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.

 

 

 

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Perceiving Prominence – Part #1 (the “What?”)

Perceiving Prominence – Part #1 (the “What?”)

How would you say these example sentences?
a. I think that’s the right answer, but I’m not sure. 

b. I think that’s the right answer, no matter what you say!

I’m guessing that “I” and “think” sounded different when you said these two sentences to yourself – and it is this difference that is interesting and helpful to understand, particularly for English learners.

My friend and colleague is doing post-doctoral research on the different functions of the chunk “I think”. Depending on whether “I” or “think” is pronounced as prominent (i.e. stressed), the chunk can either be a hedger or a booster, as we saw in the example sentences above. Her research is looking into whether these two functions of “I think” align with its function as part of a matrix clause or comment clause respectively. If that’s too hard-core linguistic-y for you, do not worry! This post is about how prominence in “I” or “think” is realised and perceived, and part 2 will then look at how we can help English langauge learners to understand and use “I think” effectively.

To set the scene… My colleague and I were phonetically coding audio recordings of English speakers reading example sentences that include “I think” – she needs the coding for her research. In some cases, we noticed that we had coded the prominences (i.e. stressed syllables) in some sentences differently. And that got us thinking: On a phonological and rather subjective level, when do we perceive “I” or “think” as prominent? And on a phonetic and objective level, how are “I” and “think” produced to be prominent? That is, what makes a stressed syllable sound stressed?

For those who are less interested in the empirical details of the study, skip this paragraph! 😉 We had 23 English speakers read 6 sentences including “I think” three times each. There were also other ‘distractor’ sentences that they read, and they were not informed that our research focuses on “I think”. That ratio of distractors to experimental sentences was 2:1.  The findings I’m reporting here come from our coding of  115 recordings of “I think” sentences – only one instance of each sentence per speaker.

Unbenannt

As a first step in answering our questions about the perception and production of prominence, we each coded the recordings, using P or p to show strong or weak prominence, using the Praat software- see image below for an example. In 96 cases, we both agreed on which syllables were the most prominent ones in the recording – an overlap of almost 83%. In 19 cases, we didn’t overlap exactly on whether it was strong or weak prominence in comparison to the rest of the sentence stresses, but both identified the same syllable in “I think” as prominent, and in 19 other cases one of us had not marked any prominence in “I think” and the other one had. Of these 19 where we disagreed, there were 13 cases where my colleague coded “think” as prominent, and I perceived no prominence in “I think” compared to the rest of the sentence.

Bild1

And so we moved on to looking at what was different in the productions of “I” and “think” in these sentences that could help explain our differences in perceiving prominence. Generally, syllable stress, or prominence, is said to be a combination of pitch accents (i.e. higher pitch or pitch movement), longer duration, and higher intensity (i.e. volume/loudness). Some linguists assume pitch to be the most important factor, whereas others claim intensity to be the best predictor of a syllable being perceived as prominent. Since the literature presents some conflicting ideas here, we were motivated to look at all three aspects and see whether they could explain our differing perceptions of prominence. We coded the recordings phonetically for pitch, duration and intensity (also using the Praat software), to come up with the following findings.  The image below shows what the coding looked like – the yellow line shows intensity and the blue one pitch.

Bild2

Is there always a pitch accent on the syllable we perceived as prominent in “I think”?Basically, yes. There was only one example among our 115 recordings where there was no pitch accent on an “I” that we both percieved as prominent. Interestingly, prominence on “I” was often associated with pitch movement, rather than a peak. We also noticed that, even when I had not percieved either syllable in “I think” as particularly prominent in the sentence, there was usually a pitch peak on “think” – which may explain 13 cases where my colleague percieved “think” as prominent and I had coded no prominence. So it seems that pitch is a fairly reliable predictor of when my colleague will perceive prominence. But what about me?

Next, we looked at intensity. Here, there was a less systematic correlation. We found that the more prominent syllable in “I think” is most often produced with more intensity. However, in 13 of the cases where we agreed on which syllable was prominent, the syllable we had marked as prominent was not the louder one – this was especially true for recordings of American speakers (11 out of 13 instances). Regarding the cases where we had coded prominence differently, intensity explained 47% of my colleague’s prominent syllables, but only 21% of mine. [My colleague was a little frustrated with me at this point – What IS it that makes syllables sound prominent to you???!!!]

The final phonetic aspect we looked at was duration. I should tell you that this is hard to measure, and phoneticians disagree on the best way to measure it, but that is a discussion for another time! In the cases where we agreed on the prominence of “I” in “I think”, it was always the speaker’s longest pronunciation of “I” in the sentence. Still, my colleague’s perceptions of prominence seem to be somewhat immune to the duration factor – even the long duration of “I” did not make her perceive it as prominent if pitch and/or intensity pointed to “think” as the prominent syllable. In 5 cases, though, this longer duration led me to code “I” as the prominent syllable, despite the pitch accent and/or higher intensity of “think”. So, it looked as if we were getting to the bottom of which factors create prominence they way I perceive it! Still, there was one case where the pitch peak was on “think”, an intensity peak on “I”, and it was the speaker’s longest “I” – and I still did not code either “I” or “think” as prominent!

From all this, we concluded that my colleague may have been influenced by all her research into the chunk “I think” and thus perceives prominence there more often than I do, as I focus on the whole sentence and compare any peaks in pitch, intensity or duration to all other words, rather than just within the chunk “I think”.

Unbenannt2

Still, overall, the order in which I have discussed the factors above seems to be their order of importance for creating prominence in our little study: pitch, intensity, duration. And for some conversation partners, like me, a combination of all three factors in one syllable may be necessary for it to be perceived as prominent.

 

So what does this mean for English langauge learners and teachers? The length of this blog post was getting a bit out of hand, so I’ve divided it up – Come back for Part 2 to find out about the practical applications of these insights!

 

How to serve PARSNIPs

How to serve PARSNIPs

There are always lots of discussions about what topics are “allowed” in ELT materials and which should be avoided. My impression is that publishers hoping to sell products globally follow the notion of PARSNIP topics being too sensitive in some parts of the world for products touching on those topics to sell well. That may be the case, but very few of us are actually writing materials we hope to sell around the whole world! I personally think that what is taboo depends on the specific context – and those of us making materials for more clearly defined groups of target learners (in some cases, our own students!) are in a better position to be able to decide what topics it would be good or less good to include. Moreover, I’m not convinced that avoiding PARSNIP topics at all costs makes for engaging materials – in fact, as many people have said before me, it can result in rather superficial, bland materials, and I find this becomes all the more obvious as we get up past the intermediate level. As I see it, it should be a case of considering HOW and from which angle, not just WHAT topic is covered. I know that’s not a very innovative or original thing to say! Instead, perhaps I can just take the food metaphor a step too far: It’s more important how you serve the parsnips!

371921825_b53e7d5283_b   Perhaps some examples…

(I teach and write materials for adult English learners in Germany, and I’m currently working on writing a B2 coursebook for a German publisher.)

RELIGION: One initial idea that came up at a planning meeting was having input on the historical background of “Anglo-American” (= usually Christian) holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. Although I would have been able to focus on the more secular traditions, I felt this might be a topic that might not interest people of other faiths, and, while perhaps not particularly ‘taboo’, it would just seem odd to focus on Christianity. Firstly because most English-speaking countries are home to people of various faiths, and also because it might have seemed like it was trying to “teach” Christian traditions to the learners.  The unit I wrote still looks at religious celebrations but is about how mixed-religious families celebrate or combine their celebrations. The angle of mixed-religious friendship groups and families is, I feel, very apt in Germany, and opens up tolerant space for learners to talk about their own beliefs, religious holidays, celebrations, etc. I hope that groups of learners from different faiths and backgrounds could engage in meaningful discussions and hope that the teachers who use this book with their classes on future do not shy away from discussing religion and whatever ideas come up in the learners’ discussion.–> Tasty parsnip 🙂

PORK: How can you write a book to be used in Germany and not mention pork? The population of Germany eats an average of around 50 kg of per person per year! But I didn’t write a unit focussing on pork, don’t worry! Instead, we have input with information like the ‘fun fact’ above about statistically average eating habits of different European countries (e.g. % of population that is vegetarian, average amounts of dairy products consumed, etc.), and interaction on what you do and do not (like to) eat. There is a sneaky mention of some pork chops, though! I feel that making it more general opens up space for discussion and shows learners how to politely discuss their own and others’ diets and the reasons for them (in one task even with some controversy about how healthy veganism is), and to ask for alternative foods – which are realistically things that people want or need to do in English. –> Tasty parsnip, or parsnip alternative 😉

ALCOHOL: Working in Germany, it’s almost impossible to avoid beer! Of course, you don’t have to drink it, but even beyond the massive and massively famous beer festivals, you can’t help but notice it in your everday life. They even have the saying ‘Das ist nicht mein Bier’ meaning ‘it’s none of my business’! In a mini-attempt to avoid talking about alcohol (not really), and just because I thought it was interesting, I wrote an activity where students discuss adverts for alcohol-free beer as an isotonic drink, which are aimed at sportspeople. There are opportunities to consider the approaches of such adverts and their persuasive strategies, as well as learn the words to do with talking about beer, alcohol, or the lack thereof! And just in case PARSNIP pedants were worried, it’s the alcohol-free versions that in the focus, so it’s basically a tasty parsnip-free parsnip! 🙂

To be honest, I didn’t set out trying to ‘avoid’ PARSNIPS in this coursebook I’m writing, but trying to take a fresh angle on some topics that seem to be covered repeatedly, and often blandly, in other books I’ve seen. But in the end, I’ve convinced myself even more strongly that it is the HOW and not the WHAT of PARSNIPS that should be the focus of any teachers’ or writers’ discussions on the topic. Oh, and just for fun, a unit with recipe / cooking vocabulary, included a recipe for a swede and parsnip bake! 😀

Revision Week for my Materials

Revision Week for my Materials

Finally it is the last week of our semester here, which started in October. It’s been a long, hard slog, but we’ve made it! But the final week of term is a weird one. We still have classes, most of which are revision sessions or tests, and we have to make sure we get all the final assignments uploaded for students to do, but then most of the rest of the time it’s really quiet. I don’t have any marking to  do – yet! And so, although we normally think of the end of term as really stressful, actually this one final week is a bit of down time, the peace before (and after!) the storm.

That’s why I’ve decided to have my own little “revision week”. I don’t have any exams to study for (thank goodness!), so I’m using the time this week to revise and edit materials and worksheets I have written for my classes over the semester. I’m tweaking things and adding extra notes for myself, so the materials will be even better next time I use them.

Revising and editing are key steps in preparing language teaching materials for publication, but they’re often left out when we create materials for our own classes. And that’s a real shame – as teachers who write for their own classes are in the very lucky position of being able to use materials with exactly the target learners they were written for! I find reviewing and revising my materials not only helpful for the next time I use them, but also an important tool in developing as a materials writer and teacher, as I reflect and evaluate how well the materials worked.

So what kinds of things am I revising?

  • Timing: I had several lessons this semester where things I had thought of as fairly straightforward, warmer activities took my students much longer than I had envisaged. And often, these were things that were very introductory or revising previous content, so not the main point of the lesson, and then they ate into the time I had planned for whatever the main point of content was! I find revising timing estimates quite hard: Will next year’s students take a long time, too? Or was there something about this group? The decision is basically between cutting out/down the activity, or making a note to chivvy students along when we do it! It’s this kind of considerations that should go into teachers’ notes that accompany materials, though the answer is often “it depends!*”

 

  • References: I often note on my materials where students can find more information, for example in their grammar reference book or the cultural studies book we’re using. In one case, the publisher brought out a new version of the book right before our term started, so all my page/unit numbers need updating. But it gives me a chance to re-read the extra references I’m giving students and re-evaluate if they’re really as relevant as I thought when I first listed them! Doing this has made me reconsider something I’m writing for a publisher, too: We have “Info” and “Tip” boxes in the book, and I think I’ll probably go back and check them with ‘fresh eyes’ to see if they’re still as helpful as I thought when I first wrote them! Even when the materials are not for publication, time, it seems, is the best editor!

 

  • Poor examples: Sometimes examples seem to clear to us when we write, or we are writing in a rush and don’t have much time to consider how clear they are. Then, when we’re in class and students struggle to understand an example, it flashes up how poor an example it was that we wrote. So I’m looking back through all my example sentences and input texts to make them clearer. Especially the ones that seemed to confuse my students. This really highlights the need for an editor, or at least a colleague, who can read things over and notice things that we oversee when we’re in the flow of writing. imagesWith some of my examples from this semester, it’s just a case of adding a time adverbial to clarify the function of the verb form. But I’ve also discovered I had a ‘future in the past’ example of would in an exercise that was supposed to focus on the ‘habitual actions in the past’ use of would – oops!

 

  • Ordering of activities: Most of my teaching follows a deductive approach, but in some very advanced classes (like phonetics!) this turned out to be less effective than I had hoped. In a couple of other classes, too, we had moments where students suddenly understood, for example, task 4 after we had done task 5. So I’m going back and checking again which order seems best for which series of activities. I find it helpful to explicitly name the purpose of the activities in a list, e.g. discovery, gist, comprehension, personalization, production, and then see if that order makes sense. For example, did the personalization task not work because it came right after the discovery task and would it be better after the short-answer comprehension questions?

 

  • Extra explanations: At the beginning of term, I was proud to have been so organised and prepared a lot of my teaching materials in advance. 🙂 The problem was that then, weeks later, in the actual lesson, I didn’t have with me all the resources and books I’d used when I put the material together. And of course students always seem to ask about exactly that one thing that you can’t remember very well. “Does may or could express a more likely possibility?” “How many voters are in each UK constituency?” This week, I’m going back and adding notes on these and other points I hadn’t remembered. Lesson learnt: Make an answers sheet with explanations of all the answers on it at the same time you make the materials and key!

 

The more I think about it, I’m sure my revision week is just as beneficial as what my students are doing this week, and, in contrast to them (probably!), I’m actually really enjoying it! It’s good to make these edits while the memory of how things went in class is still fresh in my mind, definitely a recommendable practice. Probably even more recommendable would be to have “revision hour” at the end of each week, so things are even fresher; but will I always have the time and inclination to do that? It depends.

to-do-liste

*Note: This is at the same time a very common answer and my most frustrating answer in language classrooms! 😀

Looking after your voice

Looking after your voice

Alongside psychological issues, voice problems are a major cause of illness among teachers. 

I recently attending a workshop on how to look after your voice as a teacher (held by Frank Gutjahr at Universität Trier), and in the post I’d like to share the practical tips I heard. They’ll probably be relevant for anyone who does a lot of public speaking. 

Tip 1: Drink still water.

Here in Germany, people seem to be somewhat obsessed with sparkling water, but the carbon dioxide bubbles can irritate the vocal chords. I know a lot of people drink herbal or fruit teas, too, but even these can actually cause you to have a dry throat. Apparently, the best thing to drink if you need to speak a lot is still water. If you have a dry throat, try inhaling sage or sage essence in hot water.

Tip 2 : Breathe!

Our natural breathing rhythm consists of breathing in, breathing out, and a brief pause. During this pause, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles relax, which is why it is so important. If you try to rush your breathing rhythm and don’t pause between exhaling and inhaling, you’ll quickly get out of breath and have to strain your vocal chords and larynx to be able to speak loud enough. Also, this brief pause in your speech breaks what you’re saying into units of thought, which makes the content of your speech easier for your audience to understand.

It is important to use the muscles in your torso to push the air out when you exhale and speak, otherwise you put all the pressure on your voice box! You can practice breathing like this by singing along to a song – which will also warm up your speech apparatus. One of the best warm-up songs I’ve found is “What’s Up?” by 4 non blondes.

Tip 3: Warm up.

To ensure you articulate clearly, you need to warm up your speech apparatus – your jaw, lips and tongue. There are several funny exercises you can do to warm up. For example, use your tongue to ‘clean’ your teeth – stretch your tongue into the corners of your mouth and run it along the inside and outside of your teeth. Or, if you’re alone, poke your tongue out and try to paint circles in the air with the tip of your tongue. You can also make circular movements with your bottom jaw, as if you were chewing a big chunk of something! To warm up your lips, swap between grinning as widely as you can and pouting. Reading tongue twisters slowly and with exaggerated enunciation can also help, especiall yif you find ones that focus on vowel sounds. Repeat after me: “Roberta ran rings around the Roman ruins.”

Tip 4: Watch your posture.

Apart from being good for your back, good posture ensures that your lungs and diaphragm have enough space to ensure your natural breathing rhythm. Sitting or standing up straight, without over-straining, will mean that you can inhale more deeply and have enough air to speak loudly, and makes spaces for the muscles in your torso dto do their work! If you slouch, it can also mean that your breathing becomes audible, which makes you sound out of breath and distracts from what you’re saying!

In general, the most important tip I head from Frank Gutjahr is: Relax! If you’re preared and follow these tips, you’ll be able to speak well as a teacher, and protect your voice for all those lessons and speeches that are yet to come! And remember: It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!

 

Social Class in England: A Video Project with Students

“LANG 801: Advanced British Cultural Studies (Special Topic)”

That’s the uninspiring name of a module I was teaching this summer semester. It’s part of an MEd degree programme for future EFL teachers here in Germany.

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But not to fear – I am always on a mission to capture students’ attention with an interesting ‘Special Topic’ and get them really engaged in the content so they can develop their language and academic skills! Previously, I’ve done “Immigration and Multiculturalism,” “How United is the United Kingdom?,” and “Britain in the 1990s.”

And another thing I’ve started in recent years is getting students to work on a class project with a result that can be shared more widely than just Trier University! We’ve put on an exhibition and written an e-book so far.

This term, my students produced short documentary films, each around 15-20 minutes long, and each on one aspect that influences social class in England. They came up with the catchy title of “Social Class in England: Is it really all about the money?”

all videos

You can find the videos on YouTube here. Feel free to enjoy them all, and leave a comment or two of feedback for my students!

 

If you want to know about the Whys and Hows, read on…

 

So why do I think projects like this are a good idea?

  • I’m required to assess students on written and oral production – students writing the script and recording the audio for the videos allows me to do this.
  • If students do in-class presentations, it’s a lot of work to then only share with around 15-20 people.
  • In such stand-alone presentations in class, the content is not ‘useful’ for work other students are doing, so they are less engaged as an audience. In the video project, each ‘episode’ connects to other videos, so students actively engage with each other’s work.
  • Students develop a stronger bond to the class and their work, which helps them develop team-building skills such as politely criticising, negotiating, and arranging appointments or deadlines. And they can support each other through the film-making process!
  • It changes the class atmosphere to something akin to a collaborative business meeting and increases students’ sense of accountability.
  • Our roles change – students learn from each other and build up their understanding together. There is little to no ‘teaching’ from me, but I am asked for help or guidance by students – which also means they actually take on board what little I do then say!
  • It helps students develop a whole bunch of critical thinking skills; from finding connections between pieces of information, to drawing out key points from their research, digesting the research into concise reports, and considering the most appropriate ways to present something to different audiences.
  • It allows students to acquire other practical skills that might be useful in their future careers, such as using the filming equipment or video editing software. (We have all of this at the University but it is sadly underused!)
  • I’m sure there are more benefits I can’t think of right now, or am not even aware of!

 

How did I set up the video project?

  • The class met for 90 minutes once a week, for 13 weeks.
  • Weeks 1-2 of semester:
    • I set reading on the topic of Social Class as homework.
    • In lessons, I displayed discussion questions and let students discuss in groups.
    • We started off in smaller groups (~5 students) and by week 3 the whole class (16 students) was sitting in a circle debating together.
    • The readings and questions encouraged them to evaluate stereotypes and models of social class (e.g. Karl Marx), and to investigate the findings of the ‘Great British Class Survey’.

GBCSDuring the discussions, I provided vocabulary or phrases the students were lacking, if asked, and at the end of each lesson, I gave feedback on langauge mistakes I had heard. (I did this every lesson, but won’t keep repeating it in this list!)

 

 

  • Weeks 3-4 of semester:
    • From the previous group discussions, students formulated further questions and aspects they wanted to explore.
    • They individually chose their own homework readings, as preparation for discussions of these new questions.
    • They devised the title “Social Class in England: Is it really all about the money?” and decided on specific aspects they wanted to investigate. Pairs then took on one ‘aspect’ (e.g. housing, education, langauge, consumer behaviour) as the topic for their video, as well as one group working on a general introduction and one on a concluding video.
    • During the discussions, I prompted more analysis by throwing in questions where I thought it would be beneficial or where the discussion got ‘stuck’.
  • Week 5 of semester:
    • In small groups, students began drafting introduction scripts for their videos, highlighting the background that had led them to investigate their specific aspect and the guiding questions for their video.
    • At home, they continued reading and researching their specific topics. (Also continued every week, but not repeatedly listed here.)

money 2

  • Week 6 of semester:
    • We held a peer review session on the written scripts students had produced so far. Students worked with peer review worksheets I provided (see here).
    • We discussed differences between an academic essay and what would be appropriate for a documentary script.
  • Weeks 7-9 of semester:
    • Students gave ‘work in progress presentations’ in their pairs to share what they had learnt so far, and presenters lead discussions to find connections between topics.
    • Some students interviewed contacts / friends from England to gain more insight and check the validity of what they had read.
  • Week 10 of semester:
    • We had a session led by the technician in the University’s video lab to see the equipment available and how it works, and practised using video editing software.
    • Students devised concepts and formats for their videos, such as voice-overs on PPTs, ‘news reporter’ formats, sketches, and so on.

news reporter

  • Week 11 of semester:
    • In the video lab, students created a trailer video for the documentary series.
    • Students decided on an opening clip to use on all videos, to ‘join’ them together as a series.
    • Students investigated copyright laws and potential sources of images and video clips they could use in their own videos.
  • Week 12 of semester:Documentary_eflyer.PNG
    • We held a peer review session on the full scripts each pair had produced.
    • Students discussed overlaps and points where they should/could refer to the other videos in the series and inserted these into their scripts.
    • Students designed a basic e-flyer to advertise the documentary series.
  • Week 13 of semester:
    • We held a general discussion about what they had learnt about England and social class over the course of the semester and attempted to connect these insights to their work on other modules (e.g. American culture studies, English literature, etc.)
    • Students discussed self-evaluations and completed the obligatory module evaluation forms.
    • Students submitted the final drafts of their video scripts for assessment and feedback. I gave feedback on a separate form, and corrected language errors in their scripts so that the videos would not include (too many!) mistakes.
  • One month after semester:
    • Students recorded their audio scripts and produced their videos independently, with occasional help from the video lab technician.
    • I created a YouTube channel and uploaded the videos in the order the students had agreed upon.
    • We are now busy sharing the videos and information about the project on social media 🙂

all videos

 

 

How to access ELT-relevant research

How to access ELT-relevant research

A while back, I summarised an article for ELT Research Bites exploring the reasons why language teaching professionals rarely access primary research reports. The main findings were that practitioners may have negative perceptions of research as irrelevant, they may face practical constraints such as expensive pay walls and a lack of time to find and read articles, and they may not be able to understand the articles’ content due to excessive use of academic jargon.

In this post, then, I want to share how we can access research related to language teaching in ways that do not cost a lot of money or time. 

  1. The website I mentioned above – ELT Research Bites – provides interesting language and education research in an easily digestible format. The summaries present the content of published articles in a shorter, simpler format, and also explore practical implications of articles’ findings for language teaching/learning.
  2. Musicuentos Black Box is similar to ELT Research Bites, but summarises research articles in videos and podcasts. (Thanks to Lindsay Marean for sharing this with me!) 
  3. The organisation TESOL Academic provides free or affordable access to research articles on linguistics, TESOL and education in general. This is done mainly via videoed talks on YouTube, but you can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  4. The University of Oregon has a free, customisable email digest you can subscribe to here. It is aimed at language teachers and sends you a feature summary based on primary research articles. (Thanks to Lindsay Marean for sharing this with me!)
  5. IATEFL has a number of ‘Special Interest Groups’ and I’d like to highlight two in particular that can help us to access research. IATEFL ReSIG, the Research Special Interest Group, promotes and supports ELT and teacher research, in an attempt to close the gap between researchers and teachers or materials writers. You can find them on Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter. IATEFL MaWSIG, the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, has an open-access blog as well as a presence on Facebook Instagram and Twitter. In the last year there have been several posts summarising research findings and drawing out what the conclusions mean for English teaching materials and practice – including “And what about the research?” by Penny Ur, and “ELT materials writing: More on emerging principles” by Kath Bilsborough.
  6. Of course there are also search engines, such as Google Scholar, that you can use. You might find it helpful to look out for ‘State of the art’ articles or meta-studies that synthesise research findings from several reports and save you from having to read them all! If the pay wall is your main problem, some journals also offer a sample article from each issue as open access, at ELT Journal, for example, these are the “Editor’s Choice” articles.

To make engaging with research more worthwhile, I’d suggest you should reflect on what you’re reading / hearing: Think about the validity of the findings based on the content and the method of the study, the relevance of the findings to your pedagogy, and, perhaps most importantly, the practicality of the findings for your own work. Be aware of trends and fashions, and use the conclusions you draw to inform your materials and teaching.

From EFL to ELF: Materials Writing for English as a Lingua Franca – A Summary

From EFL to ELF: Materials Writing for English as a Lingua Franca – A Summary

As part of the Materials Writing SIG pre-conference event at IATEFL 2018, Marek Kiczkowiak gave a talk entitled “From EFL to ELF: Materials Writing for English as a Lingua Franca.” Now, I teach and write for an EFL setting – generally homogenous groups of speakers of German studying English Studies in English. Most of them intend to be EFL teachers themselves one day. But I found the talk interesting nonetheless and came away with a few ideas for updating my teaching materials to fit a more English as a lingua-franca (ELF) paradigm, which can benefit the students who are not aiming to be secondary-school EFL teachers here in Germany, but also without taking anything away from the others’ learning experience. Indeed, Marek convinced me that it might even be enriching for them, too!

(I have to say, a general sentiment that I had after the day, especially after this and Rom Neves’ talk, is that all learners can use materials written with those with specific needs in mind – no harm is done, so to speak, so why not?)

So let me summarise here some of the key tenet’s of Marek’s talk.

First of all, he started with a statement I suppose few people would disagree with: Using EFL materials is unlikely to help learners achieve ELF goals! For this, we’ll need ELF materials – and Marek gave us some ideas of what these might look like.

One key point is that assumptions about what is ‘intelligible’ need to be reassessed. Native speakers (whatever they may be!) are not always intelligible! In ELT generally, we should probably be trying to move away from producing mini native-speaker clones in terms of production, and also arm learners to be able to competently deal with various speakers’ accents. So ELF materials should include a wide variety of accents, both native and non-native. Learners should also be exposed to examples of ELF communication to really make the point that these are no less successful (and in some cases more successful!) than interactions between or with native speakers. There are corpora (like ELFA for academic settings) where we can find such examples.

Another point I found particularly interesting was Marek highlighting that multilinguals use words in languages other than the one they are mainly conversing in and do so for a number of reasons that often have nothing to do with them not knowing the word! I met up in Brighton with some other colleagues from Germany and having one non-German speaker join us for dinner really highlighted how much we tend to code switch! ELF learners will probably do this, too, as this is how a lot of people use language these days. Marek demonstrated how this can even help to build rapport, if understood by both parties, and can show respect for the main language of your conversation partner. Although this kind of code-switching will probably not be taught explicitly, as it is dependent on the speakers involved, an awareness and understanding of why it happens would be good for ELF materials to impart.

Moreover, anyone using English as a lingua-franca is likely to need intercultural competences rather than in-depth understanding of an English-speaking country. ELF materials should therefore encourage learners to reflect critically about culture and cultures, and be careful about reiterating stereotypes. Materials should take care not to present any culture as homogenous. Indeed, stereotypes about people from certain cultures could be used as a basis for discussions promoting intercultural competence. This should also help to raise awareness of discrimination against non-native speakers and help learners to engage with the issue critically.

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Although there are of course other issues and debates surrounding the teaching of ELF that were not covered in Marek’s talk, these points that I’ve brought home with me are easy to implement in the teaching materials I make for my classes. My feeling is that, as I said above, making these small changes to my materials could be really helpful and enriching for some of my students, and I don’t see any disadvantages to making them. So I’ll be introducing a little bit of ELF in my EFL setting from now on, and I’m sure others could benefit from doing the same!

Vocabulary lists: snog, marry, avoid? – A summary

I recently wrote a post for ELT Research Bites summarising a research article on ‘Is There a Core General Vocabulary? Introducing the New General Service List’, which introduced a new vocabulary list that, the authors propose, can inform vocabulary instruction in ELT. I thought undersdanding how such lists are put together would help teachers and writers make better decisions on how to use such vocabulary lists in their classrooms or materials. And so I was attracted to Julie Moore’s talk at IATEFL in Brighton, entitled “Vocabulary lists: snog, marry, avoid?” to see if my thinking was in line with others who are more knowledgeable than me in such things! Let me tell you more about what Julie said… 

To start, we got a useful reminder of what vocabulary lists are: published, standrdised lists of words, phrases or chunks, based on a certain frequency criteria and usually intened for use with students. Examples Julie gave included the GSL, Oxford 3000, and the Phrasal Verbs List. Some lists are more specialised, e.g. the AWL, and others take a slightly different approach in that they try to group vocabualary items into levels at which language learners can be expected to learn them (e.g. English Vocabulary Profile, GSE). 

Why are vocabulary lists useful? 

Julie explained that the items on the lists are selected based on certain principles (which depend on the list) and can thus form a principled basis for devising vocabulary teaching syllabi. For those of us working with the language, she said, they can be a useful tool for confirming our inuitions about the frequency of words and, in ELT, their level appropriacy. They mean we don’t have to start from scratch every time we wish to compose a vocabulary teaching syllabus or material, for example using corpora or other souces to collate data about words’ frequency before we select items for inclusion. Also in this context, if different people are working on different parts of a material or syllabus, for example, using a vocbulary list to guide the language used and presented can help maintain consistency across the parts. 

But… 

Not understanding the concept of vocabulary lists or the selection criteria and data used to compile them can make using them frustrating or even downright misleading! There are some key issues that can make compiling such vocabulary lists, and then working with them, problematic. Julie mentioned a few, such as decisions on what items to count for frequency (words, lemmas, chunks, word families?) and which sense of a polyseme to use for selection or level-categorisation. In Julie’s words, the nature of the English language is “messy” and contains numerous obstacles for anyone attempting to represent it in as straightforward a form as a list! As teachers, we also know that the progression of language learning is messy, too: it’s a non-linear porocess, including learning words for active and/or receptive use, which will therefore be difficult to tame into a list! Especially regarding lists like the GSE or EVP as ‘levelling tools’, Julie reminded us (though who could forget?) about differences between learners, for example their main language, which will also affect how easy they find certain vocabulary items – and which these lists cannot possibly take into account! 

So…

Julie’s call to arms echoes my own sentiments: Do not blindly believe everything a vocabulary list seems to show you! They can be very helpful, if the right list is used wisely and for the right purpose! Vocabulary lists are one tool of many at our disposal when we need to make decisions on what to include in our syllabi, teaching or materials, alongside things such as dictionaries and our knowledge of the target learners. And the different lists were composed through different selection methodologies, from different data, and with different aims, making them more appropriate for certain purposes than others. So whether you ultimately decide to snog, marry or avoid the next handsome vocabulary list you meet, take your time to get to know it first!

Worksheet-free Vocab Revision Activities

Worksheet-free Vocab Revision Activities

What do you do in those last 5 minutes of class when you’ve finished everything that was planned? Or when energy levels hit a low during a lesson? Or in that lull while the next student gets ready to present, or whatever? We all know about the need to revise and recycle new vocabulary in language lessons, and in this post I want to share a few vocabulary revision activities that teachers can slot into any downtime that might occur in a lesson!

I’ve built up my repertoire of this kind of quick review activity over the years, so many are borrowed or adapted from colleagues, and others are based on popular board games. I want to give you a collection, all in one place, of collaborative and competitive activities that check students have remembered and actually understood new words (i.e. there are no rote learning activities here!) You can print out this post and take it to lessons with you – that’s the only paper you’ll need: all of these activities have one main thing in common – you don’t need to photocopy anything to do them!

1. Scategories

scategories

Choose a category of vocabulary you want students to revise, for example ‘character traits’, ‘school subjects’, ‘transition words showing contrast’. Choose 5-10 letters of the alphabet and write them, with the category, on the board. Students (in teams, if you wish) now have 1 minute to come up with one vocabulary item fitting the category which starts with each of the letters you have chosen. Compare answers. To make it into a competition, give points: Students or teams get 2 points if they’ve written a correct vocab item that no one else / no other team has written, and one point for correct vocab items that someone else wrote down, too.

2. ‘Taboo’ on the board

Like the game ‘Taboo’, but without any little slips of paper that need preparing! It works best with nouns. Get your learners to sit with their backs to the board. Option 1: Choose one student to look at the board and see the word you’ve written there. They have to explain it to the other students, who try to guess which word is being explained. The first student who guesses correctly can be the next one to explain a word. Option 2: Group competition! Students sit in teams/groups with their backs to the board. One team member turns around and looks at the word you’ve written on the board, and explains it to their team members, who try to guess which word it is. Give them a time limit (e.g. 30 secs per word). For each word correctly guessed within the time limit, the team gets one point (keep track on the board) and then the next team has a turn. To make either option more difficult, write the main word on the board (maybe put a circle around it) and add two or three ‘taboo’ words which are not allowed to be used in the explanation. For example, if the main word is “bauble”, the taboo words might be “Christmas,” “tree” and “decoration.”

3. Beep

This guessing game works best with verbs or verb phrases, but nouns can be good, too. One student is told a ‘secret word’ which is to be ‘beeped out’ (like swearwords on TV). The other students ask them yes/no questions to try to guess the secret word – each student is only allowed one question at a time. For example, “Who BEEPS?” “Do you BEEP on your own?” “What do people BEEP most often?”  As these examples show, the activity can be used with fairly low-level language, but I’ve also used it in EAP with verbs such as research, evaluate, and analyse. After their question has been answered, the student can make a guess at the secret word, if they wish – if they get it right, they can be the next one who is given a secret word. To make it more difficult, allow each student only 2 guesses at the secret word during each round.

4. Sentence editing bingo

I like using this one to revise adverbs or adverbial phrases, but nouns work, too. Students abingo-159974_960_720re asked to write down a number of vocab items that you’ve recently covered in a particular category (e.g. adverbs of manner, adverbial phrases for time/place, things you find in a classroom). Choose the number according to how much time you have and how many sentences you think you’ll get through. Usually 5 or so is enough. Students can also work in pairs. Write a simple sentence on the board, such as “I like reading.” Students tick off one of their words if they think it can fit correctly into the sentence. For example, a student might tick off ‘in the evening’ or ‘really,’ or maybe ‘books’ if you’ve gone with nouns. Repeat this with several sentences. Once a student has ticked off, i.e. thinks they’ve been able to use appropriately, all of their words/phrases, they shout ‘Bingo!’ Check their answers together as a class – if there’s time, check other students’ suggestions, too.

5. Changing corners

This activity will get students up and moving around the room! Make sure they move their chairs and bags out of the way! Nominate corners or sides of the room that are the ‘spelling zone’, ‘definition zone’,  and ‘example zone’. Call out one vocabulary item you want to revise. Students have to move and stand by the corner or wall that shows the challenge they feel comfortable doing with that word: spelling it, defining it, or using it in an example sentence. Pick one student from each zone to give their answer out loud. To make it a competition, either give points for correct answers (1 for spelling, 2 for defining, 3 for an example use), or get anyone who gives an incorrect answer to sit down, then keep going with different vocab items until only three students are left! (For this, you might need to increase the difficulty of the words as you go along!)