Christmas Fun!

Well, it’s that time of year again! Here are a few things I’ve done with my classes in the last week before the Christmas holidays… 

1. Christmas Play!

How the Elves saved Christmas

My 10-12 year old ‘M2’s’  persuaded me to enter into the ‘Christmas Spirit’ this year, by requesting a Christmas play – some of them had done a play with their teacher last year and, apparently, had much enjoyed it! I duly complied and set about writing a play. The play tells the story of Father and Mary Christmas, amidst their Christmas preparations, losing their list of naughty/nice boys and girls, and sending the Elves off to compile a new one. The Elves finish their journey in M2’s classroom and use our star chart to decide if the M2 children should get any presents this year. Needless to say, the answer was yes! So, in the end, they return to Lapland with the list and Christmas is saved!

In terms of language, I also managed to work in all of the structures we’d looked at over the course of this term – present simple, past simple and continuous, present perfect, comparatives, possessives and present continuous for future plans – as well as a song and a chant (the chant being based on the wake up shake up chant we do at the start of each class).  In terms of preparation, as well as rehearsal time (half an hour per lesson for three lessons), some time had to be spent making elf hats and shoes out of coloured card.

Here is the hat I made as a model for them! The design inspired by a Google image, but I can’t claim credit for it – my lovely YLC (Young Learner Coordinator) figured it out!

Elf hat

Here are my happy elves, Father Christmas and Mary Christmas (who, bless her, stepped into the role at the last minute due to an absentee, hence double hat and script in hand!):

m2

And here is a copy of the play. It is for a cast of 8 students and one teacher, but easily adaptable, as the number of elves is very flexible!

2. A letter of complaint to Santa

I also had some Christmas-related fun with my L4b’s (Upper Intermediate teenagers): In a bid to try and balance the time:exam date:quantity of course book remaining ratio, rather than doing an un-related Christmas lesson, I converted a page of their course book into one. The course book page from Pearson Choices Upper Intermediate was a writing workshop, focusing on formal letters of complaint, within a unit on advertising.

So a quick Google found me this letter of complaint to Santa. A speedy bit of editing enabled me to splice in some of the language that the Choices workshop centred around, that is to say language for formal letter writing, including the structure ‘Not only <inversion>….but …. too’ e.g. Not only were the presents not what I had ordered, but they arrived late too’. To lead in, I threw together a quick powerpoint with images of an advertisement for Santa’s Grotto, claiming to make all your dreams come true, a Christmas tree with presents beneath it and a screaming child, from which I was able, via some pair work, to elicit the story behind the letter of complaint. This was followed by some role-playing in pairs, student A was the 9 year child, with a rather impressive vocabulary, who wrote the letter and student B was the grumpy elf who answered the phone when said child called to complain (mentioned in the letter) and then the language focus, using a mixture of the Choices skill builder for identifying the target language and my own Christmas complaint letter-related examples for the ‘Not only…’ bit. Finally, I asked them to imagine it was Christmas day and they had just opened a…<show the picture on the course book  page> …I think it was a fancy alarm clock and had them imagine the problems they might have with it, which they then compared with those mentioned in the model letter on the course book page, from which the homework of writing their own letter was set up.

So, nothing extraordinary, but my teens enjoyed the amusing twist on an otherwise fairly bland sequence. :)

3. Christmas Debate

Less amazing still, but good value: turns out you can get a really good debate out of the topic ‘This house believes that Christmas should be abolished‘ with chatty Italian upper intermediate adult students! It also provided a nice opportunity for reviewing language for expressing opinions, agreeing and disagreeing, which we had looked at earlier in the course.

:)

So all in all, it’s been a fun run up to Christmas and, even better, now the holidays have actually arrived!

Teaching teenagers “have to” and “can’t” for complaining – resurrected in TEA issue 71!

A while back, I blogged about an activity I had done with my teenagers, to help them get to grips with ‘have to’ and ‘can’t’ for complaining. Some time down the line, Philip Kerr from TEA (Teachers of English, Austria) approached me to request permission to publish the activity in the TEA online magazine winter 2014 issue, which I, of course, duly granted.

Here is a link to the magazine, where, as well as my little activity, you can find pieces by Ceri Jones, Lindsay Clandfield and others, on a range of focuses.

Enjoy!

(PS: there will be more blog posts soon… when the time – things to do ratio is just slightly less punishing!! :-) )

Keeping teachers motivated

A few weeks ago, at IH Palermo, we had a workshop on Demand High Teaching. We looked at various techniques for ‘getting closer to the learning’ in the classroom and were then sent off to experiment in our classes, with the promise that there would be a subsequent ‘reporting back’ session. This happened today, as part of a rather informal workshop in which we discussed what we had learnt/taken away from/experimented with from recent ‘buzz observations’ (short i.e. 10-15 minute pop-in peer observations) and reflected on our experimentation with Demand High. The final part of the workshop was dedicated to a ‘swap shop’ where many of us shared activities we have done in the classroom recently.

To me, this is rather an effective way of motivating teachers. By telling us that there would be a future session in which we’d talk about what we had done with the techniques learnt about in the Demand High session and what we’d taken away from the buzz observations, there was immediately more chance that we would make more of an effort to do something in the meantime! This mirrors what I strongly advocate doing with learners, in terms of fostering learner autonomy: bringing it back to into the classroom. I think it’s equally important and effective where teachers are concerned, because like our students we are busy people. And sometimes, CPD might get put on the back-burner as a result. Yet, effective CPD is done little and often, is an on-going process of growth.

The workshop was interesting: as well as sharing ideas and experiences, we discussed the pros and cons of buzz observations and full lesson observations, from the peer observation perspective. I found this particularly interesting as I am doing the IH Tutor Training certificate course at the moment, and one of the recent modules looked at organising observations. Turns out there are more types of observation than I was aware of! Anyway, I hadn’t come across buzz observations before we did them here this term, but we all agreed that they are a Good Thing. Why? You get to see ‘snapshots’ of other teachers’ lessons and gather ideas for use in your own. It may not necessarily be things that are new to you, but it may remind you of things that you haven’t done for a while. (Over time all build up a range of techniques and activities that we use, but the more time you teach for, the more you build up, the more you can forget! And, of course, we generally tend to stay in our comfort zones!) You also get to see a range of teaching styles and a range of levels in a short space of time, so it is very time effective. Of course, full length observations have different benefits: you get to see the shape of the lesson, where an activity fits into the great scheme of things, how learning is built on in the course of the lesson etc.

From the point of view of being observed, we agreed that it is less stressful not to have the same person sitting in for the whole lesson, but yet, having people pop in and out does make you ‘up your game’ – naturally! I have to admit, I found it particularly gratifying today when one of the teachers who observed me mentioned how clear my instructions were! Instructions (which in my recent YL observation we renamed ‘demonstrations’ to help me…) have always been my nemesis. I suppose this teacher caught me on a good day! (Or, a good activity, rather! Inconsistency is where I’m hovering with instructions currently…) Perhaps this ‘gratification’ is another positive aspect of this type of workshop where we feedback on what we have learnt from one another: it reinforces that we all have something to offer and that we can all (and should!) learn plenty from one another. And it helps us all feel valued, which is important, even if it may seem like a small thing.

In conclusion, workshops don’t have to be complicated and full of bells and whistles in order to be very effective. (I must remember this, as I am on the module for planning input sessions now…!) It is also A Very Good Thing when a couple of kettles, some mugs and a good supply of teabags are involved! :)

I leave you with a link to my most recent British Council post, which discusses CPD at IH Palermo and how it works here, as well as the effect of this on teacher motivation. Enjoy! And if your school isn’t doing any of the things I’ve discussed in this post and my BC post, why not suggest that they do? Evolution is healthy! I also leave you with a request: let me know (comment on this post!) what kind of CPD you’ve been up to recently – through your place of work or independently – I would love to hear.

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CPD and cups of tea/coffee combine very well! Image taken from google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

 

 

 

 

British Council Videos: ‘Teacher Talk’

One of the perks of being a British Council Associate is that as well as having had the opportunity to deliver a webinar (with another on the cards for next year!) I have also been able to participate in a project called ‘Teacher Talk‘. This is a series of videos edited by the British Council, which feature some of the BCAs talking about various ELT-related issues.

So far, you can watch short video clips about:

(Click on the title to be taken to the relevant video – I think there may be more forthcoming, but I can’t actually remember at this stage how many topics there were in all!)

I think part of the beauty of these clips is that they are so short – within a few minutes you can either pick up a few new ideas or remind yourself of things you knew but hadn’t been uppermost in your mind recently, becoming buried amongst the myriad other things that we, as teachers, have to juggle.

The other thing I like about them is that you hear a range of voices on a single subject, particularly as the British Council has edited the videos very cleverly, so that although they cut from one person to another, the flow of ideas is seamless and easy to follow.

From my own selfish developmental point of view, making the videos, which I sent to the British Council to be included in the editing process, encouraged me to reflect on and synthesise (very succinctly by my standards – the videos had to be fairly brief!)  my views on these various important elements of ELT. Watching the videos now, months down the line, it encourages me to question whether I practice what I (and the others in the video clips) ‘preach’ and how I could try and do so more effectively.

All in all, a very rewarding project to have been part of. Thank you, British Council, for this fantastic opportunity! :)

2 simple ideas for adapting your course book

After a very prolonged silence (life gets  in the way dontcha know!), here I am again! Greetings, all. For my first post back, I thought I’d share two very simple ways that I adapted two standard course book activities from New Headway Upper Intermediate unit 1 (so this was a while back, as we are now on Unit 3, but it’s taken me that long to get round to writing this post!), which worked very well with my Level 7’s. Both adaptations could easily be applied to other activities of this type, at any level from pre-intermediate upwards.

At upper intermediate level, in my context, we have the luxury of TIME: instead of 6 units to be covered over the duration of the course, the magic number is 4. So, as I wasn’t in a hurry, and I wanted the learners to mine the maximum possible out of the activities in question, which are both linked with tense review, I did some adapting…

1)

Course book activity:

A grammar-focused warmer activity consisting of a list of sentences, a box of time expressions. Students to insert the time expressions into the sentences. The time expressions can be used more than once and some will fit in more than one place in a given sentence.

My adaptation:

  • Write each sentence on a separate piece of paper
  • Stick the sentences up around the room
  • Give each pair or small group (3) – depending on numbers – of learners the box of time expressions.
  • Pairs to go round the classroom, stopping at each sentence to decide which time expressions could be used with it and where they should fit.
  • Once all have finished, whole class feedback: the teacher reads out each sentence with the time expressions where students have put them. The class as a whole decides if the sentence is correct or not.

Benefits:

  • A lot of discussion, both at the pair/small group stage and at the whole class feedback stage: learners really engage with the language.
  • Pairs/small groups can see what other pairs/small groups have done, and decide whether they agree or disagree.
  • Provides a nice energetic start to the lesson, as learners are moving around rather than sat still.

2. 

Course book activity:

A set of sentence starters which between them will generate a range of tenses. Students to complete the sentences with their own ideas, then read their sentences to a partner and respond to their partner’s sentence.

My adaptation:

  • In advance of the lesson, teacher completes the sentences with own ideas
  • In the lesson, teacher focuses learners on the sentence starters and tells them that she has completed those sentences making them true for her.
  • Learners to try and guess what the teacher has written. E.g. for the sentence starter “At weekends I often…” Students might say, “At weekends, you often go out for a drink with your friends!” or “Do you often go out for a drink with your friends at weekends?“. Of course, the teacher can feed in clues to help the learners guess. This stages provides the model for the next stage.
  • Learners then complete the sentences to make these true for them.
  • Then learners repeat the guessing process in small groups.

Benefits:

  • The teacher can provide linguistic feedback at the modelling stage, if learners make mistakes when guessing. Learners will then hopefully produce sentences that are more correct than they would have been, in the subsequent stage. (Of course teacher monitors to check for any errors)
  • The activity is more interactive and engaging. Rather than a learner reading out their sentences and another learner half-listening, there is some genuine communication going on, which requires use of the various tenses under review.
  • The nature of guessing means that learners produce multiple sentences using the sentence frames and target structures.

Nothing very earth-shattering or “new”, no great deal of preparation required, but sometimes the simplest things can be pretty effective. This was the case with the two activities described above.

Hopefully, at the very least, I have reminded you of these two different ways of going about approaching the activity types in question: lately I have been reminding myself of various classroom management techniques via Jim Scrivener’s book of that name, so I am a fan of reminders!

Enjoy :-) (And I hope it won’t be so long till the next time I post something!)

Motivation

Motivation is a slippery beast.

Amongst those who research it, there are many differing views (Dornyei and Ushioda 2012) but there is agreement with regards to its effect on human behaviour:

“Motivation is responsible for

  • why people decide to do something
  • how long they are willing to sustain the activity
  • how hard they are going to pursue it” (ibid: kindle loc 259, emphasis as per original)

A lot of investigation into motivation has taken place over the years, with various theories abounding to account for the origins of motivation, the effects of motivation, the effects of the absence of motivation and other such elements.

Motivation is fascinating.

It is something that everybody both enjoys and struggles with at various intervals. It can fluctuate hugely in a very short space of time. When you’re feeling motivated, you can’t imagine not being motivated by whatever it is that is motivating you at that time, but then something happens and your motivation nose-dives, at which point you find it difficult to imagine feeling motivated again. Motivation can be influenced by so many things, both external and internal. Of these influences, some will kindle motivation and some will dampen it, changes which may occur simultaneously, resulting in a sort of battle of influences, with victory being a very temporary state. Of course, with so many influences at play, it is difficult to identify which one is responsible for any change that occurs (Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012).

Motivation is closely entwined with learner autonomy.

My other passion, learner autonomy, is closely entwined with motivation. Nobody is going to dedicate any length of time or great effort to doing something that they are not motivated (whether that motivation be positive or negative) to do. Autonomous language learning, by nature, requires, amongst other things, motivation. The motivation to begin, and, as importantly, the motivation to keep going. Enthusiastic language study/use for two days followed by several weeks of doing nothing will have little effect on one’s competence. Indeed, Williams and Burden, 1997 (in Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012) highlight the need for language teachers to consider not only the arousal of interest but also the longer term process of helping learners sustain it. I would argue that this applies not only to motivation within the classroom across the duration of a course, but also to the motivation for learning outside the classroom.

Developing one’s language skills autonomously is hard work. It is hard enough work, when, as a teacher, you are very aware of how learning a language works: we know that it is slow, that progress may seem invisible, but we also know that every little helps and that perseverance is key. We know how important exposure to the target language, in all its forms, is; we know that a vast amount of this type of exposure is necessary for the effects to become apparent. We have awareness of different approaches to learning, different activities and the benefits of these, enabling us to combine them as we see best suits our needs. Of course, even with our knowledge of all these things, we are not immune to dips in motivation. There are far too many different elements that influence motivation for anybody to be immune to dips in it.

Motivation is long-term.

Perhaps, then, in terms of sustaining motivation, we ought to ask not only “how do I stay motivated?/how do I help my learners stay motivated?” but also “how do I rekindle my motivation when it dips?/how do I help my learners rekindle their motivation when it dips?” Take, for example, my Italian learning. Over the summer, while I was in the UK, I was, by and large, hugely motivated to improve my Italian. I worked so hard on it that my housemate dubbed my attic bedroom “Little Italy”. My key motivation was being able to converse in Italian when I got back to Palermo. Fast forward back to mid-October, and here I am. Have I spoken loads of Italian? No. Outside of work, there has been the odd bit of transactional communication, at work, the opportunities to actually converse, getting beyond pleasantries (hi, how are you, how was your weekend etc.) are few and far between. (I think I need PSP Speaking [on offer at IHPA – multilevel English conversation hour that students can freely sign up for, in addition to their courses] in Italian!)  Since returning to Palermo, my motivation has fluctuated a lot more than it did in the UK. I find this interesting because being in the target language environment is supposed to be motivational. It’s supposed to be harder to stay motivated when you are outside it. Perhaps this would be the case if you had no concrete plans to travel to the target language environment in the foreseeable future.

Motivation is problematic.

My first problem after getting back to Palermo was that I lost my overall driving goal – that of ‘being able to converse in Italian when I get back to Palermo‘. Initially I was very happy – I managed to do things like sort out my phone and internet in the phone shop unaided, a far cry from the same time last year, when I had no language and could do nothing independently. And then something happened. A week where, for the first time in ages, I didn’t meet my (updated) learning contract – by a long shot. I just hadn’t really bothered. Instead, I merely read my current book(s). After that week elapsed and I had even “forgotten” to do my weekly reflection (in Italian), I had a little emergency meeting with myself, to try and figure out what was going on. What was going on was that I didn’t feel motivated anymore. My outdated goal needed updating. It has now, as of a couple of days ago, become ‘I need to keep studying so that when opportunities to speak properly in Italian do occasionally arise, I haven’t lost all the language I was building up over the summer with afore-mentioned opportunities in mind’. The reflection and the goal-updating have helped my motivation somewhat. Of course one of my other motivations, that I love the Italian language, has remained a motivation – but that only motivates me to keep reading and to a lesser extent watching/listening in Italian. All well and good, but the speaking only gets rustier! What all of this highlights for me is some issues around goal-setting: goals need to be updated if circumstances change (but a change in circumstances may, of course, not be as big as a move between countries as in my example); lack of, or outdated, goals can result in lack of motivation; goals that are too general don’t have such a strong effect on motivation (“I want to be better at Italian” could be said to be a goal of mine, of course, but it is not specific enough to motivate me on its own.) Plenty of food for thought.

Motivation is inspirational. 

This whole process, spanning the months from June when I started learning Italian in earnest through until now, has on various occasions given me food for thought, leading me to wonder how to apply what I learn from my own experience to what I do with students in the classroom. The latest developments have lead me to delve into further experimentation with helping learners manage their motivation. I say “further” because my learner autonomy projects last year had a strong thread of this running through them. So perhaps this post is a very long-winded way of saying “stay tuned for more posts relating to motivation and language learning” !

References:

Dornyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Applied Linguistics in Action) Routledge. Oxon.

 

Teaching IELTS

This could be a wonderful post, full of words of wisdom on the subject of teaching IELTS

IELTS! image taken from en.wikipedia.org via google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification

IELTS! image taken from en.wikipedia.org via google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification

However, for this to be the case, I need YOUR help! I’ve recently started teaching a class of highly motivated IELTS students (the majority of whom are after the Academic version rather than the General version), who are a pleasure to teach, but IELTS isn’t (yet?!) a specialist area of mine. I know there are lots of you out there with a wealth of IELTS-teaching experience, so I’m hoping I can persuade you to help me! It would be very much appreciated (by myself and my students alike!) if you could comment on this post with any IELTS-related tips you might have, for a teacher teaching IELTS or for students studying IELTS, and/or links to your go-to sites, whether for you as a teacher, or that you direct students to.

Thank you in advance to anybody kind enough to comment! :)

(PS There will be more posts on this blog soon… I just need to get my juggling skills up to scratch again first!!)