Tag: inspiration

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

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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!)

 

Why and How to get more involved with an IATEFL SIG

Why and How to get more involved with an IATEFL SIG

When you join IATEFL, you get a choice of 16 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) you can choose from within your standard membership. These SIGs provide members with opportunities for professional development in specialised areas. For a long time, I was ‘just’ a member of a SIG. I even swapped SIGs a few times when I renewed my membership. But more recently, I have come to realise that just joining up and reading the SIG’s newsletters is not really making the most of my membership! Getting more actively involved can open the door to new ways to network and share knowledge on that area of ELT – the heart of what IATEFL is there for. Although this sounds like an advert, really the target audience of this post are already IATEFL members, so I’m not trying to convince you to spend money and join something new, but I’d like to share some ways I have made a bit more out of my SIG membership, and maybe inspire you to do the same!

Webinars: IATEFL and the SIGs organise regular, free webinars and online talks by experts on a wide range of topics. These usually last for just one hour, which for me usually fits quite nicely into my schedule. I’ve learnt new things from these webinars, even when I thought I already knew quite a lot about the topic! Also, I’ve noticed that I recognise the names of people who attend the same webinars as me, which has opened up a connection for us to be in touch more often (usually on social media) beyond the webinar setting. The list of upcoming webinars can be found on IATEFL’s website: here.

Blogs: Most SIGs have a blog section on their website where you can read guest posts by various SIG members. I’ve volunteered a couple of posts, mainly because I had some ideas relevant to the area of ‘special interest’ and wanted to share and discuss them with SIG members. In my experience, the SIGs are very happy to find people willing to contribute a blog post, so do get in touch with the committee if you have an idea. Also, some SIGs look for ‘roving reporters’ to blog about their experiences at SIG events, so if you’re going to one, ask the SIG committee about that opportunity, too! I’ve not done that yet, but it sounds like an easy and fun way to contribute!

Competitions: Some SIGs host competitions on various themes relevant to their ‘special interest’. Often, competition entries will be posted on their website, and you could win a ticket to one of their events or other prizes relevant to the theme. I’ve only entered one competition so far and I found it much easier than writing, for example, a scholarship application, but still very inspiring for my own work! These competitions are usually publicised on the SIGS’ websites and on social media, and I think they’re a nice starting point for someone who wants to get involved a bit more but can’t commit much time.

Meetups: These are local, informal events where members of a SIG and those interested in becoming members get together for a coffee / glass of something cool and a chat. If you find out about one near you (they’re usually advertised on the SIG’s website and on social media) then I’d definitely recommend going along! I’ve found them to be a great way to meet people I have professional interests in common with, in a cosy, friendly setting. Or, if there don’t seem to be any near you, then volunteer to organise one yourself! (That’s what I did  😉 ) Just contact one of the SIG’s events coordinators to get the ball rolling, and you’ll see it’s an easy way to get involved and give something back to the IATEFL community!

Social media: Most SIGs have groups and/or accounts on popular social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, and some also have discussion lists. I’m in a couple of the Facebook groups and follow several SIGs on Twitter. Twitter is a great way to find out about upcoming events, competitions, etc. And on Facebook there is more scope of discussion; if I have a problem or question about something I’m working on, I’ve found I often get help in the relevant Facebook group really quickly! These are great spaces for finding support and colleagues with similar interests. And ‘meeting’ people on social media means you have people to grab a coffee with at face-to-face events, if you’re worried about not knowing anyone. (Note: for this to work you need to have a recognisable profile photo!)

Conferences: Alongside hosting a SIG Day at the annual IATEFL conference, and a PCE (pre-conference event) the day before the main conference, most SIGs organise or co-host other smaller conference-type events throughout the year. You can find these by looking at the SIG’s website, where you’ll usually find information about how to register and also submit a proposal to give a talk or present a poster, etc. For me, it is often easier to fit in these shorter events than a whole week at the annual conference, and they’re often a bit easier on the budget, too! I’ve also found networking easier at these smaller face-to-face events, and they’re a perfect opportunity to talk to SIG committee members about how else you could get involved.

 

As a closing point, I should probably tell you that I have recently been elected to the committee of a SIG (yay!), so I’m taking my involvement to the next level. But the aim of this post is not to advertise just one SIG (which is why I haven’t mentioned which one I’m in 😉 ) but just to show how much more IATEFL members can get out of whichever SIG they have chosen to join! I hope you feel motivated and inspired, and look forward to hearing about your future SIG involvements!!

Writing an ebook with students

Writing an ebook with students

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My students have written an ebook!

You can read it for free here.

From an ELT perspective, this ebook is the result of a semester-long CLIL class, with project-based learning and a real and motivating outcome! If you want to find out how we did it, this post is for you!

Context

Our class was on British cultural studies, aimed at master’s level students of English Studies. This class aims to promote language learning and learning about content, in this case a particular British cultural topic. Usually, students are expected to do one oral presentation and one piece of written work as the assessment for this class. Only the other class members see the presentations, and the individual teacher is the only one who reads the essays, in order to grade them.  I’d say this is a pretty standard set up.

Background

Last summer, a colleague and I revamped our British cultural studies classes to move towards project-based learning. In 2016, our students hosted an exhibition open to staff and students a the University, which you can read about here. It was pretty successful, though the students involved found it a shame that all their hard work was only seen by a limited audience. Of course, the audience was a lot less limited than usual, but that’s what they said anyway…!

And so I came up with the idea of producing an ebook this year, which could then be made available publicly. I had seen other organisations use smashwords, and read about how easy it could be to publish a book through that site, so that’s what I thought we should do. I chose the umbrella topic of Britain in the Nineties for our focus, and 23 students signed up. I provided an outline for the class, which included a general module description, assessment requirements for the module, a provisional schedule for the ebook (to be sent to publish in the last week of semester!), and a selected bibliography of recommended reading on the topic.

Our semester is 14 weeks long, with one 90-minute lesson of this class each week. So how did we manage to produce an ebook in this time?

Weeks 1-3

In the first three lessons, I provided a video documentary, an academic article and a film for students to watch/read as a broad introduction to the topic. In lessons, we collected the main themes from this input (key words here: politics, music, social change), and discussed how they were interlinked. Each week, a different student was responsible for taking notes on our discussions and sharing these on our VLP for future reference. In week three, we rephrased our notes into potential research questions on key topic areas.

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At the end of each lesson, we spent some time talking about the ebook in general. As the semester progressed, the time we spent on this increased and resembled business-like meetings.

Week 4

By this point, students had chosen topics / research questions to write about and discussed their choices in plenary to ensure that the ebook would present a wide-spread selection of topics on Britain in the Nineties. The students decided (with my guidance!) to write chapters for the ebook in pairs, and that each chapter should be around 2000 words, to fulfil the written assessment criteria of the class. Writing in pairs meant that they automatically had someone to peer review their work. To fulfil the oral assessment criteria, I required each writing team to hold a ‘work in progress’ presentation on the specific topic of their chapter. I had wanted to include these presentations to make sure I could tick the ‘oral assessment’ box, and because having to present on what they were writing would hopefully mean they got on with their research and writing sooner rather than later!

Weeks 5 & 7

The lessons in these two weeks were dedicated to writing workshops and peer review. We started both lessons by discussing what makes for good peer review, and I gave them some strategies for using colours for comments on different aspects of a text, as well as tables they could use to structure their feedback comments. These tables are available here. Regarding language, these are post-grad students at C1 level, so they’re in a pretty good position to help each other with language accuracy. I told them to underline in pencil anything that sounded odd or wrong to them, whether they were sure or not. If they were sure, they could pencil in a suggestion to improve the sentence/phrase, and if not then the underlining could later serve the authors as a note to check their language at that point.

In week 5, we looked at different genres of essay (cause/effect, compare/contrast, argument, etc), and how to formulate effective thesis statements for each of them. This focussed practice was followed by peer review on the introductions students had drafted so far. By this point, the students had decided that their chapters could be grouped thematically into sections within the ebook, and so did peer review on the work of the students whose chapters were going to be in the same section as their own.

In week 7, we reviewed summaries and conclusions, and also hedging language. Again, this was followed by peer review in their ‘section’ groupings, this time on students’ closing paragraphs.

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Weeks 6 – 11

Almost half way through the semester, all writing teams were working on their chapters. In the lessons, we had a couple of ‘work in progress’ presentations each week. Further to my expectations, the presentations did an excellent job at promoting discussion, and particularly prompted students to find connections between their specific topics – so much so, that they decided to use hyperlinks within the ebook to show the readers these connections. Some students also used their presentations to ask for advice with specific problems they had encountered while researching/writing (e.g. lack of resources, overlaps with other chapters), and these were discussed in plenary to help each writing team as best we could. The discussions after the presentations were used to make any decisions that affected the whole book, for example which citation style we should use or whether to include images.

Week 12

In week 12, all writing teams submitted their texts to me. This was mainly because I needed to give them a grade for their work, but I also took the opportunity to give detailed feedback on their text and the content so they could edit it before it was published. I was also able to give some pointers on potential links to other chapters, since I had read them all. I felt much more like an editor, I have to say, than a teacher!

In the lesson, we had a discussion about pricing our ebook and marketing it. To avoid tax issues, we decided to make the ebook available for free. One student suggested asking for donations to charity instead of charging people to buy the book.

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This idea was energetically approved, and students set about looking into charities we could support. In the end, SHINE education charity won the vote (organised by the students themselves!) I dutifully set up a page for us on justgiving.com: If you’d like to donate, it can be found here.

 

At this point, we also discussed a cover for the book. One student suggested writing ‘the Nineties’ in the Beatles’ style, to emphasise the links to the 1960s that some chapters mentioned. We also thought about including pencil sketches of some of the key people mentioned in the book, but were unable to source any that all students approved of. Instead, students used the advanced settings on the google image search to find images that were copyright free. A small group of students volunteered to finalise the cover design, and I have to say, I think they did a great job!

Week 13

During the lesson in this week, the ebook really came together. Some of the students were receiving more credit points than others for the class, based on their degree programme, and so it was decided that those students should be in charge of formatting the text according to smashwords’ guidelines, and also for collating an annotated bibliography. I organised a document on google docs, where all students noted some bullet points appraising one source they had used for their chapter, and the few who were getting extra points wrote this up and formatted it into a bibliography.

Formatting the text for publication on smashwords.com was apparently not too difficult, as the smashwords’ guidelines explain everything step-by-step, and you do not need to be a computer whizz to follow their explanations!

Week 14 and beyond

This week was the deadline I had set for sending the ebook for publication. After the formatting team had finished, I read through the ebook as a full document for the first time! I corrected any langauge errors that hadn’t been caught previously, and wrote the introduction for the book.  This took me about 2 evenings.

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Then I set myself up a (free) account at smashwords.com and uploaded the ebook text and cover design. Luckily, the students had done a great job following the formatting rules, and the book was immediately accepted for the premium catalogue! (*very proud*)

 

Another small group of students volunteered to draw up some posters for advertising, and to share these with all class members so we could publicise the ebook on social media, on the Department’s webpage, and in the University’s newsletter.

Et voila! We had successfully published our ebook in just 14 weeks!

Evaluation

I’m so glad that I ran this project with my students! It honestly did not take more of my time than teaching the class as ‘usual’ – though usually the marking falls after the end of term, and it was quite pressured getting it done so we could publish in the last week! In future, I might move the publication date to later after the end of semester to ease some of the stress, though I do worry that students’ might lose momentum once we’re not meeting each week.

The students involved were very motivated by the idea that the general public would be able to read their work! I really felt that they made an extra effort to write the best texts they could (rather than perhaps just aiming to pass the class). This project was something entirely new for them, and they were pleased about their involvement for many reasons, ranging from being able to put it on their CV, to seeing themselves as ‘real’ writers. They have even nominated me for a teaching prize for doing this project with them!

Sadly, one student plagiarised. Knowingly. She said that she was so worried her writing wouldn’t be good enough, so she ‘borrowed’ large chunks of texts from an MA dissertation which is available online. Her writing partner didn’t catch it, and was very upset that their chapter would (discreetly!) not be included in the ebook. He was very apologetic to me; and probably also quite angry at her. If the reason she gave was true, it obviously rings alarm bells that I was expecting too much from the students or didn’t support them enough. I will aim to remedy this in future. It could, of course, just have been an excuse.

Also, some other students reported feeling that this project demanded more work from them than they would normally have to put into a class where the grade doesn’t count. Maybe this is because writing in a pair can take more time and negotiation, or maybe they also felt stressed by having to write their text during term time, rather than in the semester break when they would normally do their written assessments. Overall, though, the complaints were limited and often seemed to be clearly outweighed by the pride and enjoyment of being involved in such a great project!

I’m really pleased with how this project panned out, and would recommend other teachers give it a go! I’m very happy to answer any questions in the comments below, and for now, I wish you inspiration and happy ebook-project-planning! 🙂

 

 

What library research skills training do EAP / undergrad students really need?

What library research skills training do EAP / undergrad students really need?

Colleagues and I have long since been aware of the lack of proper research and appropriate source use in our students’ EAP and academic essays. We decided to offer a one-hour workshop on researching in the library at our university, and enlisted the help of an expert – the library representative for our subject area.

We thought it was a great idea!

But students were not so impressed. And their work didn’t improve much, either.

After the session, students’ feedback centred on the following points:

  •  the session was quite like a lecture, but not very interactive or with any opportunities for them to try things out for themselves1000px-Logic_Gates.svg.png
  •  they were bored and confused by the explanation of possible search filters they could implement with Boolean search strings
  • the MLA Bibliography they were introduced to “only gave them references but not the actual articles”
  • that “there weren’t (m)any books on their topic”
  • the searches of databases etc. don’t work “properly” at home.

So what do students new to library research really need to know?

  • What an academic text is. (I recently asked MA-level students to bring in an academic journal article on our overall topic, and many of them turned up with texts from news sources like BBC, or from magazines like Time!)
  • The fact that searching a database of academic texts is not like an internet search; i.e. you shouldn’t ask the catalogue your question (“Ok google, what are the differences between British and American spelling?”), but search for keywords or tags related to the topic.
  • The fact that their specific topic may only be dealt with in a chapter within a book, which may not be searchable (unless the library has digitalised contents pages) and so they may need to search for more general terms.
  • The difference between bibliographies and databases.
  • The fact that many published sources are not available for free on the internet and so you can only access the full texts if your institution subscribes to that publication and you access it through their server. (Yes, this might mean, dear students, that you will actually have to physically go into the library!)
  • The difference between reports of original (empirical) research and meta-studies or other summaries, and the importance of reading the primary work.
  • The importance of using up-to-date sources, especially in areas where research and understandings have developed significantly in recent years.
  • How to use keywords  / tags, and articles’ abstracts, or skim-reading, to judge a source’s relevance and appropriateness for their work.
  • That something is not a fact just because it has been published – most academic work is about stance!books-1015594_960_720.jpg

And so, I’ve come to the conclusion that a one-hour session might not be the best way to introduce students to the academic research community. A quick introduction to the specific institution’s library is a good idea, but that this clearly needs to be further supported within our teaching.

Over to you!

What kinds of tasks and activities do you get your students to do to help them to develop and train their researching skills? Please leave your ideas and tips in the comments below!

Peer Presentation Feedback

Peer Presentation Feedback

I teach an EAP module which focusses on language and study skills. It’s aimed at first-semester students starting an English Studies degree where English is a foreign language for almost all students. They’re at the B2+ level.

In a 15-week semester, we spend the first five weeks or so looking at what makes a good academic presentation in English. We cover topics such as narrowing down a topic to make a point, logically building up an argument, linking pieces of information, maintaining the audience’s attention, formal langauge and appropriate use of register, body language and eye contact, volume and pacing, using sources effectively, and lots of sub-skills and langauge features that are relevant for presentations. In the second 2/3 of the semester, students give presentations (in groups of 3) on a topic of their choice related to the English-speaking world, and we discuss feedback altogether so that the others can learn from what was good or could be improved in the presentation they have watched.

This blog post describes my journey through trialling different ways of getting the best feedback to fulfil our overall learning aim. 

(Note: Don’t worry, we also use class time to practise other study skills pertaining to listening and speaking!)

1. ‘Who would like to give some feedback?’

I have experimented with various ways of getting audience members to give feedback. When I first started teaching on this module, I used to ask after the presentation ‘Who would like to give some feedback?’, which was usually qualified by saying something like ‘Remember the points we’ve covered on what makes a presentation good.’ Usually, only a few people commented, and they focussed mainly on the good things. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to highlight what students have done well! But the overall goal of having students give presentations was that we could constructively critique all aspects of these presentations. I had hoped that we could use these ‘real’ examples to review what we had learnt about good academic presentations. So this approach wasn’t as effective as I had hoped.

2. Feedback questions

It seemed that requiring students to keep in mind all of the features of a good academic presentation was asking a bit too much. And so, together with a colleague, I drew up a list of questions students could ask themselves about the presentation. Example questions include: Was all of the information relevant? Was the speech loud and clear, and easy to understand? Students were given the list before the first presentation and instructed to bring it each week to help them to give presentation feedback. Most people brought them most of the time. Still, students were pretty selective about which questions they wanted to answer, and (tactfully?) avoided the points where it was clear that the presentation group needed to improve. So we still weren’t getting the full range of constructive feedback that I was hoping for.

3. Feedback sandwich

sandwich.jpgIt was clear to me that students wanted to be nice to each other. We were giving feedback in plenum, and no one wanted to be the ‘bad guy’. This is a good thing per se, but it meant that they were slightly hindered in giving constructive criticism and thus achieving the learning aims I had set for the course. So, before the first presentation, I set up an activity looking at how to give feedback politely and without offending the individual presenters. We explored the psychological and linguistic concepts behind ‘face saving’ and how people may become defensive if they feel their ‘face’ is attacked, and then psychologically ‘block out’ any criticism – so the feedback doesn’t help them improve their presentation; nor does it make for good student-student relationships! I explained the idea of a ‘feedback sandwich’ in which the positive comments form the bread, and the negative comments are the filling. This idea is said to ease any feelings of ‘attack’, thus making the feedback more effective. Students embraced this idea, and did their best to ‘sandwich’ their feedback. Overall, this was a helpful step in moving the class feedback towards waht I thought would be most effective for the learning aims.

4. Feedback tickets

Since I noticed we still weren’t always getting feedback on all aspects of the presentation, a colleague and I decided to make ‘feedback tickets’, each with one question from the list we had previously prepared. The tickets were handed out before a presentation, and each student was then responsible for giving feedback on that point. Combined with the ‘sandwich’ approach, this overall worked pretty well. The minor drawbacks were that sometimes the presenters had really done a good job on a certain aspect and there wasn’t much ‘filling’ to go with the ‘bread’; however, sometimes the ‘filling’ was important, but students seemed to counteract their constructive criticisms by emphasizing their lack of importance, especially compared to the positive comments. For me, though, the major downside to using these tickets was the time factor. Running through a set of ~15 feedback tickets (and feedback sandwiches!) after each presentation was productive for students’ presentation skills, but ate into the time in class that should have been used for practising other oral/aural skills. In extreme cases, with two 30-minute presentations plus Q&A in a 90-minute lesson, we simply ran out of time for feedback! Those poor presenters got no feedback on their presentations, and we as class were not able to learn anything from the example they had delivered.

5. Google forms

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Actually, I first used Google Forms to collect feedback after one of these lessons where our time was up before we’d got through the plenary feedback round. I copied all of the feedback questions into a Google form (using the ‘quiz’ template) and emailed the link to the students. I was positively surprised by the results! Perhaps aided by the anonymity of the form, students used the ‘sandwich’ idea very effectively – suitably praising good aspects of the presentation, and taking time to explain their criticisms carefully and specifically. Wow – helpful feedback! I printed out the feedback to give to the presenters, along with my own written feedback, and also picked out a couple of poignant comments to discuss in plenum in the next lesson. Right from the off, this way of collecting and giving feedback seemed very effective, both in terms of time taken and achieving learning aims. It seemed presenters had some time to reflect on their own performance and were able to join in the feedback discussions more openly, and focussing on just a couple of key aspects meant it was time-eficient, too. I immediately decided to use the Google form for the next couple of weeks, and have continued to find it extremely useful. Sadly, we’re at the end of our semester now, so these are just very short-term observations. Still, I’m encouraged to use the online form in future semesters.

Just goes to show how important reflecting on our classroom practices can be!

I wonder if anyone else has had similar experiences, or can share other inspirational ways of collecting feedback on presentations? I’d love to hear from you!

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from teachers/writers

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from teachers/writers

Are you an ELT teacher looking to move into materials writing? This post is for you!

On Saturday 14th January, I hosted a Meetup for the Materials Writing Special Interest Group of IATEFL. The idea was to enable some informal networking for anyone in the area who is involved in writing ELT materials.

One of the activities we did involved editors/publishers and teachers/writers posing questions for each other on posters, and then discussing their answers to the “other side’s” poster. IMAG0050[1].jpg

To share some of the insights beyond our cosy meetup in Germany, I also posed the questions from teachers/writers questions to some editors and other people who work in ELT publishing, and here are their answers:

  • Is there any interest in / a market for writing smaller-scale projects? (e.g. topic worksheets / individual lessons)?

Yes. Generally when we commission these sorts of projects, they’re supplementary materials supporting a book, and there are specific things we need, generally things we feel the target group needs but the book has not provided. So if you regularly use a book and notice a gap, you should definitely let the publisher know, and perhaps send examples of supplementary worksheets you have created.

Yes, definitely, but I suggest a system of crowdsourcing. Writers can produce modules or collections of individual lessons (they need to be substantial lessons) and these can be sold as individual modules (after there are ten or so they can be made into a book).

There is a market, but not really so much for individual worksheets. Find something that links your materials together, a thread that flows though several worksheets or lesson plans. Sets of lesson materials which form a coherent unit are probably of more interest to potential publishers.

  • Is it possible to have more access to writers to discuss objectives etc?

We can’t give out contact information, but we’re not secretive about who writes for us; just look in the copyright pages.

The teacher’s books often give more detail on the overall approach and aims of the activities than the student’s books, so maybe have a look there.

  • How can we get into proof-reading / copy-editing work?

A good way to get a foot in the door is to offer to write readers’ reports on first drafts of material. Publishers are always happy to have readers, and I have personally seen examples of readers then getting writing work because they’ve made an impression.

About proofreading work: the best place to start is with your own materials, then offer to check worksheets or materials that are being written for your school/shared bank of materials. Create a style sheet that will give you consistency across the whole collection of materials. If you find you enjoy this kind of work, you could contact your local publishers’ office and express an interest, or you could consider doing a recognised proofreading course somewhere like The Publishing Training Centre or joining an organisation like the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).

Definitely get some kind of recognised training if you want to do copy editing and/or proofreading professionally. It not only gives you credibility, it will teach you a lot. I did my training in Canada, and I went into it thinking ‘I teach grammar… this is just a formality.’ Not so. I learned so much about the process of editing a text that I would never have got by myself.

For anyone interested in ELT editing, follow the White Ink FB page for tips, tricks and work opportunities. Facebook.com/WhiteInkLimited.com

  • How can (potential) writers make themselves known to you and/or find out about upcoming projects?

Send editors/publishers your CV and a couple of sample materials you’ve made.

Submit your work to materials writing competitions – most publishers and lesson sharing websites host competitions.

Most publishers have an email address or contact form for potential writers. It’s really important to make clear what kind of materials you can write – whoever processes the emails will want to forward it quickly to the relevant editorial department – so put ‘English’ and ‘Business / Primary / EAP / etc.’ in a prominent place in the email.

You can always email our editorial teams to discuss any potential opportunities.

To make yourself ‘findable’, make sure you join ELT Teacher 2 Writer. All of the publishers listed on the homepage use the database to find writers.

Most people suggest starting a blog where you share materials you have made for your classes more widely. Likewise, if you create something innovative then share it by presenting at conferences etc. This can get your name known, and if you do contact a publisher then you have a portfolio to show them.

If you can commit to piloting and reviewing material, you can impress editors that way and may then be offered writing work.

  • What can teachers do if we notice a gap in the market?

Yes, if you spot a gap in the market that is innovative, get in touch  and most editors will send you a proposal document, or check the publisher’s website for an electronic proposal from. Make sure you approach the right kind of publisher, though.

Get in touch via the website of a relevant publisher – There’s ususally a list of details you should include on there.

Do your research! If the gap you find is very niche, publishers might be less interested, so you’ll need to ‘prove’ that your gap is relevant to a wider audience than just one of your classes.

  • Is experience/expertise in digital materials writing essential nowadays?

I would say no, not yet, but a willingness and an interest is helpful.

Not essential – the vast majority of educational material sold is still print. However, it’s becoming increasingly relevant and we’re always on the lookout for people who can write this kind of content.

Depends what you want to write and who for. If you specifically want to write digital materials, then some experience will clearly help, but training will probably be provided if you’re new to the area – especially as different publishers use different digital platforms anyway.

  • And if so, is there capacity for advice/training to produce this type of material?

I think it’s a case of learning by doing. Let your publisher know you’re interested. Probably the best “training” you can do is to get yourself familiar with the apps and things that are on the market, and try to imagine what had to be taken into consideration when the content was created.

I would say this is out there if you look hard enough. Nellie Deutsch runs courses on MOODLE for Teachers. And some organisations run Writers Retreats which might be relevant.

I think most producers of educational material are still learning what makes good digital content in our industry. In my opinion, the best thing to do is to learn and work with everything yourself (particularly the apps and websites that are successful, like Duolingo, Babbel, The Day, PlayPosit, etc. – or even brain training apps like Elevate) to get a better idea of what kind of content works well on a smartphone, tablet or PC.

For digital training, you could have a look at what ELTjam offer.

Are you involved in ELT materials writing? Do you have more questions from the teacher’s/writer’s perspective? Or answers to these questions from an editor’s/publisher’s perspective? Add your thoughts in the comments below!

It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

Recently, a colleague observed my grammar class. The 30 learners are B2-C1 level and the class is required for their degree programme (English Studies). I usually set up my gramamr classes so that the activities build on each other to move from re-capping basic points to more advanced fineties of certain structures, so we discuss answers to exercises together to check everyone has understood before we move forward.

Usually, I do think-pair-share, or check answers in plenum. But often only a few students volunteer to share their answers with the class and I end up trying to coax the others into speaking.

I’d never really noticed before, but my colleague pointed out that I often say “It’s boring only hearing from the same few students!” He suggested that this might make those who volunteer to contribute feel that they are boring or should not put their hands up so often: the opposite effect of what I’m trying to achieve. And so I am trying to think of new things to say, of new ways to encourage the others to share their answers. 

So far, I’ve tried “Let’s hear from someone new” and things like “Let’s hear from someone in the back row”. I sometimes also call on individual students, but I often have the feeling that they don’t like being put on the spot like that…

And so this blog post is rather a plea – please help! What else can I say or do to encourage other students to volunteer to share their answers in plenum?? Please write your suggestions below!!

Ways to find ideas (for lessons, presentations, essays…)

As a teacher who assigns plenty of presentation and essay tasks to my student, I have long been convinced that freedom of choice is important. Very often, I let the students choose their own topic to write or present about; the theory being that if they are working on a topic that interests them, the results will be better and more interesting for me to read/listen to, and more inspiring for others, e.g. student audience for a presentation, etc.

But I often come up against ‘I don’t know what to write about’ or ‘I don’t have any ideas that are relevant’. This is rather frustrating for me as a teacher, but then also filters into my own lesson planning. And I’m sure other teachers have the same issue – what topic can I choose for a lesson? I want to be interested in it so that I am enthusiastic, but I also want to find something that will ‘grab’ the learners so that they are motivated, too.

This post is a quick list of ways anyone can find an idea … students for their essays, .. teachers for their lessons, … etc! I’m coming at this from an EGAP background, but the basic premise is that things that are around us every day would make good topics for our work, if only we weren’t too busy to notice them or to spend a minute thinking about how they would fit to the task ahead of us.

So here they are … my suggestions of ways to find ideas of topics to write/present/talk/teach about!

1) Read the TV guide. 

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that you should procrastinate and watch TV until an idea magically occurs to you! But trust me… look at a TV guide (magazine, online, on the TV itself), particularly looking at channels that often show documentaries, and just scan the titles of the programmes. If you find something that interests you, of course you can watch it, but even that might not be necessary. Often channels show documentaries that are related to something that is currently going on, something up-to-date. Just count the number of shows focusing on Brazil in the run-up to the World Cup!  These are often topics that lend themselves nicely to presentations, essays, lessons, etc, especially when they look at an ‘old’ topic from a new, specific perspective. I once read the programme list of N24 (A German news/documentary channel) from just one weekend, and looked for topics related to an English-speaking country (the one rule I do set my students). I found 22 different topics! They ranged from how the Titanic could have avoided sinking, to youth gangs in the USA, to how to land a jet-fighter on an aircraft-carrier, to the first prisons in Australia. With the wide variety of topics, there’s likely to be something that inspires you, gives you an idea to work on.

2) Google (Scholar) your interests

Many students seem to think that to be ‘academic’ a topic has to be somehow serious (read: boring!). But you’d often be surprised how much academic discussion is going on about topics most people would consider ‘unacademic’. For me, a topic can be academic if you approach it in an academic way – critically evaluating the evidence/support for various viewpoints, or assessing the significance of various factors, etc. I have a colleague who is just slightly obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But guess what, studying literature and media proved to her that Buffy is in fact the subject of a lot of academic discussion and research. Simply stick ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, or whatever your interest is, into Google Scholar ( http://scholar.google.com/ )or a similar (academic!) search engine, and you will often be rewarded with links to articles investigating aspects of your interest from various perspectives, using different approaches, etc – et voila, an interesting idea!

3) Question Jokes

I don’t actually know whether it’s true, but we often hear that journalists approach their news items asking the ‘w-questions’: where?, when?, what?, who?, whom?, why?, (how?). If you apply these questions to jokes or other funny anecdotes, you might be able to discover an interesting topic for your lesson, essay, etc. Through my linguists’ eyes, there is an awful lot of material about! Take the books or websites that make fun of incorrect and amusing translations of signs in foreign countries – for me, the questions always arise as to who translated this and why, what led to the mistakes, what was the influence of the native language, what would they need to know about English to get it right, etc. Even jokes based on stereotypes can lead to interesting social/cultural studies investigations: why is this amusing? Where did the stereotype come from? Is the stereotype only found in some contexts (in comparison to their own context)? Is there any truth to the stereotype? And so on. One of my previous blog posts arose from a funny situation: a colleague made some odd, incorrect but very funny lexical mistakes… and this lead me to look at the organisation and workings of the mental lexicon. (See https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/everyday-examples-of-mental-lexicon-representations/ )

4) Argue with news headlines

Open a newspaper or news website and just skim the headlines. Now pick one that stands out to you, read the article if you like, and try (just for fun) to disagree and argue with everything you read. You might end up thinking: Why did they do that? That was a silly thing to do! That’s not the right solution! Who would support that? etc. This will prompt you to highlight controversies or debatable points made, and perhaps provide an idea that you can write/present/teach about. Just looking through the BBC News Magazine site this morning (see: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine/), I find “France’s Flaws: Why the country isn’t the democratic créme de la créme”, or “Spaniard takes time off work to watch World Cup” – I think there are plenty of points you could come up with that take a negative or critical stance here, and then you’d have the foundation for a discussion which could be used in whatever task you’re currently trying to get inspired for. Try also to find support for your arguments and criticisms – read up on some background or find other sources of information relevant to the topic, and there you have it… the good idea for your work!

5) Browse Social Networks

Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social networking platforms you use, can also be a source of inspiration. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a couple of people on your friends list who basically to your ‘finding an idea’ ground work for you! They post videos, news excerpts, podcasts, and the like, which are interesting because they are new, funny, controversial, etc – pick any one of these and delve a bit deeper into the content, question it, critically assess it, and let it lead you to a specific idea for your work. Just recently, an ex-colleague posted http://www.vox.com/2014/6/4/5776804/note-taking-by-hand-versus-laptop in our Facebook students group and sparked a lively discussion where different students and teachers posted their views, their evidence, anecdotes, etc. Or this one, posted by a student in World-Cup-mood: http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2014/06/germany_2014_world_cup_is_joachim_l_w_s_squad_too_nice_to_win_in_brazil.2.html  Many people criticise social networks as distractions and hide-outs for procrastinators; but if you use them well, they can actually inspire you for the task ahead!

 

So … those were a few of my ideas on how to find new ideas! I’ll stop here so that you don’t procrastinate any further by spending more time reading my blog … go forth and delve into the rich world of ideas that are all around you! Who knows… maybe my next post will have to be about ‘I have too many ideas and don’t know which one to work on’ 🙂