“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.

Commencing

ELT Reflections

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 Image courtesy of Maegan Tintari 

When I initially proposed the idea of having an ELT Research Blog Carnival to share what we as English language professionals had been learning through academic journal articles, I never really anticipated the response I would get. Deep down, I thought that this idea wouldn’t really catch on and it would die before it ever got started. I was pleasantly surprised, actually shocked would be more apt here, at the response I received from others. I thought I might be too optimistic to think that 2-3 people would join me in the first run, but instead there are a total of seven posts to share! I believe it shows how much ELT instructors care about learning and growing in their field. They are happy to question and reflect on what is happening in their classroom in order to help their students grow. I am proud…

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Welcome – ELT Blog Carnival

 

Listen to the music

Welcome to ELT Research Blog Carnival, the aim of which is to provide a space for ELT professionals to discuss research articles on a common theme. The first topic is ‘Listening’, and it is open until 23rd August.

Articles so far:

Nathan Hall: Preparing

Carol Goodey: Listening for learning

More information: http://eltresearchblogcarnival.wordpress.com/

Who am I? An existential ice-breaker

depositphotos_4441026-Disorganized-Communication---People-Speaking-at-Once

This is relatively simple ice breaker activity which can be done at any point of the programme, but since I like to start my conversation classes focusing on questions I plan to do this in September. It also helps to build a sense of team spirit in the classroom, as it obliges students to speak to other members of the class, but at the same time gives them a clear objective to achieve from the interaction, making the interaction less threatening.

Before the lesson, you need to prepare name tags, or pieces of paper with the names of famous people on, one for each student in the group. It is important that your students should know who the famous people are. At the beginning of the activity, tape the name of one famous person onto the back of each student. The students then stand up, mingle and pair up. Each student looks at the name on the back of their partner, then the students take turns to ask one question (which requires a yes / no answer) to their partner about their famous person / character.

Once they have each asked their questions they thank the person they have worked with and look for another partner. It’s a good idea at this stage for the people looking for partners to do so wth their hand raised, to make it easier for the others to see them. This continues until the person has guessed their character. At this point they take the name taped on their back and tape it on their chest.

Students mingle with faculty members

The students who finish first now become counsellors for the others. At any time  a student who has not yet guessed can go to one of the students who have the name tag on their chest and ask for advice. The counsellor should first ask what the person already knows abut their character, then suggest a possible line of questioning. The counsellor does not give clues as to the identity of the character, just helps with the questions.

During the activity, the teacher should be mingling too, monitoring the activity and helping students who have difficulty with the language, although it is up to the counsellors to help with the content of the activity.

A nice follow up activity to this would be for each student to write a short biography of their character, basing themselves on the questions they asked which led them to guess their character. Or they could use the same material to give a short presentation on their character.

Obviously you are not limited to famous people for the name tags. If you are working with literature or extended reading with your group, a variation on this exercise could be to assign each student one of the characters from the book you are reading in class. In this way you get the students to think about the characteristics of their character in more depth. If you are working with science, the names could even be names of elements from the periodic table. You can adapt the activity to suit the content you want to practise or review. Because the students need meaningful clues, they are forced to think of the specific characteristics, and this will help them remember what they have learnt far better.

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/

Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Why you should set soft goals for your classroom this year

I realise that most of us are just  beginning to enjoy our summer holidays, indeed some  may still be working, but I thought I would share this blog post which should give us something to think about when we start to plan for next year.

http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com.es/2013/07/why-you-should-set-soft-goals-for-your.html

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.

Authentic materials in the ESOL classroom

We all do it – using songs, authentic texts, videos to jazz up the usual textbook material and to motivate and reward our students. But what material do we use most? Here is a handy infographic provided by Kaplan International Colleges which shows which are the most popular sources of authentic material for the language classroom. How many of these have you used?

 

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