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

Posts tagged ‘writing’

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 🙂

Good Omens lesson plan

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is probably my favourite book, and one of very few I’ve read multiple times. This is how Wikipedia summarises it:

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990) is a World Fantasy Award-nominated novel, written as a collaboration between the English authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The book is a comedy about the birth of the son of Satan, and the coming of the End Times. There are attempts by the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley to sabotage the coming of the end times, having grown accustomed to their comfortable surroundings in England. One subplot features a mixup at the small country hospital on the day of birth and the growth of the Antichrist, Adam, who grows up with the wrong family, in the wrong country village. Another subplot concerns the summoning of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, each a big personality in their own right.

In preparation for the upcoming series, which I am incredibly excited about, I’ve been re-reading it for the fourth or fifth time. In the process came across a short excerpt which can stand alone and decided it would make a good lesson for my Proficiency/C2 students. I think it could work for C1 students too.

We used it over two 90-minute lessons, but it’s very flexible so you can make it longer or shorter as you choose – it depends on how into the tasks the students get!

If you teach a 121 student, you may choose not to read the extract yourself beforehand, and go through the lesson making predictions, producing your own version of the text and reading it for the first time at the same time as your student. I promise there’s nothing offensive there! 🙂 A couple of teachers from our school who had never read Good Omens themselves used this plan successfully with their 121 students in this way.

Lesson stages

  • Tell students they’re going to read a short excerpt from a book. Before they read, they’re going to predict what happens. Emphasise that there are no right answers to this.
  • Show the pictures from Slide 1 of the Newt meets aliens Good Omens p203-205 presentation. Students work in pairs to make predictions of general events that might happen in the excerpt. Switch pairs to compare predictions and/or elicit some ideas as a class.
  • Show the word cloud from Slide 2. Tell students that this is a word cloud showing all of the language from the original excerpt. A word that is larger appears more often in the original text. Newt is the name of one of the characters from the book, and Lower Tadfield is the village he is travelling towards.
  • Students work in groups of three to write a version of what they think happens in the excerpt. They can use any of the language they want to from the word cloud. Give them plenty of time to do this: 20-30 minutes would be ideal. This is a chance for them to be creative, and to check language they’re not sure about in the dictionary or with you. Again, emphasise that the aim is not to reproduce the original extract, but to play with the language and experiment with ideas.
  • Groups read all of the other stories. Have they come up with similar ideas?
  • Slide 3 shows two covers for the book. Tell students that the excerpt they’ve been working with is from a comedy written about the end of the world. This part is a small event that happens half-way through the book. “Would you like to read it?” Hopefully their interest has been piqued by now and the answer will be yes!
  • Give them the Word document (Newt meets aliens Good Omens p203-205). As they read, they should compare the events in their versions of the story to the original, and decide how similar they are. They shouldn’t worry about language they don’t understand. They’ll need about 4-5 minutes to read, then should discuss in their groups the similarities and differences between their versions and the excerpt.
  • Slide 4 has follow-up questions for students to discuss in small groups. This is a great chance to work with emergent language that students are producing.
  • This excerpt is incredibly rich linguistically, as is anything written by Gaiman or Pratchett. Slide 5 gives students the chance to mine the text for any language that might interest them (see ‘language to mine’ below). They should take the lead in deciding what they want to steal.
  • Students then return to their original writing and write a new version of it. They can insert phrases directly lifted from Good Omens, or simply be inspired by the variety and richness of the original excerpt to make their own text richer through the use of synonyms, similes, and highly descriptive language.
  • They then share their original and rewritten texts (side by side) with other groups and answer the question: ‘What difference does the writer’s choice of language make to the enjoyment of the reader?’
  • As an optional extension, students could role play the situation of Newt meeting the aliens, or of Newt/the aliens telling somebody else what happened a few hours later. This would give them the chance to reuse some of the language they stole from the text.
  • To finish the lesson, show students the trailer for the upcoming series and ask them if they want to watch it. Slide 6 has the video embedded; slide 7 has the link in case it doesn’t work.

What happened in my lesson?

I only had three students out of a possible six, so my pair and share activity didn’t work when they wrote their own texts. They were surprised that the text they produced had the same broad strokes as the excerpt.

Although we used two lessons, we didn’t have time to go back to the writing and upgrade it, which would have been valuable. I felt like adding a third lesson to do this would have been dragging it out too much though.

Students were engaged in mining the text, and said they would like to try this with other texts in the future. We looked at the language of officialdom and how it was used to create humour in this excerpt.

One student had already read Good Omens before I introduced it, and went back and re-read it in Polish between the two lessons 🙂 [Here’s an Amazon affiliate link if you want to get your own copy.]

Language to mine from the text

This is very much NOT an exhaustive list of examples of language that could be taken from the excerpt. Any of these could be used by students to create new texts as a follow-up (for example a description of a crazy car journey), or could be used as a language focus if you want something more targeted than the word cloud from slide 2.

  • Phrases and phrasal verbs:
    fall over
    wind (the window) down
    think of (sth) (as sth else)
    wander off
    run sth through a machine
    (let sth) build up
    let yourself go
    see to sth
    turn sth over in his mind
    turn around
    bawl sb out
  • Features of spoken grammar:
    an’ suchlike
    one of them phenomena
    Been…, haven’t we sir?
    Been…perhaps?
    Well, yes. I suppose so.
    I’ll see to it. Well, when I say I…
    We’d better be going.
    You do know…don’t you?
  • Ways of describing speaking:
    gabbled
    flailed
    rasped
  • Ways of describing movement:
    a door in the saucer slid aside
    skidded down it and fell over at the bottom
    walked over to the car quite slowly
  • Descriptive phrases for a spaceship and aliens:
    satisfying whoosh
    gleaming walkway
    It looked like every cartoon of a flying saucer Newt had ever seen.
    Brilliant blue light
    frantic beeping
  • Connected to cars:
    He had the map spread over the steering wheel.
    He had to brake hard.
    rapped on the window
    He wound it down.
    He drove up on the verge and around it.
    When he looked in his rearview mirror…
  • Connected to officialdom:
    in the worldwide approved manner of policemen already compiling the charge sheet in their heads
    Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you, sir…
    …are below regulation size for a [planet] of this category, sir.
    We’ll overlook it on this occasion, sir.

A little bit of theory

This is a task-based lesson, with the focus on meaning early in the lesson. For the initial task, students have to use their own linguistic resources to come up with an episode in a story, and they are free to go in whatever direction they choose. They have the scaffolding of the pictures and the word cloud, but are not required to use any particular language point. Sharing their texts is the report phase, and they then see a model which they can mine for language. This language can then be incorporated into their own work – it is student-led, with them choosing the language they focus on, rather than following the teacher’s agenda of what ‘should’ be learnt next. This task repetition and upgrade stage is where a lot of the learning will happen, as students experiment with the language. There is then another report phase, with reflection on language use in general (writer choices), not just the specific language used in this lesson.

The language I’ve pulled out above reflects principles of the lexical approach (I hope!), working with longer chunks of language rather than isolated words. Collocations can be explored, as well as areas like features of spoken language. This can help students to move away from a focus on single words and verb tenses plus other structures typically appearing as part of a course book syllabus, which they often still have even at proficiency level.

Teaching students how to mine a text in this way can also be useful for their own self-study, thus developing learner autonomy. Techniques like this can be challenging for students to incorporate into their own learning without being shown how to do it the first couple of times.

More of this kind of thing

I’ve previously shared materials connected to the first chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Some things from the IH Torun Teacher Training Day 2018

Torun - Copernicus

A wise man in Torun

Saturday 21st April 2018 was the annual teacher training day at our sister school, International House Torun. I attended sessions by Lisko MacMillan, Matthew Siegal, Rachel Hunter and John Hughes, and presented on Making the most of blogs. Here are few of the things I got out of the day:

  • Although I hated drama at school, and did my best to avoid it, I really ought to embrace activities borrowed from improvisation. They make great warmers and energisers, and there are lots of opportunities for revision there.
  • I wish I’d been relaxed enough to enjoy drama at school, because it’s a lot more fun now that I don’t care about appearances as much!
  • It might be a good idea to swap your writing with another teacher and mark each other’s when possible to avoid the bias you get when you know your students.
  • One way to make feedback on Cambridge writing much faster is to give students a copy of the mark scheme with the relevant sentences for their work highlighted. Obviously you need to explain what it means, but the more they see it, the more they know what is expected of them.
  • gw = good word, ag = advanced grammar, are possible additions to a writing code that focus on positives. Although I haven’t used a writing code for a long time, this was a useful reminder.
  • To encourage students to engage with writing criteria and to kill two birds with one stone, turn the criteria into a Use of English open cloze exercise.
  • An activity to make students plan before writing: you plan your partner’s answer. They only get to see the plan, not the question, and write the answer. Then show the question and they get rid of what they didn’t need.
  • Give students a list of things they can when proofreading their text. They should do as many as they have time for. For example:
    • Task completion and paragraphs
    • Spelling and vocabulary repetition
    • Grammar accuracy
    • Grammar range
    • Linking words
  • Art is an interesting alternative to photos, and lends itself to a lot of the same classroom activities.
  • There are loads of activities you could do with a single picture, like The Bedroom by Van Gogh. Try asking ‘If you lived in a room like this, what would you change?’ Show the picture, then hide it and ask students to remember as much detail as possible. What isn’t in the picture? Whose room is it? Be art critics. Give them half a picture each and make it an information gap.
  • With pictures of people, make the person the subject of an interview. If there are a lot of people, recreate the image by making a tableau vivante. Imagine the relationships between the people or describe their personalities.
  • If you want students to describe and draw, why not given them something like a Picasso or a Dali, and do it as a head drawing exercise (with their paper on their heads)? It’s already an odd picture, so they won’t feel as bad if they can’t reproduce it!
  • There is a blog by a Polish teacher in Polish about teaching English written by Beata Topolska. If you can recommend any other good blogs which are about teaching English but not written in English, please let me know!
  • Problems with teenage students are often due to rapport. Get to class early and get chatting to find out more about them.
  • Watch out for being too shallow or deep with personalisation – it’s a fine line. Try using Speak/Pass/Nominate, so students can choose whether they want to answer (Speak), don’t answer (Pass) or choose somebody else (Nominate).
  • To help students engage with a word bank of photos (e.g. types of food), try getting them to engage using sentences like:
    • I really like ______, but I don’t like _______.
    • I often eat ______ for breakfast, but I never eat _______.
    • I’ve never tried to cook _______ but one day I’d like to.
  • When you give students a list of topics, encourage them to find things in common. This is more authentic, as it’s what we try to do during small talk. You could give them a simple Venn diagram (you/both/me) to frame the discussion. For example, see ‘making connections’ in John Hughes’ post about personalisation.
  • With teens, try asking ‘What do you really hate/dislike?’ rather than ‘Which do you prefer?’ They’re more likely to respond.

All in all, this was a great local conference, and I walked away with loads of ideas for my classes. Thanks to Glenn Standish and IH Torun for organising it!

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 🙂

Giving feedback on writing (TeachingEnglish blog associates)

This was a post I’d been meaning to write for a long time! Since doing the Delta exam a few years ago, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to mark writing. To find out what the current results of this experiment are, take a look at my latest post for TeachingEnglish British Council, describing how I give feedback on short pieces of writing of up to 300 words. How do you approach marking?

Marking writing

Revision squares

Tuesday evening. 7:15pm. I walk out of the cover lesson I’ve just completed, working with a lovely group of pre-intermediate teens. Running through my head: right, I need to take the key downstairs, pick up my stuff, and pop into the supermarket on the way home. Followed almost immediately by: [Four-letter word], I forgot to find cover for the last lesson! That’s my evening out the window! Cue 10 minutes of running around trying to work out where to get some food from to get me through the rest of the evening (thanks Shannon and Emma!), telling people how stupid I am, and canvassing for ideas for an unplanned cover lesson with low elementary adults I haven’t met before.

As (nearly) always with these things, the lesson itself was absolutely fine. Two students came, one of whom had forgotten to do his homework. The first 45 minutes were spent working on pronunciation of comparatives from the homework, and with them testing each other, plus practice of very large numbers. For the other half of the lesson, I gave them the choice of unplanned functional language (the next spread in the book), unplanned superlatives (the spread after), or revision (which they’d also had, along with a test, in the previous lesson). They went for revision, and this is the activity which I came up with, based loosely on collaborative profiles, an idea suggested by my colleague Sam just before the lesson (thanks!) I joined in to, so see if you can work out which drawings were mine!

Pawel page 1

Pawel page 2

Revision squares

  1. Fold A4 paper into 6 squares (or 8 if you have more language points).
  2. In the first box, each person draws a person.
  3. (Optional) In the second box, the next person asks three questions about the person. (This didn’t work very well, as I hadn’t thought it through, and I decided I wanted different people’s drawings on each paper, not the same person every time in our group of three.)
  4. In the second box, the next person answers the questions about the person/writes a basic profile describing them.
  5. Pass the paper on (do this after each stage to get a truly collaborative piece of work). Under the person, draw where they live.
  6. Write about where they live.
  7. Draw two or three hobbies, plus one thing they can’t do.
  8. Write about them.
  9. Draw three things they do every morning.
  10. Guess what…write about them!
  11. Draw their last holiday.
  12. Write about it.

Ola page 1

Ola page 2

As the paper was passed on, I encouraged the students to read what others had written and link their texts if they wanted to. I also corrected texts as part of my turn, because it was obviously a bit easier for me to write! The students asked me questions about what they were writing, and about my corrections. There was also negotiation in English as we tried to work out what other people had drawn. Obviously with only two students, it wasn’t that hard, so you might have to think about how/if you want to correct/join in if you’re using the activity with a bigger group. To round it off, we all read all three stories quickly and decided which person we would like to be friends with and why.

Steven page 1

Steven page 2

In about 30 minutes, these elementary students produced about 100 words of English, and practised:

  • question forms
  • interpreting and replying to basic questions
  • There is/are
  • rooms and furniture
  • like + -ing
  • can/can’t
  • hobbies
  • daily routine
  • past simple
  • holiday vocabulary
  • prepositional phrases of various kinds (time, place, manner)
  • vocabulary they wanted to use, based on their drawings

We had an empty box as we ran out of time, but I think I probably would have done something with future plans, like plans for the next weekend, though I don’t think they’d got to that in their book. Alternatively, drawing their family, their job, their favourite clothes…lots of options!

I’m pretty sure it could be adapted for a wide range of other language. I’d be interested to hear what you decide to do with it.

Categorising writing mistakes

I’ve just got access to a short video made for the Teaching English British Council facebook page at IATEFL Manchester 2015 which I’d completely forgotten about! In it, I describe a method you can use to encourage students to notice mistakes they make in writing and try to reduce them. Unfortunately I can’t embed the video here, but I can give you the link to watch it. I’m not sure if you need to be logged in to facebook to see it, and I don’t know how to get around it if you don’t have a facebook account – sorry!

You can see examples of how I used this kind of error categorisation in my own Russian learning in the ‘Writing’ section of the post How I’m learning Russian (part 2).

Russian journal

Russian journal

Have you tried anything similar?

Cambridge Exams: The Writing Paper (IH Bydgoszcz Cambridge methodology day 2016)

Today I had the pleasure of taking parting in the IH Bydgoszcz Cambridge methodology day. I presented a range of activities to help teachers prepare students for the Cambridge First and Cambridge Advanced writing exams.

The slides from the presentation and all of the resources can be found below. You can download everything from slideshare, for which you will need to create a free account. The links in the presentation are clickable. You’ll find full details of all of the activities in the notes which accompany each slide, which you’ll be able to see when you download the presentation.

Potato talks was taken from Thinking in the EFL Class by Tessa Woodward (published by Heibling Languages – affiliate link)

FCE essay to put in order (via Pavla Milerski):

For more on linking words of contrast, please see my Contrast Linkers post.

Telescopic Text is a way to get your students to play with language and experiment with writing longer stretches of text. Here’s the example I shared.

The other links I shared were my Useful FCE websites page, flo-joe, Cambridge Write and Improve and my student’s guide to Quizlet, including the link to my B2/FCE Quizlet group. While the last link may not seem so connected to writing, a) it’s amazing, and b) it’s great for practising spelling as well as expanding the range of vocabulary students know.

Cambridge exam writing IH Bydgoszcz Sandy Millin 13th February 2016 (presentation title slide)

I’d like to thank David Petrie and Pavla Milerski for activities which they allowed me to incorporate into the presentation, and Anna Ermolenko and Tim Julian for other ideas which didn’t make it in in the end. If you’d like more ideas, you can watch David’s webinar on writing skills for exam practice. Being connected to a network of such helpful teachers is so useful. Thank you!

Conversation jumble with ELTpics

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

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

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

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

Here are the answers:

A: Good morning. (!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Me too. (!)

Camera

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

Write more! Making the most of student journals (IATEFL Manchester 2015)

In this presentation I spoke about writing journals with students in a variety of different contexts, including both monolingual and multilingual classrooms. I also talked about my own experience of using a journlal for my Russian learning.

I find journal writing to be a very rewarding process for the students, and I learnt a lot from going through the process myself, including improving my spelling, increasing my vocabulary, and learning more about my teacher. As a teacher, reading my students’ journals was a great way to learn more about them, including their needs as language learners. I’d highly recommend trying it out. 

Here are the slides, including information about what exactly I mean by journal writing and tips on how to set it up. All of the links in the slides are clickable.

There is no commentary on the slides as there is a recorded version of the same talk available from the TOBELTA online conference from August 2014, which you can read more about and watch via this link.

At the start of my presentation

(thanks to David Petrie for taking the photo)

Useful links for CELTA

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

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

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

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

Before the course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lesson planning

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

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

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

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

Jo Gakonga has three webinars connected to lesson planning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Classroom management and activity set-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Teaching receptive skills

Reading

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

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

Listening

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

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

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

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

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Teaching productive skills

Speaking

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

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Teaching language

General

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

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

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

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

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

Grammar

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

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Vocabulary/Lexis

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

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Functions

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

Pronunciation

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

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

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

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

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

Jo Gakonga has webinars on connected speech:

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Classroom techniques

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

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

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

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Observing and being observed

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

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

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

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

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Teaching in different contexts

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

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

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Assignments

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

Focus on the learner

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

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

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

Language-related tasks (language awareness)

See links in the Teaching language section of this post.

Skills-related tasks (authentic materials)

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

Lessons from the classroom

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

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

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Surviving the course

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

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

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

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

50 ways to take a break

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

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

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After the course

You’ve survived! Well done! Now what?

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

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

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

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

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If this list isn’t enough for you:

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For CELTA trainers

(Just so you don’t feel left out!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Everything else

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

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

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]

Making the most of student journals

Two teaching organisations, TESL Toronto and BELTA (Belgium) joined together for a free online conference on the topics of reading and writing on 8th-9th August 2014.

TOBELTA conference logo

I was very happy to present on an area I’ve been experimenting with for a while, both as a teacher and a Russian learner, that of writing journals.

Here are my slides. Please let me know if any of the links don’t work.

All of the slides and recordings from the whole conference are available via the conference programme.

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.

Teaching essay writing

Today I presented a seminar with ideas about teaching essay writing, with a particular focus on FCE and IELTS exam tasks. It’s part of the monthly seminar series at International House Sevastopol.

The slides from the presentation and all of the resources can be found below. You can download everything from slideshare, for which you will need to create a free account. The links in the presentation are clickable. You’ll find full details of all of the activities in the notes which accompany each slide, which you’ll be able to see when you download the presentation.

Three different types of IELTS essay question (adapted from DC IELTS):

IELTS questions to classify by type (adapted from DC IELTS):

Potato talks from Thinking in the EFL Class by Tessa Woodward (published by Heibling Languages – affiliate link)

FCE essay to put in order (via Pavla Milerski):

Essay structure (via Pavla Milerski):

Students

Photo from ELTpics by @yearinthelifeof, under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license

I’d like to thank Olga Stolbova from IH Sevastopol and Pavla Milerski from IH Brno for helping me to put the seminar together.

The next one in the series will take place on February 22nd 2014, on the theme of teaching stress patterns in pronunciation. Olga will present it. If you’re in the area, we’d love to see you there!

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

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

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

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

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

Related links

Useful FCE Websites

Writing journals with students

When I was working at IH Newcastle, I taught the same group for 20 hours a week, four hours a day, divided into two two-hour lessons. That’s quite a lot of time with the same group, and yet I sometimes found it difficult to get to know the students with any kind of consistency or depth, especially because there was so much coming and going: new students could arrive Monday morning, Monday afternoon and/or Tuesday morning, and every Friday some students left.

I decided to try an idea I’d first heard about at TESOL France in November 2011: journal writing. By the time I left Newcastle I’d done it successfully with groups at three different levels, with slightly different approaches in each case.

For all three levels, students wrote in small A6 notebooks from the school. I think this is the perfect size, as they’re not too daunting and it’s relatively easy to fill a page. When I introduced the journals for the first time, I asked the students to tell me anything they thought I should know about them. They could also ask me questions, about life in the UK, about English, or about me. I think it’s only fair to give them the chance to ask about me, if I want them to talk about themselves in this way. They had time in class to write their response. I then collected the journals and spent about an hour each day responding to all of them, with some correction (depending on whether I wanted that particular student to focus on accuracy or fluency when writing). As far as possible, my response consisted of answering any questions they’d asked me, then asking further questions as a prompt for the next day’s journal writing. The questions could be linked to things the students had told me, or on a completely new topic. The topics we covered in the journals were incredibly wide-ranging, and differed from student to student. They also informed some of the lessons I taught, by showing me what my students were interested in. Here are some of the things I remember talking about:

  • why the English drink so much
  • why Tesco is so popular
  • the North Korea/South Korea divide
  • the riots in Turkey
  • how to become a state school teacher in Spain
  • films and TV series (a lot!)
  • books
  • places to visit in Newcastle/the UK/the students’ own countries/cities
  • language learning (including advice on how to practise outside class)
  • family
  • homesickness
  • computer games
  • card games/tricks
  • …and much, much more…

When the students left my class and/or the school, I gave them their journals to take away with them.

Pre-Intermediate

This was a group with a lot of Arabic students who were very reluctant to write generally, but who were very willing to write in the journals. I think this is because it was writing with a real purpose, and they could see that I was correcting them. It was also important for them that I was showing an interest in them as individuals, by responding to what they wrote on a personal level. There were non-Arabic students too, and the journals gave me a chance to see everyone’s writing regularly.

With this group, I did the journals at the end of the lesson, which meant we didn’t always do them if an activity ran over. I tried to leave about 20 minutes, with the first 10 being for a regular spelling test, as this was a real problem area. All of the spellings in the test were collected from the journals – I recorded the mistakes in a list in my notebook, which I then put onto Quizlet. Each time we did the journals, I would dictate five spellings for the students to put in the back of their notebook. After the spelling test, they had writing time to respond to my comments and questions and/or continue the conversation in any way they chose. Sometimes I would ask them all to write on a specific topic. Here are some examples of writing they did after my mum visited the class, in which you can see the kind of feedback I gave.

Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample

Intermediate

Despite the success of the journals with the pre-intermediate class, I didn’t start using them for a while with the intermediate group – I’m not sure why! When I did, I did a lot less correction with them. We also didn’t do a spelling test as part of the journal writing, although I did collect the spellings and do occasional tests and games with them in class instead. As soon as I started using the journals, the dynamic in the class changed and my rapport with the students really improved as we all got to know each other better. The quiet writing time at the end of most classes was also good for the more introverted students.

Advanced

Again, I didn’t start using the journals straight away, but I did use them for over two months. For the students who wrote them for that whole time, there was a marked improvement in the quality of their writing and in the length of their responses. What was quite noticeable with this group was that they really tried to incorporate new vocabulary and grammatical structures into their journals. Their written comments and questions were also sometimes language-related. For example, after a lesson on collocations with ‘get’, one student told me about all the phrases with ‘get’ he’d heard his host family use the night before.

I finally learnt from my pre-int/int experience and moved journal time to the beginning of the lesson. As students came in I gave them their journals and they started writing straight away. This was a great way to cater for latecomers, and gave the students the chance to write for as long as they needed to (normally 15-20 minutes) instead of being rushed by the end of the lesson approaching/arriving. While the students were writing, I would normally have a conversation with one or two of the students in a kind of mini tutorial. At this level I underlined problems/mistakes but didn’t correct them, so they had to ask me if they didn’t understand what the problem was. I could also use this time to talk about other areas to work on, unrelated to the journals, and to provide some intensive, targeted practice.

This was the class I was teaching when I left Newcastle, and in my final lesson with them I asked for some feedback on the journal writing process. I asked them:

  1. What did you think about writing the journals?
  2. Do you think writing the journals helped you?
  3. How could I improve this activity?

These are their exact responses:

J

In my opinion, it’s a very good idea to get them pupils to write.

It’s more interesting than other writing exercises, because it implies a conversation (between teacher and student).

In all my other classes I barely wrote. That’s not very good because it’s one of my sticking points in English and therefore it was the perfect exercise for me.

This student had been a bit frustrating for me, as I couldn’t seem to get through to him. Writing the journal improved my rapport with him, and gave us things to talk about. It also really focussed on his weak point, which was writing as he said. I was pleasantly surprised by his feedback.

K

The journals are a good way to test student’s writing and get to know them, so I think it is very useful.

R

What did you think about writing the journals?

It was a good experience. We tried to use the vocabulary we learned before so it was a good way to practise. It’s also interesting because we wrote about thing we like.

How could I improve it?

I have no idea.

L

1. I really liked writing the journal because it’s a way of knowing each other better and practicing my writing. It’s an interesting thing and I enjoyed doing it. The good thing is that now I’ve something to remember you!

2. As I said before I honestly think that it really helped me, because you corrected my mistakes and I hope I won’t make them again.

3. I’d say that you don’t need to improve it. It’s great the way it is!! It doesn’t need an improvement.

(As you see, I’ve used different ways of expressing my opinion) (something we’d practised in class that week!)

N

I’ve never done it before. For starters I was surprised, but got used to it.

– make language problems obvious. Sometimes I haven’t been aware of this à good to know so that I can work on it.

– Go ahead with these journals, a piece of individual teaching in a large group!!

– Definitely!

– Nothing to complain about J

T

1. Very positive. Please go on with it. I think it’s positive to learn about your students. You can immediately evaluate them for their writing skill. For the students is good to write about their daily life.

2. For me it was helpful. Actually I know my weak point and I will try to improve it.

3. The booklet should be bigger. Nothing else to add.

Your turn

As you can see, the journals made a real difference with these groups, and as one of the students said, allowed me to provide ‘a piece of individual teaching in a large group’. Although they probably took an hour or so of my time each day to check, the pay-off in terms of the improved rapport and needs analysis were worth it. When you’re teaching the same group all the time, you don’t necessarily need to do the journals every day, but it’s a good routine to get into (and provides 20 minutes of ready-planned lesson each time!)

I haven’t tried this with my groups in Sevastopol yet, but now that I’ve written this post, maybe I will. I could introduce it, with them making the first entry in class, then give the students the chance to write their journals at home if they want to continue with it. Hmm…

Another post you might be interested in: Writing and Marking

Writing bingo

I’ve got a pre-intermediate teenage class at the moment, and I’m finding it a bit difficult to engage them in class, so when this activity worked well with them the other day, I was over the moon!

It started because I was annoyed with them speaking too much Russian, so I asked them to spend five minutes writing about their last holiday to give me time to calm down/think/work out how to get them to speak more English. They couldn’t show the story to anyone else. After a bit of protesting, they did as I asked, with two students seeming to compete over who could write  the shortest story. While they were writing, I did too:

My last holiday was in Germany. I went with my friend Catherine. We visited Munich for three days, then went to the Alps. In the evenings we went to different restaurants, and one night we went to the cinema. In Munich we went sightseeing. In the Alps we visited two beautiful castles, called Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. We went everyone by train. It was very cold, but the snow was beautiful. I went to my friends’ wedding too.

After five minutes, they turned to page 17 of the New English File Pre-Intermediate Student’s Book and looked at the following questions:

Holiday questions from NEF Pre-Int SB p17

 

They had to add any information which they had not already included. This is what I added to my story:

We stayed at two hostels. We didn’t have any problems and we had a really good time.

For the next stage I drew a table on the board. It had all of the students’ names, plus mine.

I asked the students to think of three words they thought might be in my story and write them down. For example, ‘friend’, ‘walk’, ‘beach’. I read my story aloud, and they had to cross out any word from their list they heard. They got one point each for the words they had predicted correctly. I also got points for every word the students had correctly predicted. For example: A got 2, S got 1, R got 0, M got 1 and D got 3, so I got 7.

We repeated this around the class. Students with longer stories tended to get more points because there was more chance the predicted words would be in their stories.

Once they realised what was going on, the students were competitive, engaged, and eager to read their stories. Russian disappeared completely for the 40 minutes this activity took. For homework, I gave them the chance to improve their stories before I looked at them. Three of them did this (out of five), including one of the students who had been involved in the ‘can I write the shortest’ competition – he ended up writing over 100 words, and it was excellent.

This is definitely an exercise I will use again in future, and I hope it’s useful to you as well (if you can understand it!). 

To finish off, here’s a gratuitous picture of one of the beautiful castles:

Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein

Irregular verbs revision with minimal planning

  1. Ask the students to cover the board with as many verbs as they can think of. They should stick to the infinitive/first form, and will probably do this without prompting
  2. Elicit any corrections to spelling/form.
  3. Leave a pile of squares of paper/post-it notes on a desk. Ask students to write the past simple form of each verb on the pieces of paper, one verb per piece, then stick the past form on top of the present form on the board. When they have finished, all of the infinitive verbs should be covered by all of the past forms.
  4. Circle any incorrect past forms, including where students have written a past form for a different verb (thinking specifically of fall-felt here!). Ask students to correct them.
  5. Write a separate list of only the problematic forms on the board, and ask students to copy it into their notebooks. We endedd up with 8 verbs from a total of about 40, including feel-felt, think-thought, fall-fell, show-showed, hear-heard
  6. Drill the pronunciation of the pairs.
  7. In pairs, ask students to write a short story including all of the past forms. This took my students 10 minutes.
  8. Create a gallery of the stories/Ask students to read them out.

I made up these activities during an hour of a cover lesson with B1 Intermediate students today. One of them said at the end, completely unprompted, “That was a useful lesson”, so I thought I’d write here so I could remember it in the future!
Enjoy!

The special case of Arabic

At IH Newcastle, we have a relatively high proportion of Arabic mother-tongue students. In my experience, one of the biggest problems they have is with spelling in English, which causes them trouble with both reading and writing. I have tried many strategies to help them to improve in this area, including recommending Quizlet and the read-say-spell, cover-write-check method which was one of the ways I was taught to spell in English. These have had limited success, and until today I didn’t really know why.
I’ve just come across a section entitled ‘The Special Case of Arabic’ by Ann Ryan of the University of Wales, Swansea (in Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy edited by Norbert Schmitt and Michael McCarthy, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp.184-192). She gives examples such as:

  • we get water from deep wheels (wells)
  • you get upstairs in a left (lift)
  • I met my friend in the model of the square (middle)

These examples immediately struck a chord. I had always put such problems down to poor spelling-pronunciation awareness in the learners, but could never understand why these seemed to be so much greater for Arabic learners than for those from other languages, even those written in non-Roman scripts.
Ann Ryan’s explains that in Arabic, words are based on a root that normally consists of three consonants, which can be combined with different patterns of vowels to produce word families, for example k-t-b generates maktaba – library, ketaab – book, kataba – he wrote and so on.
She then goes on to show that Arabic speakers often carry this convention over to their English reading and vocabulary learning, meaning that they use consonants to represent English words. Thus, Arabic learners translated the English ‘cruel’ to equivalents meaning ‘curl’ or ‘cereal’; or translated English ‘finish’ to Arabic ‘fishing’.
Arabic speakers also had much greater trouble in identifying when vowels had been deleted from words than when consonants had been deleted. Their reaction time and errors in this experiment were significantly higher than that of Japanese, Thai and Romance speakers. In short, they have a kind of ‘vowel blindness’. As Ann Ryan says:

The problem seems to take the form of ignoring the presence of vowels when storing vocabulary and an almost indiscriminate choice as to which vowel to use when one is needed.

I would recommend reading the full chapter to follow up on my brief paraphrasing and check I haven’t missed anything!

The implications of this for teaching Arabic students are quite serious. If students aren’t seeing the vowels, or aren’t remembering them, this could inhibit their learning greatly. What can we do to help them notice and pay attention to vowels? In short, to help them completely change a cognitive process which is carried over from L1?

As a visual learner, my only current idea would be to give each vowel a colour, e.g. ‘a’ is red, ‘e’ is blue…and encourage learners to use this in class for words which they struggle to discriminate. What do you think? How would you tackle this?

20130329-141704.jpg

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

A brief thought on writing for an audience

I am currently preparing for my third Delta observed lesson, which will be on the topic of writing. One of the things that has been mentioned again and again in my reading is the importance of writing for an audience, preferably a real one. 

Yesterday I took my students to St James Park, the home of Newcastle United football club. We had a fantastic tour, taking us all over the stadium, including into the dressing rooms:

Shared by @sandymillin on http://flickr.com/eltpics

This afternoon I worked on formal and informal emails with my upper intermediate class. They had the choice of three tasks to consolidate our language work:

  • write to a fictional language school asking for information about their courses;
  • accept a fictional wedding invitation;
  • write to our tour guide from yesterday to thank her, including saying what you enjoyed and suggesting any possible improvements for the tour (which would be emailed to the tour guide).

3 students chose to write the thank you email, 1 the reply to the invite, 1 a completely different email (confirming that he would be attending the Nobel Prize award ceremony!) and the other 6 wrote to the language school.

I find it interesting that, given the chance to write to a real person, most of the class chose not to. I wonder why?

Dear students

Welcome to our class! And if you’ve just arrived in Newcastle, welcome to this beautiful city! Why did you decide to come here? I went to university in Durham, and the north-east is my favourite part of England, although I’m not from here originally. I moved to Newcastle a year and a half ago, in July 2011. I’m staying here for at least another 18 months. What about you? When did you come? How long are you staying?

I love learning languages. I studied languages at uni, and I’ve lived in many different countries so I know how you feel. Is it your first trip to the UK? What do you think so far? If you have any problems, please let me know. I’m happy to help 🙂

What are your hobbies? I enjoy going to the cinema, and I’ll watch anything except horror – the people in horror films annoy me! I also read a lot, and I love travelling. I don’t have a lot of free time at the moment though, because I’m studying for my Delta, which is a teaching diploma. When I’ve finished it I will be allowed to train other teachers or run my own school, which is my dream. What do you do? What do you want to do in the future? Do you think English will help you with this?

I hope you enjoy your time in Newcastle and at IH. Remember, this is your class. you should always feel free to tell me if you want me to change anything or if there is something specific you want to study. I look forward to working with you!

Sandy

PS (extra special for the blog!) This idea was stolen from Philip Harmer, one of the best teachers and kindest people I have ever had the privilege to work with. Thanks Philip!

An extension on a dictogloss

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

The dictogloss

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

Hi Marek,

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

Niko

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

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

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

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

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

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

The extension

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

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

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

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

The extension on the extension

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

At the end of the lesson, I asked how easy it was to write their own invitation, and pointed out to the students that this process of remember/write/check is something they could do at home. They were engaged throughout the lesson, and really annoyed with themselves when they made mistakes the second time they wrote on the board.

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

Spelling game

My intermediate class were really struggling with spellings, so I decided to play a game to make them a little more fun. I have lots of different word games at home, including Scrabble, which include tiles with different letters on them. I also have cut-up letters making up three complete alphabets.

We put two small tables in the middle of the room with the letters spread out on them, and all of the other tables around the edge of the room. Each pair of students was allocated one table.

I called out a word from pre-prepared list. The pairs had to work together to take letters and spell out the word on their table. When they had finished they stood by their table. There were five pairs, so the first team to finish with a correct spelling got five points, the next four and so on down to one point for the last team to get the spelling correct.

As you can see from this photo, the students were all involved, and the most common words we spelt during the game were much more accurate after the class 🙂

Spelling game in action

20121109-140717.jpg

20121109-140740.jpg

Revamping writing

In a recent class my students did some writing starting with the (elicited) sentence:

Tom was teaching English at IH in England two years ago.

This was to finish off a week during which we had studied relative clauses, and I hoped that students would include at least one or two of these in their own writing. It has to be said that my introduction to the writing was probably not the best ever seen in a language classroom, and this may have had something to do with the final result. However, since the students are in an Intermediate class, the general standard of their writing needed to be improved anyway.

I took the writing home at the weekend and came up with a set of questions, reproduced below.

Before the class, I cut them up so that each question was on one slip of paper. I turned them over and numbered them, so that the students could see which ones they had already responded to.

In class, I first asked the students to break down their writing onto small pieces of paper, so that one piece of paper had one clause (though I used the term ‘idea’ here). The examples here are from the end of the lesson, after they had worked on the text:

Examples of highlighted slips of paper 1

Examples of highlighted slips of paper 2

This made it easier for them to move the ideas around in the story – more like a puzzle than a piece of writing!

Students then worked through the questions in the same groups which they wrote the original stories in. Once they had a final version, they rewrote it on a new piece of paper. For the fast finishers, I marked a few errors for them to look at.

As the students themselves agreed, the new piece of writing was much richer. They still remember some of the questions I asked them when producing writing now (2 weeks later), although obviously not everything!

With the permission of my students, here are the before and after versions of their stories (click to make images larger):

Before and after 1

Before and after 2

Before and after 3

Before and after 4

Hope that all makes sense! I’d be interested to here if you’ve tried anything similar with your students.

The consequences of me

This activity came to me when I was trying to think of something for a stand-alone lesson on a Monday morning before new students joined our B1 Intermediate class. For a sudden idea, it worked surprisingly well, so I thought I would share it with you.

It’s based on the game ‘Consequences’. Each person writes one or two sentences, folds the paper and passes it to the next person. Nobody can see what has been written before.

Each student needs a piece of paper and a pen, and the teacher needs a list of questions. This was my list:

  • What’s your name and where are you from?
  • What do you like doing in your free time?
  • Why are you learning English?
  • What is your family like? (you could also say ‘Describe your family’ if the ‘is…like’ structure is too difficult)
  • When was your last holiday? What did you do?
  • What are you going to do this evening?
  • What are your future plans? Is English important for your future?
  • What is one thing you love and one thing you hate?

Students answered the questions one at a time, folded the paper and passed it on, then answered the next question. In the end, we had over one page of writing for each student, something which they are often reluctant to produce otherwise.

Here are some examples (click to enlarge):

Consequences of me Consequences of me

Consequences of me

Students then worked in small groups to read the texts and correct them. Because each piece of paper had writing from all of them, it didn’t feel like they were being targeted. They could also see that everyone in the class makes mistakes, not just them. I monitored and helped them with any questions, but generally they managed to correct most things without my help.

Once they had all looked at every piece of paper, I highlighted the remaining few problems (there were never more than six on any piece of paper) and they looked at them together. You can see these in pink on the examples above.

The whole activity prompted a lot of discussion about the grammar, spellings and meanings, and students were really motivated.

Essay writing checklist

I wrote this worksheet based on problems my students have been having with the FCE Writing Part 2 essay-writing task. Feel free to download it, use it with your own students and let me know what I need to change / improve. It fit onto five pages on my computer, but has expanded to six on slideshare. If you adjust the margins once you’ve downloaded, you’ll save a bit of paper! 🙂

[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.]

Here are the answers:

Essay writing checklist answers

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!

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:

Mini reviews

If you have a few minutes between now and Wednesday 25th May 2011, I’d be really grateful if you could contribute to a collection of book/film reviews I’d like to use with my Advanced level students. I’m looking for your own opinions, rather than links online (as I could find them myself) 🙂

I’m trying to encourage them to use a larger range of adjectives than just good/bad/interesting/boring, so anything you could add would be great! They can be as long or as short as you like, and I would really appreciate some negative reviews too, as these are often neglected I think.

How to join in

  • Add a review to the comments in this post.
  • Post your review by adding a post-it note to this page in this link.
  • Record a short review using audioboo
  • Send me a review any other way you choose!
Thank you very much for joining in, and watch this space for a lesson plan showing how I used them.

Describing graphs

Here is a set of worksheets I made last year. I used them over a series of lessons with various groups at Intermediate and Upper Intermediate level. (They may take a while to load on this page)
Some of the activities are taken from other sources, in which case they should always be credited. If you believe I have used something which is uncredited, please let me know.
Feel free to use and adapt the worksheets however you see fit. They can be used in whatever order you see fit. I have tried to arrange them here with the more specific items at the beginning and the general summaries at the end. If you think any of the answers are missing or any of the information is incorrect, please let me know too.
Enjoy!











Story Prompts with #eltpics

In April 2010 I attended a talk by Laura Patsko at the IH Prague Conference about storytelling in an adult classroom. This week I finally got round to adapting it to make use of some #eltpics (pictures for teachers by teachers which can be used under a Creative Commons licence) and thought I would share the presentation and the lesson plan with you. Feel free to use it however you like. (My context was an Advanced group, but it could be used with other levels)

I showed them the first slide of the presentation and told them we were going to look at six pictures and talk about the ideas in the word cloud. I copied the cloud onto each picture so that they would have some ideas.

Once they had talked about each picture and I had given them any extra vocabulary they needed, they voted on the most interesting picture. I copied and pasted it onto the final slide, right-clicked on it and chose ‘send to back’. We were revising narrative tenses, used to and would, hence the orange box, but you could change it or delete it entirely.

I told the class to imagine that this picture was an image taken from the midpoint of a film. They were going to create the story of the film. Half of the class worked on the story leading up to the picture, the rest worked on the story after the picture. They were allowed to take a few notes, but could not write out the whole story.

After about fifteen minutes I then reorganised the groups. Each new group had one ‘beginning’ student and one ‘ending’ student. They then had to put their halves together to create one logical complete story.

The final step in the process was for each pair to tell their story to the group. I recorded it using Audacity and emailed it to the students after class. Next week we will focus on their use of narrative tenses, used to and would based on the recordings.

One-to-one variation

I also (unintentionally) taught the same lesson 1-2-1 when only one student turned up from a class of five! We followed the same process, but got through it much faster, finishing all of these steps in about 30 minutes. Once we’d recorded the story, the student then typed out what she had said. We then went through a series of drafts, each time focussing on one or two changes, for example tenses, punctuation and choice of vocabulary. This is the document we produced based on the picture of the two girls at the castle door:

What worked

  • The students found the pictures interesting and were motivated to discuss them.

  • They enjoyed being able to create their own stories.
  • They used their English in a natural way, so it recording their stories really showed the areas which they need to focus on.
  • In the 1-2-1 lesson, the student was given an intensive personalised focus on her errors. She also learned about punctuation in a relevant way, particularly the punctuation of speech (which I personally find can be difficult to teach/learn)
What I should change
  • At the beginning of the lesson I should have introduced the idea of storytelling in more detail. We could have talked about why we like stories and what a good story requires.
  • With more time we could have created more detailed stories, adding in information about the characters, using more adverbs etc.

If you choose to use this lesson (and even if you don’t!) please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions to improve it.
Enjoy!

Tools for the 21st-Century Teacher

This is my take on the tools presented by Niall Creaney during the closing plenary at the PARK Conference in Brno on 2nd April 2011. If you have a problem with any of the links, please let me know in the comments. The tools are:

  1. Twitter
  2. Blogs
  3. Google Reader
  4. Social bookmarking
  5. Glogster
  6. Prezi
  7. Dropbox
  8. Evernote
  9. Quizlet
  10. Wallwisher
  11. TitanPad
  12. Skype
  13. Word clouds

I have also added a bonus tool:

11b. Google Docs

1. Twitter (@sandymillin)

Twitter has opened so many doors since I started using it in October 2010. It’s a micro-blogging site, where you send messages 140-characters long out into the world. For teachers, this means an international community full of support, inspiration and ideas. To find out more about what it’s about and how to get started, take a look at this conference presentation I did about blogs and Twitter for teachers. (Update: I also have a complete introduction to Twitter for Professional Development)

It seems scary at first, but if you keep going back and try to spend an hour or so playing with it at some point, you’ll get the hang of it. For the first couple of months I lurked, which is completed normal (find out more by taking a look at the post on the Online Professional Development survey I did in January 2011, through Twitter of course!) Now I spend a few minutes every day having a quick look at the links, and I always find something to make it worth it: useful, thought-provoking and/or fun.

As well as using it for professional development, many teachers use it with their students. I haven’t tried it myself, but here are some links to people who have:

2. Blogs

I started this blog in October 2010, but nothing much happened on it until I started posting regularly in January 2011. Partly through promoting my blog on Twitter and partly through presenting at conferences and promoting it, my stats look like this:

Apart from giving you a great positive feeling every time you see your stats :), writing a blog is an excellent way to reflect on your teaching. You can use it to share ideas, connect with other teachers, get inspiration and so much more! As with Twitter above, you can find out more about what teachers use it for on my Online Professional Development Survey post, and see how to get started with it in the Whole New World of ELT one.

3. Google Reader

As well as writing your own blog, there are hundreds of other teachers in the blogosphere sharing their ideas. To get you started, take a look at the sites in my blogroll (on the right of this page).

The best way to keep track of the blogs you read is to use a reader, such as Google Reader. Once you’ve signed up (free), you add the links to the blogs you want to follow and the reader does the rest. This is what my page looks like:

This is the first page I see when I go onto the site. In the centre are all the posts that have been added to blogs since I last went on the site. As I read them they automatically disappear from the main page, but I can access them again by clicking on the name of the blog in the bottom left-hand corner. Of course, you can also go back to the original blog address too!

Here are some links to help you get started:

4. Social Bookmarking

So now you’ve had a look at Twitter and blogs and you’ve found loads of great new ideas. How do you keep track of them? The answer is Social Bookmarking. Rather than keeping your links on your computer, where you could easily lose them if anything went wrong, you can use a site like Delicious or Diigo. You can access your bookmarks from any computer, without having to worry about being on the same machine. You can also tag them with as many words as you like, making them easier for you to find again.

This is my page on Diigo:

As you can see, each link is tagged with various key words which I have chosen myself. To find a page again, I have various options:

  • I can search for any word I remember from the title / post using a box in the top right (not shown);
  • I can search for a specific tag by typing it in the box at the top (where it says ‘filter by tags’)
  • I can click on a tag underneath a link
  • I can click on a tag in the menu on the left

This is the little bar which appears in my browser (Safari) whenever I want to add a site to my bookmarks:

You simply click ‘Bookmark’ when on the page you want to share, change any of the options you choose, and hey, presto! it’s added to your bookmarks. You can also upload the bookmarks from your computer straight onto the social bookmarking site to keep them all together.

As for the ‘social’ part of social bookmarking, you can subscribe to other people’s links and be updated whenever they add to them. My Diigo page is here if you’re interested.

Here are some pages to get you started:

5. Glogster

This is the first of the tools which is mainly for students to use. The slogan is ‘Poster Yourself’, and it does what it says on the tin. Here are some examples of work created by 14-year-old boys in the UK: they created glogs about Spanish-speaking celebrities as part of their Spanish studies at secondary school. It is an easy tool for students to use, and the results look impressive quickly. You can include pictures, videos and text, then embed your glog in other sites, such as on a class blog or a school webpage. This one was embedded into a wiki (via @tperran). Students could use it as an alternative to traditional paper-based homework, then email you the link. There is even an option to create a Glogster for Education account, where you can create accounts for your students for free.

Here are some tutorials to start you off:

6. Prezi

Prezi is a web-based alternative to Powerpoint, used to create striking presentations which you can either present online or download to your computer. If you’ve seen my Whole New World of ELT presentation, then you’ve already seen your first prezi. As with Twitter, it looks a little scary at first glance, but once you’ve had a look at some other examples of presentations, followed the tutorial you are given when you first log in to Prezi and played around a little, you’ll soon get the hang of it. One tip: zoom out as far as you can before you start making your presentation if you intend to have a lot of ‘layers’ – the default setting is slightly zoomed in.

You can use it in the classroom too. Here is an example of a presentation made with American primary school students (via @surrealyno). And here are more ideas:

These are the Prezi Learn pages – an excellent guide to get you started.

7. Dropbox

Dropbox is a free online file-sharing site. First download their desktop application, then drag the file you want to share into the folder on your computer. Dropbox will automatically ‘sync’, making your online Dropbox look exactly like the Dropbox folder on your computer and vice-versa (if somebody updates the file online, it will update in your Dropbox too). You can then invite people to see your files and folders. Here is a video tutorial to show you how it works. This is my homepage:

The free account comes with 2GB of space, with an extra 0.25GB added for every person you refer to the site. I have now referred 3 people so I have 2.75GB.

It’s a great way for students to submit work to you as they don’t have to worry about space limits. It’s a lot easier than traditional file-sharing sites in my opinion. I haven’t used it with my students as yet, but it’s been useful for sharing materials with colleagues en masse.

One teacher (lucky enough to have computers for every student!) used Dropbox to synchronise student presentations. To see an excellent summary of everything you ever needed to know about Dropbox, including links to a few lesson plans (mostly primary and secondary), click here.

8. Evernote

This is the first of these tools which I’ve not used myself, so I’ll let them explain themselves to you:

EvernoteIt seems it’s an easy way to take notes on anything and in any way you could possibly imagine: use it to type notes, take screenshots, store photos and much-more – it’s like an online, searchable filing cabinet. It can be accessed from computers and mobile devices. Here is their guide to find out how to get started. I reckon the best thing to do is just go and play, then come back here and let others know what you’ve been doing with it… (Thanks in advance!)

9. Quizlet

This is a customisable flashcard site purposely designed for language learners to use for self-study. It is incredibly easy to use, and you don’t even need to create an account if you already have a facebook one. Once you’ve signed in, there are three big blue buttons to greet you:

You can search for flashcards that have already been created or make your own quickly and easily. Quizlet’s own guide is here. Once you’ve created the set, your students can then look at the flashcards and play two fun games to help them practise the words. This set about vegetables (created by @NikkiFortova) is a good example that you can play with. You can also create groups so that all of your students can see the flashcards you create for them. It’s principally designed for self-study, and the makers recommend allowing students to choose when / if they want to use it.

Update: I have created a complete beginner’s guide to Quizlet.

10. Wallwisher

Wallwisher is one of a variety of online bulletin boards. Others include Primary Wall and Lino-It. All of these tools allow you to post notes, pictures, videos and links on a ‘wall’ which looks similar to a real-world noticeboard. This is the demo screenshot they have on their homepage:

Here is a wall I created for students to post suggestions on how to practise English outside class (unfortunately students didn’t get into it in this class, but I know others who have!) Apart from the example just mentioned, I’ve only added to walls other people have made to send birthday wishes, but there are many other uses for it!

11. TitanPad

This is the only other tool on the list which I have not used myself. TitanPad is designed for online collaboration when creating documents. This is the example they show on their homepage:

As you can see, each collaborator has their own colour, clearly marking who has edited what in the file. You can save versions of the file and export it in various formats. Up to 8 people are allowed to collaborate on each document. The main attraction is that no sign-up is required – you can create a pad directly from the homepage. Unfortunately, it also has some disadvantages, as the pad is public to anyone who has the url. This post explains how it can be useful.

11b. Google Docs (update: now called Google Drive, but still does the same thing!)

If you’ve ever used Microsoft packages, you can use Google Docs without any more effort than simply logging in. You can create documents, spreadsheets and presentations online, as well as professional-looking forms. It looks similar to other offline software, making it very quick to learn if you are already familiar with document etc. software. Here is Google’s tour of their docs function.

As with TitanPad, you can view changes made by other collaborators and the documents are updated in real-time. You can also find out who else is viewing the document at the same time as you. You need to sign in, but don’t have to have a Google account to do this.

Google Docs have myriad uses in the classroom. My students used a document to give me definitions of words and a form to answer reading comprehension questions of an online article during a webquest. Here are some suggestions from other teachers:

12. Skype

Skype is a piece of software which you can download to your computer, then use to make phonecalls to people anywhere in the world. Watch the visual explanation to find out more (they explain it better than I can!):

In March 2011, Skype created an Education section of their website. This enables teachers to set up projects with other schools around the world, as well as finding inspiration for Skype-related projects. Here are 50 suggestions for using Skype, based on real projects which teachers have done. It’s a great way to bring the real world into your classroom.

13. Word clouds

A word cloud of this blogpost so far made using Wordle…

…and the same text entered into Tagxedo

As you can see, word clouds look visually stunning, and encourage students to read and think about what is there. The online software processes the text, making each word appear once in the cloud sized according to how often it appeared in the original text (i.e. the more a word appears in the original text, the bigger it is in the cloud) I won’t go into too much detail here, as I have already blogged and created presentations about word clouds. The posts can be found here, and include links to tutorials for both Wordle and Tagxedo, as well as many ideas on how to use them:

So, that’s it: thirteen (plus one!) tools presented at the PARK Conference, explained in my own words. If you have any more suggestions on how to use the tools, or think I need to make any corrections, feel free to comment on the post. I look forward to hearing what you think!

Enjoy!

25th March 2011: I’ve just discovered that the original plenary session on which I based my list of tools was taken from this page: http://issuu.com/mzimmer557/docs/tools_for_the_21st_century_teacher. You will find more tools and more information there.

Cuisenaire Rods

A few weeks ago, I was reading a post on Ceri’s blog and stumbled across a picture of some Cuisenaire rods. I made a quick comment on the post, and Ceri asked me if I would like to write a joint post on how we use them. Ceri is a respected ELT writer and inspirational teacher and it’s an honour to be able to blog with her for a newbie like me. It’s the first attempt at cross-posting and blogging together for either of us: hope you like the results!

Ceri’s story

I bought my box of cuisenaire rods in 1989 when I was doing my induction to the Dip TEFLA (as it was known then) at IH Hastings. I was inspired by a silent way influenced lesson I observed at the school and bought my rods on the way out.  I was fascinated by the atmosphere of engagement and focused attention, of the calm, controlling presence of the teacher and the concentration on the part of the students.  I’ve carried the rods around with me ever since. They’re looking pretty good, despite their age, I think it’s something of the aura of care and respect from that first class I saw that’s rubbed off on them.

Recently I dusted them off and used them in class. But before I did, my kids got their hands on them.  My daughter’s been using them at school for maths.  She squealed with delight and pounced on them.  “They’re made of wood!” (the ones in her school are made of plastic) and proceeded to build a “picture” showing all the number combinations that add up to ten.  There’s a real pleasure in touching them and handling them and the colours are really attractive.  The way they’re laid out so carefully in the box breeds a sense of respect and discipline. When she’d finished with her maths drawings, she very carefully put them all back in their rightful place (not something that happens very often with her toys!).

Inspired by her enthusiastic response , I  took them into my adult class the next day.  We’d been using a lot of internet, Web 2.0 and IWB materials in our classes and I’d taken the rods in as a change of focus.  I wanted to use them first of all as a kind of show and tell activity. I also wanted to know if they too had used them at school and to see what kind of response I’d get.  No-one had used them and they were interested to learn about them.  We’d been discussing the power and associations of colours in the class before so we talked about how colours can aid memory and learning.  And we conducted an experiment, associating specific rods to idiomatic expressions  and explaining why.  We put the rods away until the end of the lesson and brought them out to see if we still remembered the associations.  No surprises, we did. We brought them out again the next lesson. We still remembered.

In the second lesson I introduced them to the rods for language practice using an activity I’d seen modelled back in that lesson in Hastings.  It’s incredibly simple. Incredibly basic. And there’s much, much more that you can do with rods, but it caught their imaginations. This is how our class secretary described the activity in the lesson summary:

Ceri suggested a new game with the blocks.

First ,  she made a figure with some of them and with the explanations she gave us,we were able to make it without seeing it. It was very funny.

After this, everyone of us made a figure and we explained how to make it and the other classmates tried to find out .”

The students were focused, engaged, concentrated, paying attention to the careful choice of each word, especially the “small words” (prepositions, articles, pronouns).  This is a comment one of the students made in her summary after the class:

We noticed our common mistake is when we say “take one block and put it in front of you”. We don´t usually say “it”.We eat “it”.

This seems to be a general pay-off with using rods; the level of attention and the focus on details and precision often help students value small insights, small “noticing” moments that then carry over as a shorthand for correction in less controlled production.

As an extension task I asked the students to write instructions to build a new shape with the rods and to post it on our class blog.  Here’s what one of the students wrote (if you have a set of rods you may want to follow the instructions and see what you come up with):

Hi Ceri!

If you follow the instructions, you’ll reproduce a piece of art made with scaled-up Cuisenaire rods I found on the internet.

Take the rods: 1 orange. 1 blue, 1 brown, 1 black, 1 dark green, 1 yellow, 1 lime green, 1 red and 2 white.

Let’s go!

Take the blue rod and put it on the table in front of you, standing up.

Take the purple rod and put it standing up on the right, next to the blue one.

Take the orange rod and put it behind the blue one, standing up.

Take the brown rod and put it standing up behind the purple one and next to the orange one.

Take the black rod and put it carefully on top of the purple one, standing up.

Take one white rod and put it on top of the orange one.

Now take the red rod and put it standing up on top of the last one you have just placed.

Take the yellow rod and put it on top of the blue one in front of the two smaller rods.

Take the dark green rod put it standing up on the top of the brown one, next to the stack of orange, white and red ones.

Take the lime green and put it on top of the black one, standing up.

In the end, take the other white rod and put it on the top of the red one.

If I’ve given you the right instructions and you’ve followed them correctly, you should have got this sculpture: http://www.tetuhi.org.nz/exhibitions/exhibitiondetails.php?id=8

Bye

M

Follow the link, it’s worth it to see the photo!

Sandy’s story

When I was about four, my parents gave me a set of Cuisenaire rods. A couple of years later, I got a book showing how to do sums using the rods. I loved playing with them, and it’s possibly here that my primary school love of maths originated. Until I was about eleven, I used the rods all the time. Then, I grew up and they disappeared into the cupboard. If it weren’t for a CELTA session, I would probably not have thought about them again until I had my own kids. I came out with loads of ideas and the joy that one of my favourite childhood toys could have a role in my classroom. The next time I went home, out they came and into my bag of teaching tricks. Every time I’ve used them, the students have been engaged and enthusiastic, once they’ve got over the initial “What does the crazy teacher want us to do with THEM?” reaction, that is!

Re-enacting stories

After reading a story in a young learner textbook, the kids used the rods to represent the different characters and retell the story. There was a jack-in-the-box at the end of the story, and they really enjoyed throwing it across the room!

Grammar – phrasal verbs

Cuisenaire rods are great for showing sentence structure. This is a downloadable set of worksheets I created for word order in phrasal verbs (based on New English File Pre-Intermediate Unit 8).

Building models

My favourite activity uses the rods for model-building. It’s especially good for the vocabulary of houses and furniture, but I’m sure it could be used for many other things. I’ve used it at Elementary, Pre-Intermediate and Upper Intermediate levels, with groups ranging from 2-12 students, and it’s always gone down well. This is how to do it:

  • Before the class starts use the rods to build a room in your house / your whole flat (however much you have time to do!). Add as much detail as you can.
    My flat in Cuisenaire rods
  • At the beginning of class, encourage students to guess what it is. They will probably get that it is a house / flat very quickly, but working out the exact details of what is there is generally more challenging. Depending on the level:
    -Draw the outline of the house / room on the board. Students fill it in with the names of the objects. I also left a space for students to write words in Czech they wanted to know. Once we’d looked at the vocab list in their textbook they wrote the English on the board.
    My flat on the board
    – SS use modals of speculation to decide what is where and perhaps why you bought it / put it there.
    – SS describe the room to their partners, focussing on prepositions.
  • Teacher confirms or corrects the names of the furniture / rooms.
  • You could expand the vocabulary, focus on the grammar or generally build on the student-generated language at this point.
  • Students each build one room, without telling anybody which room it is or what objects they have put in it.
    Building a roomRoom
  • Their partner then guesses what is in the room, and which room it is. One really creative student once created a garage, complete with chairs stacked on top of a table. Needless to say, neither his fellow student or I could work out what it was!
    Garage

NOTE: If you don’t have enough Cuisenaire rods for the whole class, encourage students to use other small objects like coins, rubbers, pencil sharpeners… I also have a box of laminated shapes that comes in very useful for many things. Every time I have a bit of space in a laminating pouch, I put in a scrap of coloured paper and cut the result into random shapes.

A box of shapes

Here are links to two great posts that follow on from this theme.

Emma Herrod wrote about using lego blocks on Barbara Sakamoto’s blog Teaching Village in a blog that appeared in two parts.
More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 1 (by Emma Herrod)
Teaching Village Rotating Header Image More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 2 (by Emma Herrod)

Michelle Worgan wrote about the power of colours and associating colours to words and language on her blog So This is English.
Colour Experience

How to write an #eltchat summary

eltchat summary wordcloud

#eltchat takes place at 12pm and 9pm GMT every Wednesday. It’s a Twitter discussion for teachers all over the world. To find out more, read Marisa Constantinides’ excellent post.

If you’ve never followed the chat, they are fascinating, stimulating and full of ideas. If you’ve tried to follow the transcript after the discussion is over, you may have found it a little confusing. For that reason various contributors to #eltchat now write summaries of the discussions to create a reference after they are over. If you’re one of the lucky summary writers, here is a quick guide:

  1. Follow the chat as it’s happening (I think this makes it easier to write the summary)
  2. Wait for the transcript to be published / Go on to Twitter and scroll back to the beginning of the chat
  3. In a blogpost / a Word document write a short introduction to the chat, generally including when it took place and the fact that it’s an #eltchat
  4. Then work your way through the transcript (it’s easier to start from the earliest tweets), putting the main points under headings to divide them up a bit. It’s completely up to you how you do this. I also generally find it’s easier to put all of the links in one section, but it depends on the topic of the chat.
  5. Publish the summary on your blog / send it to one of the moderators – you’ll find their names in the transcript.
  6. Tweet a link to the summary so that everyone can read it. To see previous examples, click here. Your summary will end up here too, if you give your permission. Please do!

Depending on the chat, it could take a couple of hours to do a summary, but it’s great for your blog traffic! And it’s a good way to fix the ideas in your head – revision and all that.

Good luck!

Hiding ‘have’

A couple of weeks ago I was due to revise the grammar of ‘have’ with Advanced students, covered a couple of months previously. Wanting to make it more student-centred but being short of inspiration, I put a call out on Twitter for help. @fionamau came to the rescue with this suggestion:

Give the students five minutes to write as many sentences as they can using the word ‘have’ in any tense.

With this as my starting point, I then created a whole lesson:

  • SS did a very quick controlled practice exercise to remind them of different uses of ‘have’.
  • They had five minutes to write their sentences.
  • With a partner, they checked their sentences. I also quickly went round and offered advice.
  • With the same partner, SS wrote a text in any format they wanted to (story, review, letter…) which had to include one sentence from their list.
  • They switched texts with another group and had to find the hidden sentence.
  • They then got their original text back and with the help of a monolingual dictionary, a collocations dictionary, a thesaurus and the Internet (in the form of my laptop) they then had to make the text more advanced. By this, I meant moving away from short S + V + O sentences (if appropriate to the text type) and trying to incorporate some of the grammar and vocabulary we have looked at throughout the year. I also challenged them to include more description / emotion etc depending on the text type they had chosen. The final thing for them to look at was punctuation – in Czech, the longer a sentence is, the better.

With their permission, here is an example of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ transformation of one of the texts:

Before (sorry about the format – it’s easier to read if you click on the image)


After

New Irish restaurant is big disappointment

A new Irish restaurant was  opened in the city centre two weeks ago so I decided to visit it and look  the menu over. I had a delicious lunch in the afternoon, so  I was expecting a tasty  meal in the evening as well. I was excited to have a kind of traditional Irishfeast , but it turned out this  wasn´t such a good idea.  It took the  waiter 15 minutes to come with the carte du jour and finally, when I chose my meal, I was told that they didn´t have it that day . I started to be really annoyed. However, I picked something else.

I really didn´t know what my meal was going to be because the name was written in Irish, so it was quite surprising when I got undercooked potatoes with a bloody steak. It made me feel sick so I had to go home. I must say it was disgusting.

I taught the same basic lesson with two different groups and both of them really enjoyed it. They also found it useful to analyse the grammar using their own sentences, as it highlighted the problems THEY had, and not the ones which I ‘guessed’ at.

It would be great to hear your suggestions for variations / improvements on this.

Enjoy!

Write on!

This  week has been all about writing for myself and my students. On Wednesday, I took part in the #eltchat on Writing and Marking (transcript here, summary here) and on Friday we had a CAM (IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology) session on Writing. In the course of both I was thinking about the writing my students have done recently, and realised that we’ve done many different things. Here is a selection of them in no particular order.

Email Workshop

  • SS sent me examples of real emails written in English.
  • I printed them, along with a couple of real emails I have sent to other native speakers, and cut them up to take into class.
  • SS sorted them on a scale (roughly) from formal to informal.
  • SS read the emails in more detail, attaching post-it notes to them with examples of good language from them. There was also a bit of scrap paper next to each where they could write any questions.
  • We took the emails one by one and went through the post-it notes and scrap paper, adding extra notes as they came up.

An example of an email we had looked at

  • At home, I scanned the emails with the post-it notes still stuck on them and emailed them to the SS.
  • For homework, SS added to a GoogleDoc to serve as a final reference which they can access at any time after the class. This is the original template, which you’re welcome to use (please ask me if you need access).

With five students and nine emails, this has already taken one 90-minute class, and could easily take another. The students are really enthusiastic about it and told me it was very useful at the end of the session.

Email conversations

One of the first things I did in my classes at the beginning of the year was to gather the SS’ email addresses. We are constantly in contact with each other, mainly about homework but with other emails related to holidays and issues the students have.

Short summaries

After a discussion in class, I encouraged SS to write a very short summary (3-4 sentences) of what they learnt. I then collected it, marked it quickly while they were doing some listening, and returned it asking them to email it to me for homework. This could have been done without marking, but as these students are training to take the CAE exam and are generally reluctant to write, every little helps!

Discussion questions and answers

The same group did some speaking in class based on a wordle of money questions from New English File Advanced. I gave them the original teacher’s book page for homework, then asked them to choose two questions. For one, they had to record an answer through audioboo or on their mobile phones; for the other, they needed to send me short paragraph by email. I posted the results on my student blog here. Half of the class did their homework, which is a pretty good hit rate for them!

Essay writing

In the CAE exam class, I introduced the group to essay writing. We followed a task-based approach, with the students writing essays in pairs, followed by an examination of linking phrases they could use to improve cohesion. They then had a chance to redraft their essay using the language and tips from the coursebook. I gave them online feedback for the first time (example) using Jing for the recording, along with OmniDazzle to do the mark-up. One student has already replied:

Thank you very much for this feedback. I think it very useful and I really like it. I believe that it will help all of us.

Thanks to all those on #eltchat who suggested feedback like this – it’s a great tool to add my toolbox.

EnglishRaven’s materials

Jason Renshaw is one of my favourite bloggers to follow. He constantly inspires me with all of the materials he posts on his excellent blog. This week I finally got to experiment with two of them – the Wizard English Grid (WEG) for emergent language, based on this post, and the reading and questions template from this post. The former is still a work in progress with the various groups I’ve introduced it into, but the latter was very successful. Having covered advanced family vocabulary with one group last week, I wanted to revise while pushing the students further. I found an article about demographics in the Czech Republic to paste into the empty space in Jason’s template, then gave the students time to create their own questions. We only had half an hour in class, but the way the discussion was going we could easily have continued for an hour. And where was the writing, I hear you cry? Well, the questions the discussion was based on were all written by the students themselves – something which they don’t often practise.

Transcripts

With two 1-2-1 students I recorded speaking, which they then typed a transcript of for us to work on the language. Neither of them noticed that they were writing, and they commented afterwards that they had never of thought of doing this before.

YLs and Teens

Even my younger learners didn’t escape! In the YL class of pre-intermediate nine- to ten-year-olds we’ve been watching a few minutes of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at the end of each lesson as a reward for all of their hard work. This week, there was a space in the syllabus which was the perfect time to teach them some of the vocabulary they’d been struggling with. As a follow-up they wrote a couple of sentences about the film and draw a picture on this sheet:

The intermediate-level teens started writing a script for a presentation we’re going to make next week on their technology use.

The End

I think that pretty much covers it, and I hope it’s useful to someone! When I started thinking about it, I was very surprised at just how much writing there was in one week’s worth of lessons. What I’m concentrating on at the moment is trying to make all writing I do relevant and to give the students as much of a sense of purpose as possible. I know I was definitely guilty of ‘the next page is writing, so we’ll do it on Monday’ and ‘do the writing for homework’ before, and I hope the things featured in this post are the first steps to changing this!

How to train students to use technology appropriately (an #eltchat summary)

This is a summary of the 12pm GMT #eltchat on Twitter from Wednesday 9th February 2011. Find the complete transcript here.

Why bother?

  • It empowers students.
  • It allows them to learn beyond the classroom – blogs, wikis, skype, global projects…find out more
  • SS bring their own technology to class anyway. For example “Students arrive first day with a very expensive electronic dictionary. We have integrated a class on use into the curriculum”
  • Older kids learn by using tools and making mistakes.
  • Tech can make language learning more exciting, even if SS can’t access it at home. It can also absorb SS in using the language so much that they forget they are studying.
  • “Resource, communication, and automated feedback (might include motivation as well)”
  • Language learning is a tool to learn other things, including technology.
  • It fits in with many SS lifestyles, adding purpose, engagement and usefulness to the lesson.
  • “When did Ss have access to so much natural lang in the past 24/7? – A self access at their fingertips”
  • By showing SS how to deal with tech by themselves, you’re fostering learner autonomy.
  • Your SS can be immersed in L2 culture. It’s an accessible way to meet and interact with L2 natives.
  • It’s a great motivator.
  • Online practice between lessons makes up for a possible lack of face-to-face time – SS progress faster.
  • SS who are shy in class can be much more willing to participate online.
  • Tech can do things you can’t, like “a student-created book students can access at home and share”

How to do it

  • Train learners by demonstration. e.g. with YLs use Triptico word magnets for grammar structures. They want to try it too!
  • Offer old computers for young learners to play on. With very young learners, show them how to use the mouse and keys to make things happen on screen.
  • Assign computer-related homework, e.g. making a short powerpoint. SS then talk about it in class.
  • Use an iPad for audio and video content. Also has a good dictionary app.
  • Encourage SS to set their phone / PC to English – they know the functions and can learn a lot of language.
  • Use your iPod / mp3 player for listening in class. Great way for SS to see podcasts in use.
  • Ask SS to bring in something funny, e.g. a YouTube video, and share it at the end of class.
  • Encourage SS to use smartphones to look up words / images.
  • Ask SS to use bluetooth to send short recordings.
  • Connect to your SS on facebook and ask them to comment on your statuses in English.
  • On the first day of class, ask all of your SS to get their phones out and send you a text. Make a class list.
  • Teach Pecha Kucha with young adults – prepare a “half” PK with 10 slides only. / Offline, try it with a series of A3 cards.
  • Ask SS to record themselves inside and outside class – on computers or mobiles. Example
  • SS can email you in English.
  • Use articles, infographics, video listening activities etc to teach learners about tech.
  • With YLs, ask parents to play online games in English, e.g. Playhouse Disney
  • Ask SS to take photos of the board with their mobiles.
  • Encourage SS to listen to podcasts when commuting. Don’t forget to teach SS what podcasts are, as many of them don’t know! Do a listening lesson in class, then send them home with a list of links.
  • “A great Design For Change project in Taiwan: YLs teach senior citizens to use mobiles & PCs to message & game in English.”
  • Use class time for training, so that SS can continue their learning at home e.g. how to record voice messages.
  • Ask SS to take pictures of things they want to learn the words for on their phones, then bring them to class.
  • Let SS have a go at using something before you train them how to. Get everyone to try a task – the first one to work it out shows all the others.
  • Let them train each other. Encourage peer discussion.
  • Show them tutorials and let them play with tech themselves (especially for younger / more tech-savvy SS)
  • Ask the SS to read a text aloud and record it, then send it to you in class via bluetooth.
  • Talk about tech with your SS – they’re often very enthusiastic.
  • Train your SS on how to appropriately convey Internet research through oral presentations.
  • Teaching tech is like giving instructions – the simpler, the better.
  • Remove unnecessary obstacles – e.g. create a class sign-in.
  • Choose the one application needed and explore it together. / Choose a handful of tools and use them regularly and purposefully.
  • “My best tech moments are when SS create stuff/tell their stories/become stars/cooperate with each other.”
  • Teach each student something different, and they can pass it on. (Jigsaw reading approach)
  • With young learners, use tech adapted to them: big buttons, pictures, and no ‘dangerous’ links if they click around randomly
  • Get more advanced SS to create tutorials for earlier levels.
  • PaperTwitter: hand out a paper with a space for username and message to each student. They then have a short time to write a message and pass it to whoever they want. It gets silly and fun.
  • Ask SS to find stimulating texts online and bring them to class.
  • Show SS how to use Twitter for English self-study, through hashtags such as #twinglish, #eltstudentchat (latter has not yet started) – read about it here
  • Use Twitter to work on concise writing – the 140 character limit really helps them!
  • Use Twitter to make school / class announcements.
  • Even if there is space for every SS to have a computer, consider small groups for collaboration.
  • Use webquests for homework. / Do collaborative webquests with a time limit – groups present what they have found after this time.
  • Ask SS to interview each other using mobiles / cameras.

Challenges and suggested solutions

  • Classes with mixed technology skill levels
    Ascertain their  tech capabilities as soon as you can, for example by doing a survey of what they know and if they have any expertise. Include a section on tech skills in your needs analysis. Don’t forget you can probably learn a lot from them too.
  • Availability of technology / resources
    Think about what tech you DO have access to.
    Your own laptop (if you have one) can go a long way – even one computer offers many opportunities. You can also ask SS to bring in their laptops. Even if you have no net access in the classroom, you can often download things to your computer. Help SS to find alternative places to access technology outside class, such as the local library, friends, family.
    Mobile phones are all-pervading – most students have them, and there is lot you can do with them – text, recording, video, photos…
    You can also teach technology without it: use ‘paper models’ of things like chat, forums/commenting, even twitter in class before going online.
  • Training yourself and your colleagues.
    If you don’t feel confident, it is difficult to train your students. Play with tools before you use them in class. Share knowledge you have with your colleagues. Encourage them to come to your classroom to see it in action. Blog about your tech use and share. Thread technology suggestions into observation feedback.
  • SS resist using technology in class.
    Teach SS language through Edtech. Go to the tech SS are already using, including local language sites. Start simple – once they see the usefulness, they may not resist as much. Use the knowledge SS have, for example with their mobile phones. Give them links to online dictionaries and exercises to take home. You may be teaching them how not to be afraid of it!
  • Parents / SS expect printed handouts and coursebooks, not computer-related assignments.
    Teach SS language through Edtech. Show them how much more writing they do when it’s online “My parents are thrilled when they see how much WRITING in English their kids do when it’s online.”
  • SS don’t have email addresses.
    Don’t forget that not every student has email! Help them to see the use for it, and try to find ways around it.
  • Complicated language (slang, abbreviations) on social networking sites.

Don’t forget!

  • Think about how technology fits in with your overall goals / content. No tech for tech’s sake.
  • Think about how to insert it into your practice, rather than teaching it as a completely separate skill. Introduce it in small doses so it doesn’t overwhelm language learning. Make it feel like a natural extension of an already existing task.
  • Are you teaching technology or using it as a tool?
  • Speak to your SS – they might not be interested in “hyper-connected language learning”, especially if they’re using tech all day outside class. Allow them to choose to avoid alienation.
  • “Don’t try to use tech to ‘fix’ things that aren’t broke!”
  • Have  a back-up plan just in case!
  • Be ruthless – don’t drown yourself in technology!

Links shared

I’ll leave you with a quote from the chat:

My strongest English students are often techies.

Twitter and Screencasts as texts

As a pre-session CAM task, we have been asked to choose one written and one spoken text-type and come up with a plan to develop a (theoretical) one-to-one student’s receptive skills relating to these text types. This is my attempt:

Written: Twitter conversations

  • Genre features: short messages. Between typical spoken and written style. Generally quite informal. Many abbreviations / codes. Use of ellipsis to shorten texts (only 140 characters are allowed)
  • Schemata: SS needs to access Twitter schema (i.e. Twitter-specific lexis), plus schema related to the type of conversations they follow (i.e. celebrity chat, teachers, businessmen)
  • Sub-skills:
    • Identifying the topic of the text and recognising topic changes.
    • Identifying text-type and the writer’s purpose. (i.e. giving information, asking for help, encouraging support for a cause)
    • Inferring the writer’s attitude. (helpful, humorous, sarcastic)
    • Understanding text organisation and following the development of the text.
  • Strategies needed:
    • Activating background knowledge of the topic before reading the text.
    • Guessing the meaning of unknown words from context.
    • Seeking clarification.
    • Indicating lack of comprehension.
  • How to develop these skills:
    • First, focus on Twitter lexis (RT, ff, via, blog, post, mention, hashtag, tweet, feed)
    • Find out from the student what kind of people they follow. Divide them into groups by the function of their tweeting e.g. Do they generally tweet ideas? links? information? Work with the student to show them how this can help them to understand the messages.
    • Choose some of the conversations which the student has tried to follow. Work with them to look at cohesive devices throughout the text.
    • Using the same conversations, examine how the writer has shortened the text to fit the 140-character limit.
    • Look at example tweets from their feed and examine the writer’s attitude in each. Identify keys to recognising this attitude, including words, knowledge of the writer (are they known to be e.g. left-wing), pragmatics.

Spoken: Screencast tutorials.

  • Genre features: Supported by visuals. May include some technical language. Imperatives and other instruction-giving structures (If you click here…) Computer lexis.
  • Schemata: Computing schema, schema related to specific tool (e.g. voice-recording software), instruction-giving schema
  • Sub-skills:
    • Perceiving and distinguishing between different sounds.
    • Dividing speech into recognisable words or phrases.
    • Distinguishing between given and new information.
    • Using discourse markers and context clues to predict what will come next.
    • Guessing the meaning of words and expressions.
    • Identifying key information and gist.
  • Strategies needed:
    • Activating background knowledge of the topic before starting to listen.
    • Using non-linguistic information (situation, context, etc.) to predict what will be heard.
    • Using non-linguistic visual clues to help infer meaning.
  • How to develop these skills:
    • Focus on computing lexis, especially related to navigating on-screen (click, hover, press, button, cursor, mouse, upload, download)
    • Watch screencasts with student highlighting instances of these words.
    • Study different methods of giving instructions (imperatives, first conditional…)
    • Watch screencasts focussing on the instruction language.
    • Watch screencasts without sound to predict the content.
    • Transcribe a screencast to work on sound distinctions / divisions.
    • Use the transcription to study discourse markers / cohesion.

Has anyone focussed on these as text-types in the classroom? I’d be interested to know if my strategy reflects your own.

Writing and Marking

Advanced-level students using laptops to produce film reviews

Advanced-level students using laptops to produce film reviews

Having just spent the morning marking writing from both Cambridge CAE and non-exam Advanced students, I suddenly remembered that one of the things I highlighted in my CAM action plan as an area to work on was presenting and marking writing. It seems a blog post is therefore in order…

Writing seems to be one of those areas which is quite ephemeral – a kind of ‘practice makes perfect’ for both teachers and students. Here are some of the things I’ve heard (and maybe even said) from each side of the divide:

Students

  • I don’t have time to write.
  • I hate writing.
  • Arghhh! I can’t write. (after being presented with a sheet of paper covered in notes)
  • What [exactly] do you want me to do?
  • Why do we have to write?
  • Writing is boring and it takes too long.

Teachers

  • I don’t have time to include writing in my classes. / Students never do writing for homework.
  • I don’t have time to mark writing.
  • My students don’t care about writing, so why should I?
  • I don’t really know how to mark [fill in appropriate level / exam] writing.
  • I don’t want to depress my students by covering the page in red pen.
  • Their spelling / grammar / handwriting is atrocious – I can’t read it.

So what can / should we do about it?

At the risk of over-bullet-pointing my own writing, here are some of the solutions I’ve found have worked with my students so far:

  • Setting homework through Edmodo: they have a range of different ways to do the writing, and are therefore (slightly) more willing to do it. They can also send homework later if they don’t have time during the week it’s set.
  • Presenting writing through a task-based approach (this will be the subject of a future blog post – watch this space), which allows students to do the writing in class in groups and produce two versions of it so they really see the difference before and after input.
  • Using a writing code: students soon get the hang of this, although it takes a bit of explaining at the beginning of the year. They occasionally hand back writing if they want to know how to improve it (depends on the student’s level of motivation).
  • Laptops: By asking students to bring in their own laptops, I created a language lab at a school with two computers 🙂 Students enjoyed being able to edit their work quickly. They could then reedit it at home and email it to me if they wanted to.

As you can see, there aren’t many of them (otherwise there would have been no point highlighting it on my action plan!) I will therefore set you a writing task of you own, so that you can get into the spirit of things.

Choose ONE (or TWO or THREE…) of the following to answer.

  • Writing for exams: should we always mark using the criteria for the exam? If not, what should criteria should we mark to?
  • How can we encourage students to correct their work and give it back, without creating a lot more marking for ourselves?
  • How much marking is appropriate? Where do you stop?!?
  • Handwriting: is it an issue? Does it matter if students handwrite or type their texts?
  • Spelling: How can we help students to improve it? How important is spelling for non-exam students?
  • Grammar: Is it possible for students to improve their grammar through writing?
  • Feedback: Do you use a writing code? If not, what do you use? What kind of comments do you give the students?
  • Should we give the marking criteria to the students before they do the writing? Or could this be too much for them? (thinking about exam-based criteria especially here)
  • How can we teach teachers to mark writing consistently with each other when sharing a class? How can we teach teachers new to an exam to mark writing at an appropriate level? (I was new to CAE this year, and this was particularly difficult for me, although after attending a seminar in December I feel much better about it)
  • How can we encourage both teachers and students to make time for writing inside and outside class?

Answers should be 120-150 words long in an informal-neutral tone 😉

Right, I think that about covers it. I look forward to marking your answers!

Enjoy!

PS I have thought of blogging with my students – it’s a work in progress at the moment, as I’m still working out how the blogosphere works myself and computer access is scarce to non-existent at my school!

CAM Session 1: Thoughts and Action Plan

The first session of the IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology (CAM) was as inspiring and stimulating as I expected it to be. My school, IH Brno, is offering CAM for the first time this year, so I’m studying in a group of 12 teachers as we’re all trying hard to develop professionally as much as possible. I’m by far the least experienced, as I’m only just entering my third professional year of teaching (I taught for a year pre-CELTA in Paraguay too). Everyone else in the group has at least 7 or 8 years! On the plus side, this means I’ve got plenty of other people’s experiences to draw on.

In the session, we looked at the overall structure of the course and at one specific issue from each teacher in the group. We did this through a mingle to gather ideas and get an idea of what each of us was concerned about. I can already see lots of opportunities for my own development, and that was after only one session!

Our homework was to great a personal action plan focussing on the areas we would like to improve in. As part of the course we will be doing research and experimenting with new things in class. The four areas I’m planning to look into are listed below, along with my rationale and the way I plan to follow up on them. I’ve tried to be as exhaustive as possible when listing the sources I’m planning to use. If you have any extra ideas, please put them in the comments.

Don’t forget to come back to the blog to find out how I’m getting on.

Integrating technology into my courses

  • To make my teaching more dynamic.
  • To be more relevant to my students’ 21st-century lifestyles.
  • To provide variety – no everything is based on the coursebook.
  • To provide opportunities for students to study in a personalised way.

How?

Making homework an integral part of my courses

  • To encourage students to study outside class.
  • To expose students to native-speaker culture (British or otherwise).

How?

Presenting and grading writing

  • Focus on Advanced students, especially those preparing for CAE.
  • Motivating students to write, as this is something they are often unwilling to do, even when preparing for an exam.
  • Being consistent and constructive in my marking and comments.

How?

Provide student-driven lessons

  • Increasing motivation by studying what students need / want to study.
  • Empowering students – allowing them to direct the course.

How?

  • Peer observations
  • Follow up on other teachers’ suggestions from CAM Session 1
  • Reading:
    • ‘Learner-based Teaching’ by Colin Campbell and Hanna Kryszewska
    • ‘Learner-Centredness as Language Education’ by Ian Tudor

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