Tag Archives: DELTA

Helping students with connected speech

There is a huge difference between what our students see printed on a page and what we actually say in everyday speech.

In a recording of a TESOL Spain Presentation on Youtube (well worth watching), Mark Hancock makes the following joke:

Patient: Doctor, Doctor, I’ve got two theik, a near rake, sore rise, bruise darms a stummer cake and I far tall the time.

Doctor: I see, perhaps you’d like to way tin the corridor?

(Try reading it aloud)

The joke [apologies for the vulgarity 😉 ] showcases a good number of examples of features of connected speech. Teacher can tend to shy away from highlighting these in the classroom, but research shows that teaching learners about connected speech can really make a difference in terms of how well they understand native speakers. See for example, Authentic Communication: whyzit important ta teach reduced forms (Brown 2006) . Equally, some ability to use these features in their own speech will also be likely to make students more confident and fluent speakers.

Features of connected speech

As a brief overview, there is a strong tendency in English to simplify and link words together in the stream of speech, in order to help the language flow rhythmically. Some of the most common features:

Assimilation

This is when the sound at the end of one word changes to make it easier to say the next word. For example:

‘ten boys’ sounds like ‘ tem boys’ (the /n/ sound changes to the bilabial /m/ to make it easier to transition to the also bilabial /b/)

Incidentally bilabial just means two lips together, which is a good example of the kind of jargon that puts people off!

Catenation

This is when the last consonant of the first word is joined to the first vowel of the next word. This is very very common in English, and can be very confusing for students. For example:

‘an apple’ sounds like ‘a napple’ (Teacher, what is a napple?)

Elision

Elision means that you lose a sound in the middle of a consonant cluster, sometimes from the middle of a word. E.g. ‘sandwich’ becomes ‘sanwich’.

Or from the end of a word. For example:

‘fish and chips’ ‘fishnchips’

Intrusion

This is when an extra sound ‘intrudes’. There are three sounds that often do this /r/ /j/ and /w/

E.g. ‘go on’ sounds like ‘gowon’

I agree sounds like ‘aiyagree’

Law and order sounds like ‘lawrunorder’

[I probably should have used a phonemic keyboard!]

If you want to discover more about features of connected speech- and I think it’s fascinating stuff, there’s a list of useful books at the end of the post, but now let’s look at some activities to help raise awareness and encourage more natural sounding speech.

Connected speech activities

I remember reading somewhere that there are three ways to deal with pronunciation in the classroom: integrating it into other activities, dealing with it discretely, and completely ignoring it. 😉 Let’s assume we aren’t going to do the latter, and look at the other two approaches.

Integrated activities

I strongly believe that students should be made aware of the basics of connected speech right from the start. I don’t mean that you should be teaching your beginners exactly what catenation is, but you can certainly show them how words link together and what happens to sounds in the stream of speech. You don’t have to be an expert, and you don’t even need to know very much about the technical aspects; you just need to listen to yourself very carefully and notice what is happening in your mouth as you speak.

Drilling and using the board

At lower levels, we tend to teach quite a lot of functional chunks, such as ‘What’s your name?’ Phonetically that could be transcribed as /wɔ:tsjəneɪm/. However, this is likely to confuse (terrify) the students. Instead, using the board, you can just show the students how the words link by using arrows, and write the schwa /ə/over the top of ‘your’ . Alternatively, you can use your fingers to show how the three words (separate fingers) meld into one long sound (push fingers together). And model and drill the phrase as it is said naturally.

If students struggle with longer phrases, try the technique of back-chaining, starting from the last sound and working up to the whole sound bit by bit. For example with ‘Where do you come from?’ you drill ‘frum’ ‘kumfrum’ ‘dz-kumfrum’ ‘where-dz-kumfrum’ I have no idea why this works- but it does.

Using recording scripts

Where new language has been recorded (or by recording it yourself), ask students to first look at the chunk of language written down and try saying it a few times. Then play the recording several times and ask them to write down what they hear, however they want to spell it. Use the two written forms to elicit the differences (such as the use of the schwa) and then drill the more natural pronunciation. You could of course just say the phrase for them, but it can be hard to keep repeating something exactly the same way.

Make it part of presenting new language

Whenever you are dealing with new language, you need to be thinking about the meaning, the form AND the pronunciation. So if you’re teaching ‘Have you ever + past participle’, make sure you’re teaching it as something like /əvju:w’evə/ not ‘Have… you… ever…’ You don’t need to explain that the first /h/ is elided or that there’s an intrusive /w/- just provide a good model.

Incidentally, I say ‘something like’ because individual ways of connecting and simplifying speech do vary a bit.

Be aware of the difficulties connected speech may cause with listening

If students struggle to understand something in a recording, or that you say, be aware that they may actually know all the words, just not recognise them in the stream of speech. A great example of this is the student who asked me what ‘festival’ meant. I went into an explanation, giving examples of different festivals…but teacher, he said, why do you always say it at the beginning of the lesson? (I was saying First of all…).

If students don’t understand a phrase, see if they do understand it written down and then take the opportunity to highlight the differences between the written and spoken forms.

Discrete activities

As well as teaching connected speech as you go along, it is also worth doing some discrete activities for the purpose of awareness-raising.

  • A good activity to start learners thinking about connected speech and weak forms is to dictate just part of some phrases. For example: ‘uvbin’. After students have written these down as best they can (this should be a light-hearted activity), you dictate the full phrase, in this case ‘I’ve been to Paris.’.
  • After doing a listening activity, try doing a dictation where you handout the recording script, with chunks of 2-3 words missing. These should include some aspects of connected speech. Students have to complete the gaps, which will help to develop their decoding skills.
  • Mark Hancock has some great activities in Pronunciation Games and on the HancockMacDonald website. I particularly like The Word Blender, a game for A2/B1 students which starts to help students identify some of the features of connected speech.

This is necessarily a very brief and somewhat simplistic overview. For more information and ideas, you could try:

Reading

Sound Foundations- Adrian Underhill- Macmillan

Pronunciation- Dalton and Seidlhofer- OUP

Pronunciation Games- Mark Hancock-CUP

Sharon Noseley-Kallandzhs’ DELTA Phonology_Assignment_and_Lesson_Plan

Sharon Noseley-Kallandzhs’ powerpoint on features of connected speech

If you are currently taking CELTA, can I suggest my e-book, The CELTA Teaching Compendium, available from Amazon and Smashwords, containing everything you need to know for CELTA teaching practice.

celta compendium cover

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Filed under Pronunciation, Speaking

The Silent Way, Suggestopaedia, TPR and other ‘designer’ methods: what are they and what can we learn from them?

In the 70s there was a positive rash of so-called designer methods for learning language. The first part of our #ELTChat on 12th September 2012 at 12pm was mainly concerned with clarifying exactly what some of these methods involved. For the sake of clarity I have prepared a brief overview of what I understand about each method. There then follows a summary of the discussion and finally a set of links to articles and videos about these different methods.

Theory of learning Theory of language Teaching method
The Silent Way Learning is facilitated if the learner discovers or problem solves. Students work co-operatively and independently from teacher. Very structural- language is taught in ‘building blocks’..but syllabus is determined by what learners need to communicate. Teacher should be as silent as possible, modelling items just once. Language is learnt inductively
Total Physical Response (TPR) Learners will learn better if stress to produce language is reduced.Learners, like children, learn from responding to verbal stimulus. Also structural. Mainly uses imperative ‘’everyday conversations are highly abstract and disconnected; therefore to understand them requires a rather advanced internalisation of the target language.’ Asher Not clear how TPR used at advanced levels. Teachers role not so much to teach as provide opportunities for learning.But very teacher directed- even when learners interact with each other, usually the teacher who directs.
Community language Learning Not behavioural but holistic. Teacher and learners involved in ‘an interaction in which both experience a sense of their wholeness.’ Curran Language is communication. Not structural, but based on learning how to communicate what you want to say. Learners learn through interaction with each other and the teacher. They attempt communication and the teacher helps them to say what they want to say (using translation as necessary)
Suggestopaedia People remember best and are most influenced by material coming from an authoritative source. Anxiety should be lowered through comfortable chairs, baroque music etc Language is gradually acquired. No correction. The teacher starts by introducing the grammar and lexis ‘in a playful manner’, then reads the text while the students follow or just relax and listen. Students then use the language in fun and/or undirected ways. 

Comments on the Silent Way

@Mo_Americanoid kicked off the discussion by suggesting that ‘those trends helped deviate the focus from the teacher to the Ss. Silent can be handy in some specific situations..especially in multi-lingual classes where students will take control of their learning at their own pace.’ @teflerinha agreed, saying silent way probably most influential of these in my teaching because of emphasis on getting ls to do stuff.’ @jankenb said ‘Silent way is ideal for Ss who are reluctant to speak in class. It allows for interactivity in group setting.’ @rliberni said I still use some silent way type things when drilling or s’times presenting new language.’

@worldteacher had worked at a school based on Silent Way, but found it  ‘no good for me, I’m afraid!’ She had also tried learning Japanese that way, but never felt confident about the pronunciation.

@Shaunwilden hadn’t ‘done’ Silent way, but was a big fan of using Cuisenaire rods- and so was @rliberni (and me, @teflerinha).

@ELTExperience made the point that children learn by imitating parents and that they wouldn’t learn to speak if parents were silent. @teflerinha commented that the Silent Way involved ‘having to work stuff out- so kind of discovery approach (but can b 2 unguided 4 me)’ and @ELTExperience responded ‘I suppose a balance can be struck between SW and more guided forms of teaching tho.’

@cerirhiannon said ‘only use silent way in short bursts – find the driling too controlled and t-centred.’

@Mo_Americanoid commented ‘I know a teacher from Portugal who learned French and Italian through the Silent Way back in the 70s. She swears by it.’

Comments on Suggestopaedia

@MrChrisJWilson asked if Suggestopaedia was ‘about using the whole environment to promote language learning and reinforce the language?’ and @LizziePinard reminded us that it was the one that uses music- at a certain number of beats per minute according to @Marisa_C.  @teflerinha thought it was something to do with matching branwaves, and @LizziePinard said ‘ties in tradition to yoga and soviet psychology.’ @shaunwilden said ‘reminds me of  some AR i did many years ago-1 class with Baroque one without – proved nothing :-).’

@PatrickAndrews said ‘People keen on suggestopedia say it is very complex but seems to be about using the subconscious’. @LizziePinard pointed out that ‘the teacher is seen as an authority figure, on the theory that learners learn better from authority.’

@Raquel and @teflerinha had a short interchange about aspects we both liked, like room decoration, playful manner, using music..but also agreed that some students hate background music- perhaps because very auditory.

@Marisa_C pointed out ‘original quite focused on translation and structural grading but permutations allow for lots of creativity.’

Comments on TPR

There was a general feeling that this worked better for kids . For example, @rliberni said ‘remember them learning vocab while on a trampoline w/words in front of them!’, but people had also used the method, or elements of it, with adults. However @jankenb disagreed- saying good for all classes 0-99, except when you have 130 students!

Comments on CLL

@Cerirhiannon said ‘elements of CLL can work really well with truly mixed level (note level not ability)  classes  in a monolingual setting’

Other methods

@AlexandraKouk also mentioned grammar translation and contrastive analysis and she and @teflerinha agreed that this could be valuable for ‘noticing, analysing, drawing conclusions and implementing.’

What can we take from these methods?

@raquel_EFL said ‘when I started reading for DELTA, I realized I had used some features of these approaches/methods in my lessons.’ A lot of people agreed that they were using elements, either consciously, or because they had picked up the ideas without knowing where they had originated.

@ChrisJWilson asked about how principles could fit with methods, and @teflerinha gave the example of believing students have to notice language to learn it- which fits with Silent Way.

@esolcourses said ‘I use ideas from all of them in my teaching, although not sure how well they’d work as a ‘stand-alone’ method.’

Some specific examples: @Marisa_C -finger correction @teflerinha -and the use of gestures, taken from Silent Way, @hartle – story telling where teacher is silent indicating yes or no whilst stds ask questions. @eltexperiences – any form of slient eliciting

@hartle said ‘decorative flashcards also come from Suggestopedia and matching card games etc..’

@cerirhainnon suggested ‘ss have to programme me  (robot) to walk, but with limited verbs and preps, and lots of obtuseness from me.’, based on Silent Way/TPR. And also : ss guide blindfolded peers through maze of chairs, if they touch the chairs, go back to beginning

@hartle made the point that a lot is tied in with st expectations and context.  At uni some activities like this OK but stds must perceive it as “serious”!!

There was also a lot of discussion about the idea of ‘cherrypicking’ from the different methods, and many people made the important point that cherrypicking is all very well, but that there should be some principles behind it. There was some debate about whether the original principles of the methods should be watered down in this way, but most people seemed to agree that so long as you knew why you were doing something, it was fine to pick and choose. For example, @jankenB said ‘Not random- always well planned and understood, & flexible to teachable moments.’ And @Raquel_ELT said @Raquel_EFL: Planning is crucial.Being aware of these methods/approaches’ features, we have a bigger repertoire of solutions 2 improve.’

It was also agreed that context was important, and that different approaches would suit different students (at different times) @elleplus1 ‘You assimilate the principles then you can adapt them to different contexts.’

There was some discussion, led by @EBELT about whether there was any empirical evidence as to the effectiveness of these methods. @michaelegriffin later wrote a blog response to just this point http://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/researching-designer-elt-methods/

And finally, @michaelegriffin directed us to Kumaravadivelu’s ‘Beyond Methods’, which is an attempt to synthesise everything that has been learnt over the last decades http://www.yale.edu/yup/pdf/095732_front_1_2.pdf

LINKS

Silent Way

Overview of Silent Way from OneStopEnglish , with a response from a real Silent Way teacher.

http://www.onestopenglish.com/support/methodology/teaching-approaches/teaching-approaches-what-is-the-silent-way/146498.article

@Marisa_C gave us a link to this video of a Silent Way lesson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAUJ3aubKXc&feature=youtu.be

TPR

A quite detailed overview of TPR http://www2.vobs.at/ludescher/total_physical_response.htm

@rliberni gave us this link to a video of Gunther Gerngross doing TPR with kids. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkMQXFOqyQA&feature=youtu.be

@cicocas gave a link for a TPR based computer programme http://www.cpli.net/eslmaterials/tpresl3.html

Community Language Learning

A good overview of CLL from the BC/BBC Teaching English website http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/community-language-learning

@Marisa_C gave us this video of Turkish teachers using CLL with mobile devices. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ijmOAXIF9Y&feature=youtu.be

@michaelegriffn contributed the link to this post on CLL by Kevin Giddens (of do nothing teaching fame) http://kevingiddens.posterous.com/learning-through-experience-revisiting-commun

Suggestopaedia

@Marisa_C suggested looking for Lonny Gold on YouTube e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX4JFEUgqlg

And have us the following link too http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g6hyZqrPnY&feature=youtu.be

@cerirhiannon wrote a very readable and interesting follow-up post about her experience of learning using a suggestopaedia type approach http://cerij.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/a-learning-experiment/

After the chat, @reservopedic , who is a suggestopaedia teacher, tweeted several links on suggestopaedia http://effortlessacquisition.blogspot.co.uk/2004/03/invitation-to-suggestopedia-by.html  http://t.co/KmU4RSnU  http://www.sofiabooks.com/product_info.php?products_id=2460 and a list of tweeted do’s and don’ts.

Various methods

A link provided by @theteacherjames with some good summaries of different methods and how and why this teacher uses them http://debzif.wordpress.com/

@cioccas suggested Jason Renshaw’s site for an overview of various methods http://www.englishraven.com/methodology.html

[Apologies if I have missed anything important out- the transcript ran to 25 pages! Also if I, or we have misunderstood any of the methods discussed- feel free to comment and correct!

And please join us for #eltchat on twitter Wednesdays at 12pm and 9pm UK time. The new website address is www.eltchat.org]

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Filed under Teaching methodology

How identifying the different roles we play can help groups work better together

Who are you?

This may seem an obvious question, but now try getting a pencil and writing down ten different responses to that question before you read on….

…If you look at your list, you might have listed your gender or ethnicity, and there may be some adjectives such as kind or artistic. You’re likely to see a set of roles that you play: teacher, manager, parent, son or daughter.

We all play different roles in different groups, and the classroom is no exception.

You are likely to take on different roles within your role of being a teacher: facilitator, critic, guide… But what about the roles your students take within the group?

Group theory (see, for example, Communicating in small groups: Beebe and Masterson) divides roles into three different types:

Task roles: roles that help a group carry out a task

Some examples

Initiator- contributor: proposes new or different ideas or approaches

Information seeker: asks for facts or clarification

Opinion seeker: Asks for values and opinions

Elaborator: provides examples

Orienter: attempts to summarise and keeps the group focused on the task

Maintenance roles: roles that help the group work smoothly together

Some examples

Encourager: Offers praise and acceptance

Harmoniser: mediates disagreements

Compromiser: attempts to resolve conflicts

Individual roles: these tend to be counter-productive to the group as a whole

Some examples

Aggressor: puts other people down

Blocker: negative, stubborn and difficult

Dominator: tries to take over the group

It is tempting to use these roles to start labelling your favourite (or least favourite students), but in fact, roles change all the time, and people can play many different roles. The point of exploring different roles is not to stereotype people or make them feel they should be carrying out a particular role, but to help the members of a group or class be aware of how they are all working together, and how that interaction could be improved.

Activities to raise awareness of group roles

The first two ideas are both ways for students to track interaction within a small group. This can be very useful for getting an overview of how the group is working.

  1. Put the students into groups of five or six. One person observes while the others carry out a speaking task. The observer draws circles on a piece of paper to represent each member of the group. They then listen and draw arrows each time someone speaks.  If one person speaks directly to another, draw an arrow between them. If someone speaks to the group as a whole draw an arrow away from the group. If someone is speaking for more than a few sentences at a time more than one arrow can be drawn.

At the end of the task, the observer should feedback to the group on what they observed, and the whole group can discuss the findings:

–          What do you notice about the lines of communication?

–          Were the lines of communication an effective way of carrying out the task? Why/why not?

–          Was everyone happy with the way they participated?

–          What things could the group change in the future?

This task is taken from Conversation: Nolasco and Arthur.

2 A similar, but perhaps more entertaining idea, comes from Classroom Dynamics: Jill Hadfield. Rather than having an observer, the group has a ball of wool or string. The person starting the speaking task holds the end, and then passes the ball to the next person to speak. This continues until the task has finished (I’d suggest quite a short task!). The pattern of interaction will be very clear at the end, demonstrated by the web of wool or string. Or possibly the students will actually start to change the pattern of interaction as they see that they are either taking over a bit too much, or not contributing very much.

After this kind of activity, you could go a step further and actually start to look at the different kind of roles students are taking. This needs to be done carefully though, to avoid singling people out for criticism.

Jill Hadfield suggests two activities which could both be handled sensitively:

1 Using a self-evaluation questionnaire. There is a photocopiable one in Classroom Dynamics, which includes questions such as:

–          Did you contribute any ideas?

–          Did you encourage anyone else to contribute any ideas?

–          Is there any way you could help the discussion to go better….by making a suggestion etc.

She suggests carrying out a speaking task, then asking students to complete the questionnaire individually and privately, then carrying out a second speaking task and finally discussing if and how the second speaking task was an improvement on the first one. (From personal experience I can tell you that this process can be completely transformational.)

2 Observing group roles. In this activity, students carry out a speaking task and are observed. The observer ticks how many times various things (such as contributing an idea, interrupting, evaluating someone else’s idea, not talking in English) happen- but does not note down who did these things.  The group then looks at the results and decides which things are happening too often, and which not often enough. There isn’t necessarily a value judgement to these things. Contributing ideas is something we want to see happen, but if that’s ALL that’s happening, the group will not be working very smoothly! They then choose three things they should do more often and three things they should do less often.

Incidentally, although the observer in these tasks is not taking part, this can be a useful role for certain students. Students who tend to be very dominant can benefit from having to sit back and listen, and students who struggle to get a word in can benefit from having a clear role and being asked to feedback on what they observed.

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Filed under Differentiation, Speaking, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

A new class: building a learning environment together

Many of us are starting new terms and working with new groups. We probably already know what the learners are expected to achieve in their time with us, and the pressure is on.

It’s tempting to dive straight in, but any new group will need to work through interpersonal issues before they can function effectively as a group (and as individuals within the group). We can ignore these issues, but that won’t make them go away; we’re just more likely to get our feet tangled in them, like weeds under the surface of the water.

In a central work on group dynamics in the classroom, Schmuck and Schmuck [no, it isn’t just you that finds their names amusing  :)], observe:

‘ Our research has shown that classroom groups with supportive friendship patterns enhance academic learning, while more hostile classroom environments reduce learning…informal group processes in the classroom can, and do, make a difference in the accomplishment of the formal goals of the school.’

So, what can we do to encourage more supportive patterns?

Getting to know you activities

First of all, pay more than lip-service to the ‘getting to know you’ activities. Language learning is a high risk activity in terms of losing face and the student surrounded by unfamiliar faces is likely to either withdraw or ‘act-out’ as a way of controlling the environment.

Names

It seems obvious, but make sure that everyone knows everyone else’s names. Rather than putting pressure on them to learn them, try a discussion activity about names. Some possible questions:

–          How did you get your name? Were you named for someone else? Who/why?

–          Does your name have a meaning?

–          Do you have a nickname (you are willing to share)? How did you get it? Who uses it?

–          Do you or other people shorten your name in any way? How do you feel about either the shortened name or the full name? (Many people feel they are going to be told off when someone uses their full name)

–          Do you like your name? Why/why not?

–          What would you like to be called in class?

This can be done in small groups, which either swap around, or feedback to the main group.

It goes without saying that you need to learn your student’ names as quickly as possible. A few tips:

–          Write down the names in the same layout as the students are seated (i.e. in a horseshoe) and refer to it often in the first class or so.

–          Use their names as much as possible to begin with.

–          When students are working on something mentally go round and test yourself on the names. Ask anyone you can’t remember to remind you (better now than in a month’s time)

–          Make a note next to each name of a distinguishing feature (e.g. curly hair).But be careful with this one….don’t write anything you wouldn’t want the student to see!

Find someone who…

This is a very well-known activity in some circles, so apologies if it’s too obvious, but it does work brilliantly. This is a variation which doesn’t require you to know anything about the students prior to the class, and ensures that students are comfortable about what is revealed (which can sometimes be a problem when this activity is done on CELTA courses, based on application forms!)

Put students into small groups (3-4) and ask them to think of three things to tell the other group members about themselves, which they are pretty sure will be new information.  They should take it in turns to give a piece of information, and the others should comment on it. Model this if necessary. While they are carrying out the activity, monitor and note down one fact about each student that you overhear.

Then dictate the facts to the class. E.g. Find someone who…

…has just been to Sweden on holiday.

…used to live in another country

Students will already know some of these from their small group work, but they can then mingle and ask others in the class, ‘Have you just been to Sweden?’ etc.  (no pointing at the sheet allowed)

Guess who?

This works better with groups which have worked together a little before. Each group member writes 2-3 sentences about themselves (anything they want to share). These are collected in and read aloud (by you or the students) and everyone writes down who they think each one refers to before the answers are revealed at the end.

An alternative is for 1 of 3 pieces of information to be a lie. In this version, we don’t have to guess who, but guess which piece of information is untrue.

Creating a sense of group identity

As well as getting to know each other better, we can also focus on creating a positive group identity.

Class Yearbook or Photo Album

Over the course of the year, a scrapbook (or the digital equivalent) is gradually built up by members of the class. You could begin with photos and a short bio about each member, then add updates as often as you and the class wish. This could cover what has been learnt, any social activities or trips, creative writing or articles, whatever seems appropriate.

At the end of the year, contact details could be added for those that wish to keep in touch if the group is breaking up, and maybe include a letter from the teacher about the experience of teaching the group.

Class history

(this idea comes from the wonderful Classroom Dynamics- Jill Hadfield)

Exactly how you do this will depend on the age range of your students. The idea is for each student to research a different year or other short period of time in the past and find out what everyone in the class did or was doing at that time.

After a mingle activity where they interview each other, the information can be put together on a time–line.  This is a great activity for working together and getting to know each other (not to mention using past tenses)

In my next post I plan to look at some activities for developing the class’s awareness of how groups work together and how they, individually, are contributing to the group. Feel free to sign up to be sent this post by email- button on the right.

 

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Filed under Differentiation, Teaching methodology

What’s the point of planning?

Planning has been on my mind a bit recently. Not long ago I had to produce a full lesson plan for the first time in ages (a British Council Inspection). It took almost as long to write as the lesson (a 3 hour lesson) took to teach. If you’re curious, or fancy trying out a lesson from my secondary course book, Real Life, the  plan (Lesson_Plan_RRoberts-10-7-12-Adv) and the materials are here. Real Life Advanced Page 1.1 Real Life Advanced Page 1 Real Life Advanced Page 2 Real Life Advanced Page 3

What’s the point in spending nearly three hours on a lesson plan? Surely, that’s just a colossal waste of time? Well, actually I think there was a point. This was an inspection in which someone who had never seen me or the class before was going to parachute in and make an assessment (it’s another argument whether that’s an effective way to assess learning and teaching). Given the circumstances, I needed to show the inspector not just what was happening in the twenty minutes they were in the class, but that I had an overview of what we were trying to achieve, and that the decisions I had made were based on sound underpinnings. In other words, that I knew what I was doing, and more importantly, why I was doing it.

Now, I should say right now that I am not and never have been in favour of teaching the plan rather than the students. A good plan is simply that- a plan. And plans can and should be changed according to circumstances.  If you planned a surprise party for your partner and no-one else turned up to wait for the guest of honour, would you still jump out from behind that sofa?! On the other hand, if you didn’t plan anything at all for that special birthday, but just decided to go with the flow, you might have a great time, or you might have a very disgruntled partner.

So I nearly always have a plan when I walk into the classroom, though it may well be more of the back of an envelope type than the full plan described.

After twenty years in the classroom, I don’t feel the need to write a full plan, not because I don’t think I need a plan but because most of it is in my head.  Tessa Woodward has a great way of describing this:  Fluent speakers are fluent because they are able to string together chunks of pre-prepared language, providing what Thornbury refers to as ‘islands of reliability’. Woodward makes the point that more experienced teachers also have practised sequences or chunks that they know how to string together to make a lesson. This doesn’t mean that every lesson should be the same, but that we are automatically able to do a lot in the classroom without having to consider each action too carefully. It’s the same as learning to drive. At first you can’t think how you are ever going to manage to slow down, change through the gears, signal and look in the mirror at the same time, but soon it’s second nature.

[Having said that, it isn’t a great idea to get so comfortable with your routines that you aren’t even aware of driving, and neither should we get too comfortable with our teaching routines.]

When I first started teaching I did use to spend a LOT of time planning, and as a CELTA, and DELTA tutor, I would positively encourage teachers to do the same, within reason. It’s going through that process that helps you to start to put these chunks together (CELTA), and pull them apart and consider exactly why you’re doing everything (DELTA).

There was an interesting exchange about planning recently on Tony Gurr’s excellent blog . I’ll let you check it out the debate for yourself, but the quote that stuck for me [i.e. agreed with my point of view 😉 ] came from Brad Patterson, who said:

‘’I have to admit that most of my lesson planning is in my head – don’t think I’ve written one down on paper for 15 years. But the planning I do in my head is still influenced by the planning I had to do on paper in the past. In my head, I can still hear the voice of my dip tutors asking me to think about why I’m planning on doing something, what the students will learn/practice – getting me to focus on objectives (or learning outcomes) rather than just on activities. Hated having to write out lesson plans at the time, but looking back I’m glad I did.’’


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Using live listening to prepare for IELTS speaking

The extended monologue

In the second part of the IELTS test, candidates have to speak for 1-2 minutes on a given topic, having been given 1 minute to prepare. (Incidentally, I have mentioned IELTS in the title, because this is perhaps the best known example, but there are other speaking exams (e.g. Cambridge ESOL Skills for Life L1 and L2 ) where candidates have to carry out similar tasks).

Although Part 2 of IELTS is not actually as tough as Part 3, for many candidates, it is the part they dread the most. However, it is also the part where familiarity with the task and plenty of practice can really make a huge difference. As an IELTS examiner, I sometimes examine native speakers applying to emigrate to Australia, and even these perfectly fluent speakers can struggle with Part 2 if unprepared.

In IELTS the candidate is given a number of points to cover. For example:

Describe a leisure activity which you enjoy doing.

You should say:

–          What the activity is and how you do it

–          When and how often you do it

–          What equipment you need

And explain why you enjoy it.

[example from IELTS Foundation Second Edition]

In order to do well in this part of the exam, students need to:

1 Structure their answer well, so that it is coherent and cohesive.

2 Speak fluently, without too many hesitations.

3 Demonstrate accuracy and range in their language.

Live listening is an excellent technique for both modelling the kind of answer the students should be aiming for, and providing a source for language they can use.

What is live listening?

In a nutshell, live listening means listening to the teacher (or another visitor), in a face to face situation, rather than using a pre-prepared recording. The teacher can be a neglected resource in terms of listening, as teachers try to avoid the dreaded ‘teacher talking time’. However, there is a world of difference between the teacher mumbling away to the class instead of giving clear and concise instructions, and using the teacher as a rich resource for listening.

Listening to the teacher speaking at length offers the benefits of:

–          genuine, real-time communication.

–          all the features of natural spoken English (hesitations, false starts, connected speech etc)

–          facial expressions and gestures

–          the opportunity to offer clarifications

Using live listening to prepare for IELTS Part 2

Using set of prompts like those above, the teacher prepares to talk for 1-2 minutes on the topic. You might want to spend more than the 1 minute that candidates are allowed, but it’s important that you don’t script what you are going to say.

Talk for 1-2 minutes to the students, and, ideally, record what you say. They listen and make notes on what you said about each prompt. Carry out brief feedback. This should help them see how to structure their talk, using the prompts.

Then play the recording (or repeat the task) and encourage students to write down any useful ‘chunks’ of language that they hear, which they think they could use in a similar task.

The reason that native speakers are able to speak so quickly and fluently is because they have a huge store of chunks of language which they are able to pull out and use; they don’t have to create every word from scratch. So it makes sense to encourage learners to develop their own store of ‘chunks’.

Here is a Vocaroo recording of me using  the prompts above to talk about Qi Gong

http://vocaroo.com/i/s0J4pGleT6oB

And here is the language I might encourage the learners to pick out from this recording:

The leisure activity that I’d like to talk about is_______

It’s a kind of __________

It’s all about + ing

It’s quite similar to_________

The main thing about _____ is (that)____

I don’t often get around to it.

You don’t actually need any equipment at all.

Sometimes I find it difficult to motivate myself.

I always feel better after I’ve done it.

Spend a little bit of time checking that students understand the ‘chunks’ and can pronounce them fluently, then put them in pairs and ask them to carry out the same task themselves, using any of the chunks they find useful.

The beauty of this activity is that it requires minimal preparation, but, repeated on a regular basis, with different prompt cards, it can really help learners to develop their ability to structure a short talk and to use natural sounding ‘chunks’ of language.

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Repeated reading: some activities to build reading fluency

 repeated reading[Thanks to @mkofab at ELTpics for the photo.]

In my last post, I looked at reading while listening, and how it might help learners both to read more fluently, and to acquire more language. Reading while listening is a form of something known as ‘repeated reading’, a strategy whereby a student reads a passage several times, either silently or aloud. The idea, as discussed in the previous entry, is to develop greater fluency or automaticity, and there is evidence to suggest that it works, and, moreover, that it has a positive effect on the student’s language development as a whole.

But isn’t it terribly boring to just read the same passage again and again? Not according to Gorsuch and Arnold , who claim that students were ‘delighted to see such powerful and immediate increases in reading speed and comprehension.’ I’m sure that’s it’s true that students can be motivated simply by seeing progress. The typical way that this kind of motivation is built on in schools is by overtly measuring this progress. For example, Tomkins (2003)* suggests the following procedure:

1 Conduct a pre-test. The student reads a passage aloud while the teacher records the reading time and any mistakes. The teacher then clarifies any problems.

2 The student practises reading the passage again on their own, out loud or silently, several times.

3 The teacher records the student again and makes a note of reading time and any mistakes.

4 Teacher and student discuss the improved time (pretty much inevitable) and whether there were fewer mistakes.

I can see this working very well in some contexts, and being disastrous in others. Your call, I think.

If you don’t want to take such an overt approach, you could try thinking about real reasons why a student might need to read aloud in English, and build activities around these. For example, the class might enjoy reading a one-act play, repeatedly reading it in order to prepare for a recording. Or, many ESOL classes are made up of parents of young children, just learning to read in English at school. These parents could definitely benefit from practising reading aloud their children’s favourite books.

Or try some activities where there is a goal or outcome, other than simply improving your reading fluency. For example, a dictogloss in pairs. Student A reads the text out loud, at a natural speed, while B tries to write down as much as possible. This is repeated until B feels confident that they have the whole text. B can then read the text back to A, for checking. This works best if the more fluent reader in the pair is A, the one who initially reads the text, as this way A is able to give a good model. The activity could be extended by changing the pairs, so that B then takes away the text to dictate to a new (A) partner. This way, B also gets the repeated reading practice, but only after they have heard the next a number of times from the original A.

Choral reading, as a class, has also been shown to be very effective, but in its unadulterated form seems rather dull and childish. You could try putting a text on the board or smartboard, getting students to read it aloud as a class, and then rubbing out random words, so that they have to remember what was there. Of course, this is as much about memory as reading, but it does provide a powerful motivation. It is also a good opportunity to work on weak forms and linking- demonstrating how these occur in the text which is being read.

And, of course, repeated reading does not have to mean reading aloud. A nice activity which can be done with absolutely no preparation is to ask all the students to read the same passage silently. After one minute exactly, stop them, whether they have finished or not, and ask them note how far they got. Tell them to start the passage again, from the beginning. Stop them again after one minute and ask them if they read any further this time (they almost certainly will have done). The beauty of this activity is that it is completely differentiated, as each student is working at his or her own level, and under no obligation to expose their reading level to anyone else.

Tompkins, G. (2003). Literacy for the 21st Century: Teaching reading and writing in pre-kindergarten through grade 4. New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall.

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

[Thanks to @Sarah_WG on ELT Pics for the photo]

A little while ago I went to the recording of the listening component of my new coursebook- Real Life Global Advanced. I was surprised to discover (because nobody had ever actually mentioned it) that all the reading passages were also being recorded.

‘But how will listening to a reading passage help them develop reading skills?’ I wondered. In fact, as I have discovered by reading up on the area since, it just might.

We are increasingly aware that reading is an excellent way of developing language, as learners are exposed to language in context. However, many students read very slowly and laboriously in English, slowly decoding every word.  At this speed, it is very difficult for them to actually understand the meaning of the text because they are constantly dealing with isolated words and phrases.

When reading in our native language most of us carry out this decoding with a good degree of automaticity, leaving us free to focus on higher order comprehension processes. Think of this like learning to drive a car. When we first start learning, it seems impossible that we will ever be able to manage the gears, clutch, accelerator as well as actually look where we are going. But an experienced driver can do all these things with such automaticity that he or she can also carry on a conversation or listen to the radio, while keeping focused on changing conditions on the road.

But how can we help our learners to get to this kind of automaticity when reading? One way is, of course, by encouraging extensive reading outside of the classroom. But there is another strategy: repeated reading.

The idea behind repeated reading, which was originally developed by Samuels in 1979, is to help non fluent readers develop automaticity in their decoding. Students read and re-read a passage either aloud or silently. Think of it as drilling for readers!

Now, my first thought was that this would help with reading that particular passage, but that it would not necessarily be transferred to anything else the students might read. But research shows that I was probably wrong in that assumption.

According to Taguchi and Gorsuch (2002), for example, the ‘effects of re-reading a passage for L1 readers are carried over to a new unpracticed passage with regard to reading rate and accuracy’ and they cite Carver & Hoffman, 1981; Dowhower, 1989; Faulkner & Levy, 1994; Herman, 1985; Rashotte & Torgesen, 1985 and Samuels, 1979). It also helps with comprehension (Dowhower, 1989; Morgan & Lyon, 1979; Young et al., 1996). And finally, ‘repeated reading enables L1 readers to read in larger and more meaningful phrases’ (Dowhower, 1989).’

Now these studies all looked at L1 readers, and Taguchi and Gorsuch’s 2002 finding with L2 readers was inconclusive, for various reasons. However, it seems from a later article by Gorsuch in Language magazine.com  that there is evidence that it can work for L2 learners too. I say seems, because for some reason the end of the article is missing from the PDF!

There are lots of different ways (more fun that it might sound at first) of carrying out repeated reading, which I will look at in a follow up post, but one of the key ways is known as assisted repeated reading, and often involves using a recording of the passage being read.

The student, who will have already read the passage silently at least once, reads the passage again, possibly several times, while listening to the recording. This helps him or her to build the connections between the way the word is written, the word itself, and what it sounds like. It also exposes him or her to all the meaning inherent in the pronunciation: the pitch, tone and emphasis.

Seeing words repeatedly in context has been found to help L1 learners transfer their word recognition to other contexts much better than lists of isolated words. Grabe (1991) suggests that this may apply to L2 learners as well. I haven’t yet come across any research which proves this, but it makes perfect sense to me. After all, isn’t this just another way of getting students to ‘notice’ language in context, which most people agree helps with acquisition.

So, in the end, I concluded that having the reading texts on audio may actually be providing teachers with the opportunity to try out a different way of helping their learners both to read more fluently and to acquire language.

And this kind of practice may also help learners to read more extensively outside the classroom because if they can read more automatically, they will enjoy it more and make more sense of it.


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The wonder of wait time!

  How would you like it if your students:
  
– Gave longer answers?
  – Answered more often?
  – Gave more confident answers?
  – Weren’t afraid to challenge or add to   o
ther students’ answers?  – Were willing to discuss and offer alternative answers?
For all these benefits, why not try new and improved
‘Wait Time’TM?

Actually, I doubt any teacher would need a heavy sales technique to be persuaded to ‘buy’ this idea. These are the benefits which Rowe (1974) found to increasing the amount of time teachers wait after asking the class a question. Typically, she found, teachers wait no more than 1.5 seconds after asking a question before they jump in and rephrase it, or even answer it themselves. By waiting at least 3 seconds, she concluded, all the above benefits ensued.
Her research wasn’t in a language classroom, but Nunan (1991) came to similar conclusions, as did Scott Thornbury in 1996.

Of course, the questions asked need to be those which warrant giving the extra time to think. In other words, more open and higher level questions, rather than very closed or display questions. This is important, because when teachers lengthened wait time when asking lower level questions (Riley 1986), student achievement and motivation actually went down. No doubt they just thought the teacher was half asleep!

But, there is also evidence (Swift & Gooding, 1983; Tobin 1986) that when teachers started consciously giving more wait time, their own skills improved. They tend to ask fewer questions, but make them higher quality- asking for more thought and higher level thinking skills.

As well as wait time after asking a question, there have also been found to be benefits in pausing briefly after a student offers an answer. This gives them time to add any further thoughts, or even for another student to add something or contradict.

And why stop there? As Stahl (1990) points out, there are plenty of other moment in the classroom when silence can be golden. He refers to ‘think time’ rather than ‘wait time’, as he feels this better describes the purpose of such times (for both teacher and students) Stahl lists eight categories of periods of silence:

1 Post teacher question wait time (this is discussed above)
2 Within students’ response pause time (not jumping in when a student hesitates- and/or not allowing other students to do so)
3 Post students’ response wait time (allowing a few seconds when a student has finished giving an answer will enable them to add something if they want to, and allow other students the chance to consider what has been said and respond to it.)
4 and 5 Student and teacher pause time (that there should generally be a culture where it is acceptable to stop for a moment and consider what you are going to say)
6 Within teacher presentation pause time (That while a teacher is presenting some information, they stop for a short time, just to let the information sink in and give time for students to absorb it).
7 Student task completion wait time (This seems obvious, but I have a tendency to ask students to work in pairs almost automatically. Here the suggestion is to set a specific amount of time for students to work in silence, individually)
8 Impact pause time (Using a short pause to grab attention; making students wait in anticipation for the next piece of information)

Of course, especially at first, it can feel really uncomfortable to leave any silence in the classroom. In my experience, however, it is worth a bit of initial discomfort to experiment with this idea.
Alternatively (or additionally), rather than simply waiting, you could of course, give students something concrete to do with the wait time:

• Try getting students to write down an answer first. If it’s a closed question, they could write the answer on a miniwhiteboard (or piece of paper) and hold it up when they time has finished. You could then nominate a learner to explain the reasons for their answer.

• Let the students discuss the answer in pairs before nominating a student (or pair) to give their answer to the class.

• Before carrying out a feedback slot on, say, a reading comprehension task, allocate different questions to different students and ask them to spend a little time thinking about why they chose the answer that they did, so that they are ready to explain their reasoning to the class.

At different times in my teaching life, I have been recorded teaching. While it has never failed to be a gruesome experience watching (or even listening to) myself, it has to be said that there is no better way of really examining what is actually happening in your classroom. Why not try it, and see what kind of wait time you are giving and the impact of it when you do give more?

References
Nunan, D (1991) Language Teaching Methodology. Prentice Hall

Rowe, M.B. (1974). Wait-time and rewards as instructional variables, their influence on language, logic and fate control: Parts I and II. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 11, 81-84 and 291-308.

Stahl, R. J. (1994). Using ‘Think-time’ and ‘Wait-time’ Skilfully in the Classroom. ERIC Abstracts, report number EDO-SO-94-3

Swift, J. N., & Gooding, C. T. (1983). Interaction of wait time feedback and questioning
instruction on middle school science teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching,
20(8), 721-730.

Thornbury, S (1996) Teachers research teacher talk. ELT J, 50 (4): 279-289.

Tobin, K. (1987) The Role of Wait Time in Higher Cognitive Level Learning. Review of Educational Research, 57 (1), 69-95.

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Getting students to notice language in reading texts

To start with, why not try this little awareness test:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qcgoay4?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

How successful were you in noticing? Whatever we are doing, we don’t tend to notice everything- and we can miss some quite important elements!

We tend to notice things which are either frequent or salient. So, when I first went to live in Portual, I quickly noticed the word ‘puxe’, which was written on a lot of doors. It was something I saw frequently. It was also salient, or meaningful for me because the pronunciation is ‘push’..but it means ‘pull’!

Schmidt, who first coined the term ‘noticing’(I think), carried out a study of his own language learning in Brazil (where they use ’empurre’ rather than ‘puxe’ btw). He concluded that he was more likely to actually use language himself when his attention had been drawn to it in some way.

Or as Scott Thornbury puts it:

‘1. Learners must attend to linguistic features of the input that they are exposed to, without which input cannot become ‘intake’.

2. Learners must ‘notice the gap’, i.e. make comparisons between the current state of their developing linguistic system, as realised in their output, and the target language system, available as input.’

(Thornbury 1996)

A reading text is full of language that we can draw students’ attention to in this way, and thus, hopefully, help them in the process of acquiring this language into their ‘store’.

Before we can start to focus on language though, it is important to focus on the actual text as a whole (see previous blog posts), and then we have to consider which aspects of language to focus on or we risk not seeing the wood for the trees (or the monkey for the basketball players).

Activities which help students to ‘notice’ vocabulary

Many texts will have a clear topic, so this is a good place to start (especially if the topic is one which is relevant to students’ needs and interests- and if it isn’t why are you using it? 😉 ). You can simply ask the students to find words and phrases in the text connected with the topic of X, or ask them to categorise the words and phrases they find into subsections of the topic (example here from IELTS Foundation 2nd ed-click to enlarge).

You can help to expand students’ vocabulary by asking them to find synonyms of words you give them, in the text. This is particularly useful for those taking exams, where questions are usually paraphrased.

You can help students to see how texts are put together by asking them to find lexical links and chains in the text (example here from IELTS Foundation 2nd ed-click to enlarge)

Students can also develop their awareness of chunks and collocation by asking them to find chunks of words that go together, or asking them to search the text to find what collocates with a list of words from the text which you have given them.

Activities which help students to notice grammar or discourse

The most obvious task is to ask students to look at the examples of the language focus in the text and use them to complete rules about its use. Or they could try writing their own rules and then comparing them with a grammar reference.

An alternative is to remove those examples (or parts of them) and get students to complete the text, comparing their versions with the original. This is something which works very well for articles and for discourse markers.

Or you could give students another version of the text with deliberate errors, and ask them to find a ccertain numbers of mistakes and correct them- before, again, checking against the original.

Try a dictogloss (read a short section aloud, which contains the language you are focusing on) and ask students to write down as much as they can before reconstructing the text together. This works well for structures which are very frequent, such as reference links or articles.

Having thus drawn the students’ attention to language, I believe that it is important to give them some opportunity to use the language. Opinion varies as to whether practising the language per se helps students to acquire it, but at the very least it is another opportunity to notice it, which does seem to help with acquisition.

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Filed under Exploiting authentic reading materials, IELTS, Teaching methodology