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.
Tag Archives: esol
A free downloadable lesson, based on a clip from a BBC programme about cats and their behaviour. This clip looks at how cats communicate with each other and with humans. Students start by looking at some of the ways that different languages describe the way that dogs speak, before looking at some common animal sounds in English. Students are then guided through the video, answering a variety of different question types, and learning some more vocabulary from the video. There is then a focus on infinitives of purpose, in order to as so as to, and the conjunctions so that and in order that.
The lesson would be suitable from B1+ upwards as the vocabulary is quite high level, though most of the video is very clear and not too fast.
Download lesson plan PDF here: ELT Resourceful – Why do cats miaow
Look here for more free downloadable lessons
This is the third (very belated) part in a series on oral correction. In the first part, I wrote about the importance of correction, and in the second about when to correct, so in this post I’d like to concentrate on the actual process of how to correct.
Let’s start by looking at immediate correction, while the student is speaking. The pros and cons of doing this are discussed here, but assuming that you have made the decision to correct immediately (and not just reformulate), how can you best go about it?
Most teachers would agree that it is usually best to try and elicit a correction from the student. The argument is that this will involve them in deeper mental processing than if the teacher simply provides the correct language. Some might argue that this is too difficult for the students, but I’d say that if they can’t attempt a correction even with help, then there probably isn’t much point in making the correction as it is likely to be something beyond their current level of competence.
But no-one can correct themselves if they don’t know what the problem is. Take this (fictional) example:
Student: I want to heat it.
Student: Sorry, I want to heating it.
Student: Er, I want heat it?
Teacher: No, you want to EAT it!
So, the first thing to consider is how you are going to help the student realise where the problem lies.
In the case above, the teacher could do a number of things:
- Indicate where the problem is by simply saying ‘pronunciation?’
- Ask a question to show the possible confusion- You want to make it hot?
- Repeat the sentence, stressing ‘heat’ in a questioning way.
Depending on the error, we can use a number of prompts to help the student self correct. Using a keyword, such as ‘pronunciation’, ‘tense’, ‘article’ and so on can be useful if the student knows the metalanguage. However, gestures can also work very well for giving the student a ‘nudge’.
Here are some useful possibilities:
Third person –s – Write an ‘S’ on the palm of your hand, so that when you open up your fingers the students can read it. In this way you can just ‘flash’ the –s whenever anyone forgets. (Be aware that in some cultures it is rude to show your palm however)
Word order– gesture with your hands swapping right over left to show that the order is different.
Missing –ly on an adverb. (E.g. a student says ‘I walk slow’) – Make an L shape with your hand (British and American teenagers sometimes use this to mean ‘Loser’ though, so use with some caution)
Tenses– pointing backwards for past, forwards for future and down for present (though a friend of mine thought that the teacher was teaching the word for table when she pointed downwards!)
Missing word- Spell out the sentence on your fingers (from right to left so that it runs the correct way for the students) and hold the finger representing the missing word, asking what word is missing.
Wrong word- Similar to missing word. Spell out the sentence or phrase, with one word for each finger and stop at the wrong word and ask them to correct it.
Contractions or linking – Again spell out the words on your fingers, then hold two (or three) together and ask students to say it again, putting them together. For example, ‘I would not have done it’ – you could hold would, not and have together to elicit ‘wouldn’t’
Contractions or short vowels sounds– You can pinch together your thumb and index finger to show either a contraction ‘I would’ – ‘I’d’ or to elicit a shorter vowel sound ‘sheep’ to ship’
If the student just can’t self-correct, and assuming you’re not asking the impossible, you then have a choice about whether to try and encourage a peer correction. I think it’s important for students not to jump in and correct each other too quickly, but it is useful if you can build a class culture where it is acceptable for students to correct each other. As Caleb Gattegno said, ‘A mistake is a gift to the class’. Knowing that they might be called upon, will keep students listening while you are working with an individual student to correct an error, and it’s likely that other students in the class will have similar difficulties, especially in a multi-lingual class. I would use this kind peer correction quite sparing though myself as the original student might start to feel too exposed. It’s a judgement the teacher needs to make, depending on the student, the error, the stage of the lesson, how long the first attempts to elicit correction have taken and so on. It might be better just to give the correction and move on.
However, in post-speaking correction, peer correction can be really useful. The classic way of doing this is to note down errors (and sometimes good examples) while the students are speaking, and then write them on the board without saying who said them. Students can then work together to correct them.
Variations include turning the activity into a grammar auction, where groups of students bid for sentences they believe are correct, or asking students to decide which sentences are correct or not before correcting as a class.
Students can also take on the ‘teacher’ role if you allocate an observer to each group doing a speaking activity. The observer should note down any errors (or examples of good language) that they hear. The group can then work on the language together as a follow up to the speaking activity.
Perhaps the key thing with all of these techniques is to remember and to help students remember that mistakes are indeed a gift. They are how the teacher can evaluate what needs teaching or reviewing, and they are often the moment when a student finally ‘gets’ something that they have never quite understood.
This week has been all about writing activities, with a webinar for British Council Teaching English, and the publication of my ebook for English Language Teacher 2 Writer, on How to Write Writing Activities.
As part of publicising the webinar, the British Council shared an old post, about Process Writing, which, to be honest, I’d even forgotten I’d written. And, there’s some good stuff in there, if I do say so myself.
So, as it’s a writing activities week, I thought I’d round up all the old posts on writing and put them in one place.
How can we motivate our students, and ourselves? In my latest blog post for British Council Teaching English, I look at what motivates me, and how that might relate to more general theories of motivation.
Read the post here.
Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/23743320@N03/5799251814/”>Sangudo</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
When we talk about reading skills, what usually comes to mind? Prediction, reading for gist, reading for specific information and skimming and scanning?
If you’ll forgive the clickbait style title of this post (I couldn’t resist), the fact is that there’s a lot more to the skill of reading than this.
Let’s start by looking at these commonly referred to skills, and then look at what else we could (and should) be teaching our students.
Students are very often encouraged to use the title of the text, or any accompanying pictures to make predictions about the content. There are good reasons for teaching students to do this; the idea is to activate whatever students may already know about the topic and help them to start creating a context. Without context, comprehension is much harder. Think about those moments when you turn on the radio and have no idea for a few moments what is being discussed. It only starts to make sense once you realise what the basic topic is.
Reading for gist
This doesn’t mean telling the students , ‘read the text to get a general idea of what it’s about’. That is never a very helpful task because it doesn’t give the students any reason to read, or any orientation to the topic or context. A gist question should mean that the students have to read the whole text, though not necessarily very thoroughly, in order to answer the question. For example, students might choose which title or picture most closely matches the content of the text. The idea is for students to get an overview of the text, which can help them when they return to the text to find more detailed information.
Reading for specific information
In contrast, reading for specific information means setting questions or a task which require the students to read the text much more carefully. This isn’t really a skill so much as a way of testing comprehension.
Skimming and scanning
These two words sound nice together, and make a memorable pair, but most people are a little vague about what they actually mean. Skimming has some crossover with reading for gist, because they are both about getting an overview. However, I would suggest that skimming and scanning are more properly called strategies rather than skills. They were originally both methods of speed reading. Skimming strategies are often taught as part of EAP (English for Academic Purposes) because these students have to read a great deal of content in English. So students may be taught, for example, to read just the first line of every paragraph, as this is often the topic sentence, which contains the main idea of the paragraph.
Scanning is a way of reading text quickly by only looking for specific bits of information, and not reading everything. For example, looking at the index or contents page of a book to find a specific topic you’re interested in, or picking out the figures in a text to see what the results of a piece of research were. Again, this strategy can be particularly useful in academic contexts.
Understanding that we read different texts in different ways, using different strategies, is very important for learners. The way we read a novel on the beach is very different from the way we read a legal contract. We probably read the novel much faster, with more of a skimming/gist approach, whereas we are likely to read the contract carefully and slowly, checking that we understand the details. Students reading in a second language often fail to transfer these different ways of reading across from their first language.
Teaching reading skills
However, while looking at different ways of reading, and different reasons for reading, is important, to what extent are these traditional reading activities actually helping students to read more effectively or fluently? Aren’t we mostly just giving them practice and/or checking their comprehension?
A reading lesson usually goes something like this:
- Set the scene/pre-teach vocab/elicit predictions.
- Read for gist (hopefully by setting a suitable gist question)
- Read again to answer for detailed comprehension questions.
- Discuss the content/focus on language in the text.
By encouraging students to predict and to read for gist first, we are perhaps helping them to develop their top-down skills- using context and their previous knowledge to make sense of what they are reading. However, there is a lot more to the reading skill than this.
According to Grabe and Stoller (2011:23) in each and every two seconds of reading fluent readers:
‘1 focus on and access 8-10 word meanings
2 parse a clause for information and form a meaning unit
3 figure out how to connect a new meaning unit into the growing text model
4 check interpretation of the information according to their purposes, feelings, attitudes and background expectations as needed
5 monitor their comprehension, make appropriate inferences, shift strategies and repair misunderstanding, as needed.
6 resolve ambiguities, address difficulties and critique text information, as needed.’
Fluent reading means that readers must be able to carry out all of these reading comprehension processes simultaneously and very quickly. Just like driving a car, some of the processes taking place simultaneously must be automatized. If the reader is struggling to decode the words, or understand how the words fit into the sentence, or how the sentence fits into the discourse as a whole, their working memory will become overloaded, and they won’t be able to hold onto the overall meaning of the text.
So helping students to develop their reading skills must, I believe, include specific and conscious work on bottom up or decoding skills as well as top down skills, such as predicting.
Whereas top down skills start from the reader and what the reader already knows or understands, bottom up or decoding skills start from the text. At the lowest level, students need to recognise alphabetic letters and then the words formed from these letters. Clearly, recognising and understanding written words is a key part of reading, even though we would usually deal with it under the heading of vocabulary. According to Paul Nation, in order to understand a written text without any assistance, students need to comprehend 98% of the words. So, if we want to work on developing reading skills (rather than using the text as a way of introducing new language) it is important that students aren’t getting stuck on too many unknown words.
Assuming that students recognise and understand enough of the vocabulary, the next layer of difficulty comes in putting those words together, understanding sentences, how those sentences fit together, and how what we are reading links with what we’ve already read. This is an area where there is huge potential to help students, and yet, outside academic reading courses, it is rarely a focus.
This is why I was so excited to work on Oxford University Press’s new series, Navigate. In this series, there is a clear syllabus and focus on these kinds of decoding skills. At lower levels, this might be understanding conjunctions or pronoun reference. At higher levels, we also focus on understanding complex sentences, ellipsis, paraphrasing and so on.
If we don’t focus on these kinds of skills, we are only teaching students part of what they need to know in order to improve their reading skills, and most of our focus is on testing comprehension rather than teaching.
Other posts on reading: