Category Archives: Uncategorized

What mindfulness is, and is not.

iguana-1700697_1920

My recent post about Mindfulness and Classroom Management perhaps made too many assumptions about the concept of Mindfulness. So, while it isn’t precisely ELT related, I wanted to clarify a little what I think Mindfulness is (and what it isn’t).

The video that sparked my last post, has also inspired others to blog about it. One post I read, Mindfulness?, suggests that mindfulness is being used to quieten students rather than deal with the causes of their disruptive behaviour, and that it is being used to control workers and make them less likely to complain about poor conditions. I think it is a common misperception that mindfulness is about drifting away from life in some way but, in fact, being mindful is about being super aware and awake.  This is both being aware of what is happening around you, and aware of what is happening inside you. So it’s the very opposite of shutting down and shutting up.

There is part of all of us that actively almost ‘enjoys’ getting stressed, upset, angry, fearful etc. It’s that inner voice that tells us that we aren’t good enough, or that other people will reject us and so on. The psychologist, Ronald Fairbairn called it the ‘internal saboteur’, and it’s also sometimes referred to as the ‘lizard brain’- that ancient part of the brain that is still reacting in very primitive ways to any sense of threat. It’s the lizard brain that takes over when we experience road rage, for example.

Many people do not realise that while we can’t control our negative feelings (and shouldn’t try) we do have a choice about how we respond to them. We can’t help feeling angry, but we can choose not to identify with that feeling, and instead just be fully aware of it. We don’t have to let the lizard brain take over.

This doesn’t mean that we put up with injustice, but that we don’t act from the place of fear, anger etc. On a practical level, we are likely to be much more effective if we can step back from the emotions before we decide how to act or respond. So the kids who meditate rather than have detention (mentioned in my post Mindfulness and Classroom Management) are less likely to let their anger or frustration spiral out of control. And, in the workplace, more mindful employees are probably less likely to put up with poor conditions because instead of simply feeling like angry victims, they will become more aware of their feelings and realise that they need to make changes to feel at peace. (Though it is entirely possible that the big companies encouraging mindfulness don’t anticipate this outcome!)

As well as having a choice about how we respond, we also have a choice about whether we set ourselves up in situations that we know will trigger negative feelings. For example, I have a bad habit of not leaving myself enough time to go places. If I am not mindful, I end up rushing around stressed out of my head, gathering up my stuff and running for the train. And my internal saboteur LOVES that because it provides all sorts of opportunities to confirm deeply held beliefs about how useless and disorganised I am. If I am mindful, I can choose not to put myself in this situation. And the same thing goes for planning ahead for classes.

Mindfulness is a cline. Some people are completely sleepwalking through life. They have no idea that there is any other choice than to be buffeted about by their emotions. Their lizard brain controls them completely and they don’t even realise that there is another way of being.

At the other end of the cline are those who are completely awake at all times. They are conscious of their reactions and any negative emotions that arise, but they identify themselves with the part of the mind that is observing the reaction. Often this is a result of years of meditation and mindfulness practice, though sometimes people just spontaneously ‘wake up’, often as a result of great trauma.

And the rest of us are somewhere in the middle. And that’s fine. Every single time that we manage to be mindful, rather than being led by the nose by our lizard brain, we move along the cline. The more we do it, the easier it becomes.

So, in fact, something as simple as reading a book or article, or going on a day’s workshop can make a massive difference to our lives (and by extension our teaching). It can wake us up to the possibility that we don’t have to be a slave to our negative emotions, if we’ve never even considered that, and it can help us to remember to be mindful more often if we are aware but frequently forget.

And so, while the corporate world may well be trying to take advantage of the mindfulness movement, encouraging more mindfulness can, I think, only ever be a good thing overall.

Related posts:

Mindfulness for Teachers

Mindfulness for Students (with no tibetan bells or yoga)

If you’re interested in mindfulness, check out my new website, www.life-resourceful.com

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A favourite speaking activity

875991_ecd2906a

© Copyright Zorba the Geek and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

A link to my latest British Council blog, with one of my favourite speaking activities. It’s a favourite because a) it’s really flexible and can be done with any level and at any stage of the course (though it works particularly well for a first lesson or a cover lesson), b) it takes very little or even no preparation if you’re good at thinking on your feet, and c) students always enjoy it.

Leave a Comment

Filed under classroom ideas, Speaking, Uncategorized, Working with groups

All about writing activities

This week has been all about writing activities, with a webinar for British Council Teaching English, and the publication of my ebook for English Language Teacher 2 Writer, on How to Write Writing Activities.

HTWWA

http://www.eltteacher2writer.co.uk/how-write-writing-activities

As part of publicising the webinar, the British Council shared an old post, about Process Writing, which, to be honest, I’d even forgotten I’d written. And, there’s some good stuff in there, if I do say so myself.

So, as it’s a writing activities week, I thought I’d round up all the old posts on writing and put them in one place.

Real World Writing Activities

Using a Genre Approach to Writing

Process Writing: Mixing it Up

Collaborative Writing Activities

Just Write: Short, Inspiring Activities to get Students Writing

Responding to Students’ Writing

 

3 Comments

Filed under classroom ideas, Materials development, Uncategorized, Writing

Motivation

5799251814_a337b57f19_b

How can we motivate our students, and ourselves? In my latest blog post for British Council Teaching English, I look at what motivates me, and how that might relate to more general theories of motivation.

Read the post here.

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/23743320@N03/5799251814/”>Sangudo</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

Leave a Comment

Filed under motivation, Uncategorized, Working with groups

What are reading skills? –They’re not (only) what you think

3821103201_941f81afab_b

Enter a caption

When we talk about reading skills, what usually comes to mind? Prediction, reading for gist, reading for specific information and skimming and scanning?

If you’ll forgive the clickbait style title of this post (I couldn’t resist), the fact is that there’s a lot more to the skill of reading than this.

Let’s start by looking at these commonly referred to skills, and then look at what else we could (and should) be teaching our students.

Prediction

Students are very often encouraged to use the title of the text, or any accompanying pictures to make predictions about the content. There are good reasons for teaching students to do this; the idea is to activate whatever students may already know about the topic and help them to start creating a context. Without context, comprehension is much harder. Think about those moments when you turn on the radio and have no idea for a few moments what is being discussed. It only starts to make sense once you realise what the basic topic is.

Reading for gist

This doesn’t mean telling the students , ‘read the text to get a general idea of what it’s about’. That is never a very helpful task because it doesn’t give the students any reason to read, or any orientation to the topic or context. A gist question should mean that the students have to read the whole text, though not necessarily very thoroughly, in order to answer the question. For example, students might choose which title or picture most closely matches the content of the text. The idea is for students to get an overview of the text, which can help them when they return to the text to find more detailed information.

Reading for specific information

In contrast, reading for specific information means setting questions or a task which require the students to read the text much more carefully. This isn’t really a skill so much as a way of testing comprehension.

Skimming and scanning

These two words sound nice together, and make a memorable pair, but most people are a little vague about what they actually mean. Skimming has some crossover with reading for gist, because they are both about getting an overview. However, I would suggest that skimming and scanning are more properly called strategies rather than skills. They were originally both methods of speed reading. Skimming strategies are often taught as part of EAP (English for Academic Purposes) because these students have to read a great deal of content in English. So students may be taught, for example, to read just the first line of every paragraph, as this is often the topic sentence, which contains the main idea of the paragraph.

Scanning is a way of reading text quickly by only looking for specific bits of information, and not reading everything. For example, looking at the index or contents page of a book to find a specific topic you’re interested in, or picking out the figures in a text to see what the results of a piece of research were.  Again, this strategy can be particularly useful in academic contexts.

Understanding that we read different texts in different ways, using different strategies, is very important for learners. The way we read a novel on the beach is very different from the way we read a legal contract. We probably read the novel much faster, with more of a skimming/gist approach, whereas we are likely to read the contract carefully and slowly, checking that we understand the details. Students reading in a second language often fail to transfer these different ways of reading across from their first language.

Teaching reading skills

However, while looking at different ways of reading, and different reasons for reading,  is important, to what extent are these traditional reading activities actually helping students to read more effectively or fluently? Aren’t we mostly just giving them practice and/or checking their comprehension?

A reading lesson usually goes something like this:

  1. Set the scene/pre-teach vocab/elicit predictions.
  2. Read for gist (hopefully by setting a suitable gist question)
  3. Read again to answer for detailed comprehension questions.
  4. Discuss the content/focus on language in the text.

By encouraging students to predict and to read for gist first, we are perhaps helping them to develop their top-down skills- using context and their previous knowledge to make sense of what they are reading. However, there is a lot more to the reading skill than this.

According to Grabe and Stoller (2011:23) in each and every two seconds of reading fluent readers:

‘1 focus on and access 8-10 word meanings

2 parse a clause for information and form a meaning unit

3 figure out how to connect a new meaning unit into the growing text model

4 check interpretation of the information according to their purposes, feelings, attitudes and background expectations as needed

5 monitor their comprehension, make appropriate inferences, shift strategies and repair misunderstanding, as needed.

6 resolve ambiguities, address difficulties and critique text information, as needed.’

Fluent reading means that readers must be able to carry out all of these reading comprehension processes simultaneously and very quickly.  Just like driving a car, some of the processes taking place simultaneously must be automatized. If the reader is struggling to decode the words, or understand how the words fit into the sentence, or how the sentence fits into the discourse as a whole, their working memory will become overloaded, and they won’t be able to hold onto the overall meaning of the text.

So helping students to develop their reading skills must, I believe, include specific and conscious work on bottom up or decoding skills as well as top down skills, such as predicting.

Decoding skills

Whereas top down skills start from the reader and what the reader already knows or understands, bottom up or decoding skills start from the text. At the lowest level, students need to recognise alphabetic letters and then the words formed from these letters. Clearly, recognising and understanding written words is a key part of reading, even though we would usually deal with it under the heading of vocabulary. According to Paul Nation, in order to understand a written text without any assistance, students need to comprehend 98% of the words. So, if we want to work on developing reading skills (rather than using the text as a way of introducing new language) it is important that students aren’t getting stuck on too many unknown words.

Assuming that students recognise and understand enough of the vocabulary, the next layer of difficulty comes in putting those words together, understanding sentences, how those sentences fit together, and how what we are reading links with what we’ve already read. This is an area where there is huge potential to help students, and yet, outside academic reading courses, it is rarely a focus.

This is why I was so excited to work on Oxford University Press’s new series, Navigate. In this series, there is a clear syllabus and focus on these kinds of decoding skills. At lower levels, this might be understanding conjunctions or pronoun reference. At higher levels, we also focus on understanding complex sentences, ellipsis, paraphrasing and so on.

If we don’t focus on these kinds of skills, we are only teaching students part of what they need to know in order to improve their reading skills, and most of our focus is on testing comprehension rather than teaching.

Other posts on reading:

Learning vocabulary through reading

A lesson from my great-grandfather’s ELT coursebook- extensive reading and vocabulary

Developing meaning-building skills in reading

Repeated reading- some activities to build reading fluency

Listening while reading: can it actually help develop reading skills?

What kind of reading tasks might be worthwhile?

Creating effective reading tasks

Should we pre-teach vocabulary before reading, and if so how?

 

 

 

 

 

18 Comments

Filed under classroom ideas, Materials development, Reading, Teaching methodology, Uncategorized

What’s new in ELT Materials?

E489-Eltons-2015-400x260-Web-Banner-FINAL_v2_0

The cynical will say that there is nothing new in ELT materials, and they would have a point. After all, there is nothing new under the sun. However, I think there are some definite trends, and new takes on old ideas, and plenty of inspiration to be found in the nominees for this year’s British Council ELTons awards. Read about five new (or nearly new) ideas in ELT materials here, my new post for the Voices blog.

And here is the full list of nominees: http://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/eltons

The Awards Ceremony is being live streamed on Thursday night,  https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/watch-eltons-awards-ceremony-live-online-–-thursday-4-june-1815-2015-bst so if you can’t make it, join the fun from afar.

I will also be the official live-blogger for the event. As @muranava commented, may the wifi Gods be with me!

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Decoding skills for listening: a collection of useful links

About two and a half years ago I wrote a blog post entitled, Decoding skills: a neglected part of listening comprehension? In the time since then it seems that many of us have stopped neglecting those poor decoding skills, and that an interest in how decoding can help develop both listening and reading skills is on the rise.

A recent question posed by Mike Harrison on the IATEFL Facebook page about developing (rather than testing) listening skills led to a flurry of useful links in the comments, which I list below:

A presentation by John Field on Rethinking the Comprehension Approach to Listening

A summary of Sandy Millin’s 2014 presentation at IATEFL on teaching rather than testing listening

Olga Sergeeva’s blog on using authentic video clips to focus on bottom up skills.

A series of Listening Skills books written by Sheila Thorn (which I have mentioned before but which have now been re-published by Collins)

Hancock and McDonald’s forthcoming Authentic Listening Resource pack, which looks great.

Richard Cauldwell’s innovative app Cool Speech

And last, but not least, I can now reveal (drum roll), that I have spent the last eighteen months working on a new adult coursebook series for OUP, Navigate, which has a spread in each unit focusing  on decoding activities to develop listening and reading skills. Here’s a short video of me talking about the theory behind a listening skills lesson I gave in Oxford over the summer.

You can also see a fuller version of the lesson and download the materials and lesson plan here.

It’s great to see so much happening in this area, and I’d be very happy to add any other links that people have- just comment below.

 

19 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Everything you (n)ever wanted to know about me: in response to Marisa Constantinides’ tag challenge

Yesterday, Marisa tagged me and threw down a gauntlet http://marisaconstantinides.edublogs.org/2013/12/16/in-response-to-doug-peterson/#.Uq8PMPRdXmc.

I do like gauntlets…

Photo Credit: byJoeLodge via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: byJoeLodge via Compfight cc

My task is to

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

So, here goes.

Eleven random facts

1 I was all set to (try and ) become a theatre director before I took a year out to teach abroad. My first degree was in English and Drama.

2 I’m currently training to teach T’ai Chi. This is mainly for my own self-development, but, hey, who knows what the future holds?

3 In common with Marisa, I am also a fanatic buyer of shoes (ask my husband who can’t understand why I need more than two pairs).

4 I hate going underwater, or even getting my face wet. As a result, I look ridiculous when swimming and end up with a stiff neck. Would rather sit in the jacuzzi anyway.

5 I was once interviewed in Polish, for Polish TV, about a new Young Learners’ teacher training course we were running. I never saw the film, for which I am very grateful as my Polish is extremely rudimentary and the interview probably went something like this, ‘Yes, is very hard children to teach. yes, very difficult. Yes, we help..er…’

6 I used to live in Portugal and Brazil and my Portuguese is a lot better than my Polish (not that that’s saying much)

7 I am great at Trivial Pursuit- think it’s reading and writing all those coursebooks!

8 I love going to Polish restaurants and eating barscz, pierogie ruskie, golabki etc. Luckily for me, they’re getting easier to find in the UK.

9 When I was 19 I went inter-railing with friends all round Europe. We were going to go to the Netherlands as our last stop, but in the end were just too tired/dirty/impoverished. We agreed to go back there soon. I never have.

10 I used to play the clarinet at school, and now my daughter does (and she practises about as much as I did, which is to say not much at all)

11 Probably the most beautiful place I have ever been is Chapada dos Veadeiros in Brazil. Google it. It’s stunning.

Eleven questions asked by Marisa

1 How long does it usually take you to draft and finalise a blog post?

Anything between half a day and a day, though I might have been thinking about it for a while. This is why I haven’t done too many lately, as I’ve been super busy.

2 Which ICT tools do you actually use with your classes?

I am not a technophobe, but I’m also pretty limited in what I can use. Plus I only teach sporadically at the moment. I’m not even sure what Marisa means by ‘ICT tools’ ! I use the IWB of course, and some other stuff like Vocaroo and Textivate…but not a lot is the honest answer.

3 What is your absolute dream job?

I’m lucky enough to be able to say that I have it. I love writing materials and having the flexibility to manage my own time. I also do a bit of teaching, which I enjoy- and, best of all, because it’s cover teaching mostly, I HAVE NO PAPERWORK..

4 Which classroom activity do you absolutely enjoy using with your students? One is all I need.

That’s hard, because there are lots of favourites. I’ll say dictogloss and dictation because there are so many variations and such a sense of achievement.

5 How many of your current friendships were started through a social network?

Can’t put a figure on it, but a surprising amount considering how sceptical I used to be about that kind of thing.

6 Which household chore do you hate the most and which do you love the best?

I hate them all- unless you count cooking which I do enjoy.

7 Name your 10 desert island discs.

Oh! Impossible. Or at least likely to take me days of agonising.. Many will come under the heading of 80s/90s indie though, that’s all I’ll say.

8 Do you wish you had studied something other than what you did study? Do say what, if the answer is yes.

No regrets. But I did also study to become a Rogerian counsellor, and, while I don’t want to give up the day job, I am definitely fascinated by psychology and people in general.

9 Describe the naughtiest thing you have ever done – within reason, of course

Hmm. Within reason. I did once sneak onto the set of Coronation Street when IATEFL was held nearby in Manchester. Got told off by a security guard. Wild child.

10 What artistic aspirations or skills do you have?

That would be the drama degree again. Certainly not any good at painting or drawing, though my cake decorating skills aren’t too bad.

11 Which TV series or film do you keep watching again and again?

I have watched the entire five seasons of Six Feet Under twice, and can feel another go through coming on…

11 Bloggers tagged in this post

I’ve chosen 11 bloggers whose blogs I particularly admire (and who Marisa didn’t bagsie first!). Of course, there are undoubtedly others that I will kick myself for not including. Of course the bloggers may or may not take up the challenge, but I’d recommend clicking on their names and taking a look at their blogs anyway.

@shetlandesol

@cgoodey

@josetteLB

@michaelegriffin

@avafruin

@kevchanwow

@sophiakhan4

@sandymillin

@leoselivan

@nicolaprentis

@yearinthelifeof

My 11 questions for them

1 Why did you start blogging and how has differed from your expectations?

2 What’s your earliest childhood memory?

3 Tell us about someone you admire, and say why.

4 What was the last book you read and what did you think of it?

5 Do you prefer walking or running? Why?

6 What was your first paid job?

7 What five famous people would you invite to a dinner party, and why?

8 What’s the first website you check/go on each day? Why?

9 What can you remember about the first class you ever taught?

10 Flowers or chocolates?

11 How do you feel about reality TV shows?

 

 

19 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Try something new for 30 days : Free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson, based around a short TED talk by Matt Cutts on how carrying out 30 day challenges helped him to improve his life.

Suitable from PreIntermediate/A2+, the lesson starts with a quick review of present perfect for experience: Have you ever + past participle?

Students then watch the video (3 minutes), which is quite simply and clearly expressed, looking at what challenges Matt carried out, and the impact these challenges had on his life.

There is a focus on some idiomatic language, and then the lesson concludes by asking students to think of some challenges they’d like to do themselves (and that they’d like to set for the teacher!)

Download PDF here: ELT Resourceful – Try something new for 30 days

10 Comments

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