Brainstorming – Book Review

8 Feb

The process of brainstorming in the classroom is often a rather haphazard and stilted affair.  Learners are coming into a topic area they know little about and feel uncomfortable in, they might feel that they don’t have the language to express their ideas as fluently as they would like, and when ideas do get produced – they immediately get shot down as impractical or unrealistic.  The confident and extrovert students dominate and the weaker or more introvert students sit there quietly not really saying much, so that the teacher ends up getting feedback from only a couple of the members of the group.  Fortunately, however, there is another way….

In their new mini ebook, “Brainstorming”, from The Round, Gerhard Erasmus and Hall Houston take us back to basic principles and the origins of brainstorming in the world of 1950’s advertising.  The focus here is non-judgmental idea generation – it’s not about quality, but about quantity and where all ideas have equal value and where one idea from one person sparks a thought elsewhere in the group and where participants feed off each other’s energy and creativity to generate the largest possible set of ideas in the time given.

Which you can totally see working at half past four on a Friday afternoon with a group of tired teenagers, right?

This is where the book comes into it’s own.  Erasmus and Houston run through a series of clear procedures for working with idea generation that attempt to mitigate some of the issues that might arise:  setting the stage, focusing the activity, avoiding negative feedback, guiding the discussion and remembering the objective.  It occurs to me that there are some groups where this might take some initial learner training, possibly particularly with teenagers, before they understand how the ground rules work here and what the constraints are, but where perseverance would yield huge benefits in terms of the directed creativity that the learners could then bring to the class.

I found the section on “problem statements” to be a useful way of looking at generating ideas for specific issues and the re-formulation of the “problem” into a “how can I…” question seems like it would be a great way of looking at things for students in an EAP context as well as students preparing for writing tasks in ELT exams.  Re-focusing the problem statement is essentially the same thing as refining your research question into something that you can actually answer, or it represents a useful “way in” to some of the exam writing tasks – getting students to move away from simply producing writing for you the teacher and into thinking about the purpose of their exam writing by asking questions like “How can I get the editor to publish my review?” or “How can I get the principal of the college to upgrade the sports facilities?”.  This would almost certainly lead to an improvement in their written work!

brainstorming cover

Three other activities that I particularly liked in the book – and I’m limiting myself here because otherwise I would basically be copying out the whole thing – are:

The problem skeleton:  I think this would be another one that is great for writing tasks and analysing questions, especailly in the way that it breaks larger tasks down into smaller more manageable chunks.  Writing an essay on “the environment” is quite a daunting task, but using the problem skeleton to identify sub-topics and then sub-sub-topics would be a great way of making the tasks more accessible.

Rolestorming:  a brilliant way of extending out of the typical role play scenario.  Even in the most engaging of role plays or mingle activities, there is always an element of the learners essentially reading the information off the little piece of paper in front of them and basically comparing notes as opposed to taking on the role of the person they are meant to play.  Rolestorming is a great way of getting the students to think about the background, motivations and emotions of their characters and to really give them the chance to step outside of themselves for the task.

PMI:  A great follow-up activity for working with the ideas that you have generated in an initial brainstorming task, the PMI process lets you grade and select the ideas that you want to take forwards.  In essence it is a format for critical reflection and evaluation.  Again, I can see this being excellent for writing tasks where the learners need to decide what is relevant to the question and what ideas slot together most effectively.

 

***

Who should buy this book?  I don’t see this book as having a limited audience in that way.  I think there as much in there for teachers who have been teaching longer than they care to remember as there is for teachers who are just starting out.  It is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, it gives you the tools you need to achieve a goal and in its own way, it is the spark that will lead you to you own lesson-based light bulb moment.

Brainstorming” by Gerhard Erasmus and Hall Houston is available for £0.79 / €0.99 / $1.00 via The Round.

Using Visualisation for the Present Continuous

1 Feb

This is an idea I tried out with an elementary group of young learners the other day.  The focus in the coursebook was on teaching the present continuous for actions that are happening now and at the book had very helpfully provided a recorded phone conversation between two people meeting at a railway station that went something like this:

“Where are you?”

“I’m standing on platform nine and three quarters.  Where are you?”

“I’m waiting under the big clock.  What are you wearing?*”

“I’m wearing a red t-shirt.  What are you wearing?”

“I’m wearing a yellow t-shirt.  Ah!  I can see you!”

“Hello Frank.”

“Hello Matilda.”

* And are we really sure we want to be teaching our learners the phrase “What are you wearing?” in the context of telephone conversations?  

Having achieved “presentation” we then moved onto “practice”, which involved a nice un-jumbling word order task, because apparently putting words into the correct order helps the learners to process the meaning and use of the present continuous.  Or something.  I don’t know.  You may be able to tell that I don’t really like this particular book very much.

In any event, before the class died of boredom I thought it might be useful to get them to try and use the target language meaningfully.  The trouble is, that unless you’re prepared to have the learners go round the class and say what they’re doing, there isn’t a lot you can do with the present continuous for actions happening now:

 “I am sitting down.”  “He is learning English.”  “I am also sitting down.”  “She is losing the will to live.”

So I thought that using visualisation techniques might work better.

I asked the learners to get a pen and paper ready and have it in front of them on their desk.  I asked them to sit back in their chairs, close their eyes and relax.

I played them some “Visualisation music” I found on You Tube.  The purpose of the music from my perspective was three fold; I wanted to give them something to focus on, I wanted there to be something different going on that was “taking them away” from the normal environment, and I wanted to use the music to cover some of the mundane and distracting sounds from outside and from other classes that were going on.

 While they were sat there, I guided them through this visualisation process:

Look up at the sky.  What colour is it?  Can you see any clouds?  Look down and you start to see trees and buildings. What kind of trees can you see?  What kind of buildings? Are there a lot of buildings or a few?  Are they old or new? In front of one of the buildings, you see a person.  Do you recognise them?  They are doing something.  What are they doing?  You look left and see a tree.  In front of the tree you see an animal.  What kind of animal?  What is the animal doing?  You look right and you see someone near you.  It’s a friend of yours.  Who is it?  What’s their name?  They are doing something.  What are they doing?

And then I brought them back out of the visualisation and asked them to write down what they had seen in their notebooks.  While they did that I wrote up on the board:  “In my dream I am standing ………   In front of me I can see ……”  I asked the class to reformulate their ideas into a more fluid description, using the present continuous where possible.

It was a nice activity and the learners seemed to like it, though being a class of young learners there was a little bit of resistance and messing around with the idea of sitting back and having your eyes closed.  In general the output used the target language and there were some nice opportunities to provide relevant language.  I think this made it more memorable and personal for the class, so hopefully it will stick a bit more strongly.

dream-333815_1280

Image Credit: Pixabay

What should Advanced materials involve?

25 Jan

I was recently asked what features I thought good C2 materials should have.  It’s quite a good question, especially because there aren’t any good GE materials at C2 level.  There are a number of books aimed at preparing students for the Cambridge English: Proficiency exam and of those, there are two that I rate highly:  Objective Proficiency and Proficiency Expert.  However there is, as far as I know, nothing for the more generally focused student and so that is an obvious, if somewhat niche, area to move into.

So what would my ideal book contain?

(1) Cognitive challenge

These are high level learners.  You don’t get to be a high level learner unless you are already pretty good at the language and unless you already have a relationship with the language that exists outside of the classroom context.  Most higher level learners engage with English by watching TED talks, films, listening to music, engaging with literature or by using English in some way for their jobs or studies.  Asking them to come into the classroom and read a text and answer some questions or to listen to a text and answer some questions is pointless – it doesn’t reflect what they do in real life and at this stage of their learning is probably of very limited use developmentally anyway.  What would be nice to see is to engage the learners in some kind of issue or problem that they can “solve” in class and where the input, text or audio, provides further food for thought or further content input (NOT solely linguistic) in relation to completing the task.

brain-954823_1920

(2) Authenticity and Analysis

A shift in focus from input based language tuition to analysis and emergent language.  Again, at higher levels, the learners are probably more familiar with the standard grammatical syllabus than their teachers are (!) and they don’t really need to look at the meaning form and pronunciation of mixed conditionals for what is probably the fourth year in a row.  What they do need, is to develop meta-linguistic skills that will help them get the most benefit from their exposure to English, wherever that might come from.  So this would involve working with authentic texts/audio and then looking at these texts from an analytical perspective, possibly involving aspects of socio-linguistics, so that the learners are looking at what speakers choose to say and why.  Confrontational interviews (e.g. BBC Hardtalk) are quite good for this…  But the idea is that the learners look at what is said, try and determine the function or purpose of what is said and then look at the language patterns that emerge.

A structure that might exemplify what I mean here is something like:

  • Work in pairs. Think of five different ways of apologising to someone.
  • Feedback – T focus on intonation and pron – sounding sorry as well as saying it!
  • Input – watch Basil Fawlty apologising sarcastically to customers
  • Assess Basil’s performance – effective, why? Why not?
  • Listen again – note phrases for use.
  • Look at language patterns – modal distance / past tense distance etc
  • Analyse intonation
  • Students create some kind of apologetic role play

 

(3) Production and feedback

My single biggest issue with the majority of ELT materials is that there is often very little opportunity for the learners to DO anything with the language they’ve been learning in the class.  The learners may or may not choose to actually use the language from the input or analysis, but the opportunity should be there for them in every lesson.  This means a well-designed, engaging, productive task.  And it also means opportunities for feedback where the teacher is helping the students to notice what they could be saying better (or differently at least), either by using ideas from the input/analysis, or just in a more general sense (i.e. feedback doesn’t need to be limited to a focus on the lesson content).

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(4) Proper topics

At this level, students should not be treated like they are imbeciles who can’t cope with the cognitive or linguistic nuances of expressing themselves on uncomfortable or controversial topics.  At this stage of their linguistic development, these are some of the few areas for them left to cope with.  Materials should move away from the “safe areas” and should embrace the real world.  There are ways of dealing with PARSNIP type topics so that they don’t cause discomfort with teachers and learners and these are aspects of our world where it can be difficult to understand alternative viewpoints.  With language and culture so tightly bound together, learners need the tools to discuss the differences between their own cultures and those around them, even if they don’t agree with the choices that other cultures make.

 

(5) Taking learning outside the classroom and bringing the outside world in.

Again, many higher level learners will probably do this already as this seems to be a habit they have.  Materials need to reflect the ways in which learners might engage with the language outside the classroom and where possible should bring the outside world into the class.  This represents language exposure and encounter in the real world, and the classroom is then a place to explore and analyse real world language use and a way in which the class can use real language to extend and develop their own lexical and grammatical resource.

For example:  If the materials are presented on a double page spread, the final section can be a “task for next time” which either asks learners to go off and research an aspect from that lesson’s materials which they can bring back for the start of the next lesson – OR – can be a task that asks learners to pre-explore a topic and to come back to class next time with the information and language they encountered in their research.

 

Actually…..

Shouldn’t ALL materials involve these criteria?

Answers on a postcard please!  wish you were here postcard

(Or failing that, in the comments section!)

Processes and Passives

18 Jan

This is a lesson I did with my advanced class the other day as part of a review of passive structures.  I’ve typed it all up into a full plan and procedure which you can download in pdf through this link:  teflgeek – A lesson on processes and passives

It is based around a short advert that I found on Larry Ferlazzo’s site from the company Target:

In the lesson, the learners listen to the video without watching it, and predict what they think is happening.

They then watch it and extract as much language out of it as they can, before using the vocabulary they collected to write up a description of the process.  As it is a process, there is a nice mixture of active and passive structures that can be used and the lesson also contains some input on using the passive.

They can then use these skills to describe other contraptions and processes for homework, such as the image below.

I used this mostly as a vehicle for working with the passive, but it should also work quite well as a lesson for teaching IELTS part one writing.

 

Professor_Lucifer_Butts

An Introduction to Teaching the Unteachable

4 Jan

I wonder how many people who are looking at the title of this post, and indeed the title of the upcoming webinar on this topic, are wondering what constitutes “unteachable”?  It’s a tricky concept to grasp, not least because it is so heavily context dependent.

My personal view is that nothing is unteachable and that teachers shouldn’t shy away from difficult or uncomfortable topics because they might offend.  The ability to talk about and examine our differences is what makes us able to rise above them and if we refuse to talk about them we start existing in insular little pockets of ignorance, bounded only by the things we believe and a self-destroying fear of The Other.  Now more than ever, when so much of the world is being defined by its support for and opposition to sets of beliefs or practices, we should be trying to break down some of these barriers and trying to understand each other just a little better.

In the world of ELT, topics that are considered “unteachable” are largely defined for us by other stakeholders in the process and without reference to the local context.  These are commonly known by the acronym “PARSNIP”, which stands for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms, and Pork.  Some versions of the acronym also include another S – for Smoking.  These then are the topics that tend to be considered too controversial for the classroom and are therefore left out of most materials and coursebooks.   It is not completely clear to me why this is or when it started and I would welcome any information that sheds light on this – my instinct however, is that it comes down to economies of scale.  The costs involved in producing a coursebook are not inconsiderable and if you had to produce a series of different editions of coursebooks based on different contexts, it would increase your costs exponentially.  Imagine though, the differences that might exist between a Brazilian edition of Headway Intermediate and a Jordanian edition.  And where do you stop?  Do you differentiate between continents?  Regions?  Countries?  What about Basque, Catalan and Galician editions?  It is a lot easier from a production point of view to avoid the question entirely.

The problem then is not that these topics are “unteachable”, it is more that they get left out because leaving them out is easier to do than putting them in.  Yet as teachers, we are always choosing what to leave out and what to put in – we make language choices about what our students need (or don’t need) to focus on, we make skills focus choices and we make topic choices based on what we think our students will find interesting or not.  Hands up if you have supplemented your lesson with a TED talk or other short videos?  Decided not to bother with a page of the book?  What about a unit of the book?

We frequently carve up our coursebooks like the proverbial Christmas turkey and add lashings of side dishs to make the meal tastier and more memorable.  And of course it is traditional (in the UK at least) to serve Parsnips as well.

Sundays with BELTA

On 10th January, I’ll be hosting a webinar for BELTA on looking at ways to do just that.  For all that I believe in free and unfettered discussion of any topics in the classroom, I also believe there has to be a modicum of principle, professionalism and planning involved!  There is no point in walking into the classroom and saying “Right – today we’re going to talk about drugs.  Who here has smoked crack?  Anyone?  Anyone?”

The webinar is structured around a blend of the theory and the practical.  It looks at some of the key principles for ensuring a safe and sensible discussion of sensitive topics, approaches and techniques for dealing with contentious issues in the classroom when they come up, and will also present a few practical activities that you can take away and try with your classes.

 

One of the reasons that this webinar is on the topic of Parsnips is because when I was asked about taking part in the Sundays with BELTA webinar series, a few friends and I had just published a free e-book of Parsnip themed lessons.  This was about six months ago, but parsnips were very much on my mind and I thought it would be an interesting topic to explore in more depth as an aspect of teacher development.  Completely co-incidentally, the second free volume in our Parsnips series has also just been released!  I should stress, it is an accident of good timing and the webinar is not a promotion for the book or vice versa!  It’s just turned out to be a bit of a Parsnips based week!

The BELTA webinar will be on Sunday 10th January at 1600 CET –  for more information

I hope to see you all there!

To access the free e-books, follow these links to download from Smashwords:

parsnips vol 2 cover

Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the comfort zone (Vol. 2)

Parsnips in ELT Cover

PARSNIPS in ELT: Stepping out of the comfort zone (Vol. 1)


  

Four “must have” activities for digital teachers!

24 Nov

The title of this post is an example of Clickbait – something that is designed to get you clicking the link to look at the seemingly impossible / brilliant / hilarious story behind the headline.  Something eye-catching that makes you feel as though you’re going to miss out by not looking at it.

Clickbait headlines are a far cry from the traditional news headlines that you see in more traditional newspapers and magazines, though some would argue the trend in the less serious press has always been headed in that direction, and these are the sorts of things that people have to navigate their way through everyday.  Recognising this kind of vague salacious enticement, and knowing how to deal with it, is becoming a core skill in navigating our way through information to find things that we actually need.

In a recent post for the British Council Teaching English blog, Gavin Dudeney offers up a “Digital Literacy Primer” that talks us through the four core digital literacies of focusing on connections, language, (re)design and information.  It is an excellent overview of what these concepts mean in theory and practice and at the end of the article he argues that teachers should be incorporating these ideas into teaching as a way of helping students, particularly younger students, develop these skills.

In my recent post for the British Council Teaching English blog, I present activities and a lesson plan for teachers to do just that.  In Clickbait, Memes and Sharing the Truth – activities for digital literacies, I offer activities that look at building skills in each of the areas that Gavin Dudeney outlines.  Four areas, four activities – you see, my clickbait headline wasn’t lying at least!

In brief:

  • Language –  looks at reworking “traditional” headlines into clickbait speak
  • Remix /Redesign – looks at using meme generators to practice language points or explore an idea
  • Connections – presents a downloadable handout to engage learners with texts and web content, thinking about how they react to texts and what they do with the information afterwards
  • Information – presents a lesson plan for introducing students to the Pacific Northwestern Tree Octopus.  I’ll say no more at this stage, you’ll have to read the post!

I’d be really interested to get feedback from people working with these activities, you can do that either by leaving a comment here, or at the original blog post on the Teaching English site.

Let me know how it goes!

1374089095_einstein+digital+literacy

 

IELTS Writing Part 1 – The Happiness Graph!

19 Nov

How happy have you been over the last week?  Has it been a good or a bad week?  This is (broadly speaking) what my week looked like:
Happiness Graph

 

The Happiness Graph is a warmer that you can use with any class and which can, with the tiniest bit of adaptation, be used as a student generated IELTS task.

 *****

As a warmer, you draw the X and Y axes on the board as shown in the image above.  As you draw the line graph, talk the learners through your week and your reasons why.  For example:  “Monday is the start of the working week and is never a good day for me, but work went well on Tuesday and Wednesday and I was feeling pretty good.  When I woke up on Thursday morning I wasn’t feeling very well and this, as well as a lot of work to do on Friday, left me feeling a bit tired and stressed.  But I recovered well on Saturday, and on Sunday my family and I all went to the beach and had a really nice time, before going back to work on Monday!”

The learners then draw their own version of the happiness graph.  When they’re done, they share and compare their graphs with each other, explaining the peaks and troughs and hopefully asking follow up questions of each other.

 *****

In the IELTS writing part one, learners are asked to write about a chart, diagram or graph, so I adapted the happiness graph for this purpose.  This lesson requires no real preparation as the materials come from the learners, though you might want to supplement the language input slightly with additional verbs that describe trends.

Begin in the same way as the warmer, by drawing your version of the graph on the board and describing what happened to you during the previous seven days.

Ask learners to draw their own versions of the graph, but not to show it to anyone.

Refer learners back to the board and your happiness graph.  Ask learners for expressions they can use to describe the level of happiness over the week.  Write up their suggestions on the board and input additional verbs that describe trends (e.g. rise, fall, drop, increase etc) and adverbials of degree (e.g. slightly, massively, a lot, a little etc) as necessary.  In pairs, ask the students to write a brief description of your happiness graph.  Monitor and provide feedback as necessary.  At this stage, depending on your class, you could do some additional input work.  There is a nice task at the back of Scott Thornbury’s “Uncovering Grammar” (page 106), but many IELTS and Business English course books have sections on this area that you could use.

Ask learners to work with a new partner, preferably someone who is seated on the opposite side of the room.  Learners then do a dictadraw activity, where learner A describes their happiness graph and learner B listens and draws a version of it.  Learners then come together to share their drawing, compare what they drew, and explain why the level of happiness moved up and down as it did.  Learners then draw their partner’s happiness level onto the same graph as they drew their original happiness graph, so that there are now TWO different (and accurate) happiness lines on their graph.

Finally, learners write a short (!) 150 word description that compares and contrasts the two lines on their graph.  As a final analysis learners can compare what they wrote and look at why any differences occurred – and can correct any errors spotted!

I would set an authentic IELTS part one writing task as homework from this.

*****

 

Acknowledgement:  The happiness graph as a warmer was shown to me at International House Katowice by David Magalhaes in 2005 (or so).  I think.  Apologies if I’ve got that wrong, do let me know!

The case for and against RP

19 Oct

“Since being in hospital, the only people I have heard speaking in the UK prestige model of “received pronunciation” are some of the consultants and surgeons.  Everyone else in the hospital is from everywhere else.”

In a recent post, about the need for native speakers to be trained in how to speak to non-native speakers, I made the point that very few of the non-native speakers will have encountered anything like the variety of dialect and accent that exists in the UK, let alone all of the variations of standard English that exist around the world.

The 2015 Ethnologue entry for English gives population figures of 335,000,000 L1 speakers of English worldwide, and 515,000,000 L2 speakers.  Yet estimates of received pronunciation speakers in the UK suggest only about 2% of the population, or just over 1.25 million people, actually use this form.  In other words, 0.15% of the global English speaking community uses RP.  Which begs the question of why we bother teaching it?

Proportion of RP Speakers

It is a staggeringly small proportion and the prominence of RP as a model owes a lot to historical views in the UK relating to class and status, as well as the historical nature of the education system and the dominance of the public schools (the term used in the UK to refer to private, fee paying establishments).

Unlike every other variety or dialect of English, RP does not relate to where you were born or where you grew up.  RP is a class and status marker and became desirable partly because of that, and partly because of its adoption by the BBC as a broadcasting standard.  There is an excellent and accessible piece by the British Library on RP, which goes into the history and evolution of RP in more detail.

It is the reasons why RP was chosen by the first general manager, Lord Reith, as the standard for the BBC that gives us our clue as to why it is so widespread in ELT:  “Reith believed Standard English, spoken with an RP accent, would be the most widely understood variety of English, both here in the UK and overseas. He was also conscious that choosing a regional accent might run the risk of alienating some listeners.” (British Library).  In other words, Reith wanted the BBC to be understandable and accessible to the broadest possible audience and was concerned that using dialect would make programmes accessible only to certain speech communities.  RP, with it’s relatively unmarked patterns, fit the bill.

Ultimately, shouldn’t this also be what our students should want?  To be understood by the broadest possible audience?  I have encountered negative attitudes to non-RP accents and speech in the classroom, including one student who flatly refused to do a listening activity with an African English accent on the grounds that he was never going to go to Africa and it wasn’t a useful model for him.  Fair enough, but this does miss the point slightly.

In Sound Foundations, Adrian Underhill distinguishes between Rapid Colloquial Speech (RCS) and Careful Colloquial Speech (CCS), where an example of RCS would be two native speakers talking informally to each other (for an example, see the transcript and audio via the link) and where CCS is a slowed down, clearer and, well, careful version of the language.  “An internationally available example of careful colloquial RP,” he says, “is that of newscasters and announcers on the BBC World Service.”  Just to be clear, Underhill does not say that CCS is the same thing as RP.  Features of CCS are that the speaker slows down, enunciates clearly, and makes sure that word boundaries are discernible; these are not features of accent.

CCS then, is a productive target.  As with the BBC, we want to be understood by as many people as possible, and so we should adopt a form of speech that carries the greatest degree of intelligibility, or what might also be the lowest common denominator.  As an example of that, RP is a useful productive model.

For RCS though, Underhill suggests “that this style of pronunciation is useful as a target for learners to aim at in their listening skill.”  Which begs the question, why isn’t it used for such?

speaking

Without the benefit of asking coursebook authors, editors and publishers; I suspect the answer is probably pragmatic.  Firstly,  the listening tasks don’t only function to develop listening skills, they also function as pronunciation models so that students can consistently link the way they hear a word to the way they say a word.  Secondly, if you do decide to feature alternative dialects and accents, which do you choose?  How would you determine which are most useful to the learners?  Thirdly, what additional input is needed?

The Dialect Blog, which looks at the way English is spoken everywhere, has some great input on Jamaican English and was the source for the You Tube video below, which is the story of “The Night before Christmas” read in the Jamaican patois.  Watch it and then think about what you would need to teach for that to be comprehensible to a group of learners.  Or alternatively, if you have a group of over confident higher level students, play it for them and ask them to transcribe it…..

It is probably going to have to be up to the teachers, responding to the needs of their learners, who decide when and how to incorporate non-RP speech into their classrooms.  The British Library, which has been previously referred to, hosts a collection of 71 sound recordings from around the UK with notes on the dialect.  Some great examples include:

These are all interviews, some have dialect notes, some have transcripts, some have neither.  The sound quality can vary, particularly with the older recordings.  Most are about five minutes long.

As an instant, no preparation procedure, I would suggest a three listening strategy:

  • First listening:  tell the students who they will hear and what they will be talking about.  Ask them to find one interesting “fact”.  Feedback on any content the students manage to uncover, but then move the conversation to process feedback – how difficult was it to listen to?  What did you understand and where did you have problems?  How much was accent and how much was vocabulary?  If the recording has dialect notes, you may be able to provide some vocabulary items at this stage.
  • Second listening:  Ask the students to take notes.  After the second listening, ask the students to work in small groups to try and reconstruct a version of what the speaker said.  This obviously doesn’t have to be a verbatim transcript, but should broadly reflect the content and attitude of the speaker.
  • Third listening:  Students check their reconstruction.  If you have a transcript for the recording, students could listen and follow the transcript at the same time.

I would then recommend some form of content follow up.  For example, Nicola from Plymouth (as above) talks about life as a teenager.  How is her life different to teenagers in your country?

A further possibility might be for learners to record their own interviews, using their mobile phones.

***

Another way to find authentic speakers talking about pretty much any topic is to search for videos including the phrase VOX POP and your topic.  e.g. Environment vox pop, christmas shopping vox pop.  A vox pop is an on the street interview between a reporter and member of the public.  They are usually quite short and may feature two or three people giving their opinions on the same topic.  The search term “street interview” also brings up similar results.  You could develop these into listening exercises as above, but as they are quite short, you could just use them as a lead in to your topic, asking students if they agree with the opinions.  While this is a primarily content led way of using the videos, it does also serve to expose and familiarise students to non-RP voices.

Finally, here’s the Night before Christmas.

Enjoy!

 

 

Disemvoweled

16 Oct

t’s nt lwys tht sy t rd txts tht hv hd ll th vwls tkn t f thm.  Whch f crs s wht mks t sch gd ctvty fr th lngg clssrm.*

Taking the vowels out of words is not a particularly new thing.  I though I was being quite clever with the title of this post, only to find the verb “dismevowel” has been in use since 2005 (Macmillan Dictionary) to talk about the process in text messaging, though I suspect language teachers have probably been doing it for much longer than that!

Disemvoweling is a nice way to focus students on the written form of words and to think about spelling (though it isn’t always the vowels that cause the spelling problems).

It’s also a nice way to review vocabulary items from previous lessons, though as it doesn’t really focus on meaning, you might want to do some kind of follow up activity that involves using the target items.

As a warmer, I pre-prepare my target words, minus the vowels, on pieces of scrap paper (flashcard style).  I put the students into teams and get them to come up with their buzzer noise (so for example, on team has to cluck like a chicken, another has to make a car alarm noise and so on).  Then you just show the words and the fastest team to correctly spell the target item gets the point.  An alternative for young learner classes where you need to use up some of their energy, is to do the same, but ask them to run to the board and write the word correctly.

I had thought that a more challenging version of this for higher level learners would be to leave the vowels in and to take all the other letters out, which presumably would mean they were “inconsonant” (the words, not the learners), u o eeion i ie e a oo aei, ee o oeioa! **

So perhaps some fun could be had with letter frequency charts and statistics?

English Letter Frequency Graph

You could choose to remove single letters, like the letter “T”, from a short text and ask learners to put them back in again.  Or challenge learners to write a ten word sentence without using the letters “e”, “t” or “a”.

Or…….  o oul emov h irs n as etter ro ac or n e f h tudent a u he ac gai.***

 

If you try any of these ideas, let me know how they work out – or if you have any related activities, do share!

Hv fn!

 

*It’s not always that easy to read texts that have had all the vowels taken out of them.  Which of course is what makes it such a good activity for the language classroom.

** but on reflection it strikes me as too challenging, even for professionals!

*** you could remove the first and last letters from each word and see if the students can put them back again.

Collocation Connections

13 Oct

Here’s a little test for you to see how good you are at spotting collocations.  The words in the grid below can be put into four collocation groups.  Can you figure out (a) what the groups are?  (b) which word(s) collocate with the groups?

Collocation Connections

For example, if you had found the words “a distinction  /  attention to  /  a line  /  up plans” in the grid, then you would have the four words for your group and you would (of course) have correctly identified “draw” as the word that collocates with them.

Obviously, in some instances more than one answer is possible and words might be able to fit into more than one group, but that is all part of the fun!

How long do you need?  Two minutes?  Five?

It’s ok – you can take your time!  Answers at the bottom of the page!

This is an activity I thought of after watching the popular UK quiz show “Only Connect“, which has a round called “the wall” where contestants have to find four categories and describe the connections.  If you visit the website, you can play for yourself – but be warned – they aren’t easy!

You can easily adapt it for different ages and abilities and it is is nice way of reviewing vocabulary.  Two ways you could use it in class:

  1. Have one grid displayed (or written) on the board and the students are in teams, trying to be first to find the correct answers.
  2. Have the students in teams with different grids competing against the clock (three minutes?).  Then they can swap and try each other’s.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

ANSWERS:

  • Heavy:  going  /  smoker  /  traffic  /  rain
  • Do:  something  /  business  /  me a favour  /  your best
  • Time:  extra  /  waste  /  spend  /  spare
  • A pack of:  cigarettes  /  wolves  /  lies  /  cards

 

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