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!! 🙂 )

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!)

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!!)

Autonomous listening skill development (2) – Dictations

This is the second post in a series of posts whose goal is to explore ways of helping learners develop their listening skills autonomously. You can read the first post here.

This post is not going to focus on the use of dictations as a classroom activity (for some great ideas relating to classroom use of dictations, have a look at this great recent post of Marek’s) but at their use as a tool that students can use autonomously to work on receptive pronunciation/decoding processes, writing (in terms of spelling and punctuation, but potentially also grammar) and vocabulary.

Dictations may not immediately come to mind as an autonomous learning tool: you need someone to dictate something to you (be that the teacher or a classmate), to check what you write and to highlight mistakes, right? Well, not anymore. In the age of the internet, it is possible to take dictation away from the classroom and put learners in charge of using dictation as a learning tool. But for those who lack access to a decent internet connection, or whose students do, never fear: there are other ways and means too, so read on…

Potential Sources of Dictation Activity Materials

1. Websites with dictations on them

Essentially, all you need for a dictation is a recording which has a transcript. The internet has made a multitude of these freely available. “But they are too fast!” I hear you say. It’s true, most recordings don’t come at traditional dictation speed, complete with punctuation. That’s ok though. It’s all in how you use them…

Some sites have specially made dictations for language learners:

 Breaking News English

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 07.48.09

Screenshot 1 from Breaking News English dictations page (don’t forget to sponsor Rio!)

On this site, amongst all the other things they can do, learners can choose from a list of dictations. As you can see, the dictations are labelled according to difficulty.

Once the learner clicks on one of the listed dictations, they are taken to a special screen:

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 07.48.28

Screenshot 2 from Breaking News English dictations page

The learner listens to the text and writes what he or she hears, in the box that is next to where it says “Guess“. If the word is correct, it will appears in the correct part of the right-hand box. The asterisks in this box correspond to the letters in the words that the learners will hear, and the gaps between them indicate where each word ends and another begins.

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 07.55.48

Screenshot 3 from Breaking News English dictations page

I think this is a valuable starting point for learners: these clues will help them become better at chunking correctly and hearing words within a speech stream. Of course, the instant feedback is useful too.

The British Council 

The British Council have an ESOL website – esol.britishcouncil.org – which has a section with dictations that learners can do. You can access these by clicking on Listen and Watch and then selecting Dictations:

Screenshot 1 from ESOL Nexus website

Screenshot 1 from the ESOL Nexus website

Selecting Dictations will take you to the following screen:

Screenshot 2 from ESOL Nexus

Screenshot 2 from ESOL Nexus

The approach taken to dictations on this site is very interesting. As well as the “Listen and Write” aspect of the dictation, learners who use these dictations can work through a series of tasks based on the speech features found in the dictation:

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 08.14.47

Screen shot 3 from ESOL Nexus

Here you can see tasks on word stress and identifying the verb. Other tasks I saw while playing with the site include counting the words, identifying the connecting sound (choosing between /r/, /w/ ), and distinguishing between sounds. If your learners are not interested in productive pronunciation, they can always ignore the “listen and repeat” parts!

So this website not only allows learners to use dictations autonomously, but also builds up an awareness of receptive pronunciation that will come in handy if they try to use other tools (e.g. recordings and transcripts) to do dictation-like activities. As a teacher, you could perhaps have a look at the tasks this website sets alongside the traditional dictations, and adapt them for use in class.

However, the reason I have become so interested in dictations as a learning tool is this Italian site:

Screenshot 1: One World Italiano

Screenshot 1 from One World Italiano

The approach to dictation on this site is very basic: more basic, you might argue, than the other two afore-mentioned sites:

Screenshot 2 One World Italiano

Screenshot 2 from One World Italiano

You listen at normal speed, listen and write at dictation speed (i.e. with pauses), listen and check at normal speed, then compare your product with the transcript. Obviously this is an approach that you could adopt with any recording and transcript, except that you wouldn’t get the dictation speed. It is also an approach that is flexible enough to be adapted in a number of ways, as we shall explore later in this post…

2. Websites with recordings and transcripts

Of course there are plenty of such sites these days… Here are a couple that I think are particularly good, as examples. (Feel free to comment on this post and suggest others if you feel strongly that they ought to be on this list!)

Elllo.org 

Screenshot 1 from Elllo.org

Screenshot 1 from Elllo.org

If you click on Search by Level-Topic-Country, then you should be taken to a list of interviews:

Screenshot 2 from Elllo.org

Screenshot 2 from Elllo.org

As you can see, in addition to the title, the nationality of the speakers and the level of the recording are also provided. This site is good because it is not “native speaker”-centric. So for learners who are interested in using English as a lingua franca, rather than speaking to native speakers, this might complement other sources very nicely. That there are different levels of recording is useful too, as it makes using the recording and transcripts more accessible to lower level learners.

British Council Learn English

The British Council Learn English site has a “Listen and Watch” section that makes a very valuable learning resource:

Screenshot 1 from British Council Learn English

Screenshot 1 from British Council Learn English

Here, you can find a variety of podcasts and series of podcasts, at a mixture of levels, which are accompanied by listening activities but also – all importantly for our dictation focus – a transcript!

3. Non-internet based resources

Dictations are not limited to the internet. Other resources your learners could use include:

Graded Readers

Screenshot from Blackcat-cideb website

Screenshot from the Blackcat-cideb website

I have recently discovered graded readers as a language learner. (I knew about English graded readers as a teacher, but I think you can only fully appreciate them if you use one in a language that you are trying to learn!) What a revelation! I love them! (But that’s for another post…) Of course, as far as this post is concerned, we must limited “graded reader” to those that come with an accompanying audio recording.

Course book listenings/supplementary materials

Learners often get a cd with course book listening recordings or access to a cd rom containing either course book listening recordings or “extra practice” listening recordings/activities within similar topic areas. Transcripts are usually in the back of the student book or embedded somewhere in digital resources like cd-roms. (I know, for example, that this is the case with at least some levels of Speak Out; Headway digital has such materials that students may have access to etc.) As well as doing whatever language/skills practice activities come with these materials, learners could use the recordings and transcripts as another source of dictation practice.

Audio books

Remember the book-and-tape sets you used to get when you were young? Then they became book-and-cd. These are generally aimed at younger native speakers, but can be equally useful for language learners, provided they don’t get hung up on the target age of the materials.

Ok, so we’ve established that there is no shortage of potential material for autonomous use of dictations as a learning tool, but what do we do with them?

Activities

Let’s go back to the basic approach that my Italian website offered:

  • listen to the recording
  • listen to the recording at dictation speed and write what you hear
  • listen again at normal speed and check what you wrote
  • look at the transcript

A very good basic approach, which we could easily apply to the materials from both British Council resources and Elllo.org, but it can be extended and it is important to make full use of that “look at the transcript” phase.

How?

  • Don’t panic about only listening and writing once: you have control of the replay button, why not use it! Perhaps in due course you will be able to do it with one listen through, until then it’s ok to be human rather than give up!
  • Compare your product and the transcript
  • Highlight all your mistakes
My first Italian dictation with errors highlighted.

My first Italian dictation with errors highlighted.

But don’t stop there. Look at each mistake and the correct version, identify why you made that mistake, what/why you misheard:

My analysis of my errors

My analysis of my errors (added to the second time round)

Then identify any patterns in your mistakes i.e. your general weaknesses:

Pattern/weaknesses identification

Pattern/weaknesses identification

Note: I haven’t corrected the mistakes, only analysed them.

  • Leave it all for a few days. Yes, uncorrected.
  • After a few days, use your highlighted transcript and repeat the dictation process. Try to correct your errors by focusing particularly hard on the highlighting and trying to remember what caused the mistake.
Take 2! Correcting the errors...

Take 2! Correcting the errors…

  • Make any corrections in a different colour so that it is easy to see them.
  • Compare your corrections to the transcript and see how you did this time round.
  • Underline any remaining mistakes/omissions so that they are in evidence.
  • Analyse them as before.

Thus, instead of transcript comparison being: “Oh, I made x number of mistakes, not too bad, will try again next time.” and that being the end of the dictation activity, it becomes an extended learning opportunity. The mistakes are where the learning is. Obviously I benefit from having a reasonable awareness of what contributes to receptive difficulties and therefore can analyse my mistakes reasonably easily. To help learners gain this awareness, why not do the activity with them in class and provide a handout to help scaffold their analysis? (Such as that found in Vandergrift and Goh, 2012 consisting of a list, written in the first person, of potential error causes, for learners to match to their errors) Of course, as mentioned earlier, the British Council ESOL Nexus site is a good way in to being able to analyse errors more effectively too.

What about when the recordings don’t come with the dictation pauses and are quite fast?

That’s ok. There are several ways to work with more challenging recordings in a similar way.

Chunk-grabbing

  • Take one minute of your graded reader recording – that is plenty! (It also means you have a lot of potential dictations in one graded reader! 😉 ) I recommend that you listen without trying to write anything first. As per the approach above, where you listen at normal speed before you do the dictation activity. So, listen for meaning. It also works if you do it after having used that part of the graded reader normally i.e. listened and/or read and done the activities in the reader, as long as you let some time elapse before you do so.
  • Listen again and write down any chunks that you can. It’s moving pretty quickly, so you will grab a few phrases and a few words here and there. I did this on the computer, and entered after each chunk.
  • Play it again and try to fill in a few gaps.
  • Repeat until you’ve captured that one minute of recording.
  • Compare with the transcript – again, thoroughly- as per the approach described with the gato e topo dictation.
My first graded reader dictation

My first graded reader dictation

Here, I have highlighted my errors and put in underlining where I have omitted something. I will return to it in a few days and try to correct those mistakes by listening again.

Chunk-grabbing variation

  • Start as per the chunk-grabbing activity above.
  • After listening and grabbing a few chunks and words, listen again but don’t add anything else.
  • Then use your chunks and words, and what you can remember, and try to reconstruct the text. So, do a dictogloss.
  • Compare your dictogloss with the transcript. This time you will the analyse grammatical and lexical choices you’ve made as well as what you’ve (mis)heard.

(I will come back to this activity in more depth, including how to scaffold it in class and use it as a pronunciation tool, in a future post…)

I think the important thing when doing dictation activities with more challenging recordings i.e. recordings that are not geared towards it (and even when you are struggling with the gatto e topo recording, which is geared towards it 😉 ) is to not get stressed by it. Accept that it will be difficult, possibly frustrating too, and that you will make mistakes. The mistakes are the best part of it – they are a wonderful opportunity to learn. And there’s nothing like that moment of comparison, and the “ohhhhh” when you realise what you’ve done! So rather than it being traumatic and off-putting, it’s fun and focuses you very intently on what you are hearing. (For anybody interested in metacognition, this would be a mixture of person and task awareness! Being aware of how you might feel when doing a task and being ready to minimise negative feelings that may interfere with the task, and being aware of what the task will require [including where to find the resources and the effects of using different resources e.g. more challenging recordings vs. “easier” recordings] and its outcomes)

Using the resources and activities for autonomous learning

As with any activities that you want learners to do autonomously, it is important to:

  • model it in class first – do a small dictation, collaboratively analyse the errors learners make (and if you share their first language and are learning it, and have tried doing dictations, you could also show them yours! I plan to show my efforts to my classes during my next courses at IHPA. Seeing analysis of their own language might make the idea of error analysis in the target language less opaque, and seeing all your errors will hopefully make the idea of making them less taboo.)
  • point them towards scaffolding resources such as the ESOL Nexus site before you ask them to do the more complex sequences of activities.
  • in due course, get them to do it as homework (perhaps post outcomes on Edmodo or similar too – my learners enjoyed that)
  • provide time for discussion in class subsequently. (e.g. Learners could compare their error analysis, swap products and transcripts and see if they can help each other analyse or work in groups and look together at each in turn, while you go round and contribute as you see fit.)
  • encourage them to set goals regarding how often they will try these activities themselves, not as homework
  • ensure they have understood where to locate suitable resources
  • allow them to report back subsequently, to share successes (or failures, which can then be troubleshot), and help them to maintain motivation.

Enjoy!

I hope these ideas are useful and look forward to hearing how you/your learners got on with using them. 🙂 (As ever, related guest posts are always welcome!)

One little thing… (A guest post by Ceri Jones!)

A little over a month ago, I issued a challenge to all who read this blog. The challenge was to reflect on and write about a little thing that has made a big difference to your teaching during the last year. All was quiet and then sometime later, there was a flurry of discussion on Twitter 

Little things...

Little things…

little things...

Little things…

as a result of Sandy sharing my link on Twitter and Facebook. (Thank you, Sandy!) And this is where Ceri Jones comes in. Not only is this the first blog post written in response to my challenge, but Ceri also has the dubious honour of being the first person to write a guest post on my blog! I’m delighted to host her post here and hope she will be the first of many guests. Ceri is a teacher, materials writer (you may have seen her name on one of your course books! – Inside Out, Straight Forward, The Big Picture…) and also has a great blog , well worth a visit.

Here it is then, Ceri’s response to my challenge… 

I was sitting on a train using Facebook as a pacifier, when I came across this great blog post by Lizzie. It got me thinking. Then it got me writing. First to Lizzie in the comments and then in my little purple note book.

ceri pic 1

my little purple notebook – © Ceri Jones

One little thing …

Post-its used to be an essential part of my day-to-day teaching kit. I was teased about it, in fact, leaving little coloured squares in my wake wherever I went. But that was a long time ago. And I moved on and discovered other tools that obsessed me instead (scraps of paper, IWB slides, shared photos on my phone, voice recordings on our class blog.)

Then, a few months ago, I attended a workshop at a conference by a teacher taking the reverse journey, from technology to paper. And more specifically exploring the potential of post-its. It wasn’t her ideas as such (though she had some great ones to share) but the objects themselves that inspired me. And on Monday morning I bought a stack of post-its and took them into my beginners class. And alongside the whiteboard, the miniboard, the projector, and the blog, they became a new focus for collecting and organizing and revisting and recycling emergent language in our barefoot classroom.

My purple notebook started to bulge with them. The walls of the classroom were decorated with them. The photos from our classes were dotted with them. I don’t think it’s changed the way I taught as such, but it did refresh it and made playing with language (literally) more hands on.

Here are a few examples:

Post-its in action

Post-its in action – © Ceri Jones

In this class, the post-its helped us look back at what we’d studied last term, and look forward to what we wanted to do next. I’ve kept them in my notebook as a reminder.

ceri pic3-2

post-its and question words – © Ceri Jones

In this photo, taken in yesterday’s class, we’re revisiting question words. The students matched the words with their meanings. Then we took away the words and they remembered them from their meaning. Then we took away the meanings and remembered them from the words. Then we moved them around and regrouped them, comparing e.g. who, which and what, or how, how much, how many, how often. The little pink stack will come back to the table at the beginning of the next lesson again to be fingered and matched and moved around.

Ceri pic 4

question words in context – © Ceri Jones

Here the words have gone back into the context of the questions the students had asked in the lesson before. And later, after we’d followed the various tangents thrown up by the questions, they stayed on the board without their questions as memory hooks.

The colour and the movement and the manipulation makes the language, and the lesson, just that little bit more memorable. A little thing … but thanks for giving me the time to think about it Lizzie!

Thank you, Ceri!

I hope everybody enjoys Ceri’s post as much as I have.

If you would like to write a guest post in response to this challenge, or on a different topic (e.g. metacognition , language learning , your Delta/M.A. experiences , learner autonomy, a classroom activity you’ve used successfully… etc!) please do get in touch by commenting on this post or emailing lizzie.pinard@gmail.com.

Autonomous listening skill development: activity 1

How do I help learner get beyond “just” listening?

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 encourage learners to listen extensively outside class, and extensive listening is recognised as beneficial to language learning. But what about actually developing listening skills? As in, listening with a view to improving both decoding (“translating the speech signal into speech sounds, words and clauses, and finally into a literal meaning” (Field, 2008:kindle loc. 2386)) and meaning-building (“adding to the bare meaning provided by decoding and relating it to what has been said before” (ibid)) skills.

How can I help learners to actively work on their listening outside class as well as during listening lessons? Part of learning autonomously is awareness of a range of task types and their potential learning benefits, and the corresponding ability to pick tasks according to learning goals. Helping learners become able to do this with their listening is something I have begun to work on within my learner autonomy projects.

What activities can learners do to help themselves develop their listening skills rather than just listening?

In this series, I will describe some listening activities I’ve done with learners to help them become more autonomous listeners by giving them something tangible to do with their out of class “listening practice”.

This first activity works well as a follow-up to a lesson with focus on weak forms , in which you have raised learners’ awareness of weak forms in connected speech.

Aims:

  • increase perception of weak forms in connected speech
  • develop sense of rhythm and the role of weak forms and word/sentence stress within this
  • develop learners’ ability to chunk written language correctly when they read it

Materials:

  • Learners will need a recording that has an accompanying transcript. (For learners at intermediate and below, www.elllo.org could be a useful resource for this; for higher level learners, a possible resource is the BBC “Voices” project )

Procedure:

  • Learners should, of course, first listen to their recording for meaning (identify main ideas, key information etc.)
  • Once learners have listened for meaning, they can compare what they heard with the transcript and check.
  • This done, learners play the recording again and mutter along with the recording, aloud. (For this, it could be worth selecting a portion of the recording rather than trying to do the whole thing.)
  • Ensure that learners are aware that initially this will be very difficult. The speakers will speak “too fast” for learners to keep up. However, if they replay and mutter along with a portion of the recording several times, then they will be able roughly match it.
  • How do they match it? In order to keep up with the recording and not get out of synch, they will be forced to use the same rhythm and stress as the speaker. This means they will need to stress certain words and shrink others – i.e. the weak forms. NB: The goal of this isn’t to try and get learners to speak in this way: it’s to develop their perception of the stress and rhythm of English, which they can then use to help themselves listen more effectively. However, I think the productive element is important as it helps to increase their perception by making it physical. 
  • Follow up: Once learners have muttered along enough times to be able to do so relatively comfortably, they could then record themselves reading the transcript aloud, trying to maintain the rhythm they developed during the muttering activity. They could post their recording and a link to the original recording on a collaborative platform e.g. Edmodo and compare each others’ efforts.
  • Breaking the activity down: With my learners, I did this as a series of homework activities:The first was to find a recording, listen for meaning, check with the transcript, then do some muttering.The second was to do some more muttering and then record themselves.The third was to listen again to the original recording, with the transcript, and mark all the pauses they heard, and use those pauses to help themselves manage their breathing while muttering and while recording themselves. Then they compared the first lot of recordings with the second lot.Of course this third step could be done earlier: Done in the order I did it, learners benefit from the comparisons they can make, but done earlier, they may benefit from that scaffolding sooner.

Benefits:

  • Because learners have to use correct word and sentence stress in order to keep up with the recording, it draws their attention to these. (I found when I tried the activity with an Italian recording, I’d get out of synch and lose the rhythm when I put the stress in the wrong place in a word. E.g. “gentile” springs to mind, and “sapere”, “utile” and “omeopata” – you realise that you keep getting out of synch at particular points, listen again and pay special attention to those points, then try again with the correct pronunciation, and then, with persistence, it works better.)
  • Recording yourself and listening to the recording, as well as comparing to the original, can help you pick out weaknesses in your pronunciation, and in doing so become more aware of what you are hearing.
  • Listening to, looking at and producing the weak forms helps learners become better able to recognise them through familiarity: it draws very focused attention to how the words look vs how they sound when condensed in connected speech, which is highlighted by the physicality of having to produce it.

Important to remember:

  • Bring it back into the classroom: give learners time to discuss at the beginning of the lessons following those when you set this activity as homework.
  • Ensure learners know they aren’t expected to speak in this way: Otherwise put, ensure the goals of the activity are clear to learners. When you set the activity, having done your focus on weak forms lesson, encourage learners to make the link between that lesson and this homework activity.
  • Scaffold it: You might have noticed that my lesson on weak forms involves some muttering along with the transcript. This means that before I got my learners doing the activities described in this post, for homework, they weren’t starting from a blank page – either from the pronunciation awareness perspective or from the task knowledge perspective (accustomed to using transcripts for listening activities, done similar activities in class, know how to approach them vs. “the transcript is that strange bunch of text that lurks in the back of the course book”!). Hopefully this will have made it less daunting and less confusing; well, certainly my learners all managed to do the task successfully and were enthusiastic about it.

Conclusion

Helping learners develop their listening autonomously is something I will be doing more work on in the future: exploration only began post-IATEFL (using Sandy’s ideas as a way in) and has been sporadic since then (I’m human! There are only 24hrs in a day and some of those are needed for sleeping/eating etc.!) with a burst of ideas emerging very recently through experimentation with my learners and in my own language learning. I’m planning to build on it, and work it into my learner autonomy projects more systematically as next steps, especially during the next set of courses that I teach.

References:

Field, J. (2009) Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Top ten resources for teachers

The internet is a great place for English language teachers, if you know to where to look! Here are my top ten resources (ok I cheated a bit by grouping some!) – have you used them all yet?

Conversely: What is your favourite resource?

– Have you used any resources that completely wowed you, that aren’t on this list?

Please comment and let me/everybody else know about them!

In no particular order then…

British Council Teaching English – website and Facebook page

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 20.40.15

http://www.teachingenglish.org: screenshot of the home page

The British Council Teaching English website and Facebook page are both very valuable resources for teachers with any level of experience.

The website contains a wealth of freely available content, such as:

  • teaching ideas
  • articles on methodology, skills etc.
  • webinar recordings
  • downloadable ELT-related research
  • links to the blogs that have been awarded the popular “blog of the month” award and associate blogger posts
  • information about professional development courses

…and much more besides!

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 20.40.44

Screenshot of the British Council Teaching English Facebook page

 

The Facebook page is where links are shared and people can be found discussing the ELT-related issues that those who run the page raise for this purpose on a regular basis. Both are well worth a visit!

Onestop English

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 20.39.23

http://www.onestopenglish.com: screenshot of the homepage

onestopenglish is another goldmine of ideas for lessons and articles about different aspects of teaching. Good things about this website include the breadth of its resources (which are regularly added to) – as well as general English (divided into Grammar and Skills, which in turn are sub-divided into numerous other categories) the site holds ideas for teaching:

  • Business English
  • CLIL
  • TKT
  • ESOL
  • Young learners and teens

– and the ease with which it is possible to find things due to clear categorisation. In addition to resources, they also have a handy jobs section. Some of the resources are freely available, while some are only available if you subscribe.

Academia.edu

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 20.39.39

Academic.edu: screenshot of homepage.

Academia.edu might seem less user-friendly than the above two websites, but is nevertheless a very valuable resource: as a researcher, you can register and upload .pdfs of articles that you have written, to share with the community, and as a teacher/reader, it gives you access to research for free, which is not something to be sniffed at!

English Teaching Professional magazine’s website

www.etp.com : a screenshot of the home page

http://www.etp.com : screenshot of the home page

You have most probably read, or at least heard of, the ETp magazine for teachers, which contains articles and activity ideas, book reviews and much more. Well, the ETp website is equally worthwhile and demonstrates commitment to professional development in the resources it provides to this end. Each of the different sections contain links to articles around various topics and the site also has its very own registered blogger, Chia Suan Chong, whose posts are always worth reading. Currently, EtP are also organising a one-day conference, which will be held on 21st June 2014 in Brighton.

Twitter

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 14.46.31

The ubiquitous Twitter bird via Google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification.

Naturally! By Twitter, I don’t mean the Twitter website, per se. What I mean is the wealth of links it can make available to you and the discussions you could participate in, if you use it professionally. As everything you need to know is in the afore-mentioned link, I’ll leave Twitter right here.

Teacher blogs

Many ELT professionals these days maintain a blog. It is considered to be a valuable form of professional development to do so. It is easy to follow these blogs and be notified each time a new post is added. Here are a few to get you started:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.29.42

Sandy’s blog – a screen shot

  • Sandy Millin’s blogSandy is a DoS at IH Sevastopol and has been blogging for a number of years now. Her blog contains a wealth of teaching ideas that she has tried and tested, reflections, collations of useful links, for example relating to the Delta qualification that she recently completed and to Cambridge exams like FCE. You might also like to check out her (Almost) infinite ELT ideas blog too, if you require an injection of fresh inspiration! In this blog, which is all about collaboration, she publishes a potential resource and canvasses ideas for how to use it with students. Now that she has finished Delta and is settled in her post-Delta new job, this site has been resurrected so keep checking back.
Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.30.45

Adam’s blog – a screenshot

  • Adam Simpson’s blog:Adam works at a Turkish university and is dedicated to his students and to his own professional development, as well as sharing these passions with others. His blog contains a wealth of interesting posts related to this.
Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.34.35

Rachael’s blog – a screen shot

  • Rachael Roberts’s blog Rachael Roberts is a teacher, MaW SIG committee member and materials writer, and her blog contains lots of useful teaching resources and materials that she has developed, together with the rationales behind them, and tips for creating your own materials too.

Some of these blogs sport a “blog roll” of other blogs that the owner has found interesting and useful, so it would be worth checking these out too. Of course there are hundreds more I’d love to name, but this post would get awfully long if I did so!

Some of the “big names” in ELT  also maintain blogs:

Jim and Adrian’s Demand High ELT blog – a screen shot

  • Demand High ELT is a growing site, owned by Jim and Adrian, and devoted to Demand High ELT. There is discussion, links to relevant resources, materials for seminars and more.
Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.39.42

Scott Thornbury’s blog: a screen shot

  • An A-Z of ELT is Scott Thornbury’s blog, containing a wealth of articles about a range of ELT-related topics and issues.
Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.40.49

Adrian’s pron blog – a screen shot

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.29.24

Hugh’s multi-faceted blog – a screen shot

  • Hugh Dellar’s Blog is full of interesting discussion about various ELT-related topics and ideas that you could try out in your own classes, as well as recordings of talks he’s given at past events.

Of course, the kind of blogs you read will depend also on your own interests within the profession.

For example:

To see links to blogs which relate to ELT management, please click here.

To see links to blogs which relate to Delta please click here.

Why not start blogging yourself, too, if you don’t already? There are lots of good reasons to do so!

Free Webinars for Teachers

Free Webinars for Teachers

Free Webinars for Teachers

Free Webinars for Teachers is a Facebook group where people share information about free webinars that teachers can attend. This makes it a good way of keeping up with what is available in this area of online professional development. You need to make a request to join and posts are moderated so that content remains useful to members. You can choose whether or not to receive notifications when something new is posted.

Technology

There are three major players in the technology game, all of which are worth keeping an eye on in order to stay abreast of technological innovation:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 08.49.11

Nik’s technology lover’s paradise – a screen shot

Russell Stannard's website which answers "How to..." for pretty much anything technology-related.

Russell Stannard’s site which answers “How to…” for pretty much all techy questions – a screen shot

The Consultants-E

The Consultants-E – a screen shot.

  • The Consultants-E : These guys offer training courses and consultancy services but also carry some freely available great resources relating to technology on their website. You can find these by clicking on “Resources” on their home page.

#ELTChat

You could argue that this is part of Twitter, but these days #ELTchat exists beyond the bounds of Twitter too. There is the website, where you can find all the summaries carefully indexed by date, as well as links to podcasts and videos.

ELTchat - a PLN in the making: a screen shot.

ELTchat – a PLN in the making: a screen shot.

And there is also the Facebook group, where people share links to interesting sites they’ve found, to recent chat summaries and more.

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 09.14.01

…and the Facebook group page – a screen shot.

IATEFL

IATEFL is the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. This organisation has a website , a Facebook group page , and lots of satellite pages run by various of the SIGs or Special Interest Groups.

IATEFL.org - a screen shot

IATEFL.org – a screen shot

The website contains information about forthcoming events, links to webinars that the association has put on (as well as information about those forthcoming), information about the afore-mentioned SIGS and of course its jobs pages where you can see job advertisements, especially in the run up to the annual IATEFL conference, due to the job market place that runs during this event.

IATEFL Facebook group page

IATEFL Facebook group page – a screen shot

The Facebook page is a space to discuss ELT-related issues and share links of interest to others in the profession. It is not a place for self-promotion and advertising (or spamming!).

In terms of SIG pages, here are a few that I know of:

  • MaW SIG Facebook page : For materials writing fans –  here you can find information about events run by MaW SIG, links to materials writing-related blog posts and sites, information about other materials writing-related events and connect with people who are also interested in materials writing.

Here is a list of all the SIGs currently in action, so if you find one in your area of interest, google it and you will doubtless find a Facebook page and/or a website that it maintains. You could also email the coordinator (name and contact details given in the list) for more information.

SIGs are a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and keep up with issues in your professional area of special interest.

You have to pay to join IATEFL, as well as any of the SIGs themselves (which is highly recommended, as you get plenty of membership benefits), but following their Facebook pages and Twitter handles is open to all.

image taken from openclipart.org via Google search licensed for commercial reuse with modification

Don’t forget: share your favourite resources too, by commenting on this post!  – image taken from openclipart.org via Google search licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

I hope this post gives you some new resources to look at and I look forward to hearing about the other resources you’ve tried…

Teenagers, “have to” and “can’t” for complaining – and a student-generated card game

My teenagers had to (!) learn how to complain in English today. We’d touched on it last lesson via input and a bit of language focus, and today I wanted to give them a bit more opportunity to use it and lodge it a bit more firmly in their brains. Basically it was a communicative drill dressed up as a game. So, to get away from the book activity, which was to use the prompts given to make little dialogues, I made it into a…

Student-generated card game!

 

My students aren't this old (nor, fortunately, this dour-looking) but they like cards!

My students aren’t this old (nor, fortunately, this dour-looking) but they like cards! (Image from http://www.flickr.com, via google image search licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

Level:

Pre-intermediate (but adaptable)

Preparation:

None!

Materials:

Each student needs a piece of paper from their notebook (or provided by you)

Procedure:

  • Get out a piece of paper and get learners to do the same. Fold and tear it into 4 pieces and get learners to do the same.
  • Ask learners to write a sentence on each paper. 2 sentences should be with “have to” e.g. I have to get up early. 2 sentences should be with “can’t” e.g. “I can’t stay up late”. These pieces of paper become the students’ playing cards. (You could use actual card if you wanted to be posh! My learners were perfectly happy with paper…)
  • Put learners into groups of three or four and tell them to keep their cards hidden!
  • Tell learners that the aim of the game is to get as many cards as possible.
  • Do some quick drilling of suitable intonation for complaining so that learners know what you expect. This should be quite fun! You can also kill two birds with one stone and model the game in the process, getting them to follow your example, get two learners to model in front of the class etc.
  • To get a card: Each learner takes a turn to ask another learner in their group a question using “have to” i.e. Do you have to get up early? or “can’t” – e.g. Can you stay up late? If that learner has a card with, in this case, I have to get up early or I can’t stay up late, then they must relinquish the card to the learner who asked the question. So, essentially, the learners are trying to guess what their fellow group-mates have on their cards. The same question can’t be asked more than once per round.
  • Language control: If a learner speaks L1 during the game, they have to pass one of their cards to the person on their left. They don’t want to do this = suddenly no Italian, just English – very quickly!

Benefits:

  • Learners use the target language communicatively, in a semi-controlled way, repeatedly but in a cognitively engaging way.
  • They get lots of practice with questions and answers, and should start to associate the structures with the activities they have to/can’t do, which makes the language more memorable.
  • They drill themselves. Teacher can monitor and correct where necessary, or encourage improvement in the intonation department.
  • Student-generated, so more memorable than the prompts in the book while achieving the same aims.
  • Requires no preparation!

Ideas for adaptation:

  • Could be used with verb patterns such as I enjoy + verb-ing, fed up with + verb-ing etc (Do you enjoy swimming? Do you enjoy going to the beach? Are you fed up with studying?) topic vocabulary e.g. Things I like doing (Do you like playing netball? Do you like playing tennis?) 
  • Increase the complexity for higher level learners by using more difficult language e.g. If I had a million dollars I would… If I were _____ I would – Would you buy a house if you had a million dollars? Would you be….? and so on.
  • Suitable for adults as well as young learners!

Experimenting with English (Part 2) – Activities for learners to do outside the classroom [26 and counting!]

In my blog post Experimenting with English: scaffolding learner autonomy, I discussed how I approached helping my learners to use English outside the classroom, drawing on learner autonomy theory and methodology (e.g. Benson, 2011; Oxford, 2003; Smith 2003). Central to that project, alongside the very important element of discussion, was a handout I created for my learners.

Here is a screenshot of a sample page, taken from the listening section:

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 20.47.59

Sample page from my Experimenting with English activities handout, listening section.

As you can see, the handout consists of a series of activities for learners to try, with space for them to record when they tried it and what they thought of it. The handout is divided up by skill (reading, listening, speaking, writing). What you can’t see here is that in each subdivision, as well as the activities I’ve added, there is space for the learners to add their own ideas. I have two versions of the handout, which you can access below, one of which is aimed at the learners I use Edmodo with and one of which is aimed at the learners I use a WordPress blog with. Both handouts are geared towards a non-English speaking environment, and towards adult learners of General English, reflecting my current context (a private language school in Palermo).

In my experience, as I mentioned in the Experimenting with English blog post, simply giving the learners this handout is insufficient. It gets lost, it gets forgotten, it gathers dust… What is very important for the project to be successful is regular discussion time allocated to learners’ out-of-class activities and encouraging learners to set goals in relation to this. It is also important to get learners to think about why there is space for them to write comments. Here are some reasons that we (groups of learners and I) have discussed in relation to this:

  • it means you can remember what you tried and how useful/difficult/interesting/boring/helpful etc. you found it.
  • if you try an activity more than once, at a different time, you can see if your opinion of it changes or if it gets easier to do.
  • after some time, you build a record of what you have done and you can look back to see what progress you’ve made.

Of course, my learners are busy people and the time they have for out-of-class study is limited. And sometimes that limited amount of time becomes zero time, because other things take over. It’s important to be understanding of this. And, equally, to be enthusiastic when they do manage to do things.

Here are the handouts:

This one is for learners who use Edmodo

This one is for learners who use a blog (actually it’s the same as the Edmodo one but I replaced “Edmodo” with blog, where relevant! As I use blogs with higher level learners, one of my plans is to tailor this handout more towards what they can do and include use of other tools I use with them. When I did the name-changing, I didn’t have time to work on this aspect!)

(To read in detail about how I used them, please see Experimenting with English: scaffolding learner autonomy )

My comments about the handouts: future directions

These handouts are just prototypes. I created them to fulfil a need I identified while working on my autonomy fostering projects, and they’ve been useful for that, but I want to work on them: add activities and improve both the handout and how I use it in class, based on what I’ve learnt during the last 7 months, so that they will be more effective when I use them next academic year (yes, I shall be back in Palermo again!). Additionally, of course such a handout in a different context, for example an English-speaking environment, would look different and include additional different activities, geared towards helping learners mine that resource effectively.

I’m also currently working on a means of helping learners record their out-of-class activities in a quick, easy but visually appealing and useful way – so that they could look at it and at a glance be able to see the balance of skills they’ve been working on etc. Hopefully a couple of my classes are piloting it now, during the Easter holidays, so it will be interesting to see if it is working as I envisaged or…not! But more about that in a future post… 🙂