Tag Archives: speaking

PechaFlickr – exam speaking practice

4 Jun

One of the common complaints students have about exam speaking is that they never know what to say.  In practice sessions, I’ve had students dry up completely and embarrassedly freeze half way through a sentence, I’ve had other students refuse to talk about the topic saying that they know nothing about it!

About a month ago, Richard Byrne shared a post about PechaFlickr that I think can help with this.

silhouette-774836_1280

PechaFlickr is a web based app that displays 20 random images for 20 seconds each.  As the name suggests, the images all come from Flickr and are selected based on how they’ve been tagged – this adds the element of randomness that makes it such a great tool as you can never be entirely sure what you’re going to get.  I tried it with the topic “school” and got a a child crying in front of some ruins, a grinning child staring at the camera, what looked like a teachers meeting, a somewhat inappropriately dressed Japanese lady (but dressed enough for the sake of propriety), and some people holding a candlelit vigil.  I gave up at that point…!

In the advanced settings you can change the number of slides shown and the length of time they are displayed for, so you could easily adapt it to practice Cambridge English: First & Advanced speaking tasks, though it doesn’t practice the exam tasks in the sense that the tasks require comparison and contrast of two photos.

What it does help practice is thinking about what pictures represent and what they could represent, finding connections between images and topics and perhaps more importantly . quick thinking.

I think this could be a great warmer for any class with an interactive whiteboard and it could also be a great tool for students to practice at home – especially if they record and review their own performance.

Another alternative is to play a “Just a Minute” type game, possibly setting timing on each photo to slightly longer and adding more  pictures (depending on how long you want things to take), where as soon as the speaker falters or fails, they stop and another one has to take their place.

Any other suggestions?

Try it out here:

pechaflickr

 

The WHY Game – for practicing clauses of reason and purpose

4 Feb

 

This is an activity I did with with an intermediate group of young learners – who absolutely loved it.  It led to what was easily the longest conversations they’d had in English all year.  It probably wouldn’t take much to adapt it to higher levels or older classes.

This came as a freer practice activity after we’d already dealt with the input – in this case we’d been working with:

  • to + infinitive
  • in order to + infinitive
  • so (that) + subject & clause

I asked the class to write down five things they’d done today and five places they’d been to recently (but not today).

I then asked them to build these out into sentences with time references.  e.g. “This morning I brushed my teeth.”  /  “Last weekend I went to the park.”

Once they had their sentences I picked one of the stronger students and asked him to tell me one of his sentences.  Our conversation went like this:

  • John, tell me one of your sentences.
  • Uh.  OK.  Last week I went to the theatre.
  • Why did you go to the theatre?
  • It was a school trip.  I had to.
  • Why did you have to?
  • Because the school made me,
  • Why did they make you?

…..  and so on.

You may have noticed this modelling didn’t lead to much production of the target language.  But at this point the rest of the class knew what was expected of them.  I drew their attention to the target language and told them to try and use it.  I also told them they would get one point as soon as their partner gave up, said “I don’t know” or told them to shut up (or similar).  I then put them into groups of three and off they went!

 

whyAs I said, the class loved it.  They really went for it and some die hards were still on their first sentence after about five minutes.  I noticed some students were using the target language, some weren’t, but they were all speaking English and were really on task and engaged.  I think in future I’d set a time limit per sentence of two or three minutes, after which the victim wins a point, to try and avoid one student over-dominating the group.

Clauses of reason and purpose and result come into a lot of exam books, so this could be a nice change of pace for some of those classes.

Enjoy, try it out and let me know what you think!

 

What is “good speaking”?

26 Jan

We are approaching the end of the first semester in our school and this is typically a time when we review our assessments, give out our grammar and vocabulary tests and write all the reports.  Like many schools, our reports contain the categories: Grammar & Vocabulary, Listening, Reading, Speaking, Writing.  The students do three assessments in reading, listening and writing that are spread out over the semester and then a larger grammar and vocabulary test at the end of the semester.  The marks for each component get converted to a score out of twenty and the scores for all five components are added together to give a percentage, which is the student’s final grade.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted the problem here.

Assessing speaking is always difficult.  One of the biggest problems I always find is whether I am actually assessing their speaking or whether I am assessing their spoken production of grammar and vocabulary.  To what extent does personality play a part in this?  Susan Cain’s TED talk on “The Power of Introverts” reminds us that just because people aren’t saying something, doesn’t mean they can’t.

Rob Szabo and Pete Rutherford recently wrote an article arguing for a more nuanced approach.  In “Radar charts and communicative competence“, they argue that as communicative competence is a composite of many different aspects, no student can simply be described as being good or bad at speaking, but that they have strengths and weaknesses within speaking.

Szabo and Rutherford identify six aspects of communicative competence (from Celce-Murcia) and diagram them as follows:

competence 01

 

This is an enticing idea.  It builds up a much broader picture of speaking ability than what is often taken – a general, global impression of the student.  It also allows both the teacher and the student to focus on particular areas for improvement:  in the diagram above, student 1 needs to develop their language system, it isn’t actually “speaking” that they have the problem with.  Equally student 2 needs to build better coping strategies for when they don’t understand or when someone doesn’t understand them.  These things aren’t necessarily quick fixes, but do allow for a much clearer focus in class input and feedback than just giving students more discussion practice.

From a business perspective, which is mostly where Szabo & Rutherford’s interests lie, there is also added value here for the employer or other stakeholders.  One of the points that David Graddol was making at the 2014 IATEFL conference (click here for video of the session) was language ability rests on so many different dimensions that in certain areas (Graddol mentioned India as an example) employers may well need someone with C1 level speaking ability, but it doesn’t matter whether they can read or write beyond A2.  Graddol kept his differentiation within the bounds of the CEFR and across abilities; Szabo and Rutherford take a more micro-level approach and suggest that the level of analysis they suggest may well be useful to employers in assigning tasks and responsibilities.  Quite what the students may feel about that is another matter.

Whilst this idea has been developed in a business English context, it is a useful idea that should also make the leap from the specialist to the general, as it has clear applications in a number of areas.  In reviewing the different competences, there are cross overs to the assessment categories used in Cambridge Exams for example – where discourse management, interactive communication, pronunciation and Grammar & Vocabulary have clear corollaries.  Diagramming pre-exam performance in this way again, can help teachers and students have a clearer picture of what needs doing and can make instruction more effective.

A helpful next step for the authors might be to think about how this idea can translate into practice in the wider world.  Currently, it seems as though a mark out of ten is awarded for each competence and while this inevitably gets the teacher thinking in more detail about what exactly their student can or can’t do, no definitions are currently provided as to what a “10” or a “3” might mean.

 

 

Warmer: Don’t make me say it!

12 Jan

This is a vocabulary revision activity that I used as a warmer with my classes last week – from intermediate to proficiency.

I went back through the previous couple of units of the coursebook and chose 12 items (words, phrasal verbs, fixed expressions, short phrases) that I thought the class would probably know and I divided those items into two sets of six, trying to make sure there was an even balance of “difficulty” between the two lists.

I put these on a handout as follows:

IMG_20150109_153542056 (2)

The instructions are as follows:

  • Have a conversation with your partner. You can talk about any topics.
  • During the conversation, try to get them to use the words or expressions in the list below.
  • You get one point for every word they use.
  • You lose one point for every word on their list that you say.

What happened:

Predictably, very few of the words on the lists actually got said.  That doesn’t really matter because, as a vocabulary revision activity, what’s happening is the students are creating contexts for the use of the vocabulary, so even if student B doesn’t say student A’s word, they have a pretty good idea of what it is.  However, in hindsight, (and the next time I play this) I’m going to take out the rule about losing a point – it just makes everyone unnecessarily uncooperative.  That said, everyone had a lot of fun.

I also tried this with a group and let them choose their own words from previous units of the book.  This backfired spectacularly as (a) it took far too long, (b) they chose words they didn’t know the meaning of.

It needs a bit of tweaking, but I like this activity because of the way the students are creating these contexts for the items and because it’s prompting them to think about how the items are used – yes, it’s completely artificial, but it also seems to be a lot of fun, which is what you want in a warmer.

Do try it out and let me know how it goes for you – and any changes you made!

Have fun!

(Acknowledgement – I have a vague memory or being shown this or something similar in an input session at IH Katowice about ten years ago, so apologies if this is someone else’s idea!  If so it was probably Richard Venner as it seems like the sort of thing he would do!)

Is reading allowed, aloud?

9 Nov

Many years ago I had something of a disagreement with a colleague who, in a class I had watched, had the learners read aloud from a chapter of Roald Dahl’s autobiography “Going Solo”.  Paragraph by paragraph, they went round the room struggling with unknown vocabulary in that stumbling robotic intonation that is particular only to people reading a text that is completely unfamiliar to them.

As I say, we had a slight disagreement over the pedagogical value of such an exercise.  It is not something I would ever do with classes and frankly, it’s something I associate with the prescriptive, repetitive, grammar translation hell of my Latin classes at school.  And in that context I can understand it more, as the only other speakers of Latin I was ever likely to encounter were in that same room and communicative opportunities were somewhat infrequent (not that this was the point) – so if our teacher wanted to know whether we could pronounce our Latin correctly, this was the only avenue open to him.  Which does raise an interesting question – how does anyone know what the correct pronunciation of Latin is? Has it been handed down, speaker to speaker, throughout the millennia?

In any event, the question cropped up again recently and on this occasion I wondered whether I was alone in my distaste for Reading Aloud (or RA), or whether there were lots of good reasons to do RA that I just wasn’t aware of.  In short I asked Twitter what it thought.

The general consensus that there might be reasons to do RA, but that nobody had done RA with their classes – nor was likely to.

Reasons people came up with were:

  • If the teacher reads aloud, the learners can develop sound-spelling relationship awareness
  • To kill time / run out the clock in class
  • Classroom management – a settling and focusing activity for young learners or more active classes
  • As a focus on sentence stress or intonation work
  • Practicing giving speeches or other ‘real world’ reading aloud tasks (e.g. drama / poetry)

But:

  • Teachers often use “it’s good for their pronunciation” as an excuse to justify the activity
  • Roleplay or drama isn’t quite the same thing as reading aloud anyway
  • There is a difference between written and spoken English anyway, so the value is questionable
  • It can be quite stressful for students to be put on the spot like that

For a much fuller rebuttal of RA – Ken Wilson offers his (strongly argued!) views on why “Reading Aloud in class is a complete waste of time“.  Essentially, Ken suggests (a) there’s no evidence students enjoy it, (b) it fails to enliven the reading experience (c) it doesn’t improve the reading skill, if anything it can only improve the “reading aloud skill” (d) it doesn’t necessarily improve pronunciation (e) most reading is a quiet, introspective activity – this is to be welcomed, not feared!

There are indeed several reasons why reading aloud can be disparaged, above and beyond those previously stated.  In the ELT Journal, Sally Gibson (2008) offers these common objections:

  • It is boring, stressful and has no real benefit for the learners, especially for those not actually doing the reading aloud.
  • The speaker uses most of their brainpower in the processes of reading aloud, leaving little for comprehension.
  • Development of reading aloud does not benefit development of other reading strategies and potentially can interfere with more efficient ones.
  • Focusing on each individual word slows reading speed
  • Reading slowly inhibits the ability to make sense groups and understand longer chunks of text.
  • Texts are often “unnatural”, or are written for effect.  As such they don’t reflect valid pronunciation targets for learners.
  • Unfamiliarity with English spelling conventions can cause problems with pronunciation of words learners may already know orally.
  • Reading aloud is a skill with highly limited applicability in the real world
  • Reading aloud is not easy for even polished native speakers, why should we expect this of language learners?

I can attest from my own experience that the ability to read aloud does not denote comprehension of a text – I once saw a Chinese learner read happily from a text (on tanks and explosions – nice useful content!) with absolutely no idea of what the text meant.  The text had come to him from his state school teacher and was probably set at about B2 / C1 level.  He, however, was in my A1 beginner class.

These problems and objections don’t necessarily mean that reading aloud shouldn’t be done.  As noted from the twitter chat, there are as many reasons for as against.

Jeremy Harmer (2009) gives four reasons why RA can be useful.  It does, he argues, help learners make connections between written and spoken forms of language.  It can tell the teacher what problems learners are having with pronunciation.  It can, with the proper preparation, be extremely motivating for learners.  Finally, it does mimic or practice a real life skill – here Harmer cites a colleague whose husband insists on reading snippets from the newspaper at the breakfast table.

In deriving his plus points, Harmer has drawn on Gibson’s article, as well as Gabrielatos (2002) and Mumford (2009), but does not encompass all the points in favour that they propose.  Gibson, for example, also argues that RA, in helping learners make connections between written and spoken forms, can speed word recognition.  It can help with intonation and can help learners develop “an internal voice”, which in turn might help them with their written work.  Gabrielatos proposes a framework for incorporating RA into your teaching and Mumford offers eleven activities that take RA and adapt and develop it away from “pure” RA and into something more “flexible”.

There are some issues that arise here:  problems that learners have with pronunciation during an RA exercise do not necessarily relate to a pronunciation problem per se, but are more likely to result from not having previously encountered the target word.  It seems odd to cite this as a point in RA’s favour, particularly, when Harmer’s article begins by citing a workshop he gave which highlights precisely this problem.  Clearly, if you don’t know a word, you can’t pronounce it properly and of course being able to pronounce it properly does not mean that any concept of meaning has been acquired, as my Chinese student ably demonstrated.  Equally, I’m not sure that RA does help with “intonation”.  It might help with “declamation” though, if delivering a speech in a suitably dramatic style is (a) your aim (b) what the students need.

And it might just be that it is what they need – two recent articles from Japan approach RA from very different viewpoints.  In the traditionalist corner, representing the ancients, is Porcaro’s (2012) article for ETP where he discusses the importance of a story telling culture in Japan, in particular the telling and re-telling of folktales and how he has used this with his classes.  In the modernist corner, representing the scientists are Takeuchi, Ikeda & Mizumoto (2012) whose recent research into cerebral activity during readin aloud exercises has thrown up some very interesting results.

In a nutshell (and with the full awareness that I’m summarising a quite complicated research paper in quite a limited space), what they found was that reading aloud in L2 requires a greater degree of cerebral activity than doing so in L1.  Not surprising perhaps, but they think this is probably because there is a greater degree of processing going on in terms of meaning as well as pronunciation.  This is because when you read aloud in L1, you don’t necessarily need to process the meaning of the words, because ultimately that’s not the point of reading aloud – parents who’ve drifted off in the middle of reading a story to their kids, but have kept reading will identify here!  The point of reading aloud is delivering the text, not understanding it.  Except in L2 where the reader apparently does both.  This theory is supported as when they asked people to read texts that were “too difficult”, the level of cerebral activity decreased – the readers stopped focusing on meaning and instead concentrated on delivery only.  Similarly, repetition of the task led to a decrease in activity as having processed the meaning initially, it wasn’t necessary to do so on subsequent attempts.

It seems then, that there may well be a value in Reading Aloud.  It also seems to me that those people who have recently argued in favour of RA have done so from a slightly odd position.  It is almost as if these writers have become aware that Reading Aloud has it’s adherents no matter what, and if that is going to be the case then it is far better that teachers incorporate RA into their classes from a position of principle – and have set out to describe what those principles might be.  In general recent articles on RA basically say that just doing RA isn’t really the done thing anymore and that if you are going to do RA, here are a number of ways that you can do RA without actually doing…. RA.  Or as Jeremy Harmer says “What we need to do then, is find ways to make reading aloud a positive and useful experience”  because more often than not, as Ken Wilson says, “the problem (is) that nothing is really happening in a classroom event where different students are struggling to read a dense text on the page in front of them.”

From a personal point of view, when I sent out the twitter cri-de-coeur it was because I thought I was watching an activity that had no benefit for the students and because I could see absolutely no point in what was taking place in the classroom.  I no longer view Reading aloud in those terms, after all, as Gibson says “It would be a pity if an activity that has some value in language learning … continues to be shunned … because of its careless use.”

Acknowledgments, further reading and references:

Thanks to @teflerinha, @MrChrisJWilson, @louisealix68, @hannahpinkham, @fielsted, @muranava and @kenwilsonlondon for getting into the debate on twitter!

Thanks in particular to: @teflerinha for remembering about Jeremy Harmer’s article, @MrChrisJWilson for remembering Ken Wilson’s and to @kenwilsonlondon for providing it, to @muranava for the Wolsey reference (as below) and to @fielsted for both the Gabrielatos and Gibson articles!

For more a more detailed look at the subject, there’s plenty to check out below:

Ferlazzo, L.  2011.  “The Best Posts On Students Reading Aloud Individually In ESL Class — But I Need Your Help Finding Research On The Topic” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.larryferlazzo.edublogs.org

Gabrielatos, C. 2002.  “Reading Loud and Clear: reading aloud in ELT“, ERIC, ED477572

Gibson, S.  2008.  “Reading aloud: a useful learning tool?“, ELT Journal 62/1.

Harmer, J.  2009.  “Is reading aloud allowed?“, English Teaching Professional 65/4.

Mumford, S. 2009.  “Rethinking Reading Aloud.”  Modern English Teacher 18/3 (Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.hltmag.co.uk)

Paduraru, M. 2010. “Yes, we DO read aloud in class.” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.mellaniep.wordpress.com

Porcaro, J.W. 2012. “Reading Aloud“, English Teaching Professional 80/2.

Redpath, P. 2011.  “Reading Aloud Allowed?” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.oupeltglobalblog.com

Takeuchi, O., Ikeda, M. and Mizumoto, A.  2012.  “Reading Aloud Activity in L2 and Cerebral Activation“, RELC Journal, 43/2

Wilson, K.  2010. “Reading aloud in class is a complete waste of time – discuss.” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.kenwilsonelt.wordpress.com

Wolsey, T, 2010.  “Popcorn and Round-Robin Reading” Retrieved 9th November 2012 from http://www.suite101.com

 Postscript

I’m aware that the title of this piece is uncomfortably similar to that of Jeremy Harmer’s and indeed to Peter Redpath’s!  In my defence, it was originally exactly the same as Jeremy Harmer’s as I had already started writing this post and thought I was being creative and original – ah well.  There are no new ideas in TEFL as they say….  And it is too good a title to go to waste…

#ELTChat Summary: Teaching at a Discourse Level

15 Feb

How can we focus language teaching more at discourse level rather than sentence level?

The first #eltchat of 2012 attempted to answer this question!  I wasn’t actually there and didn’t take part in the chat and I’m still not quite sure how I’ve ended up writing the summary except that Marisa_C possesses remarkable powers of persuasion and as someone who teaches higher levels this is an area of interest!  Hopefully, this captures the key points, but I’m not a “discourse specialist”, so feel free to point out any errors or omissions.  I haven’t cited individual contributors, but the transcript is available if you’d like to know who said what.

“Teacher, what mean “discourse”?”

The initial question makes the assumption that discourse works at a higher level than merely the sentence thought the Wikipedia entry relating discourse analysis to “approaches to analyzing written, spoken . signed language use or any significant semiotic event” – which I interpret broadly as meaning “if something attempts to convey meaning, it can be analysed to see how it does so”.  A more accessible overview of discourse suggests that discourse analysts are concerned with “the construction of meaning throughout a text”.  (it should be pointed out here that the word “text” is used more to mean a linguistic event than a written document).

Thus discourse can apply to patterns of interaction, “text” structures, communication events, language within a text – usually occurring within a context of authentic language use.  There are no set “rules” of discourse per se, because discourse examines everything and the rules change depending on the context.

Stuck at the Sentence?  Problems with discourse:

Receptively, learners simply may not know enough vocabulary to access texts effectively – to fully understand a text learners need to be able to recognize 95% of the vocabulary used in the text (Laufer, 1989).  Additionally, the mechanics of textual cohesion devices like referencing, linking expressions and paragraphing need to be understood.

Receptive knowledge of these devices also form part of language tests, like FCE, CAE, CPE, IELTS (etc), and within fields like EAP.  Often these tests also require learners to demonstrate productive knowledge of these devices in structured, genre specific writing tasks.  While genre is an aspect of discourse, genre familiarity is a separate issue for learners to grapple with.

Where learners are preparing for a language test, classes tend to become very test focused, very accuracy focused and very form focused – developing a test dependency that can be difficult to move away from.  This may account for the amount of language teaching conducted at the sentence level within test preparation classes, though this is not ideal.

It isn’t helped by the general trend within published ELT materials for decontextualized, fragmented, sentence based language presentations.  Grammar teaching in particular tends to be conducted at the level of the sentence and examine items in isolation and without reference to a wider context.  The natural fluidity of language would seem to predicate against this.

Problem?  Solution! – what a bunch of Hoey!

(Bonus points to those who got the discourse analysis joke there….)

The simplest responses to the issue of isolated sentence based grammar teaching would appear to be just to teach grammar in a wider context and by making learners aware of functional aspects of language and their use – aspects of Speech Act study (which is only possible in context).  This could be facilitated by more use of authentic materials or by use of digital coursebooks (this latter point wasn’t fully expanded upon – I’m intrigued and would welcome comments!).

The other key suggestion is to move learners from receptive awareness of discourse patterns, for example making them aware of such patterns as they occur in listening and reading tasks, through to productive acts that feature and practice the target discourse structures.  This would seem to favour a product approach to writing – the exposure of learners to a model text before asking them to produce something based on that model.  There is often a reluctance amongst learners to “do writing” in class, but while instruction could take place in class, the actual practice of the writing skill need not.

(An authorial aside – just from reading through the tweets as they related to discourse and testing, in particular the learners desire just to “get through the test”, I think it’s worth pointing out to learners that often with testing, there is no “quick fix”.  Discourse features occur in many language tests precisely because they are skills to be developed and rather than something that can be sidestepped.  There are task strategies than can help fine tune learner performance, but if the underlying skills aren’t there, neither will exam performance be! )

In conclusion – Do Learners need Discourse Analysis?

A good question – do learners really need discourse analysis skills or is it just the teachers who do?  There was a general consensus that the main goal is to have learners working and using “real language”, which would seem to take us back to using authentic materials as part of the input process, both to serve for language development and provision of exponents, but also to raise awareness of discourse structures and patterns as they arise in the target texts.

Teachers therefore need training in discourse analysis so that they can effectively instruct the learners, and be able to evaluate published materials more critically.  Thus they can help the learners to not only look at language performance but also to reflect on the language they encounter, to think about aspects of discourse such as audience and purpose – to be aware of the patterns rather than actually conduct a discourse analysis.

Further Reading, References and links from the chat:

(Links given where possible)

 

An apology on behalf of #eltchat – Raquel_EFL appeared to make a large contribution to the chat with people responding with phrases like “brilliant” and “Good point!!!”  but unfortunately for some reason these contributions didn’t show up in the transcript and I fear have been lost to history….

#eltchat takes place on twitter every Wednesday at 12 noon and 9.00pm London time.  Simply sign in or sign up to twitter and search for the hashtag #eltchat.  For more information, check out the website.

All is not what it seems – The Little People Project

9 Jan

Back in December I posted on “nine pretty pictures” – ways of exploiting images with learners.

I recently came across “The Little People Project” – though unfortunately I can’t remember where – it might have been The Guardian, but I’m not sure.

I really like the images – the composition is quirky, the use of every day materials is inspired and the locations are very unexpected.  The initial images, the close ups (as above), will no doubt provoke lots of speculation amongst the learners – but in many cases other images, showing the works in their wider settings are also included.

A great collection of images that can be used for most of the purposes in the “nine pretty pictures” post – story prompts, caption competitions, role play prompts, mind-mapping & speculation tasks all spring to mind!

Santa’s Xmas Present Swap – an activity for all ages!

21 Dec

And compliments of the season to you all!

This is my xmas present to anyone still teaching out there – but equally, this could make a really good first lesson back in the new year activity.  Santa’s Xmas Present Swap!

(Before the class, you’ll need to chop up some scrap paper, so that each learner in the class will have SIX bits of paper each.)

(1)  Ask the learners what they want / are hoping to get for Christmas – in terms of presents from other people, though if anyone comes up with “world peace” you could extend the discussion to see how likely they think that is…  This could be in pairs, or open class.

(2)  Ask the learners if that always get what they want.  If not, what do they get instead?  Socks?  Soap?  Have they ever had a present they were truly horrified to receive?  This could be broadened out into a discussion on what constitutes a good present or a bad present.

(3)  Give the learners the slips of paper, so that each learner has six slips.  Tell the learners they’ll write one thing on each bit of paper, so on one bit of paper they’ll write ” Justin Bieber CD” and on another they’ll write “a yellow woollen scarf” and so on.  Three of the bits of paper should be things they would like to get this christmas.  The other three things should be things they don’t want, necessarily, but which they think they might get.

(4)  When they’re done, the learners scrunch up all the bits of paper into little balls and give them to the teacher, who puts them in a container of some kind (a santa hat if you have one handy!).

(5)  The teacher then elicits / inputs the negotiation langauge for the swapping activity – examples might include:

  • Would you like a __________?
  • Do you want to swap a __________ for a _______?
  • If you give me _________ I’ll give you ___________.
  • Ask the learners for other ideas….

(6)  The teacher then throws all the balls of paper up in the air, so that they are scattered across the classroom.  A brief mad undignified scramble then ensues as the learners grab as many items as they can – make sure they know they should only take six.  If someone has more, select one from them at random and redistribute it to whoever’s missing an item.

(7)  The learners then mingle and swap their gifts until such time as they’re happy with everything they have in their hands.

(8)  Content feedback:  Who got what?  Who’s happy and who’s unhappy?  Language feedback – reformulation and extension of learner utterances during the mingle task.

And on a personal note – that’s probably my last post for this year.  It is, after all, the holiday season and I’m quite looking forward to putting the laptop away for a bit and relaxing in front of the fire!  It’s been a great year and I’d like to thank everyone who reads this for their support and for the comments and feedback I’ve been getting.
See you all again in 2012!

The First day of Geekmas: A short talk on using Poetry…

20 Dec

On the first day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  a short talk on using poetry…..

It’s the last / first day of the teflgeek Christmas countdown and it’s been a fun, somewhat introspective, quite stressful on occasion but ultimately I hope, useful, Christmas countdown.  I’m not sure I’ll be repeating the experience again next year – at least not in this form!  So a reminder of what we’ve had so far:

I thought that, in a twist and given how I’ve massacred the poetic form in creating spurious rhymes in attempting the twelve days of geekmas, I’d end with a short talk on poetry.  I’ve put this together as a you tube video – it’s the first video cast I’ve attempted, so any feedback on technique etc gratefully appreciated!

Any and all links referred to in the presentation, plus a load more besides, are given below.  Enjoy!

References and further ideas:

 poetryclass – “taking the fear out of poetry” – http://www.poetryclass.net/

A wealth of teaching resources, articles and ideas on how and why to use poetry with classes.  Designed more for students within the UK education system, but resources are graded by year group, so you’ll be able to find some suitable resources for most ages and levels.

The Poetry Express – poetry writing for 7-11year olds – http://www.thepoetryexpress.com/

Again, aimed more at the UK education system.  Poetry Express has a lot of stuff that’s aimed directly at the kids developing their abilities to write poetry as well as teaching resources that approach poetry from a cross-curricular viewpoint.

http://www2.eng.cam.ac.uk/~tpl/workshops/exercises.html

This is a just a simple list of poetry workshop ideas – more ideas to stimulate poetry creation than developing ability per se.

http://connected.waldenu.edu/language-and-literacy/english-language-learners/item/1482-how-to-teach-english-through-poetry

This is a useful and interesting, but more theoretical, article on how and why to use poetry in the classroom.

The Poetry Zone: http://poetryzone.woodshed.co.uk/index2.htm

Another kids based site – with competitions, poetry theme ideas, a place for kids to upload their poems to and usefully, a teacher zone with further links and ideas to help you use poetry in the classroom.  Look at classroom resources and “Poetry Kit” by Jan Dean for some great ideas! ( I really liked the “mismatch” idea!)

Forms of Poetry:  http://www.tooter4kids.com/forms_of_poetry.htm

This is an excellent resource for different types of poetry and poetry ideas – from limericks to haiku, language based  (e.g. used to), shape poems, parts of speech poems – the list goes on and one.  Just scroll down to see what there is to see.  Strongly recommended!

Teaching Grammar Creatively.  Gerngross, Puchta & Thornbury, 2006 Helbling Languages.

A great grammar teaching ideas source, many of the outcomes are based around the idea of poems or poetry creation.  Repetition of a grammatical form, so it seems, can lead to some great poetry!

Poem into Poem, Maley & Moulding, 1985, Cambridge University Press.

Possibly a little dated in terms of content, but the ideas included are still very definitely worth taking a look at.  “We ignore the poetic function of language at our peril.  It is the cutting edge of linguistic creativity and innovation, and the key to a feel for the soul of a language.”  Page 134.

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/text-language-classrooms-talo-tavi-tasp

Lindsay Clandfield has an excellent in-depth article on using texts in the classroom, looking at TAVI / TALO / TASP in more detail.

The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Five Favourite Things

12 Dec

On the fifth day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  FIVE FAVOURITE THINGS

Welcome to the teflgeek Christmas celebration!  Themed around the classic Christmas carol – but going backwards, mostly because it’s more like a countdown that way:

12 blogs worth clutching

11 tips for writing

10 tricks for reading

9 pretty pictures

8 talks worth watching

7 simple statements

6 games worth playing

and five of my favourite things.  No brown paper parcels tied up with string here – just five simple activities that I use all the time and can help break up the monotony of the lesson.  I don’t claim authorship of any of these – in fact most of these can be found in the one extent copy of ” diht aet álaeran englisc to aelfolc” – a primer that was in wide use after the 1066 invasion of England after which none of the Norman lords and masters could talk to their Anglo Saxon serfs and had to arrange hasty lessons.  “diht aet álaeran englisc to aelfolc” can be found on the shelves at the Bodleian Library, next to a copy of what appears to be the publisher proofs for the very first edition of Headway Elementary (or héafodaerneweg folcsóp).

(1)  Backs to the Board.  

I’ve mentioned previously, how this activity was demonstrated to me on the CELTA and how I use it with virtually every class (though sometimes I give it a rest to avoid overkill!).  The following description is from the teflgeek “Activity Reference

Essentially a vocabulary review game / activity.  Divide the class into two teams (they can choose a team name?).

Take two chairs and turn them round so that anyone sitting in them will have their backs to the board.  One person from each team comes up and sits in the chair.  The teacher writes a word on the board and the other members of the team try to explain the word, without actually saying the target word.  The first person (sitting in the chairs) to say the correct word wins one point for their team.  Change the person sitting in the chair after each word, so that all team members get a chance to be the guessers.  You can use this with single vocabulary items or with collocations, phrasal verbs, or even full sentences!

Rules:  People sitting in the chairs may not look at the board.  Explainers may not say the word OR ANY FORM of the word – for example if the target word is “teacher”, teams cannot say “teaching” / “teach” / “taught” and so forth.  The only language allowed is English (or your target language).  No mime or gesticulation is allowed.  No writing things down.  no saying the first letter of the word or spelling the words.  Points can be taken off for infractions!

Obviously, these rules can be relaxed for lower levels.  Fun for all ages and abilities!

(2)  Running Dictation

I have a suspicion this one might have come from Nick Kiley, almost ten years ago in China.  A running dictation is a great way to get your classes up and moving – especially if they’ve been sat there for a while.  It practices all four skills and because there’s a focus on accuracy (i.e. correct transfer of information) can be a nice way to introduce a language point.

What you do – take a target text, not too big, probably about 75-100 words (this will depend on class age and ability – I’ve done this with a list of ten words, or with ten short sentences, or with a short letter).  Stick a copy of the text somewhere nearby, ideally outside your classroom – the door to the DoS office is a favourite location – but out of immediate communication range.

The learners work in pairs – person A runs to the text, tries to remember as much of the text as they can, returns to their partner and tells them what they can remember.  Person B listens and writes it down.  When person B has finished writing, they run to the paper and read the next bit before returning to tell person A who writes it down and so on.  At the end of the activity, you can ask pairs of learners to compare their texts for accuracy, or if you’ve extracted the text from the coursebook, they can check it against the original.

Generally, I use these as a means of providing the target language, so I tend to follow the activity with some kind of language mining task – for example if the text had been an anecdote designed to highlight narrative tenses, the task might be to sequence the events in chronological order.

(3)  The Domination Game

It sounds worse than it is….   And it’s another one I’ve mentioned before, but seeing as that was two days after this blog first started I don’t think anyone noticed.  So I feel no guilt about reproducing it here!  This one is, I think a teflgeek original:  I originally cooked it up as a comparatively fun way of doing revision / practice of an entire FCE Use of English paper without melting the learners’ brains or causing everyone in the room to lose the will to live….

The term “comparatively fun” is used advisedly – this one can easily run past it’s “use by date” if you let it – if you feel that learners are beginning to shift uncomfortably around, then just cut the whole thing short and declare a winner!

As mentioned, it was originally designed for an FCE Use of English, but it can be used with absolutely any Grammar / Vocabulary revision task – basically all you need is 42 questions.  In the past I’ve used it with three separate “revision” pages of a course book – as long as the question references are clear, it’s all good!

Basically, the game is a combination of “blockbusters” and “reversi”.  Teams have to try and get the greatest number of connected squares they can.  Teams win a square by answering a question correctly.  The strategy element is introduced as teams can obviously block each other, cut each other off – and steal squares from each other by surrounding a square on two separate sides.

A full procedure, game grid and question reference sheet are attached and available to download as a pdf file here:

teflgeek – The Domination Game

(4) The Never-Ending Mingle

We’ve all done those “Find Someone Who” tasks, where learners walk around the classroom with a bit of paper, asking the same question to ten different people – and usually getting the same short and effective answer – “No!”  The never-ending mingle avoids some of this by imposing two simple rules on the activity  (1)  learners aren’t allowed to ask a question to the same person twice  (2)  Learners swap cards after each Q& A encounter.  This way, learners will ask as many questions are there are people in the classroom, quite possibly talking to each person as many times as there are people!

Variations: (1)  let the learners think up the questions.  (2)  learners think of more than one question (three seems like a nice number)  (3)  learners include a follow up question (to avoid short Yes / No type encounters)

Feedback:  “John, what was the most interesting thing somebody told you?”

(5)  Reason to believe

This is one of my ultimate cover lessons – particularly useful at short notice.  I do it at least once with every class I teach, in one form or another.  It’s one of those that works better at higher levels, but I think could work anywhere from Intermediate upwards, as it relies on learner ideas rather than language per se.  There are opportunities for language input built in, and these could be developed further if necessary.

Essentially it’s an opposition debate, where learners debate the things they believe in – or not as the case may be!

Downloadable pdf version of the plan is attached here:  teflgeek – Reason to believe.

On another note:  Reason to Believe was my very first post on this blog!

So these were a few of my favourite things – what’s your favourite five?

(NB  Apologies to all students and teachers of “Old English” for the very dodgy book titles at the top of the post….  You can blame my general ignorance of old English grammatical structure and inappropriate use of the Old English Translator for any and all mistakes contained within!)
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