Tag: language learning

Fun things I’ve learnt from writing one ELT coursebook

Fun things I’ve learnt from writing one ELT coursebook

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

– foodsharing and carsharing – justifications and legal issues

– reasons for vegetariansm and other dietary choices

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

– tiny homes and motivations for minimalist lifestyles

– crazy competitions from around the world

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

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

– origins of sports idioms

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

The Expression of Present Time: Grammar Worksheet for Teachers / advanced EFL learners

The Expression of Present Time: Grammar Worksheet for Teachers / advanced EFL learners

 

This worksheet provides a systematic re-cap of the functions/uses of the simple present and present progressive.

Completing the exercises will lead to a list of functions/uses, with easily memorable and adaptable examples comparing the two verb forms, as well as time-lines to illustrate their meanings, and notes on differences in their implications. It is designed for EFL teachers /teacher trainees looking for a reminder or practice of explaining the functions/uses of these two verb forms explicitly, though no linguistic terminology is required – which also makes it useable with EFL learners in contexts where explicit grammar teaching is conducted.

The topics covered in the examples and exercises reflect everyday language usage and conversation topics, also including topics that are likely to be of interest to language learners or teachers, such as novels, or free-time language practice activities.

According to a CEFR profile analysis on http://www.vocabkitchen.com, the vocabulary in all of the examples and tasks is very straightforward; mostly of them are below B1 on the CEFR, with a number of B2 words, and a minimal number of C1 words in the blurb of the novel (Task 4). This basic vocabulary allows full focus on the verb structures and grammar.

Click here for the worksheet: Present Time

Click here for the answers: Present Time ANSWERS

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

Review: Oxford EAP (Upper-Intermediate/ B2)

Review: Oxford EAP (Upper-Intermediate/ B2)

With many thanks to my colleagues with whom I have had endless discussions about this textbook!

This series of attractively-designed textbooks piqued our interest as soon as we heard about it! My review focuses on: de Chazal, E & McCarter,S ( 2012) Oxford EAP A Course in English for Academic Purposes. Upper Intermediate/B2. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 

OEAP Up Int

The books are divided into units, which are each further divided into four sections (reading, writing, speaking, listening) plus a vocabulary page. Each unit deals with one topic, and audio and video materials are provided on a DVD which accompanies the student’s book as standard. The student’s books also include a very useful language reference section, glossary, and a key to the exercises.

The official description of the series from the OUP website states that:

Oxford EAP provides a course that is inclusive and international with a strong focus on the core skills needed for academic study, catering for the needs of EAP teachers and students across the globe.

One issue we faced, though, was that the range of topics was really very wide, thus a number of sections dealt with topics too far off what our students study, so they were less able to engage with them to achieve good language-learning results. Nonetheless, the topics and materials are accessible to non-experts, and the reaction may be different with another cohort of learners. This may also be less of an issue in EAP groups preparing students for study in different disciplines. As a further note, some examples show conventions more acceptable in some fields than others (such as use of first person in writing, or explicit Thesis Statements), so tutors will need to highlight this for students.

The series sells itself on its modular structure, which OUP says will enable teachers (and learners) to be flexible in selecting the relevant units for their own goals and priorities. They also suggest that this flexibility makes the books appropriate for both pre-sessional and in-sessional EAP courses. In my experience, this is true only to a limited extent, depending on the context. Most university terms run for 15-20 weeks, and unless they are intensive courses I doubt that any group would manage to complete a book in this time. In my context, we used the listening & speaking sections in one term and the writing (and some reading) for another 15-week term. I personally felt quite pressured to get through the units I had chosen, since there are so many exercises, which often build on each other and cannot be omitted. And indeed, students won’t want to omit too much if they have paid out for a textbook!

That said, the exercises are on the whole very worthwhile and provide a straight-forward introduction to key academic skills, with the majority of the input being authentic materials from OUP’s other academic textbooks – a major selling point of this series! The skills, for example presenting, reading academic texts, listening in academic contexts, essay writing, and seminar speaking skills, are introduced and practised progressively throughout various units, and the language and skills are well integrated, for instance by using example sentences which pertain to the unit’s topic to demonstrate the language structures. The vocabulary pages seemed to be targeted accurately at the B2 level, and are ideal for self-study.

Our students have a pretty strong command of English (good upper intermediates) but need to cover the basics of academic working. With this goal in mind, my colleagues and I liked many of the listening activities, particularly listening to lectures in units 1 & 9. The sections on presentations and speaking on seminars were also all worthwhile. Some of the videos exemplifying presentations are held by other EFL students – this makes them highly authentic, but our students did notice some mistakes in their speech, and sometimes took them into their own language production. Therefore, it is important to note that these videos are not always a good model for language, though of the skill being trained (e.g. presenting). The language activities in the B2 book were sometimes a bit too easy for our students, though most probably benefited from the re-cap of previously learnt lexis and structures.  Indeed, one colleague commented:

It wasn’t really clear to me whether users of this book would be aiming for B2 on the CEFR, or whether the aim was to take them from B2 up to the linguistically dizzy heights of C1!

However, I’d say the skills presented are definitely appropriate for this level. In fact, the C1 (Advanced) book, in comparison, is more aimed at students entering doctoral programmes. (As for rest of the series, I’m not sure A2 learners need an EAP book! But that is a discussion for another time!) For undergraduates, the writing sections in this Upper Intermediate book do a commendable job of introducing and expanding on essay writing, particularly: starting the process, topic sentences, paragraphs, essay introductions, essay conclusions, comparison essays, citation and referencing, and argument essays. Some further practice on paraphrasing, or some longer example essays would also be helpful, though these are probably found in other levels within the series.

Overall, the Oxford EAP textbooks have a large number of good selling points, and the Upper Intermediate book ranks among the best I’ve seen for EAP at this level. In general, it does a good job at achieving its aim of preparing students for academic work in English at university. Nonetheless, the length and scope may turn out to be drawbacks for some contexts, and, as with any coursebook, working with it will require some pretty detailed planning and materials selection on the part of the teacher.

 

You can find other reviews of this book / series here:

de Chazal, E & McCarter,S ( 2012) Oxford EAP A Course in English for Academic Purposes. Upper Intermediate/B2. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=340359669608147;res=IELHSS

 

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!

 

 

Formulating Definitions & Discussing Prejudice

Formulating Definitions & Discussing Prejudice

Student worksheet: click here.

Teacher’s notes: click here.
AIMS: By working through this worksheet, which can be done independently or in class, students will be guided to notice some key features of definitions, in terms of content and language, and be able to replicate these in producing their own definitions.  Through the specific examples in focus, students will also practise talking about prejudices in a neutral manner and further develop their intercultural communication skills.

 

RATIONALE:

1 – Particularly in EAP, students often need to define terms used in their field of study, usually in order to clarify the term’s meaning to non-experts or to indicate which definition they are working with, and sometimes also to demonstrate understanding to an examiner.

2 – Because prejudices and biases are controversies often discussed, and perhaps even faced, in academic contexts, the focus here has been consciously placed on defining and discussing potentially controversial/taboo topics, in order to increase intercultural communication competences.

 

LANGUAGE FOCUS: defining relative clauses, some vocabulary for prejudices with -ism, some vocabulary for definitions.

 

LEVEL: B1 upwards.  According to www.vocabkitchen.com profiling, the texts of the definitions should be easily understandable for learners at/above the B2 level on the CEFR; I would suggest they could also be used with B1-level learners if vocabulary support is given or dictionaries allowed. (Words above B1 level: belief, treatment, wealth, social standing, superior, arising.)

My Webinar: “Assessing and Marking Writing: Feedback Strategies to Involve the Learners”

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of hosting a webinar (my first ever!) for IATEFL’s TEA SIG. For those who weren’t able to join in, here’s a run down and a link to the video!

Assessing  Marking Writing TEASIG PPT_002This talk provides teachers with time-efficient strategies for giving feedback on EFL learners’ writing which actively involve the learners. I present and evaluate several learner-centred feedback strategies that are applicable to giving feedback on written work in diverse contexts, by presenting summaries of published research which explores their efficacy. I also explain the mechanisms underpinning the strategies’ effectiveness, in order to further aid teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific class groups.

Watch the webinar recording here.

The webinar was followed by a live Facebook discussion. Check it out here.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the Facebook discussion: 

Clare Fielder  Someone asked: Have you ever tried developing an online digital dialogue around feedback points? Not exactly sure what you mean here, I’m afraid. I’ve used Google Docs to get peer review going – is that something in the direction you’re asking about?

Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle I use wikispaces and learners can comment on specific points and then develop a dialogue. Here’s a quick clip of what I mean
Sharon Hartle's photo.
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder This sounds like something similar to Google Docs with the comments function. I used that last year with my students, most of them liked it, but lost energy and motivation for it by the end of term… Maybe because it’s just one more platform that they have to remember to check?
Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle Once again, I think it is a question of guidance and structuring, as you said. If you limit it to asking them to comment on two posts, for instance, and then reintegrate it all into class it works well. It also remains for later reference, like now. 🙂
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder Our VLP doesn’t have this kind of function (well, it doesn’t work well and is hard to use) which is why I opted for Google. I definitely like the idea, because then students get feedback from various peers, not just the one who was given their work in class on peer review day! Also, you can include LDF into that – students can pose their questions on their work when they post it there, and then all the group members can help answer them! That’s a great idea!
Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle I’ve also experimented with iAnnotate for ipad and Schoology, which is also good.
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder Yes, I agree, limiting it to two comments or so does help, but doesn’t encourage them to really engage in discussion and dialogue. But, as with everything in ELT, it depends! It depends on the students, context, goals, etc.
Where I am it’s all pretty low-tech. I still have chalk boards in my classrooms! 😀

Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle Well tech is only as good as tech does, isn’t it and there was a time when the blackboard was considered high tech 🙂
Clare FielderClare Fielder Only if you had coloured chalk! 😉
Sharon HartleSharon Hartle Thanks Clare, for staying around and developing this discussion, which is very interesting 🙂

 

For more information about IATEFL’s TEA SIG – Teaching, Evaluation & Assessment Special Interest Group – you can find their website here.

TEA-Sig

 

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!

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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