Category Archives: Teaching methodology

Teacher echo, teacher echo: helpful, or greedy and controlling?

Photo Credit: Natasja Valentijn via Compfight cc

Recently listening to Cecilia Lemos’ great talk on recasting as a form of correction, and how she had decided it was not always very effective,  I started thinking again about teacher echo.

Recasting is repeating an utterance which is incorrect, in the correct way, hoping that the student will notice it. As a technique, it has its roots in the ‘strong’ communicative approach, and is based on what parents tend to do with young children, as they are learning. However, there is quite a lot of evidence that students rarely do notice recasts. For example, Havranek (1999) recorded 1,700 examples of recasts and found that:

-          Half the errors were committed again shortly afterwards

-          Less than a third of learners even remembered the correction (and if they did, it didn’t mean that they later produced the language correctly)

-          Peers did not notice the correction of others

So, if repeating an incorrect utterance correctly is probably of quite dubious benefit, why would teachers ‘echo’, or repeat correct utterances?

The most common reason given is that it provides learners with another opportunity to be exposed to the language. This comes from the same roots as the notion of recasting, and assumes that learners learn a second language in the same way as children learn their first language. But, as we have seen, learners don’t tend to notice or respond to the teacher’s repetition, even when there’s something salient in it.

The second reason teachers give for echoing is that it helps other students to hear what the first student said, as students are often prone to mumbling. This may certainly be true, but does it encourage the students to speak up and make the effort to communicate with each other? Or, rather, does it give the impression that the only communication which counts has to go through the teacher?

Which brings me to my third point (which, to be fair has never been offered to me as a reason for using echo). Habitual teacher echo massively increases the amount of teacher talking time. Now, I’m not against teacher talking time, per se. Good quality input from teachers is a wonderful resource. However, automatically repeating every utterance like a parrot is not good quality input. It just takes up valuable space and time.

And furthermore, people do not actually communicate in this way in real life, so it gives the impression that the interaction is not real in anyway, that it’s simply a mechanical exercise.

So, in answer to my own question, I would say that teacher echo is very rarely helpful, and that, while it may be a deliberately contentious over-statement, it is quite controlling and greedy. There are also a lot of much better things you could be doing to provide high quality interventions (more on this in a future post).

If you do want to see how much echoing you actually do, it’s really worth recording yourself teaching. This is pretty easy to do unobtrusively with a mobile phone, and may surprise you.  It’s also likely to improve the quality of your teaching, as raising awareness is the first step towards making conscious decisions about the kind of interactions you want your class.

22 Comments

Filed under Speaking, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

Monitoring class activities

18782750_dcb09c62f3_o

Photo Credit: madabandon via Compfight cc

 

Dictionary definitions of monitoring include:

To check the quality or content of something.

To keep track of systematically with a view to collecting information.

To keep close watch over; supervise.

Classroom monitoring can, I think, involve all of these aspects, and doing it well is a key teaching skill. We’ve all seen (or probably been) teachers who either breathe down students’ necks, making them desperately uncomfortable, or who wander off and start doing admin tasks at the back of the room (though the latter might just be monitoring very subtly!)

Monitoring to check the activity

As students start a task, it’s very important to check they know what they’re doing and that they are able to do it. So, although you might want to back off in order to make them feel less self-conscious, you probably need to at least subtly look around and see if people are on-task. Listen in unobtrusively, perhaps while doing those admin tasks, and make sure they’re ok. If one pair or group is uncertain about what to do, go and help them. If more than one pair or group is uncertain, I’d advise against going round and helping them all. It’ll take too long, and waste precious time for those waiting to see you. This is how I failed my O level maths (that, and too much gossiping).  Just stop the activity and set it up again. And this time, check your instructions.

This kind of monitoring is simply pragmatic, and about helping things to run smoothly. It’s most important at the beginning of a task, but you can also do this kind of monitoring while a task is in progress to see if a group have finished early, if they need more support or more challenge and so on. Especially if you’re teaching young learners, you can also assess if they are starting to tire of the activity, and if you need to swiftly bring it to a close before all hell breaks loose.

Monitoring to assess language and/or skills

The other main reason for monitoring is to assess the language the students are producing (or their skills). This is vital if you want to be able to use your skills to actually help students develop. If you aren’t listening or paying attention, how can you possibly have any idea what they can do, or what they still need help with? “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, of course, students are still able to listen to each other, and to themselves, but I hope you get my point.

How?

Perhaps you’ve heard about the secret handshakes that Masons are supposed to use to recognise each other? There’s a secret way that trainers who were trained up at International House (IH) can do this too….they crouch. Well, maybe not all of us, but I’ve recognised a few fellow ex-IHers this way. The idea is that by getting down on the students’ level, you’re less obtrusive and threatening. I think there’s something in this, but if students aren’t used to it, it can be a bit discombobulating for them (I knew I’d get to use that word in a blog post one day!)

It also isn’t great if you’re wearing a shortish skirt.

Being unobtrusive is important, however. You could try sitting at a short distance and looking elsewhere while your ears work overtime. If you really want to freak them out, look at one pair while listening to another, and then comment on what the second pair said. In a smallish class, it can also work quite well to sit on a chair in the middle of the room and lean forward. It signals that you’re listening, but isn’t too (literally) in your face. If students are writing, you’ll need to get closer. Try walking behind as these means they don’t have to stop what they’re doing and turn their book round to show you. It also helps to learn to read at strange angles.

Try not to get too involved with a group as this means you can’t tell what’s going on elsewhere. This can easily turn into small group teaching, while the rest of the class feel ignored, get bored, start throwing paper aeroplanes…. This (small group teaching, not throwing paper aeroplanes) might be OK in some circumstances, though. For example, with a longer project-like activity, once you are SURE everyone knows what they’re doing and can work independently.

What should you be listening for?

Obviously this depends on what the students are doing. Here are some suggestions.

Speaking tasks

Are they using the language you’ve been working on in class? Bear in mind that if they aren’t, it might be because you (or the coursebook writer) hasn’t designed the task very well.

Is the language you plan to focus on already being used naturally? If not, that will provide a ‘gap’ for you to feed language into later- as in task-based learning.

Can you identify a gap, or language they need to do the task more effectively? If so, make a note, teach it at the feedback stage, and then let them do the task again.

Grammar or vocab exercises

Monitoring should tell you which students are finding it easiest, and which are struggling. How many are struggling? (Do you need to deal with this whole class or on an individual basis?)

It’s also a great opportunity to think about who you are going to nominate at the feedback stage. You don’t want to put people on the spot [unless they really deserve it ;)] by asking for answers they don’t know. It can also be  a good idea to give a weaker student a boost by nominating them when you know, from monitoring, that they’ve got the answer right.

After monitoring

As well as carrying out feedback on a task, or conducting an ‘error correction slot’ (where you write mistakes you heard on the board, anonymised and ask students to try and correct them), you could write down examples you heard of language which was particularly successful or useful.

Alternatively, you could choose not to feedback at that point, but to note down what you’ve learnt about their needs and plan a future lesson around them.

If they haven’t used the target language they were ‘supposed to be’ practising, you could take some examples of what they did say (which was correct), give praise for it, and then try to elicit other ways of saying it which do use the target language.

Or you could ask students to feedback on other aspects of the task- such as how well they worked together- and give them your own feedback on what you noticed.

If, on the other hand, you’ve just been filling in the register while they did the task, you can’t do any of these things…

 

 

21 Comments

Filed under Differentiation, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

A short guide to concept checking vocabulary

Photo Credit: sukigirl74 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: sukigirl74 via Compfight cc

Back in 1978 the psychologist Melissa Bowerman observed her 13 month old daughter, who was starting to talk. (Psychologists do a lot of this. In fact, I sometimes wonder if that’s the main reason they have children.) Anyway, her daughter was observed pointing at a ball, and saying ‘ball.’  She knows the word ball, you might conclude.

But then, over the next few months, the child also used the word ‘ball’ to describe a balloon, an Easter egg and even a pebble. So what exactly had she learnt? Probably that ball was something (more or less) spherical. That’s certainly part of the meaning, but we’d probably also have to add:

  • You play games with it, such as tennis or football
  • It doesn’t break when you throw it
  • It usually bounces
  • It can be between around 3 cm to about 12 cm in diameter

All these points go to make up the meaning of the word ‘ball’.

Now obviously when we teach our students new words, they probably already have the concept of ‘ball’ from their first language. However, there are plenty of cases where the semantic boundaries are blurred. Not all languages divide up the world in the same way. For example, in Polish, the word ‘buty’ doesn’t just mean boots, it also means shoes. In English, we generally use just one verb ‘to put on’ when talking about clothes and accessories, but, according to Michael Swan,

‘Japanese speakers use one verb for garments on the upper body, another for those on the lower body, yet another for garments on extremities like feet and hands, another for articles that go on the head, and another still for jewellery like earrings or a watch.’

Even if there is a direct translation, and you or your students know what it is, the word might still not be used in exactly the same way, or might have a slightly different connotation.

This is why we need concept questions.

Concept questions are something which teachers often learn about in their initial training and then promptly discard once no-one is watching. It feels ridiculous, unnatural and patronising to be asking a series of questions to which we already know the answers. Certainly, concept questions can be overdone and, particularly if they’ve been badly devised, they can be completely ridiculous.

A famous example from an International House CELTA course:

‘He didn’t know if he was coming or going.’

Was he coming?

Was he going?

Did he know?

Done judiciously and thoughtfully, however, a good set of concept questions can produce light-bulbs turning on over students’ heads all over the class, with a minimum of fuss and without lengthy and over-complex explanations.

How to create concept questions

The first thing to consider is what exactly the word or phrase means. You will probably feel you know this, but it can often really be worth looking it up in a dictionary to get all the elements of meaning (as with ball above).

So, for example, the word ‘cosy’. The Longman Exams dictionary says:

‘’A place that is cosy is small, comfortable and warm: the living room was warm and cosy.’’

So key elements would be

  • Small
  • Comfortable
  • Warm
  • Used to describe rooms

I’d also say that we could use it to describe clothes (and then small wouldn’t be part of the meaning)

So then we can think about examples that will test understanding of these key elements. These can be short and simple questions, or we can use pictures, diagrams, mime- whatever’s  appropriate.

For example, you might have two pictures. One of a small cottage front room, with a fire and the other of a draughty hall in a castle. Then you can ask, Which room is cosy?

Or..

If you are cosy, are you usually warm or cold?

If you are cosy, are you comfortable or uncomfortable?

You can also use negative checking, by asking a question where the answer should be ‘no’ and then asking a follow-up question to make sure they weren’t just guessing!

Is a castle cosy? No.

What kind of house might be cosy? A small, comfortable one.

What kind of shoes might be cosy? Slippers

Personalisation can also help

Which is the cosiest room in your house? Why?

And if you think students do have a fairly good idea, try asking for more information to check.

Give me an example of an item of clothing that could be cosy? (dressing gown, sweater) And one that couldn’t be? (bikini)

Common pitfalls

 Using language which is more complicated than the language you are trying to check.

If you’re cosy are you snug and secure?

Checking the situation, not the language

John’s grandma knitted him a cosy sweater for Christmas.

-Did she knit him ear-warmers?

Going too far and dealing with meanings which just confuse the issue.

What do you put on a tea-pot to keep the tea warm? – A tea-cosy (see picture above)

Incidentally, some people believe that you should never use the target language in a concept question.  As we have seen, this isn’t the case when dealing with vocabulary, though it may apply to grammatical structures…

It’s going to rain.

Is the weather going to be bad?

When to concept check

Although we refer to it as concept checking, it’s much more than just checking understanding; it’s actually at the heart of teaching. It’s about finding out what students do and don’t understand and helping them to ‘get’ the concept.

That said, you do need to use it fairly sparingly, and most of all wisely. Part of being a teacher (and the hardest thing to teach someone) is knowing just how much clarification students need, and giving it to them in just the right amounts, at just the right moments.

 

 

 

 

34 Comments

Filed under Teaching methodology, Vocabulary

Brainshark presentation of my IATEFL13 talk: Of course! Using a coursebook AND dealing with emergent language


of course thumbnail

 

Recently there has been a focus on dealing with ‘emergent language’, rather than following a syllabus. But does this mean that coursebooks are irrelevant? Surely coursebooks are ultimately a collection of topics, texts and tasks- the bedrock of any course.

In this 20 minute presentation, I  look at some ideas for using coursebooks (or any other off the shelf material) while still allowing the teacher to facilitate and engage with emergent language.

 

17 Comments

Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Grammar, Teaching methodology, Writing

Learner generated content:how to get your students to do the work instead!

Picture by @purple_steph on ELTPics

Picture by @purple_steph on ELTPics

To start this summary of the ELTChat on Learner-generated content, which took place at 12pm on 16th January 2013, I’d like to include this extended quote from a seminal article by Adrian Underhill, writing in the late 80s. @theteacherjames found the link, and commented that it had been a huge early influence on him.

Most teachers invite students to write stories and dialogues. Well, why not take their creations one step further and use them as the basis for all the types of elaboration, consolidation and practice which at the moment is done using the coursebook material? Instead of processing material written by someone else they can create their own material based on what they want to say and what they are able to say.

This yields two over lapping phases. Creation, which roughly corresponds to what the author usually does, and Exploitation, which roughly corresponds to the things we usually do with a coursebook.

So, If we want a dialogue we write it,

If we want a text we write one,

If we want a picture we draw one,

If we want a tape we make one,

If we want questions we write them,

If we want an exercise we construct one,

If we want to work with vocabulary we put ourselves in the position of needing it,

If we want a dictation we write one, or choose it from the reader,

If we want a role play we improvise it, or else we plan and write the parts.

If we want answers, we turn to resource books, especially the monolingual learners’ dictionary,

And if we need published text or tape material, then we find it.

We take this raw material and negotiate its correctness, we hone it and refine it, practise it, record it, tell it, act it out, draw it, summarise it, extend it, transform it, improvise it, and so on. In all of this there is a workshop atmosphere. with our own everyday life events and interests as the source material.’

http://www.thornburyscott.com/tu/underhill.htm

Working towards a definition

The chat began by sharing how we might define learner/student generated/created content (settling on the terminology was a challenge in itself!)

@teflerinha For me, LGC is about getting learners to do as much of the work as possible (not in a lazy way)

@AlexandraKouk: also involves creativity and choice of topics, content etc. To which @Marisa_C commented So ss choose topic and content?  @theteacherjames responded I suppose we could use almost anything from the students with some creativity. @AlexandraKouk replied they can vote for topics, of course, or decide what kind of materials format they’d prefer.

@efl101 Isn’t student generated content anything sts do, say, write etc.?

@pjgallantry LGC can range from sentence -level and upwards to full-blown modules – depends on lesson focus.

There was some discussion about how far the term could be stretched:

@Marisa_C For example – would showing a S’s written work and generating some language awareness work fit the bill ? or not?

@efl101 Isn’t student generated content anything sts do, say, write etc.?

@Florentina_T Anything that the student can contribute to the class as a _person_ rather than a unidimensional learner ?

@majorieRosenbe I have created worksheets based on the mistakes that come up on tests.  Does that count?

And there seemed to be some crossover with other concepts such as learner- centredness:

@OUPELTGlobal There’s something about SGC that places the student in the role of the teacher – ? I think SGC brings the learning back to the student, using the language they are learning to communicate about them to others

@AlexandraKouk replied , the roles are not so clearly delineated: everybody teaches and learns at the same time

@yitza_Sarwono also saw similarities with the Montessori context in which she teaches.

@Marisa_C also pointed out the crossover with TBL.

Benefits and drawbacks

It was generally agreed that LGC has many benefits for learners, and teachers:

@shaunwilden So benefits include motivation, learning from each other….anything else?

@teflerinha Less preparation time?!

@Florentina_T All students know something that the T and other Ss can learn (from). Sharing in the L2 builds ownership and fluency

@AlexandraKouk Developing creativity and critical thinking skills?

@yitza_Sarwono Giving learners confidence and voice?

@OUPELTGlobal  Agreat benefit for me is that sts pay more attention to the language they use as they are communicating to friends

@theteacherjames One of the benefits of LGC is that it gives an extended life to the material that students will be possibly producing anyway

@teflerinha Lessons in FE context in UK (where I teach now) are usually 3 hours- so at least element of LGC very helpful

However, there were some downsides too:

@shaunwilden A teacher needs to be at the top of their game to handle LGC, don’t they?..you don’t know where you might end up.

@teflerinha If students don’t produce much, then you don’t have much to work with #lessonplandownpan

@debzi_f have to be careful with sgc that other students don’t just focus on negatives of peers though

@jankenb2 wondered if some schools might not like SGC, though @efl101 responded would hope most schools would not object to sts creating things?

@efl101, OUPELTGlobal  and @Marisa_C agreed that LGC might work well as something to add onto a core cyllabus rather the necessarily providing the syllabus.

@shaunwilden wondered Are all sts happy to work with LGC isnt there an expectation of the teacher leading and telling them what to do?  But @teflerinha felt it’s about the content rather than the methodology isn’t it? And @theteacherjames commented The teacher will still be telling them what to do: Produce material  and then do something else with it.

Towards the end of the chat, the topic shifted towards feedback, but as this is a possible topic for next week, I won’t include it here.

Examples of Learner Generated Content Activities

The Language Experience Approach is one example of how to create and exploit learner-generated content.

@Marisa_C When I taught advanced ss in the past i used to get them to write stuff/ projects for lower levels – can done with other levels too @yitza_sarwono I usually get them to do booklet of selected topic in a month’s time

@michaelegriffin I love bringing something out the next week/class- @teflerinha Yes, shows you’ve paid attention to what they’re producing.- @michaelegriffin Exactly…and I think it tends to have a carry over for next time because Ss know that things will be re-used… And related is using something from loooong ago….and hopefully Ss can see clear progress

@kevchanwow I like to take the funniest sentence, deepest sentence, etc of the week and put them on handout for the class.

@majorie_rosenbe We created cooperative crosswords on vocab for other classes to solve. Great exercise and practice.

@teflerinha  Before students read a text, give them the comprehension questions and as them to write their own text using the questions as a guide. They can then read each others’ texts and answer the questions, before they start on the original text. Finally they can make comparisons between their texts and the original.

@kevchanwow When I have Ss summarise texts, one step in the process is generating questions for each other which I then use as comp check questions

OUPELTGlobal I have my students make wordsearch puzzles for a reading text. Then, give it to a friend to solve – student reading text 2x

@majorie_rosenbe Just gave HW to write 6 questions for others on material coming on test, then played snakes and ladders with the questions.

@theteacherjames Quick example (1:1 Bus Eng): St gives presentation, recorded, watch the video back & analyse their own performance. Self feedback

@Marisa_C On an English for Teachers course we used Pecha Kuchas – each presenter responsible for Qs to audience while listening @Majorie_Rosenbe added We are holding session on how to use Pecha Kucha in classroom at BESIG PCE in Liverpool at IATEFL.

@jankenb2 If you have access to a course page ask Ss for Youtube to preview a wk prior. Assign selected to Ss pair to generate novel lang exp. Also suggested Giving ss a rubric for a writing task, e.g. “write an invite to a party include time, place, location & welcome note” and asking them to write 3 answers: a good one, a satisfactory one, and one that needs more work.

Links and Further Reading

There are three main books that I know of with specifically learner-generated ideas, though of course Teaching Unplugged is along very similar lines.

Lessons from the Learner: Shelagh Dellar- Longman

Learner-based teaching- Campbell and Kryszewska- OUP

The Minimax Teacher- Jon  Naunton-DELTA Publishing

All three of these are written in the ‘recipe book’ format, and are useful additions to a teacher’s library.

A link to an article by @ddeubal  on student created content was offered by @michaelegriffin

http://ddeubel.edublogs.org/2010/04/27/student-created-content-its-about-learning-not-teaching/

Also a link to the ESL Learners Output Library, a forum for sharing work ESL students produce. http://www.esllol.org/

@AlexandraKouk suggested this article which looks at LGC taking webtools into account http://learnonline.wordpress.com/2006/03/13/learner-generated-content-or-the-best-way-to-learn-is-to-teach/

6 Comments

Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, ELT Chat summaries, Teaching methodology

Collaborative writing activities

6018337079_83dd60b963

Collaborative writing

Some teachers tend to avoid writing in class, perhaps feeling that as it is something which learners do individually and in silence, it is better done for homework.

However, when writing is done as a collaborative activity, it can have many of the same benefits of a group speaking activity:

Discussing the writing process obviously provides more opportunities for learners to interact in English, a benefit in itself.

It can also help learners to develop their communicative competence by forcing the negotiation of meaning. As learners try to express their ideas to each other, they will have to clarify, rephrase and so on. The process should also help them to actually develop their ideas.

According to Vygostsky’s theory of ZPD (zone of proximal development),  working with others  can provide the opportunity for learners to work at a level slightly above their usual capacity, as co-operating with others who know a little more can boost achievement.

Collaborative writing has been shown to lower anxiety and foster self-confidence, compared with completing tasks individually (Johnson and Johnson 1998)

Research by Storch, found that texts produced by pairs were shorter than those produced individually, but that they were better  ‘in terms of task fulfilment, grammatical accuracy and complexity.’ It appeared that the process of working together meant that learners were giving each other useful feedback as they went along, and thereby producing more accurate and complex texts. [Incidentally, I plan to look at feedback on writing in a future post]

Collaborative writing can also be a lot of fun, and, with the growth of webtools for collaboration (not my personal expertise!), it is becoming increasingly popular.

Planning collaboratively

Planning is usually an important part of a successful writing process (though ‘free’ writing has its place). Even if students are to go on to write individually, planning together can be very motivating. It tends to work best if the process is given some kind of structure, so that the group is not simply staring at a blank sheet.

In terms of getting ideas, I love this activity from Learner based Teaching. Students are preparing to write about a topic they know a lot about, such as a hobby or their job. They write the topic at the top of a piece of paper, then, sitting in a circle, the pieces of paper are passed round clockwise. Students have to read each topic and add a question about it, making sure that they don’t duplicate any questions. When the paper comes back to its original author, they then have to write a text which answers ALL the questions, organised in a logical way. The texts are then displayed with the questions and see how they question was answered, asking for clarification if necessary.

One of my favourite activities for collaboratively planning academic type essays is to start by brainstorming the topic onto a mind-map on the board, or use a mind-mapping tool. For example, in describing a festival in your country, you might have sections for dress, food, music and so on.

Then stick a Cuisenaire rod of a different colour onto each section of the mind-map. Of course, you could use coloured strips of paper, but I like Cuisenaire rods… Next, put the students into smallish groups and give each group a set of rods in the same colours. They can then use the rods to decide or to order and arrange the topics within the essay. It’s a simple idea, but there is something about the tactile nature of the rods that seems to help with planning. It’s also concrete, rather than abstract.

Writing collaboratively

The first activity that came to my mind when thinking about collaborative writing was the time-honoured circle writing activity. One student writes a line, then passes it on to another who writes the next line and so on. I have to admit that I am not actually very keen on this activity. It can have some amusing outcomes, but I wonder what exactly the students are learning, as the process rarely produces a coherent or cohesive outcome.

One activity of this sort that I do like, however, is Genre Circle Writing, which I originally found in The Minimax Teacher. This works beautifully with more advanced learners who have been learning about the features of different genres. Start by brainstorming different types of narrative genres, such as news article, romance, conversation, fairytale, sci-fi. Ask each student to choose a genre they would like to write in and ask them to think about the features of their genre, e.g. typical vocabulary and fixed expressions, register, word and sentence length. Put the students into groups of 5-6, then ask each of the to write the first paragraph of a narrative in their genre. After an agreed time limit they pass the papers clockwise, read the new story and write the next paragraph, but in their own genre, rather than following the original genre. Continue until the story reaches its originator, who writes the concluding paragraph. Some of the stories can then be read aloud and the students listening have to say what genre they think each paragraph is. These texts won’t be any more coherent than the usual circle writing texts, but they are really good for raising awareness of genre.

Jigsaw writing is another way of structuring collaborative writing, so that the process is clearly defined. This works well with picture stories or cartoon strips. Put students into small groups and give each group one or two pictures from the sequence. They have to write a paragraph describing what is happening or happened in their picture(s), and should have a copy each. [Incidentally, make sure everyone is using the same tense. ]Then regroup the students into larger groups so that there is someone in each group who has written about each of the pictures, and ask them to decide on the correct order of the pictures and make any changes necessary to turn their paragraphs into a coherent whole. Students can then read and compare the different versions.

If students are quite used to working together, and don’t need quite so much structure, adding an element of competition can provide some fun and motivation. This activity also comes from Learner-based Teaching. Ask the class to choose a current event or issue. Then put them into small groups (3-4) and ask them to write a short article about it together. They should try to make the article as informative as possible. Once the groups have finished the articles are passed around. Each group should look for pieces of information or facts which their group did not remember. Students can then vote for the most informative (and best written) text

What other collaborative writing activities have you used successfully?

36 Comments

Filed under Teaching methodology, Working with groups, Writing

A bouquet of favourite blog posts

2173699314_28ec83a142

For the New Year I wanted to collect together some of the blog posts which have either inspired my posts over the last year, or that would be great follow up reading. In a few weeks, I will celebrate my first blog birthday, so this post is both a bouquet in the sense of a collection of different blooms, and a big THANK YOU bouquet to all my fellow bloggers and tweeters who have made this such a fun and inspiring year!

I have used the same categories as my blog posts to organise these links, so that the connections are as clear as possible.

Different ways to use a coursebook

Two blogs with great lesson ideas that can be used to supplement a coursebook or replace it.

George Chilton’s and Neil McMillan’s Designer Lessons

Steve Muir’s Allatc (activities for advanced learners)

I love this post by Fiona Mauchline on Maccappella on the frequent problems with ‘personalised’ activities in coursebooks, and better ways to personalise.

Kevin Stein’s blog is full of different ways of doing everything. Period (or full stop as we Brits say). I particularly liked this post, You can’t learn if you’re not awake. 

In this post, Kyle Smith shares a great idea for adding a tech twist to the coursebook grammar presentation.

Differentiation

I love Ava Fruin’s thoughtful blog, Love is a better Teacher. For example, this post on Teaching a Multi-level Class.

Exploiting authentic reading materials

A great example of authentic reading materials as created by @JosetteLeBlanc’s student teachers. And there’s plenty of food for thought on the rest of the blog too.

IELTS

Great post on planning IELTS Part 1 graph questions from Sharon Turner’s EAP based blog.

Listening

There are a lot of great resources HancockMcDonald, but one thread I’m particularly interested in is the relationship between listening and pronunciation.

Planning

A thoughtful and well-informed blog, Luiz Otavio’s ELT Page has a subtitle of ‘thinking beyond the doing’; in other words he’s interested in why we do things, not just in what we do. This post is great at unpicking the process in planning a lesson with a grammar focus.

Taking a slightly different tack, this is a blog post about one teacher’s (Mike Griffin) development in terms of planning, looking with great insight at the balance between ‘fun’ and learning and the impact of finding out about the dogme approach. In his blog, ELT Rants, REviews and Reflections, Mike always gives us plenty to think about.

Also love Carol Goodey’s post on What I had planned, but not as I planned it.

This post by Hugh Dellar on the Curse of Creativity, caused a lot of controversy (no doubt entirely intentional), but I really liked the way Hugh focused on the need to consider more than whether something is a fun or creative activity, and how creativity, while an important element, should not be the tail that wags the planning dog.

I’m not a big fan of FE jargon- when I first started at an FE College in the late 90s, I managed to sit through a management meeting and understand virtually nothing because of the sheer number of impenetrable acronyms. So SMART targets isn’t something I personally find vvery helpful, and neither does Tony Gurr: Why SMART Goals are just plain dumb.

Pronunciation

Although Adrian Underhill is of course synonymous with pronunciation, I only came across his blog quite recently. Thoroughly recommended for both theory and practical ideas.

Alex Grevett, aka @breathyvowel, doesn’t just write about pronunciation, but his blog features a number of interesting posts writing about the pronunciation based courses he runs. This is the most recent.

Speaking

Hard (impossible) to pick just one post from the wonderful A-Z of ELT, by Scott Thornbury, but this one is very relevant to speaking.

Joanne Gakonga has a whole series of free webinars, mostly aimed at less experienced teachers. This is one on Encouraging your Students to Speak

I love all the DemandHigh posts, but this one on breaking the rules by not holding back on feedback until the end of a fluency activity is a particular recommendation.

Teaching methodology

David Petrie’s TEFLgeek is a favourite blog of mine, with lots of solid methodology and practical ideas. I particularly recommend ‘Is reading aloud, allowed?’

One of the things I really like about @pterolaur’s (Laura Phelps) blog, The Daily Ptefldactyl, is the descriptions of what is happening in her classroom. This post describes a lesson in which one of her teacher mentees in Borneo experimented with kind of ‘silent way’ approach.

Vocabulary

I’m not sure that Philip Kerr’s stuff gets mentioned enough. I thoroughly recommend his blog on wordlists (though he says it isn’t a blog!). At least a dozen great posts on vocabulary teaching.

Can’t have a vocabulary heading without mentioning Leo Selivan’s blog, Leoxicon

@muranava knows a lot about using corpora, and this post, How to explain a word using corpora, is a great, clear guide.

ELT Experiences is a very varied blog, with all kinds of content. This post on Using Dictionaries is my vocab related choice.

Another must-read, Chia Suan Chong’s Death by Idioms

Working with groups

Marisa Constantinides and her blog TEFLMatters probably need no introduction, but you may have missed this insightful post on group dynamics.

I love pretty much everything on the IDTI website, but this post from Chuck Sandy, on Motivating our Students, struck a particular chord.

Writing

Close up from @cerirhiannon. From a blog chockful with ideas, this is a great creative writing lesson plan. 

Chris Wilson is a prolific blogger and there is a lot of good stuff to explore on his blog, ELTSquared. This post on using wikis for process writing added a new dimension to the topic for me.

I’m sure I will keep thinking of other people and posts I should have mentioned- so, if I do, I’ll just come back and add them! Thanks again, and Happy New Year.

19 Comments

Filed under Teaching methodology

Process writing: mixing it up

2826171411_7e3f840a36

As the name suggests, process writing is an approach to writing which focuses on the process rather than the end product. The argument goes that, just as writers in the ‘real’ world go through a process of editing and revising what they write, so should our students.

The typical structure for a process writing lesson might be:

1 Brainstorming ideas.

2 Plan the structure of the writing

3 Write first draft

4 Get feedback on first draft from teacher or peers (or self-evaluation)

5 Write second draft (and third if appropriate after feedback)

I think there is a lot to be said for taking a process approach to writing:

Feedback

Generally speaking, whatever colour ink we use and whatever correction code we use, we often might as well have not bothered marking written work. No-one reads what we’ve written on their essays. At best, they look to see how much we’ve written, and they might glance at any final comment.

For most students, once something has been written and handed in, it’s over: out of sight, out of mind. One of the great things about taking a process approach is that feedback doesn’t come at the end. It’s an intrinsic part of the writing process, and as such, there is a much better chance of some of it actually being taken on board.

Peer feedback is often used in a process approach, and that can be great both for developing students’ ability to criticise constructively and for giving a genuine sense that the learner is writing for an audience.

Students also develop their ability to self-evaluate, which is something they can go on to use independently. It chimes with that crucial part of being a good teacher- making yourself redundant.

Task repetition

Just as in speaking, repeating a task gives more opportunities to notice and appropriate new language. Through a process of drafting and redrafting, it is that much more likely that language will be acquired.

However, there are also some issues with process writing (at least if done in the traditional way outlined above):

Not all students (indeed not many at all in my experience) are very keen on brainstorming, planning, drafting and redrafting their work. An awful lot seem to want to chuck something down on paper and hand it over for you to sort out. Now, of course, part of our job is to encourage them to take more responsibility for learning, but it is nonetheless a downside that it’s such an uphill struggle (is that a mixed metaphor?)

Even if your students are enthusiastic, going through the process cycle is necessarily very time-consuming. There is also the question of how you manage to give detailed feedback on several drafts and actually get anything else done. It may work well in a pre-sessional context, with small groups and 5 hours of tuition a day, but maybe not so well in 2 x 90m a week or less.

Peer feedback can help with the time issue, but research shows that students tend to concentrate almost exclusively on lower order feedback, or focusing on surface errors like spelling and grammar. It’s hard to get students to be able to give feedback on content or organisation or discourse level stuff.

And last, but not least, traditional process writing doesn’t take account of the fact that the actual process of writing has changed dramatically since the advent of technology. People simply don’t write drafts in the same way anymore. See this interesting article from the Guardian, ‘Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work?’

Equally, tools such as spell check and grammar check have completely changed how writers deal with surface errors.

So, given the positives and the drawbacks of the process approach, what can we take from it, and how might we mix it up?

Keep it small scale

Process writing doesn’t have to be carried out on 250 word plus essays. You could focus on just a paragraph. This will make the stages move along more quickly, allows you to really drill down into the details, such as using a an effective topic sentence and giving reasons and examples, and the perfect paragraph produced can then be used as a model for further writing.

Change the staging

You don’t have to start with brainstorming ideas and planning. You could incorporate a feedback and redrafting stage into a lesson which takes a genre approach, or you could just get students writing straightaway (more ideas on this next post), and then get them to look again at what they’ve written and make changes.

More imaginative brainstorming and planning

Getting ideas and planning is a key part of successful writing, but how can we make it seem less of a chore?

Brainstorming an essay using a mindmap on the board is not a new idea, but try blu-tacking a Cuisenaire rod of a different colour to each bubble of the map. Then give groups a set of rods in the same colours and ask them to use the rods to make a visual plan of the essay. Somehow adding a visual and physical element to structuring the essay seems to engage many students more.

Or try moving from speaking to writing to get ideas. For example, if you want students to write a letter of complaint, try roleplaying a complaint first, or if it’s an informal letter, try it as a phonecall first. This should help learners to anticipate what their audience will want to know or how they might react, which should help with making the writing as effective as possible.

Change who gives feedback and how they give it

As well as the teacher or a partner, experiment with some different models. For example, a recent twitter discussion with @cerirhiannon started me thinking about using ‘carousels’. Put the students into small groups and pass round a piece of written work done by someone in the group (anonymous if preferred). Each group has to give a comment on an aspect which has not been covered by a previous group before passing the work onto the next group. This could be a good way of encouraging students to look beyond surface errors as discussed earlier.

Emphasize the audience

Learners are more likely to want to plan and draft if there is a real reason for writing the best possible text that they can. So using a real life context, such as those discussed in this recent post , can provide some genuine motivation.

Use technology more

Students may not have access to computers in class, but they probably will at home, so you can ask them to consciously use the correction features to make changes, and underline spelling or syntax that the computer has highlighted that they aren’t sure how to correct. You can then focus on these areas in class or individually.

Online corpora, or even google, can also be useful tools for students to check their intuitions about collocations. See this article for more indepth discussion of this.

And, using a screen capture tool, such as Jing, you could give verbal feedback on their writing rather than writing comments. There is a useful presentation from Russell Stannard on this here.

Add a sense of humour

The notion of process writing can be terribly earnest. You could work on the skills of correcting and redrafting by giving learners, for example, the worst job application letter in the world and asking them to rewrite it so that the person has at least SOME chance of being invited for interview.

Or give learners some real examples of writing from young native speakers. For example http://www.esher.surrey.sch.uk/Default.asp?page=172  and ask them to correct, revise and redraft.

While the traditional staging of a process writing lesson may be something you don’t want to do all the time, the principles behind it are something which could be used effectively in any lesson with a writing focus. You just need to mix it up a little.

14 Comments

Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Teaching methodology, Writing

Using a genre approach for writing

Real Life Adv Pearson (1)Real Life Adv -Pearson (2)As we saw in the last post, all ‘real life’ writing is embedded in a social situation: we write for a specific purpose and audience. We can, of course, also do this in the classroom, but often we are engaged more in rehearsing skills that can later be applied outside the class.

However, the genre approach to writing still places a lot of emphasis on the context and purpose for which the writing is produced. By genre we mean different types of writing such as narrative, report, informal letter and so on. Each of these has quite specific features in terms of organisation and language, and the genre approach usually takes a model and gets the students to analyse these features, before producing something similar.

This approach undoubtedly has its roots in the product approach. A typical product writing lesson might involve:

1 Reading and analysing a model

2 Controlled writing, such as writing individual sentences using a substitution table

3 Freer or guided writing (such as  using notes given to construct one or two of the paragraphs in a letter -the rest being already given)

4 Free writing of a parallel text.

In the same way, however, that there is a big difference between PPP (presentation, practice, production) and more modern paradigms, such as Scott Thornbury’s awareness, appropriation and autonomy , there is actually the same kind of difference between product writing and genre-based approaches.

Thornbury’s ‘awareness’ is about giving students the opportunity to notice features of language, rather than having language presented to them on a plate.  In writing, as in speaking, this is about exposing learners to features of written language and setting tasks which will help them to notice the salient features.

‘Appropriation’ is about making something your own; not just repeating patterns but actually assimilating the new language into your personal store. Thornbury makes a memorable contrast between controlled practice and ‘practised control’. The difference he says is that in the latter, the students are working on controlling the language, rather than the teacher trying to control what language the students can use. This can obviously apply just as well to writing as to speaking.

‘Autonomy’ is about using the language ‘under real operating conditions.’ When looking at writing, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the writing has to have a ‘real’ audience (though it can), but that the learners have complete control over the message they want to convey. They aren’t just reproducing a model.

At the top of the post is an example from Real Life Advanced (an upper secondary coursebook) of how I have tried to take a genre approach to writing. It’s is very easily generalizable to any genre of writing or level.

1 Through a lead-in discussion and a few questions, students first deal with the meaning of the text. It’s a travel anecdote or narrative.

2 Next the learners look at how the text is structured. This follows Labov’s Standard Western Narrative, and is a useful little structure to learn as a lot of different kinds of narratives (such as excuses, examples of past experience you might give at a job interview and so on will follow the same basic stages)

There are also some questions about the tenses used. This is something which students focused on earlier in the unit, so, as well as fleshing out the narrative structure, it acts as a review.

3 Then we start to ‘unpack’ some of the language in the text. ( Incidentally, I would highly recommend Scott Thornbury’s video on ‘unpacking a text’) Here we’re focusing on adverbs. Students compare the examples of adverbs they can find in the text with the rules and examples in the box.

4 The next exercise is intended to give students the opportunity to get some control over the language, putting the rules into action. They aren’t just drilling correct sentences; they’re having to think about how to use the language correctly and appropriately.

5 The learners then prepare to write their own story. They are encouraged to use the same structure, but the content is personal to them and their experiences or knowledge. You may notice that there are prompt questions referring to colours and adjectives used to describe the background, and to what the characters say. These points again refer back to previous activities in the unit (on adjectives and verbs of speaking – mumbled, whispered), providing the opportunity, or ‘nudge’, for students to use this language again in a different context.

Clearly this kind of approach can be used for any kind of text. The key stages are:

1 Read the ‘model’ for meaning first, don’t just see it as a model, but as a piece of communication.

2 Focus on the organisation. Different genres of texts have different organising principles. Research or think about how this genre of writing usually starts and finishes. Is the content in any particular order? For example, an IELTS Part 1 Writing Task, describing a graph, usually begins by stating what the graph shows, then may provide an overview before detailing the key pieces of information (or the overview may come at the end). You could get students to look at examples and draw flow charts of how they perceive the organisation.

3 ‘Unpack’ the language. You can choose some language which seems particularly relevant to the task or you might use corpora to identify language on which to focus. Putting several texts of the genre you want your students to learn to write into a text based concordance, such as that at www.lextutor.ca should give you some useful information about the kind of language students could usefully be encouraged to notice.

4 Provide practice to help students gain more control of the language

5 Help students to put together what they have noticed to help them write their own text. Make sure that the text is more than just reproducing a model, ideally that it has some personal meaning. For example, in the IELTS text type mentioned above, perhaps they could write up the results of their own surveys?

11 Comments

Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, IELTS, Planning, Teaching methodology, Writing

‘Real world’ writing activities

2051756510_c0138daf6e

‘We don’t just ‘read’ and ‘write’: we always read and write something for a particular purpose, in a particular way, in a particular time and place.’

David Barton

Outside the classroom, any writing our learners do will have a specific purpose and context. Inside the classroom, by definition, any writing is likely to be more simply for the sake of developing skills and language, and displaying those skills.

However, the difference between ‘real’ writing and display writing isn’t a binary distinction; it’s more of a continuum. Our job, as teachers, is to bring the two ends of the spectrum closer together, and help students to see the links.

How much do you know about the purposes for which your learners need to (or aspire to) write in English?

Obviously, if your learners are in an ESE (English-speaking environment), they are likely to have many pressing needs, such as form filling, work-related paper-work, emails, notes to school and so on. There are literally endless ways in which these learners can carry out real-world writing tasks, including writing to local papers, to their MPs and so on. Even in NESE contexts, learners may well need to use written English for work, especially with the growth of the internet and the increased tendency to communicate in writing.

For younger learners and most General English learners in NESE contexts, however, they may not have a current need to write in English at all, but it is still important for writing to be clearly contextualised, and have an audience. We don’t speak without any sense of who we are speaking to, and neither should we write in that way.

That said, I don’t believe that all classroom writing activities have to connect directly to the real world. The important thing is that the activity has a significance or personal value for the learners and that they know why they’re doing it. In the next few blog posts, I’d like to look more closely at some different ways to support learners in developing their writing skills, looking at genre-based and process-based approaches. All of these will, of course, have a purpose and an audience, but not necessarily an actual, immediate real-world one.

Writing for the public can, however, be extremely motivating. Below are some ideas to try, which would work with learners not in an ESE. Feel free to add anything else you’ve tried in the comments, it would be great to build up as long a list as possible:

  •  Writing to a favourite author. Many authors now have blog pages or other ways in which they can be contacted. Learners could choose their own author (which might be someone they have only read in translation), or this could be part of a class extended reading project.
  • Writing a review of a product, film or book on a website. From being a rather unnatural task, writing a review is now something that many people do regularly on sites such as Amazon.
  • Writing on behalf on victims of human rights abuse. Assuming this is appropriate in your context, this is a very real-world writing activity and could really make a difference in the world. See the Amnesty website  where you will find sample letters and advice.
  • Writing fiction for the internet. How about writing an 140 character story for Twitter [#140novel]? Or use one of the many websites where you can publish short stories, such as www.booksie.com? For younger learners, try Littlebirdtales,  where learners can create a picture story which is then emailed to specific friends and family, rather than being open to the whole internet. Or, a personal favourite, www.futureme.org.  On this site, people write letters to themselves to be delivered on a specific date in the future. Still a real audience….
  • Comments on news articles and opinion pieces. Most newspapers now have online version where readers can comment. A particularly good source is the BBC, which asks specifically for comments in the Have your Say section. For example, this article and comments on ‘Invisibility cloaks: will we ever really have them?’

 

6 Comments

Filed under Teaching methodology, Writing