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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.



The Colour Coded Essay – #IHTOC7

13 May

With the introduction of a compulsory essay task in the Cambridge English: First & Advanced exams, it’s become quite important for learners to understand essay structure and organisation.

Here’s a ten minute talk I did for the International House Teacher’s Online conference:


And here are the slides for the presentation:




Check out all the other great talks in the IHTOC7 conference here:


Words with Multiple Meanings

19 Feb

Here’s a nice infographic from the Kaplan blog about words with multiple meanings.  I can think of three immediate ways to exploit this with a class:

(1) Prediction – give students the keywords.  Students then think of as many phrases or uses of the keywords as possible and then compare their ideas to the infographic.

(2) Identifying parts of speech – black over the labels on the colour coding key, and ask students to look at the phrases in provided and get them to come up with the categories.

(3) Make your own posters – either you or the students choose your own set of keywords and they then create their own phrase based multiple meaning poster / infographic.  This would be a perfect opportunity to introduce learners to working with corpuses – like

I can see this working particularly well with exam classes – and in fact if you combined all three activities, you would probably have the basis for quite a nice lesson!

words with multiple meanings

The Cheating Art

24 Jan

If you teach, you will have encountered cheating.  And if you’re honest, you’ve probably cheated yourself at some point in the past – I don’t remember specific incidences of cheating from when I was at school, but I do remember attempting to ask my classmates for answers, little slips of paper in pencil cases and writing the answers out onto rulers and the insides of pencil cases, hands, wrists and arms.  I also remember that hunched over posture, arm wrapped all the way round the test paper, to guard against someone cheating off you…

Ann Loseva has just written a great post on the impact the accusation of cheating can have.  This prompted Graham Stanley to reflect on encounters with plagiarism and cheating he has had as a teacher and to investigate the cheating culture.  Both of which have inspired this post and a lesson that I ran with some CAE (Advanced) classes yesterday.  The lesson outline follows at the bottom of this post.

One of the things I tried to do in the lesson was to gather some informal data on how prevalent cheating is.  In percentage terms, it makes interesting reading, though as I occasionally asked for a show of hands the validity and reliability of the study is questionable!

  • 100% of my students said they had cheated on a test.
  • 53% said they thought it was OK to cheat on a class test.
  • 0% said it was OK to cheat on a formal exam
  • 60% said they thought cheating was culturally acceptable in their country

I’ve heard different theories for this last statistic.  One is that Catholic countries are more tolerant of cheating because these are minor sins that can be absolved and penance performed for following confession.  Another is that people who live or have lived under more authoritarian regimes have a greater need to understand how to “game the system”, in other words, cheating is a necessary life skill.

My students thought both these ideas were rubbish, though one student did point out you are more likely to break the rules if you think the rules are wrong and where you have absolutely no respect for your national leaders and politicians, this lack of respect may extend to the rules the government enforces.  This also filters down to the classroom – when the students have little or no respect for the teacher, they do not value the lesson content as much and equally see no point in attempting to perform well on their tests.  My little survey certainly seemed to suggest that the more seriously they view a test, the more effort they put into preparing for it and the less likely they are to cheat in it.

The seriousness with which they view their tests also comes from how much value they perceive the test to have.  There are tests they are given because the system demands it – neither the students nor the teacher value them and they are treated as a formality.  Students told me stories about their teachers “monitoring” during the tests and pointing out incorrect answers, telling students the answers under the cover of fake cough.  One student told me “I cheat when, it’s like I understand the topic or something and I know it but the test wants answers I don’t know.” – essentially, when the test is testing the reproduction of knowledge rather than any deeper level of understanding.

What worries me most, though, and which sums up the cheating issue in a nutshell is the feeling that they all agreed with:  “it’s easier than thinking.”  How do you combat that?  Seriously – any and all answers gratefully received!

Two ways that suggest themselves:  (1) Zero Tolerance and (2) Better Invigilation.

There does have to be a policy decision somewhere near the top of the academic tree about what is acceptable and what is not within school walls.  Personally it annoys me when I see students frantically copying each others’ homework right before class because it defeats the purpose of setting the homework in the first place – I’d rather they were late with it – but that’s the sort of thing I let slide.  But I have struggled to impose any kind of test discipline (for example, no talking during tests – there’s always someone who makes some kind of comment!) – mostly because it simply isn’t considered part of test protocol here.  There’s a sort of “don’t ask / don’t tell” situation – the policy against cheating is theoretically zero tolerance, but only as long as you don’t have to put it into practice…

Better invigilation:  in theory I’m sure we all agree that no teacher should invigilate their own students (or subjects) and that invigilators should be doing absolutely nothing other than monitoring the exam room for the duration of the test.  In practice however, this is unlikely to happen in all testing situations.  But a teacher who is marking, lesson planning or doing the crossword is not invigilating – they are increasing the opportunity for students to cheat.  If schools and institutions are serious about reducing or stamping out cheating – invigilation policy is certainly a good starting point.

References (my lesson plan follows below the picture):

The Lesson I did with my classes:

(1) A letters circle ( A C E H T) on the board – students make as many words from the letters as they can in a minute.  Feedback: did you get the five letter words TEACH / CHEAT?

(2) Quick Poll:  (This was done quite conversationally and involved some definition of terms on both sides – what constitutes cheating / the difference between a test and an exam etc)

  • Have you ever cheated on a test?
  • Do you think it’s OK to cheat in a class test?
  • Do you think it’s OK to cheat in a formal exam?
  • Is cheating culturally acceptable in your country?

(3) Split reading:  I divided the class into two groups:  Group A got Ann’s article and Group B got Graham’s article.  They read their article and in their groups had to come up with a comment they would write under the blog article.

Then I paired one student from group A with one from group B and they summarised what they’d read for each other and discussed whether having read the articles would change their views or behaviour as regards cheating.

(4) Lexical mining:  Each pair had to find two or three words / collocations / expressions that they either (a) thought would be useful, or (b) liked the sound of, or (c) didn’t know.  These were collected on the board (each pair had a board pen) and in small groups they peer taught what they could, working it out from context.  I then filled in any gaps.

(5) I then gave student a handout with the following questions from The Internet TESL Journal:  (you may wish to edit these for your cultural context).

  • What is your definition of cheating?
  • Have you ever cheated?
  • Why do you think that people cheat?
  • Have you ever cheated in an exam?
  • Have you ever been caught cheating on an exam?
  • If you had a chance to cheat now, would you take it?
  • In what situations do people usually cheat?
  • Have you ever been cheated on by somebody else?
  • Describe a time when you cheated and it helped you.
  • Do you think if people stopped cheating the world would be a better place?
  • What do you think of people who cheat in their relationships?
  • What do you think can be done to prevent cheating?
  • What are some things you can do to prevent cheating?
  • What would you do it you saw someone cheating at something.

The students made notes individually on their own answers and then came together into two larger groups to share and discuss their responses.

That took pretty much the whole lesson (75 minutes) – with more time I would have done some reactive language feedback on correction following that final discussion, but we can do that next time!

The Tai Chi of Reading

25 Jun

This is a ten minute presentation I gave at the recent International House Teachers’ Online Conference (IHTOC60) on the Tai Chi of Reading.

The basic premise is that there are certain movements or forms that exist within the Tai Chi Chuan and Baduan Jin which can be used to illustrate successful reading strategies, particularly for exam based classes.

I’m not suggesting that this is something everyone should do with every class, but that for some classes, where the learners might benefit from having a physical analogue for their mental process, it might help remind them of what they should be doing.

The video runs to about 16 minutes, which isn’t bad for a ten minute talk, and can be seen here:

If you want to take a bit more time to process any of the information on the slides in the presentation then these are available to view on Slideshare below, though the video demonstrations of the Tai Chi / Baduan Jin motions won’t play in Slideshare.

My thanks to Neil Morley for graciously acting as a Tai Chi model and thus allowing me to hide my own ineptitude in the forms, to Neil McMahon and Shaun Wilden for putting in the work to organise and run the conference, and to the International House World Organisation for allowing the re-post of the materials here.

To view recordings of any of the 60 (yes that’s right… 60!) presentations from the online conference, check out the conference blog:

The Shambles of CPE: a bit of a rant

2 Mar

I am not impressed.  For whatever reason, it simply seems as though both Cambridge ESOL and most of the major publishers seem to have shown and complete and utter disregard towards the students and prospective candidates studying at CPE level.

I published my analysis of the changes to CPE sixteen months ago and it’s proved to be one of the most popular posts I’ve written.  I simply do not understand why the corporate stakeholders in the process couldn’t achieve more in those sixteen months than they have done.

I appreciate that it takes a long time to put a book together and that some publishers were doubtless taking advantage of the exam changes to give some familiar titles a much needed overhaul, but I was shocked and frankly unimpressed when, at the start of the school year in September 2012, there were no titles available to prepare classes with.

What went wrong?  Is CPE really such a small market segment that you can ignore the needs of the students and teachers like this?  Are publishers unaware of when the school years of their target markets start?  Again, this is a euro-centric view and school years in other regions start at other times, but I think the first book that arrived on our school doorstep for the revised exam did so in January.  In our case, our preferred supplier also consistently lied to us about the imminent availability of our preferred coursebook, which meant that our students were essentially working with whatever adaptations our increasingly skillful proficiency teacher could come up with.

The first session of the revised CPE exam runs here next weekend.  The only practice tests for proficiency our students have seen are the two different versions that are available from the Cambridge ESOL website.  There is no task specific writing mark scheme available either for the free download materials or for the writing tasks in the handbooks, only a description of how the writing is assessed and some sample answers.

This is not good enough.

If you are an exam body you have not only a duty and responsibility to provide a secure, valid and reliable exam but you also have a duty of care to those other stakeholders who are involved in the exam process.  In other words, you have a clear and current responsibility to provide complete information about your exam, examples of the content and a full description of the assessment process.  Every coursebook and test book for the revised CPE I have seen gives equal weighting to the four parts of the exam.  It is only tucked away in a small corner somewhere in the handbook that Cambridge ESOL say otherwise and give the weighting as 40 / 20 / 20 / 20.  It is my view that Cambridge ESOL has let slip some of their responsibilities and it’s reputation as a full and fair provider of exams has been tarnished.

Neither are publishers free of criticism.  Why was it not possible to get the materials ready sooner?  The first revision bulletin published by Cambridge ESOL was released in October 2010 – was this not enough time to start getting projects ready and writers keyed up?  What about April 2011, when the “at a glance” changes to the specifications were published?  Let me think, that’s almost an 18 month lead in?  Is that really not enough time?  I don’t know what the full process of creating a coursebook is, from start to finish, though I am aware that there are a number of stages in the process, drafts and revisions and trialling.  I also appreciate that the reticence of Cambridge ESOL to share specifics probably doesn’t help.

Nonetheless – if you are in a materials business, if your core activity is the design, creation and publication of coursebooks, then I would hope that you also would take into account the needs of the people who buy your products and provide them in a timely manner.

Rant Over.  Normal service to be resumed shortly.

Keep Calm and Write On – #IHTOC3

5 Nov

For those that may have missed it, here are the slides (as pdf) from the webinar I gave at the IH Teachers’ Online Conference on 3rd November.

The session was a look at common problems learners have with writing for exam classes, particularly Cambridge exams (FCE etc), but also, I think, applicable to other exams and writing in general.  It then goes on to suggest a range of activities you can do with those learners to help them with these problem areas.  There’s about 36 different activities suggested – so there should be something in there for everyone!

The webinar was recorded, and if you have the time and the patience to sit through the 60 minute session, you can do so here:

Adobe Connect – Keep Calm & Write On

That should open up in a new window.  I don’t know how long that’s going to be up for, so apologies if you can’t access it.  I found the Adobe Connect software worked better in Firefox than Chrome, though that might just be me!

It’s worth taking a look at the video if you can, not just because you get an explanation of the activities, but also because there were loads of great ideas coming up in the chatbox – additions, extensions and adaptations to alternative contexts – so thanks to everyone who took part for the contributions!

Any problems, questions or queries – let me know!

Opposition debates for CPE Summary tasks

12 Apr

This was something that popped into my head the other day as a way to change the dynamic of a CPE lesson based around summary tasks – and which will also be useful for the 2013 revised exam (writing part one).

Frame the summary question (the last question on the exam paper, usually question 44) in more contentious, combative terms and write it on the board.

Set the class up in two groups and give each group one of the texts from the CPE part 5 task – so group a gets text a and group b gets text b.  Give the learners some time to process the input and to prepare their arguments, discussing what they found in the texts, developing any elaborations and predicting and preparing ripostes to any counter-arguments.

Usually with an opposition debate, I like to seat the learners in two lines down the middle of the room, so that learners are (a) facing each other and (b) up close and personal.

Begin the debate!

At the end of the debate, and before focusing on any language feedback, do some content feedback.  In particular ask the learners what the main areas of discussion were and get these listed on the board.  Point out that these are the (probably – obviously you’ll need to check with the task key) content points they need to identify for the summary task.

Make sure learners have a copy of both texts (a and b) and then with their debate partner, they can formulate a written answer to the summary task.

In defence of: The Test

13 Mar

There seems to be a lot of anti-testing sentiment prevalent in the teaching world at the moment.  There’s a particular degree of vitriol that seems to be reserved for standardised testing, but which has tapped a general anti-educational zeitgeist and spilled over, flooded even, into ELT.  In this piece I’m hoping to look at where some of these attitudes to testing might come from and think about what might be the best way forward.

Continue reading

The Best Education Articles From “The Onion” | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

7 Feb

If you don’t know The Onion – you should take a look – it’s a satirical newspaper that sometimes hits the nail on the head.  It’s also a great source of articles for use with classes – the occasionally puerile sense of humour appeals to teenagers, whilst the (not always) sophisticated parodies of mainstream news events makes adults smile.  Also some great stuff for business English classes and I think they now have short videos which could be used for listening tasks.

Anyway – this was all prompted by a post from Larry Ferlazzo – The Best Education Articles From “The Onion” – with well – these are Larry’s picks for the best education related Onion material.  My favourite is the cost cutting decision to remove the past tense from school curricula….  after all – who needs to talk about yesterday?


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