Tag Archives: ESL

More than just a worksheet: how to write effective classroom materials.

Many teachers produce their own materials, either from necessity or to provide something more tailored to the needs of their students. However, writing materials for a whole lesson, which really engage the learners and focus effectively on language, is quite a challenge. Teachers learn through experience, but are rarely given much support or training in this area.

In this session, given at IATEFL 2014, and recorded earlier for the British Council Seminar Series, I looked at  a simple recipe or template (based on Hutchinson and Waters 1987) for producing complete lessons, and considered a variety of do’s and don’ts taken from my experience as a professional materials writer.  There are plenty of practical examples and tips, as well as mini tasks to try.

Click the picture for the link to the recording (also including an interesting presentation non using corpora in the classroom, by Adam Kilgarriff).

more than just a worksheet screenshot

The handout with a summary of the main points, and the links, is available below as a PDF.

More than just a worksheet handout – Rachael Roberts

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Exploiting authentic reading materials, Materials development, Planning

Authentic or graded? Is there a middle way?

2576372736_04fe9e4026_o (1)One of the often used arguments against published coursebooks is that the texts, especially at lower levels, tend to have been specially written. When I first started writing coursebooks I was very keen to use authentic texts, and, indeed, the first edition of IELTS Foundation is full of them.

There are plenty of points in favour of using authentic texts. Firstly, the enormous sense of satisfaction to be gained from being able to read something designed for a native speaker. It’s no coincidence that the language learning app, Duolingo, encourages me in my learning by announcing, ‘You can now read 96.7% of all real Portuguese articles’ (though I doubt that very much!). Finding that they are able to read an authentic text may also encourage the learner to read more extensively outside of the classroom, which has to be a good thing.

It’s also important that students are exposed to different genres of texts, and, especially for the teacher creating materials for their own class, authentic texts provide a relatively easy way to bring something up to date and topical into the classroom. They can provide us with the opportunity to look at the same topic reported in different ways, or give students a starting point from which to follow the news topic as it unfolds, in their own time.

However, in recent years I have been moving away from using unadapted authentic texts. The most obvious problem is the level of the language. When I was first trained, we were taught, ‘grade the task not the text’, but, while this is usually possible, I’m no longer sure that it’s always in the students’ best interests.

Taking this kind of approach is intended to help students develop strategies to deal with texts where a lot of the language is unknown. There is certainly a value in this, but is it as valuable as giving them a text from which they can get so much more? Hu and Nation (2000) concluded that most learners needed to comprehend 98% of words in a text in order to gain ‘adequate comprehension’

Personally, I think there’s still a value in a text pitched slightly higher than that, especially if we give the learners support, but without a doubt, if the level is pitched too high, class time will just be taken up with explaining tens of words which, in all probability, the learners will not learn and may never need to use again.

But aren’t graded texts dull and decontextualized? Won’t they give students a false sense of security, and fail to prepare them for real world reading?

Or is there a middle way?

I think there is, and that it is based around a proper respect for genre. I now unashamedly write a lot of texts for my coursebooks. Unashamedly, because I think that, as a writer, my writing skills are often just as good as someone writing for the Daily Telegraph etc, and, therefore, my texts are, in their own way, just as authentic.

So before writing a text, I look for samples of the kind of genre I’d like to write (this often gives me ideas about the topic as well, but the genre is most important). Then I look to see how these texts are structured, how formal the language is, what kind of structures appear (making sure that these are the structures I’d like to pull out to work on in the grammar section of the lesson) and what kind of vocabulary is in there.

I might run the texts through something like the Oxford 3000 textchecker to see what level the vocabulary is at, and think about how I could replace some of it, or use something like https://readability-score.com/ to see how complex the syntax is, which I might be able to simplify without affecting the style too much. I then use all this information to write my own text, at a more appropriate level and length, using grammar structures and vocabulary which are true to the spirit of the original sources, but which will be of use productively to the students.

Regular readers will know how I love a middle way!

I’ll be speaking about this and other tips for teachers wanting to write their own materials for the British Council Seminar Series in the next couple of weeks.

Firstly in London on 4th March. Tickets available here (free)

And then in Belfast on the 11th March, which will also be live streamed (also both free). Sign up here.

 

 

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Filed under Discourse, Exploiting authentic reading materials, Materials development, Planning, Vocabulary

Gratitude: a free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson, based around an authentic video. Research shows that feeling grateful for what we have and the people in our lives is a key factor in feeling happy. The video shows a group of people carrying out a task designed to increase their happiness in this way. It’s quite moving.

Suitable from Intermediate/B1+, the lesson starts with a short text to introduce the topic and get the students thinking about how people recognise and celebrate gratitude in their cultures. It then moves onto the video, where students watch two people visiting a friend and reading aloud a letter they have written , thanking them for what they have done. There is some focus on vocabulary, and some useful phrases that students could use themselves to say thank you. Finally, the students are asked to write their own thank you letter, which they may or may not choose to actually deliver.

Download lesson plan PDF hereELT Resourceful-Gratitude

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Filed under Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Speaking, Vocabulary, Writing

Secrets of a Long and Happy Marriage: Free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson, based around an authentic video. Selma and Kenny couldn’t be at their grandson’s wedding, so they recorded a toast- and some advice.

Suitable from PreIntermediate/A2+, the lesson starts with some discussion about marriage before students are asked to give their ‘top tips’ for a successful marriage.  They then watch the video and compare Selma and Kenny’s advice with their ideas.

The video is quite easy to follow, though the couple do talk over each other at times (there is a transcript). It’s funny and quite touching.

There is then a  focus on idioms connected with love and marriage, and then we look at some of the ways Selma and Kenny use imperatives to give advice. Students can then use this language to reformulate their original pieces of advice.

Download lesson plan PDF hereELT Resourceful – Secrets of a Long and Happy Marriage

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Filed under Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Grammar, Speaking, Vocabulary

Even more statements on lesson planning: ELT Chat summary

Photo Credit: Diego Cupolo via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Diego Cupolo via Compfight cc

The inspiration for the recent #eltchat on lesson planning came largely from  @michaelegriffin’s  post 29 statements about lesson plans. It seems that people have strong views about lesson planning, with some advocating a pure ‘jungle path’ approach (to use Jim Scrivener’s term) and others seeing benefits in planning, though not necessarily in following a plan rigidly.

The chat (05/06/13) started with two main questions posed by @shaunwilden: Is planning the same as preparedness  and do we need to plan at all?

Is planning the same as preparedness?

This thread was referring to a recent talk by Underhill and Maley at IATEFL

The summary of the talk: Teacher training has tended to focus on technical preparation, yet teachers often find themselves unprepared for the human unpredictability of real lessons. This workshop aims to open up discussion on the moment-by-moment improvisation which is at the heart of teaching, and to suggest ways of developing ‘preparedness’ for the unpredictable.

@teflerinha suggested that both preparation and preparedness were important, and @efl101 wondered if planning became preparedness with experience, and similarly @josayers commented that ‘planning some lessons moves us towards being more prepared for all lessons.’

 Is planning something newer teachers need to do more than experienced teachers?

There was certainly something of a consensus that newer teachers needed to spend longer planning. For example @ OUPELTGlobal  ‘When I was starting my career planning helped. With experience, I needed less planning.’

However, several people also felt that getting trainee teachers to plan in detail could be counter-productive. @harrisonmike commented ‘over planning can make you less prepared ‘it isn’t going as I planned PANIC’’ and that it was a problem that ‘minute by minute planning is indoctrinated in ITT.’ @Shaunwilden agreed that ‘training courses make teachers overplan to be honest ‘ and that ‘overplanning makes one less prepared and less flexible.’

On the other hand, @teflerinha pointed out that ‘planning in ITT serves a different function than planning in real life.’ ‘planning makes you think things through.’ And @shaunwilden added ‘It’s a way of showing a trainee can analyse language, has taken on board input etc.’ And @teflerinha again ‘To get teachers/trainees to think about why they are planning each stage and how it relates to the whole- and for observers to see that thinking.’

Many people felt it was a process novice teachers had to go through. For example, @OUPELTGlobal said ‘Yes, have to admit that all the planning I did helped in later years, but it didn’t feel great at the time.’ And @pjgallantry ‘you’ve got to know the ‘rules’ of a lesson, before you can bend/break them – hence why Lesson planning is important for new Ts..’

There was also a brief discussion about the value of scripting instructions. It was agreed that this can easily be taken too far (@efl101 had seen 5 hour lesson plan completely scripted), but that it could be useful for inexperienced teachers with lower levels (@harrisonmike)

@hartle said, as a very experienced teacher, ‘My plans maybe 5 lines, but still there, as a basis.’

Does writing a plan mean you have to follow it?

@jo_cummins: said ‘I always make a lesson plan. I don’t always follow it. I often don’t even look at it.’ This seemed to be an important point, that it might be the process of writing the lesson plan that was important, rather than having it as a crutch in the lesson, which might well end up going in a very different direction, in response to the students.

@shaunwilden gave an example of how aims and objectives might change, ‘e.g.you started thinking you were going to introduce language, and then on planning realise it’s more review.’

@OUPELTGlobal asked ‘@OUPELTGlobal: Does planning inhibit sts from “interrupting” the teacher? going off the plan?’

And @jo_sayers made the point that ‘predicting actual learning is much harder than we think and we are often wildly optimistic.’

@teflerinha responded ‘Totally agree, but still useful to have an idea what we’d like to achieve, and then be flexible..’

@pjgallantry added ‘you always have to factor in ‘Factor X’ into a LP – anything from Ss being unhappy over st to teacher having a screaming headache’

@TeacherAlan1 raised an important point, asking ‘Is anyone required to show their lesson plans to admin? Or require your teachers to show them to you? This might easily influence how much teachers feel they have to follow their plans.

But @michaelegriffin made the point ‘My current thought is that lesson plans only get in the way if we let them. Ss don’t feel blocked unless T blocks.’

Can students tell (or do they care) if you have a lesson plan?

@colm_smyth ‘I guess students can tell by structure of teacher’s board work, teacher’s composure and activity transition’

@michaelegriffin ‘I think teachers sense if a teacher is prepared and that may be based on having a lesson plan’

@rliberni ‘Do ss know when things are unplanned (as opposed to unstructured)? I think they probably do’

What about planning a series of lessons?

@teflerinha commented ‘What I really DON’T like is planning a series of lessons in advance, or using last year’s because can’t respond 2 what happens’

@oupeltglobal replied ‘I agree with that. Teacher should react to the students they have – different sts & different plans’

And @cioccas ‘Can’t plan far in advance when you’re constantly changing to meet changing needs in the class.’

Post lesson planning

@efl101 asked ‘how often do you analyse/review plan after lesson 2 compare what actually happened and why and what u can learn etc?

@shaunwilden answered: ‘I did in my first few years as a teacher but then sort of fell out of the habit of noting it down’  and @hartle ‘when I 1st started teaching I did a lot. Now, I analyse what happens in class more, interactions between stds, successes.’

@efl101 responded ‘same but think it would be interesting to see if there are patterns etc. but time often prevents proper reflection’

And a great point to conclude from @mstrep: ‘Good planning makes a good teacher. Ability to improvise and adaptability make a great one’.

Other useful links

@pjgallantry shared a great visual representation  of all the factors which contribute to teacher’s input, students’ input and output.

He also referred to The Secret DOS ‘s excellent recent post on lesson planning, The map is not the territory, which I won’t summarise here, but which is well worth reading.

@muranava referred us to this post by Willy Cardoso

Another relevant post is Steve Brown’s A case for anti-planning.

Dale Coulter’s post on lesson skeletons and retrospective planning 

Scott Thornbury and other luminaries on the IDTI blog  on How important is lesson planning?

And (if I may) my post ‘What’s the point of planning?’

Finally, @michaelegriffin gave us this link to Tessa Woodward’s book on planning lessons and courses, which he says ‘I did not enjoyed this book the first 3 times I looked at it but now love it’

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

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.

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Filed under Speaking, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

A good deed: Free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson, based around an authentic audio recording from Storycorps.com, where Virginia recalls a good deed her father did during the Great Depression in America.

Suitable from PreIntermediate/A2+, the lesson starts with a short text giving some background to the Depression of the 1930s, and invites students to think about parallels with the situation in some countries today and what can, or should be done by individuals and governments.

Students then listen to the audio, which is quite short and simple, listening both for gist and specific information.

There is then a  focus on narrative tenses, specifically simple past and past perfect. This could work as part of an introduction to past perfect, or as a review at higher levels. Students then try to retell Virginia’s story, using tenses appropriately, before going on to tell their own ‘good deed’ stories.

By Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Click on the photo here, or the photo of Virginia in the lesson plan, for the link to the audio.

Download lesson plan PDF hereELT Resourceful – A good deed

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Filed under Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Grammar, Listening, Speaking

Real Beauty? Free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson based around the recent Dove advertisement, showing the huge difference between women’s views of their looks and how other see them.  The lesson starts by focusing on collocations to describe facial features, such as thick hair, full lips and so on. Students then watch the video and discuss some of the issues raised, including self -esteem, the role of the media,and differences between men and women. More language to describe physical appearance is ‘pulled out’ of the video, and the lesson ends with students writing detailed descriptions of themselves.

An optional extra that might work well to lighten the class a little  is a very funny spoof video, where some men find out that they are actually much uglier than they think they are! The link is in the accompanying notes.

The lesson is suitable from B1+/Intermediate +

Download PDF here: ELT Resourceful – Real Beauty

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Filed under Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary, Writing

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.

 

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

Am I missing something?: raising awareness of ellipsis and substitution

Photo Credit: Bob.Fornal via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Bob.Fornal via Compfight cc

When students fail to understand something they read or hear, this often isn’t because they don’t understand the words being used. In fact, it may be because of the words that aren’t being used.

In both speaking and writing there is a tendency to either leave out words we think are unnecessary (ellipsis) or to use another single word in place of a longer phrase (substitution). This can cause considerable confusion for learners, especially when listening, as there is no chance to go back and try and work out the meaning.

It’s also something that teachers, as proficient speakers of English, often overlook. Not least because we find it complicated to explain, even though we may easily understand what the speaker or writer is trying to say.

Ellipsis

There are generally considered to be two different kinds of ellipsis, situational and textual.

Situational ellipsis is, unsurprisingly, where the situation or context makes the missing element clear. It’s informal and mostly used in conversation.

For example, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ can easily become ‘Tea?’ if you are waving a mug at someone, or even just sitting in the kitchen.

Textual ellipsis has more grammatical ‘rules’, and can be found in both speech and writing. It could be defined as when we omit something that has already been mentioned (so doesn’t need to be repeated), or when what is missing is clearly recoverable from the text.

E.g. I went to the bakers to get some wholemeal rolls and (I went) to the butchers for lamb chops.

Textual ellipsis is probably most commonly found in the second clause after ‘and’ or ‘but’

Reduced relative clauses and reduced adverbial clauses are also often considered to be examples of ellipsis. With these, the missing words haven’t necessarily been mentioned, but they are clearly recoverable.

E.g. The dark-haired girl (who is) standing over there just smiled at you.

When (you are) teaching ellipsis, you need to find good examples.

Substitution

The easiest way to think about substitution is to consider it as a form of ellipsis. Something is missing, but instead of just leaving it out, we substitute it with another word, usually ‘so’, ‘one(s)’, ‘do(es)’, ‘did’. [Some people have a wider definition of substitution and include things I’d put under the heading of reference]

E.g. Replacing a noun (phrase):

What kind of cupcake would you like? A chocolate one, please.

E.g. Replacing a verb phrase:

I didn’t like the film, but everyone else did (liked the film)

Note that we use substitution for verbs in the simple present or simple past. For other tenses or modals, we use ellipsis.

I don’t want to go running but I really should (go running).

Have you ever been to Paris? Yes, I have (been to Paris)

How to teach ellipsis and substitution

As with a lot of things, the first step is to raise awareness of its existence. This is something which is often dealt with in ‘advanced’ level materials. This is fair enough in terms of getting students to produce natural sounding language but this shouldn’t be the first time students have ever thought about the concept. It needs to be something that students are aware of right from the beginning.

First of all, don’t routinely ask students to produce ‘full answers’.

‘Where do you live?’ ‘I live in Brixton.’

This may neatly practice present simple, but it sounds distinctly odd. Encourage ‘short answers’ and show students how much can be achieved with the right intonation. (See ‘Tea?’ above).

At low levels, it’s worth doing some activities to focus on short answers. (E.g. Yes, I do, No, I can’t.)

For example, you could use mini whiteboards and ask students questions which require short answers. They have to write the answer which is true for them and hold it up. The advantages of mini whiteboards include the fact that that they have more processing time, they have to think individually about the correct short answer, and you can see exactly who is producing an appropriate short answer.

Alternatively, you could do this in a circle with a beanbag- the person catching the bean bag has to answer, using a short answer.

A lot of fun can be had with really pared down dialogues. Perhaps the most famous example is ‘The train to Oxford.’ As you can probably tell by the reference to smoking and the slightly cheesy storyline, this is a golden oldie. Originally written by Scott Thornbury as a piece of teacher training material:

A: Um cigarette

B: Thanks

A: Oxford

B: Yes you

A: Um that’s right student

B: Nurse you

A: Unemployed

B: Long

A: A year er married

B: Divorced

A: Really me too

B: Kids

A: One you

B: Three

A: Erm dinner

B: When

A: Tonight

B: Ah busy tomorrow

A: Lunch

B: OK where

A: Um Browns

B: Browns

A: When

B: One

A: Fine Oh Oxford

B: Already

A: Tomorrow

B: Tomorrow

A: Oh

B: Yes

A: Name

B: Sarah

A: Andrew

This, and texts like this, are usually used to work on intonation, and they’re great for that. But ‘The Train to Oxford’ is also stuffed with examples of situational ellipsis and we can focus on this by getting students to first build up the dialogue into fuller expressions. This will, of course, also help with meaning, and thus intonation, when they go back to the pared down version.

Any authentic or even semi authentic recording is also likely to be a good source of examples of ellipsis. Take a look at this extract from my latest downloadable lesson plan, Q & A, (which also has a focus on ellipsis by the way)

J: Have you ever lied to me? 

S: I probably have [], but I try not to [] even if sometimes the questions you ask me make me uncomfortable.

In any listening based lesson, after some work on comprehension, you can pull out an extract like this and get students to complete what’s missing.  Slightly harder is to ask students to find places in a text where something has been ‘taken out’ or substituted.

Alternatively, why not reverse it, and ask students to try to cut down texts? You could add an element of competition by asking students to reduce the text to as few words as possible, while still retaining the same meaning.

Ellipsis and substitution also tend to come up as testable items in Use of English type exam papers. We often see multiple choice questions such as:

Susie doesn’t like coffee but I _____.

do
like
didn’t

I can’t play the piano but Jim _____.

does
is
can

Show students some examples of these (and give them some straightforward practice). Then ask them to write their own versions. These can be personalised, about themselves or classmates, or simply as silly as possible.

Once you start using some of these activities, you, and hopefully your students, will notice ellipsis and substitution everywhere!

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Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Discourse, Grammar, Listening