Entrance testing and my Italian: then and now

Yesterday afternoon, I did the Italian entrance test at IHPA. It consists of a computer-based grammar/vocabulary test and a speaking test. I also did the test about ten months ago. Since then I have put a considerable amount of time and effort into learning Italian… 

Computer-based component: Then

Ten months ago, I successfully completed the first activity, a gap fill, and passed on to the second, completing a conversation. After submitting it, I was booted out. My level was high elementary. I don’t remember much about it other than being frustrated in the conversation activity because I knew that my bodge along language wasn’t what was required! (Duly confirmed by the test ending at that point…)

Computer-based component: Now

Kids were running riot round the computers, waiting to go into class but I started nevertheless. I figured a bit of noise more or less wasn’t going to make much difference. Again, I successfully completed the first activity. I couldn’t remember it from before or anything, but it made more sense to me this time. I actually knew more what I was putting and why, rather than just guessing. I passed onto the conversation and again, for most of it, I was quite sure of my answers this time. Though some I didn’t have a clue. So far, so good. This time, I successfully passed this activity too. Enter activity three. The little timer was counting down, so I had “hurry hurry” in my head. Clickety click. Ah. I forgot to read the instructions on the instruction screen before passing to the associated activity. Fortunately, being a language teacher, I could work out more-or-less what was required without any instructions. It seemed to be transformations. There were more answers that I wasn’t sure of this time. At the end of that activity the test ended for me. I came out as intermediate, though. :) (Funnily enough, when I spoke about it to one of my colleagues who also did the test recently, it turned out that he also managed to forget to read the instructions for that third activity! Being teachers, who always till we are blue in the face tell our students to read instructions carefully in tests – how many times has this come up in my IELTS classes for example!! – how ironic that we don’t do it ourselves…)

Speaking component: Then

Ten months ago I didn’t have many words. Italian words, I mean. So it wasn’t a very extensive speaking test. I remember having to describe Rome (a city in Italy I had been to) and being largely unable to do so. I did have some random horse-related vocabulary, though, from my extensive reading and from going to the stables regularly! I think I only managed to speak in the present and very a little bit of past. I came out, again, somewhere mid-Elementary.

Speaking component: Now

I really enjoyed the speaking test yesterday! I have a lot more words now. And my tester pushed me to use different things, like imperfect, conditionals, hypotheses and so on. Apparently I kept avoiding using the future though. Which is strange because I do know how to form it! Subsequently, when pondering it, I wondered if it wasn’t a non-linguistic issue. I.e. I feel like if I speak about the future using the future tense, e.g. I’m going to have a nice house, I’m going to go horse-riding and running all the time, I’m going to do this, that and the other, I’d be tempting fate! So I err towards conditionals. E.g. I would like to have a nice house, I would like to work in x place, etc. Even talking about next weekend for me would require conditionals (largely weather-related!) not just pure future.

Anyway, it turns out that I’m intermediate in speaking too! Which, given this time last year it was all I could do to repeat phrases after people and get out a few halting sentences of my own, is progress! Also turns out that I have problems with word stress and putting it in the wrong place. Not surprising given I am largely self-taught. It also occurred to me after the test that I accidentally lied during it. I said I hadn’t done any courses since the couple of lessons of survival Italian that I did with the school right when I arrived. Whereas, of course I have had a handful of private lessons recently. But a combination of new timetable and ill teacher has meant that for nearly a month now I haven’t had any. So it was easy to forget in the heat of the moment! Besides, when asked about “courses” I only thought as in classes at the school. Which I really haven’t had any more of.

What next?

Well, it looks like I’m on the good old intermediate plateau now. And the vast quantities of self-study I did during last summer have dwindled right down to a spot of reading each night before bed! I might join an intensive course that is running at the moment, but still not sure yet. Either which way, hopefully I will be continuing with the private lessons, as there is still one viable day a week for it. It’ll just be paid lessons rather than an exchange (as it was before) since there just aren’t two possible days a week for it to happen anymore. The joys of timetabling!

In any case, I’ve found doing the test quite motivating. (I think I actually really rather like tests, disturbingly enough!) It’s shown me that I’ve made reasonable progress. But will that be enough to galvanise me into action (lessons etc.) and further self study? Time will tell… ;-)

Screenshot 1: One World Italiano

Been a while since I visited this site!!

Valentine’s Day Lesson Idea/plan + materials

For once in my life, I decided to break with tradition and actually do a Valentine’s Day lesson. Turned out to be quite good fun with my Upper Intermediate teens during their last lesson before Valentine’s Day…

Image from wikicommons.org licensed for commercial reuse with modification

Image from wikicommons.org licensed for commercial reuse with modification

This lesson includes a prediction quiz, a video clip, a short philosophical reading, a discussion and some project work. Materials used are all linked to at the end of this post.

  • Brief lead-in: Show slide with a Valentine’s Day picture and a picture of marmite. Ask students what these have in common. (Love it or hate it…) Which camp are they in? Why? (NB: you may want to show a quick clip of a marmite advertisement – I would if I did this lesson again! Unless students are familiar with marmite…)
  • Prediction quiz: In pairs/small groups, students complete the quiz about Valentine’s Day with their predictions.
  • Video clip: Students watch/listen and check their predictions, noting correct answers where necessary.
Click on this picture to be taken to the video clip!

Click on this picture to be taken to the video clip!

  • Check: Students check what they understood in pairs/small groups.
  • Discuss: Students discuss if they are surprised by any of the statistics and why/why not.
  • Discuss: In new groupings, students discuss the two philosophical questions that lead in to the reading.
  • Read: Students read the short text and compare the writer’s views with their ideas from the discussion.
  • Discuss: Students discuss the gist and opinion questions at the end of the text.
  • Produce: Having learnt all about Valentine’s Day, the students, as campaigners, now create their own holiday. (Who is it in honour of? Why? How is it celebrated? Encourage them to make it as zany as possible. Encourage them to incorporate the statistical language from the video clip [in the case of my teens, this recycles the statistical language they met last term]). Students should present their holiday in a poster (for my students I prompted them to use the persuasive language we’d looked at in a previous lesson, so some more review), to convince the government to give everybody a national holiday for it. I also warned them that I (the government) would be asking a few questions following the presentation, which they duly prepared for.

My teens got really in to the final production stage, getting into role as petitioners for their holiday, and they even took a photo of their finished poster afterwards! :)

Here are the materials I used:

And here is the holiday that won!

The 'Government' says, "Yes, please!" ;-)

The ‘Government’ says, “Yes, please!” ;-)

If you use this lesson with your classes, I hope  you enjoy it! Let me know how it goes by posting in the comments… :)

Write-up of Andrew Walkley’s BELTA webinar: Language-focused teacher development

This afternoon, I have had the pleasure of attending a fantastic webinar presented by Andrew Walkley, one half of the popular Dellar-Walkley duo whose project Lexical Lab you might be aware of. 

Andrew delivering an awesome webinar!

Andrew delivering an awesome webinar!

The focus of the webinar was Language-focused teacher development, looking at the way we deal with vocabulary in class and what we need to be doing outside class in order for this to become more effective. I took notes as we went along, so here they are, slightly edited to make them more comprehensible…

  • First we were asked to put groups of four words into order of their frequency.
  • Then we were asked to make examples for a set of seven words and a structure (the past continuous).

Andrew went on to explain that within the CLT era, we have seen some particular types of approaches emerge, that are language rich and responsive – TBL, Lexical Approach, Dogme, Demand High…

  • In TBL, if there is breakdown in communication, this is where learning is supposed to happen, the teacher facilitating this learning.
  • In Dogme, maybe some further practice together will be done too.
  • With Demand High teaching (which concept he said sparked this talk), there was a complaint that a lot of teaching taking place where you move from task to task but without much actual teaching happening. The teacher needed to be stronger in saying ‘no, this is wrong’ or pushing individual students and teaching them in the moments where they are struggling. A lot of Scrivener’s solutions were technical, technique-type things, e.g. the teacher pretends not to understand what the student is saying, thereby forcing them to explain why what they were were saying was right.

That’s ok to a point, but Andrew felt that it wasn’t the real reason why the teaching wasn’t happening.  He has been interested in the Lexical Approach since its publication 20 years ago now, he has also been aware of the expectations of thinking about language and dealing with language that are advocated in LA are high. He recognises that it is difficult.

Andrew then introduced us to a book, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It deals with the difficulty for experts in employing their expertise. This is because of the need for fast, in the moment, spontaneous thinking, where rather than think clearly about certain aspects of thinking, we replace a kind of logical thought with heuristics i.e. a generalised idea of something.

This brought us back to the task we did at the start.

Andrew showed us the answers to the frequency question:

Screenshot of the answers to the frequency quiz

Screenshot of the answers to the frequency quiz

Then he asked whether the corpus frequency answer (biased towards written) is reflective of the bias in native speaker natural use? His feeling is that often we overestimate certain frequencies of words and underestimate others. In the spoken corpus, arise and beard come at a similar level. Many students are interested in academic and professional lives in English, where they may not be using the language all the time in the workplace or study in Britain etc, but the resources they use may be in English, so a word like ‘arise’ would have a higher frequency and value.

As for the activity of making examples: our tendency is to produce examples like the ones we produced, but sometimes these aren’t actually the most common uses or even the way we use the language. Of this type of example, they may be one in a thousand in the corpus. E.g. She is a Christian. So… how is Christian really used? Andrew confessed that he might struggle with some of these words, in terms of making examples. E.g. whereby, arise, in terms of. Some of these are more difficult to think of examples from. They don’t fit into that simple x is y pattern. They require more complex sentences:

Screenshot from the webinar

Screenshot of Andrew’s examples from the webinar

It’s difficult to think of these kind of examples on the spot, Andrew explained, the Daniel Kahneman book offering some very clear reasons as to why. This is to do with biases that overtake logical thought. Our tendency would be to put words like blonde, banana etc. higher up because we know we can think of examples for these more easily than arise or whereby. If we think about the number of different contexts that we use banana or arise, then it becomes clear that arise would occur in academic texts, meetings, and several more possible contexts than the word banana or beard. Similarly serious vs. fun, there are a wider number of things that can be serious than there are fun things. As I understood it, this is availability bias, one of three factors that affect our choice:

  • availability bias
  • representational bias
  • priming

Apparently words also have a representational bias, e.g. x is y, x does y, doctor has a white coat etc. So the examples and explanations that come to mind are often of that nature.

Finally, priming: In English language teaching, this is quite strong. E.g. I was having a bath when the phone rang.

  • Because of what we’ve learnt before and what we’ve seen in coursebooks before, we think of certain examples and contexts, and we don’t see the wider context we could use.
  • Sometimes when we are trying to hear what students are saying, and trying to correct them, often what we are primed to notice is basic grammar, typical grammar that we have taught before. So, we will commonly notice the present perfect used incorrectly or missed third person ‘s’ and these we look to correct.

Andrew explained that this is problematic in terms of these responsive methodologies. There is too big a cognitive load for any teacher trying to use these methods.

When you are in class, e.g. with TBL you are catering for individuals and have to do many things, which he went on to describe:

  • You have to hear the student first, which is already difficult possibility due to layout and noise levels.
  • You have to understand what they want to say/write, recognise the error/gap in their language, and give the ‘correct’ example (” because sometimes what we want to be doing is extend ss knowledge, e.g. where they use a particular word where another less frequent use works better)
  • You then have to explain or check why one is correct and the other isn’t, if we are talking in terms of TBL and Dogme, then extra examples of new language are necessary, and for Dogme also further ‘spontaneous’ practice.
  • Finally you need to remember it in order to revise and recycle it at a later date.

That’s a lot to expect. And multiplied by all individual students with individual needs. So, instead, Andrew said, we fall back on examples given before, or focus on relatively infrequent words and give simplified examples which don’t necessarily reflect enough of how those words are used. Yet if you are a believer in a more lexical approach to teaching, one of the most important things is giving good examples of how language is used.

So, this is the big issue with these methodologies. Ironically, often, somebody who doesn’t like coursebooks will give examples that have been seen in one before! Coursebook writers are similarly primed. You come up with examples which afterwards you think ‘what was I thinking? Nobody would ever say that!‘. If you believe that exemplifying natural use is important than you need to also think outside the class. Inside the class it is too difficult due to cognitive load. It may also be that to become a better non-course book user, we need to become better coursebook users and writers!

The more we focus on different words and how we might exemplify them and ask questions about them, and think about spontaneous practices for them, the more we will get better at doing it spontaneously. Kahen (of the above-mentioned book) suggests the example of chess players who basically learn lots and lots and lots of moves. It takes all those hours of practice in order to become spontaneous in the context of a chess match. We may not have so much time to prepare in our lives but it’s an ongoing process so if we work at it incrementally, we’ll get better at it.

In terms of training and development, however, most focus is grammatical, rather than lexis. Grammar rules into which we slot the words. Andrew doesn’t particularly agree with this. At this stage in the talk, he outlined some potential issues for teacher development:

  • In terms of the planning, on training courses and post-qualification, planning focuses on activities: thinking of activities to help practice bits of grammar or vocabulary in the course book. Whereas we should think a lot more about the lexis and the questions we are going to ask about it etc. in the planning.
  • Judgement of lessons in observations shouldn’t based on fulfilling aims as it goes agains the idea of being responsive to students. So we need to think about how we think about language AND expectations of what a good lesson is.
  • Teacher development tends to focus on learning new techniques. E.g. Demand High. Frustrating because it is more techniques, other ways of doing somehting. Wehreas I feel we need to focus more on actual language.

Andrew put forward some alternatives:

Frequency training

  • Macmillan dictionary: game to decide if it is three star, two star or one star words. (Different frequencies) Once you realise that something is frequent, thinking about why it’s frequent and as a consequence thinking about the kind of examples you might give to reflect that frequency.
  • The compleat lexical tutor: I missed this explanation!
  • Phrasal English.org: Uses the BNC. Put in a word or two, request exact word or same lemma. E.g. inc plural, past participle form included. Gives a rough count and a concordance. (Like wordandphrase.info, I think?)  May be skewed by names. E.g. Christian. But still gives an idea. You might just take this as a staffroom thing, e.g. reading something or taking a collocation. Have competitions who thinks something is more common than something else. E.g. ambitious plan vs ambitious scheme. Then find out. To help us think about frequencies.

Exploiting vocabulary exercises

Essentially a lot of vocabulary activities focus on single words. Increasingly, now, you also get collocation exercises, matching two words to make a collocation. You might even have whole sentence exercises e.g. gap fills, little dialogues matching question and response. We need to think about slightly different ways of using these.

  • In a single word exercise, we should think about what collocations to elicit from students about these words and questions to ask about the vocabulary. Not just meaning focused but usage focused.
  • With collocation exercises, now we need to think beyond the collocation and think about the collocates of the collocations e.g. example sentences and dialogues, or a story to tell?
  • And then if you think about the whole sentence exercises, ask questions to get students reuse grammar and chunks, and other vocabulary that isn’t the focus but can be exploited.

Take for e.g. a ‘Which is the odd one out?’ exercise

The temptation is to say the non-odd words out are the same. But are they? And what do the students get apart from adding re-? Instead think about how we can use these words more. What collocations can go with these words?

  • Is what we reconstruct the same as what we rebuild?
  • Is what we reconsider the same as what we reexamine?
  • E.g. we can rebuild a relationship but we don’t reconstruct or remake it. We reexamine the evidence but we don’t rethink the evidence. We might rewrite an essay but not reword it. We might reword something shorter like an answer. We remake a film but we don’t rebuild it.

These are the kinds of things we want to be able to tell our students. We need precise examples. Going back to supermarkets, we might overestimate its frequency, quite often we don’t say I’m going to the supermarket, we say I’m going to Tescos or Carrefour. Perhaps these are better examples for our students in some ways.

Take for e.g. a collocations exercise

We need to think about:

  • What works with these collocations e.g. swimming pool and swimming trunks. Fishing rod and fishing gear. After you have matched them up, possibly with a picture thrown in, what next? Need to know how to use them!
  • A second question you might ask is who would you say it to, when would you say it, why would you say it? Think of how they might work in a dialogue. Sometimes the compound gets split up. E.g. see you on the track in half an hour. (Running track) Or swimming pool. Let’s go swimming. Ok see you at the pool in 15 mins.

Andrew suggests that we need to spend more time thinking about this aspect of language rather than on activities, in our planning.

  • Think about the kind of questions we ask about vocabulary. Can we generate language around target words? E.g. What might you ask if someone is carrying a lot of gear? Can I help you? Oooh where are you off to?
The questions we could ask

Screenshot of the questions Andrew says we could ask

  • Thinking about these kind of questions on the spot is quite difficult, you need to think about them beforehand to be able to ask them on the spot.

More complex sentence examples show more of how language works, so students see more examples of grammar in use.

  • Rather than x is y. (She is a Christian vs As a Christian, I think we should look for non-violent solutions = As a x, I think we should y.
  • Who was the guy with the beard? I haven’t seen him before = who was the guy with…the blonde hair, sitting next to you… etc. I haven’t seen him before.
  • Through vocabulary, we can ask simple quick questions to review grammar. E.g. When the paramedics arrived, his heart had stopped beating but they got it going again and then rushed to the hospital. –> Draw attention to the past perfect, when you get something going again, why/where else do we rush to?
Things to think about

Screenshot of the questions that Andrew suggests we ask

There are lots of these kinds of patterns we could draw attention to, that are useful and interesting little patterns that students could use but don’t make it into coursebooks. You have to have thought about the example before, but once you have thought about it in planning before, in the context of a text or language focus etc. it makes it available to use spontaneously in response to students in the future.

Andrew then told us about one aspect of his and Hugh Dellar’s Lexical lab:  you can send in a completed exercise and Andrew/Hugh will suggest questions/chunks relating to it and invite suggestions from others too.

Other tips from Andrew:

  • Think about what the students might want to say in the speaking exercises you plan to set up. It may mean either doing the task yourself, or with a teacher partner, and seeing what comes up.
  • Get teachers to record their answers. Notice the language that is repeated or could be useful for the students to do the task. Often there is a disconnect between grammar practice and single word practice and the task we set which requires a more complex use of language and may include a variety of things we haven’t thought about.

Ongoing questions to ask to promote teacher development:

Questions to help us develop!

Questions that Andrew recommends asking to promote development!

The first two questions require genuine interaction in the classroom, where rich language can be found. The third is important as what is new? A new combination? New phrases around known words? Because often the grammar or word is known, but the language around it isn’t. The fourth encourages you to reflect on the questions you ask and improve them for next time. The last question is based on the idea that we do get better at dealing with language if we write material. Ideally do it with someone else, get someone else to look at it. This encourages you to be critical and think about language in use and how students might want to use it.

Being able to answer language questions and being able to ask questions about language in this way is not a natural thing but a little bit like relearning the language and a process that needs to be ongoing along with your students. You need to practice it.

Language-focused TD is like language learning: it never stops! 

Thinking about the wider context of language use. We need to think beyond the obvious. Maybe students won’t use the banana example because they go to the shops themselves and don’t have anyone to ask to buy bananas for them! Whereas the words we thought less common might have more possible contexts of use and so be more common than we thought.

In response to concerns that this approach may become too teacher-centred, Andrew responded: talking about language and giving examples is student centred, as it is what the students want to say and need to hear in order to be able to say them better. Teacher talk: needs to be for the students’ benefit. It is also important to use generative, slightly open questions. Students might make jokes in response to them. E.g. Why would you want to reconstruct someone’s face? Because they are plug-ugly vs. after an accident.

I found this webinar absolutely fascinating. It reminds me of my last observation where I think basically my DoS was recommending that I do this. I.e. that I plan my vocabulary focus more, because of it being difficult to respond effectively on the hoof, and I think the intention was in this vein. Having watched this webinar, I now have a much clearer idea of how to go about that than I did previously. Am looking forward to implementing this and gradually developing in this area. 

It was my first time to see Andrew speak and I have to admit to now very much looking forward to hopefully attending his talk at IATEFL! 

Thank you very much, Andrew, for a really valuable hour and a bit! And thank you, BELTA, for hosting him!

‘Richmond Skills Boost': my materials!

Richmond Skills Boost‘ is a series of multi-level stand-alone reading and listening materials, which enable learners to work on their receptive skills independently of any course book they may be using. Teachers and students can both access this series of worksheets, via the Richmond ELT Site (requires institutional registration). Once you have registered, in the teacher’s area you will see ‘Skills Boost’, and this is where you will find all the worksheets.

Rather than having one person write all the worksheets, Richmond ELT used a range of different people, so you will see a lot of different ‘writer’s voices’ coming through. Reading worksheets 7, 8 and 9, aimed at A1 level, were written by yours truly! I’m very pleased with how the worksheets turned out, the designers have made them look really lovely. I found it very challenging writing materials for such a low level, but thanks to support from the Richmond team, I got there in the end:

Mine!

Mine!

These are my first published, paid materials and the whole process was a very interesting experience. Not least because the revisions coincided with my first pre-sessional at Sheffield University, a summer in which I also presented at the TOBELTA online conference and wrote a book chapter for an edited book due out this year, as well as teaching myself Italian: if you want something doing, ask a busy person!

I’d definitely like to do more materials writing in the future, so if you are interested in working with me on a project, please let me know! (Also happy to do proof-reading and piloting, if wanted…)

Thank you, Richmond ELT, for having me as part of this project! :)

Learning students’ names: how do *you* do it?

Getting to know students’ names is something every teacher has to do. It goes with the territory. Working in a language school, you teach multiple groups of students at various levels, of various ages, which adds up to a lot of names. My latest timetable currently has 7 different classes with another 1 due to start in a few weeks. Fortunately, 2 of the classes are YL classes, kept on from last term, and one of the classes is an on-going IELTS class. The other 4 are new adult groups each with around 11 or 12 students in, and the one due to start soon is another IELTS class. Like I said, that’s a lot of names!

This blog post has come about because after my first class with one of my new groups of learners on Wednesday 4th February, I came back down to the staffroom and one of my colleagues was wondering if I had inherited his students. So I proceeded to reel off all their names for him to check against. The response was ‘Bloody hell! How do you know all their names already?!’ The simple answer is, I need to. In order for me to be able to teach a group, they need to be individuals, as soon as possible, so that I can work with them and not experience group-fear (fear of being in front of a big group of people I don’t know!) :-p

Of course, remembering these names and people just after the end of the lesson you have just spent with them is one thing. The difficulty comes when two days later, having met umpteen other new students and taught umpteen other classes, you pick up your register to meet your new class for the second time. Who are they again, these names? I had that moment today, but luckily because of what I did in the first lesson, before I walked in I was quickly able to remind myself who they all are.

Here’s how:

  • In the first lesson, you always do some kind of getting to know you activity, right? Obviously. For example, at the most simple level, find out three new, interesting things about your partner. (Always concept check ‘interesting’ here… ;-) )
  • What I find works best is if after the activity you do some kind of plenary, where the students report things about each other to the group as a whole.
  • While they speak together and while they report, I scribble bits of information down.

Here is an example page from the above-mentioned class:

names5

(You may well wonder why the book says September when we are in January. This book was a freebee from the school, which my desk ate between October and January, and recently regurgitated! ;-) ) It’s no work of art, very basic scribbles. Of course, names and ages blanked out for obvious reasons. (And I’m not entirely sure why I wrote ‘Sicilian’ down, not really a distinguishing feature here! I think though that it had been to do with cooking but I didn’t have time to finish writing!) So, some of the information relates to physical features, some is from the initial ‘3 interesting things‘ activity or equivalent, some is from the subsequent FSW activity, and some is meta-information gleaned from the activities e.g. the eye symbol, to remind me that the student in question looks like one to keep an eye on. The important thing is, moments before the second lesson with this class, I opened my notebook, looked at these notes, these bits and bobs of information I had scribbled down, and it was enough to trigger memories of who they all were, meaning I could walk into the classroom and confidently use their names straight away, which of course they appreciate and which helps with rapport.

This time round, I did the usual ‘Find someone who…‘ type-activity but I did it with a ‘learner autonomy twist’, which, as well as acting as an icebreaker and getting everybody talking to everybody else, immediately gave me an insight into/snapshot of where they are all at with regards their independent learning habits. It also encourages the students to think about what they do already, vocalise it to their classmates, and compare it with what their classmates do. Hopefully this is sowing the seeds and setting the scene for further work on helping them – and helping them to help each other – become more autonomous in their learning.

For homework at the end of the first lesson, I set them the task of writing a letter to me, with the goal of telling me about them. I told them the objective of the homework was for me to get to know them better and to see what their writing is like. Two days later, 11 pieces of writing duly plopped into my lap from my eager beavers! So, killing two birds with one stone, I’m getting extra needs analysis data both from the point of view of getting to know them better (including about their learning habits, as I encouraged them to use the ‘Find Someone Who‘ activity statements for inspiration as to what to write about) and seeing where they are at with their written production.

Obviously my initial observations in terms of speaking and listening ability or level of autonomy may not necessarily be accurate, and they are not set in stone judgements, they are just first impressions which will keep evolving every lesson, as I learn more about the students and as the students evolve. ‘Eyes’ may be added or removed and so on. Simply, this is a starting point. The main thing is, as a whole, the notes fixed the students’ faces and names in my memory from the get-go, which makes life much easier for me.

This works for me. But I’m sure other people have much more efficient ways of going about it! How do you get to know your students names? :)

Kaboom! The Explosive Team Review Game (With an added twist…)

I am sure most of you are already familiar with the review game of Kaboom (also known variously as Tornado, Earthquake, and any other non-context-sensitive natural disaster). In this post, I am going to share the adaptations, or tweaks, that I’ve made to it in order to:

  • cut down on preparation time
  • make it more student-centred
  • make it more challenging

The Regular Version

In the regular version, prior to heading to class, the teacher pre-prepares a grid (size decided at discretion – depends how long you want the game to take!). The grid is made of squares, to each of which is allocated one of the following:

  • A question mark – signifies, funnily enough, a question.
  • A flashing B – signifies a bonus (which means 50 free points to the recipient team)
  • The arrows of change – two arrows one above the other, each pointing in opposite directions, signifies the team changes points, either with the other team, or if more than two teams, the chosen team (which is going to be the team with the most points!)
  • A bomb – signifies an explosion of points, leaving the recipient team with zero.

The teacher also prepares a set of questions to ask.

Once in the classroom, the teacher draws a blank version of the grid on the board, with letter and number coordinates. Teams take turns to pick a square and answer a question/receive a bonus/change scores/lose all their points, depending on the square. The game continues till all squares have been revealed. The winners are the team with the highest score.

My Version

Well, it’s the same as the above version, except:

  • The teacher doesn’t prepare a grid before going to class: the teacher draws the empty grid on the board (sized at discretion) and makes up the square contents as he/she goes along. And when the kids accuse you of making it up as you go along, wow them with your amazing memory skills… ;-)

This way, you save on preparation time (big deal, it’s pretty minimal, but why not!) AND you get to ham up the drama, orchestrating the changes and explosions etc. to keep it as exciting as possible.

  • The teacher doesn’t prepare a set of questions before going to class: instead, when a question square is selected, the opposing team must come up with the question. How? By working together, looking through their coursebooks/notes and coming up with one.

This way, you save on preparation time AND you wind up with a bunch of teenagers avidly looking through their books/notes either in order to make up a question or preparing themselves to be asked. Encourage them to be crafty: the harder the questions, the less likely the other team is to get points. They try really hard to come up with tricky questions and do a lot of reviewing in the process, with lots of whispered discussions regarding vocabulary definitions and grammar points, and how to make them as difficult as possible. The game becomes less teacher-centred too.

  • The teacher breaks down the question squares in to ? (free question), ?G (grammar-related question) and ?V (vocabulary-related question)

This is so that the students don’t get stuck in a question-type rut. It also serves, in this way, to up the challenge level. If your class were still not coming up with enough variety of questions, then you could throw in a few ?T (teacher-generated questions) as well! This would also enable you to draw attention to a particular language point/piece of vocabulary that you wanted to review, without having to prepare all the questions/make the game entirely teacher-centred.

Here is an example of a game in progress: 

Kaboom!

Kaboom!

This was with my upper intermediate teenagers class. They are a small class (currently) and so only two teams were necessary. Being quite high-level, they were doing well with regards to question variety so I hadn’t inflicted any ?T squares at this point. Here, you can see the different types of question squares, the bonus squares, the arrows of change and the bomb squares.

All in all, Kaboom! is a great review game. It’s easy to tweak the amount of challenge according to the level of your learners, and children, teenagers and adults all get caught up in the excitement. Finally, I may be biased, but I think it’s even better with my tweaks! ;-)

Enjoy! 

An added twist! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

An added twist! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

TeachingEnglish British Council Blog of the Month Shortlisted!

Yep, that’s right! My blog has just been shortlisted for a Teaching English British Council blog of the month award! The shortlisted post is Top 10 resources for teaching IELTS which I wrote because it’s what i would have wanted to be able to find when I started teaching IELTS. :)

If you would like to vote, click on the picture below and it will take you to the Teaching English British Council page. There, you can cast your vote for me by clicking on ‘like’ on the post that looks like this picture, or, for any of the other shortlisted posts this month, should you prefer…keep checking the TEBC page, as new ones will be added over the course of this week!

Shortlisted! Thank you TEBC!

Shortlisted! Thank you TEBC!