Tag: Foreign language

Review: 50 Activities for the First Day of School

Review: 50 Activities for the First Day of School

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There are lots of websites full of ‘icebreakers’ out there. A simple Google search, though, shows me that they often compile activities taken from everywhere, including corporate training and party games. Clearly, not all of these ‘getting to know you’ games will work in a classroom to engage learners or fulfill a teacher’s aims for the first day of class. In this book, Walton Burns has therefore collected and written down activities that he has tried and tested in his own classrooms, and feels achieved their goals including learning student names, building rapport, or establishing classroom rules. You can find more of what Burns says about his book here. The information also includes his Author Bio:

Walton Burns is a teacher and award-winning materials writer from Connecticut who began his career in 2001, teaching in the Peace Corps in the South PaciHeadshotWaltonBurns600x600-150x150fic. Since then, he has taught in Central Asia and in his native country. His students have been a diverse group, including Russian oil executives, Afghan high school students, and Chinese video game champions. As a writer, he has been on the author team of two textbooks and written lesson plans and activities for private language schools. He is currently chair of the Materials Writing Interest Section of the TESOL Association, the international association for English language professionals. For more information, including projects he has worked on, go to Walton’s blog and his website.

The activities are good because they enable teachers to create positive atmospheres with their new classes whilst often also fulfilling some purpose and making some of the organisational aspects of a first lesson more interactive. Because of this, and despite what the book’s title says, many of the activities could also be used throughout the term, to re-energise the class group, strengthen the sense of community, or deal with organisational matters.They could also be used by substitute teachers jumping in to cover a class they’ve not taught before, as they often require very little preparation.

That said, the majority of the activities are of the ‘getting to know you’ type. To make these even more useful, I would suggest that the teacher makes notes about what the learners say, for example mistakes they make or their interests and goals, so that these can form the basis of a rough needs analysis at the beginning of a course. Within this section, there were no activities that were entirely new to me, although a few interesting variations. Still, for novice teachers the collection might contain new ideas, and for us more experienced teachers having all of these activities collected in one place is a good selling point for this book.

The instructions on how to set up and run the activities are formulated very clearly with illustrative examples, and also include ideas for possible adaptations or variations of the activities – so the book would be helpful for anyone new to teaching, as well as experienced teachers looking to re-jig their first-lesson activities.

The activities are specifically aimed at ELT classrooms, often beginner levels learners. Still, the adaptations and variation Walton Burns suggest allow teachers to use them with more advanced learners, too, and they’ve all been tested by Walton Burns in his various classes of English learners. A lot of them are probably more appropriate in classes of students from different countries and backgrounds, but again possible adaptations are explained so that teachers with mono-lingual groups can also employ the activities. Many of them would also be suitable for other subjects’ classrooms.

One or two of the activities here will need to be handled with care, such as English Names, and I Have Never, but this is also highlighted in small notes at the beginning of the instructions for the activity.

It is in the “Assessing and Evaluating” section of the book where activities with a clear classroom-organisation focus are presented. These cover matters such as needs analysis, goals, basic classroom vocabulary e.g. for items or instructions, class rules. Some of the ideas here seems less like ‘first-day’ activities, and fall more in the category of interesting ways to check and review language; though in the first lesson they could form part of a needs analysis.  The “Setting the Tone” section includes activities which are perhaps more suitable for the beginning of a course, and clearly have the purpose of establishing the class rules or lesson routines, encouraging self-study, or introducing the textbook or materials.  For me, these sections are the  most interesting in the book, as they all have a clear aim, which is more than just ‘having fun’ and ‘breaking the ice’.

Overall, for just ~€7, I’d say this book is well worth a look, and would be a worthwhile addition to any staffroom bookshelf!

Worksheet: Writing a Synthesis

Worksheet: Writing a Synthesis

This worksheet guides learners step-by-step through the process of writing a synthesis in a group. Learners thus train the skills of careful reading, note-taking, paraphrasing/summarizing, and critically synthesizing information from different source texts. Collaborative team-work is also practiced.

Example texts (~C1 level) are given on the topic of native vs non-native speaker English teachers; a topic of relevance to all language learners which also has potential to spark lively debates and discussions among students.

The guide worksheet can also be used with any other source texts on topics of interest/relevance to learners, adapted to their current language level.

The procedure is self-explanatory.

Students’ worksheet, click here.Writing a Synthesis Step by step

Sample texts, click here. Writing a synthesis sample texts

Teachers’ notes, click here.Writing a Synthesis Teachers Notes

Take control of your teaching career using the European Profiling Grid

Take control of your teaching career using the European Profiling Grid

A talk I attended earlier this year in Birmingham (IATEFL 2016), by Joel Cutting & Richard Kelly based at Eurocentres Bournemouth, aimed to provide advice on career management for ELT teachers, and practical ideas on making the most of your current position and moving towards your dream teaching job (See conference programme & talk abstract here).

They proposed asking yourself the following questions:

 – What’s your current career metaphor?k8410072

– What direction do you want to go in?

 – What are your professional development priorities?

Based on your answers, they suggest that you should review and reflect on your current position and goals, then plan proactive tasks and steps to move you between the former and the latter. This will involve being able to openly communicate your goals, and maybe asking for support from your DOS or colleagues (e.g. in terms of appraisals, observations, etc). So you will need to talk to people! Indeed, Joel and Richard highlighted that the more people you know and talk to, the more new career opportunities you will find!

logo-epgThey also mentioned, just in passing, the European Profiling Grid. I’ve only just got around to checking it out, and I’m so glad I made a note for myself to do so! I’ve found it to be a very practically useful tool for taking control of your career as a teacher, and planing your future CPD pathways. The website summarises the main purpose of the EPG as “a tool for mapping and assessing language teacher competencies … over six stages of professional experience … and summarises the main competencies of language teachers and the background in training and experience that would be expected at each stage.”

The EPG grid is available for free here and can be used by any language teacher when you’re reviewing or reflecting on your own strengths/weaknesses and progression in the teaching profession. It will help you to pinpoint your expertise in various areas, as well as enabling you to more concretely identify areas in your professional development where there is still room for improvement. Of course school leaders and teacher-trainers may also find this kind of evaluative grid helpful.

The categories of expertise it covers are:

– language and culture,

– qualifications and experience,

– professional conduct, and

– core language teaching competencies.

This breakdown seems particularly helpful in encouraging language teachers to expand our expertise broadly. For teachers whose own main language is not the one they teach, I suppose that target-language proficiency has always been high on the agenda for development, but the EPG also adds in the element of intercultural communication and competence in communicating in various multi-cultural situations and settings. The ‘Qualifications and experience’ rubric allows teachers to map their own experience, not only in terms of time in the classroom but also regarding observations, mentoring, and teaching at various levels and in various learning contexts; areas which even seasoned professionals may like to expand on. The heading ‘Professionalism’ covers points such as working in teams, tackling administrative tasks,  accepting changes to an institution’s policies and approaches, and being actively involved in teacher development.

It is perhaps the area of ‘Teaching Competence‘ (e.g. planning lessons and schemes of work, encouraging active participation, assessing learners, incorporating digital media, etc.) that is the focus of many teachers’ professional development. The EPG divides these into ‘Key Competences’ and ‘Enabling Competences’.  The ‘Key Teaching Competences’ include an understanding of theories of language and of learning which informs material choice and activity set-up, creating suitable and valid assessment measures for the four skills, and taking responsibility for principled syllabus design. This theoretical side of things may be new to some teachers, who can use the EPG to set themselves individual goals working in this direction. The ‘Enabling Competences’, on the other hand, focus more on the interpersonal side of the teaching profession. Here, skills and tasks such as coaching novice teachers, handling (intercultural) conflict, training transferable skills, and creating a digital PLN (Personal Learning Network) come into play, which may also have so far been off the radar for some practising teachers.

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The document accompanying the EPG states its aim as

“to inform, make suggestions, offer advice, share insights, assist in identifying individual strengths and gaps, and offer guidance.”

And I think it achieves this very well. It also includes blank tables for individual planning, as well as guidance for teachers on how best to work with the grid. When it comes to reflecting on the questions Joel and Richard posed, having this kind of concrete plan to guide our goal-setting will make the process far more effective, and enable us all to take control of our teaching careers.

Achieving goals often works far better if we are made accountable for working towards them. To this end, I’d like to invite you to write a couple of your goals in the comments box below, so we can work together to keep up our broad yet well-defined continuous professional development!

 

 

Practical advice on developing your own teaching materials

Practical advice on developing your own teaching materials

This week, I’ve outsourced the discussion question from my Materials Development course. I asked my teacher friends and colleagues:

Which ONE piece of advice would you give to a teacher who wanted to create their own classroom materials?

My top tip is: First plan the aims you want to achieve with the materials, and use them to guide everything you create!

Here’s what the others said…

Daniela (post-doc researcher & university tutor): Don’t bother unless you’re 200% sure that it’s going to be better than what’s out there already – so that your time is really worth it!

Carol (EAP tutor): Make the content relevant to your students and their learning needs.

Dan (FE Teacher Trainer): Ensure that the learner will think about the content, and not the materials.

Jessica (secondary-school MFL teacher):  Make sure anything you create allows you to play to your strengths and show off the learners’ ability.

James (graduate student, ESL teacher): Pay attention to the level of language you’re using, as well as teaching, so that students can understand the materials completely.

Chris (English teacher)Be consistent with formatting: page numbers, topic title, date, class, etc. and staple together so it’s not lots of loose sheets.

Jenny (university EFL teacher): Base the materials on topics that the students can relate to, whether this topic has been encountered inside or outside the learning environment, first-hand or through the media. 

Joanna (online Business English teacher): Start with needs analysis – learn about your learner. 

Marc (ESOL teacher): Leave plenty of white space for writing notes and annotations.

Karen (freelance editor & project manager): Make sure you write clear teaching notes and keys so others can use the materials too. 

Sandy (ELT manager & CELTA tutor): Just start doing it and testing them out! Then reflect on what did and didn’t work.

Jasmine (ESL teacher): My advice  would be to be a student. Take a class or try out your own lessons using another language register in English. You will be able to critique your own stuff more objectively.

And what are you tips? Please leave your comments below!

The Native Factor in ELT Materials

The Native Factor in ELT Materials

On the Materials Design itdi.pro course I’m currently doing, our tutor has prompted us to discuss:

When using an authentic audio or video it is important to use only English native speakers?

For me, the most problematic word here is ‘only‘. (Problem #2: Define ‘native speaker!) And so my answer would be a flat out No.

But that’s not much of a discussion! And so I’ve decided to re-formulate the question a bit, into: When should Non-Native Speakers be used in ELT audio & video materials?

And as with most things ELT… my answer is: It depends! 

And as always, it is important and interesting to look at what it depends on…

256px-CEFR_and_ESOL_examinations_diagram.svgStudents’ language level. Some commentators say that only NS (=Native Speaker) accents should be used with beginner students, as NNS (=Non-Native Speaker) accents can be harder to understand. I can see some value in the point that accents which are deemed harder to understand for a certain group of learners should maybe be introduced once a good level of grammatical and lexical understanding has been achieved and they have been well prepared for the listening task.. But, I think we have to remember that NS also have a huge variety of accents and don’t always speak clearly, so I’m not convinced that ‘hard to understand’ is a NS vs NNS difference….

Language Learning Goals & Motivations. For me, this is the key argument regarding listening comprehension: If the students are learning English (or whatever language, really!) in order to be able to communicate with native speakers, for example moving to live or study in a country where English is the main language spoken, then it makes sense to expose them mainly to NS accents and dialects through audio/video material. If they will mainly be communicating with other NNS, then it is rather more important to expose them to these when training listening skills. Indeed, in today’s globalised society, it is becoming less and less realistic to prepare English learners only to communicate with NS, as something like 75% of all interactions in English are between NNS (see Crystal 2003).

Evaluation_seminar_8063712I believe students should learn by using materials that are authentic for the contexts in which they are going to need to use English. A case from my own experience: I teach EAP, and when I think about preparing students to participate in seminars at a university in the UK or USA, for example (most popular countries among my students), then I definitely need to prepare them for the fast-paced, messy, interrupted, overlapping discussion, which will probably also involve cultural norms of turn-taking, etc. And it seems to me that the best material for this kind of thing would be authentic recordings of speakers in exactly this kind of seminar setting. However; find me a British university seminar that doesn’t include at least one NNS… probably rather rare these days! So really, when I think about it, it’s probably the NS + NNS combination that makes most materials most authentic!

Having said that, simply exposing learners to different accents, dialects or varieties of English will probably not suffice to really help them learn and understand – they will need training in listening out for and understanding differences. Though, again, this is not an NS vs NNS point!

Megaphone-Vector.svgSo far, I’ve mainly been coming at this topic from a focus on listening comprehension. But there is also another factor in this debate; the speech production side. With this in mind, there is the claim that …

Students’ need NS pronunciation model. I’ve recently heard several comments to this effect, and indeed I agree somehow intuitively with the feeling that an NS pronunciation model is better for beginner learners to learn to imitate. But then I do sometimes (when involved in discussions like this) wonder why?

As a basic and overarching goal of any language learning/teaching, I’d take communicative ability and intelligibility. For the sake of the latter, I think maybe learners should not learn to pronounce new vocabulary in their teacher’s accent; if this becomes combined with their own accent, it might render the words incomprehensible to speakers with other L1s! However, several researchers, especially in the area of ELF, have suggested that we shouldn’t necessarily take NS pronunciation/native-speaker-like-ness as the overarching goal of ELT anymore. Still, I do still think that many learners see this as their ultimate goal, and thus it may we what we’re paid for – our job to help them reach it? And besides, the question that then remains for me is How will NNS be mutually intelligible if they’re not taking some kind of vaguely common standard as their starting point? – But maybe I haven’t read enough ELF research to understand this…

(Also, I wonder what the ultimate goal of language learning would be if it’s not to be as competent in the L2  as in our own native language …?)

My Principles for Creating ELT Materials

 

I make a lot of worksheets and materials available via this blog, which I hope  that many fellow ELT professionals will use and evaluate. In my opinion, though, it’s important that anyone who wants to use my materials has some insight into the principles behind my work.

I believe Materials for ELT should…

  1. be based on an understanding of how learning works. – i.e. of theoretical models of learning, for example from SLA or psychology, and methodologies derived from them.
  2. guide learners to discover and practice language items and skills. – i.e. not just ‘tell’, but ‘show’ and allow space for learners to notice by themselves, by guiding them in logical steps.
  3. lead to as authentic communication as possible. – i.e. they should learn to do with things in English which they are realistically likely to have to do outside of the classroom.
  4. gain and maintain learners’ interest. – e.g. by involving higher-level thinking skills, provoking affective responses, dealing with topics relevant to the learners.
  5. expose learners to ‘taboo’ topics (PARSNIPs) in a constructive manner. – i.e. to prepare them for and encourage open discussion of potential taboos and cultural difference, in order to develop inter-cultural communicative competences; especially since a key motivation to learn English is to communicate with people form other countries (and therefore cultures).
  6. allow for differentiated ouput. – i.e. grade the output, not necessarily the input, so the same material can be flexibly employed with various groups of learners working at different levels or focusing on different skill areas by simply adjusting the output tasks accordingly.

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Facilitating Peer Feedback on Essays

Facilitating Peer Feedback on Essays

Some teachers struggle with setting up Peer Feedback, especially getting learners used to and comfortable with giving and recieving feedback on their work from their peers! Research has looked into how teachers can increase students receptivity to peer review, and what kind of training and guidance can help to make it effective. 

Based on these insights, I designed these guidance worksheets and tested them with my C1-level, MA students on EAP programmes – the worksheets guide students to review a peer’s drafts of parts of a general academic essay and are easily adaptable or useable at other levels – exactly how to employ them in your context is up to you!

Peer Feedback Worksheet: For Introduction / Essay Outline: peer review introduction outline

Peer Feedback Worksheet: For Body Paragraph(s): peer review body paragraphs

Peer Feedback Worksheet: For Conclusion: peer review conclusion

Help! Overwhelmed by research!

This is a short, rather personal post; a bit of a call for help! In my head, thoughts are flying around: researching, compiling bibliographies, literature reviews, not having enough time in the day to read everything properly, wasting time reading the ‘wrong’ things, and feeling swapmed and out-of-touch with the latest state of affairs…. And this is going to (hopefully) be an outlet that gets these thoughts out of my head and onto “paper” so that I can concentrate… Oh, and maybe get some tips from readers while I’m at it!!

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What my brain feels like. An art installation on the Moselle river made by Trier Art Academy (Kunstakademie) 2015. 

 

So, I like to think that I’m pretty good at keeping up with the research regarding my areas of ELT. I subscribe to a couple of journals, am active on twitter and I read lots of blogs, so I feel like I’m in touch with big debates and what’s generally going on in the ELT world. 

But now I’m trying to get together some of the ‘best’ literature on the topic of correcting (EAP) students’ writing. I want to summarise the main work and findings in this area. But there is JUST SO MUCH!! I’ve got some key names and some meta-study articles have also been helpful. But I feel like I might be missing out on some other definitive contributions, key strands of work, relevant studies, contaversial issues, etc.  When I search my university’s library databases, the lists are endless of articles on peer review, using technology, to correct or not to correct, learner autonomy, and so on and on and on.

I can’t possibly read everything. I thought about reading through the Works Cited lists and trying to find sources that seem to be cited a lot… but even that would be so much work. 

And I wonder how anyone ever manages to keep up with it all. Whenever I think I’ve “finished” and have a suitable bibliography together, so another blog post alerts me to a new perspective on the discussion, or Google Scholar pops up with a few hundred more published articles… When is enough enough? When can I stop? It’s never going to be  truly finished, is it?!

5 Highly Effective Teaching Practices

Reading this, I was promoted to think about my teacher beliefs about what exactly it is that makes teaching effective; what is it that I’m aiming for, that I hold as best practice? Expressing this in one sentence has actually been a quite inspiring moment for me; motivating me and giving me new energy to approach my planning for next term.
Anyway, here’s my spontaneously-constructed sentence (which I also posted in the comments section on the blog post):

**Teachers have to be passionate about teaching and about what they’re teaching, and they need to know their students and how to motivate them to get active.**

So now I’m interested in your thoughts: What is it that makes teaching most effective?
I’m not looking (necessarily) for Hattie-style lists, but try to summarise your teacher beliefs into one sentence, about what is at the heart of good teaching, for you.

Please post them in the comments below! I’m really excited about hearing from you!!
Clare

teflgeek

Earlier this year, a piece from the Edutopia website was doing the rounds under the title “5 highly effective teaching practices”.  I automatically question pieces like this as I doubt somewhat whether the purpose of the piece is actually to raise standards in the profession and develop teachers – or whether it is simply to get a bit more traffic to the website.  But perhaps I am being unnecessarily cynical?

To be fair, the practices the article suggests are generally quite effective:

  1. State the goals of the lesson and model tasks, so that students know what they are going to do and how to do it.
  2. Allow classroom discussion to encourage peer teaching
  3. Provide a variety of feedback, both on an individual and a group basis.  Allow students to feedback to the teacher.
  4. Use formative assessments (tests the students can learn from) as well as summative assessments (tests that evaluate…

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#BackToTheFutureDay Review of my past posts

Today is 21st October 2015. That means I am writing from the ‘future’ that Maty McFly wanted to get back to in Back to the Future! And since today is so important in time-travelling history/fiction, I’ve decided to look back over my posts on this blog and pick out a few of my favourites that I’d still be interested in discussing and hearing readers’ responses to!

In no particular order, here they are:

The Role of Wikipedia in Academic Essays:  https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/the-role-of-wikipedia-in-eap-writing/ and the Take Two post on the same topic for EAP: https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/the-role-of-wikipedia-in-eap-take-two/

 

Optimising Active Participation:  https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/05/23/optimising-active-participation-a-discussion/

 

Why don’t students to their homework:  https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/todays-frustration-why-dont-students-do-their-homework/

 

What I would tell my newly-qualified self:  https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/things-i-would-tell-my-newly-qualified-self/

 

I’d love for you to re-visit those posts and leave your comments and discussion!

Enjoy #Backtothefutureday !!