Tag Archives: Young Learners

Reviewing the School Year: A Lesson

30 May

The last lesson of the school year is often a tricky one to manage.  Often, neither you or the students are in a particularly useful frame of mind – the energy and creativity is dwindling and it can be difficult to persuade students of the value of learning things for the sake of learning things: “But, teacher, we did the test already.”

This year I have made an End of year Review booklet for my young learner groups.  The idea is for the students to look back at what they have done and to think about what they did well, what they could have done better and to identify a few goals for moving forwards.  I have printed it as an A5 booklet and the hope is that they can take this home with them to share with their parents as a reflection on the progress they have made and the progress they could have made – along with some concrete goals for things to do in the summer months away from the pressures of the classroom!

Grammar Graph

The Grammar Graph is not really intended to measure knowledge or attainment in the language feature, what it really does is measure the confidence the learner has in their ability to use the target item.  The features listed are all those that have come up in the past year and I hope that it will reflect the extent the learners feel they can use the feature appropriately and accurately.  There may be students that have better control, but less confidence or there may be students that are very confident and fluent speakers but who have less control.  These conversations will hopefully help learners to see where some of their strengths really lie.

Word Championships

The Word Championships are partly a vocabulary review and partly there as a mingle activity to get students up, moving around and talking to each other.  The learners choose two or three words from the year that are their favourites – or possibly from their own knowledge.  They then mingle and find out what the other students think and record the answers.  After about five minutes (they don’t need to ask everyone for everything), the students work in small groups to share and compare the answers they got and to work out which words are the top three favourite words for the year.

 

Difficult mountainEasy mountain

The difficult and easy mountain is a simple enough reflection on course content – with any luck it should tie in to the grammar graph activity at the beginning – but with a bit more focus on where the focus needs to come in the future.  I opened this up as a kind of pyramid discussion to the class to try and decide what the most difficult thing and what the easiest thing we did in class this year was.  This not only gives some interesting feedback on the content the learners find difficult, but on which of my teaching techniques have proved more accessible.

Lesson Pie Chart

The lesson Pie Chart is intended as a reflection on behaviour in the classroom.  It is really up to the learners to decide what constitutes “being good” and extending this discussion out to the classroom can lead to some interesting revelations.  The intent is also not to demonise L1 (in this case Portuguese) use, but more to point out how much class time they spend using Portuguese as opposed to English.  If I was to do this differently next time (and I will!) I would separate these out into three or four smaller pie charts as while this gives an interesting insight into what happens in a lesson, it isn’t quite so useful for differentiating behaviours, which was partly the aim.

English Learning Goals

Most of my learners are in the 10-13 year old elementary range, and therefore encouraging them to do self-study work over the summer is an uphill task.  The purpose of this activity is to get the learners to arrive at ways in which they can keep their English up over the summer and not forget it all, and still have a degree of fun!  I am less interested here in getting them to do grammar practice or vocabulary learning, than I am in getting them to interact with the language in some way.  One of the goals might be to read a book in English (we have graded readers in the school for them to borrow) or to learn a favourite song in English – to watch a TV show or film in English and write a synopsis or review.  It will be up to them to decide.

 

Superlatives Yearbook 01 Superlatives Yearbook 02

The Superlatives Yearbook is a bit of fun really – it serves partly to review some of the language from the course – but it is really a bit of a break from the personal development review and a chance to engage in a heated discussion.  You may have come across similar “end of year award” lessons – this is a slightly shorter version.  In this version, the students are put into three large groups and have to decide who should be given each award.  No-one in the class can be given more than one award and everybody in the class has to be given an award.  An extension of this is to re-group the students into groups of three, one student from each of the larger groups, and to ask them to present their choices and agree on a final decision.  The learners can then report back to their original groups on what was decided.

The last page in the booklet is a list of useful links that the students can access over the summer:

These are what I came up with, but I would welcome any extension of this so please feel free to add any ideas in the comments!

I hope this proves useful, if you try any of this and want to give any feedback, I’d welcome it – or if you’ve tried similar ideas in different areas, I’d also like to find out what you did and how it went.

 

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.

dream-333815_1280

Image Credit: Pixabay

The Myth of the Good Student

15 Jan

Not so long ago I found out that two of my teenage students have been having a competition in my classes.  Apparently they’ve been trying to see who can say the word “genitais” the most in class – this means “genitals” in English.  They’ve been doing this for the last three months and it only came to light because they clearly got bored of my inability to notice and asked me if I knew what it meant.

Not, I’m sure you will agree, the behaviour of a good student.

But then what is?

The topic came up again with another class today, as part of a discussion on good study skills, so I asked them for their thoughts on what makes a good or bad student.  Now this group is younger, they’re about 13 years old, which accounts for some of the content, and I reformulated one or two suggestions (though I was impressed when they came up with “the class clowns”).

Good and Bad Students

In asking young learners what makes a good or bad student, you are always going to get a degree of polarisation and counter point.  If the good student “always does their homework” then it stands to reason that the bad student “never does their homework”.  Nonetheless three things immediately jump out at me:

  1. The utter negativity of the bad student.
  2. The impossibility of being a good student.
  3. The complete lack of a middle ground.

 

(1) The utter negativity of the bad student.

Bad students here are demonized.  Look at that word “rebel” in there!  It’s so true as well – if you set yourself against the system in any way, you get crushed by the teacher or at the very least you are cast in the role of the villain for the rest of the school year.  The problem is that, if as the teacher, you cast one of your students in that role, you aren’t giving them any other role to perform – what else are they expected to do?  Don’t challenge authority kids – even when it’s wrong – because that way lies destruction!

There’s the social stigmatism there as well, “are idiots and are dumb” – if we can’t control our students ourselves, then let us, as teachers, set the children against each other and let them do the dirty work for us.  We are civilized, we are emotionally in control and we don’t stoop to name calling.  But we all know why the bad students are bad students – they just aren’t as intelligent as us.  It’s got nothing to do with the background of the “bad” student, it doesn’t matter that they’re being bullied in the playground and are acting out because of it.  Bad behaviour is not seen as a sign of emotional need – it is seen as a sign of poor intelligence.

And there’s the performance angle.  Bad students get bad grades.  Yes, that’s right, the fault is with the student.  They are the one who failed to understand.  They are the one who couldn’t answer the question.  They are the one who had a bad day when it was test time and therefore they are at fault.  The failure of a student to understand is not the fault of the student, it is a failure of instruction.  I should point out that I fail at instruction all the time.  I fail at even giving instructions all the time – I see the sideways glances and hear the whispered conversations and every now and again get the question “Teacher, what is to do?”  Equally, I’m not suggesting that it is always the failure of the teacher – most of the time it is the failure of the situation surrounding the teacher – if you have a class of 30 students and you are busy dealing with three of them, you might not notice the quiet one struggling in the corner.  Or you might not realise the student who has taken his trousers down in the classroom is doing all this attention seeking behaviour precisely to divert attention away from the fact that they don’t have a clue what is going on.  But if we continue to decide whether students are good or bad based on their grades, how can we ever hope that our students place a value on things other than performance?  When will our students ever see each other as human beings?

(2) The impossibility of being a good student.

Ok.  The whole “wear glasses” thing was suggested by one of the students who just happens to wear glasses.  And so do I, so I wasn’t going to disagree…..

But let’s look at what else is there:  are quiet, pay attention, have good grades, are polite to the teacher, always do their homework, are intelligent (for a given value of intelligent, which I suspect would probably correlate strongly with “get good grades”).  Once we’d got all this on the board I asked them how many of them thought they were good students.  Actually I had asked them this before we started listing criteria and without exception, they started putting their hands up and saying “Teacher, I got 82% in history!”, “I have 90 in English.”  It was this that started our little digression into what makes a good student as when I asked them if that was the only thing that meant they were good students, some of the other criteria started emerging.

When I asked them again though, about three of them put their hands up.  The others said they didn’t always get good grades, or they weren’t always quiet, or they didn’t think they were very intelligent (how my heart goes out to them there!!!!), or they missed a couple of homework tasks.  So that works out at about 25% of the class.

25%.

Only 25% of my class think they are good students.

How messed up is a system where 75% of the students think they are automatic failures?  Where, by their own description, they are idiots?

Like most teachers, I would love to have a class full of polite, quiet, focused and attentive students who always did what I said and did the work.  What I have in most cases is a group of students who can occasionally be persuaded to do some work, but who would really prefer to be playing games of some kind.  I think the question from the teacher’s perspective is what do you expect?  Should I expect my students to be “good” all of the time?  It’s not like we get that all the time in the real world – just take a drive through the centre of your town at rush hour and see if I’m wrong!  If we continue to set our expectations so high, if we expect our students, regardless of age, to behave as though they were us, then both we and they are doomed to failure and the class is doomed to a year of demotivated learning punctuated by tantrums.

The good student doesn’t exist.  The good student is a mythical ideal generated largely for the benefit of teachers so that students, kids who crave praise and the external validation of the authority figure, know what exacting standards must be achieved and will strive to get that validation.  The myth of the good student tells students that what their teachers really want – is to be left alone.

 

(3) The lack of a middle ground

The discourse surrounding student identity is completely polarised.  Students, it seems, are either one thing or the other and see themselves in those terms.  You are either for or against, good or bad, successful or a failure.  There is a moral absolutism inherent in this view of classroom management that simply does not reflect the reality of the situation.  It requires the observer (teacher or otherwise) to make a value judgement about the nature of an individual based on  subjective interpretation of behaviour – according to standards that as I’ve already said, are unobtainable.

Most societies, even those that spring from more dogmatic perspectives, embrace a degree of relativism in their social and cultural attitudes.  So why is there no middle ground in this?

What disturbed me most about the conversation with my class is that even at the age of 13, they have been brainwashed into this view that they are either good or they are bad.  I know that more nuanced views develop with age, but the fact that students don’t see that they can contain elements of both is troubling.  At any given moment, in any given classroom, an otherwise great student has let their mind float off somewhere.  This is not a bad thing.

I tried to encapsulate this in a diagram – the idea is that at any moment in a lesson, students can place themselves somewhere within the diagram.

the state of the student

 

It’s not perfect and would probably be better as a series of bar charts.  The positives are lumped together mostly because they tend to go together.  If you’re in the right frame of mind to start with, then the rest comes easier.  And so forth and vice versa.  But it serves to visualise the series of dichotomies that students are up against.

Most students would probably put themselves somewhere in the top half of the circle.  Some in the middle and maybe a few in the lower half.  But very few would place themselves at the extremes and this is because by and large, we all occupy the middle ground.  We are rarely completely one thing or the other and if we only see ourselves in these polarised terms, then we run the risk of perpetual failure or stressed out over-achievement.  More to the point, as teachers, if we only ever expect brilliance and good behaviour from our students, we are dooming them to failure before they even start.  If you can’t be brilliant, you might as well not even try.  That’s the message it sends and we end up, inadvertently, teaching our students to be intolerant of anything less than perfection.

We are all individuals and we are all different (or at least most of us are).  As adults we accept each others’ imperfections with relative good grace and we don’t define ourselves with arbitrary labels like good and bad because we accept that we all have strengths and weaknesses, different backgrounds and different interests.  We come together in the middle ground to work together, study together, socialize and start relationships.  Perhaps finding and occupying that middle ground is what we should also be doing in the classroom.

I think the last word in this should go to Joao, who asked me a question towards the end of the lesson:

“Teacher, am I the class clown?”

“What do you think?”

“I think maybe yes.”

“OK.  Why do you think that?”

“Because I’m not quiet and I play a lot and make jokes.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Maybe yes.”

“Why?”

“Because then I can’t get good grades.”

“Well, if you can be the class clown and get good grades, then it’s not a problem.”

“Hmm.  Teacher I don’t want be bad student.”

“I don’t think you’re a bad student.”

“I try to be good student.”

 

 

Special Needs and ELT

27 Jun

I wonder what experience many EFL teachers have of working with learners with special needs.

My own experience is fairly minimal – about seven years ago I did a placement test interview with a student who was partially deaf.  It sticks in my mind because I found it difficult to understand the student and I was obviously concerned not to confuse my lack of understanding with any weaker language areas the learner displayed.

Since then – nothing.  At least nothing that I’m aware of.  Until about four or five months ago when I began to notice that one of my learners was doing an awful lot of hiding in the classroom, her written work displayed some very odd errors – a lot of letter transposition and L1 phonetic spelling of L2 items – and her assessment scores were weak, particularly her reading.  I began to wonder if she might be dyslexic.

Now at this point it gets a bit tricky.  My own view is that if I was a parent and my child’s teacher suspected dyslexia, I would want to know about it.  But this isn’t always the case.  Personally I don’t understand why not – dyslexia doesn’t suggest any lack of mental faculties – just a different way of accessing the world around you.  Nevertheless, it is not always easy to predict the reaction of parents to the implication and as my DoS pointed out, I have no training in this area and am in no way qualified to state with any degree of certainty whether dyslexia is an issue or not.

On reflection I have to wonder why not?  I don’t mean why am I not qualified – the reason there is because I trained as a teacher, not as an educational psychologist.  What I mean is why aren’t learning difficulties covered in teacher training courses?  When I did my DELTA six years ago – we were asked whether any of our schools had a policy related to learning difficulties – only four people put their hands up and we all worked for the same school.  I suspect that most schools would argue that they are generally inclusive and therefore don’t need a policy.  Fair enough.

But I think that CELTA, DELTA and MA ELT courses should include components on teaching learners with learning difficulties as standard.

As an addendum to this story, my student’s mother came into school to see us the other day.  Having had something of a battle to get things arranged and appointments made and so forth, my learner was recently diagnosed with dyslexia.  Frankly, I see this as a brilliant step forwards – because now we can help her move forwards in her learning more effectively and she can stop hiding.

Further Reading & Resources:

Naomi Epstein runs the “Visualising Ideas” blog sharing her ideas and experiences teaching deaf and hard of hearing learners (amongst other things!)

Michael Strong “Language Learning and Deafness“, Cambridge University Press

E. William Clymer & Gerald P. Brent “English for International Deaf Students: Technologies for Teacher Training and Classroom Instruction”  a downloadable pdf from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Sue Swift “Helping Students with Learning Disabilities: Part One” from the ELT Notebook blog, and there’s the second part here: “Helping Students with Learning Disabilities: Part Two“.

Gemma Ormerod’s summary of the #ELTChat on “Teaching Dyslexic Students

Sharon Turner writes as a dyslexic English language teacher, describes what it can be like to be dyslexic and offers some very useful advice for teachers on how to help dyslexic learners in her post: I am Dyslexic and It’s now a blast!

Chris Wilson shares his resources and handouts from a seminar on Dyslexia he gave, as well as links to yet more useful resources.

Chris Wilson also created and links to the IH Young Learners group Dyslexic Learners Linoit – a sort of cork board of guidance and links for teachers of dyslexic learners.

Getting learners writing: FoldBooks!

19 Apr

It can be difficult to get learners writing, especially young learners who often see writing as an imposition on classroom fun and games – so fun ways to encourage learner writing are always welcome.

At the FoldPlay website, they’ve come up with FoldBooks.  As the name suggests, these are mini-booklets made out of A4 paper, which have been pre-printed with images and text.

If you go to the FoldBooks page you’ll find input boxes there to work with, once you’ve filled everything in, click the “make your book” button, then print and follow the folding and cutting instructions precisely.

There are eight boxes that need text adding to them, and consequently eight pictures that need to be included.  In order to maximise the amount of text that can be put on the page, it’s best to reduce the font size to about 12 and the text margin to about 18, which is roughly the same as the image margins.  Pictures though, can only be uploaded from the computer, so if learners want to use pictures from the internet, they’ll need to download those to the computer, before uploading them again, which is a bit of a hassle, but there you go.

I think with learners, particularly younger learners, I’d ask them to write a first draft in the classroom before adding the excitement of the computers.  All that’s needed is eight smallish – say two or three sentence – paragraphs.  It might fit nicely with some of the circle writing tasks along the lines of “describe a man  / describe a woman  /  the place they met  /  what did they say to each other / what were their dreams  /  what was the problem  /  what did they do  /  how did it end”  (for example).

Once learners have got a set of  accurate texts they’re happy with, they can think about pictures they want to illustrate their books.

That, I think, is the point to take them into the computer room and let them have a go at making their  FoldBooks.

Cambridge English Teachers’ Competition 2012

24 Feb

If you help learners prepare for one of the Cambridge exams, then you might be interested in their new competition: Cambridge English Teachers’ Competition 2012.

All they want is one practical exam preparation idea, succinctly expressed in 300 words, for one of the following exams:

BEC (Preliminary, Vantage or Higher), ILEC, ICFE, YLE (Starters, Movers or Flyers), KET, PET, FCE.

Deadline for entries is April 16th 2012.

More details (including prizes!) from their website:  Cambridge English Teachers’ Competition 2012.

#IHPortugal Training Day: Class Management

31 Jan

This is the first in a series of posts reflecting on seminars I attended at the recent IH Portugal Training Day.

CLASS MANAGEMENT

Carol Crombie

IH Viseu

We all have classes that we think of in ….  less than glowing terms.  For whatever reason these are the groups where nothing ever seems to get done, or the whole experience is like herding cats – everyone wanders off in different directions and you’re lucky if you come out of it without scratches on your arms…

Carol’s session was an excellent reminder of how to approach class management and what to expect from it.  I should point out – this post doesn’t represent complete coverage of Carol’s seminar – just those aspects of it that feel most pertinent to my own teaching situation.

I think the most refreshing idea that came out of it was the point about matching expectations to reality – refreshing in the sense of making me think “oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that” – but also in the sense of me coming out of the session feeling ready to do something about some of those cat herding classes.

For example – do you expect your learners to put their hands up before speaking?  Do you expect them to switch their phones off before the class?  Do you expect them to enter and leave the room in good order?  Carol’s list of “ideal” classroom behaviours got me thinking about the difference between “desired” and “expected” behaviours – I think it would be lovely if all my classes did all of the things on Carol’s list (not chew gum, be respectful to each other, listen to the teacher etc) – but I don’t “expect” it, because, well – that’s the question – why don’t I expect it?  Have I just been worn down by them?  Do I have a jaundiced view of teenagers?

Possibly the reason why I have trouble with my classes is because, as Carol pointed out, the first rule of classroom management is to be clear in your own mind of what you expect from the class.  By setting clear boundaries, you’re signalling to the learners that it’s alright to work within those boundaries of what’s allowed and what’s not.  Teenagers are, as was once pointed out to me, professional students.  It’s what they do all day, all week and most of the year.  But they will push, just to see what they can get.  If, like me, you’re a theoretical disciplinarian (you know how it works in theory, but the practical applications are a step too far) – what happens is that the learners don’t so much push, but nudge.  A little here and a little there and pretty soon you find yourself running the class by their rules.  Set the boundaries and guard them vigorously!

Part of the difficulty is in what Carol referred to as “signalling your authority” – or “my room – my rules”!  How do your students enter the class?  All in a jumble, still nattering, texting, i-pods a-blazing,  scattering school books everywhere? (Yes, I have a class in mind as I write this!)  Entry and exit routines can help reinforce the idea that the classroom is not just an extension of their everyday surroundings, but that it is YOUR turf, they enter on sufferance and to remain they must abide by your rules.  So, asking them to wait outside until you arrive, and then asking them a revision question before they come through the door.  Or to add a word to the vocabulary category on the board (later students will find this more difficult, thereby possibly improving punctuality?).  Equally, exit routines, where there isn’t a mad rush for the door, but a tidy up, returning furniture to it’s proper place, collecting the homework task, another “exit” question – it all helps reinforce the idea that they’re leaving “your environment”.

It is important of course, to choose your battles wisely.  There must always be a line that is not crossed – but in some ways, choosing the battles that are minor and inconsequential are the most important.  Carol gave the example of students chewing gum in class.  This, she says, is her line in the sand and she will brook no disobedience.  I think I can see the point – for the students to give in on the minor things, which ultimately don’t matter to them one way or the other, generates the idea and the habit of submission to teacher authority, so that when a bigger issue arises, the habit is already there.  Also though, as Carol mentioned, when learners craftily sneak one past you (and quietly get away with chewing gum in the corner of the room) it satisfies the rebellious instinct.

So – back to my herd of recalcitrant cats…  We’re going to have a bit of a talk.  But I’m not going to tell them off.  We’ve probably done enough of that already and it hasn’t done much good except for set us against each other.  Instead I’m going to borrow Carol’s behavioural expectation checklist and edit it a bit and I’m going to ask them to use it to assess their own behaviour.  Do they think they’re doing everything they should?  (This was another of Carol’s great ideas by the way).  And I’m going to let them set the behaviour rules they think are appropriate for the class.  I’m going to pick four that are non-negotiable, and I’m going to let them choose another six from the remaining items.  And I’m going to see what kind of enforcement policies they think would work best.  There is a danger here, that they will think absolutely none of them are suitable….  and I’m anticipating them requiring a bribe of some kind….  but we’ll see.

I’ll try and come back to this in a couple of days with some feedback on how things went – but in the meantime I’m off to sit down and work out exactly what I expect from my classes.

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!)

Are you worth your learners’ attention?

7 Nov

One of the contributors to the debate on student fees in UK universities raised an interesting point the other week.  Roger Moss, in breaking down the fees students pay when compared to what they get, calculated that they paid approximately £92 per seminar.  What else, he wondered in his letter to The Independent, could they have spent the money on?  Tickets to see Rihanna live in concert?  Seats at a Premier League football fixture?

This made me think:  What do my learners pay per lesson and – more importantly – do they get their money’s worth?

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Halloween Teaching Resources

28 Oct

I’m not a great fan of “festivals” teaching in general, but this year my timetable has more young learner classes than usual and halloween is almost upon us, so here’s what I managed to find to help you cook up some devilish lessons for your learners…

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