Archive | February, 2016

The Interview Round

29 Feb

Job interviews are fun things to prepare learners for.  A colleague and I once prepared a student for a job interview as a hotel receptionist by sitting her in the director’s office and making spurious phone calls to her in a variety of comedy accents with demands ranging from the mundane (clean towels) to the ridiculous (arranging a private jet to pick the children up from school).  I never found out whether it helped her or not….

More recently, my FCE class did a module on the working world and to finish it off we did a job interview task.  It went really well.  They really enjoyed it, there was loads of great language and some truly brilliant questions which, given that they are teenagers with no experience of the job market, made me very happy.  So I thought I’d share it!

Image credit: Pixabay

Image credit: Pixabay

I divided the class into two groups.  Group A were the interviewers and Group B the interviewees.

Group A worked collaboratively to decide which jobs they were interviewing for and what questions they would ask.  Each interviewer had to recruit for a different job, so we had John recruiting for an astrophysicist and Mary recruiting for a babysitter and Anne for a stage prompter.

Group B worked collaboratively to think of what kind of qualities and experience might help them to get different types of jobs and to think of questions to ask about the terms and conditions, working hours etc.

The key is that Group B doesn’t know what jobs they are interviewing for, so group A have to keep it a secret!

In the interview stage, group A were sat separately around the edges of the room and paired off with someone from group B.  Each pair had two or three minutes to interview / be interviewed and then the students from group B rotated to the next interviewer.

At the end of the activity, Group A got back together and decided which candidates they would hire for their job – and they had to hire someone, so there was a bit of additional negotiation going on there!  Group B had to work out which interviewer was interviewing for which job – piecing it together from clues obtained during the process.

Because of time constraints, I stopped the interview process about two thirds of the way through, so that everybody had only spoken to about four or five other people.  I think that also worked quite well because it added a bit more of a jigsaw element to working out the final task.  I also liked that the interviewees had more of a task to do than just compare questions, which is a problem I’ve come across in the past.

Try it out yourself and let me know how it goes – or if you have any variations on the theme?

 

Moral Dilemmas – Book Review

22 Feb

Imagine you are teaching a group of business people, all of whom work for the same company.  They have been told that their eligibility for the next round of promotions depends on their achieving a certain level of English.  All of them are busy and none of them have much time.  Over the course, there have been quite a few absences and not very much homework.

It’s now the end of the course and the students are doing their final evaluation tests.  As they do, you notice one of the students is referring to a piece of paper they have on their lap under the desk.

What do you do?

Does it make any difference to you what happens?  What about the student?  Is it fair to the other students?

Welcome to the world of Moral Dilemmas!

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Moral Dilemmas is a new mini-ebook from Lindsay Clandfield and published by The Round that explores issues like this and more.  The example above is my own and is not from the book, but is an example of the way such ethical conundrums have to grab us, take us out of our comfort zones and force us to re-evaluate our value systems.

It is this ability that makes these situations such universal constants.  It doesn’t really matter where you are from or what belief system you have, issues like this cause us to stop and re-evaluate our relationships with the world around us.

That said, these dilemmas tend to work better in contexts where there is a more relativistic approach to morality and less absolutism.  I can see that in some contexts the dilemmas as presented may not be viewed as dilemmas at all, but more as a logical progression of “if that, then this”.  This potential problem is addressed though, with the author suggesting a more nuanced critical approach of exploring the alternatives in terms of their implications on the individuals and wider society.  In short, if the students all agree that (to take our example) cheating is wrong and the HR department should be notified within 30 seconds of presenting the problem, that the teacher draw out all of the possible courses of action and ask the students to think about what they might mean.

The dilemmas themselves are very usefully presented:  the dilemma itself is described, along with brief teaching tips on how to adjust each dilemma to a local context.  Avenues of further exploration are suggested as well as vocabulary areas that might come up in discussion.

There is also a very useful “What if…” section, which considers some of problems that might arise when using the material with a class and suggests some strategies for dealing with them.  These range from looking at relevance and appropriacy to immediate agreement, slipping into L1 and when things get too up close and personal for everybody’s comfort!

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Who should buy this book?  It’s aimed at teachers working with classes of B1 ability and above, but beyond that I would think is quite a useful resource for anyone teaching English.  It’s the sort of book that would sit easily alongside titles like the Discussions A-Z series, or Friederike Klippel’s Keep Talking, on the staffroom bookshelf – something handy to dip into and find a useful activity as when is needed.  Though obviously as it’s an ebook, a more recent comparison would be the Parsnips series (see elsewhere on this blog) and we should be talking about a staffroom Kindle instead!  Definitely a keeper, I look forward to trying some of the activities with my own classes!

Moral Dilemmas” by Lindsay Clandfield is available for  £0.79 / €0.99 / $1.00 via The Round.

 

 

 

Getting to know you: teaching on and offline

15 Feb

I have mixed feelings about Getting to Know you tasks in real world teaching.  I do use them, but it really depends on the class, their age and ability.  For example, if you walk into a corporate client, where all your students have worked together for years, the only person who’s a stranger is you – the teacher.  Many of my real world classes have come up through the levels together and they all know each other for the most part and this is why what I tend to do in my first lessons is more about rapport building than “Getting to know you” per se.

So with that caveat in mind…  when I do feel the need to introduce myself I often use the True False Sentences about teacher routine: e.g. I give the class the following information (or dictate it, depending on age & ability):

  1. I’m Canadian.
  2. I’m 28 years old.
  3. I’m married and I have a young daughter (called Gillian).
  4. I have been a teacher for five years.
  5. I lived in Poland for two years.
  6. I speak Chinese.
  7. My favourite football team is AC Milan.
  8. My favourite rock group is Pink Floyd.
  9. My ambition is to write a successful novel.
  10. My parents own five dogs.

The learners, in pairs, decide which are true and which are false and then ask me questions to ascertain the answers.

They then write their own list of true / false statements which are posted round the room and the other learners decide which are right and which are wrong.

Adapting this for an online environment is somewhat tricky as the interaction would largely be uni-directional (i.e. T-SSa / T-SSb / T-SSc etc) and probably not even that, because after all if you do this on an asynchronous board, you only need one person to ask the initial questions and then the answers are there for everyone else to read…

So to adapt….

Hmm.

You could turn the tables and rather than provide ten sentences, get participants to create their own list of ten true false sentences for you – though this makes the focus very teacher centered and defeats the purpose somewhat.

I think the best way to do it would be to ask participants to post one truth and one lie about each of the other participants on the course.  This would involve information discovery via private messaging and some degree of creativity and humour which would help to engender the right kind of atmosphere.  The people can respond to each other’s posts and say which they think is the truth or not.

I can see this getting very fragmented and unwieldy though.

So a possible variation might be to ask people to post two or three images, one of which should reflect something of importance in their lives and the other of which should not.  The rest of the group can then speculate on which things are more important to the poster or not.

However, this last one is the one I think I like most – it is relatively simple, introduces participants to a great online tool and should be (a) revealing (b) fun (c) easy.

  • Send participants to http://www.wordle.net/create
  • Ask them to cut and paste the contents of their CV into the wordle and click Go.
  • Suggest they play around with the formatting until they find something they like.
  • Get them to post the wordle image in the forums
  • Ask them to visit each others wordles and then make predictions about their lives based on the information they see there.
  • They can then also confirm or deny the predictions made about themselves

This has nothing to do with the original activity that I  thought of, but now that I’ve come up with it, I’m going to adapt it for use in the real world and try it with my next set of new classes!  This would be great for business groups!

Image credit: pixabay

Image credit: pixabay

Note:  I originally wrote this post as part of my training to tutor online, when I did the IHCOLT in 2o13.  I’m currently rationalising some of my other blog projects and migrating some of the content here rather than lose it entirely!

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.

 

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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.

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Image Credit: Pixabay