Tag Archives: Discussion

The Cheating Art

24 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References (my lesson plan follows below the picture):

The Lesson I did with my classes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


#IHPortugal Training Day: Facebook in the Classroom

7 Feb

This is the second of a series of posts reflecting on seminars I attended at the recent IH Portugal Training Day.  Click the link to read the first post on “Class Management by Carol Crombie“.


Robert Dickson & Stephen Wardle

IH Lisbon

For some time now, I’ve been experimenting with a number of web tools, attempting to create an online environment for my learners – an extension of the classroom, an alternative channel of communication, a shared resource….  and the conclusion I came to fairly early on was that facebook was probably the best means of achieving this.  After all, why reinvent the wheel?  Everyone’s already on facebook – so it should be easy!

Robert & Stephen’s seminar looked at the “whys” and the “hows” of using facebook, but perhaps more importantly, it also looked at the “should we-s” – the things to think about before connecting with your learners outside the classroom.

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The Twelve Days of Geekmas: ten tricks for reading

4 Dec

On the tenth day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  ten tricks for reading

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

Though strictly speaking, they’re not “tricks” – more sort of activities!

I recently ran a teacher development seminar called “The Reading Teacher”.  One of the things I realised as I was putting it together was that the general approach to reading, at least as is often evident, is as follows:

  • Pre-teach any vocabulary from the text you think they need.
  • Gist reading task – make the students read the text in a ridiculously short amount of time and then answer a question.
  • Detailed reading – let the students take the next 30 minutes to read the text one word at a time and then ask them to answer 6 comprehension questions which demonstrate (a) they read the text (b) limited understanding of six aspects of the text as given in the questions.
  • A reactive focus on any words the students had problems with or didn’t understand.
  • Move on to the inevitable grammar point that’s lurking on the next page with dodgy examples of the form lifted straight out of the text.

And it occurred to me that this might not particularly help…

Scott Thornbury’s recent “G is for Gist” gives an interesting background glimpse on how this structure has come about and his point that most learners already know how to do this in their own languages is a good one.  Though anyone teaching Young Learners may still have some work to do here!  One thing that Scott doesn’t mention (and I haven’t read all the comments, so this might have cropped up) is that a surprisingly large number of gist tasks don’t actually require gist skills.  They might require predictive skills, or scanning skills, or a combination of the two – but not always gist.

In any event – for the tenth day of geekmas – I’ve promised ten tricks for reading, these are more sort of activities that you can use to help learners develop some of the reading subskills (as indicated).

1.  Picture Sequencing  (Prediction Skills).  Give learners a set of pictures which represents aspects of the text and ask them to put them into what they think is the correct order.  Or to generate their own story based on their own sequence of the images.  When learners access the text they can check their predictions and re-sequence the pictures appropriately.  This is particularly good with young learners, whose coursebook reading texts are often accompanied by visual images / comic book style sequential pictures.

2.  Wordle  (Prediction Skills).  Given that wordle (unless you ask it not to) makes the word clouds from the key content words in the text, it’s a nice way of highlighting the key themes, especially if you’re using a text from the internet!  Though if not, you can just type a keyword set in, to mimic the main ideas or themes.  I saw this used to great effect as a prediction task by Anna Pires who used it with the lyrics to Coldplay’s “viva la vida“.

3. Abstract Matching (Skimming / Gist Skills).  Abstract / summary / headline matching.   Ask your learners to match an abstract, a summary or a headline to a text or portion of the text.  Alternatively, you could ask them to write a section heading for the different sections of the text and then ask the class to vote for the best ones.  Turning things into a competition or a race can help speed things up with young learners (older learners as well)!

4.  Personal Reactions  (Skimming / Gist Skills).  A personal reaction to the text works on a number of levels – it doesn’t require great understanding as it doesn’t rely on an intellectual or logical response to the text, but rather an emotional response.  Simple questions like “How would you feel in this situation?”  or  “Which person do you like most?”  or “What would you do?” can help learners access the text on a level that really does take in the whole of the thing, without focusing on the detail.

5.  Find all the _____.  (Scanning).  A competition (or not) between learners to find all the _____s in a text.  This can obviously differ depending on the text concerned, but you could either go with “all the words beginning with W” or you could ask them to find all the names of the different people in the text.  This latter choice (and thanks to Dave Tucker for the suggestion) would also help learners sequence the information in the text, which can be useful for then answering comprehension questions or detail questions on the text.

6.  Bingo.  (Predictive skills  /  Scanning).  Give the learners a piece of paper divided up into nine sections (like a noughts and crosses / Tic tac toe grid) and ask them to write down nine vocabulary items they think will occur in the text (you might want to tell them what the text is about first….).  Then when you give them the text, they get one point for every correct item, ten points for line of three, and thirty points for a “full house” (all their items appear in the text).  A nice way of developing both skills!

7.  What does “X” mean?  (inferring meaning).  This idea came from a seminar I attended some years ago by Monica Koorich.  In it, she substituted key words from the text for an alternate language equivalent (I think she used Hindi) and we were asked to work out what we thought they meant from the context.  Rather than learn Hindi, (assuming you don’t already know it), you could either use Google translate, or you could make up nonsense words instead.

8.  Meaning From Context Grid  (inferring meaning).  Take nine items and write them up in a nine-square grid on the board.  You then group the learners in three teams and ask them to come up with a “definition” for the item.  Each team then writes up a definition for three items.  (I usually sequence the teams’ turn taking as follows:  ABC  /  BCA  /  CAB).  You then give learners the text and they find their items and, based on the context, then have the chance to change their definitions if necessary.  Points can then be awarded for degrees of correctness.

9.  Steve’s starters  (extensive reading).  I was fortunate enough to observe a colleague, Steve Knox, work his reading magic with one of his classes.  Steve is a great believer in the extensive reading theory of reading & language skills development and he had set almost all of his classes up to spend the first ten minutes of any lesson reading.  Learners would have chosen a book or a graded reader from the school library – once chosen the books all lived in a cardboard box under the desk in the classroom.  What struck me most at the time was the genius of the idea as a behavioural routine for young learners!  Steve had essentially created a calming, settling routine at the start of his lessons, that any latecomer would be interrupting.  And that was what happened – latecomers entered quietly, took their books from the box and settled down to read.  At the end of the time, Steve would ask them to discuss (briefly) what they’d read with the people sitting nearby.  That was the other thing I liked about the idea – it so neatly mimics what we really do with our reading in our own languages.  We see something online or in the newspaper – we tell our friends!  We’re reading a book we like (or one we don’t) – we tell our friends.  Ignominiously simple and easy.  Highly recommended.

10.  Reader Diaries / Reviews  (extensive reading).  Again, something that is relatively simple, but easy to incorporate into your classes.  I vaguely recall, from my own schooldays, having to write a page in my English notebook on whatever book I was reading / had read that week.  This is a similar idea.  Slightly different to Steve’s starters in that the learners take the books home and their feedback is more formal / in depth.  Though I suppose it doesn’t have to be.  For teachers who are already working with learner journals, this can be a nice addition.  For those that prefer the blog or wiki – these tools can be used and actually might encourage a debate around the books, where differing opinions occur.  The review idea is perhaps more gradable, as it allows for differing degrees of output & scaffolding.  A nice twist on this is to post the completed reviews around the school and incorporate a rating system, as with Amazon.com, where readers rate the review based on usefulness.

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:


September 11th Teaching Resources

11 Sep

Inspired by a recent feature on The Guardian website, which invites readers to share their memories of where they were and what they were doing (click here for more detail), I was thinking about collating teaching resources on the topic and presenting them here.

Turns out Larry Ferlazzo‘s beaten me to it…

His latest post:  “Even more 9/11 resources” has materials from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times – as well as from the US Department of Education.

But honestly, his post “The Best Sites to Help Teach About 9/11”  has links to just about every 9/11 related teaching resource that’s out there.  If you’re planning to use this topic area with your classes – make it your starting point.

There’s also a really interesting piece on the OUP blog by Mary Dudziak on the impact September 11th has made on the classroom – read more at “How 9/11 made history“.  Thanks for @OUPAcademic for tweeting the link.


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!

Wired for Mobile learning?

7 Sep

I spotted this one on a post on the TeachingEnglish | British Council facebook page – who in turn spotted it on the Voxy Blog.

The infographic below comes out of the work of Mark Prensky and his concepts of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants – and looks how digital natives might fit into existing education systems (or not as the case may be!).

The original post “Are we Wired for Mobile Learning?” also comes with some ideas for exploiting and using the infographic in class, so if you visit them, make sure you scroll down to below the image!

First Lesson: Find Nobody Who…

1 Sep

This is an alternative approach to the inevitable “what did you do on your holidays” conversation.   Many first lesson activities and ideas are based on the premise that nobody knows anybody else but often the students in your classes have come up through the levels together and the only new person in the group is you…

It should also combat those conversations with teenage classes that go:  T: “Hey, how was your summer?”  S: “Alright.”   T:  “What did you do?” S: “Nothing.”

The basic objective is that the learners have to find stuff they did over the holidays that NOBODY else did.

So a simple procedure might be:

Ask the learners if they had a nice summer and lead into a REALLY boring description of what you did over the summer.  e.g.  I watched TV and I played computer games and I did some laundry and stuff.  Ask the learners if they did anything similar.  Establish that pretty much everybody in the class watched TV and played computer games.  Then tell the learners about something slightly more interesting and less usual – for example taking a plane trip – and find out how many people did the same.  Finally, describe something really interesting that you did – or alternatively make something up (e.g. rented a Ferrari and drove up the West coast of the USA).  Find out whether anyone else did the same.

Thus having established the exclusivity principle, ask learners to find something that they did over the summer that nobody else did.  Check that they understand they need to talk to ALL the other learners in the class.

Feedback:  Find out from the learners what interesting and relatively exclusive things they did over the summer.  You could also do some reformulation of any language areas that came up during their mingle activity.

Tea, Coffee and Comparisons

14 Jul

Just a quick lesson overview rather than a full plan etc today:  this is an idea for helping learners with comparisons / comparatives.

Basically it starts out with the activity “Tea or Coffee”, follows up with the language input stage, invites comparisons between learners’ home country and the UK / USA etc and finishes off with an oppostion debate based around the initial “Tea or Coffee” activity.  It’s materials light – in fact there aren’t any!

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Working with Project Classes

12 Jul

This is an entry for everyone currently working at an ELT summer school somewhere in the world!  It’s not always easy and there’s a lot of hard work – hopefully this post will help out a bit!  I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy my summer school experiences immensely over the years and one of the things I’ve enjoyed doing most has been the project classes.  This post takes a look at what’s important to remember before the project class kicks off and gives some ideas for different projects and how to stage them.

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