Making general EAP more specific – academic writing

The 10-week pre-sessional programme at Sheffield University is an English for General Academic Purposes course rather than an English for Specific Academic Purposes course. This means that students learn general academic skills and vocabulary rather than subject specific. However, even working with a general EAP course book, like Oxford EAP, it is possible to tweak a lesson so that it links in with students’ academic fields, and, in my experience, this has a very beneficial effect on students’ engagement with the (often rather dry) lesson content, as the relevance and usefulness is clearer to them and the content more meaningful. I managed just such a lesson tweak in my most recent academic writing lesson (yesterday). Though far from being rocket science or anything particularly special, a few simple tweaks made a big difference, so I thought I’d share what I did here…

The aim of the lesson was for learners to be better able to write comparison essays, in terms of structure and complex comparison sentences using subordinators. The Oxford EAP spread was logical:

  • dividing a list of ideas corresponding to a given essay title by perspective (e.g. financial, social…)
  • focusing on the overall structure by getting students to match block and point-by-point outlines (with no content) to descriptions
  • matching outlines with content relating to the beginning essay title and evaluating the clarity of each
  • producing an outline for another essay title (using notes given to help)
  • identifying the chosen outline in a paragraph of text responding to another essay title and using this as a springboard for focusing on subordinators (highlighting, analysing, controlled practice)
  • writing a comparison essay (in response to another title)

My students are approximately 50% medicine, 50% dentistry in terms of field, so for this lesson I got them to sit grouped accordingly. Before starting on the above sequence, I encouraged them, in their groups to brainstorm a list of comparisons they might make in their field. For example, in dentistry, they might compare systemic fluoridation with topical fluoridation (as I have discovered in the course of the project thread of this programme!). Once they had generated their lists, I asked them to look at each item and think of at least two perspectives from which they could compare their items. So, for the above example, it could be from a financial perspective or a health perspective. These are M.A. students to be, so they are interested in what they are going to study. Thus, starting the lesson in this way immediately grabbed their attention because it was fully relevant to them.

Having done that, with relevance of comparison essays established, we moved onto the OUP EAP sequence and worked through it up till the end of the controlled practice activity for subordinators. Then we returned to the information generated in the above-described opening sequence, from which they selected a comparison and produced an outline (choosing a block or point-by-point structure) based on that, thus linking the learning back to their field. They also wrote some complex sentences, using subordinators, comparing their chosen items from their chosen perspectives. This was far more engaging than writing sentences in response to a random essay title that they didn’t really care about. Obviously in an EGAP course these are inevitable, but even on such courses it definitely pays to be on the look out for ways of linking the general content back to the specific disciplines. (Without needing to be an expert in those fields, of course!)

Next week we are looking at problem-and-solution essays: hopefully I can make these as engaging as comparison essays turned out to be!

Yay, writing! ;-)

Yay, writing! ;-) (Image licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

Taking auctions beyond grammar

I’ve never been a massive fan of grammar auctions – mostly because I was never quite sure how they were supposed to work. Generally they involve a list of sentences, most of which have mistakes in them, which the learners are supposed to correct and then bid on. It was always the money aspect that confused me! This summer, however, I have decided how they work (for me) and then applied them successfully to pronunciation and vocabulary…

Pronunciation Auction

Aim:

to focus on the pronunciation (especially word stress) of a set of target vocabulary with whose meaning learners are already familiar.

Materials: 

Each team of learners need a list of the words to be used for the game.

Preparation:

None – learners should have the words already, as they are previously studied words. Or if you really want, make another special list of them to hand out!

Procedure:

  • Put learners into teams of 4-6 players and make sure each team has a list of the target words for the game. (Our list happened to have 24 words on it, academic vocabulary which we had looked at previously in the context of a reading text, which worked fine.) NB: The list should be numbered for easy identification purposes. (Actually ours wasn’t but before we started I told them how it would be numbered – there were 4 columns each with six words, so it was 1-6 down column one, 7-12 down column two etc.)
  • Tell learners they have £1000 to spend on the words. How much they spend on each word depends on how sure they are of the pronunciation. (We focused on word stress as we hadn’t introduced the phonemic chart yet – but I can already imagine some variations involving it! Watch this space!)
  • Give learners 5-10 minutes (depending how many target words you have) to decide what the correct pronunciation of each word is and how sure they are of it, and to allocate their £1000.
  • When everybody is ready, call out the number of a word. E.g. number 10. Each team reveals how much they bid on word 10. The highest bid gets to pronounce the word. If correct, they gain the amount  of money they allocated. So if they bid £200, they get £200 in their score board. They can earn bonus cash by then providing the other words in a word family, also pronounced correctly. E.g. if the target word is ‘advertise’, they can gain bonus cash for ‘advertisement’ and ‘advertising’. (This encourages them to think about how, in many cases, when you change word type, the stress changes too.) We decided that providing correct pronunciation for all members of the word family merited doubling one’s money.
  • If the highest bidder gets the pronunciation wrong, the word passes to the next highest bidder. If the next highest bidder gets it correct, they win the highest bidder’s bid total. So if, in the above example, the team who bid £200 got it wrong, and the next highest bid was £150, if that second team got it correct, they would win £200.
  • Once all the words have been pronounced (if any haven’t been bid on by any of the groups, sell them off at £50 a pop to get learners to have a go even if they aren’t sure!), the winner is the group with the highest total of money.

Vocabulary Auction

Aim: 

To review the meanings of previously studied target lexis.

Materials: 

None.

Preparation: 

None.

Procedure:

  • Give learners, in teams, a set length of time to write a list of a given set of target words that they have been studying (in our case it was a set of phrasal verbs). At the end of the set time, do a quick whole class check to make sure all teams have all the target words. (If one team has them all, and the others don’t, you could award some bonus points!) OR provide/point them at a list of the words.
  • Give teams time to discuss the meanings of the target words, decide how sure they are of the meaning and allocate their £1000 (as with the pronunciation auction)
  • The procedure follows as per the pronunciation auction except that learners provide meanings rather than pronunciation. Learners can earn bonus cash by putting the target word in a sentence correctly. (You could up the challenge by requiring the meaning and a suitable collocation, with bonus cash for extra collocations…)

Enjoy!

Sold! (Image taken from www.pixabay.org)

Sold! (Image taken from http://www.pixabay.org)

Phonemic chart review game: Connect 3 (or 4)

As part of the Sheffield University 10 week pre-sessional programme, I have been teaching a Social English class 3 afternoons a week at 1h30 a pop. Last week on Thursday, I introduced them to the phonemic chart, using Adrian Underhill’s method. Today (Monday) I wanted a fun way to review the sounds with my learners, and so Connect 3 (or 4), using the phonemic chart, came about…

Preparation:

None! (Excellent…)

Materials:

  • A phonemic chart projected onto a whiteboard (failing that, an A3 print-out would work equally well)
  • a board pen (more than one would be even better – see my comments at the end of the post)

Procedure:

  • Put learners into 2 teams (or 3 if you have a big class) of 4-6 players.
  • Each team has a symbol. With my learners today, Bing were suns and Bong were stars. (They are always Bing and Bong: borrowed from an ex-colleague of mine at IHPA, these names refer to the buzzer sounds that you get on TV game shows and that the team in question must make before answering in any games where speed to answer is of the essence…)
  • Explain the aim and rules to the learners. The aim of the game is to get 3 squares in a row to score £100 or 4 squares in a row to score £150. (Could also be points, but as we had just done a vocabulary auction, we stuck with the money theme!). In order to win a square, learners must make the sound that corresponds with that square correctly and give an example word with that sound in it. (Number and letter off the squares so that learners can choose a square by calling out e.g. E5. As there are more columns in the bottom half of the chart than the top, there is a special extra column H here. See picture below.)
  • If learners make the correct sound AND give a correct example word, they get to have their symbol drawn in the square and the square becomes theirs. The turn passes to the next team. If learners make a correct sound but incorrect word, the turn passes to the next team, ditto if they make the sound incorrectly. In this case, the square is still open to be won either by the next team, or, when the turn returns to the team who were incorrect, they can try again (or choose a different square if they prefer!).
  • Each time a team of learners get 3 or 4 in a row, write £100 or £150 in their score board column.
  • Towards the end, you will probably end up with a handful of squares that will not help learners gain a 3 or a 4. Sell these off at £50 a pop, with teams taking it in turns to make the sound and give an example word in order to win this money. The same rules re correctness mentioned previously still apply.
  • When everything is finished, add up the money and see who is the winner! You could also add up the number of suns and stars (or whatever other symbols) to see who totalled the greatest number of squares.
The phonemic chart at the end of the game!

The phonemic chart at the end of the game!

Showing also our scoreboard (one set of numbers goes back to the vocabulary auction...)

Showing also our scoreboard (one set of numbers goes back to the vocabulary auction…)

My comments:

  • My learners enjoyed this and it was good to see how much they remembered from last Thursday. Making pronunciation physical does make it much more memorable. (They remembered things like ‘the idiot sound’, ‘like having an orange in your mouth’, for example, trying the sounds out in their groups before giving their final answer.) Understanding way the chart is organised helps too – it helped them remember some of the sounds between the ones they were more sure of.
  • If I did it again, I’d remember all my board markers so that I wasn’t stuck with only black pen. Each team could have a different colour, and any squares that were done incorrectly could be marked in a different colour to flag them up more clearly for some further post-game review.
  • To up the challenge for academic English classes, stipulate that the example word given should be an academic word (and bonus if one of the ones you have studied recently!). To up the challenge in a General English setting, stipulate that it be a word related to a particular set of topics or course book units, depending how your programme works.

Enjoy! :-)

Snapshots of PS-10 Summer 2015 – the first 50%!

“PS-10″ is the short code name used for the ten week pre-sessional programme at the University of Sheffield. This is the second summer I have spent working on the programme, and already the taught component is 50% complete! Time flies when you are having fun… In fact, time flies so briskly that this poor little blog has been quite ignored of late – other than my recent post of a more personal nature,  My first veganniversary.  Previously promised posts -e.g. the one about the pronunciation auction activity I did recently – are STILL in the pipelines and will make it out in due course. Honest. Meanwhile, here is are a few snapshots of life as a pre-sessional teacher at Sheffield Uni (from most recent to earliest), as half-way through a course is as good a time as any for reflection…

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 21.59.37

Yay for the ELTC! :-)

Friday 24th July

1245-1300 Impromptu 1-1 tutorial 

One of my students has had health issues but is back on the course now, managing to attend most lessons. This student already has an unconditional offer, so exam grades are not an issue. If he wanted to, he could stay off classes with doctor’s permission, but he wants the full benefit of the learning opportunity so he is persevering. I love the motivation! Of course I wasn’t going to refuse him a tutorial at the end of the lesson today, even though I had to delay my weekend ever so slightly ( ;-) ). The main focus of the tutorial was his project, and I was able to give the necessary guidance – there was even a bit of a light bulb moment when we talked about using reporting verbs to show stance and structure arguments. Being able to help and the amount of appreciation shown at the end of it was incredibly rewarding. I have to admit, I love my job!

Thursday 23rd July

09.15-10.45; 11.15-12.45 – Listening Skills for my third group.

Listen! (Image taken from www.pixabay.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

Listen! (Image taken from http://www.pixabay.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

I am teaching listening as my second skill again this year – so in addition to teaching my tutor group writing and project work, I teach them and another two groups listening, once a week each, for 3hrs with a half an hour break mid-way.

This morning, the content topic was Leadership and the strategy focuses were using spoken punctuation to identify important information, note-taking using linear notes and using linear notes to reconstruct what the lecturer has said. For the skills work, the key text is Oxford EAP Upper Intermediate. I accompany this with my own materials, which  top and tail my classes with review and reflection, as well as encouraging them to think metacognitively (i.e. about the why of what they are doing) at various points throughout the lesson. It’s week 4 and out of 13 students, only a handful have got updated strategy tables with them. I gave them these strategy tables in Week 1, to help them keep track of the strategies we are learning about each week. This is to avoid out of sight, out of mind syndrome – it would be far too easy for students to forget about previous learning amidst all the new information that is thrown at them from every angle on a regular basis, but the strategies accumulated need to be remembered and used alongside new additions rather than forgotten. Nevertheless, I get them discussing and remembering what we did in the previous lesson, while making a mental note to use some class time towards the end of the lesson for table completion.

The lesson takes learners through recognition and use of spoken punctuation (the latter useful for their presentations) and use of linear notes. I use the final extract as a challenge/progress test. (Not a stressful kind of test, just an opportunity for them to measure their own progress). I also use it to take them through the planning-monitoring-evaluation process championed by Vandergrift and Goh in their fantastic book Teaching and learning second language listening: Metacognition in action. The idea is that before students listen, they decide which strategies they are going to use; during listening, they monitor their use of the strategies and after listening they evaluate their strategy use and take forward what they learnt. In the end, this is something they should be doing independently, but at this point in the course, I encourage discussion and collaboration, to scaffold it. Following the listening, I ask them to discuss again and evaluate their strategy use. Once they have done this, I explain the rationale behind the process. Both this group and my Tuesday group seemed to recognise the value of it and despite the uphill struggle of the strategy tables, I feel – in both lessons – that their response to being taken through the process and discussing the rationale behind it is a little ‘lightbulb moment’. One that has been built towards over the last 4 weeks. I would love to work with students over a longer period – 8 taught weeks is a very short space of time for listening skill development – but nevertheless hope that although students can only improve so much in the short space of time that is PS-10, I can give them the tools to help themselves improve more in the long term.

(I also did this lesson with my tutor group today (Friday) and in the last part of the lesson, following the final listening extract challenge. I again encouraged reflection and evaluation, and once they had discussed amongst themselves, invited them to share their reflections with me. There was a lot of subsequent discussion and comment sharing, and of course I was able to empathise with their experiences because of having attended a presentation in Italian during the academic year, while I was in Palermo. So I know how testing it is trying to take notes in a second language (especially as my level of Italian is definitely lower than theirs of English!). So I reminded them that note-taking is a skill even in your first language, and in a second language there is an added level of difficulty, and shared my own experience of doing it in Italian. They seemed to really appreciate that, and the whole discussion process was a very positive end to the lesson.)

I really must revisit the planning, monitoring, evaluating process with all three groups next week and in the following remaining three weeks of the course too.

13.45-15.15 – Social English

Social English is a class for students who have met their department demands with regards to test scores and so have unconditional offers. Thus, instead of doing USEPT (proficiency exam) preparation classes, they join a Social English class. The lovely thing about these classes is that they are very flexible, so the ‘syllabus’ is negotiated between the teacher and the students. Today, in response to a request last lesson, we did a pronunciation lesson. I introduced the chart to them Adrian Underhill style. (Something I learnt/taught myself how to do during my Delta!) There were some lovely lightbulb moments e.g. when they recognised what their mouths were doing and how it changed between sounds (lips spread to narrow and flat to sticking out, mouth open to closed etc.), as well as how this is reflected in the chart, and when I got them to glide between the monophthongs to find the diphthongs and then showed them the symbol on the diphthong side of the chart. They also really enjoyed taking turns in using the chart to sound out their names (and I got to learn how to pronounce them properly!).

Adrian Underhill's phonemic chart. Click on the pic to go to his blogpost talking about introducing the chart to students.

Adrian Underhill’s phonemic chart. Click on the pic to go to his blogpost talking about introducing the chart to students.

As far as their onward study is concerned, this will help them when they come to look up words in the dictionary, as they will be able to use the phonemic script to understand the pronunciation. We have done a lot of vocabulary work recently, academic vocabulary, so in future lessons I want to forge links back to that.

As usual, they thanked me at the end of the lesson, and told me how useful it was. They tell me how much they like these Social English lessons and how useful they are fairly regularly, which is nice! I suppose that is part of the joy of a student negotiated ‘syllabus’ that doesn’t need to cover all four skills etc because they get that in their morning classes.

Sunday 19th July

Home!

Yes, it’s the weekend. A lovely relaxing one too. Over the course of it I come across my Cusenaire rods which had been in storage and start wondering about how I could use them in EAP. My ideas so far include using them as part of a pronunciation review game, for the learners in my Social English class to quiz each other on the word stress of the academic vocabulary we have been studying and also as a means of illustrating the given-to-new structure that much writing takes and that I touched on with my tutor group last Monday in Writing class. Watch this space…!

figures

Cusenaire rods! :)

Wednesday 15th July

09.15-10.45; 11.15-13.15 Project Class

1280px-Stipula_fountain_pen

Well actually we use computers, but… ;-)

I have my tutor group once a week for Project class, every Wednesday for three hours (with a half-hour break mid-way as usual). Over the course of 8 weeks, this course strand guides students through researching and writing a 2000 word project. This year, we gave them titles while last year they had to write their own, saving a good chunk of time that could usefully be used on other things! On the 15th July, in the first half of the lesson, I started by plugging my laptop into the project in order to briefly show them how Evernote works as a note-taking/organisation tool (and offered help between now and the end of PS-10 for if they ran into difficulty using it). Then, I had them sharing the sources they had had to find, read and highlight useful elements of for homework. They had to justify their highlighting, explaining why the article and in particular the highlighted parts were useful for their project. The idea is that this process of explaining what they have read, in their own words, requires deeper reflection and understanding to take place first, in the reading process. They knew that they would be doing this, of course, to encourage that focused reading to take place.

reading glasses pixabay

It also paved the way for what we focused on after the break, during which class I would be observed. While they shared and discussed sources, I went round and spoke to them individually, in order to see the project outlines that they had also produced for homework and talk through these with them. This enabled me to make sure they were on the right track and set up for the next stage of homework – producing detailed outlines where their arguments were matched to the supporting evidence/sources they had found to back them up.

After the break, we did a lesson on in-text citation. This started with the students creating mind maps of what they already knew and then looking at some definitions and filling in the missing terms – i.e. review. (Being continuing students – i.e. students who have already done some studying at the ELTC and so they have had some exposure to much of what we look at -the ideal scenario is to build on existent knowledge as much as possible.) The terms were things like paraphrasing, quoting, reference list, bibliography, plagiarism. Then, we looked at some example use of a source and they identified if it was appropriate use or not and why, and if not, how to make it appropriate. Having done all this, we were ready to turn back to their sources, which I used as a means of looking at use of reporting verbs and how they can show writer stance. (E.g. if I use the verb ‘claim’ to introduce something a source says, chances are that not long afterwards, I plan to refute it with another piece of evidence, one which supports my stance.) This involved a process of identification/underlining and discussion (is this fact or not, what does the author think about it? etc), with me going round and working with pairs, ensuring they understood what they had found. Once we had done this, I got them to summarise a chunk of text that they had highlighted as useful for their project in one sentence in their own words – paraphrasing to capture the meaning rather than paraphrasing word for word – and then choose a reporting verb that reflected what the evidence was and how they felt about it.

At the end of the lesson, I asked them how they felt about their projects and they said they felt a lot happier at this end of the lesson than they had done at the beginning of the morning. So, for me, although not a perfect lesson by a long way, it was a successful one. This was reflected in the observation feedback pertaining to the second half of the lesson, where in the overall comments, the suggestions for improvement were prefaced with “A few minor points in an otherwise excellent lesson: …” . It is nice to be appreciated, by my students and the people I work with alike.

Wednesday 8th July

13.45-15.15 Project Standardisation

Normally we don’t have anything scheduled on Wednesday afternoons – we finish after the morning class. This is time we can use to catch up on marking and planning, but also the time in which developmental workshops and standardisations are organised. The students, meanwhile, attend a lecture (which forms part of the discussion at the beginning of my listening classes, as part of homework is to take notes during the lecture and practice using the strategies…).

In this standardisation session, we are taken through the new criteria for grading projects and then look an example with grades given, followed by discussing in groups and giving grades ourselves. This is vital, of course, as then we are all on the same page when 26,000 – odd words of projects rain onto us in week 6 (first draft) and week 8 (final submission) of the course.

We will have further standardisations for presentation assessment and USEPT assessment in forthcoming weeks on Wednesdays.

29th June 

09.15-10.45; 11.15-12.45 Writing Class (and first meeting with new tutor group)

The first meeting with a group of new students can be slightly nerve-wracking on both sides. This year, I have returners so I start teaching directly on Monday. (New students do registration on the Monday and only start classes on the Tuesday) They turn out to be a lovely bunch of people. Mostly Arabic speaking, from various Middle Eastern and North African countries, as well as one Chinese and one Japanese student. (Interestingly, this is a completely demographic to last summer, where I had all new students and all but about 2 were Chinese!) Once the ice has been broken through some getting to know you activities, there’s no looking back and we get stuck in to analysing essay titles. Having taught the material in last year’s pre-sessional course, I already feel a lot more comfortable using it (as a springboard). The lesson goes well and seems to augur well for what lies ahead.  :-)

22nd June – 26th June

09.15 – 16.15 (with half an hour morning break, one hour lunch break and 15 mins afternoon break, daily Monday – Friday) Induction

EAP Essentials - essential in name, essential in nature...

EAP Essentials – essential in name, essential in nature…

We get a whole week of induction before starting work on PS-10, so it is pretty thorough! One of the authors of EAP Essentials, Jenifer Spencer, does input sessions on teaching EAP, then of course there is all the nuts and bolts organisational stuff (syllabus, timetables, overview of course components and assessment) as well as a fair smattering of tech sessions, where we set up our accounts and learn how to use things like MOLE (Sheffield Uni’s branded Blackboard) and Google Drive. As a returner, there are some sessions where I have the opportunity to join a break-off group, where we discuss the same topics as in the main room, but with more emphasis on reflection and discussion than input. These are really motivational and useful, and help me get back into the EAP zone after an academic year of general English. I think maybe the best thing about being a returner is that instead of EVERYTHING being new, there is so much more familiarity. It makes life SO much easier.

On the final day, the Friday, we see where we will be teaching and our temporary staffroom. This year, I have actual classrooms rather than lecture theatres – yippee! We aren’t required to stay on site till a given time, so we can go home to use the remaining time for long-term lesson preparation. (The added bonus of this is that home has windows! ;-) ) It’s nice being treated like a professional adult in this sense, being trusted to do what needs to be done.

Closing comments

(What a relief! I hear you say… ;-) )

I am really enjoying this summer and, being a returner myself (just like my students – except it’s the PS-10 I’ve done before rather than other courses during the year!) I feel a lot more confident with what I’m doing. This, in turn, gives me the confidence to be a lot more hands on with the students and more responsive to their needs. My students are appreciative and think I’m doing a good job, the people above me are supportive and think I am doing a good job, and my colleagues are lovely and friendly too. Week 6 and 8, when we have all the projects to feedback on (6) and grade (8) will be a bit stressful, but that’s ok – it’s temporary rather than the norm so it’s manageable. One thing I am also enjoying is being able to have a genuine work-life balance. I’m able to get out on walks, do yoga, play my clarinet, see friends, relax and read, as well as work. I don’t finish the week feeling utterly destroyed physically and mentally. I can cook at home during the week. I actually feel rested by the end of the weekend and ready for the week again. Really lovely. I will make the most of it while this summer lasts! :-)

My first veganniversary!

I know, I know…this blog has been quiet recently. Don’t worry, I do have a post or two up my sleeve – for example, I plan to write about the pronunciation auction I did with my Social English group, who I teach in the afternoons on the Sheffield University 10 week pre-sessional programme – but for now, I’m going to depart briefly from the teaching English theme of this blog (other than the rather tenuous link that you might notice early on in the post!) and share something about the writer behind the blog i.e. me! You see, I’m vegan and have been for exactly one year…

My 1st veganniversary breakfast! (And another new recipe for me!)

My 1st veganniversary breakfast! (And another new recipe for me!)

Just over a year ago, I started thinking about becoming vegan. I wanted to do something to mark the 5 year anniversary of Mum’s death from breast cancer. Those in the know will note that this is July and the anniversary is in August. The truth is, once I had the idea, I started to look into it and then I didn’t want to wait any longer. Luckily for me, I have a very patient vegan friend who answered all my questions, including the stupid ones, shared lots of resources with me (in Italian, so I was also learning Italian through learning about veganism – perfect example of CLIL, or Content and Language Integrated Learning! Yup, that was the earlier mentioned tenuous link ;-) ) and, memorably, didn’t push me, even once. (Thank you, Chiara!) So, it was easy to learn what I needed to learn and the decision soon followed. The 19th of July 2014.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 16.15.50

This is one of the first websites Chiara sent me to: http://www.vegfacile.info. It has had a makeover since then, though! Lots of reading in Italian…

I was vegetarian for many years before becoming vegan. So long that it had become more of a habit than anything else. A habit that I would happily bend occasionally to be more convenient for others (chicken once or twice a year at my aunt’s for example) or even myself (tuna from a can as a quick meal). This isn’t something I am proud, is just how it was. In all my time as a vegetarian, though, which is all my independent adult life, I never prepared any meat or fish (non-can) myself. In fact, I used to worry that if I had children, I wouldn’t know how to cook meat for them. Now I know that children can thrive on a vegan diet, and even know one such child personally, who couldn’t be happier or healthier, that’s one less thing to worry about!

So, “lazy” vegetarian to lazy vegan? Seems logical, but no. Since the 19th July 2014, I haven’t deliberately eaten any animal derived products and have not purchased any leather or wool etc either. You might notice I specify ‘deliberately’… Well, last summer, newly vegan, I ate a Waitrose pasta sauce that I was convinced I had checked the labels of and was suitable for vegans, but then on an occasion as I was stirring it through my veg, I idly looked what I thought was again at the label and there was anchovies, plain as day. I ate the food nevertheless and chalked it up to experience, vowing to be even more careful in label-checking in future – so far, so good. I wasn’t going to waste it (same as I won’t throw away things I bought in my pre-vegan life: I have sold some things, proceeds to an animal charity, and charity shopped others. The rest, I will just replace them with animal-friendly alternatives when the time comes).  Deliberately, however, I have explored a whole new world of cooking and have a repertoire much, much greater than I did this time last year, of dishes I can make. This, I have thoroughly enjoyed. I didn’t use to have any interest in recipes, now I am a recipe geek with an Evernote notebook full of recipes I have saved. Many I have tried, many that are on the “to try” list still. (Have tried two new ones today so far in celebration! :-) )

My recipe notebook on Evernote. :-)

My recipe notebook on Evernote. :-)

Why not “lazy vegan”? Why no “I slipped up because I couldn’t resist x on day y”? Because I can’t un-know what I know. As a vegetarian, I believed that dairy and eggs didn’t do any harm. Now I know better. And having learnt, and made the decision that I am not ok with what happens, in my head if I were now to eat a piece of cheese or something with egg in deliberately, that would be tantamount to saying “I am ok with how this is produced“. And I’m not. It was, and remains, that simple. For me. The beautiful-looking icecream in the gelateria is calves in veal crates having been ripped from their mothers soon after birth. And so on. If my “why” ever becomes hazy, then I will force myself to watch Earthlings again. It took me three sittings (at least) to get through it. I cried buckets, I felt physically ill, but I got to the end, and I only had to watch it, not live it. So instead I live by my choice to use alternatives to animal products. These days, there is an abundance of them, and fruit, veg and grains never go out of fashion. Do I feel deprived? No. Privileged? Yes.

Of course, nothing is completely straight-forward: as you may have noticed, I am a vegan who rides horses. I don’t think I exploit them, for me they are four-legged people who I like to spend time with – both on the ground and in the saddle.  Alba, pictured below, belongs to me and has done for all of a month. I live in the UK, she lives in Sicily (where she has space, freedom, sunshine, horsey amici, and is happy). The main thing is, she won’t be ending up on someone’s plate after all.

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My beautiful Alba.

There are enough vegans, however, who would despise me for not giving up my riding. C’est la vie. That said, I don’t plan to ride here in the UK. Having Alba (far away as she is), knowing she is safe from harm, and happy, is enough.

Then, of course, there is my profession. What has that got to do with anything? Well, let’s say, firstly about as soon as I got the hang of veganism in the UK, especially Sheffield, it was time to start my second stint in Palermo. Cue being back to the beginning of working everything out for a second time round. Fortunately, though, again I had Chiara to help me. To recommend shops and restaurants, for example, including giving me a link to a locally produced map of all things vegan-friendly in Palermo. To answer the old “can you get x here? Where?” question over and over…and over again! To tell me what animal-friendly remedies I could use, when I was ill. She also introduced me to the concept of vegan groups on Facebook, of which there are some Sicily and, indeed, Palermo-based ones. As a result of these, I attended a talk about vegan nutrition for children and a free vegan food-tasting event, both of which I much enjoyed. I have also since found UK and Sheffield-based pages and groups, which is nice. Have been out for lunch with one lot and meeting another lot on Wednesday for dinner. Secondly, my work timetable in Palermo precluded mid-week cooking. Cue batch-cooking becoming a way of life! I will admit to getting a bit bored of it in the end – the cooking more than the eating, lentils are always good! – and I had to be disciplined and do that weekend cooking whatever else I had on and however little I felt like it. Audiobooks (in various languages!) helped a lot, though, easing the tedium of vegetable chopping. Finally, ah the teeny tiny kitchen in my flat… I rose to that challenge though! Back in England, the big kitchen and better working hours are a bonus: only one packed meal a day! And surfaces, sweety darling, surfaces… (think Ab Fab!)

My journey has been positive so far: I am lucky to have family and friends who have been supportive of me and my decision. My sister has been most vociferous about it but she has also made sure, whenever we have been together since, that we eat where I can eat, that I have what I need, and she also shopped for and carried a list of things to me when she visited in October, true big sister style, in addition to more recently ensuring I was fully catered for over the weekend of my cousin’s wedding, which also coincided with my return to the UK. (Thank you, Rosa!)  I hope never to alienate any of them. I am also lucky to have had a lot of help, as described throughout this post. I also hope that if anyone I know or come to know starts thinking about making this transition, I can be as helpful (and un-pushy) as Chiara has been with me.

To end with some humour, here is some of what I have learnt this past year:

You know you’re vegan if…

  • nearly the whole hand-luggage you take on any trip is food
  • pre-journey food prep takes longer than packing does
  • you are queen of tupperware
  • ‘But where do you get your protein/calcium/B12?’ is an endless refrain! (answer: everywhere…)
  • you take a packed meal to a wedding
  • people proudly tell you that what they are eating is vegan
  • a functioning food processor/blender is no less than a God-send
  • cashew nuts are not just cashew nuts!
  • trying a new type of grain or tofu is exciting
  • recipes are the most exciting thing ever
  • pigs in blankets is this:
Esther the wonder pig. Everybody needs to know Esther! :)

Esther the wonder pig. Everybody needs to know Esther! :) (Click on the pic to find out more…)

So, that’s it really! And here’s to my second year. :-)

Are any of you teachers who read my blog also vegan? Say ‘hi’ if you like (if you aren’t too disgusted with the whole horse-related paragraph of this post)! :-)

MaW SIG May: Cleve Miller – ‘New Publishing’ : a summary/write-up

Cleve compares the old internet to a pipe. We would passively consume content that was very much top-down, expert-created, static. It was a continuation of how publishing had worked for the last 500 years. Since 2002 we got what we call the new web, though it’s not new anymore. This is an open platform where we contribute, collaborate and create content. This is where need to locate ourselves as content creators, as materials designers.

Screen shot of slide

Screen shot of slide

The content continuum – the fundamental driving force behind the way materials design is going. On the one extreme, we have traditional publishing (the old web, the “pipe”) and on the other extreme we have a bottom-up self-publishing model. To allow this bottom-up stuff is the advent of web and web-technology. With a blog, we can publish to thousands of people, for free, in a very short space of time.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The top-down model is expert-created and high quality, but it is also a generic, one size fits all. 5 year publishing plans are normal. And it runs into a barrier. The bottom-up model is faster, up-to-date and isn’t restricted to a 5 year plan. It can be specific to language culture and student need. It is the difference between generic content and specific content, along a continuum. There are times when the top-down model is appropriate, and the one-size fits all is fine, this isn’t to knock publisher content. But there are also opportunities on the other end of the continuum, which Clive wants to look at with us.

The power of open platforms. 

E.g. Encylopaedias: on the top-down side, we have Encyclopaedia Britannica, on the other end we have Wikipedia. Wikipedia contains multilingual, user-generated information, meaning that for example things that don’t have much coverage in the traditional encylopaedia can in Wikipedia. It is much more localised.

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screen shot of slide

ELT also has a general to specific continuum. From General English to English for Chemical Engineers or any other ESP or more specific e.g. English only for Brazilian students. Most specific would be materials designed for an individual student to meet their needs.

Screenshot of slide - Clive's ELT self-publishing matrix

Screenshot of slide – Clive’s ELT self-publishing matrix

From a self-publishing perspective, let’s imagine you are going to design, on your own, some materials. How do you focus what you are looking at? If you are looking at low tech, general English, that is the difficult to succeed area because that is what publishers know how to do really well and they have lots of money to put into it. If you try and make an app for General English, then it’s still difficult because you are competing against the publishers, with all their money. There are platforms you can use, but it is tough and expensive. If you move towards the more specific end of the spectrum, then making an app is still ambitious but you at least will not be competing with the publishers when you are aiming towards something more esoteric, so it is ambitious in  terms of technology rather than competition. In the middle of both spectrums is the sweet spot (not too hot, not too cold), if you get more specific, then the market is much smaller e.g. English for chemical engineers, but it is needed.

There are of course exceptions to all the above. E.g. the case study that we will look at. Which is by Vicki Hollett. She started with the difficult to succeed, scary area. She already has content published in traditional models but she is doing this anyway. And her content is multi-modal. Online teaching, you tube channel, website. Her revenue model for You Tube is the advertising.

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What are the success principles for Vicki Hollett?

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The next case study is English Success Academy by Jaime Miller. It’s one exam. Nothing but TOEFL prep. She is engaging, has lots of videos, a well-designed website, she does one-one teaching her content is multi-modal. Her revenue model is premium price e-books.

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screenshot of slide

What are her success principles?

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screenshot of slide

The third case study is Deborah Capras. She wrote a book and is delivering it on Amazon. Very specific topic. Business, politics, small talk. Her revenue model is print book sales. And the mainstream publishers then took notice of her.

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screenshot of slide

What are her success principles?

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screenshot of slide

The final is Claire Hart. Blended English for Engineering. She used English 360 platform. There is an online component but then there are also face-face lesson plans and all the handouts you need, for the university department customers. Importantly, she copyrighted it. She can sell it by way of other channels. Claire can take the content and repurpose it into a print book on Amazon, or put it through YouTube as videos, she can use it in any way.

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screenshot of slide

Her revenue model is revenue share between Claire and the platform who takes 40%. If you use a platform with a good user base, the marketing is there for you.

What are her success principles?

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screenshot of slide

“Self-publishing”

  • Rather than thinking of self-publishing, you are thinking of developing a new product. So you are an entrepreneur. You need to think like a business person. You need to think about “sales-y things”. The hardest part is the marketing. How many videos are there on youtube? How many books are there on Amazon?
  • You need to get an editor. Very important, indispensable, in order to maintain a good level of quality. Clive thinks that peer editing could be an interesting possibility. So that there is a network of self-publishers that support each other.
  • You need a niche. Be the very best at one specific thing. That is the most powerful way to move forward. E.g. Ros with regards to English for Medicine. There’s a lot of ways to get specific. Combine your teaching with it. Niches are much easier to market to. Go to professional associations, look on LinkedIn. If you market to a niche, it’s not expensive, if you narrow your focus it’s not and you can do it.
  • Pull everything together on a website or blog.
  • Think outside the box for customers. For example, can you add value to a Business?

To summarise, the future of materials design is bottom up. That doesn’t mean top-down will disappear, but bottom up is the way forward because it can be more specific than any top-down model can be. Britannica doesn’t have the resources to produce 17 pages on Salina, Wikipedia enables that.

In the Q and A time, Sue Lyon-Jones reminds us:

“Keeping your copyright doesn’t always mean you can publish your work elsewhere. Some contracts may grant publishers exclusive rights to publish in specific formats or for a set period of time, for example. Make sure you read and understand the small print, folks!”

When you use a platform (e.g. Instagram, YouTube), lots of times you give up control. So be aware.

To contact Cleve for more information about any of this: cleve@english360.com

 

 

IELTS Speaking Part 2 (Fun) Practice Activity

Each week on a Tuesday, since my IELTS courses finished, I have been doing IELTS PSP Speaking, which is basically an hour of IELTS-focused speaking practice. I have found that when practicing part 2, students frequently dry up before 2 minutes, sometimes well before, so I came up with this activity to encourage them to extend their answers as much as possible… It is a mixture of an activity that was suggested by a Sheffield Uni colleague of mine from last summer, Tim Ball, at the IELTS Swap Shop session that took place at IATEFL this year, and the well-known game, connect 4.

  • It consists of a 6×6 grid (click on the picture to access a ready-to-use document):
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Game board

  •  In each square of the grid there is an IELTS Part 2 Speaking topic.
  • Students are aiming to score as many points as possible by getting 3 or 4 squares in a row, with 3 being worth 10 points and 4 being worth 20 points.
  • In order to “win” a square, students must speak for the full two minutes about the topic in question.
  • The instructions on the game remind students to think about the what/who/why/when/how type questions that accompany speaking part 2 topics.
  • As with the exam, they have a minute to think about what they are going to say and make a few notes.
  • Students play in pairs.
  • Student A speaks, Student B listens and times, and vice-versa.
  • Teacher listens and does delayed feedback at suitable moments.

The students were engaged by it and the aim was fulfilled: instead of just giving up after 1 and a half minutes, they did push themselves to keep speaking! (How important winning a square becomes… ;-) )

Let me know how your students get on with it! Enjoy!