‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ – Resources for Halloween

English: American Jack O Lantern, a Hallowe'en...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s interesting how a pre-Christian festival from the north of Europe seems to have taken hold worldwide. However, there’s no denying the popularity of Hallowe’en, so here are a few resources which we can use in class this week, promoting skills and vocabulary development while following the Hallowe’en theme. I’ve tried to grade them by age, but different teaching circumstances mean that different activities will be useful for different students. If you’re unsure of any details about the history of Hallowe’en, this infographic will provide you with plenty of information about how the festival has evolved over the centuries.

Pre-Primary / Early Primary

The objective of this festival for very young learners is to avoid scaring them while giving them the opportunity to learn a new song or to make something in arts and crafts which will link them to the idea of Hallowe’en. One of the things we do with our youngest students is pumpkin carving. The teacher wields the knife, but the students get a chance to help empty the seeds and design the scary face to cut out. The Jack o’ Lantern created is then used to decorate the class on the 31st October. In parallel with this, the children can prepare Jack o’ Lantern masks to wear on the day. You can find other ideas for Hallowe’en masks here.

Trick or treatAnother fun activity for younger learners is to go Trick or treating around the school. This takes a bit of organising, but the kids love it. Have each class group prepare a Hallowe’en song before the day of the festival, then organise a rota so that each class can visit another class of the same age. The visiting class sings their song to the others, and then each student receives a gift (traditionally sweets, but check your school’s policy on this type of treat beforehand). This is particularly good fun if the students can come to school dressed up for the day! If they can’t come in dressed up, it would be nice for them to have masks prepared in class. If the teacher has prepared a Jack o’ Lantern for the class, they can carry that with them when they visit the other classes.

Primary

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Photo credit: http://spoonful.com/

For older primary students, articulated Hallowe’en decorations can be great fun. You can find a number of diferent copiable designs here. This can be combined with the CLIL science class if you choose to make articulated skeletons. These can be combined with Jack o’ Lanterns, and spiders webs made from teased cotton wool to create a really spooky atmosphere for the classroom.

On the British Council Learning English website, there are several games for Hallowe’en. For example, here is a version of ‘I Spy‘ for Hallowe’en, useful for practising vocabulary. There is also a spelling game, ‘Spelloween‘ which promises to be a lot of fun.

Another idea would be to try out traditional children’s party games, such as Apple bobbing, where you try to get an apple out of a bowl of water using your mouth. If this is considered too risky, you can make the activity safer but even messier by placing the apples in a tray of flour! Other traditional games can be adapted to a Hallowe’en theme – for example, ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’ can easily become ‘Pin the tail on the witch’s cat’.

Secondary

In secondary, we seem to pay less attention to festivals in general, but there are still some useful activities which we can do with our students. One possibility, if they have an intermediate level or above, is to challenge your students to write a ghost story. You can give them the first line, perhaps ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ and have them complete the story, either individually or in pairs. it would be a good idea to brainstorm typical vocabulary from ghost stories first, and possibly talk about the usual structure of this type of story. Alternatively, you could take the first paragraph of a ghost story and turn it into a jigsaw dictation (there are many ghost stories available as graded readers, so this should not be too hard to organise). Once they have reconstructed the opening paragraph, you can have the students write how they think the story continues. Mission Impossible! also lends itself very well to creating Hallowe’en stories, and the Zombie round is particularly apt!

An alternative to writing exercises can be found on You Tube, courtesy of Mr Skype lessons. This is a listening exercise based on a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

The art work which accompanies the listening text is fantastic.

Finally, here’s a full lesson plan from the British Council’s Learning English website, based on the story ‘The King of Pumpkins‘. I hope you enjoy these resources, and feel free to add more which you have used and enjoyed.

Happy Hallowe’en!

“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.

Writing in Primary – Part III: Extended writing

child writing

In the first part of this series, I looked at how to initiate early primary students in writing in English, and in Part II I focused on how writing activities can be built into the CLIL classroom. In this, the third part of the series, I’m going to look at ways to get students producing longer texts, either on their own or as part of a team. Here, the focus is inevitably on upper primary, although the ages at which the different activities can be used will vary widely depending on the programme of each school, and some of these activities may be more suited to early secondary in some schools.

Scaffolding longer texts

One of the things which less proficient writers find daunting about producing longer texts is the very fact that they are being asked to write something longer than a couple of sentences. Faced with the blank page, they will often simply tell you they don’t know what to write. As teachers, our job is to support them in this stage, helping them to develop strategies which will allow them to develop longer texts. For this reason, it is very important that longer writing tasks be done in class rather than for homework – the students will need individual support as they begin their writing. Once they are writing confidently they can be asked to finish their work for homework if need be. I find the best way to scaffold longer texts is to break down the requirements into smaller, more manageable parts. In Part II we saw an example of this with the water cycle exercise, Imagen water cyclewhere the students were asked to write one or two sentences about each step in the process, rather than simply being asked to write a paragraph describing the water cycle. On the worksheet the different steps are visually separated, so that what they are producing does not have the appearance of a long text. Once the students have produced their texts on the worksheet, you can ask them to copy the corrected version into their notebooks in the form of a paragraph, so that they realise how much they have been able to write, but only after they have successfully completed the worksheet. This enhances the sense of achievement, and success breeds success.

Picture stories are another useful way of breaking down longer more complex texts into more manageable parts. I use the stories from the speaking part of the Movers and Flyers exams, and in this way the students have more practise with the type of story they will face in the exam at the end of the year. You can see an example of one of these stories here, taken from Gray (2000).

Flyers Speaking Story

We can also get our students to make comic strips, producing their own pictures and adding text to each one. This can be done very simply by folding a piece of paper in half, in half again and in half again, which will divide the page into eight sections, for eight pictures. A more sophisticated alternative is to make a mini-book, instructions for which you can find here. This is a great way to check comprehension of something done in class, whether a story, or the steps in a process. I have used it to review extended reading, and to wind up work on biographies of famous people.

Collaborative writing

Another way to scaffold longer texts is to have students work together to create a text. This can be modelled using the ‘Mission Impossible!‘ activity, where each student has to create a correct sentence to form part of a story against the clock, with the teacher writing the story up on the board. Then put the students into groups of four and explain that each person will dictate one sentence of the text to the rest of the group. The other members of the group decide if they think the sentence is correct and appropriate or if it needs editing, and when they are all satisfied with the sentence they all write it down. Then the next person in the group dictates what they feel should be the next sentence in the text, and so on. This can be used to write picture stories, or any kind of text. It is very important that they have a clear idea of what they have to write about before they begin. I have used this to practise writing descriptions of places, projecting a photograph so that they are all describing the same place. This is also useful as practice for the Cambridge Preliminary (PET) speaking exam, where candidates are asked to speak for a minute about a photograph.

A slightly crazy version of collaborative writing can be a lot of fun for the end of term (although don’t expect great quality from the texts produced). Each student starts off with a piece of paper, and the teacher dictates the first sentence of a story, appropriate for the time of year or the topics being covered in class at that time. Each student then writes the next sentence in that story, and passes the paper to the student sitting next to him / her. each student then has to write the next sentence of the story they have in front of them before passing the paper on again. In this way you have as many stories circulating in the classroom as there are students, and each one will be different. As I have said, this is just a fun activity, but the students are still reading each text and writing, as well as revising what has been written before.

Final words

As I said at the beginning of this post, these activities may be suitable for primary students in some schools but more suitable for secondary students in other settings. The important thing is to get our students writing as early as possible, so that producing texts is seen as a normal part of the English (or CLIL) class. There are many other techniques we can use, and I hope that readers will share their own ideas through the comments section. One thing I have not touched on here is the use of technology in the writing class, and I hope to come back to that topic soon.

References

GRAY, E. (2000) Skills Builder for Young Learners: Flyers 1 – Student’s Book Newbury, Express Publishing.

Writing in Primary – Part II: CLIL

In the first post in this series, we looked at ways in which we can introduce young children to writing as part of their EFL class. In this post we examine the opportunities which CLIL gives us to extend and develop our students’ writing skills as they move up through the school, and how writing in the CLIL classroom can be linked to the external Cambridge exams.

Writing

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the early science classes, students talk a lot about the classification of animals, and we make wall displays of the different classes of animals – fish, birds, amphibians, mammals and reptiles – with representatives of each class and the key 20120210_123850 (1)vocabulary for defining each class. The students’ attention is drawn to these labels in each lesson as we review and discuss different animals, so that they quickly become familiar with the vocabulary. Sometimes, before they come into the classroom, we move the words around, then get the students to help put them in the right places again, thus ensuring that the students are famiiar with reading the vocabulary. Once they are comfortable with the language, they can create a small project, writing about their favourite animal, using the key vocabulary from the unit and simple grammar structures such as ‘it’s’ and ‘it has got’, illustrating their texts with drawings or pictures cut out from magazines (or these days, downloaded from internet).

An extension of this exercise, and a much-loved activity each year, is the ‘Monster gymkhana’. Here, the students are working with the parts of the body, 20120210_123804 (1)numbers, sizes and colours, using the same verb structures as before. This activtiy begins as a reading exercise, seen here, a mute dictation in which the student has to draw the monster described in the photocopy and colour it appropriately. Once this has been done, the students are put into teams and given the task of designing their own monster. Then we take them out to the playground, where cut-outs of different body parts are distributed, legs in one place, arms in another, heads in a third, etc. Each set of cut-outs is labelled with the name of that body part. Each team of children is given a large card and some glue, and they race to find the different body parts they need to complete their monster design. We like to leave the finished monster designs on display in the playground so that the children can show their peers from other classes and their parents at playtime or after school. Once they have done the gymkhana itself, back in the classroom, each student writes the description of the monster they have constructed, and these descriptions can be added to the display.

These classification exercises use very simple grammar structures but at the same time they allow the students to express differences between items, which is used a great deal in the YLE speaking exams. In both Movers and Flyers, students are asked to spot the difference between two similar pictures, and in Movers they are also required to say which picture is the odd one out in a group of four, giving a reason.

Imagen jumbled bones

(Adapted from Dellar and Price, 2007)

Another skill students need for the YLE exams is the ability to unjumble letters to form words, and this skill can also easily be practised in the CLIL class, as well as in the literacy class. For example, give students a worksheet where the different parts of the body are labelled on a skeleton,  but each part is jumbled, and the student has to write the items of vocabulary correctly. Here the student is focusing mainly on spelling of key vocabulary items, which may be more complex than the words which they usually employ in their writing.

As students progress they can be expected to write more, and here it becomes important that they learn to structure their texts. One way in which they can do this in the CLIL classroom is by describing processes, where there is a clear sequence to follow. Here is a worksheet on the water cycle, which they students are asked to label:

Imagen water cycle

However, instead of requiring the students to produce the key vocabulary, they are provided with the technical words on the diagram and asked to write one or two sentences to explain what is happening at each point in the process. Initially, the students are asked to write on each arrow, but as they gain confidence in this sort of exercise, they can be asked to write all their sentences together as a text, linking with sequencing words – ‘first’, ‘then’, ‘finally’. This scaffolding of longer texts will be the subject of the third post in this series.

Bibliography.

Deller, S. & C. Price (2007) Teaching Other Subjects Through English Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Writing in Primary – Part I: Early Years

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The growing importance of writing

In any primary classroom, the spoken word is paramount. Young children have the capacity to acquire a foreign language in a natural way, almost without realising it, if they are exposed to the language early enough and extensively enough, and this is exploited. Our main objective in the primary classroom is to enable our students to communicate effectively in the foreign language. Literacy in L2 is something that takes second place in many schools, indeed it is sometimes even supposed that literacy in the mother tongue will be enough to enable students to read effectively in English. Writing, at least writing more than the odd sentence, is hardly touched upon until the students are much older, and again there is a supposition that what they have learnt in their mother tongue means that they should be capable of writing in English.

However, things are changing. Over the last ten years, what is required of students in Primary has increased dramatically, with various bilingual programmes being developed and with CLIL becoming more prevalent in the teaching of a foreign language. Added to this, the Cambridge YLE exams have become increasingly popular, and in some countries it is increasingly normal for KET and even PET to be done while the students are still in Primary, helped by the development of the ‘for Schools’ version of these exams. If these objectives are to be achieved, it is important that attention should be paid to writing and text construction from a much earlier age, in parallel with the development in oracy which has been foregrounded for so long. In this series of posts, I will examine how we  can implement a structured approach to writing from a very early age in order to cover the requirements of CLIL and the different external exams which our students now face. Much of what I will say comes from my own experience working in schools with students between five and twelve years old.

Part I: Getting started – Writing in the early years

Perhaps I should make it clear form the outset that I take quite a wide perspective on what constitutes ‘writing’ with very young children, as I explained in this video interview I gave a few months ago.

My main focus at this age is to get the students engaging with the language, creating their own texts, and sometimes the mechanics of writing get in the way of this creation, so we have to cheat a bit at first.

child writing

I begin to engage my students with writing really before they can read English properly. My first step is through their pictures. Quite often I get them to draw in class, perhaps what they did at the weekend, or a visit we made to the zoo, or the theatre.  Once they finish their picture, I get them to tell me a little about it (not quite ‘That’s lovely dear – what is it?’, but fairly close sometimes), and in that way I can engage their oral skills and help with vocabulary. Once we have talked about the picture, I get them to suggest a title for it – this usually comes out initially in Spanish, but again I help them with the language until they can say it in English – and then I write it on the picture for them. Although they are using me as a scribe, the words are ultimately theirs, so from a broad perspective, they are creating their own written texts. As they are learning to write in their mother tongue, their curiosity in the written word is acute, and quite often they try to copy the title which I have written for them. Whether they do it well or not at this stage is not important, what is important is that they develop a feeling of ownership of a written text. To this end, it is important to display their work, so that they can show it to their other teachers and to their parents.

Imagen3

Once the students have begun to learn to read in English, the creation of texts can also become more complex. At this stage, the main problem we come across is that the students are still mastering the mechanics of writing and so any writing the students do will be painfully slow. for this reason, I sometimes prefer to give them the words written on individual cards, so that they can create their texts without worrying about the mechanics. One activity I have done is to give the students the words from one of the reading books they have been working on (we use the Oxford Reading Tree series). In groups, the students work to recreate the text of the story they have worked on. Once they have done this, they are encouraged to create different sentences using the same words, trying to make a new story.

In the next post in this series, I will examine how we can incorprate writing into our CLIL classes, particularly science.

TESOL Spain – Convention 2014, Call for Papers

Convention 2014

The TESOL Spain Convention next year will take place on 7th – 9th March, 2014 at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. The theme is ’21st Century Teaching on the Move’, and the online submission of speaker proposals will be open from 1st September to 31st October. More information will be available from http://tesol-spain.org/

Related articles:

‘How to … exploit video in class’

‘Speaking exams: what to do … and what to avoid’

‘How to … (Page in association with TESOL Spain)’