Category Archives: Working with groups

More ice breakers for the ELT classroom

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For many of us it’s that time of year again when we are about to start new classes. Learning a foreign language can be stressful, so we want our students to feel at ease with each other, and with us. But how to break the ice? As a follow up to a previous post, Breaking the Ice, I’ve collected together even more ideas.

Activities for students to find out more about each other

As I mentioned in my previous post, it is important to be sensitive about these kinds of activities, because with a new class, some students may not want to share too much. One way round this is to always let them select what topics they are happy to talk about.
Perhaps the best known ice breaker in ELT is Find Someone Who (described in my previous blog post). A variation on this, which gives the students more topic control, is to give each student a card and ask them to write 5 facts about themselves that they think others in the class will probably not know. For example, my Grandfather was born in Estonia, my favourite ice cream flavour is pistachio etc. Divide the class into two teams, and then collect in the cards. Pick a card from Team A, and read out the clues, one by one. Team B try to guess the person in as few clues as possible.

Or let students choose the questions they want to answer. Start the activity by getting students to write at least two getting to know you type questions onto post it notes. For example, What is your favourite way to waste time? What are you going to do this weekend? What’s the best/worst thing about your job/school? Put all the post it notes onto the board, and let students come up and select one they would like to answer. They then stick the post it note to themselves and mingle asking and answering. Answering the same question more than once is likely to encourage fuller and more fluent answers each time, but whenever they are tired of answering the same question they can come back and choose a different question, or even write their own if nothing appeals.

Or let students find out about you instead. There are some ideas in the previous post, here, but you can also just give them, say, ten minutes, to ask anything they want to (you don’t have to answer). When the ten minutes is up, they have to write down what they found out. This gives you a good idea of how strong their listening and writing skills are.

Activities to just have fun

I would probably avoid anything too individually competitive with a new class, to avoid potential embarrassment, but co-operative activities can work extremely well to start the bonding process.

A simple activity is to give each student a piece of a jigsaw as they come into the room (you can easily make your own simple jigsaw with an image stuck onto card). Once they are seated, explain that they need to work together to complete the jigsaw. There are just two rules- all discussion must be in English, and only the person holding each piece can put it in the jigsaw. Once they have finished, you can then do something with the completed image- perhaps they write a description of the scene, or roleplay a discussion between two characters in the image.

Another fun activity is to put students into groups of about four and give each group the same newspaper (free newspapers from public transport are good for this). Then ask the students to find and give you different bits of the newspaper, which you have previously selected. For example, an advert for shampoo, an article about a new shopping centre. They should take in in turns to find the section (with help from their team-mates) and then rip it out and bring it to you. (Make sure that nothing you ask for is printed on the back of something else you listed).

Or you could try a teacherless task. All these ideas would work well with adults or upper secondary students. For further ideas try this post from Svetlana Kandybovich and Walton Burn’s new e-book, 50 activities for the first day of school.

 

 

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Filed under classroom ideas, ice-breakers, Planning, Speaking, Working with groups

In praise of praise?

How much do you praise students? Are you one of those teachers who automatically responds ‘good’ to any utterance, even if it’s actually hopelessly wrong or impossible to follow? Or do you believe in only praising very infrequently if at all, so that any praise is really valued? Probably, like me, you’re somewhere in the middle.

But have you actually made conscious decisions about how much praise to give, what kind of praise to give and when?

Most people are aware that praise which is perceived as not really having been earned, could have a negative effect.  If it’s just a reflex, students will cease to really listen to it. There is also some evidence that  too much praise can ‘convey a message of low expectations’ for low achievers, and even make stronger students less willing to take risks

So praise does have to be genuine, and it’s also important to think about what and how we praise. General praise (e.g. good job, well done) is, according to many researchers (Brophy, 1981; Gable et al. 2009; Hattie & Timperley 2007; Kalis, Vannest, & Parker 2007; Lannie, & McCurdy, 2007; Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2005- cited in Burnett and Mandel) not very effective. That makes sense to me because I think we all need to know what exactly we have done well, if we are to learn from the praise.

Most researchers agree that praise aimed at the students’ work is likely to be more effective than praise aimed at the student’s ability. So, saying ‘you are very good at spelling’ is not as effective as saying, ‘You worked hard and learnt all ten spellings really well,’  One reason for this is because students may come to believe that they cannot change what they are naturally good (or not good) at. It also means that those students who are not naturally good at something are unlikely to receive much praise, which is demotivating. (That said, if a student is actually very capable but lacks self-confidence, it can be helpful to praise their ability.)

The important thing, I would suggest, is that praise is specific, and a form of feedback, rather than a way of being ‘nice’.  Geoff Petty, a UK based teacher trainer in mainstream education (not ELT) talks about ‘medal and mission’ feedback.

A ‘medal’ is specific information about what a student has done well. So, in a writing task, for example, you might say ‘You have a very clear introduction and conclusion.’. A ‘mission’  is a specific piece of feedback about something that the student needs to improve. For example, ‘you need to make sure that each paragraph has one main idea’

There is, of course, much more to ‘medal and mission’ than just praise, but thinking of praise in terms of medals for specific achievements is helpful I think.

However, and it’s a big however, some researchers have found that praise of any sort can have at best a neutral effect, and at worst a negative effect.  Various pieces of research quoted in this article concluded that praise had very little positive effect and Skipper and Douglas found that praising ability actually had a negative effect (while praising effort had no effect at all).

My gut feeling and experience (as a learner and teacher) still tells me that specific and carefully thought out praise does have a positive effect on most students. So, what do you think? Is it different for different students? Does it make a difference what kind of praise it is, or when or how it is given? Comments very welcome.

 

Further reading

http://www.learningspy.co.uk/behaviour/praise-counterproductive/

http://geoffpetty.com/for-teachers/feedback-and-questions/

http://www.interventioncentral.org/behavioral-interventions/motivation/teacher-praise-efficient-tool-motivate-students

 

 

 

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Filed under motivation, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

A favourite speaking activity

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© 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.

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Motivation

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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&gt; via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

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Breaking the ice: a collection of getting to know you activities

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Click here to go to my latest blog post for the British Council Teaching English site, with lots of getting to know you activities for new classes, or more established ones.

 

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Supporting ELT or ESOL students with Aspergers

The video is designed to show us what it’s like to live with sensory over-sensitivity. Not everyone on the autistic spectrum will experience this to this degree, or even at all, but it does give a sobering insight into the difficulties that some people face.

It is estimated that about 1 in a 100 people are on the autistic spectrum so the chances are very good that some of your students are, whether you, or even they know it or not.  In fact, because it’s a spectrum we are actually ALL on the autistic spectrum, it’s just a question of how pronounced those features are.

If you work with people with more severe forms of autism you probably already know plenty about how to support them , but many, often highly intelligent, people have traits of ASD without ever realising it. What they do realise is that life, and by extension learning in a classroom setting, is just that bit harder for them.

I’m by no means an expert on all of this, but since my son was diagnosed a few years back, my awareness has grown significantly and I realise how under-prepared/informed I think many language teachers are (me included).  Looking back, I can remember quite a few students that I would now recognise as probably having been on the autistic spectrum, and I now know that there are a lot of things I could have handled differently and more successfully.

There are three main areas where people with Aspergers or high functioning autism (not the same thing, technically, but similar) have difficulty :

Social communication

  • Being very literal. They may have difficulty in understanding jokes, metaphor or sarcasm. Generally speaking, these are things that most foreign language learners have problems with in a second language, but if you have Aspergers, you may also feel like that in your first language.
  • It can be hard for them to tell if someone is affectionately teasing, or being nasty, partly because of the being literal, but also because they may find it hard to read facial expressions of tone of voice.
  • Turn-taking and spotting when someone has lost interest can also cause difficulties.

So, if you have a student who easily takes offence or gets upset, for example, it might be worth considering whether what was said might have been mis-interpreted in this way. You could also try being more careful in your use of metaphor etc.

Turn-taking skills can be taught and practised- and most students can benefit from this, so no need to single anyone out. You could try some of the ideas in Jill Hadfield’s excellent book, Classroom Dynamics, such as passing round a ball of wool so that you can see the pattern of interaction in wool at the end of a conversation, or allowing the person to simply listen and take notes before feedback to the whole class at the end.

Social interaction

  • Many people with Aspergers have difficulty in starting conversations or interactions with others, or in sustaining them by asking questions.
  • They may find others unpredictable and confusing, leading to withdrawing and preferring to work alone.

I think as a language teacher, we need to respect that some students, whether with ASD or not, may sometimes prefer to work alone.  People on the spectrum can often be very sensitive to noise as well, and this combined with the unpredictability of others’ behaviour can be absolutely exhausting. So, despite what you may have learned on your CELTA course😉 , don’t force people to work with others.

When you do ask them to work in pairs or groups, think about how you can structure the task to make it more predictable and less overwhelming. For example, getting the group to make a list of five points, or ranking things in order of preference etc makes the task more concrete and manageable. It’s also good for everyone else, and having a clear outcome tends to produce a better quality of interaction.

Make sure that your instructions are absolutely crystal clear, and only give one instruction at a time. Again, this is useful for everyone, but people with ASD can find it particularly difficult to hold more than one instruction in their head at a time.

Because the world can be confusing and overwhelming, people with ASD often like to stick to routines. Again, this is generally good practice with all classes, especially young learners, but you might like to remember that changing the routine radically might have a negative impact on someone on the spectrum.

Social imagination

  • This is sometimes characterised as lack of empathy, but I think that’s not a very useful way of putting it as, in my limited experience, people with Aspergers definitely do feel for others, they’re just not always very good at imagining how others might feel.

So role-play type activities might cause problems for some students, as this involves imagining yourself in another person’s position. This certainly isn’t true of everyone with Asperger’s, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for such difficulties, and having an alternative up your sleeve.

A couple of other points

People with Aspergers often have what are known as special interests- subjects they are fascinated by and love to talk about. While you need to set up a clear structure- as otherwise they may find it hard to judge when they have lost their classmate’s interest- allowing a bit of space for the to talk about these subjects can also be rewarding, and gives these students a chance to show off their knowledge on the area.

As mentioned before, people with Aspergers may find noise difficult, so a calm atmosphere really helps.  They may also have other sensory difficulties with things such as bright lights. Obviously you don’t want to make the whole class work in silence, but it’s worth being aware that a student might be finding the atmosphere stressful so that you can change it or give them options.

Obviously if any of this is ringing bells with you in regard to a particular student I am NOT suggesting that you should be rushing in to offer a diagnosis! But you could try some of the tips and see if they have a positive effect. If nothing else, it might help you to empathise more with the student.

As I said at the beginning, I am certainly not an expert, so if anyone would like to offer any further ideas or corrections in the comments, that would be very welcome.

Links

http://www.autism.org.uk/

http://www.autism.org.uk/working-with/education/education-professionals-in-fe-and-he/guidelines-for-teaching-students-with-asperger-syndrome-in-further-education-colleges.aspx

 

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Motivating students, staying motivated as a teacher and other things

Thin on the ground?

Thin on the ground?

As you may have noticed, my posts have been a little thin on the ground lately. I’m planning to remedy this when the project I’m working on slows down enough for me to catch my breath!

In the meantime, here are some posts I’ve written for my British Council blog:

Staying motivated and avoiding burnout as a teacher

Motivating students to write

Thoughts on using a coursebook

An activity I use again and again

I also thoroughly recommend checking out the other blogs in the series. There are some great posts by Lizzie Pinard, Larry Ferlazzo, Sandy Millin, Ceri Jones and many many more..

 

 

 

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