Author: Clare

Rachael Roberts’ strategies to survive overwhelm

Rachael Roberts’ strategies to survive overwhelm

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If you can relate to the post card a friend sent me recently – the image above – then Rachael Robert’s presentation at the IATEFL MaWSIG PCE on 18 June 2021 was full of tips and ideas that might interest you. And so, in this post, I’d like to share some of Rachael’s insights with you as well as my own take on the issues of stress and feeling overwhelmed.

Now, Rachael was mainly thinking about freelancers in the ELT world, but I’m sure a lot of people can identify with her opening statement. There are two main scenarios that cause stress: Too much work, and not enough work. Whether we’re overloaded with work or facing a bit of a drought on the work front, the result is the same: We worry. 

As Rachael said, especially freelancers need to make sure that they stay visible and ‘market’ themselves and their skills in order to be offered further paid work in the future. And anyone worrying about facing a scarcity of paid work in the future, might end up spending a lot of ‘work’ time on the ‘getting your name out there’ side of things – or take on too much work in the present to earn enough money for potential low periods in future. A bit like bulk buying loo roll! (That’s my comparison, don’t blame Rachael!)

I think we can all agree that this situation can cause us stress. 

Now, as Rachael reminded us, the impact that stress has on our brains and bodies is not negative per se. I mean, we evolved to feel stress for a good reason! Stress, and the hormones it makes our bodies release, is helpful for getting things done. It’s the body’s “fight or flight” response to situations perceived as a threat. So stress can help us to ‘step up’ and deal with these short-term challenges (or ‘threats’) we’re facing. However, this biological reaction is most beneficial when it is temporary. Once you’ve fought or flown from the threat, the brain and body should go back into non-stress mode.

What I guess most people mean when they say they’re “stressed”, though, is that this temporary biological reaction to challenges has ceased to be temporary! Chronic stress seriously impacts on our  physical and mental health. It can lead us to be forgetful, indecisive or really irritable, or to have trouble sleeping or maintaining our weight. In my experience, it can sometimes feel like chronic stress swallows us up and prevents us from seeing options for improving the situation. We can’t see the way out for all the loo roll, so to speak. 

And it’s here that Rachael’s talk offered very useful, practical advice for us all. Let me summarise.

  • Try to avoid taking on too much in the first place. We need to carefully consider our options and do our calculations before taking on work. Rachael mentioned a few traps to try to avoid:
    • Our natural bias makes us focus on the benefits of a current opportunity rather than the costs, such as time and energy invested and missing out on the benefit(s) of any other work we won’t be able to do if we take on this current job. Rachael suggests carefully tracking your hours and pay over time to help you make more informed decisions.
    • Another natural bias makes us think we can do more work, more quickly than we realistically can. Again, Rachael suggests keeping track of how long things really take and using that information to help us make decisions in future and hopefully avoid this bias. 
    • Don’t fully book yourself with ‘actual work’ – remember that you’ll need time for admin, meetings and self-marketing, etc. as well. If you don’t plan for this, it will basically be done during unpaid overtime hours.
  • Develop good time management strategies. Using your time effectively not only helps you to get everything done that you need to, but helps you to feel on top of things and prevent overwhelm. Here are some concrete strategies Rachael suggests:
    • Make a to-do list so that you don’t try to keep all of your tasks in mind all the time. Try to separate out task types and break large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks to go on your list. 
    • Prioritise and aim to spend more time on important but not urgent tasks, then you’ll have dealt with these things before they become urgent. 
    • Use your “Prime time” effectively – everyone has a time of day when they can concentrate and think best: don’t use that prime thinking time for unimportant things like admin or things that could be delegated or postponed; do those at times when your energy levels are low.
    • Don’t multitask, but focus on one task for a block of time – especially important things which require focus and cognitive energy. Rachael particularly recommended starting the day with a ‘block’ of important but small tasks, or first doing the tasks which you feel least like doing. 
    • Use apps to help you stay focused and to reward yourself when you do. For example pomodoro apps, or website blockers.
  • Learn to manage your energy as well as your time.  Rachael explained this much better than I can. She reminded us of the need to achieve a balance between things that motivate us, threaten us and soothe us. This can best be achieved through rest, rewarding play, and exercise. 
  • Just stop. If you’re struggling with something and feeling overwhelmed, or if you’re trying to work but not getting anything done. Stop, rest and recharge. 

I think all of us who attended Rachel’s talk felt inspired and better armed to avoid overwhelm after listening to her calmly present these tips and justifications for them. Definitely better able to deal with the million ‘tabs’ that are open in our brains, without overdosing on loo roll!

I hope that this summary helps even more people feel less stressed. And maybe also inspires you to hear more from Rachael, for example over at her website: www.life-resourceful.com/start-here

Learning to Listen to Lectures: How representative are EAP coursebooks?

Learning to Listen to Lectures: How representative are EAP coursebooks?

I recently had the pleasure of joining the Norwegian Forum for English for Academic Purposes (one small benefit of the Corona pandemic was that this conference took place online this year!)  and listening to Katrien Dereoy’s talk on “Setting the stage for lecture listening: how representative are EAP coursebooks?”

She has presented and published on this topic before and I think it’s very interesting for all EAP instructors and materials writers. So, this post is a summary of what I see as the key points from her talk and what I took away from it regarding what we could do better in our EAP lecture listening instruction and materials in future.

The main finding of Katrien’s corpus linguistic research is that many EAP coursebooks on listening and note-taking in lectures do not always reflect the reality of the language used by lecturers – particularly regarding metadiscourse and lexico-grammatical discourse markers that are used to highlight important points of content in lectures.

In her research on corpora of lectures given in English, namely the British Academic Spoken English corpus and the Corpus of English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings, Katrien looked at the word classes and patterns of phrases used to fulfil this function, such as metanouns (e.g. idea, point), verb phrases (remember that), adjectives (central idea), and adverbs (importantly). She also categorised two interactive orientations of such lexicogrammatical devices highlighting importance: one focusing on the participants and using phrases like “Now listen” (addressing audience) or “I want to emphasise” (expressing intention), and the other focusing on the content and saying things like “A key point is”. 

Overall, her research comparing lecture transcripts in the BASE and ELFA corpora showed that the frequency with which importance is explicitly marked was roughly equivalent between L1 and L2/EMI instructors. Overall, the content-focussed markers were most common, though a variety of word classes and grammatical patterns were found in both corpora. 

She found that EMI lecturers (often L2 speakers in non-English-speaking countries) were more likely to use a content focus, whereas L1 lecturers used phrases that were focused on the content or the audience in highlighting the importance of points in their lectures with roughly equal frequency.

Another slight difference was that L1 lecturers used metanouns more often than EMI/L2 lecturers. On the other hand, EMI/L2 lecturers often used adjectives (e.g. the main idea) and also deictic verb phrases such as “That’s the main point”,  which were often anaphoric/backward-referring (where the students would have to think back to whatever “that” refers to and then note it down). Apparently L1 lecturers were more likely to use verb phrases, particularly imperatives like “Remember” or “Notice” (≠ directives with second-person pronouns), which are also often cataphoric/forward-referring.

Overall, the most commonly used phrases in authentic lectures recorded in these corpora are:

 Remember/Notice xyz

 The point/question is xyz

 I want to emphasise/stress xyz

 The key/important/essential xyz is xyz

Katrien then analysed coursebooks that aim to teach lecture-listening skills to EAP students. She found that they often do not really teach these phrases that are most commonly used in lectures to fulfill the function of marking importance. Indeed, many coursebooks include tasks where students are asked to identify the key ideas from a lecture except, but do not necessarily give good training on the language that might help them to do so, such as listening out for metadiscourse and discourse markers. Some books include lists of ‘useful phrases’ here, but Katrien noticed a preference for explicit markers and listing words, directives with second-person pronouns (e.g. you need to remember) and other non-imperative verb phrases – so not entirely aligned with what the corpora show about phrases commonly used in real lectures.

Katrien suggests four sets of people who are possibly at least partly responsible for this disparity between EAP materials and authentic lectures, based on Gilmore (2015). These are: the researchers in applied linguistics who are not always good at making their research findings accessible;  language teachers who rely on coursebooks and don’t (have time to) think beyond what the books present them;  materials writers who may use their intuition and creativity rather than research to inform their materials; and publishers who may not want to to deal with having to source and and get copyright for authentic lecture recordings or who may not even see the value in doing so. [Note my use of defining relative clauses here – I absolutely do not want to imply putting blame on all researchers, teachers, writers, etc.!]

Katrien’s main recommendation for training EAP students to understand and be able to take notes on the most important content points in lectures is that EAP instructors should critically reflect on materials’ and appropriateness/relevance of the language presented for their students/context, and adapt or extend them as necessary. Supplementary materials should use language from authentic lecture transcripts, such as those found in databases and corpora like BASE or  MICASE and/or representative input materials for the context – e.g. collaborate with local lecturers and use their recordings/videos.

I agree with Katrien and would add that:

  • Materials writers need to make an effort to access the relevant linguistic (and SLA) research, corpora and word/phrase lists, etc. and use it to inform the language they include in their materials. I feel that particularly writers and instructors in the area of EAP are often in a better position to access these publications and resources than those in other contexts, due to their typical affiliation to a university (and their library, databases, etc) and the academic world in general. 
  • Giving a list of useful phrases is not enough –  students need active training, for example in decoding these phrases in fast connected speech where processes like linking, assimilation or elision are likely to happen and may be a barrier to understanding, and prosody helps determine phrases’ meaning, or training in understand how exactly they are used and derive their signalling power from the context and cotext. These phrases are likely to be helpful to students giving their own oral presentations, too, so materials teaching these discourse markers could span and combine both skills. 
  • Lecturers could benefit from training, too – Not all (in some contexts, not very many at all!) lecturers have received training in this kind of teaching presentation, and many may not be aware of the linguistic side of things that can affect how well (especially L2) students understand the content of a lecture. So, perhaps more EAP materials and users’ guides need to be targeted at the teachers and lecturers as well as ‘just’ the students. 
  • And finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We, EAP instructors and materials writers, need to provide numerous opportunities to deliberately engage with suitably selected, context-embedded discourse markers and academic vocabulary to help students internalise it and use it to succeed in their academic studies. 

References

Analysing my Feedback Language

Analysing my Feedback Language

TL:DR SUMMARY

I ran a feedback text I’d written on a student’s work through some online text analysis tools to check the CEFR levels of my language. I was surprised that I was using some vocabulary above my students’ level. After considering whether I can nonetheless expect them to understand my comments, I propose the following tips:

  • Check the language of feedback comments before returning work and modify vocabulary necessary.
  • Check the vocabulary frequently used in feedback comments, and plan to teach these explicitly.
  • Get students to reflect on and respond to feedback to check understanding.

A couple of colleagues I follow on blogs and social media have recently posted about online text analysis tools such as Text Inspector, Lex Tutor and so on (see, for example Julie Moore’s post here and Pete Clements’ post here). That prompted me to explore uses of those tools in more detail for my own work – both using them to judge the input in my teaching materials or assessments, and also using them with students to review their academic essay writing.

Once I got into playing around with different online tools (beyond my go-to Vocab Kitchen), I wanted to try some out on my own texts. The thing I’ve been writing most recently, though, is feedback on my students’ essays and summaries. But, I’m a bit of a feedback nerd so I was quite excited when the idea struck me: I could use these tools to analyse my language in the feedback I write to help my students improve their texts. A little action research, if you will. 

Now I obviously can’t share the students work here for privacy and copyright reasons, but one recent assessment task was to write a 200-250 word compare/contrast paragraph to answer this question:

How similar are the two main characters in the last film you watched?

(Don’t focus on their appearance).

These students are at B2+ level (CEFR) working towards C1 in my essay writing class. They need to demonstrate C1-level language in order to pass the class assessments. One student did not pass this assessment because her text included too many language mistakes that impeded comprehension, because overall the language level did not reach C1, and because she didn’t employ the structural elements we had trained in class.

Here’s the feedback I gave on the piece of work and which I ran through a couple of text checkers. (Note: I usually only write this much if there are a lot of points that need improving!)

The language of this text demonstrates a B2 level of competence. Some of the phrasing is rather too colloquial for written academic language, e.g. starting sentences with ‘but’, and including contracted forms. You need to aim for more sophisticated vocabulary and more lexical diversity. More connectors, signposting and transitions are needed to highlight the genre and the comp/cont relationships between the pieces of information. The language slips lead to meaning not always being emphasised or even made clear (especially towards the end). Aim to write more concisely and precisely, otherwise your text sounds too much like a superficial, subjective summary.

Apart from the personal phrase at the beginning, the TS does an OK job at answering the question of ‘how similar’, and naming the features to be discussed. However, you need to make sure you name the items – i.e. the characters – and the film. In fact, the characters are not named anywhere in the text! The paragraph body does include some points that seem relevant, but the ordering would be more logical if you used signposting and the MEEE technique. For example, you first mention their goals but don’t yet explain what they are, instead first mentioning a difference between them– but not in enough detail to make sense to a reader who maybe doesn’t know the series. Also, you need to discuss the features/points in the order you introduce them in the TS – ‘ambition’ is not discussed here. The information in the last couple o sentences is not really relevant to this question, and does not function as a conclusion to summarise your overall message (i.e. that they are more similar than they think). In future, aim for more detailed explanations of content and use the MEEE technique within one of the structures we covered in class. And remember: do not start new lines within one paragraph – it should be one chunk of text.

I was quite surprised by this ‘scorecard’ summarising the analysis of the lexis in my feedback on Text Inspector – C2 CEFR level, 14% of words on the AWL, and an overall score of 72% “with 100% indicating a high level native speaker academic text.” (Text Inspector). Oops! I didn’t think I was using that high a level of academic lexis. The student can clearly be forgiven if she’s not able to improve further based on this feedback that might be over her head! 

(From Text Inspector)

In their analyses, both Text Inspector and Vocab Kitchen categorise words in the text by CEFR level. In my case, there were some ‘off list’ words, too. These include abbreviations, most of which I expect my students to know, such as e.g., and acronyms we’ve been using in class, such as MEEE (=Message, Explanation, Examples, Evaluation). Some other words are ‘off list’ because of my British English spelling with -ise (emphasise, summarise – B2 and C1 respectively). And some words aren’t included on the word lists used by these tools, presumably due to being highly infrequent and thus categorised as ‘beyond’ C2 level. I did check the CEFR levels that the other ‘off list’ words are listed as in learners’ dictionaries but only found rankings for these words: 

Chunk – C1

Genre – B2

Signposting – C1

(From Vocab Kitchen)

Logically, the question I asked myself at this point is whether I can reasonably expect my students to understand the vocabulary which is above their current language level when I use it in feedback comments. This particularly applies to the words that are typically categorised as C2, which on both platforms were contracted, superficial and transitions, and perhaps also to competence, diversity and subjective which are marked as C1 level. And, of course, to the other ‘off list’ words: colloquial, concisely, connectors, lexical, and phrasing.

Now competence, diversity, lexical and subjective shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for my students, as those words are very similar in German (Kompetenz, Diversität, lexikalisch, subjektiv) which all of my students speak, most of them as an L1. We have also already discussed contracted forms, signposting and transitions on the course, so I have to assume my students understand those. Thus, I’m left with colloquial, concisely, connectors, phrasing and superficial as potentially non-understandable words in my feedback. 

Of course, this feedback is given in written form, so you could argue that students will be able to look up any unknown vocabulary in order to understand my comments and know what to maybe do differently in future.  But I worry that not all students would actually bother to do so –  so they would continue to not fully understand my feedback, making it rather a waste of my time having written it for them.

Overall, I’d say that formulations of helpful feedback comments for my EAP students need to strike a balance. They should mainly use level-appropriate language in terms of vocabulary and phrasing so that the students can comprehend what they need to keep doing or work on improving. Also, they should probably use some academic terms to model them for the students and make matching the feedback to the grading matrices more explicit. Perhaps the potentially non-understandable words in my feedback can be classified as working towards the second of these aims. 

Indeed, writing in a formal register to avoid colloquialisms, and aiming for depth and detail to avoid superficiality are key considerations in academic writing. As are writing in concise phrases and connecting them logically. Thus, I’m fairly sure I have used these potentially non-understandable words in my teaching on this course.But so far we haven’t done any vocabulary training specifically focused on these terms. If I need to use them in my feedback though, then, the students do need to understand them in some way. 

So, what can I do? I think there are a couple of options for me going forward which can help me to provide constructive feedback in a manner which models academic language but is nonetheless accessible to the students at the level they are working at. These are ideas that I can apply to my own practice,  but that other teachers might also like to try out:

  • Check the language of feedback comments before returning work (with feedback) to students; modify vocabulary if necessary.
  • Check the vocabulary items and metalanguage I want/need to use in feedback comments, and in grading matrices (if provided to students), and plan to teach these words if they’re beyond students’ general level.
  • Use the same kinds of vocabulary in feedback comments as in oral explanations of models and in teaching, to increase students’ familiarity with it. 
  • Give examples (or highlight them in the student’s work) of what exactly I mean with certain words.
  • Get students to reflect on the feedback they receive and make an ‘action plan’ or list of points to keep in mind in future – which will show they have understood and been able to digest the feedback.

If you have further suggestions, please do share them in the comments section below!

As a brief closing comment, I just want to  point out here that it is of course not only the vocabulary of any text or feedback comment that determines how understandable it is at which levels. It’s a start, perhaps, but other readability scores need to be taken into account, too. I’ll aim to explore these in a separate blog post.

Writing/Working at home – Less is more

Writing/Working at home – Less is more

I’ve been working from home for exactly a month now. I’ve left the house about five times in that period and during the day I’m on my own here. I’ve been inundated with emails from students and colleagues, and phone calls and online meetings, as you’d expect. But just over a week ago, I noticed that what I’ve really been doing is just working non-stop but still not getting very far. I started in the mornings when I would leave the house to drive to work (7 am) and basically work through until around 5.30 pm, but somehow most evenings I just didn’t feel like I had got much done,  and sometimes ended up thinking about work all evening – and even dreaming about it! I spent so much time working or thinking about work, but I realised that I wasn’t working very effectively and I wasn’t taking care of myself so that my brain would be fit enough for all of the new challenges that online and distance teaching bring with them. 

I’ve been preparing materials for a semester which is going to start on Monday but looking back over them I was quite disappointed with my performance. So, I stopped to take stock and figure out what I would need to do to keep myself from burning out whilst working at, and teaching from, home this term. In this post I’d like to share some of the ideas that I’m trying out and that seem to be working for me. Maybe they’ll be helpful for other people to! The overall motto is: less is more!

First of all, I’ve tried to limit the number of hours spent doing work things to the same number I would work at work. And quite honestly, even with my full-time EAP teaching position it’s probably only about six real hours of effective work I do per day on average. So that’s what I’ve set myself for this period of working full-time at home. I have to say I’m not really strict with myself on this and some days I do half an hour longer or so. But still far less than from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. In this case, slightly less is definitely more! At the absolute latest once my husband gets home I shut the computer down – even if that means stopping in the middle of something. At least I know straight away where I’m going to pick up the next morning! 

I’ve read a bit about pomodoro technique and so on, and I realised that I had been trying to multitask, letting myself get distracted by every email as it came in and basically not focusing so well on the lesson plans and materials I was writing. What I do now during my self-imposed 6-hour working day is set a timer, shut down my email program and turn my mobile phone onto completely silent. I usually go for about 90 minute blocks and not start until about 8 am in the morning. I do two blocks in the morning and one in the afternoon, plus checking emails and and talking to colleagues on the phone. Some people and techniques recommend shorter chunks than this – I don’t know if less is more here; perhaps it depends what you’re working on. But working for concentrated blocks of time has really helped me to stay concentrated, and, looking back over the plans and activities I have written, there is a much clearer linking thread through a lesson or a material, so that saves me time having to edit later. This is definitely something I can recommend and I’m going to carry on doing.

In between those blocks I take breaks away from the desk and try to do something completely different. I do a little bit of cleaning, some colouring, or some exercise like yoga, hula hooping or a stint on the elliptical trainer (and then shower!). For me, doing especially exercise in shorter sessions helps me to get motivated to actually do it! (There it is again, less is more!). And I have even found that, during some rather monotonous activities like colouring or or on the trainer, that’s when some of my best ideas come to me. I sometimes also use that time to make a mental to-do list or plan for my next 90-minute work block. Sometimes I just do laps of my garden looking at the spring blossoms, the fish in the pond, or get lost in my thoughts. I also walk around the house when I’m on the phone to colleagues, which means I’ve easily got my 10,000 steps per day in most days since I started working from home, often without even noticing it! I’m sure the physical movement is also helpful for getting oxygen to my brain to work more effectively! 

Some days (if I’m feeling particularly restless),I let myself have a little quiet time after lunch. I usually just lie down and listen to some music to get my mind off of work tasks. Of course, occasional thoughts about work do sneak in, but somehow in a less hectic way. And sometimes I get flashes of inspiration during these little rests.

In the evenings and at the weekend I take a complete break from working at the computer. I try to do activities that are completely different from my work for example baking, gardening, puzzling or watching TV. And of course catching up with friends on the phone, etc. If the weather is nice I tried to spend as much time outdoors as possible, even if it’s just reading a book in the garden. I’m pleased to say that this has really helped me to stop thinking and worrying about work stuff at the weekend. And sometimes when I get back to the computer on Monday a task that felt so challenging or where I felt I had got stuck the week before suddenly seems a lot easier or more manageable. I learnt and from previous mental health issues how important weekends are, and I think I had maybe lost sight of that a bit. But now that I have reclaimed my weekends and completely work free, I’m much more able to produce better work during the times that I am at the computer.

 

So, as a quick re-cap and handy list, here are my tips for working more effectively at home:

– Stick to a (limited) number of working hours per day.

– Break these working hours into timed blocks during which you’re not distracted.

– Take breaks through the day and do things that are clearly different from your work. Do exercise, for example.

– Allow yourself some quiet time. Spend some time outdoors, for example.

– Do not let work encroach into your evenings or weekends. (Or, depending on your situation, set other clear days/times when you DO NOT WORK.)

– Do not beat yourself up about not having done a ‘perfect’ day’s work every day.

 

A day in the life

Yesterday, 14th Feb 2020, was a special day for me. Not in the romantic, Valentine’s Day way, though. It was the last day of the teaching semester at the university where I teach – cue high fives all round! 😀

Recently, I’ve read a couple of ‘A day in the life’ blog posts giving insight into people’s working days and have been extremely impressed at the tightly-followed schedules and routines – especially of those colleagues who work from home. You’ll see that my day is far less regimented, and especially on the last day of term, I feel sometimes like I skid through the day by the seat of my pants! But maybe some blog readers out there will still be interested in what a day in the life of an EAP teacher, team leader, materials writer and MaWSIG committee member looks like. Oh, and you’ll see, I should probably add ‘team problem solver’ to this list of duties…

 

6 am: Get up. (Yes, I need an alarm for this!). Have a cuppa with my husband, listen to the news and traffic updates. Pack my bag and lunch, then get dressed and ready to go – luckily remembering to take the empty drinks bottles with deposits on, and the shopping bags.

 

7 am: Drive to work. On Fridays, there seems to be comparatively less traffic, so I made it to the university in ‘just’ 35 minutes yesterday. Luckily, I work from home two days a week (that’s when I do my materials writing – I’d never be able to stay focused in the office at university), so I don’t have to do this drive every day! I use the time in the car to mentally go through my plans for the day’s lessons, and to warm up my voice by singing along to the radio.

 

7.40 am: In the office. Make another cup of tea to take to class. Get the computer on and answer students’ emails (usually apologies for absence in the day’s lessons, and a few other questions). Make piles of materials etc. to take to class for each lesson. I’m lucky that my office includes a computer desk, a ‘writing desk’, and a spare desk which I use for meetings with students and these piles of things to take to class. Surface is space is really the key for me getting organised!

 

8.15 am:  Start teaching. I have three 90-minute classes on Fridays (or, at least, I did, during the semester – now it’s the semester break!). The Friday classes this term were “Phonology and Accents of British English”, “Advanced Grammar” and “Integrated Language and Study Skills”, all undergraduate seminars with 25-35 students. Between classes, I have 30 minutes to get back to the office from wherever I’ve been teaching, perhaps stopping in the ladies on the way, swap the materials etc. in my bag, grab another drink, and get to the next lesson.

My three Friday classes were in three different buildings on campus, so I had managed about 2200 steps by 2 pm yesterday. Before I started looking at the step counter on my phone, I’d never realised how much I walked around during my classes; on a ‘good step’ day, I get up to over 1000 steps during a 90-minute lesson. Yesterday, though, the grammar class were taking an exam and we had two student presentations in the Integrated Skills class, so I was sitting for quite a while. Still, in the quiet of the grammar exam, I was able to give feedback on the group work the Phonology class had done in the morning’s lesson and post it on our online platform for them.

IMAG0836

As an example of how chaotic the days can get, though: I had two students from a colleague’s class in my grammar exam, as they’d missed theirs on Monday due to the storm. She’d given me copies of her exam for them. About 10 minutes in, though, one of her students called me over and pointed out that the exam title said “mid-term” instead of “final”, and showed me that the questions didn’t cover the topics covered in the second half of the term. So I had to phone her in the office, (thank goodness she was there, as she doesn’t normally work Fridays!), and she did a rush-job on printing the correct exam for them and running over to my classroom.  To give them the full 90 minutes, I had to stay 15 minutes longer than planned, making my break between classes rather short and meaning I had to practically inhale the salad I had brought for lunch!

 

1.45 pm: Class are over! I mentally high-five myself as no other colleagues are around (those lucky part-time teachers!). I head back to my office and finish the rest of my lunch.

 

2 pm: Dump the materials from my lessons into a “To sort” basket – yes, I know, this is a bad habit. Really, I should file them back away in the relevant binders. But, come on, it’s Friday afternoon, and the last day of term!

I start checking emails that have come in while I was teaching. Most are short, some don’t even require more response than clicking “Accept meeting”. But then … a part-time colleague who finished teaching and has been on holiday since Wednesday has emailed. He’ll be away until the second week of March and had forgotten that we need his grade lists for “Integrated Language and Study Skills” by the end of February to know whether his students have passed and can be allowed to take the module exam. He’s (kindly…) sent instructions on where I can find the different lists with presentation, participation and homework scores, and has given me access to his class on our online platform so I can check their self-study diaries. Great.

I have to say… I was torn for a couple of seconds here. Part of me wanted to say “It was his responsibility and he has not reported that any students passed his class. So they won’t be able to take the module exam, and they’ll just have to complain to our boss.” But, of course, being the overly-helpful problem solver I am, I went to find the lists and see if I could decipher his doctor-like handwriting. (Luckily, I could.) But I still didn’t really see why I should do his work for him, so I called our student assistant and delegated that to her. It’s a task for complex and important than the scanning and admin we usually give her to do, so I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed that she’ll manage and I don’t have to spend (too much) more time on his work.

 

3 pm: This is the second time in the week that I dedicate to my MaWSIG duties. (The other one is Thursday afternoon when we have our Skype meetings.) I add my tuppence worth to a couple of online discussions we’re having, and send off a few emails to get our next webinar sorted.

IMAG0837

I look at my to-do list and check for any other urgent tasks. I’m glad I did this – it reminded me to upload the instructions for the final assignment for the “Phonology” class, and to send the invoice for the materials I wrote last week for an English-learners’ magazine. I have a paper diary, A5 size, where the days of the week are on the left and the right page is space for ‘notes’, i.e. my to-do list. I really like the fact that this enables me to add to-do’s for weeks far in advance, and it means I have plenty of space to list work, MaWSIG, writing and other life-admin to-do’s all in one place . I would definitely recommend a diary like this!

4 pm: The freelance teacher who has taught some classes for us this term is now finished with her last lesson. She has some questions about marking, invoicing, and planning the next semester. We also have a nice chat about the Irish elections and evaluate the textbook she has been working with. I give her some tips on adapting it more next time.

 

4.30 pm: There are actually still a few items on my work to-do list, but nothing that can’t wait until Monday, so I decide to call it a day. It’s a great feeling turning the office computer off on Friday afternoons, isn’t it?

Time for my grocery shopping. I find supermarkets in Germany rather stressful, so I stick grocery shopping on the end of my Friday to get it out of the way and not let it encroach on my weekend. I drive to the supermarket from work, return the deposit bottles, manage to get everything on the shopping list (made on Thursday evening – I’d be awful at spontaneously deciding on meals for the whole next week!), and then head home.

 

6 pm: Get home. Unpack the shopping. Make tea, put the radio on, and collapse on the sofa. A colleague actually texted me a work question around this time. But she will have to wait. Seriously, I learnt the hard way: When work is this hectic, and there are so many ‘things still to do’, that’s even more reason to have a real weekend (i.e. NO WORK!) so that I can face it all again next week with new energy and the necessary composure. Oh, and it was Valentine’s Day, too, of course…

Jumbled sentences: An authentic ELT task?

Jumbled sentences: An authentic ELT task?

Last week, we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr Betty Lanteigne from LCC Klaipeda as a guest lecturer at the university where I work. She gave a talk in our ‘English Linguists Circle’ with the title “Unscrambling jumbled sentences: An authentic task for English language assessment?” and it got me thinking about several questions… and so I thought it might be time for a new blog post. 

(You can read more about Dr Lanteigne’s work in the article I’ve linked to at the end.)

In this post, I’ll be writing about:

 – Are these types of tasks entirely inauthentic?

– For whom could they be helpful?

– How do/should ELT materials writers jumble sentences?

Authentic

Dr Lanteigne first showed us a few jumbled sentence tasks to see if we could unjumble them. It was quite fun(ny): We could do them, but even the ‘correct’ answer gave us rather nonsensical sentences! Here’s one for you to try, and also so you know what I / she mean/s with the term ‘jumbled sentence’:

a want Paris to do you banana take to

This amusement was followed by a quick survey of some voices from the literature that, probably quite rightly, criticise this task type with such unrealistic sentences as being inauthentic, and therefore of low value for ELT. Dr Lanteigne counters that ‘authentic’ can be taken to mean that anything about the activity is real; the people, the text/input, the situation, and/or what learners need to do with the language are aspects that could be found outside of the classroom. And by this definition, she argues, interactions in some contexts where English is used as a lingua franca do, in fact, sometimes include unjumbling sentences. To underline her argument, Dr Lanteinge has collected ‘jumbled sentences’ that she has heard in her time in Dubai and the UAE – sentences used “in the wild”, as she called them, as opposed to having been invented precisely for such unjumbling tasks. Two of the examples she provided were:

  1. How you would feel if it to you happens?
  2. Want taxi Dubai you?
Useful

Dr Lanteigne argues that because such jumbled sentences are authentic in ELF contexts, they can be a valuable part of ELT and language assessment. If someone needs to communicate in an ELF setting, ‘decoding’ such sentences and deducing meaning and knowing how to respond are very important skills; thus such tasks are authentic. This is especially true for English learners in areas where English is used as a lingua franca, such as Dubai and UAE, where Dr Lanteigne was working. I teach EAP (B2+ level) and train EFL teachers in Germany, and many of my students’ career goals are often focused on Germany. Still, the chances are fairly high that they will at some point be in a situation where the person doesn’t speak their L1 and they don’t speak the other person’s L1, and so they may need to use English as a lingua franca, and thus also use these ‘decoding’ or ‘unjumbling’ skills.

Dr Lanteigne has therefore developed some useful testing materials based on the example jumbled sentences she had gathered. These tasks are very interesting, for tests and in lessons, I think: They involve learners showing they can understand the meaning of a jumbled utterance, reconstructing it into a grammatically correct sentence or selecting the correct version from a list, and then responding to it in some way, for example ‘What would be a suitable reaction to this sentence?’. I find this kind of adaptive and reciprocal task valuable, as it moves beyond simply putting words into a correct order, or producing an utterance for no further purpose. And so I’m basically convinced that including tasks like this in my materials for my German students every so often could be a helpful thing to do.

Task Differences

However, you might have noticed, as I did, that there is a bit of a difference between the two example ‘jumbled sentences’ she gave. The first of these examples includes all of the ‘elements’ needed for a grammatically correct sentence in a Standard English. Thus, the task really is unjumbling the words to get to the standard word order for the sentence. Also, the information structure is intact, meaning it’s really just the word order that’s the problem. The second example, though, requires a bit more than that – you need to insert an article, auxiliary and preposition, and rearrange the words to get to a grammatically correct sentence in the standard sense. You might also need some contextual clues, such as who said the utterance to whom, and where. I’d therefore call it something like ‘reconstructing sentences’ rather than ‘unjumbling’, and I feel like these two task-types should be treated as different in any research or discussion on their authenticity and effectiveness.

Materials – jumbled sentences

‘Unjumbling sentences’ tasks, then, could be useful for practising word order, verb forms, colligations, collocations, etc. Helping learners to practise ‘unjumbling’ in their head may assist them in understanding such sentences when heard ‘in the wild’. There are of course different ways of presenting the activity in materials. For example, you could leave in the punctuation, as in the second version below (which many jumbling apps seem to do), and there are many different orders you could jumble the words into, keeping the information structure intact or not (it is often not intact in coursebook/app versions of ‘jumbled sentences’). This really interests me – how do materials writers decide how to jumble sentences? And is this reflective of authentic jumbles? I asked on Twitter just got responses that said ‘alphabetical’ or ‘I use an app/website for that’. I think it would be interesting to think about jumbled orders which are likely to help with specific problems with word order or sentence structure that learners have, for example due to their L1s. In example 1 above, for example, I recognise some word order issues that my German students might have due to interference. This kind of unjumbling, then, could help to remind them of English word order rules – something similar to an error correction task. Since many of my students are studying to become EFL teachers in the German state sector, this kind of activity could be seen as authentic for them – especially with these real utterances, rather than alphabetically ordered jumbled words. The example I’ve invented below focuses on collocations, alongside word order for questions with an auxiliary – but I don’t suppose this is a realistic example of anything any language learner would say; it’s just a collection of words! Although I don’t necessarily think ‘artificial’ is the polar opposite of ‘authentic’, this one is definitely not an authentic example of a jumbled sentence in the way Dr Lanteigne understands the term, and is more akin to the kinds of sentences that are most often criticised in this task type for exactly this reason. Perhaps it still has value in ELT, but again, it would be more interesting to discuss which jumbled orders are most helpful for students in which cases. Since different jumbles would probably check different things, such as lexical, morphological or syntactical knowledge, it probably depends on the specific language point you want to check, as well as students’ L1s. This sounds like something that someone who has more time than me should research 😉

ceilings men legs tall long high like do with 

ceilings? men legs tall long high like Do with 

Materials – sentence reconstruction

With example 2 above, the syntax makes me think this is not an L1 speaker of a European language; at least I don’t know any Indo-European languages that separate the subject from the verb in this way. And, as I said before, reconstructing this sentence to understand the speaker’s meaning is more than just an unjumbling activity – it will require contextual and maybe also cultural knowledge to determine the speakers’ meaning and intention, as well as knowledge of grammar and lexis. Still, as an authentic utterance and thus potentially authentic task, learning to reconstruct it would seem to have value, as Dr Lanteigne argues, especially for learners who are likely to communicate in an ELF context. In order to produce materials that help to train this competence, then, we would either need to collect more authentic examples “in the wild”, or investigate the patterns behind omitted words and ‘jumbled’ word order, in order to create our own artificial, but authentic, examples to work with. Here again, I believe that context is key – depending on the speaker’s L1, the patterns are likely to be different, so we’d need to know a lot about who said what in order to create a suitable sample base of sentences for our materials, and might then also need to select relevant examples for the materials based on the specific learners, their context and reasons for learning English (e.g. where are their future ELF interlocutors likely to come from?).

So what?

I’m slightly torn at this point, though I can’t formulate my evaluative thoughts very well. I’ll try: This sounds like very interesting and insight-rich research to do, and I’m sure the results would be valuable for ELT materials writers. But it does seem to presuppose that such decoding and understanding skills are rather high-level in terms of English language competence and need to be trained. I wonder if that’s always true? I mean, what if a few words, some gesture and context, and a willingness to negotiate meaning are enough for communication in ELF contexts? Do the conversation partners need to reconstruct a grammatically correct sentence in their head to understand or be able to respond? Again, more research… please let me know if you do it! 🙂

Further Reading

Lanteigne, Betty. 20 17. “Unscrambling jumbled sentences: An authentic task for English language assessment?”. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching (7/2). 251-273. Accessible here: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1149764.pdf

Writers’ Block Busters

Writers’ Block Busters

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We desperately want (or need!) to get something finished – an article, a manuscript, a set of materials, whatever we’re writing – but our brain just feels bereft of any ideas or information. Either that, or our grey cells are buzzing, but shooting around so many random thoughts that we can’t focus on putting together whatever it is we’re trying to write. 

I write ELT materials, and also articles for teaching magazines. And sometimes I stare at my screen trying to write them; or trying to write anything, really! But over the years, I have come up with a little list of things that can help me overcome this block when I’m writing, and so I thought I’d share it here (along with some loosely related anecdotes!):

Go outside – do some weeding in the garden, go for a jog, walk the dog, feed the birds, whatever! Get some natural daylight and a bit of light movement. There are several benefits to this, I’ve found – the extra oxygen and the vitamin D from the sunlight are great boosts, but also the monotonous action of walking/running or pulling out weeds seems to allow space in the mind for other thoughts to come together. Note: You should have some note-taking tool handy for when inspiration hits! I remember walking home from the uni library whilst I was working on my MA dissertation, and connections and arguments I’d spent all day trying to express coherently suddenly appeared in my mind, so nicely formulated that I stopped, dumped by bag on someone’s front wall, and grabbed out my note pad to write it all down!

Have a shower or brush your teeth – don’t take this tip personally! I’d never really paid attention to how often my colleagues or I said “In the shower this morning, I was thinking…”. Or how often I suddenly had a flash of inspiration whilst my electric toothbrush was buzzing along my pearly whites. Maybe it’s the monotonous or automated action thing like walking, or the lack of distractions from the phone, internet, etc., but something about these personal hygiene routines helps me to get ideas or join the dots in things I’m working on.

Watch/read/listen to/talk about the news – read the non-headline stories. Just like topics of conversation, I often find ideas for ELT materials, articles, and so on in a news story that I wouldn’t normally have looked at. I subscribe to a news magazine and have learned about so many interesting new topics that aren’t in the headlines, and have been able to use several of them in my language teaching materials or classes. It surprises me (in a positive way) over and over how things related to topics I’ve just read about come up in other places – in conversation, on social media, in lessons, etc. Seriously, I once wrote a worksheet based on an article about protests against replacing the carpet at Portland (Oregon, USA) airport – people had the pattern tattooed and took ‘footies’ (selfies of their feet) with the carpet. Students found it hilarious, and the text had some great vocab and collocations with colours. And the next week, our last teaching assistant who’d just headed back home to… you guessed it… Portland, posted his own footie on Facebook and all the students could see the carpet for themselves!

Clear out a cupboard – tidy your desk, sort out your wardrobe, organise your sock-draw, sort your cosmetics into little baskets, whatever! Clearing up clutter can have an amazing subconscious effect and free up some “brain space” to get some new ideas or tackle difficult tasks. I don’t say this because I have any sort of strong belief á la Feng shui or Marie Kondo; I have just found that knowing things are orderly in the physical world, helps me to bring order to my mental world and get on with the task at hand.

Do chores that need less than a minute – send that email, pay that bill, file that document, empty the dishwasher, whatever! This one works similarly to the cupboard-clearing, I think: Even the smallest items take up space in our mental to-do lists that would probably be best used for something else. I find it best to “clear” these from my to-do list first thing in the morning, so they don’t distract my focus from what we’re trying to write, but they can also work well if I’ve reached a dead-end in my inspiration or writing.

Get creative/Play a game – with your children/partner/flat mates (if available!) or online; the more imaginative the better! I know that writing IS creative, but what I mean here is some other kind of imaginative or creative pastime. I like to bake and to do colouring (because when I work at home during the day there is no partner/child/flat mate I could coerce into helping me play a creative game!), but I guess anything that activates different parts of the brain and gets synapses firing is good for enabling new ideas to come together for whatever you’re trying to write.

So, those are my top tips – let me know if you try them and find them helpful. Maybe you also have your own ways to bust writers’ block which you can share in the comments below!

Reflections on my lesson: Is this TBLT?

Reflections on my lesson: Is this TBLT?

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit confused. I think my classroom practice and teaching materials reflect a Communicative Approach to language teaching. Prompted by some debates on Twitter, though, I’ve been trying to read up on TBLT and picture exactly what it would look like in the classroom, how TBLT-type lessons and courses would be sequenced and structured, and whether my lessons are actually TBLT. I’ve just read that “[g]enerally,  [ELT] methods are quite distinctive at the early, beginning stages of a language course, and rather indistinguishable from each other at a later stage” (Brown, 1997, p. 3, in Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p. 249), and “[t]here are no convincing video ‘demonstrations’ with intermediate or advanced learners, perhaps because…at that level there is nothing distinctive to demonstrate.” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p. 250), so maybe that’s why I’m finding so hard to see whether the lesson and materials for B2-C1 learners I’ve created are actually TBLT or not.

Still, I think a lot of my lessons fit with what Willis (1996, in Richards & Rodgers, 2001, pp. 239-40) recommends as a sequence of activities in TBLT, even though I didn’t particularly plan them to be that way. Here’s an example; see what you think, I’m genuinely interested in opinions on this!

Pretask: Introduces topic & task

My lesson: T writes “food sharing” on the board and Sts brainstorm what they know about it. Any useful vocab sts use, especially if it’s new to other sts, is noted on the board. Sts are told that the overall goal for the lesson is to write a short statement showing their opinion on a food-sharing initiative.

Planning for task: Gives input on topic necessary for task

My lesson:

Stage 1 – Sts listen to a podcast on the topic, which discusses different ‘types’ of food sharing (e.g. food-sharing platforms, meal sharing, also food salvaging) and a couple of potential problems/legal issues. The two speakers basically have different views – one is very enthusiastic about food sharing and the other is wary. This is a real podcast, but I just use an excerpt so that it’s manageable within the lesson (Does this make it less authentic? And therefore not suitable for TBL?)

Sts answer some listening comprehension questions and take notes on what they learn about different sharing initiatives. Sts compare notes (e.g. in pairs) to check anything they aren’t sure they understood properly. T answer sts’ questions about any vocab or phrases in the podcast.

Stage 2 – Sts read two example comments that were left on the podcast website: again one is in favour, the other is sceptical. They both state their opinion and explain a couple of reasons for it. (I just selected two, which were well-written i.t.o. structure and no typos/language slips, and where I thought the language used would be understandable to B2 learners  – again, I wonder if this is authentic enough? Sts answer comprehension Qs: Which one is for / against food sharing & how they know (which words/phrases show the opinion). They highlight the statement of opinion and the supporting points/reasons in different colours.

Sts think about which comment they agree with most and find a partner with a similar view.

Task – Completing the task/goal of the lesson 

My lesson: In pairs (with the partner they just found), sts write a comment showing their opinion to add to the podcast website. They are told to state their opinion clearly and include supporting points/reasons.

The comments are displayed around the classroom and sts read each others’ texts. They then decide which one they think makes the best argument and why. Individual sts report back to tell the class about which comment they find most convincing and what they think makes it so good.

Language Focus – analysis and practice

My lesson: Sts look back at what they highlighted in the comments and what they wrote themselves. They are directed to find words/phrases that introduce opinion (e.g. I honestly believe, the way I see it, I’m afraid I have to disagree); these are written on the board. Sts look at their notes from the podcast and see if they can remember any other phrases – they can listen again if they wish. Sts can also be asked to discuss equivalents in their L1 (is that OK in TBLT?)

Sts discuss in small groups other things that can be shared / other sharing initiatives they’ve heard about and their opinions of them (also in comparison to food sharing) – whether they see any issues or whether they’d like to try them. I display pictures (e.g. of books, cars, couch-surfing, office space) to give them ideas, but the language they mined from the input texts remains displayed on the board.

Posttask – reporting and consolidating

Finally, Sts reflect on their use of the words/phrases for showing opinion and edit their written comments on the podcast if they wish. They tell each other what they changed and why, and evaluate each others’ edited comments.

If sts wish, they can post their comments on the real podcast website.

 

From what I’ve been reading, a lot of what makes TBLT TBLT is the priority or focus given to meaning over “language points” – if I had, for example, done the language analysis (here, the guided discovery of phrases to introduce an opinion/supporting reasons) before the actual task (here the writing of comments), then this would perhaps have not been so in-keeping with what TBLT recommends, right? Then I would be “back to” the Communicative Approach, wouldn’t I? Comments welcome!

Don’t get me wrong, this blog post is not trying to weight different methods up against each other (that’s a discussion for another time and place), but I’m trying to get my head around some criticisms of teaching and materials that claim TBLT would be better – and that got me wondering if it’s not TBLT I’m doing anyway…

 

References

Brown, H.D., “English language teaching in the ‘post-method’ era: Toward better diagnosis, treatment and assessment,” PASAA, 27, 1997, pp. 1-10.

Richards, J.C. & T.S. Rodgers, Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (CUP, 2001)

Willis, J., “A flexible framework for task-based learning”, in J. Willis and D. Willis (eds), Challenge and Change in Language Teaching (Heinemann,, 1996), pp. 52-62.

 

Fun things I’ve learnt from writing one ELT coursebook

Fun things I’ve learnt from writing one ELT coursebook

I’ve recently read (am a bit slow) this post https://eltplanning.com/2018/08/03/materials-writer-elt/ and one point really stood out to me – about how being interested in lots of things is helpful for materials writers. And as I’m just going through the proof stage of a book I’ve co-written, it made me reflect on the interesting things I’ve learnt about while writing one ELT book. They include:

– foodsharing and carsharing – justifications and legal issues

– reasons for vegetariansm and other dietary choices

– Shakespeare’s legacy / influence on the English we use today, plus the fact that there is a computer game based (loosely) on Hamlet!

– tiny homes and motivations for minimalist lifestyles

– crazy competitions from around the world

– details on the origins of many holidays and the associated traditions (Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Chrismukkah,…)

– training for a marathon & health benefits of running over other sports

– origins of sports idioms

– how to fake a news story and a photo of monsters/freaks of nature/other unidentifiable objects – yes really!

– how to carve an onion into a flower – though I have to admit I’ve not yet had an occasion to try this out!

 

Writing this book has had an effect on my own life and lifestyle; I can only hope the future students find the topics as engaging!

What about you? Have you researched something to make language teaching materials and learnt something new that’s changed your life?

 

 

10+ Things to do with a podcast in ELT

10+ Things to do with a podcast in ELT

In the EAP context I work in, we’ve recently had a drive to push engagement with authentic English-language input, within the classroom and as self-study. In general, as self-study I encourage my students to do whatever they enjoy doing – but do it in English! One of things a lot of students choose to do is to listen to podcasts.  They seem to like the fact that it doesn’t feel like ‘studying’. For me, though, this is a bit of a problem. My learners are pretty advanced, and I don’t feel they benefit as much as possible from podcasts if they simply ‘kick back’, relax, and enjoy listening. Of course the exposure is beneficial, but I found that students were not necessarily improving in their ability to use English actively. And so I came up with a list of tasks they could do to engage more actively with the podcasts they were listening to – and I’ve started doing some of them with students in classes, too. I’d like to share the ideas here as inspiration for other English learners and teachers. 

Please let me know if you try them out and how it goes! And let me know if you have other ideas I could add to my list!

Step one is, of course, choosing a podcast. I’d say that topic interest is a key factor here – if students are interested, they will put in the work to understand the content. Here are some sources of podcasts in English that I share with my students:

17850234-Vector-illustration-of-global-music-concept-with-shiny-earth-and-headphones-on-it-Stock-Vector.jpg

BBC Podcasts: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts

NPR Podcast Directory: http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_directory.php

Sky News Video Podcasting: http://news.sky.com/home/sky-news-video-podcasting/article/1208280

Podcasts Absolute Radio: http://www.absoluteradio.co.uk/podcasts/

CNN Audio and Video Podcasts: http://edition.cnn.com/services/podcasting/

 

And here are the tasks I allow them to choose from (in no particular order):

1) Reflect on the title of the podcast/episode. What do you expect to hear about? Look up any words you might expect to hear, if you don’t know them in English. Write down some questions and see if you can take notes on the podcast to answer them whilst listening.

2) Summarise the content of the podcast in 5-10 sentences. Don’t forget to use reporting language and name the source of the podcast.

2a) Make a spider diagram or flow-chart of the points covered in the podcast. What are the main points and what are the examples and explanations used to support them?

2b) Tell someone about the podcast’s content in your first language. Can you answer all of their questions about the topic? If not, listen again until you can.

English-English_and_English-Persian_dictionaries

3) Find words from the podcast that are new to you. For each word, make a note of the dictionary definition(s) from a monolingual English dictionary. Note any related words (e.g. adjective form, verb, nouns, etc.). Now find 3 synonyms that could be used in this context, and  1-2 antonym(s). Use a thesaurus to help you with this task. With this new vocabulary, rewrite the sentences from the podcast where the new words occured – using the synonyms and antonyms accurately in this context.

3a) Draw a mind-map of the key vocabulary used in the podcast. Look up words’ meanings, other word classes (e.g. nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.), and also synonyms and antonyms to include. Try to write your own example sentences on the topic of the podcast using these sentences.

4) Find grammatical structures which are new to you or you would not actively use. (If nothing is new, take the first two clauses/sentences from the text.) Write out the structures and an explanation of why they are correct. See how many other ways you can reword the sentence to express the same information. Use a reference grammar book to help you with this task, e.g. Swan, M., Practical English Usage (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2005).

5) Make up comprehension questions about the topic, and make an anwer key. You can swap with a friend to check you have both understood correctly.

6) Pick a statement from the podcast which you consider to be rather an opinion than a fact. Make a bullet-point list of points you could use to argue against this statement.

6a) Discuss the podcast’s content with a friend. Which points do you agree on and why? Where do you have different opinions? Can you convince each other of your opinions?

6b) Think about “so what?” – Now that you have learned something (hopefully!) from the podcast, what can you do with this knowledge? Does it connect to your studies? Does it make you want to change your behaviour or lifestyle?

7) Write a review of the podcast/episode. What did you like/not like and why? You might be able to post this as a comment on the podcast site and engage in a discussion with other listeners.

English_vowel_chart

8) Write the first sentence of the podcast in IPA symbols.

9) Find a section where the presenter speaks quickly, and try to transcribe exactly what they say. Reflect on how the words sound different when they are said alone and within the phrase/sentence.

9a) Use a programme such as VLC Player and make subtitles to accompany the podcast.

10) Write the reference for the podcast as if you had to include it in a bibliography.