I’ve just got back from my first IATEFL Conference, in Harrogate, still feeling elated from the buzz that such big conferences always produce. It’s been great to meet up with so many people I’ve only seen online before, and make new friends. It’s also been great to attend so many fantastic talks and workshops.
I’d like to thank everyone who came along to my session on exploiting video in the classroom. As promised, here is the link to the powerpoint of my presentation. The video clips used are in the same folder, just in case the links in the presentation don’t work. I hope you find it useful.
Write-ups for some of the activities included in the session can be found in the following posts:
It’s been a hectic week, with TESOL Spain last week in Madrid and now TESOL Greece here in Athens. This is just a quick post to publish my powerpoint form this afternoon’s closing plenary. More to come soon.
1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your teaching background? (50 to 100 words)
JA: I come from Greece, where I live and work. I have worked both as a private and a stateschool ELT teacher for about 25 years teaching mainly teenagers. I have also worked as a part-time teacher trainer for state school teachers. I believe in education as a dynamic force and I have a passion for learning as well as teaching. In my opinion, learning as a lifelong process can be achieved in unlimited ways, inside and outside of a classroom; I really enjoy teaching and being taught by my students and my colleagues, either through observation, or interaction and collaboration. I find attending and presenting at conferences a wonderful opportunity to learn, reflect and share ideas, especially if you have the chance to present together with a colleague.
JD: I have been a teacher of English and the Social Sciences…
Tomorrow evening I will be flying out to Rome, ready to take part in the 2013 TESOL Italy National Convention, at the Polo Didattico, Piaza Oderico de Pordenone, 3. This will be my first time attending this conference and I am very much looking forward to it. The talks and workshops look very interesting (session abstracts here), and it is always a great experience to meet fellow professionals from other countries. I will be speaking about using video in the classroom on Friday morning, at 10:15. So this weekend, you’ll find me ‘Englishing’ in the Eternal City. Hope to see you there!
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 homework 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!
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)’. This 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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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, where 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).
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.
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.
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.
GRAY, E. (2000) Skills Builder for Young Learners: Flyers 1 – Student’s Book Newbury, Express Publishing.
This is my personal blog. I´m very interested in learning, teaching and sharing. I want to share ideas about teaching and learning, education technology and web tools to enrich my lessons as well as learn from all those who visit me here