My latest lesson plan for the British Council Teaching English site looks at the benefits of being bilingual or multilingual, and a few myths, hoping to encourage students to value the languages they speak.
The lesson begins with a few statements about bilingualism. The students decide if these are true or false and then read a text to check their ideas. Having discussed the topic of the text, the students move on to look at impersonal report structures. These are very common in essays, articles and more academic-type writing, and it is useful for students at this level to be aware of them and to be able to produce them accurately.
After some practice with these structures, the lesson ends with a more light-hearted and personalised practice activity.
To raise awareness of the benefits of speaking more than one language
To enable students to recognise and use impersonal report structures
To provide students with practice in making predictions and reading to confirm them
Adults or older teenagers with CEF level B2 and above
The lesson and student worksheet (3 pages) can be downloaded here.
A couple of weeks ago I received a comment on the blog from a teacher who asked me to write a post about speaking skills. This is what she said:
‘The other day I was asked to observe some students doing a short peer teaching session. They were supposed to “teach a speaking skill”. Each group decided to do a group discussion activity. When I asked them what speaking skill they had tried to focus on, they were really puzzled; in fact, they had no idea what I was getting at. They said their aim was ‘fluency’. But to me it’s a very generic skill. How do you teach ‘fluency’? What is ‘fluency”, anyway? I assume it’s a culmination of numerous sub-skills. So, what could these micro-skills be?’’
I realised that she was absolutely right. In the same way that we often try to develop listening skills by practising listening, developing speaking skills is often just seen as giving students an opportunity to speak.
Practice is important of course, but, as the teacher asked, what are the microskills involved in speaking?
First of all, we need to identify what exactly we mean by speaking. Brown and Yule (1983) distinguish between primarily interactional (conversation) and primarily transactional (transmitting information) functions of speaking. Jack Richards has added a third broad function- talk as performance- which would include such things as presentations and speeches.
Each of these three types of speaking could be more or less formal, depending on the context of the talk, who is taking part in the talk and the power relations between them.
So, when teaching speaking, one of the key things that we need to do is to identify what kind of speech we are hoping students will produce, how formal it is likely to be and what kind of exponents* it might be useful to teach them.
Coursebooks often have ‘Useful Language/Phrases’ boxes with sets of functional exponents for students to use in a speaking task. Teaching these sets of phrases is helpful in developing fluency because as we start to use these chunks of language automatically we are able to use them as what Scott Thornbury describes as ‘islands of reliability’. We can skip from one automatized phrase to the next, filling in the gaps with our own ideas and language.
Depending on the needs of your students there are literally dozens of different functions that you could focus on. More interactional functions might include expressing likes and dislikes, comparing, agreeing and disagreeing, giving your opinion, expressing surprise. More transactional functions might include asking for directions, ordering food in a restaurant or checking into a hotel. Performance related functions could include summarising what you are going to say, or what you have said, moving onto the next section of your talk, giving an example to support your argument etc.
I would argue that teaching these chunks is very much part of teaching the speaking skill. However, we should also be looking at teaching communication skills, which may or may not involve using relatively fixed chunks of language.
For example, to have a conversation with one or more other people students will need to be able to:
Decide whether they need to use more casual or more formal language.
Be able to join in the conversation, which may include interrupting without seeming rude. We can teach interrupting phrases, but we also need to teach them how to use them appropriately and with the right intonation.
Be able to back-channel- nodding, making supportive noises and also using short words such as Really? or question tags, e.g. Did you?
Check that they have been understood, using such phrases as ‘Do you see what I mean?’ ‘Do you follow me?’
Rephrase if they haven’t been understood.
Check they understand. E.g. ‘I’m not quite sure if I understood that correctly. Did you mean…?’
Change the topic politely and at the right moment.
Take a balanced role in the conversation- not hogging, and not saying too little.
Use politeness strategies appropriately, such as hedging (see post here), being indirect, apologising and so on.
Students will not necessarily be able to transfer these strategies from their first language, partly because the rules of engagement may be different, and partly because they are too occupied with speaking accurately, or with making a good point. Therefore we need to focus explicitly on them, and they are, in my opinion, also a key part of teaching the speaking skill.
To summarise, I don’t think we can ever say that we are ‘teaching fluency’. Instead we need to drill down a bit more and ask ourselves the following questions:
What kind of speaking are we teaching?
What are the learners trying to achieve? (build a relationship, get a nice meal?)
What are some useful phrases for this kind of speaking?
What degree of formality is likely to be appropriate?
What impact will intonation have and what kind of intonation might be appropriate?
How will the students be interacting with each other and what might they need to know, do or say to make the communication work smoothly?
*An exponent is a piece of language used to perform a language function. For example:
Give me the salt
Pass me the salt, please.
Could you pass me the salt, please?
I wonder if you could possibly pass the salt?
All these exponents have the same function- getting someone to pass the salt- but they obviously vary in terms of formality and when you could use them without causing offence. Intonation would also play an important role.
How can we continue to challenge ourselves and grow as teachers? In my latest post for the British Council Teaching English site, I suggest ten questions that could help you climb above the teaching plateau.
Another lesson plan designed for the British Council Teaching English site, this lesson, aimed at higher level learners (C1+) explores what it is like to be left handed – the advantages, the disadvantages and the prejudices left-handed people may face.
The lesson begins with an optional video, and then leads into a reading text in the style of an online article. Students carry out two exam-style tasks – matching summaries to paragraphs and identifying if statements about the text are true or false.
After some discussion of the content of the text, students focus on grammar showcased in the article – relative clauses, reduced relative clauses and present participle clauses. This should review what students already know and add a little more to their understanding of the area.
If time, students can then go on to write about another group who often experience prejudice, using relative clauses where appropriate.
Raise awareness of the issues related to being left-handed, and consider prejudice in general
Develop the skills of reading for gist (multiple matching) and specific info (true/false)
Encourage students to justify/back up their answers to true/false questions.
Review defining and non-defining relative clauses and look at reduced relative clauses and clauses using present participles instead of a relative clause.
Develop listening skills though an optional video lead-in
Develop writing skills and practice using relative clauses accurately and appropriately thought an optional writing activity.
A free lesson plan, which I wrote for the British Council Teaching English Teens page.
This lesson begins by focusing on some anti-smoking posters with students discussing the message and effectiveness of each one. They then learn some vocabulary to talk about four key reasons not to smoke: (health, cost, the impact on your attractiveness, and the impact on others). Students then choose one of these reasons and write a paragraph about it, using the vocabulary as appropriate.
As an optional final activity, the students design their own anti- smoking poster and present it to another pair or to the class.
Click here for the lesson plan and student’s worksheet.
Raise awareness of the many reasons not to smoke, or to give up smoking.
Extend students’ vocabulary to talk about health risks and other issues connected with smoking. E.g. bad breath, anxiety, blood pressure.
Develop students’ writing skills through writing a paragraph (using vocabulary) about one negative aspect of smoking.
Encourage peer feedback and correction on writing.
As an optional final task, develop students’ oral fluency as well as their ability to work together to design a poster and present it to their peers
Maybe you’ve noticed, maybe you haven’t, but recently a lot of initiatives that aim to raise awareness of gender equality, and to celebrate women have been popping up. I’m excited by this, and to show my support I’m hosting my first ever guest post, from Claire Venables. Claire has been in ELT since 2001. After a decade in Europe she moved to Brazil where she is involved in the creation of EFL programmes for young learners and training for teachers. She is also a founding member of the Voices SIG, which promotes gender equality and career development for women in ELT. Her guest post is below:
Recently CUP released survey results for the question “Who would you invite for dinner?” These were the results:
Now, while I agree that a night out with any of these people would be fascinating, I am surprised that only 1 of the 5 people in this lineup is a woman. Once again, we have to ask the question, ‘Where are the women in ELT?‘ Why don’t they come to our minds when we are asked questions like these? We can — and we must — do better than this at keeping women’s profiles as visible as the men’s.
I’ve been able to come up with my own top 5 list of recent initiatives which celebrate and support women in ELT!
The Fair List began in 2012. Since then, they have been celebrating the achievement of gender balance in plenary speakers, presenters or speaker panels at ELT events in the UK. The website also offers a range of resources for women, such as mentoring, videos and tips for women wanting to become speakers.
In 2015, English Australia started an initiative called ‘The Women in Leadership’, as a way to encourage discussion about women who work in leadership roles in the ELICOS (Australia’s English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) sector. The program has continued to grow and this year they are offering another round of webinars with influential female leaders from the area. On their website, you’ll find slides, recordings and interviews from previous events, on topics like personal branding, work-life balance, and assertive communication. There is also an opportunity to become a speaker at one of their events, so what are you waiting for?
The Women in ELT facebook group was started in December of 2016. In just a few months this closed women’s group has gained over 800 members. It was started with the objective of offering a space where women can feel comfortable to share, support and exchange ideas and opinions with each other. If this sounds like a group that you’d like to participate in, you can find them here.
Voices SIG, which is part of Brazil’s English teachers’ association BRAZ-TESOL, was launched on April 1st of this year. It’s the first Special Interest Group promoting gender equality in ELT and, in a country where violence and discrimination against women is so high, this is a big step in the right direction. The group works to provide opportunities, training and networking to help women develop their careers in any direction they choose. If you would like to join them or even start your own local SIG, you can contact them via their facebook page.
Coming up in May this year, there will be a mini-conference where Nicola Prentis will give a talk which looks like a first in ELT. It maps the history of the industry from the point of view of the women who shaped it. The event is called ‘Celebrating Women in ELT: Reflect, empower, act’ and is on May 5th, the day before Innovate ELT in Barcelona. Places are limited, tickets cost 60€ and include a discount on the main conference entry. Follow the links for more information and how to buy.
The contribution that women have made, and continue to make, to ELT is something we can all celebrate. I hope more initiatives like these ones appear and inspire the next wave of women in ELT to take that jump and change their own futures and the future of our industry.
I’m an advocate for CELTA. It isn’t perfect, and you certainly can’t consider the job finished when you pass, but in my experience it’s an excellent way to pick up a lot of skills quickly.
The intensive course is just that- intensive. In fact, I once had a trainee who’d been in the SAS, who said CELTA was harder. But whether you’re doing the intensive course, an online or blended or part-time course, there are a lot of things to learn. In fact,
‘Being a new teacher is like trying to fly an airplane while building it.’
Rick Smith, Conscious Classroom Management, 2004, p.44
With this in mind, I’ve just produced my first self-published book, with the-round.com . It’s called the CELTA Teaching Compendium. A compendium is ‘a detailed collection of information on a particular subject, especially in a short book’ (Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners) and in this particular compendium, I’ve set out to provide a quick, easy reference to all the key practical teaching skills taught in CELTA.
If you’re a trainee, you could think of it as being like having your CELTA teaching practice tutor available for questions any time of the day or night. If you’re a CELTA tutor, you could recommend sections to read, either as follow-up to your feedback, or in preparation for teaching practice.
The contents are listed alphabetically, so that the reader can dip in and out. Whenever another key skill is cross-referenced, there’s a link to take you to that section.
Clearly there’s in fact no ‘right’ way to teach. However, the suggestions and tips in this book are based on years of teaching and training teachers. I was also lucky enough to get feedback and further suggestions from a very kind group of CELTA tutors: Ricardo Barros, Viacheslav Kushnir, Anthony Gaughan, Natalia Ladygina, Marie Pettigrew and Zach Pinson.
You can see it on the round here, and the book is available for purchase at $4.99/£4.19 on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Smashwords. I hope you find it useful, and I’d be delighted to get any feedback or the offer of a review.
The American dictionary, Merriam Webster recently tweeted, ‘Lookups for ‘feminism’ spiked today. It’s “the belief that men & women should have equal rights and opportunities.” It is believed that this was in response to Kellyanne Conway’s (a top Trump adviser) remark that “It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in a classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male..”
Feminism is not about being anti-male, but it is about recognising that, despite the strides that have been made in certain parts of the world, women are still very much disadvantaged. This doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen to men, or that men aren’t discriminated against too sometimes, but that there is still a lot of work to be done to make things equal.
I’m a member of a new group on facebook, Women in ELT, (set up by Nicola Prentis) and the stories I have heard from my fellow female teachers around the world (more than 600 members so far) would make your hair curl. It’s only open to women teachers (which has been controversial), but if you’re one, just put in a request to join.
The great thing about this group, and the great thing, in my opinion, about Trump’s election, is that it is waking people up and pushing them into standing up for what they believe. And that includes me. I hope I don’t get a backlash, but I think it’s something I’ll have to risk.
So here are some lesson plans you could use to look at feminism and gender equality with your classes and wake them up too. Some from me, and some from some very talented teachers I’ve met through the facebook group. I’ll add more as I find them.
Women in Science– the lesson begins by challenging some stereotypes and asking students to consider why there aren’t more women in science. They then read a text which provides some possible reasons, and discuss how these relate to their own opinions.
The lesson then focuses on reference words, and how they link a text together, before a final speaking tasks about different jobs and gender.
Unsung Heroes– the lesson begins by asking students to think of well-known people that they consider to be heroes. It is likely that many of these will be men, so the students then go on to learn about 5 remarkable women in a jigsaw reading activity.
The students discuss these women’s achievements, and learn some useful vocabulary for talking about social issues. There is then a focus on relative clauses, before the final task of writing about another female hero, using the vocabulary and relative clauses where appropriate. For a 50-60 minute class the writing stage could be done at home.
Labels– the lesson is built around a viral advertising video which focuses on the idea that women are not treated equally in the workplace, being judged differently from men for doing the same things. The video has no dialogue, just a soundtrack.
The lesson starts by looking at the words used in the video to ‘label’ men and women. For example, persuasive vs pushy. It would probably work best not to tell the students the topic of the video at this stage. Students then watch the video and answer a couple of simple comprehension questions.
They then go on to read an article about the video, which discusses the issue in more depth, and also how suitable it is to use an advert selling a beauty product to discuss a feminist issue.
Finally the students discuss their own opinion of the message of the video and consider other viral videos they have seen which promote a message.
A conversation lesson about self love– by Cecilia Nobre. Cecilia says, ‘When I first came across Jessamyn’s story, I thought it was gutsy and moving. She is a yoga teacher who has become an Instagram star for her body-positive message and for showing the world that Yoga teachers can come in all shapes and sizes. I tend to plan my lessons around topics that interest me first, and I then reflect on whether my students might also connect and engage with these topics.
Most of my sources are authentic and this one is no exception. I essentially based all of the tasks on Jessamyn’s impressive Facebook profile; she posts interesting news articles, videos, photos and different sorts of media items.
This topic couldn’t be more relevant: self-love, self-acceptance, self-esteem, fat shame are currently hot topics in the mainstream media. She talks about her body insecurities and I believe that 98% of all women can relate to this, in one way or another – and certainly some men too. Therefore, your adult learners might have dealt with these issues at one point or another during their lives – so why not bring the topic into the classroom?’
The Women’s March Vienna 2017– by Katy Simpson on her site, myenglishvoice.com. Katy says, ‘My English Voice is all about helping people to make their voices heard. So we were very excited to join in the protests on Saturday, 21st January 2017; it was a historic day for people around the world who feel their voices are not being heard.Up to 2 million people took part in protests around the world in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. There were marches in 161 cities across all seven continents the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States. (Source: The Guardian). This lesson is about the march in Vienna, Austria.’
A free downloadable lesson, particularly suitable for Valentine’s Day, but usable at any time of the year, about 36 questions which might make you fall in love.
The lesson starts by discussing different views of love, before the students read a short text, giving the background to an experiment where strangers asked these questions to see if they would fall in love.
The students then watch a video of two strangers getting to know each other by asking these questions, and see how they become closer as the interview progresses.
There is then a focus on question forms, looking at some slightly more complex questions. This would be suitable from B1 upwards.
Finally the students choose some of the questions that they are happy to answer, and discuss them in pairs (falling in love definitely not obligatory!)
[NB. Be aware that at around 4.19, Cam gives a couple of examples of swear words.]
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