be stopping them. I know that none of them are particularly introverted in Polish and have regularly heard them conversing without any problems, even with people they don’t know. So what was stopping them?

I decided to ‘pause’ the lesson as we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. On the board I wrote a long list of possible reasons that could be stopping them from speaking, then stood in front of it and told them about my experience of learning Polish. I didn’t speak at all really during my first year, once I’d realised that I was mixing Czech, Russian and Polish and people couldn’t understand me. The turning point came when I went for a flamenco weekend. When people asked me conversational questions, I had two choices: ignore them and stay silent, or try to reply. Because I felt comfortable, I tried to reply, and this made me realise people could understand me, which was the kick-start I needed to start speaking. I haven’t really looked back since. I asked the students to look at the list of reasons on the board and write as many of them as necessary on paper I gave them, or any other reasons they may have for being reluctant to speak. Here are some of them (I probably had about 15 in all, but don’t remember them all now):

  • I don’t know enough words.
  • I’m worried about my grammar.
  • I’m worried about my pronunciation.
  • I’m not interested in the topics.
  • I don’t have enough time to think.
  • It’s too quiet in here.
  • Sandy scares me – she puts too much pressure on us.
  • I don’t have any ideas.

A couple of students mentioned being tired, and one said ‘Just a bad day’. Afterwards I asked them if they’d be comfortable sharing their feelings with their classmates. They agreed, so I put them in a circle and left the room, telling them they could choose whether to speak Polish or English, and suggesting they respond to each other, not just listing their ideas, telling each other whether they feel the same. They opted to have the discussion in Polish, and exchanged a little, though it was mostly monologuing. I could hear some of it from outside, but the background music and my intermediate Polish meant I couldn’t catch all of it.

When I returned to the room, I then spoke to them in my best Polish, saying something along the lines of ‘Language is communication. You’re here because you want to speak more, but if you come and sit in silence, then it’s just grammar, and you can do that at home. I’m making a lot of mistakes right now, but you can understand me, right? Grammar is not the important thing, communication is.’ I then switched into English and said that I’m tired too, and while I can try to give all 7 of us energy, it’s hard work and I need them to help me. I also explained a bit about the process of learning, going from knowing nothing to things being automatic, saying that some bits of their English are already automatic, things like using ‘I’ in the first person, or being able to spell ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without thinking about it. To help them make more things automatic, I need to be able to hear them so I can correct them if necessary, and they need to practise more.

We spent the last few minutes coming up with either/or debate topics, like cats or dogs, winter or summer, PC or PS…which they wrote all over the board. They will be the topics for a speaking assessment we’ll do next lesson, when I’ll see whether they can use the phrases for giving examples and expressing your opinion which were the actual topic of today’s lesson, as well as monitoring their interactive communication. They’ve got five days to think about what we discussed, practice the phrases and mentally prepare themselves for the assessment – I told them what it would involve and what they’d be marked on. I’ll be interested to see if any of this makes a difference…

At the end of the lesson, one of the students checked a bit of extra homework she’d done, and stayed for longer than the rest. I asked her if she thought this kind of discussion was useful, and she said she hoped it would help. She mentioned that at school, sitting in silence and listening to the teacher is considered respectful, and at uni you sit in silence because you’re taking notes, and you work out how to understand them later, so this is quite different for her now she’s an adult. As well as contained this idea to make me think, it was also the longest stretch of English I’ve heard from her all year. As I keep telling all of them, they’re much better than they think they are!

Colouful speech bubbles

Discussing it with my colleagues afterwards, one suggested that it could also be because we’re at (I hope!) the tail end of winter, a lot of students have been ill recently, it’s still dark and pretty cold, and maybe that’s tipping over into a relative lack of enthusiasm in the classroom – it’s definitely reduced as the year has progressed. Another said it could be a good idea to ask them to have discussions in Polish first, then in English, which I’m certainly going to try. I’ve only ever used that strategy once or twice, and it’s always worked before. She also suggested getting them to set goals, even if it’s just ‘I’ll answer three questions in class before Easter.’ That fits in quite nicely with the topic of our next lesson.

Do you have any other thoughts or suggestions on this? I’m not sure I’ve ever had a class quite this silent before!

Why should they care?

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

Do you recognise any of these situations?

Speaking

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

Tell your partner what you did at the weekend.

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

Why should they care?

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

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

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

Writing

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

Why should they care?

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

Listening

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

A straw bale

Image from Pixabay

Why should they care?

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

Reading

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

Why should they care?

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

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

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

Grammar points

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

Why should they care?

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

Vocabulary

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

Why should they care?

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

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

Pronunciation

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

Why should they care?

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

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

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

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

An accidental discovery

When I was looking through my diaries yesterday to write my post about starting different teaching jobs, I opened a diary at random and came across a folded handout:

Speaking games handout

What was so confusing was that it was from 16th June 2005, so two years before I started CELTA, and I had no memory of it at all. At that point I was coming to the end of my first year at Durham University, and it was just after our exam period had finished.

When I opened it up, it said:

Thank you for helping us out today! We hope that your participation will be fun and helpful to the students. This worksheet will give you some background information and ideas for activities to help the students with their speaking on Saturday.

The exam

The students are sitting the Cambridge KET exam. The oral paper lasts about twelve minutes. [The exam was then described.]

Today’s Exercise

To prepare for the test, it is important that they gain confidence in speaking to and understanding people they have never met before, perhaps with accents to which they are not accustomed. It is also important for them to have practice with the exam tasks in a ‘real’ situation outside the classroom. […]

We will start by dividing the students into groups with an even number of volunteers in each group. You can then take your group into another classroom or area where you can do a number of icebreaker games, followed by some more formal conversation practice, for about 90 minutes. Then we would like you to take your groups into Durham to give them practice in making questions and finding and relaying information as they will in section 2 of the exam.

Overleaf are a number of activity ideas for you to try. You don’t have to do them all, and you can use your own judgement about which activities will work, and if you have your own ideas please feel free to try them.

Most importantly – have fun!

On reading my diary entry, it turned out that this was for Japanese students who studied at Teikyo University’s Durham campus.

I really like this way of helping the students to meet people outside their campus, and to make exam practice more realistic for them. It’s also a great example of how you can show non-teachers what to do to help them to interact with and assist learners, without it being too much of a strain for either of them.

Sadly I didn’t write anything about how I felt about participating, but I’m assuming it wasn’t that traumatic or dramatic as it had completely disappeared from my memory. I wonder if there are any other teaching connections hidden in my diaries? 🙂

On immersion

For the past six weeks or so I have been sharing a flat with a couple who only speak a few words of English and German. When I moved in my Polish was probably hovering around A2, having received a boost over the summer from my reading, writing and use of a grammar book. I was still quite hesitant about speaking, and had only really started to build my confidence during a weekend away organised by my flamenco teacher, again with a few people who didn’t speak any English but who still wanted to communicate with me. Both the people on the flamenco weekend and the couple I was living with were great interlocutors for me, patient, happy to rephrase and repeat themselves as much as necessary, and supporting me in trying to communicate my ideas. The woman I lived with was also very good at correcting me consistently which had a massive impact on my grammar.

One of two kittens entertaining us when we weren't dancing flamenco :)

One of two kittens entertaining us when we weren’t dancing flamenco 🙂

Six weeks on, it’s like I’m a different person. I feel like my Polish is probably now into B1. I can speak about most everyday things, my accuracy has improved in quite a few areas, and my confidence is at similar levels to my much stronger languages. I’m not normally shy about pushing myself to speak, which is why the last year has been so strange for me as I was very reluctant to speak Polish if I didn’t have to. I felt like I didn’t really know what language I was speaking in, and it was a real mix of Polish, Czech and Russian. I’m very glad to be past that point, and feel like I’m now in a very good place to continue improving.

On reflection, I’m also wondering whether having such a long (almost) silent period has also helped me to speak more fluently and more confidently at this point than at the same point with other languages. A year of building my vocabulary and listening to and reading whatever I could has certainly helped me improve my understanding, and I feel it’s also made me more accurate when I finally did speak, although I’m sure Czech and Russian probably also had something to do with it.

This is the most conscious I’ve ever been of my speaking progress, as I’ve either already been at least B2 when I’ve been immersed in a language, or I haven’t been in a complete immersion situation for more than a couple of hours at a time. Six weeks of having to speak Polish most mornings and evenings for at least a few minutes meant I had no choice but to communicate. Talking about things which were relevant to me and trying to explain things which had happened during a very eventful few weeks, sometimes with Mr. Google’s help, extended my language and provided a huge amount of motivation.

I know that it’s theoretically possible to create similar situations through the use of Skype conversation partners for example, but I’ve never had the motivation to do it before, confident that I’d eventually learn as much as I needed to through constantly plugging away at the language. After this experience of immersion, I think I might try harder to recreate it with the next language I want to study (not sure what yet!)

I’ve only had two or three Polish lessons, and I’m wondering just how much and how accurately I can learn without having any, even though I know I definitely want some at some point as I need correction. Watch this space…

English on the train

[A quick post from this afternoon…]

I’m on my way to Warsaw for a weekend on a part-time CELTA. All of the announcements on this modern train are in Polish and English.

The young woman next to me is reading a biography of Morrissey in English, but her phone is in Polish. It’s quite a challenging read from the snippets I’ve looked at, so she’s clearly a confident English user. She’s near the end of the book.

A cheeky Amazon affiliate link to a game I really enjoy 😉

A few rows in front of me, four students from different countries are playing Monopoly Deal, using cards written in English. There is at least one French person and one Polish. I’m not sure about the other nationalities, but all of them are using English fluently as a second language. Three of them are familiar with the game already, and one is learning. In the course of the game, she is asking a series of questions and clarifying the rules with the other three players. There is a lot of laughter and joking, and they’re clearly enjoying themselves. Accents make no difference, nor do grammar mistakes. They are using English to communicate and it is working for them. It’s a pleasure to listen to them negotiating meaning so fluently and without worrying about what they are saying. [They carried this on for the entire three hour journey – great work!]

Richer Speaking – my first book

I’m very excited to announce that I have written and published my very first ebook:

Richer Speaking cover

Cover designed by Luke Meddings at the round

Here’s the blurb:

Are you tired of your students running out of things to say? This book will show you 12 different ways to adapt a wide range of speaking activities to get more out of them in the classroom, divided into four categories:
– Preparing to speak
– Adding repetition
– Extending speech
– Having a reason to listen
There is a full index showing you what kind of activities the techniques work particularly well with, as well as worked examples of each technique in action. All of them are ready to take into the classroom with the minimum of preparation.

Richer Speaking is available to purchase at Smashwords and Amazon [affiliate links] and costs less than 1USD. It’s part of the round minis series, all of which you can spot on their titles page by looking for similar covers to mine, and all available at the same bargain price.

I could never have done this without the help and encouragement of Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings at the round and editor Karen White, as well as the people who helped me come up with some of the ideas included in the book. Thank you so much!

I hope you find Richer Speaking useful, and I would of course appreciate any and all feedback which you have.

Enjoy!

Reviews

I’ll try to collect any reviews that I see here. Thanks to everyone who has said such nice things about the book!

A review in the English Australia journal, Vol. 32 number 2 (p82-83)

Activities for Christmas and New Year (BELTA webinar)

On Sunday December 13th 2015 I did a webinar for the Sundays with BELTA series from the Belgian English Language Teachers’ Association.

Sandy - Sundays with BELTA square poster

Here are the slides from my presentation, including links to all of the activities.

All of the links are below, just in case you can’t see them or click on them on the slides:

Many of the activities should be self-explanatory, but if not, you can watch the recording to find out how to run the activity. If you’re a BELTA member, you can watch recordings of webinars from the past six months. Anyone can watch older webinars from the series. My recording should be freely available to all from July 2016.

I’d be interested to hear how you use the activities in your own classrooms, and what adaptations you needed to make to fit your context.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Hobby circles

I came up with this activity for our getting to know you session during induction week at IH Bydgoszcz this year, so I’ve only used it with teachers, not students. I’d be interested to know how it works with real classes! I was inspired to create it by seeing the list of hobbies on our new teachers’ CVs, and I realised that it can take a while to discover which free time activities we have in common. I hope this can prove something of a shortcut. Thanks to Lizzie Pinard for helping me to figure out how to run the activity.

  1. Students draw three circles on a piece of paper.
    Three circles
  2. In each circle, they write one of their hobbies.
    Three hobbies in circles
  3. The teacher introduces and drills functional language appropriate to the level.
    For example, at lower levels you might introduce:
    “I love _____. Do you?”
    “Me too.” / “Not really. I prefer ______”
    Or at higher levels:
    “Would you be interested in _________?”
    “I’d love to.” / “I’m not really into that. I’d rather _______”
  4. Demonstrate the activity with teacher-student, then student-student in open class.
    The teacher says “I love hiking. Do you?”
    If the student says, “Me too”, the teacher writes their name in the circle and asks another question to find out more, noting that information too. For example “Where do you go hiking?”
    Student name in circle if me too
    If the student says, “Not really. I prefer going to the cinema.”, the teacher writes their name and the hobby outside the circles, and again asks one more question to find out more.
    Student name outside if not really
  5. Students mingle and speak to as many people as possible to find out about their hobbies.
  6. Students sit with a partner and share what they learnt. They could also say if there are any hobbies they’d like to try or find out more about. Again, functional language could be introduced here to help students discuss their answers more easily, especially at lower levels: “I love hiking, and so do Maria and Ahmed.” “Stefan likes reading science fiction and he said Terry Pratchett is really good, so maybe I’ll read one of his books.”
  7. Possible open class feedback options would be: “Put your hand up if you found somebody with the same hobby as you.” and/or “Who has the most interesting hobby?”

Update

Tekhnologic took this idea and ran with it, creating video diagrams showing how to set it up and introducing a Venn version which I think is an improvement on the original!

Out of the window

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

The view from our classroom

The view from our classroom at IH Sevastopol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Useful links for CELTA

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

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

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

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

Before the course

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although the interviews on Adi Rajan’s blog are called ‘Life after CELTA‘, they give you a great idea of what different professionals at various stages of their careers got out of the CELTA course and why it was worth doing, even if they already had a PhD in one example! My favourite quote is from Vaidehi Kenia:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lesson planning

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

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

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

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

Jo Gakonga has three webinars connected to lesson planning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Classroom management and activity set-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Teaching receptive skills

Reading

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

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

Listening

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

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

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

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

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Teaching productive skills

Speaking

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

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Teaching language

General

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

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

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

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

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

Grammar

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

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Vocabulary/Lexis

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

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Functions

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

Pronunciation

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

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

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

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

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

Jo Gakonga has webinars on connected speech:

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Classroom techniques

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

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

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

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Observing and being observed

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

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

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

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Teaching in different contexts

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

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

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Assignments

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

Focus on the learner

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

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

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

Language-related tasks (language awareness)

See links in the Teaching language section of this post.

Skills-related tasks (authentic materials)

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

Lessons from the classroom

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

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

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Surviving the course

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

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

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

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

50 ways to take a break

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

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

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After the course

You’ve survived! Well done! Now what?

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

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

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

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

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If this list isn’t enough for you:

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For CELTA trainers

(Just so you don’t feel left out!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Everything else

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

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

How to set up an information gap

Information gap set up reminder

What do you mean, you don’t understand? 😉 The face you’re pulling right now is the one which the students will show you if you attempt to set up a ‘complicated’ speaking activity and the instructions go wrong. Information gaps are activities which can work brilliantly if you set them up efficiently, and fall completely flat if you don’t.

Before we go any further, what exactly is an information gap?

An information gap task is a technique in language teaching where students are missing information necessary to complete a task or solve a problem, and must communicate with their classmates to fill in the gaps. It is often used in communicative language teaching and task-based language learning.

Wikipedia

They’re very common in coursebooks, and are often used to practise specific language points at the ‘freer practice’ stage of a lesson, but they can easily be used for fluency practice without a particular grammatical focus too. Boggle’s World ESL has some examples if you’re still a bit confused.

Here’s a simple guide to setting one up, including some potential problems so you can think about whether/how you’ll check instructions.

Step 1: Allocating roles

Tell your students what role they will take in the info gap.Don’t move the students yet! To make the rest of this explanation easier, I’ll say you’re doing one with two sets of information, so roles ‘A’ and ‘B’. A ‘C’ in brackets shows what you would do with an info gap with three sets of information.

Potential problems and possible solutions

The wrong number of students, e.g. an odd number when you need pairs.
Don’t work with the leftover student – you need to be free to monitor and help! Instead, have two As or Bs in one pair, and tell them how to share the work, e.g. take it in turns to ask/answer a question. Think carefully about who your two As/Bs should be to make sure you don’t end up with a strong student doing all the work or a less dominant student with no opportunity to speak because their partner won’t let them get a word in.

Students can’t remember which role you allocated.
Before you go any further, ask them to put up their hands to check they know who they are: “Who’s A? Who’s B?”

Step 2: Preparation time

Before your students speak, they need time to understand the task and work out what they’re going to say. Group As together and Bs together: AAA BBB (CCC) to prepare. For example, for a question and answer task they could work out the questions. For a ‘describe your picture’ type task, they could describe the picture they have to each other. This will give them a chance to rehearse and to ask you for any language they need.

Potential problems and possible solutions

Students start trying to do the actual information gap.
Make it clear that this is preparation time and that e.g. they should only write the questions, not answer them – their partner will do that later.

Step 3: Information gap

Your students should now be ready to do the task. Regroup them AB(C) AB(C) AB(C). When they’re sitting in the right places, tell them exactly what they need to do. Something like this:

A, you ask your questions. B, you answer them. Then B, you ask, and A, you answer.

or

A, tell B one thing in your picture. B, tell A if it’s the same or different to your picture. If it’s different, circle it. Then B, tell A one thing in your picture. Find 8 differences between your pictures. Don’t look at the other picture.

Potential problems and possible solutions

Students speak their own language.
This is natural if the task is too difficult for them. They may not have had enough preparation time, so you could give them more. Encourage them to speak English, and tell them you realise that English might be slower, but they need practice to help them get faster!

They look at each other’s paper/sheet/picture etc.
When giving your instructions, check carefully that students know they’re not allowed to look. You can also seat them back to back:

Back to back

or in two rows facing each other with a large gap between. Bear in mind that this may create noise issues, although that can encourage quieter students to speak more loudly to make themselves heard, and helps students to get practice with phrases like “Can you say that again please?”

Students forget to write the answers/circle the differences etc.
Check that they know what to do, and monitor during the activity so that you can remind them if you need to.

Step 4: Checking the answers

If students should now have all of the same information on their paper, they can compare their sheets side by side to spot differences/mistakes/missing information etc.

Otherwise, it’s good to return students to their original AAA BBB (CCC) groups to share the things they found out.

Step 5: Feedback

Don’t forget this stage! You need two parts:

  • Feedback on content: This can be as simple as ‘Did you find all of the differences?’ or ‘Did you both get all of the information right?’, followed by further checking of the problem areas.
  • Feedback on language: While you were monitoring, you were (hopefully!) taking notes of some of the language students were using successfully and any problems they may have had. Choose a few of these to focus on, and make sure you praise the good language too.

If I’ve done my job right, the image at the top should now make perfect sense 🙂 I made it off the cuff during a CELTA input session when the trainees asked me how to do this, and I thought it might be useful for others too. I hope it works!

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]

How I’m learning Russian

I’d hate to have me as a student.

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

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

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

Russian clothes on the board

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Russian notebook

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

Sentence cards

Sentence cards with pictures

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

Russian tense summary

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

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

Russian has taken over my kitchen!

Russian has taken over my fridge!

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

My vocabulary notebook - pictures

With pictures and colours where possible…

My vocabulary notebook - English

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

My vocabulary notebook - mix of pictures and English

With colour-coding to show grammar patterns

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

Russian index cards

Verb conjugation, time and reflexives

Index cards everywhere! Time time time...

Time index cards, showing colour-coding

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

Index cards everywhere!

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

On the front door

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

Surrounded with postcards to be more interesting!

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

This is what my desk looks like in the process:

My desk when I'm studying Russian

 

Some conclusions

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

Some methodological terms which I can hear you shouting at me

Comprehensible input

Lexical approach

Repetition

Dogme

What did I forget?

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

Drawing dictations

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

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

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

Drawing dictation images

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

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

How to challenge yourself

Challenge considered

This was a lesson plan in the form of a presentation I put together for the weekly 90-minute English Speaking Club at IH Sevastopol. The notes for the plan are visible when you download the presentation (in the notes pane, normally found under the slides):

Here is the SMART goals jigsaw reading (jigsaw reading is where you divide a text into sections. Student A reads part A, B reads part B, C reads C and so on. They don’t see the other parts. They then work together, with or without the text, to build the meaning of the whole by sharing information from their own parts.):

There are also tapescripts to accompany the two videos, which could be mined for language if you choose (that wasn’t the purpose of this club):

It was the first topic for the speaking club for 2014, and hopefully we’ll revisit the goals the students set for themselves later in the year. Unfortunately I was ill, but my colleague taught it and said it went well. Let me know what you think!

FCE Speaking part 3 and the L1

My FCE students sounded really stilted when they tried to do this speaking part 3 in class today (taken from the FCE Gold Plus student’s book, page 87). If you don’t know FCE, this part involves looking at 5-8 pictures and answering a question about them, then coming to some kind of decision.

20140127-220445.jpg
There were three of them, and despite having phrases for turn-taking and ideas on the topic, they struggled to talk for three minutes, and sounded incredibly unnatural, with long pauses while they tried to work out what to say.
I described interactive communication and how people work together to come to a decision, and suggested they watch out for it in the next film/TV show they watch in English. Then we talked about how they do it in Russian. I then had a brainwave: why not get them to do the task in Russian first?
So that’s what they did, and wow! What a difference! They were talking over each other, finishing each other’s sentences, asking for opinions, and most importantly moving from one picture to the next quickly and efficiently. (Although I don’t speak Russian, a lot of the words for the electrical appliances they were discussing were similar enough to English for me to notice that!) In English, they’d taken a minute to discuss a single picture, and they should have done about three in that time!
We talked about how they had spoken in Russian, and I mentioned how they had helped each other to build the conversation. We then repeated the task one final time in English, and it was a huge improvement on their first attempt, with them carrying over a lot of the interaction from their Russian conversation. Of course, it helped that it was the third time they’d done the task too!
Definitely something I’ll try again.

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 🙂

Itchy feet

A few days ago I shared a lesson plan which Claire Hart created based on a recording I did about Moving to Sevastopol.

Now Lizzie Pinard has got in on the act, and created another set of materials based on the same recording. You can find the post she wrote about how she will use the materials on her excellent blog, as well as the materials themselves (scroll down to number 3: Itchy Feet).

I hope you find them useful!

Another gratuitous picture of Sevastopol, this time at Chersonesus

Another gratuitous picture of Sevastopol, this time at Chersonesus

What were you doing at 10 last night?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The entrance to Balaklava bay

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

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

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

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

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

We also tried a variant where they asked:

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

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

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

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

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

OR

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

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

So, what were YOU doing at 10 last night?

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

** Or ‘he’, of course!

Questions students have

About two months ago, my intermediate class put together a video to help students coming to International House Newcastle, by answering some of the questions they thought new students might have. This was the result:

To get to the final product, this is what happened:

  • The students talked to each other about what questions they had before they came to the school and in the first couple of weeks, as well as how they tried to find out the answers.
  • They wrote their questions on small pieces of paper – one question per piece of paper – and stuck them to two whiteboards.
  • I divided the class in half. Each group had one whiteboard. They had to divide the questions into categories of their own choosing.
  • They then compared the categories they had with the other group, merged any which were the same, and moved round any which were different.
  • This resulted, quite conveniently, in 5 categories, which was exactly how many pairs there were.
  • With their partner, students selected the most important/interesting questions from their category, so that they had 3-4 questions per pair.
  • They came up with possible answers themselves, supplemented with information from the internet and from me. They decided how they would turn their questions/answers into video form.
  • The pairs took turns going into an empty classroom with my digital camera and mini tripod to make their section of the video. After each, we transferred it to my computer so I could start editing while the next pair filmed.
  • By the end of a two-hour lesson every pair had finished filming. As each pair finished, they came and told me what they wanted me to do in terms of the editing. They also found any pictures that they wanted to add to the video.
  • At home, I spent quite a few hours editing the video, then sent it to my students for approval and to see if there was anything else that needed changing. I made the necessary changes and then reuploaded it to vimeo, which I think is a lot better than YouTube for things like this because it feels more intuitive, and the advertising is more subtle.
  • Hopefully it will appear on the school website somewhere soon 😉

Short answers for agreeing and disagreeing

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

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

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

Small talk

My Advanced level students are very good about talking about ‘topics’ like the environment or health but sometimes struggle to strike up conversation with native speakers in a natural way. I decided to teach them about small talk, but couldn’t find a handy lesson anywhere so made my own. 🙂

Before the students came into class I pushed all the tables back and put some party music on. As they walked through the door I asked them to put their bags on the tables and write their names on the board (we had some new students joining the class). I then gave them a card from a tin my friend gave me for my birthday (Thanks Kim!):

best_ever_dinner_party_ice_breakers

and said “Talk”. [This combatted my common problem of confusing the students with complicated instructions…even after working on it during Delta!] The cards had questions like “What’s your favourite holiday destination?” “What do you normally do at the weekend?”

Once all of the students had arrived and they’d chatted for about five minutes I switched off the music and the light, which stopped the conversations quickly. I switched the light on again 😉 and asked them how comfortable they felt speaking to people they didn’t really know in their own language and in English. Understandably, they said it was more difficult in English.

I elicited the term ‘small talk’ and asked them to discuss the first four questions on the sheet below. For every activity during the lesson they had to work with someone they hadn’t spoken to previously during the lesson. I left the tables at the side of the room throughout, so students perched on desks and moved around a lot.

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

Students then completed the second task (You’re now going to read about…) by looking at five short texts stuck around the room. They are on the first two pages of this document. I adapted them from the Wikipedia entry about small talk.

As they finished reading, the students compared the things which they found interesting or surprising, and talked about whether small talk operates in the same way or a different way in their culture, for example, whether the same topics are considered taboo.

The students stood in a straight line across the classroom. I stood about 1.5m from each student in turn and asked them to move towards me until they were at a comfortable distance away from me for a conversation. We talked a bit about personal space and how, for the Brazilian students especially, this could often be quite different in different cultures. We also talked about how normal it is to touch other people when you’re talking to them, and how this differs when you know them or not. One of the Brazilian students was surprised that an English person wouldn’t normally touch the other person, for example on the arm, while speaking to them.

I divided the class into A, B and C groups and gave them each one section from the next three pages of the second document above, which were adapted from Wikihow. They read their section, helped each other with vocabulary and tried to summarise the ideas. They then regrouped so that the new groups had representatives from A, B and C. The students shared the tips they had read about and talked about whether they are useful or not.

Talking about the tips

Talking about the tips

Students then thought of two or three opening gambits and wrote them in the last section of the first worksheet. Taking those, they made small talk for the last 25 minutes of the 2-hour lesson at what I told them was probably the most boring IH Newcastle party ever! That meant they needed to liven it up by meeting as many people as possible, and making sure they ended at least one conversation during the time limit – it’s often hard to know how to escape from a conversation. I also told them it was their responsibility to make sure everyone had someone to talk to – nobody could be left out at the party. I didn’t correct them or collect errors. The aim was fluency and making sure that the students would be as comfortable as possible for the other 18 hours we would spend together during the rest of the week.

Their homework was to make small talk with a random native speaker at some point during the week, then tell me about it. They had to make an effort to do this – it couldn’t just be an extension of a transactional conversation. One of the students ended up having a very interesting hour-long conversation with an old man who happened to be Jehovah’s Witness, something which my student had never heard of before (and therefore had no cultural baggage about!).

Overall, the lesson seemed to go well, and for the rest of the week whenever students had finished a task early I could ask them to make small talk. Making small talk successfully can be a difficult skill to master, but it’s an important one, and one which I don’t think we examine enough in the classroom. It’s important for students to be able to start and end conversations themselves, as we tend to control any small talk that happens in the room. I’m looking forward to hearing about the small talk experiences of the rest of my class!

Update: Here are .doc versions of both worksheets: Small talk question sheet / Small talk

If you’d like more small talk activities, you could download the short book At Work by Paul Walsh, available via The Round. Alex Case also has lots of small talk worksheets.

A map of me

With continuous enrolment, we get new students joining our classes every Monday morning, if they change from another class, on a Monday afternoon, when they’re new to the school, and sometimes on a Tuesday morning too, if they only have morning classes! This means that we’re constantly trying to make sure our students get on well together, and I’m always trying to find new getting to know you activities that still motivate and interest the students who’ve been in the class for weeks.

This is what I used a couple of weeks ago:

Mind map

 

  • Ask students in pairs/small groups to decide what the connections are between the items on your own mind map.
  • Each pair/group writes three questions to find out more about the connections.
  • They then create their own mind maps – give them about 10 minutes, as it takes a while to get a good mind map.
  • Finally, they mingle and ask and answer questions about each other’s mind maps.

My students spent about 90 minutes on the whole process. I copied their mind maps and learnt a lot about my students in the process, something which isn’t always easy in a most of the getting to know you exercises I use. I even found out which of my students were great artists!

My favourite TV show

In my first lesson with my B2 Upper Intermediate group way back at the start of January, I found out that all of the students were fans of American TV series. We brainstormed the series they watched, and came up with about 30 different ones, everything from Big Bang Theory to White Collar (which I’d never heard of before). Because of that, I decided to base my first week on giving opinions about TV shows. (It was possibly a little too easy at times, and I think it could work with a  B1 Intermediate group)

[Well after my lessons, but before I finished writing this post, Scott Thornbury wrote about the value of soaps and TV for language learners.]

Vocabulary

We started with vocabulary, like so:

  • Tell each other about your favourite TV show, and say why you like it. While they were doing this, I monitored and noted examples of missing vocabulary and language would could be improved later in the week.
  • On the board, write as many words as you can think of connected to TV shows.
  • Fill in as many words as you can on this sheet:

20130309-223344.jpg

  • Look at the wordcloud and match any missing words:

TV shows word cloud

  • The teacher check the meanings and definitions with students. They drill any necessary pronunciation.
  • Students test each other by saying the definition, and the others in their group remember the word.
  • You can give students the link to the whole set on Quizlet to practise the words at home.

My favourite TV series

I then introduced the class to one of my favourite series, and one I was fairly sure they wouldn’t know, namely Doctor Who, through this very entertaining video by Charlie McDonnell:

They had to listen to the video twice and answer the questions on the first sheet, then listen again and correct the mistakes in the transcript. It bears repeated listening because Charlie speaks very quickly – be prepared for a look of shock the first time they hear him! The corrected version of the transcript is in the second slideshare document below. To download them, click on ‘view on slideshare’. You need to join to download, but it’s free.


Other people’s favourites

In the next lesson, we started off by revising the vocabulary with a board race. The aim for this lesson was for students to learn some useful phrases to talk about their favourite TV shows. We started by listening to Adam, with three questions:

  • What’s the show?
  • Why do they like it?
  • Do they give you any extra information about it?
Adam – The Walking Dead

Here are the phrases I pulled out of Adam’s text:

  • The first thing you think about when I say…
  • The main purpose of the show is…
  • There are deeper things than this in the show.
  • That’s why I like it.
  • The show really looks at the human condition.
  • It looks at…what happens when…
  • He was in one of my favourite shows.

I then divided the class into two groups (there was an empty classroom next door). One group had my iPad, and the other my phone (I trust them!). Each group listened to three of the other recordings – Vicky/Deniz/Matt or Rachel/Sian/Lea. They had the same questions as above, plus the additional job of choosing any useful phrases they could steal.

Once they’d listened to their three texts, they told the other group about what they’d heard.

They then talked about their own favourite TV shows, trying to use some of the phrases.

Deniz: How I Met Your Mother

  • It’s a sitcom set in…
  • The main character is…
  • In each episode…
  • The reason why I like this show is…
  • If you haven’t watched the series, I really recommend it.
  • I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, just like I do.
Vicky – Glee

  • My favourite TV series is…
  • I really like it because…
  • It deals with…
  • It’s also something I really enjoy because…
  • I really look forward to watching each episode…
Lea – The Borgias

  • It’s set in…
  • It’s all about… [described in present simple]
  • What I like about this series is…
  • You find yourself rooting for them.
  • My favourite character is…

[Side note: thanks to this lesson, I’m now a big fan of The Borgias and How I Met Your Mother :)]

Matt – Six Feet Under

  • My favourite TV show of all time is…
  • It’s about… [described in present simple]
  • It’s an amazing show because it deals with…
  • It can be very dark.
  • The opening credits are something I enjoy in and of themselves.
  • The acting was incredible.
Rachel – Eastenders

  • It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.
  • It’s a soap opera which is set in…
  • I just love it.
  • One of the other reasons that I love it is…
Sian – The Killing

  • One series I enjoyed very much last year was…
  • It’s quite funny that I enjoyed this because…
  • …and that’s something that I’m not particularly used to…
  • There was a good strong central character.
  • By ten minutes into the first episode I was completely gripped by…
  • A fantastic supporting cast…
  • …were so good that…

[Thanks to these lovely people for answering my Twitter/facebook call for one-minute recordings about favourite TV shows. If anyone else wants to record one and post the link in the comments, that would be great!]

To finish the week, I taught this lesson from allatc, based on the first episode of The Walking Dead. They mingled at the end to tell each other about their favourite scenes from any TV show. It brought together everything we’d been discussing all week perfectly.

So, what’s your favourite TV show?

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!

Design your own soap opera

It’s Friday afternoon. It’s time for the last of our ten two-hour lessons this week. The last thing my students want to do is learn, especially when it’s cold, dark and snowing outside. Cutting Edge to the rescue!

This afternoon my upper intermediate class designed two soap operas. There was much laughter, a lot of speaking in English, and two great stories by the end of the lesson, with the added benefit of some much-needed revision of verb + gerund/infinitive which we were practising yesterday.
In the activity, the students get a page of photos of people. They decide on biographical details, the setting for their soap opera and a name for it. They then plan the next episode with the help of three ‘plot cards’. Finally, they write a summary of the storyline for the episode using some of the verbs which take gerund/infinitive. The activity is from New Cutting Edge Upper Intermediate Teacher’s Resource Pack, pages 142 and 143.
I can’t reproduce the worksheets here, but I can share photos of my students using them:

20130118-155639.jpg

20130118-155948.jpg
Here are their stories:
The girls
Mark decides to kidnap Cookie (the baby) so he threatens to kill Cookie if Samantha doesn’t pay him £1 million.
At the same time Laura and Chris plan to get married after finishing school. Alice, who loves Chris, can’t stand seeing them so happy so she manages to split them up.
Richard promises to pay the money for Cookie’s freedom.
Samantha considers telling Mark the truth: Cookie is his son!

The guys
Chris manages to become a famous football player. Alice denied having had a relationship with Richard, when Mark asked. Samantha avoids telling Chris about Richard and Alice’s relationship. Mark can’t stand seeing Chris and Alice, but he loves being with Laura.

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?

An improvised monologue

I spent Saturday reading all about listening in preparation for my second LSA (Language Skills Assignment). While working through Penny Ur’s Teaching Listening Comprehension, I came across a few ideas which I’d like to try out. From both that and Listening (Anderson/Lynch), I’ve realised how little ‘natural’ English our learners generally hear. They often hear scripted things from the CD/mp3/films, or ‘teacher’ English from us, but not a lot of false starts, stuttering, repetition, and all of the other features of a normal English conversation. This was my variation on a grid activity suggested by Ur which I did with pre-intermediate students.

  • I introduced a few adventure sports using pictures.
  • Students drew a grid in their books (sorry for it’s a bit of a mess!):
    like                             |                  would like
    ________________________|____________________________

    ________________________|____________________________
    x
  • I had a similar grid on my paper, where I had listed a few of the adventure sports:
    like              /                  would like
    __________________/____________________________
    √                       skydiving    /climbing
    __________________/waterskiing_________________
    x                        skiing         /snowboarding
    .                   rollerskating   /
  • I monologued about the sports above, telling the students what I like/don’t like doing and what I would (not) like to try. I made it into a kind of story, mixing up the sports: “When I lived in the Czech Republic, I went skiing, and I really didn’t like it because…” The first time they listened, all the students had to do was count how many sports were in each box.
  • After students had compared in pairs (in true CELTA fashion!), I then monologued again, in a different order, but with roughly similar elements to my story. This time, students had to write down which sports were in each box. We then checked it on the board.
  • Finally, students created their own tables, and did the same two-step process – listening and counting, then listening and writing.

The only place I was happy for my skis to be

The only place I was happy for my skis to be

Did it work?

Mostly, yes. One of the students even said it was much more useful doing listening like this. I ended up doing the monologue four times, as the first time students thought they were counting sports for themselves – they didn’t realise it was about me! Once they got the hang of it though, they seemed to be motivated, and were concentrating hard to try and get the right answers. They also enjoyed the chance to do it themselves afterwards.

It also served as a useful basis for looking at ‘like + ing’ and ‘would like to + infinitive’ which was the main focus of the lesson.

Doing it again

I’d pull out a few more phrases from my own monologue to help students build their own stories. I also needed to make it clearer that it was a listening exercise when I started! Apart from that, I’d follow a very similar procedure again.

(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, the second here.)

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!

Watching movies

While at IATEFL Glasgow 2012, I was lucky enough to see Khulood Al-balushi’s presentation, in which she shared various ideas for using movies with your students, as well as offering advice on how to choose suitable movies, especially important in the Kingdom of Bahrain, where she works as a Curriculum Specialist at the Ministry of Education. I asked her to share her ideas via my blog, and she agreed. Over to Khulood:

How can you make your students benefit from watching movies they like ?

Since movies are a rich source for language learning and they are considered to be fun and enjoyable, here are some practical ideas that you can implement to make use of movies in the English Classroom:

Introductory activity

  • Make students watch a movie trailer of the movie you intend to use and present the following activity:
Trailer activity

This will help you motivate your students to watch and respond to the movie and can tell you if the movie is favored by the students. Otherwise you can look for a different movie.

Watching movie clips

You can make your students watch movie clips if the length of your lesson is short or if you intend to present a specific language skill such as reading, speaking, grammar or writing. The following are a few examples:

  • Students can watch a scene of the movie “The Cat in the Hat” and write down the process the cat uses to make cupcakes.
    Cat in the hat
  • Students watch a scene from the movie “Volcano” and answer the following question: “What would you do if you were in this situation?” to promote critical thinking and present a lesson about natural disasters.
    Volcano
  • Ask students to watch a scene from the movie” Cast Away” and ask them to think about the following question “What would you do if you were trapped on a remote island?” (critical thinking and second conditional)
    Cast Away
  • Students watch a scene from the movie “Titanic” and answer an activity that involves reading and vocabulary and promotes critical thinking by comparing the actual story and the selected scene. Click to download the activity: Titanic movie task
    Titanic
  • Students watch the movie trailer of the movie “Inkheart” and answer the following question: ” What if you had the power to bring a book to life by simply reading it aloud?” to promote speaking and critical thinking.
    Inkheart
  • For creative writing and speaking, you can show your students a clip from “Spy Kids 2” movie and ask them to imagine being in a virtual reality game and ask them to describe their game in writing and present it to their classmates.
    Spy Kids 2

Watching full-length movies

  • Students watch ” Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” and answer an activity that aims at discussing characters:
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Students watch the movie “Oliver” and read the book and then compare between the movie and the actual story by answering a given activity. Click to download the activity: The Movie versus the Book
    Oliver
  • Students watch the movie “Finding Nemo” and asked to produce a creative project such as drawing, creating bookmarks, designing a puppet show, performing a play…etc.
    Finding Nemo puppetsFinding Nemo bookmarks

Of course, all of these activities can be modified based on your needs and your students.

By: Khulood Al-balushi

Revising numbers and letters

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

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

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

w1o3lv4e79r12h6amp8t10on

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

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

Utopia

This morning my students spent over an hour discussing and debating their opinions of what a Utopia should be like. All of this was prompted by a single page from the Total English Intermediate teacher’s book.

On page 124 of the teacher’s book there is a list of rules about a possible Utopia, designed to revise modals of obligation and permission (must, have to, should). Students work alone to decide if they agree or disagree with the rules, then get together to debate a final version of their Utopia.

This single sheet prompted discussion about whether taxes were necessary, whether governments really need weapons, the benefits of living in a foreign country, and whether one language should be allowed to dominate the world.

Thank you very much Will Moreton and Kevin McNicholas!

Immigration: Belongings

Last week I stumbled across an excellent photo article from the New York Times about immigrants to New York City and the objects they choose to bring with them. This is the lesson I created based on the article, but it is full of other possibilities too. I hope you find it useful, and I look forward to hearing what you decide to do with it.

Immigration belongings screenshot

I started off with the powerpoint presentation below. I displayed it on the interactive whiteboard, but you could print off the pictures and put them around the room instead. First, students were asked to speculate on what is in the pictures, and naturally they focus on the objects. Next, I asked them what links the pictures together, accepting any suggestions. I then told them that these were objects which immigrants to New York City brought with them. I then asked them to make notes about their thoughts on the gender, nationality, age, job and family of the owners of each object.

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

I then gave the students the texts and asked them to read quickly to match each text to the photos. Some of them needed quite a lot of persuading to skim read and not try to understand everything!

You can find the correct answers by looking at the original article online. The students then had to check their predictions about the people by reading the text in a bit more detail. When a colleague reused the materials, she added a worksheet with a table with spaces for each item of information, which worked better than the notes which my students made.

In the penultimate step of the two-hour lesson, I divided the ‘stories’ up around the class, so that each pair of students had two people to read about. They had to create three to five questions about each person, not including the information we had already talked about (nationality, job etc) and write them down.

Finally, they mingled and asked the other students their questions.

For homework, I asked them to choose a story from the comments board, take notes on it and bring them to class the next day to tell the other students about.

A couple of days later I was working on relative clauses with the same class, and created the following gapfill to help them practise which relative pronoun to use:

The texts could also be used to practise narrative tenses, reported speech, time phrases and much more. You could also use it to lead into a discussion on immigration.

Enjoy!

FCE Speaking Part 3: our version

On Thursday I introduced my students to Speaking Part 3 of the FCE paper. In this section of the exam, two students have about three minutes to discuss a set of 5-7 pictures and answer two questions. The first question involves some kind of scenario where they have to refer to every picture, and the second involves making a decision. The examiners are looking for whether the candidates can have a discussion (interactive communication) rather than monologue, among other things.

We were focussing on holidays all week, so in a similar way to the Present Simple / Present Continuous activity I shared a couple of weeks ago, I asked my students to draw a picture of themselves on holiday.

Since there were 11 students, plus me, we had twelve pictures in total (I’ll leave you to work out which one was mine!) That created two convenient groups, like so:

Speaking part 3The notes at the top show two language points which came up during the discussions. We ended up doing the task four times, using each set of pictures twice. The questions I asked were:

  • Imagine you are taking your family on holiday. What are the benefits of each kind of holiday when travelling with a family? Which is the best place to take a family too?
  • Imagine you are organising a holiday with your friends at the end of your exams. What could you do with your friends on each of these holidays? Which place will you go to?
  • Imagine you are going to have a week’s holiday by yourself. What are the advantages and disadvantages of travelling along to these places? Which is the best place to travel alone?
  • Imagine you are organising your next holiday. Why do people go on these kinds of excursions when on holiday? Which one would you go on as a one-day excursion?

We had done an example of the activity from Complete First Certificate, and I used their excellent speaking guide (at the back of the book) to give the students tips on how to approach the task. The general idea for this lesson was to familiarise the students with the format and to encourage them to converse, rather than monologue. In the end, that wasn’t really a problem as they’re very good at interacting with each other. They definitely improved as they did the task more times, although I think after doing it five times they never wanted to see it again! 🙂

(We used the class timer from the Triptico suite to keep the students in line!)

The £100 challenge

This was something I did a few weeks back with a group of Elementary students. It could probably be adapted for your students without too much trouble.

We spent a couple of days talking about types of shop and what you could buy from them. I then gave them a time limit and sent them off into the local shopping centre in pairs. They had to decide what they would spend their £100 on and take photos of each item. The pair who got closest to £100 and had the best reasons for their purchases were the winners, as decided by the other students in the group. They really enjoyed it and I hope your students do too 🙂

To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.

FCE Speaking (Paper 5) Part 1

I’ve just started teaching a Cambridge FCE group, so expect to see a lot of posts about my lessons over the next few months (they take their exam at the end of November). Hopefully I’ll be able to share some of the ideas I’ve been using and get some in return 🙂

For the first session I decided to focus on FCE Speaking Part 1. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, there are four parts to an FCE Speaking exam, the first of which is an interview where the interlocutor speaks to each candidate in turn. The questions are general ‘getting to know you’ ones, along with some which are little more in-depth. They are designed to ease the candidate into the exam.

We started off by brainstorming topics you might talk about when you meet someone for the first time. The students came up with:

Speaking Part 1 topicsI then divided the topics up into groups and gave the students some pieces of scrap paper. Each piece of paper was for one topic. Working in small groups, they brainstormed as many questions as they could for each area and wrote them on the paper.

We then passed the questions around the room for other students to correct and add to.

Once the questions were as good as they could be, the students took one set of questions each and mingled to find out the answers.

As homework, they typed the questions into this Google Document, which I had started with ‘personal information’ questions. I also added the bonus topic of ‘your house’. My job for this evening is to correct them!

Feel free to use the questions with your groups, or add to them if you think of any more.

Enjoy!

Homework (an #eltchat summary)

This is a summary from the 9p.m. BST #eltchat from Wednesday 31st August 2011. To find out more about what #eltchat is and how to join in please go to the bottom of the post.

homework wordcloud

What can we call an effective piece of homework?

Do you believe homework is important for English language learners?

  • Homework is essential, but I think of it as pre-class preparation or follow-on work. (@hartle)
  • SS need a lot of exposure to the language and practice but effective homework should be short and to the point! (@naomishema)
  • Yes, students need to practise constantly, but depends on what the HW is as to how effective it is! (@sandymillin)
  • I provide various options for homework & do think its important to motivate learners to practice English outside the classroom (@shellterrell)
  • Homework provides more time for students to learn! (@katekidney) It gives them thinking time. (@sandymillin)
  • Homework is important to reinforce what’s been learnt in class (@herreraveronica)
  • Homework is important for consolidation and further development. (@lu_bodeman)
  • I like to provide homework if sts request it. If they do, I usually ask how much homework they want. (@ELTExperiences)
  • For language learners, hmwk provides the opportunity to apply the language learned within a real context . (@shellterrell)
  • Homework should work differently for kids at school and adults ‘only’ doing English classes – kids should have sth ‘fun’ like colouring / drawing. Adults perhaps have more motivation. (@sandymillin)
  • At IH Buenos Aires we have a saying “The lesson’s not over till the homework is done” but amount & type open to individuals to decide (@ljp2010)
  • I believe homework is an opportunity for more exposure to English and I tend to favour authentic skills work. Also a chance to process things, studies, and experiment. (@chiasuan)
  • I believe homework is an opportunity for students remember and practice everything they saw in the class! (@vaniaccastro)
  • Action research at Toyo Gakuen Uni in Japan has shown that if we don’t force students to use English outside the classroom – they don’t! (@mickstout)

How much homework should you give?

  • There is research suggesting homework is beneficial but there is also research suggesting TOO much or rote homework has the opposite effect (@Marisa_C)
  • I think the amount is variable and should in a way be up to the student. They should all do some but choose how long. (@sandymillin)
  • I’ve begun giving short homework once a week, online, something highlighting one particular element, and that is it! The funny thing I’ve discovered is that at least some of the SS take the lessons more seriously since I’ve started homework online (@naomishema)
  • It was said that if the homework is half done at school students are more likely finish it at home. True? (@katekidney)
    I think that’s true only with elementary school kids. But kids do need an example! (@naomishema)
  • I think it is crucial to know our students’ routine and plan achievable pieces of HW. (@raquel_EFL)
  • Don’t think VYLs should really have HW – they need time to play. (@sandymillin)
  • Homework can be a project of weeks/months so there is no pressure: “do this by tomorrow” attitude (@ELTExperiences)
  • I was able to run my genetics class last spring with NO homework without decrease in “rigor” (@smacclintic)
  • Age is an important factor and schedules too (@hartle)
  • Homework is effective if SS can see the point of it, rather than homework for the sake of homework (@sandymillin)
  • The Homework Dilemma: How Much Is Too Much? http://www.takepart.com/article/2011/01/18/homework-dilemma-how-much-too-much another interesting article RE 10-min rule (@annapires)

What homework should you give? – general

  • Don’t just tell the students to do page 43 of the workbook. (@ljp2010)
  • As a student, I won’t do it if it’s boring or I think it’s irrelevant to me. Teacher’s worst nightmare! (@ljp2010)
  • I try to make homework fun & relevant to their experiences! They have choices! (@shellterrell)
  • Like Khan academy idea of flipping classroom: homework theory and classwork experimentation http://ow.ly/1wtdr0 (@hartle)
  • Sometimes it is not a bad idea to let the students decide what they would do themselves for the next lesson – and ask them about it! (@katekidney)
  • Individual learning styles should also be taken into account (@adricarv) There’s no reason for everyone to do the same thing (@little_miss_glo)
    I always find kinaesthetic learners hardest to cater for. What kind of things can you do for them? (@sandymillin)
    It might be to learn and act out a sketch with movement (for YLs) (@Marisa_C)
    Videotape a sketch whose lines were written in class by groups/teams (@Marisa_C)
    Make a board game in English (@Marisa_C)
  • For kids I provide games to reinforce what we learned in class! Here’s how its listed in our wiki http://bit.ly/qAQCmc (@shellterrell)
  • These are homework tasks I have given to my adult English language learners in their wiki http://bit.ly/d1RhoD (@shellterrell)
  • For young learners I like to offer in my wiki activities parents can do with their children to practice the grammar/vocabulary in context. (@shellterrell)
  • I’ve been trying to post sites SS can use on Edmodo and show in class rather than set homework. I find students are motivated by sites like English Central, English Attack or quizlet where they can see that they’re getting points (@sandymillin) A word of caution about englishattack – its roll over translations into Hebrew are atrocious! Can’t check the other languages… (@naomishema) I tell SS not to use the translations when I show it to them. (@sandymillin)
  • Offer options so learners work on skills they feel they need to improve. Not all students have the same level so homework should reflect that. (@shellterrell) Choice is not only about which exercises to do for homework but which skills one needs or wants to work on (@Marisa_C)
  • I find knowing their goals at the beginning of the year helps my students determine their outside of class activities http://bit.ly/dzgSCs (@shellterrell)
  • There should be a balance between online work and print work which students can use for display purposes, e.g. in a portfolio (@Marisa_C)
  • We need to be smart about what we are giving for homework…for me all writing assignments are done in class (@shellterrell, @vickysaumell)
  • Reading makes great homework if you can convince the Ss. (@theteacherjames) Adults can benefit a lot from this (@Marisa_C)
  • For teens I just ask what they like to do: listen to English music, read graphic novels, etc. & tailor to that (@shellterrell) Try to find ways to integrate homework into students real lives: things they enjoy, are interested in & choose themselves. (@theteacherjames)
  • Homework is about giving students choices to work on problematic areas too. Provide a series of links then they choose (@hartle)
  • Homework should be connected to the syllabus (@Marisa_C)
  • Teaching ESP? Then you might want to assign stuff that they can do while at work. I did that with my aircraft mechanics (@little_miss_glo)
  • Set them things related to the work place. I did a class based on emails which SS brought to class. The homework was to collect them. (@sandymillin)
  • Show them what is available (often for free) online through facebook, publisher sites etc (@antoniaclare)
  • Written production as homework e.g. letters, diaries, can really help process what was studied. (@chiasuan)

What homework should you give? – specific

  • Some favourite homework I’ve done from my spanish class – photo stories, Spanish-Spanish dictionary, making a newspaper, project stuff… (@ljp2010)
    Project work is motivating too. Students take responsibility for learning. (@hartle) Projects like going to a website to get info in English. (@chiasuan)
  • How can we make the homework/self study more personal? My idea: get students to bring in a photo and talk about it. (@ELTExperiences)
  • SS put a photo on fotobabble.com and talk about it: http://bit.ly/nID10h (@sandymillin)
  • Real life homework task – read or listen to something outside class and come in with a question you’d like answered (@ljp2010)
  • Get students to post on noticeboard and build work together. Www.linoit.com good for this. (@hartle)
  • The funniest HW that I was involved with was phoning YLs at home and trying to chat with them to improve speaking skills in Korea. They were young (10 to 15 years) and the time the parents wanted me to phone was late evening when they were all eating. It took a while to speak to the parents in Korean and then ask to speak to the child and the child would not talk at all. I was also asked to do the same activity for businessmen for a school and I prepared topics, etc but they were too busy. (@ELTExperiences)
    I set up phoning homework with a class once and they LOVED it! (@ljp2010)
    Did something like that. Called them at a given time, gave some info that they needed to collect, and in class SS reported. (@lu_bodeman)
  • SS writing to teachers – personal emails – this is not seen as homework (@Marisa_C)
  • Kids love working online. I make them exchange e-mails or postcards with other kids around the globe. I have found a great platform at e-Pals. (@analuisalozano) Try postcrossing.com for one-off postcards (@sandymillin)
  • Get them to write the subtitles for Bollywood films (@ljp2010)
  • I often set TV programmes or films as homework for students. Sometimes I give them a selection of about 3-4 things they can choose to watch, and we do a jigsaw sharing of what they have seen. My students are in London, so I could use the daily TV guide & get them to watch documentaries, fashion programmes or drama- their choice. (@chiasuan)
  • I get students to collect new words or signs for class. Or interview their host families (@SueAnnan)
  • I would like to get sts to write blogs or contribute to an online school newspaper but haven’t done so yet. (@ELTExperiences)
  • Did @englishraven‘s live reading in class http://bit.ly/r1Gl1h about Edinburgh. HW was for SS to write about their own city/country – everyone did it! (@sandymillin)
  • A book club where they choose the book they want & have discussions? (@shellterrell) Extensive reading (reading for pleasure). Assign projects (book reviews, sts create worksheets, etc) (@theteacherjames) I bring a book box to class when I teach our adults and they pick a book (@Marisa_C) Doing an extensive reading project with Google Reader … Blog post about ithttp://ow.ly/1wthvj (@hartle)
  • Film club is great too. Watch the first part of film in class – finish for homework (@antoniaclare)
  • Adults enjoy finding an interesting article in the local paper and summarising it for class the next day. (@SueAnnan)
  • Take photos on way home, then do lesson based on it, like so: http://wp.me/p18yiK-dS (@sandymillin)
  • They could be asked to recite something while walking to school (@Marisa_C) For low levels I tell them to read all numbers they say in English / name everything they can when walking down street (@sandymillin)
  • The Baby Egg project with my teens. They enjoyed journaling about their children, etc http://bit.ly/pPpbGg (@shellterrell) Sounds like ‘flour babies’ by anne fine (one of my fave childhood books!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flour_Babies (@sandymillin)
  • Redoing commercials & advertisements with their friends http://bit.ly/qcrl90 (@shellterrell)
  • Get your students to bring in a computer game & talk about it (@ELTexperiences)
  • If your students like listening to music lyricstraining.com is excellent (@sandymillin)
  • I have recorded video read alouds to model fluency and posted them on Edmodo. (@MrMatthewRay)
  • Get students to watch videos, do tasks, then tweet responses http://englishtweets.com/ (@antoniaclare / @inglishteacher)
  • With young learners make placemats in class with vocab items and pictures. Then they eat on the placemats and memorize ’em! (@naomishema)
  • SS downloaded four adverts, then chose the most touching, funniest, horrible, and amazing (@analuisalozano)
  • Encourage students to read anything they can in English if it’s available. Cereal boxes, signs, anything. (@MrMatthewRay)

How do you share homework with students / parents?

  • Edmodo (http://j.mp/ZkQ5F) is a useful tool to share homework/selfstudy amongst students. Provides a platform to share ideas, etc. (@ELTExperiences) How I’ve used Edmodo in class with SS over the last year (including for HW) http://wp.me/s18yiK-edmodo (@sandymillin)
  • We use wikis too for our adult Ss to upload their homework which also includes presentations prezis etc (@Marisa_C) I’ve taught 2-year-olds to 80-year-olds :-). I find a wiki full of outside exploration activities motivates them a lot. (@shellterrell)
  • What we need is a website for sts like http://j.mp/5eT5mw (a maths website) for English language learners to assist homework. Are there any out there? (@ELTExperiences)
  • Have used class blog and discussion forum for homework using blogger and wikispaces (@inglishteacher)
  • The primary school that my son used to attend provided a newsletter for parents with projects at the back. (@ELTExperiences)
  • Once had a class blog on ning & we all continued discussions we had in class on the blog. It was brilliant…until ning decided to charge. (@chiasuan)

Grading Homework

  • My homework is optional & I tell my SS it’s for their benefit! Majority complete it each time. (@shellterrell)
  • Don’t grade homework! (@naomishema)
  • I grade homework in class … I do not like sending homework to Ss except that related to researching. (@analuisalozano)
  • I like to get sts to mark each other’s HW. Promotes learner correction, education and autonomy. (@ELTExperiences)
  • I use Markin to work on written work with a correction code then students can correct own work. Software http://ow.ly/1wteqp costs about €20 but worth it (@hartle)
    Activity one lesson one on this page of our class blog shows marked student work with Markin. Stds then correct & we discuss in class. http://ow.ly/1wtfol
  • If students resist any kind of homework, it should be included in their final mark or the course evaluation! (@katekidney)

Tracking homework

  • I give homework online but keep track on paper so that I always have it in class with me! (@naomishema)
  • I give pre class prep work on blog and follow up on linoit etc. Also copies. My students are young adults so I don’t track pre-class work but homework posted online and corrections too on blog. (@hartle)
  • I use Edmodo. It allows you to input grades etc even if HW not handed in that way & you can see overview of which students have done what (@sandymillin)
  • For children: Learning Log Brain Builders homework: http://bit.ly/dsC1TE (@DeputyMitchell)

Problems with homework

  • What do you do with students who don’t complete pre-class homework? (@naomishema)
    I don’t force homework, if the learner doesn’t do it then I will ask why & figure out a way to motivate. Usually that’s the problem (@shellterrell)
  • I like to refer to homework as self-study. Homework has too many negative connotations. I attempt to promote student autonomy when they are motivated not the other way round. I like to reduce the affective filter and as such no pressure on homework whether it’s presentations, grammar exercises, writing. (@ELTExperiences)
    I like to call it “activities to improve their English” not homework. I think when I deem it as “activities to further improve ur English” it gives them a why as to completing the tasks (@shellterrell)
  • I give limits on how long can be delayed. I’ve had bad experience – “mañana” turns into “never” (@naomishema)
  • A lot of adolescents think its not cool to do something optional (@naomishema)
  • I still have a problem with pupils with problematic home life – they don’t organize their time and do the little work I give (@naomishema)
  • As a SS, I leave HW to the last minute. (@sandymillin) Human nature, I think. But I think the key is making it not feel like HW! (@little_miss_glo)
  • What about if your institution has a homework policy based on student/teacher/parent expectation? (@ljp2010)
    If you have to give HW then negotiating what to do with SS is important, though I guess it depends on their age (@sandymillin)

What guidelines make homework effective?

  • Varied
  • With no (or negotiated) deadlines
  • Challenging
  • Motivating
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Clear aims – known to both the teacher and student
  • Choice (topic / level of difficulty / skills)
  • Like real life tasks (not just busywork)

A couple of videos to reward you for getting this far 🙂


What is #eltchat?

If you have never participated in an #ELTchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Wednesday on Twitter at 12pm GMT and 9pm GMT. Over 400 ELT educators participate in this discussion by just adding #eltchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please take a look at this video, Using Tweetdeck for Hashtag Discussions.

The international nature of #eltchat

Marisa’s first question on Wednesday’s chat was “What time is where you are?” The answers came in from all over the world:

It’s 11:03 P.M. in Athens Greece (@Marisa_C)

Same time in Israel! except we say 23:03! (@naomishema)

It’s 5:03 PM here in Buenos Aires, Argentina (@herreraVeronica)

It’s 3:04pm in Texas (@shellterrell)

In Italy it’s 10 pm (@hartle)

I’m in the UK, so it’s 21:03 (@sandymillin)

It’s 10pm in Brussels. (@theteacherjames)

It’s 3:08 pm in Ecuador. (@analuisalozano)

10:02 PM Brno, the Czech Republic (@katekidney)

Same time as @Raquel_EFL … 5pm in Recife. (@lu_bodeman)

It is 8.10am here in Dunedin, New Zealand (@mrkempnz)

It’s 6:20am Sydney, Australia (@LiamDunphy)

We look forward to seeing you there next time!

Jazz Chants

Last week I was chatting to my colleague, Katy Simpson-Davies, about experiments she’s doing in her class. She told me she was about to try out jazz chants for the first time, and wanted to film them. Since she’s just joined Twitter and been introduced to the world of blogs, I invited her to write a guest post for me about how she did it. Here’s the result. I think you’ll agree it’s a great start!

I first heard about Jazz Chants from a colleague who is particularly enthusiastic about using them with Young Learners. I don’t have any YLs, but I have an elementary class who really need practice just getting their tongue around some English sounds, so I decided to try out my first ever Jazz Chant with them.

We have a copy of the fantastic ‘Jazz Chants’ book by Carolyn Graham. I looked for one that helped the student practice a grammar point we’d been studying that week – ‘whose is this?’ There’s an index at the front of the book saying which chant is relevant to which grammar point. There are also notes before each chant with tips on how to present it.

Before doing the chant, I read through the useful advice at the beginning of the book about the different steps to follow in presenting a chant, and basically did it the way that was suggested. My students are from Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Check out the video below to see snippets of the various stages, from me reading it out for the first time, to their final full production of their own version. Here are the steps I went through:

  • I wrote the title of the chant (‘Taking Credit’) on the board first, and we went over the meaning of this.
  • I read the whole chant to them while they followed it on the handout. I drummed the beat lightly on the table (for their benefit and mine!)
  • We read the whole chant together, all the way through. I read it with them, to help them keep to the rhythm.
  • Next, I read one line and they repeated each line.
  • I divided them into two groups, and I said one line; the first group repeated it; then I said the response line; the second group repeated it, etc.
  • I drilled some of the phrases they had more difficulty with (for example, ‘it’s certainly not mine’.)
  • Then the two groups read it without me. I just drummed the beat on the table and listened. The first group read the first line, e.g ‘Whose book is this?’, and the second group responded, e.g ‘It’s mine.’.
  • I encouraged them to do it as a competition to see who could be the loudest, as some of my students speak very quietly. This wasn’t hugely successful, as I really was trying to get them to shout it, and you can hear it’s not that loud on the video!

The next day we did it again (and I recorded it this time with Sandy’s camera, which is much better quality!). I wrote the jazz chant on the board before the beginning of the class so they wouldn’t need their papers, as I wanted them to do it with gestures. We used props, i.e a book and some work, to illustrate what they were saying, and they pointed at people to give meaning to saying ‘mine’, ‘yours’, ‘hers’ etc (although we also talked about the fact that it’s not always polite to point!) Next, they went up to the board and changed some of the words. So instead of ‘book’ we had ‘glasses’, which was a good choice because it meant making everything plural, and we had ‘delicious water’ instead of ‘beautiful work’, and ‘professional camera’, instead of ‘awful work’.

I moved them further apart in a bid to make them talk louder, as they were supposed to be talking to each other. Unfortunately this isn’t great for the video, as I couldn’t fit all the students in the shot with them being on two different sides of the classroom! When we did the new version for the second time, I encouraged them to do it with more actions, and I sort of conducted by doing them myself as well. I really felt that doing the actions allowed them to have more fun, and ‘lose themselves’ in it more.

All in all, I thought it was a great way to get their mouths moving, and to make the grammar point really memorable. Some of the students have since been using ‘Whose is this?’ to enquire about folders, papers, pens etc, around the classroom, which seems to me to be a sign of success! I’ve already earmarked some more jazz chants I want to do next week, and I can definitely see why people rave about them.

If you want to know more about jazz chants, check out Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa’s TEYL blog (the colleague who first mentioned jazz chants to me.

Jazz Chants by Caroyln Graham is published by OUP, and the link for it on Amazon is here.

Happy chanting!

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!

Weak Forms

It’s another #eltchat on pronunciation, so I thought I’d upload the worksheets I’ve been using recently to focus on weak forms with my students.

Common words which have weak and strong forms, with space to write a conversation underneath

Weak and strong forms table, with word clouds for students to see common weak form combinations.

Weak and strong forms dictogloss (recorded with my flatmate – teacher conversation / Croatia conversation)

Feel free to download them and use them. Please credit the source.

Enjoy!

Pronunciation problems for Czech speakers of English

I wrote this as part of the IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology course which I’ve been following this year. It was partly gleaned from my own experience, and partly from this excellent piece of work conducted at the Pedagogical Faculty at the university in Ceske Budejovice. The only scientific research that went into it was done by the people at the university, and not by me!

Czech is one of the languages which does not appear in Micheal Swan’s excellent Learner English, which details not only pronunciation problems, but also grammar and vocabulary errors, for speakers from a variety of language backgrounds.

I hope you find it useful! (Please let me know if any of the phonetic symbols don’t show up properly and I’ll attach a pdf version too)

 

1.     Segmental

1.1.  Vowel Sounds

1.1.1.     Czech only has 5 vowel phonemes, compared to 20 in English. As Czech has a direct link between spelling and pronunciation, this can cause problems for speakers when they do not know which vowel sound to use in a particular English word.

1.1.2.     In Czech all syllables are pronounced equally. All vowels are strong and no equivalent to the English schwa /ə/ exists.

1.1.3.     Czech speakers find it hard to differentiate between the sounds /æ/, /e/ and /ʌ/, in pairs such as bad/bed, cap/cup

 

1.2.  Consonant sounds

1.2.1.     Neither pronunciation of the morpheme ‘th’ (/ð/, /θ/) exists in Czech. Learners have a tendency to replace them with similar sounds which do not involve putting the tongue between the teeth, namely /d/ or /dz/ for /ð/ and /f/ or /s/ for /θ/.

1.2.2.     /w/ does not exist in Czech. Learners often replace it with /v/. They sometimes also use /w/ in place of /v/.

1.2.3.     /r/ is pronounced in the middle and at the end of words, where it should only be pronounced at the beginning. Czechs also sometimes roll the /r/ sound, which is not necessary in English. Students do not use it to lengthen the preceding vowel sound (see 1.3.2.2).

1.2.4.     /ŋ/, /g/, /k/: these phonemes are most often confused at the end of a word ending in -ing (thing/think, sing/sink). The /g/ can be lost or pronounced as /k/.

1.2.5.     Voiceless /s/ and voiced /z/ are often confused, such as bus/buzz.

1.2.6.     ‘ch’ exists as a single phoneme /x/ in Czech. Learners transfer this to English, especially to replace /k/ in words such as chaos.

1.2.7.     The phonemes /p/, /t/ and /k/ at the beginning of a word are often not aspirated by Czech speakers of English. Alternatively, they over-aspirate the same phonemes in mid- and final positions in a word.

 

1.3.  Other

1.3.1.     All Czech words are stressed on the first syllable. This is often transferred to English.

1.3.2.     The differences between English spelling and pronunciation cause the following problems:

1.3.2.1.         incorrect choice of vowel sound (see 1.1.1)

1.3.2.2.         confusion when V+C= vowel sound e.g. ‘er’ in father = /ə/ not /ɜr/, ‘al’ in calm = /a:/ not /æl/

1.3.2.3.         pronunciation of silent letters, such as /b/ in bomb

1.3.2.4.         a difficulty in predicting the pronunciation of previously unseen words

 

2.     Suprasegmental

2.1.  Czech is a syllable-timed language, whereas English is stress-timed. Czech speakers of English therefore find it difficult to use weak forms of common words such as of, a, can. They tend to place equal stress on all the words in a sentence. This is further confused when contrastive stress is introduced to students and they have to decide which stress pattern to choose.

2.2.  There is a much wider range of intonation patterns in English than in Czech. This can lead to Czech English sounding ‘flat’ to a native speaker.

2.3.  Linking words and sounds through assimilation and elision is much more common in English than in Czech.

 

Reference (consulted 11 May 2011)

-, (1997/1998), ‘Most common pronunciation problems of Czech speakers of English’, Pedegogical Faculty JU , Cesky Budejovice, http://eamos.pf.jcu.cz/amos/kat_ang/externi/kat_ang_2834/Nejbeznejsi_vyslovnostni_problemy_ceskych_mluvcich.pdf

Literature in EFL (an #eltchat summary)

On Wednesday 8th June at 21.00 BST teachers from around the world met on Twitter for #eltchat to discuss “Creative and effective ways of bringing literature into the EFL/ESL classroom”. I wasn’t able to join in, but I did get to write the summary [and add my own ideas]!

If you want to read the whole conversation, click here.

Literature eltchat word cloud

Why?

  • A language is its literature too – a very important part of its culture (@Marisa_C)
  • I think lit is one of the most powerful tools to increase a student’s language ability, & I’m amazed it isn’t used more often. (@theteacherjames)
  • The fun aspect is absolutely crucial. I want to build a reading habit that will lead to a love of the language. (@theteacherjames)
  • The great thing about literature is the way language is used so well. It’s very satisfying to read well turned phrases for students too (@hartle)
  • Using literature in class positively encourages active reading – sometimes reading is passive (@pjgallantry)
  • I like to believe students can become “better ” people if they read. Opens their world + learn English at the same time. (@mkofab)
  • Literature is a real key to higher level language skills… playing with language seems to help (@pysproblem91)

General

  • Use it to build critical skills (@theteacherjames)
  • “Change endings” of well known pieces by substitution followed by guessing games (@Englodysiac)
  • We have also used local folk tales and stories translated into English with our refugee classes – better than Johns and Marys (@Marisa_C)
  • Use it as a springboard: reviews, role-plays, change endings, etc. (@rliberni)
  • Use cartoon makers to predict the end of a story (@helen100463)
  • Sometimes students could read aloud, especially younger learners taking turns (@smaragdav) Most of mine enjoy doing that,they hear their own voices,know when they’re not stressing properly (@vickyloras) They could also read aloud in pairs (@fuertesun) You could pretend it’s for the radio / a podcast (@Marisa_C) It did wonders for @helen100463’s teens.
  • Show videos (example) of a person’s book choices and ask students what these choices say about the owner (@hartle) [you could also do this with photos of bookshelves]

Novels

  • Encourage students to read outside class.
  • Look at some comprehension, some vocab but also theme motif and literary devices too (@Marisa_C)
  • Ceri Jones’ activity on translating an Isabel Allende text
  • Use exam set texts: “I think the strongest groups of C2 level Ss I have taught are those who took the set text option for the CPE exams” (@Marisa_C) Should ss watch the film based on the book they read or be encouraged to read parts of it again ? (@smaragdav) – many chatters answered they should watch it
  • Use clips of the film as part of the pre-reading and prediction for reading (@Marisa_C). You could also use the blurb from the book/DVD jackets for this (@hartle) Show comprehension by discussing what’s not in the film (@Shaunwilden)
  • Students can/would never read the same number of pages in just “texts”. It is great confidence boost that they can read novel. (@mkofab) I’ve seen sts beaming because they’ve finished their first ever novel in Eng. I was proud of them too! (@theteacherjames)
  • Send the characters to be interview for specific jobs (@Marisa_C) or create fakebook profiles for them (@hartle)
  • Have groups summarise, present and order a story (@Marisa_C)
  • Making a front page of a newspaper from a book or short story is also a great idea for a class project (@Marisa_C)
  • Give students the titles of books and they have to guess the plot (@fuertesun)
Examples
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse (@hartle did an extensive reading project with this)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan: “One year we experimented and did all our FCE exam prep through 39 steps – Wild success!” (@Marisa_C)
  • Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (If anyone wants to use Peter Pan, I’m recording it for my kids. First 3 audio chapters on my website. http://tinyurl.com/4k5rcpv – @tarabenwell)
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

Short stories

  • Cut up the stories, students rearrange it, play with the structure and create new links (@divyabrochier): playing with words and structures is how language is learned and enlivened (@pjgallantry)
  • Use them for ‘double’ translation. Take a piece of text, get stds to translate it into L1, then translate it back to English. In trying to recollect the original piece while translating back sts learn chunks (@englodysiac) – could be seen as to much of a specialized skill though (@Marisa_C)
  • Use a timeline and a feelings line together to help students enter a short story. (@12mandown)
  • Animate the story (@Marisa_C) – some classes might not like comics, so give them a choice (@naomishema)
  • Students work together to tell stories they know from their own culture, with the teacher listening (@nutrich)
  • Mixed texts: 2 versions of one extract with mixed up parts of text . Students sort out the original (@hartle)
  • Use a story with a moral for discussion. Then students write a modern version themselves (@nutrich)
  • Reveal a story line by line and make SS think of the rest of the story (@toulasklavou)
Examples
  • Thank you Ma’m‘ by Langston Hughes
  • Frederic Brown – very short sci-fi stories, tales with a twist, e.g. ‘The Weapon’
  • Katherine Mansfield – ‘The Singing Lesson’, ‘Bliss’
  • Kate Chopin – ‘The Story of An Hour’
  • Brothers Grimm
  • Aesop’s Fables (including podcast versions) – over-familiarity could be a problem, but could help too – start with the ending and predict the story (@hartle). Also useful with weaker students. Or try ones that aren’t as popular as the well-known ones. Or get them to guess the moral. (@tarabenwell) Examples of Tara’s online learners reciting Aesop
  • Greek/Roman myths
  • Bible stories
  • Nasruddin stories

Poetry

  • Use powerpoint to make slideshows illustrating lines of a poem. (@naomishema)
  • Show students limericks, then get them to write their own (@helen100463/@Marisa_C) – although can be frustrating when trying to think of a rhyme for someone’s name (@pjgallantry)
  • Use haikus to raise syllable/pronunciation awareness (@Marisa_C). A Haiku is a Japanese poem of 3 lines, with a set number of syllables in each (5-7-5)
  • Use the web to find rhymes (@helen100463), for example @flocabulary’s “What rhymes with orange?” or Rhymezone
  • Saw a lesson once where T gave ss only the final (rhyming) words of each line of poem – ss had to complete it – worked brilliantly! (@pjgallantry)
  • Expression through poetry is very satisfying for learners too, it’s real and can be done at low levels. Grammar poems reinforce too. (@hartle)
  • Poetry is expression and can be sparked by all kinds of things: music, images, words… the brain just needs something to set it off (@hartle)
  • Use a poem as a dictogloss, then discuss it. I read the poem, they had to listen and write then get into pairs and re-construct and listen again and then again (@fuertesun) I’ve also used mixed up texts , 1 group with nouns, another with verbs etc. They reconstruct text & read (@hartle) More on dictogloss
  • I use a lot of poetry: short, we can stop every now and then and comment; even those who “don’t like it” love it in the end & learn! (@vickyloras)
  • Use rhymes to teach vocabulary – ‘Word Up‘ from @flocabulary
  • Poems are great for seeing word relationships and collocations (@rliberni)
  • You can come back to a poem or story later and see what the students remember (@divyabrochier)
  • Encourage students to learn a poem by heart (@fuertesun) – espeically good for stress and intonation (@nutrich) @divyabrochier’s Arabic teacher makes them learn something by heart every week ” I am learning a lot of words and remembering them!”
  • Practise rhythm /stress by making them do them as a kind of modern rap (@mkofab)
Examples

Plays

  • Did an exercise with Romeo & Juliet which looked at using the two families in the play. Students had to spread rumours about the other group. (@rliberni)
  • Carry a story forward into our times and change the setting (@Marisa_C)
  • Modernize the text (@flocabulary)
  • Enact roles, then debate and write from the characters’ viewpoints (@pjgallantry)
  • Get them to create own keyword cues for dialogues (@divyabrochier)
Examples
  • Shakespeare – including Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet
  • Oscar Wilde – quite a few on youtube too

Readers

  • Build a reader into each term of your classes (@pjgallantry)
  • Turn a short reader into a comic book (@smaragdav)

Other sources #eltchatters have used

  • Graphic novels
  • Cartoons
  • Translated poems/stories from different cultures (not only English poets/writers) – ind English language writers from India, Singapore, Africa, Malaysia etc.. there are many (@rliberni) – for example the OUP reader Land of my Childhood has stories from South-East Asia
  • Sometimes they like buying the audiobook too and listen to it on their way to work,works wonders for their language (@vickyloras)
  • Such Tweet Sorrow on Twitter

Getting literature to your students

  • Share your novels/books with them. Start a private library
  • Use a book box.
  • Use poetry and short story excerpts if longer sources are not available.
  • Use e-books
  • Encourage students to exchange books among themselves
  • Use Google reader to select reading and listening and then do a project presenting and swapping links on class wiki (@hartle)

Problems

  • We have to teach literary concept and thinking skills with the literature. (@naomishema)
  • Be age appropriate – “I had an early put-off experience with literature in EFL class: tried teaching some 14-yr-olds some William Blake!” (@pjgallantry)
  • It’s important to set the tasks right for literature: just an overview can be enough or select bits (@rliberni)
  • What level should extensive literature reading by introduced?
  • Do students already read literature in their L1? Even if they don’t, you should still teach them reading skills. (@Marisa_C)
  • Be careful of the ‘cultural imperialism’ thingy – some lit can be controversial! (@pjgallantry) But can be avoided by presenting a range of global literature which the sts can choose from. (@theteacherjames)
  • Some topics can be controversial: “My teaching Richard Cory sparked a huge eng. teachers debate about if it is o.k to teach a poem that has suicide in it. Scared me” (@naomishema) – “Taught Richard Cory to 10th-12graders. They actually related to seemingly perfect guy on the outside is unhappy inside”
  • I worry that it is hard to ‘justify’ using literature in Further Education’s utilitarian view of education as skills training (@pysproblem81): Is being able to appreciate literature, theatre, film etc.. not also a life-skill? (@rliberni)
  • Mistakes (used deliberately) in the source text: you can use them to show non-standard use (depending on level of students): noticing this type of thing can reinforce the normal rules (@hartle) I used “Of Mice & Men” which is full of mistakes. Great practice for reading skills & they could check with peers & me. (@theteacherjames)
  • Students have trouble with higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) if they’re not taught them in L1 (@naomishema): personally think literature is a real key to higher level language skills… playing with language seems to help (@pysproblem81)
  • A lot of teachers have come to ELT from other disciplines and not familiar with literary tradition (@Marisa_C). The teacher must feel enthusiastic and communicate that feeling for any literature work to be really effective (@pjgallantry)
  • Very few coursebooks promote literary text – it’s all journalese (@Marisa_C)

Links shared

Resource Books

  • Literature in the Language Classroom by Joanne Collie (on Amazon)
  • The Inward Ear: Poetry in the Language Classroom by Alan Maley (on Amazon)

And to end with, here’s one of my favourite poets of all time, performing one of my favourite kid’s books:

CAE Speaking Part 3

Here is a presentation I made to help out my CAE students with their final preparation for the speaking exam. I hope your students find it useful too. I used some information from the Splendid Speaking website, which has some excellent tips for many Cambridge exams.

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