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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!

 

 

Instructions: Don’t blame Maria, blame Sharon and Tracy

1 Oct

By day seven of a recent hospitalisation, I had identified four of the non-native speakers who worked on the nursing team.  Apparently there are seven in total, but the ward is large and I may never get to meet the others.  I know there are seven because I overheard a senior nurse commenting on it.  And not positively.   Communication, it seems is something of an issue on ward B5.

Of the four NNS nurses I’ve met, two are Italian and two are Portuguese.  I would estimate that the Portugese are solid B2 level speakers – there are frequent mistakes but these don’t often impede communication and when they do, the speakers are able to correct.  The Italians are lower level – one of the Italians is a solid B1 and the other, who is also older, is somewhere between A2 and B1; listening to her I can see how she might have passed Cambridge English Preliminary exam but her slips and errors are probably more common slightly below that.

And it was this lady, who I shall call Maria, that had to deal with this little burst of language the other day.  If you can, imagine the nurse speaking with a broad south London accent, all run together and rapid with random glottal stops thrown in here and there:

NURSE: “Right.  Maria, so bed 3’s jus come back from her colonoscopy so we know that means she can only have four things, black tea, water, apple juice and jelly.  But not the red jelly cos it’s got that stuff in it she can have the orange jelly though so she’d better have a tea and an orange jelly but it don’t matter cos we ain’t got any jelly anyway and the kitchen’s sending some up so that’ll take a while so it’s probably best if you wayer first and that’ll give the kitchen time to send it up, alright?”

MARIA:  Tea and jelly.  Ok.  I do this now?

NURSE: She’s going the wrong way.  Maria luv?  You’re going the wrong way!  She’s over there.  Go wayer.  WAYer.  Weigh her.

MARIA: ah! I weigh her and then tea and jelly.

NURSE:  Yeah go on luv off you pop.  (Exeunt Maria) it’s so difficult when they don’t understand English innit?

***

I’ve tried to reproduce this verbally in this recording – it’s the best approximation I can manage of the speed and speech patterns! Click the vocaroo link to listen.

Source: Vocaroo Voice Message

***

I later overheard a senior nurse tell the Italians they could leave an hour early the following day to attend English lessons being run elsewhere in the hospital.

Maria could probably use some English lessons, this is true – I wonder though, whether they will be the right kind of language lessons.  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 the surgeons.  Everyone else in the hospital is from everywhere else.  This being south London, there is a broad mix of Britain’s colonial and cultural heritage in the accents: West Indian, Jamaican, Indian, Pakistani, Nigerian, Ugandan.  And of course the famous “estuary English” common to the South East of the UK.

Course book accents tend to be clearer, tinged slightly with regionalism here and there as a nod to the existence of other forms of speech and as a way of helping learners tell the speakers apart during the listening exercise.  This is an understandable part of grading the materials to the level of the learner – listening materials need to be accessible after all, but I wonder if, in grading the language our learners hear, we could do more to include a greater variety of dialect and accent.  That perhaps, is a topic for another blogpost though.

The big issue for Maria is the one that probably every teacher picked up on when reading or listening to the above conversation.  It isn’t that Maria doesn’t understand, in fact if you consider the length and content of the initial utterance, Maria has done quite well to pull “tea and jelly” out of it and to use contextual knowledge to figure out that she has to go and get some for bed 3.

The problem isn’t just that the non-native speaker doesn’t understand, the problem is that the native speaker doesn’t have the best communication skills for speaking to a non-native speaker.

INSTRUCTIONS PEOPLE!!!!  INSTRUCTIONS!

The nurse is delivering the utterance at relatively high speed and in an informal mode as is suitable between colleagues who don’t want to make an issue of any power relationships.  She pre-justifies the instruction by giving background information that supports the instruction and then gets lost in her own thinking as she clarifies which kind of jelly and what the best sequence of activities is.  The speed of speech, and in particular the south London speech patterns of catenation, elision and assimilation, make it very difficult to identify the word boundaries.  Likewise, because this is delivered at speed, the stress patterns are not as obvious.

In short, it is a wonder that anybody understood anything.

It might be a bit too much to expect the nurse to grade her language appropriately as this is something that teachers get better at through repeated exposure to multiple levels of ability and understanding what language patterns and lexis are generally comprehensible at those levels.  There are though, some simple things that our nurse could do to make life easier on the ward:

  • Use fewer words. Don’t use three words where one will do.
  • Separate out instructions into single imperative sentences. Don’t front them with polite phrases – keep it simple.  So not “Please, if you wouldn’t mind, could you go and wash bed 8 and get them ready for X-ray?”  But:  “Wash bed 8.  Get them ready for x-ray.”
  • Enunciate more clearly and make sure key words are separated.
  • Speak slower.
  • Try and give stress to key words in the sentence, in particular actions to be taken and names or other key nouns.

I also have a theory, based on limited observation and not borne out by any reading or research (not that I found any research on this, so who knows?), that when native speakers try to simplify their language for non-native speakers, they do so in the same way that they might simplify their language for a child.  This can be characterised by using more “informal” language, which includes more use of phrasal verbs.  Phrasal verbs though, are notoriously tricky for non-native speakers to acquire and differentiate between.  Certainly speakers of Latin based languages might have more luck with slightly more formal vocabulary where there are more cognates.  So in the example instruction “Get them ready for x-ray”, a better instruction might be “prepare them for x-ray”.  But this is only a personal theory…

So there is my free business idea for any teacher in the UK looking to drum up a bit more business – don’t only target the language learners, but look for opportunities in areas where the native and the non-native speaker work together or interact more regularly.  Sell the courses in communication skills to Sharon and Tracy (or their boss in HR), and make sure it isn’t only Maria that gets the blame.

 

CAE Online Resource Directory

4 Jun

For those involved with CAE exam classes – I’ve just put up a directory of online resources which you can access here:

CAE Online Resource Directory

There’s a mix of exam information, online practice exercises and teaching advice, so take a look and see what you think!

Predictably, a lot of what’s out there for “CAE” – or “Cambridge English: Advanced” as we should more properly call it – is just details for various courses run by schools and language training centres.  There isn’t as much out there as there is for FCE.

So – if you know of anything that I haven’t included – please do let me know – you can do this by leaving a comment here, or via the feedback form on the about page.

Guest Post: If you look at the bottom of the screen

20 Mar

In this guest post, Dave Cosby looks at why some nationalities might be better at learning languages than others and considers the role that the pervasive influence of the international media might have to play…

If you look at the bottom of the screen…

Why are some nations better at learning languages than others? Is there something about their own national language that gives those speakers some indefinable attribute that allows them to pick up a language like you or I might pick up a newspaper?

The Dutch are amazing at this. I was once in a queue in an Amsterdam police station after being pickpocketed and was agog as I listened to the desk sergeant deal with Spanish, Italian, German, French and then me, English without batting an eyelid.

The Anglosphere  is notoriously monogolotal, even more so than the French, who I am sure secretly understand despite continual shrugging and exclamations of “Je ne comprends pas!”

But for me it’s all about attitude. If a country is open to other languages, and sees that they do indeed have a useful purpose (ie. there’s actually a point to learning them, after all, who wants to learn Dutch?), then people do actually learn them, and you don’t end up with the snails again, instead of the croque monsiuer you ordered, despite ordering it clearly and slowly with appropriate gestures.

Perhaps it’s all down to history. If the country in question is, or has been a big cheese, un grand fromage, they might consider it beneath them to bother with the double Dutch that the rest of the world is gabbling. Why bother? It’s all Greek to them. C’est comme parler chinois.

If you are, however, a policy maker, in one of these places, and you hope to encourage the learning of foreign languages in general, and of English in particular, what do you do?

The answer? Subtitle.

Get your national broadcaster to sack all the people dubbing the programmes and put up your first language (L1) in little white letters at the bottom of the page.

The American journalist and writer, Malcolm Gladwell, considers that the amount of time you need to spend to become truly expert in something is ten thousand hours. In his book, ‘Outliers’, Gladwell gives example after example of how those who really excel, those who define excellence in their particular field have practiced, and practiced. Then practiced some more. To him, practice really does make perfect and you know what? I think he’s on to something.

I would like to compare the average ability of students from two countries I have worked in and know well: Spain and Portugal. I could just as well be talking about Greece and Italy, two countries I know almost as well, but let’s stick to Iberia. In Spain students listen to Spanish music on the radio, watch Hollywood films dubbed into Spanish, surf the internet in Spanish… oh you get the idea. Then they go to three hours of English a week and expect their English level to rise from pre-intermediate to CAE/ IELTS 7.5/ C1 level in a school year and they are surprised and angry when it doesn’t.

A Spanish school year is short. Let’s start with the three month summer break. Then let’s subtract the two weeks at Easter and Christmas. We’ll add a week for Carnival (rounding up for the ‘puente’ holidays). That only leaves us 35 weeks or so. Which gives us just over a hundred hours a year in English. Not much is it?

Yet we have the same annual timetable in Portugal, or as near as makes no difference, and the chances are good that the boy or girl working at the supermarket checkout will speak English quite well, even in a non-tourist town miles from the coast. This is far less common in Spain. How?

Gladwell would look at numbers. So let us suppose that…

Perhaps our average student watches ten hours of TV. Maybe half of that is from Hollywood, shows like CSI or House. Yes, they are subtitled, but the audio booms along with the mid-Atlantic of Hugh Laurie and our student hears the cadence, the rhythm. If the language is not too far removed from English the friendly words that are close to L1 are caught easily, and reinforced with their dependent prepositions, their collocates. That’s a hundred hours of good osmotic English in a stroke. They watch because they want to watch, so they are motivated to understand, and not because they want to match the title to the paragraph but because they want to find out who the killer is, or what combination of unlikely sounding diseases are confusing the doctors this week. And it’s self-reinforcing.

Because students are used to listening to English on TV they watch films at the cinema in English too. Not because it’s art and that’s the way the artist intended, but because it’s easier. They will have passed the Tipping Point (to mention another of Gladwell’s phrases).

Their L1 no longer dominates their literate world so other media can get in on the act.

The average student may spend ten hours a week on the internet. I reckon that my average students spend far more than that, but let’s low-ball these numbers to make our point. Perhaps a third will be in English, maybe football websites or music write-ups, as well as Wikipedia for homework (my students’ favourite trick to avoid getting caught plagiarising from the internet in their L1 is to copy it from Wikipedia’s English website… and then translate it into L1. It doesn’t come up in a Google search by teacher then, or even Turnitin).

That still gives us more than a hundred hours with English right there. And students don’t stop surfing the web because they are on holiday; indeed the opposite is probably true.

The radio blasts out songs and they can sing along… all in English.

The immersion into English snowballs, as students self-select via the internet. I have Advanced and Proficiency students buying their university text books in English because they are a third the price of the translated derivatives.

In total our Portuguese learner of English is getting three times the access to English without breaking a sweat. We still don’t get close to Gladwell’s ten thousand hours, but we do get an accelerated learning… and I can get directions to the frozen food section in the language of Shakespeare, two thousand miles from home.

Dave Cosby is a teacher of more years experience than he cares to remember and has worked in a variety of countries around the world, in a variety of roles from teacher to Director of Studies to language school chain troubleshooter.  Currently he’s based in Coimbra, Portugal.

#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.

The zombie apocalypse and its role in the ELT classroom

6 Jan

From the always interesting yearinthelifeofanenglishteacher comes what is clearly the best blog post title of 2011:  “The zombie apocalypse and its role in the ELT classroom“.

I missed the original post in June, only picking up on it via Tyson Seburn’s 11 posts I wish I’d written  in December, but it is a truly inspired way of teaching speculative language – mainly focusing on conditional forms – through the medium of you tube “choose your own adventure” style videos.

The original post features the Zombie Apocalypse (courtesy of a New Zealand pizza company ad campaign);  the time travelling adventures of office-bound Chad, Matt and Rob; and a UK anti-knife crime campaign.  This last features incredibly authentic North London dialect – while making the choices will be accessible to all levels – the language from the participants will not!  Also worth watching it all the way through (as with all the videos) to check for suitability!

That last point is also worth making of all these type adventures, it’s not always necessary for learners to understand everything the characters in the videos say – unless you specifically want to work on listening skills – the choices, as you see from the picture above, are quite clear and these should prompt the discussion, which will in turn probably clarify any areas of confusion relating to the events on screen.

Finally – it’s also worth reading through the comments section below the post – some great ideas and further links from the commenters.

 

 

Teaching Resources: Steve Jobs

7 Oct

It’s not until someone goes that you realise the impact they had on your life – Steve Jobs was one of those public figures who inspired belief and achievement in others.

One of my classes was asking if we could talk about Steve Jobs and his life, and clearly he meant a lot to a lot of people – so here are some resources that you can use with your learners.

The Guardian has a reader tribute interactive here: “Dear Steve, your products changed my life.”  They also have a photo slideshow featuring reactions from around the world.

Also from the Guardian, this page “Steve Jobs: the 10 best tributes“.

The Lexical Press Blog from the American TESOL institute has a comemorative lesson plan available here: http://americantesol.com/blogger/?p=366

Cecilia Lemos at Box of Chocolates has an obituary style lesson plan available here: http://cecilialcoelho.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/hot-off-the-press-an-activity-about-steve-jobs/

@MrTESOL tweeted this link to an interactive online Steve Jobs quiz:  http://www.tutor2u.net/business/bizquiz/061011/quiz.html.

Eva Büyüksimkeşyan at A Journey in TEFL has a lesson idea here: http://evasimkesyan.edublogs.org/2011/10/06/a-lesson-idea/, she also mentions Sean Banville’s News English lesson: http://www.newsenglishlessons.com/1110/111006-steve_jobs.html.

Via A school at the end of the world – I just came across The New York Times’ Learning Network post: “Imaging Apple Without Steve Jobs”

 

Finally, you’ve probably seen it elsewhere on the web recently – but here’s Steve Jobs’ famous speech at Stanford university:

 

First Lesson or First Week Ideas

9 Sep

Back in July I posted a selections of 20 ideas and activities that might be worth trying out as you get to know your new classes this school year – and since then there’ve been a couple of additional ideas to throw into the mix:

Recently, the 24th Edition of EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival : A Journey in TEFL got posted on Eva Buyuksimkesyan’s “A Journey in TEFL” blog.  I strongly recommend taking a look here if you’re in need of inspiration – Eva’s collated over 40 (I lost count) posts from different contributors.
The Lesson Plans Page also has a wide range of back to school resources and materials, though these are aimed more at native speaker young learner classes than a language learner class – and I’ve not tried any of them, so can’t vouch for them personally!

First Lesson: I don’t know what you did last summer!

5 Sep

A very quick alternative to the standard composition task “What I did on my Summer holidays”.

Essentially, you ask the learners to write the composition (100 words? I guess length will be age & level dependent) about somebody else in the class.

I think I’ve blogged a similar activity at some point before, but not sure when.  Anyway, the key to the activity, is that if John is writing about Amy’s holidays, John can’t talk directly to Amy.  John has to ask the other learners in the class, Frank, Marta and so forth to ask Amy the questions that John wants to know the answers to.

Thus through a constant process of questions and answers John eventually gets enough information to write Amy’s composition for her.  Of course, Amy will be writing Marta’s, Marta Frank’s and Frank John’s, so it all evens out eventually.

This is intended as an alternative for classes where learners do know each other – but it also works really well as the final part of a lesson with a class where nobody knows each other, as John will constantly be explaining to his classmates WHO Amy is, thus meaning everyone should have a much better idea of who everybody else in the class is by the end of it!

Having gathered together all the information during the lesson – the actual writing up of the composition can either be done in class or as a homework task.  What can then be interesting is for the writer and the subject to check how close to the truth the composition is.  The subject can then feedback and edit both the content and language of the composition for later revision – though this would be an optional stage depending on the abilities of the class.

First Lesson Ideas / Warmers

10 Jul

For many teachers, though the school year might have just ended – the joy of summer school classes is about to start.  Or may have already, but I think lessons at my habitual summer haunt are due to begin on Monday morning – I’m not there this year, so not sure.

In any event this post contains a collection of getting to know you type activities / ice-breakers or first lesson warmers for you to choose from.  If you started teaching summer school last week – sorry about the delay – but you can probably use these or adapt these as warmer or lead in type activities – so it might still be useful!

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