4 Things to Promise my Students at the Start of This School Year

A classroom in a Japanese high school

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another school year has got under way, laden with high hopes and good intentions. But as September gives way to October and we settle in for the long haul, it is all too easy to let those good intentions slide and fall back on the routines we feel comfortable with. So this school year I have decided to go public – in this post I will set out four things I hope to make an integral part of my teaching this year, and over the coming months I will revisit these themes to let you know how I am getting on.

1. Make homework more interesting

Homework is always a thorny issue for any teacher. What should you set? How much? How should it be checked or evaluated? And what do you do with those students who refuse to do it? Most of the time the students perceive homeworksleep-on-books-1.10.12 as dull, and often even a waste of time, however carefully you programme it into your learning objectives. So this year I hope to follow Adam Simpson’s sound advice in his post ‘6 great techniques for getting students to write down their homework‘.

In particular, Adam’s suggestion to ‘Tech it up’ appeals to me. Our students are so-called ‘digital natives’, so a clear way of making homework more appealing to them is to incorporate digital elements where possible. This opens up the possibility of including listening comprehension tasks or watching videos and doing comprehension tasks as homework. Or perhaps an editing or peer response activity using Google Drive? Or even a class blog? Watch this space!

2. Give them space to learn

DPiE-InClass-400x258

Photo credit: http://www.ed.ac.uk

This promise really brings together a couple of different ideas which I have been meaning to work on more diligently for some time now. I have the impression that my students see the teacher (in any subject) as being there predominantly to solve their problems, so that they do not have to make any effort. When they are writing, for example, they will ask for help with relatively simple vocabulary rather than stop and think for a moment to see if they can remember it for themselves, and sometimes they will ask for the same item of vocabulary again a few moments later. For some years I have solved this by taking a set of dictionaries into writing classes. This year, my intention is to take this further, taking a step back as teacher and requiring them to put in a little more effort themselves.

One way in which I can do this is to set up collaborative learning groups within the classroom. In this way, students have a team which supports them in the learning process, and peers they can consult before turning to the teacher. I already make frequent use of peer response when working on writing activities. This year I hope to extend this to other areas of the curriculum, encouraging the students to coach each other before we share the answers and correct in class. I have seen a sign on the teacher’s table in one classroom which says ‘C3B4ME’ – ‘See three (team mates) before you see me (come to ask the teacher)’. c3b4meThis approach should foster peer support within the classroom, and so help the students to become more responsible for their own and each others’ learning.

The second idea which I want to include in this promise is the intention to create a space where students can learn for themselves, providing them with activities through which they can discover for themselves what they need to progress. The rationale behind this is the old saying ‘Give me a fish and I eat for a day – teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime’. It is all too easy to step in and spoon-feed our students rather than providing them with challenges which stimulate their curiosity and then scaffolding so that they can face those challenges successfully.

In the packed curriculum we are faced with in the school, both of these ideas represent serious challenges, but I feel strongly that they are also important to help our students really learn what we are trying to teach them.

3. Give them the thinking time they need

descarga

As teachers, one of the things we do most often is ask questions. and while it can be satisfying to see a sea of hands raised in an instant, as in the photograph, this is rarely the case. Even if we do have a number of students who raise their hands immediately, they are usually the same students over and over, and some quieter students get shifted to the margins of the class quite quickly. Faced with hands straining in the air, it is very difficult to avoid selecting a student to answer immediately, especially as we also suffer from the pressure of a packed curriculum – surely it is more effective to get the answer over with as quickly as possible.

However, it is important to slow down a little in these situations. Many students who do not raise their hands immediately may know the answer, but simply need time to gather their thoughts and formulate their answer. So it pays to wait before selecting who should answer, and make a conscious effort to select different students each time, so that everyone gets the chance to participate. One way to achieve this is to incorporate ‘think time’ into the classroom questioning process, so that everyone has time to think before answers are requested. This can be extended to become a ‘think-pair-share’ structure, further scaffolding the weaker students.

Obviously some students take advantage of the pressure on the teacher to take a quick answer, and even if they are selected they fail to respond, in the hope that the teacher will move on to take a more willing response after a brief pause. An extended pause may feel uncomfortable in such situations, but sends the message that an answer is required before we move on.

4. Continue to learn myself

Students may learn from what we tell them in class, but they learn a lot more from who we are. One of the most important aspects of our work as teachers is to provide a positive role model for our students, and this extends to modelling an interest in further learning. Students should see a teacher who can admit that s/he doesn’t know the answer to some of their questions, but will find out the answer for tomorrow’s class, or a teacher who can try out new ways of doing things in the class. This doesn’t mean that we should sign on to every new fad that comes along, but it does mean that this year’s classes should include new elements which were not present in last year’s. In this way we avoid the predictability which can so easily kill off interest in the classroom.

Over to you

So these are my plans for the new school year. But what about you? How do you want to modify your teaching practice this year? Or do you have any suggestions how I can better achieve my aims? I look forward to reading your comments.

Improving writing

I came across this in Larry Ferlazzo’s article for Education Week Teacher, and thought I would share it here. It underlines the importance of pre-writing activities in the classroom, rather than just expecting students to launch into writing a text.

Whenever we set up a writing activity for our class, the temptation is to set the writing for homework and expect our students to produce a reasonable text to be handed in at the start of the next class. However, the reality is very different. What we should really be doing is modlling best practices in writing, and this can only be done if the writing is done at least partly in the classroom. Students should be taught a series of steps to follow when approaching a writing assignment, which includes generating ideas, selecting and organising these ideas, and drafting, and an important part of the acquisition of these practices comes in classroom talk around the writing assignment. Particularly at the beginning, students need the support of their peers and of the teacher in order to generate reasonable ideas and cogent arguments, and a simple way of testing these arguments is to try them out on peers in the classroom. Student talk in the classroom therefore allows them to share ideas and to test how powerful these ideas are. In addition, the teacher is at hand at the beginning of the actual writing phase to ensure that no student suffers from ‘writer’s block’ when faced with a blank page. A writing assignment can be finished at home, but if we want the best from our students, we should be prepared to dedicate some class time to it as well, particularly in the early stages.

Improving writing

“How I learnt English … and how I didn’t”

How I learnt English - graphic

#MIUI: How I Learnt English
http://en.miui.com/thread-2179-1-1.html

I came across this graphic on Facebook recently and, as an English teacher, it depressed me a great deal, especially when I went to the original page and read the comments, as person after person spoke of the video games which helped them to learn. While it is great that they have been able to learn, and that they have taken responsibility for their own learning, as a teacher I feel bad that this is the image that at least some students have of our work. So for the past few days I have been thinking of ways to redress the balance. Luckily, there are many ways in which we can incorporate elements of what the students identified as helping them to learn English into their mainstream classes.

English learning word cloud

Using songs

Perhaps the step that we have all taken to bring our classes into line with the interests of our students is the introduction of popular songs into the classroom. Indeed, modern textbooks designed for teenagers often include exercises built around pop songs as a way of engaging students. However, the very nature of popular music means that it is practically impossible to include  a song in a printed medium which stands the test of time until the next reprinting. In addition to this, it can be hard to choose the most appropriate song for a classroom of teenagers – inevitably, if some of the students love the song, others will hate it. And the generation gap between teacher and student can lead to choosing a song which fails to have the desired motivating effect. Often, the end result is that the teacher chooses a more classic song which they feel more comfortable with.

One answer to this problem is available online. The site www.lyricstraining.com provides simple gap-fill listening exercises based on a large range of modern songs. If you have access to a computer lab at some stage, this can be a nice exercise to end the session, as each student can choose the song they want to work on and complete the lyrics exercise on their own using headphones. If you are lucky enough to have access to computers in the classroom, this can be used for fast finishers.

However, there must be more to introducing music into the classroom than simply providing more practice in gap-fill exercises, or the novelty will soon wear off. Something I try to do is to have parts of songs appear in unlikely places in the class. One exercise I use is the jigsaw dictation, in which a text is dictated with the sentences jumbled. The students must first take the information down as a dictation, and then work together to reorganise the sentences to reconstruct the original text, using their knowledge of grammar and cohesion. So why not use the lyrics of a song as the jumbled text? Better still, why not mix the lyrics of two songs, to add an extra layer of text organisation to the exercise? If you don’t tell the students at the start of the exercise what the source(s) of the text dictated is, it adds an element of surprise to the exercise which can perhaps be motivating than simply announcing that you’re going to listen to a song. A possible way of checking whether they have the correct order for the texts is to play the song(s) at the end of the exercise.

Another way in which I use songs in class is in the exercise ‘Desert Island Discs‘, which I presented as part of my workshop ‘Getting them speaking‘. In this activity, students get to talk about why they have chosen a particular piece of music and how they feel about it, as well as sharing their choice of music with the rest of the class.

Bringing video into the classroom

In my post ‘How to exploit video in the classroom‘ I examined different activities which can be used in class in order to introduce an audiovisual element into

everyday learning. Videos are a great way of presenting ideas or topics to the class, but they should be used as an integrated part of the lesson. To this end, short clips of video are far more useful than longer parts of films, and a series of activities can be planned around different showings of the same video. For excellent ready-made examples of what can be achieved with this sort of material, I suggest you try Kieran Donaghy’s great website, www.film-english.com, which I examined in my post ‘Five websites to spice up the end of term‘.

I have a colleague who regularly uses film trailers from You Tube in her classes, with listening comprehension activities very similar to those which can be done with songs.  In a C2 (Proficiency) class, I used a series of short clips from the series ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet‘ to illustrate different regional British accents, although fully accepting that even a Proficiency group would have difficulties follwing Jimmy Nail in full flow! Matt Halsdorff, in a comment on the post mentioned above, mentioned that he used video for close listening exercises, focusing on very specific items of usage, such as ‘gonna’, ‘wanna’, or the excessive use of ‘like’ in popular speech.

However, while bringing video into the classroom in this way is motivating and comes closer to matching the students’ real world experience, it remains a relatively passive experience. It is a simple step to allow the students to make their own videos, either in the classroom itself or for presentation in the classroom. This can range from recording videos of presentations done by the students so that they can analyse themselves as part of any debriefing to full-blown video projects which they script and organise themselves. I have had students produce videos of weather forecasts, adverts, daytime TV programmes and cookery programmes, while a colleague in Primary sets a video project every year in which his Year 4 students represent different aspects of Roman life as part of his CLIL social science class. Using relatively simple software, students can create photo stories, or video podcasts explaining a point of grammar or an item of vocabulary, along the lines of ‘iswearenglish.com‘ (see example below).

Conclusions

An important thing to say in any examination of possible new teaching techniques is that what we have been doing up to now should not be rejected. While in this post we have focused on bringing elements of our students’ outside realities into the classroom, what we have been doing in the classroom up to now plays an important part in the education of our students and we must continue to do it. However, things outside the classroom have changed radically in the last few years, and as educators we must be aware of ways in which we can engage and motivate our students, including incorporating what they feel comfortable with into our everyday approach.

a Google Translate experiment with language | 4C in ELT

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

In this post, Tyson Seburn explains how to make students more aware of the limitations of Google Translate, while at the same time giving us an idea of how to use the theme songs of popular TV series in class. Great fun for the new term.

http://fourc.ca/fresh_prince/

Speaking Activity: Jigsaw dictations

One of the things which I try to do in my conversation classes is to help students become aware of the structure of the texts they are interacting with at the same time as they develop their speaking skills. For this reason, I like to include dictation exercises from time to time, although I use variations which require the students to manipulate the text in some way themselves. In previous posts, I have examined Picture Dictations and other variations on dictations. In this post, I’m going to focus on what I have come to call ‘Jigsaw dictations’.

a drawing of a 4 piece jigsaw puzzle

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The main idea behind a jigsaw dictation is that the students initially receive the sentences of the text jumbled up, and after the dictation they have to decide how to put the sentences together to recreate the original text. In doing this, the students not only have to transcribe the words that are dictated, but also apply their knowledge of grammar and text structure – what Halliday and Hasan (1976) called ‘texture’ – in order to produce a coherent text.

The initial text can be delivered to the students in a variety of ways. The teacher can dictate the sentences to the students in the traditional way, first making sure that the students write down what they hear as discrete sentences rather than as a paragraph. Alternatively, and this is the option I prefer, the list of sentences can be pinned up on the wall, and the students can do a running dictation in groups. In this way, the students take an active part in the dictation from the start. Another option is to give each student one of the sentences when they come into the classroom and they have to find partners who have the other sentences from the text before they dictate their sentence to the team they have formed (here it is important to tell them how many different sentences there are in the text, so they know how many people they need in their group). I used this variation to begin my talk ‘Making connections‘ at the II Arenas Teaching

Once the sentences have been dictated, the students should try to recreate the original text in pairs or groups. It is important that they get a chance to talk about their ideas, as in this way they activate their knowledge of the language as they explain the reasoning behind the order they are suggesting. The teacher should be going around the class monitoring the activity, but should not intervene at this stage unless absolutely necessary. The students need time to experiment with the language and try out different combinations.

Here is an example of a jigsaw dictation which I used with my B1 class this year, and also in my talk ‘Making connections’:

  • Today,  in comparison with places like London or Manchester, Norwich is quite small, with a population of 150,000, but in the 16th century Norwich was the second city of England.
  •  The first cathedral was built in 1095 and has recently celebrated its 900th anniversary, while Norwich itself had a year of celebration in 1994 to mark its 800th anniversary as a city.
  • Norwich, the capital of the part of Britain known as East Anglia, has existed as a place to live for more than 2000 years.
  •  At the time of the Norman invasion in 1066 it had grown to become one of the largest towns in England.
  •  With two cathedrals and a mosque, Norwich has long been a popular centre for various religions.
  •  Nowadays, there are far fewer churches and pubs, but in 1964 the University of East Anglia was built in Norwich.
  • It began as a small village beside the River Wensum.
  • It continued to grow for the next 300 years and got richer and richer, becoming famous for having as many churches as there are weeks in the year and as many pubs as there are days in the year.

The correct version can be found in the powerpoint ‘Making connections‘. The title of the text is ‘Norwich’.

The 7 Skills Students Must Have For The Future | Edudemic

As educators we must always be aware of how we need to prepare our students for their lives. In this post, we are presented with seven skills which we must be ready to provide our students with.

http://www.edudemic.com/2013/07/the-7-skills-students-must-have-for-the-future/

Related posts:

The 22 Digital Skills Every 21st Century Teacher Must Have

3 Common Barriers to Success in a Flipped Classroom Model

The Flipped Classroom: Turning the Traditional Classroom on its Head

How to Trigger Students’ Inquiry Through Projects | MindShift

English: Students studying at Albany Senior Hi...

 

As we reflect on the past school year, one of the questions we often ask ourselves is how we can engage our students more and make their learning more meaningful. In this post we are presented with ways in which we can engage our students through the use of projects.

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/07/how-to-trigger-students-inquiry-through-projects/

5 websites to spice up the end of term

(Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by Hideaki Hamada, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/)

The end of term is in sight, and now more than ever we need original ideas to counter the stress of exams and final assessments, and to engage students whose minds are already on the coming holidays. In this post we’ll visit five websites which offer something a bit different for our final classes of the school year, and, what is more important with all the admin which we have to do in the coming weeks, lesson plans which are ready to use.

1. www.film-english.com

wpid-Screenshot_2013-04-15-13-40-27.jpgThis excellent site run by Kieran Donaghy has recently won the ELTon award for Innovation in Teaching Resources. The site offers a wide choice of complete lesson plans and handouts in PDF format each based around one or more short videos. The lessons are graded according to the CEFR, and offer a variety of activities, both written and oral. The choice of videos is excellent, with thought-provoking topics stimulating rich discussions in class and engaging the students. I have used a few of these activities in class this year, and I think my favourite is probably ‘Real Beauty’, based on a promotional video for Dove Soap, designed for B2 and C1 students. A colleague has had a great time in her class with the activity ‘Make it count‘, which I featured here in April.

2. www.breakingnewsenglish.com

This site, written by Sean Banville, has featured on this blog before (his lesson plan covering the death of Margaret Thatcher). It offers a host of activities based on important stories in the news and covering different skills and levels. There is more than enough material to keep even the most demanding class going, including listening activities with Mp3 files provided. Sean offers a two-page ‘mini-lesson’ in addition to the complete 26-page version, thus increasing the choice available to the busy teacher.

Not content with this site, Sean has eight other sites which also offer high quality resources for teachers, notably ESL Holiday Lessons, which offers lessons focusing on special days in the calendar, some serious, some less so (World Sleep Day is a favourite of mine, and went down very well in class).There is a lesson plan for most days of the year, helpfully laid out month by month so you can plan ahead. His latest venture is Lessons on Movies, which promises to be very popular with those of us working with teenagers.

3. www.teachingenglish.org.uk

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The British Council and the BBC join forces to offer this website supporting teachers with a wide variety of downloadable lesson plans for all levels and skills. These are graded according to CEFR levels, from A2 to C1, and cover all the main skills. There is also an A – Z index of content so you can search for topics which fit in with your lessons.

This website also provides more general support for teachers in the form of Teacher Development, news and downloadable research articles.

4. busyteacher.org

Busy Teacher logoThis aptly-named website offers a vast selection of printable worksheets for free, which is great news for, well, busy teachers. On the homepage you will find links to the most recent and the most popular worksheets of the moment. You can also search for seasonal worksheets by month. The material is in American English.

This website also provides articles of interest to teachers, and I have provided links to articles there on this blog before, including earlier this week (‘5 Things You Should Say to Your Class Every Day‘).

5. elt-resourceful.com

And finally, Rachael Roberts brings us a selection of downloadable PDF ideas for our classes on her blog, ELT Resourceful. Her lesson plans are again based around short videos and provide excellent ideas for ways to exploit these videos in the classroom, and providing the opportunity for very interesting class debates. Some of the videos have lessons provided at two different levels.

On this blog I have referred to two of the activities available from ELT Resourceful – ‘The Chicken Nugget Experiment‘ and ‘To R.P. Salazar, with love‘ (great for St. Valentine’s Day).

Rachael’s blog also provides very interesting posts on aspects of teaching English, and helpful tips for preparing your own materials.

Other useful sites:

I chose the sites above because they offer a complete service, as it were, providing lessons plans that are ready to go. However, I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning some other sites which provide lots of great resources. Although they do not provide step-by-step instructions for how to use them, with a little bit of thought they can make for a very enjoyable, useful class.

www.lyricstraining.com

This website lets your students practise their listening comprehension while they listen to their favourite songs. al they have to do is search for the song they want to listen to, and they will find the lyrics with gaps for them to complete as they listen. There are different levels of difficulty and an option where a limited number of attempts is allowed before the song stops. This a great end of class activity for teenage students

www.eltpics.com

On this website, set up by a group of educators on http://www.flickr.com, you will find a vast and growing collection of photographs which have been made available for teachers to use for educational purposes. The rights to the pictures are retained by the person who took them, so they should be carefully attributed – for the correct format, click here. The collection can be searched by category, and you can upload your own pictures to the collection. All in all, this is a fantastic resource. It is not surprising that it was a finalist in this year’s ELTon for Innovation in Teaching Resources, the same category as Kieran Donaghy’s www.film-english.com (see above).

www.onestopenglish.com

I was originally going to include this site as one of my five, as it is very complete, offering downloadable lessons and a host of articles and resources for teachers. However, in the end I have included it here, firstly because it is a website which is offered by a publishing house (Macmillan) rather than an independent site, and also because you have to register and pay to access some of the resources. Once you have registered it is an excellent site, but I preferred to focus on what was available for free.

What’s Trending? – Using popular internet videos | ETp

In this article from the English Teaching professional blog by Chia Suan Chong we can find various ideas for exploiting viral videos from YouTube in the language classroom. She begins by giving examples of videos which have gone viral recently, then explains the phenomenon in more detail before giving some excellent ideas for things to do with these videos in class. A great way of engaging particularly teenage students.

Español: Logo Vectorial de YouTube

http://ht.ly/leGps

Photo credit: Wikipedia