Bite-size TD at the ELTC

Teacher development is a key part of working life at the ELTC and the team who are in charge of it this term recently rolled out a new initiative, “Bite-size TD”. The idea is to build up a collection of recordings done by teachers of short talks on a range of topics, that other teachers can watch when they have 15-20 minutes spare and fancy a bit of CPD.

I volunteered to do a whistle-stop tour of www.wordandphrase.info/academic which is a corpus tool. Without the /academic part of the web address, a general corpus of texts is analysed, with the academic part included, it analyses a corpus of academic texts from a range of disciplines. Both sites work in exactly the same way, so what I talked about today could equally be applied to the general version. My powerpoint was adapted from one that I used with my ESUS (English Skills for University Study, which has since undergone a few changes and been renamed) students last term, with the aim of introducing the site to them through the medium of guided discovery.

My talk worked in two ways: a) For teachers unfamiliar with the site, I suggested they use the pause button a bit and try to do the activities on the site as they went along, to understand better how it works. b) For teachers who were already familiar, and for the teachers in a) once they were familiar, it modelled my approach to introducing students to the site and provided some example activities that they could use with students.

I suggested that as well as using this approach in class with the students as an introduction, it’s useful to reinforce it by:

  • modelling use of it yourself in class if students ask you something about a word/phrase. (Particularly if you can project it)
  • using it in tutorials based on students’ written work, to guide error correction
  • encouraging students to use it before submitting a piece of work, to check their use of key language

Here is the powerpoint I used (click to download):

I’ll add the recording later if the link is a public one, but you should be able to follow what to do via the powerpoint, it’s step-by-step and the answers are included.

Do you use wordandphrase.info(/academic) with your students? How? Would love to hear about your approach/ideas for using it via the comments box below. 🙂

Happy weekend, all!

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Mental Health in ELT

“Mental Health” (Pixabay)

Yesterday I read a Guardian article stating that the number of referrals to mental health crisis teams in the NHS has gone up by 60%  in the UK. It didn’t seem to specify the time period in which this increase has taken place, but nevertheless it’s clear that mental health problems are something that a lot of people face to varying degrees of severity. Another recent article argues that in adopting the new GCSE result grade scales, schools are putting elite performance ahead of pupils’ wellbeing while yet another discusses the increase in mental health issues in students at university, with the number of drop-outs being three times higher in 2014-2015 than it was in 2009-2010. The context of education can be, by its very nature, a very pressurised situation where the stakes are high and failure unthinkable, even for children as young as six years old. Meanwhile, the Independent reports that at least one tenth of the 4908 teachers questioned rely on anti-depressants to combat work-related stress. An interesting initiative responds to the issue of pupil mental health at schools by proposing to give teachers the training they need to be specialists in mental health. I would argue that everybody involved in the education system – students, staff, managerial staff – would benefit from greater awareness of (potential) mental health issues, how to recognise them and how to address them.

Within education, mental health can be considered from three main angles: pupils/students mental health and mental health awareness, teachers’ mental health and mental health awareness (both of their own, colleagues’ and their students’) and managers’ mental health and mental health awareness (both of their own, their colleagues’, that of their staff team, and that of the students in their school). That’s a lot of mental health awareness needed, and alongside it, systems both for dealing with the problems that arise and, importantly, addressing the causes in order to bring down the number of these. I think this applies as fully to ELT as it does to ‘regular’ teaching, whether teachers are based in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors or whether they are based in private language schools. All contexts are high stakes in various ways, demanding in various ways and potentially conducive to mental health issues in the staff and students within them. Universities often have support services within which students and staff can seek help if they are struggling but this relies on people a) being aware that they are struggling more than is ‘normal’/need help b) knowing how to access that help and c) not being ashamed to access it.

Looking  back on my own experiences of poor mental health, the requirements stated above are not necessarily easy to meet. If you are struggling, you are generally too focused on trying to keep your head above water, in one or multiple contexts, to see the bigger picture. Things accumulate, build up, things that each individually by themselves may be minor but in combination become more difficult to overcome. For example, at one school I was working at, I was told that I had had some complaints from students in one of my classes. It eventually transpired that there was a mismatch between their current syllabus and their expectations based on the syllabus of the previous level they had studied. However, between the issue arising and being resolved, my confidence took a massive hit. This spilled over into my personal life, as I lost confidence in my linguistic abilities too, meaning that when my gas bottle ran out, and I had to phone the service for obtaining a replacement, instead of it being a little thing and easy to do, it was a difficult thing and I couldn’t face it. So I didn’t. Which meant that I then wasn’t eating particularly well as I couldn’t cook. I was also having issues with my social life that were making me very unhappy, details unnecessary. I reached a point where I would sit in my flat in the morning feeling physically sick at the thought of going into work (and this ‘work-dread’ anxiety took a while to ease/wear off even after I changed jobs due to my contract reaching its natural end.) While all of this was going on, there was a workshop that required me to use the language I had lost confidence in, and as a result of all the issues described (which I just had to resist the temptation to qualify with “silly”!) I didn’t participate properly. This led to me being hauled into the DoS’s office for an explanation. I was asked if everything was ok, but my automatic reaction was to say yes. (I don’t know about anyone else, but that tends to be my knee-jerk response, almost a defensive one, but also what was wrong was all ‘little things’ that I was ‘dealing with’, it didn’t occur to me to talk about them when asked what was wrong.) So then I was told off, which shocked me into ending up in floods of tears explaining what was wrong and did then get the help I needed to sort out the gas etc. I think this is one example where better mental health awareness, both on my part and on my manager’s part, could have made a big difference.

Mental health, like physical health, is always in flux, is affected by what we do, what we consume, what situations we find ourselves in and other such factors. Like physical health, we need to be aware of how to manage our own mental health to avoid becoming ill and of symptoms that our health is off. Like physical health, sometimes ill health is minor and can be adjusted/improved fairly easily and other times it is a longer and more difficult process to heal. Like physical health, sometimes we need help to treat the symptoms and identify the cause. For that to happen, we need to be able to recognise and acknowledge when things are not ok with us, and we need to be able to help others to recognise and acknowledge when things may not be ok with them. Mental Health First Aid  is one interesting approach to enabling this.

“Mental Health” (Pixabay)

I don’t have the answers to it all, but it’s certainly something that I feel is important and want to explore further. To finish off this post, I leave you with Sandy Millin’s very useful post that brings together a lot of links relating to mental health and recommend that you have a look through. I also invite you to share any thoughts you have on the subject as I would be very interested to hear them. 🙂

 

 

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (5 and 6)

Today was the sixth session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.)

–  Yes, the sixth: the fifth was last week but Friday seems to have rolled round again before I’ve got round to writing it up. Life and work happened! The sixth, and also the last for this term (sob!), so a special thank you to my colleague, Holly, whose brainchild it was and who has consistently brought along interesting ideas to get the discussion going. We’ve all got a lot out of it, in terms of ideas, motivation and generally a happy Friday feeling! 🙂 

To quote from my write-up of the first session,

The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

Session 5

Last week, the focus of the session was how to make students more aware of what words they can and can’t use with countable and uncountable nouns – to try and minimise, amongst other things, the number of instances where we see “These research show” and “Many research prove” etc. This sequence was adapted from Teach This 

We began with a variation of backs to the board/jeopardy:

To start with, there was nothing on the board except the score table. The teacher writes a word on the board, e.g. spare key. In order to get their team member whose back is to the board to guess the word, the students have to ask a grammatically correct question, e.g. “what do you give to your neighbours so that they can water your plants while you are on holiday?”. Rather than erasing the word to write another, the word is left on the board and another is added, either underneath it or in the column next to it. Obviously one of the columns is for countable nouns and one for uncountable nouns.

Once the game is finished, the teacher then elicits from the students what each column of words is (countable/uncountable) and what question you could ask about each (How many…? or How much…?) Students should then work in pairs and identify one similarity and one difference between them, using these questions. So, student A might ask “How many tattoos do you have?” and Student B might reply “2”. Student A would either say “me too!” or “I have ten” or “I have none” and that would be a similarity or difference, depending on the response.

Next, students brainstorm quantifiers that can be used with each column (or you can give them a list of quantifiers and get them to match which ones go with which column). Then the teacher hands out an empty grid of quantifiers per pair or group of students:

What now follows is a few rounds of Stop the Bus! In other words, the teacher gives the students a category (e.g. no. 1 above was “Things you might have in your bedroom”) and students have to write nouns that fit the category and go with each quantifier.  After each round, do some whole class feedback to make sure groups have correct words. (Be aware, a teacher, I mean a student, of course, from one group might argue rather tenaciously against a word given by another group 😉 )

Once you have done a few rounds of Stop the Bus, write up a few examples from groups’ tables.

E.g.

  • happiness
  • carrot
  • books

Elicit a correct example definition for each and use it to review what words are and aren’t used with uncountable, singular countable, plural countable.

In the case of our EAP classes, this whole sequence then leads onto editing their coursework writing: students choose four nouns that they have used repeatedly (e.g. research!!!!) and use the ‘search’ function in Word to find all the occurrences and check the grammar around them. They should check if the noun is countable or uncountable, and if the noun is countable they should think about whether they want it as singular or plural. The grammar around the word is then edited accordingly.

Session 6

Today, we started by looking at Getting to know you activities: the current term is drawing swiftly towards its conclusion and the new one will arrive sooner than anyone might think, so this was a bit of forward-thinking.

So, here are the ideas that were shared.

Find that person

  • Each student writes one thing about themselves on a small piece of paper and screws it up.
  • All the papers are thrown up in the air in the middle of the classroom.
  • Each student comes and takes a piece of paper (throwing it back and taking again if it is their own)
  • Students mingle and ask questions to find out a) who their piece of paper belongs to and b) more information about what is written.

Getting to know the teacher

Variation 1

  • Students work in pairs to write 5 questions they want to ask the teachers. Each question should be in a different grammatical tense.
  • Pairs swap questions with another pair and check the grammar.
  • Depending on numbers/time, group pairs and pieces of paper and allow a question or two from each pair or group, that you then have to answer.

Variation 2

  • Choose 6 pictures (the more obscure the better) that relate to different periods of your life and display them on the board.
  • Students discuss what they think the pictures are about and what they suggest about the teacher.
  • Students share their ideas with the teacher and bit by bit the real story comes out.

This could also alternatively be done with 6 names or years or places.

Variation 3

  • Teacher writes 3 truths and one lie (mixed up) about him/herself on the board.
  • Students have to ask questions to try and decide which is the lie.
  • Once the lie has been guessed, they can then do the activity in pairs and share their findings with the rest of the class.

Conversation starter

  • Students write their name in the middle of a piece of paper. Around it, they write the name of someone important to them, a year, a place, and something random (their choice) about themselves.
  • Students mingle and find out more about each of the things their classmates have written on their papers.

Shipwreck

This is for when you’ve done a bit of getting to know you but still have more time left and want to get students talking some more.

  • Give the students the scenario that there is a shipwreck, a lifeboat that only holds 5 people and a need to decide who is going to be allowed onto that lifeboat.
  • Give them a list of ten people (for example roles search “lifeboat ESL game”
  • They have to discuss and decide who to save
  • Extension: they have to take on that role and try to persuade the others on the ship to let them on the lifeboat (obviously creative license comes into play, they can go beyond the information on the role card!).

Survival

As above, this is for when you’ve done a bit of getting to know you but still have more time left and want to get them talking some more.

  • Linking back to the shipwreck, now that students have decided who will live and who will die, they have to decide what to take with them.
  • Give them a list of things they have on the boat, of which they can only take 5 or the boat will sink. You could include some of the things mentioned here and some random other things. (And I bet none of the students will decide to take the condom because it makes a good water bag!)

For more getting to know you activities, see my posts here and here

After the getting-to-know-you brainstorm (or what are we supposed to call it these days – thought shower or something?), we talked about self-observation. The idea suggested was that every couple of weeks you pick one of your weaknesses  (can be very simple little things e.g. instructions, board-work, getting down to student eye-level to speak to them etc.) and focus on it in all your lessons for that period of time. Whether or not you pair it with reflective writing etc was thought to be a matter of personal choice and not for everybody. Have you done something like this before?

And that was the end of our last scholarship circle for the term (because All The Marking lands next week and continues in week 9…) I will miss them!!  

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (3 and 4!)

Today was the fourth session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.)

–  Yes, the fourth: the third was last week but I was buried under rather a large pile of essays so I didn’t have time to write it up. So this week is a double bill! Hurrah!

To quote from my write-up of the first session,

The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

 

In session 3, last week, we shared the following ideas:

1. Catch-all nouns and cohesion in pairs

This is a useful review activity for students who don’t seem to be using catch-all nouns in their writing.

For those less familiar with EAP-dom, “catch-all nouns”, also sometimes called “general nouns”, are nouns that can be used to condense ideas already put forward, so that you can refer to them and give more information about them. They are general words that take on specificity through what comes before (or indeed after) them, for example problem, issue, process, approach, trend etc.

For this activity you:

  • give each student a worksheet with some examples of catch-all nouns in use, with the noun gapped out. Each student has a different set of examples.
  • get the students to take it in turns to read out a sentence to their partner, who needs to use the co-text to guess which general noun is missing. They must also decide if they need the singular “this” or the plural “these” in front of the noun.

E.g. First the cocoa beans are picked by hand and placed in the sun to dry. Then they are put in large sacks and loaded onto lorries (sounding familiar to anyone who teaches IELTS?!). ……………….. is repeated many times a day. Answer: This process.

Here is an example set of worksheets that my colleague whose idea it was gave to us:

The benefits of this activity are:

  • it makes the students think carefully about which catch-all nouns work best in which contexts.
  • it forces the students listen carefully to what their partner is saying, and in order to provide the answer they of course need to listen AND understand, so it also provides some detailed listening practice.
  • it also makes them think about whether the noun is singular or plural, and which determiner they need – this/these – to use with it. (Something our students tend to make mistakes with!)

Variation: Have students stand in a line; read out a gapped sentence; students step forward if they can think of a word + determiner that fit the gap. Actually I think it would work really nicely with mini-whiteboards too. Ahhh mini-whiteboards. Those were the days… 😉

2) Adapting a listening

This activity can be used with any listening extract where the speaker refers to data taken from a graph, where the graph has been provided in the materials for students to look at.

Instead of showing the graph to the students, get them to listen and make notes on it. Then put them in groups and get them to produce the graph based on what they have written down.

If any of you academic IELTS teachers out there are feeling keen, you could record yourselves talking about data from a graph (make it a funny graph so the activity is less dry!) and get the the students to produce the graph based on what you say. Then you could get the students to repeat the activity themselves – group them, get them, in their groups, to prepare a graph and discuss how they would present the information in it (using IELTS writing part 1 language) and then pair them up with someone from another group. Student A talks about their graph, student B listens and takes notes and then tries to draw the graph. (Or they could directly draw if you don’t want to bring note-taking skills into it!) They swap roles and repeat. Hopefully the language becomes more meaningful through being used communicatively. 

3) Speed-reading relay

The aim of this activity, as you would guess, is to work on students’ reading speed.

  • Put students in pairs or small groups.
  • Give each pair or group one copy of the text
  • Student A reads for 30 seconds, stops and makes a mark on the page where they got to and then verbally summarises what they just read for Student B.
  • Student B reads on from where Student A stopped. Another 30 seconds. Repeat as above.
  • This goes on until a pair or group gets to the end of their text. The first pair/group to do so is the winner!

You could use this activity as a way of practising different speed reading techniques: teach students a handful of different techniques (find examples here) and then use this as a fun way to practice them.

4) Variation on a debate theme

This is less of an activity and more of a variation on an activity: when you are doing a class debate, instead of dividing the class into 2 groups, half for and half against the motion, divide them into three groups and give each group a role:

  • For (pick a group of people who would naturally be in favour of the motion. E.g. if the motion were to ban video games, perhaps worried parents)
  • Against (pick a group of people who would naturally be against the motion. Following the above example, it could be video game designers)
  • Politicians (these have to prepare difficult questions to raise during the course of the debate, imagining that they have to think about what their constituents might say in response to the arguments raised)

In session 4, today, we shared the following ideas:

1. Task-based Evaluation (mine!)

  • Do a speaking ladder. Round 1:talk about the last restaurant you went to. (Rules: students  must elaborate not just say “yeah it was ok, I ate curry”!) Round 2: tell your new partner about the restaurant your old partner visited and how they felt about it. You can repeat this so that each student talks about their restaurant twice and a partner’s restaurant twice so that more language can be generated.
  • While they are doing this, collect examples of anything evaluative that they say.
  • Then students look for example evaluative language in a text and categorise it – modal verbs, adjectives, reporting verbs, adverbs.
  • Go back to the language students produced earlier and read out each example for them to put into their tables (unless you can cunningly feed it all into the computer while they are busy on one of the identification activities and then display it when they are ready! But this way they have to listen carefully so it’s still good!).
  • Repeat the speaking ladder activity with the aim of students upgrading their language from their initial effort. Give them some planning time first and if there is time, do a repetition.

My thinking behind this activity was that in day-to-day life we do evaluate, but when it comes to academic writing, students think that evaluation is this really difficult thing and it usually therefore gets omitted, so hopefully rooting it in the students’ own (meaningful) output, it will be more memorable and make more sense.

2. Bringing evaluation into synthesis

This activity is an extension of the fishbowl synthesis activity we talked about in session 2. Once students have fishbowled (yes it’s officially a verb now – at least in the USIC staffroom!) and written the summary paragraph, usually what you will find is that they have just about managed to synthesise stuff but there will be little if any evaluation. To get them to make that extra step which is needed in order for it to be a good paragraph rather than just a collection of information, elicit from them what’s missing from their paragraphs (which are now on a Google doc) – i.e. evaluation – and then brainstorm/board evaluative language that they could use. Then give them time to edit their paragraphs accordingly.

(This could be used in conjunction with my activity…gotta love the scholarship circle!)

3. Error correction scavenger hunt

  • Brainstorm, as a class, typical mistakes that students make in their writing. (If students say “grammar” or “vocabulary”, get them to be more specific!).
  • Prepare slips of paper/post-its with one error type and example per slip before the lesson and at this point hand out one to each student. Students mingle and explain their error type to the other students. (You could then put them in groups and get them to make a list of as many as they could remember and see which group remembers the most, for a bit of fun :-p )
  • Give out an error correction scavenger list like this one:

  • Put up sentences, or chunks of two or three sentences, taken from students’ work, around the classroom on the walls. Anonymise it and number each piece of paper (on which is/are the sentence(s) from one student).
  • Students walk round looking for the errors on the scavenger list, with speed obviously being of the essence. They find the mistake and write the number of the piece of paper they found it on next to the mistake  type on their scavenger list.
  • You go round and stick a post-it above each piece of paper with the error type(s) in the sentence(s) on it.
  • Students go round in their pairs and check they have the correct error type per sentence and then try to correct the sentence.
  • In groups, students compare their corrections.
  • Whole class feedback.

The idea of the lesson is to get students looking for typical error types. It also gets them up and moving, which is always a bonus in the EAP classroom! No reason why it couldn’t work with IELTS essays and the like as well! (This idea originally came from this pdf by Ken Lackman, about getting students involved in error correction, worth a look for more ideas.)

So, two great sessions, two motivation injections, and lots of ideas. 🙂 Let us know if you use any of them and how you got on!

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (2)

Today was the second session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.) To quote from my write-up of the first session,

The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

Last session, we had a series of little ideas, while this session we went into more depth on two activities:

1) Synthesis Fishbowl *

This activity takes the “fishbowl” approach to structuring a speaking activity and uses it as the basis for teaching students about synthesis. Synthesis is basically the process of using and combining multiple sources to support a point, showing where the sources agree and disagree. Linking language and particular reporting structures help the writer to do this. Here is an example of the kind language that is used in synthesising sources, taken from Manchester University’s  Academic Phrase Bank:

So now that we know what synthesis is, back to the fish bowl. In a fish bowl speaking activity, students sit in two circles, an inner circle and, around the outside of that circle (funnily enough), an outer circle. (As per the picture below, assuming that each X represents a student!)

Inner circle students face each other. They will be the speakers. Outer circle students watch the inner circle. They will be listener/note takers.

Each student/speaker in the inner circle receives a piece of paper like this:

 

On it they write their surname and a (fairly recent) year e.g. 2014.

Each student/listener-notetaker receives a piece of paper with a table like this on it:

The table would have enough squares for each student of the inner circle to be represented (which would usually be about 4 – you don’t want the inner circle to be too big! For larger classes break them down into sub-groups within each of which there will be an inner and outer circle).

The inner circle discusses whatever topic you set them, the outer circle makes notes on what they say. (You can make this harder if you have really good students: the outer circle could listen and take notes that evaluate the inner circle’s arguments  e.g. “Good example from X of……../Y needed more support for what he said about bla bla bla/ Z said he agreed but didn’t explain why” etc).

Once the discussion has finished/you have called it a halt, new groups are formed of a student from the inner circle and a couple of students from the outer circle. In these new groups they identify themes that were discussed and look for relationships between the pieces of information they have noted down. I.e. what do the speakers agree about? What do they disagree about? Does a speaker (or more than one of them!) build on anything another speaker has said?

After they have teased these relationships out of their notes, they write a paragraph summarising the discussion (you could use google docs for this). You could give them a framework to use for lower levels, you could feed in language you want them to use (particular verbs or structures), depending how much scaffolding they need. They will need to pick one of the themes discussed (which will provide them with their topic sentence) and then use synthesising language to summarise what was said about it.

This mirrors what they will have to do with academic sources in their writing. We (the teachers) have decided to film ourselves doing the activity in a future scholarship circle session, so that it can be used as the basis of a homework task to prepare students for doing the activity in class themselves.

*Obviously fishbowls are not only useable for teaching synthesis – they are a way of running a speaking activity so that students’ listening skills are worked as well. Of course students take it in turns to be listeners and speakers.

2) Nominalisation game

This is the game I put forward last week. This week I actually brought the grid to the session and everyone had a go at playing it. Click on the picture below to be taken to a pdf of that grid.

To quote from last week’s write up, it works like this:

Put students in groups of three and give each group a grid, counters and dice (they can use a phone app and the change in their pockets if needs be!). The aim of the game is to “collect” as many squares as possible by turning the verbs into nouns. To do this, students roll the dice and move their counter the corresponding number of moves. If their square has not been claimed, they can claim it by giving the correct noun form. If they are correct, they draw their symbol on that square. They can move in any direction that gets them to an empty square (backwards, forwards, diagonally, vertically etc) in any combination. They continue until all squares have been claimed or the teacher calls a halt. The winner has the greatest number of squares when the game stops. You can then get the students to group the nouns they have made according to the different suffixes used to create nouns and then try to think of any more verbs–>nouns they know that work in the same way.

That’s all for this week. Just like last week, the session gave me a real boost. There’s nothing like spending some quality time being creative with a great bunch of people! 🙂 Here are a few questions to leave you with:

Have you used a fish bowl activity before? How did you use it? Do you have any other ideas for teaching synthesis or activities for livening up lessons on nominalisation?

 

 

 

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP”

Today was the inaugural session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”*. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.) The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

The plan is to look at the lesson materials for the following week (all of the courses here except for the highest level one have a very structured week-by-week, lesson-by-lesson syllabus and materials) and share ideas for how to breathe some life into them. We shall be doing this between 12 and 13.00 on a Friday and all in all, we will be aiming, through some most excellent collaboration, to avoid this** happening in our EAP classrooms! 😉

 

*not necessarily the official name!

**substitute ‘lesson’ for ‘lecture’!

Here are some of the ideas that came out of today’s session:

  1. For a listening and note-taking lesson: when you want students to work in pairs to use their notes to answer questions, make it impossible for them not to (or they won’t!) – you could do this by setting up the activity with clear stipulations i.e. one student to close their folder and one to read out the questions that they then work on together to answer. This avoids students getting buried in their folders, which is the tendency.
  2. For a citation and referencing lesson: students may be good students but may not be familiar with terminology that we take for granted, such as “semi-colon” or “bracket”. To ensure that you start the lesson with all students clear about the language you are going to use in teaching the lesson content, take that terminology (e.g. semi-colon, italics, brackets, et al etc) and use it as the basis for a backs-to-the-board game. This enables you to check that students know the terminology before you use it.
  3. A pronunciation warmer for working on minimal pairs: Minimal pairs phone numbers. Number the board vertically from 0-9 and give each number a word within which is a minimal pair sound. Here are the examples we had: 0-Annie, 1-any, 2-rise, 3-rice, 4-fool, 5-full, 6-light, 7-right, 8-sit, 9-seat. (Adapt it according to the sounds that your group of learners tend to struggle with) You read out your (invented) phone number by saying the word that corresponds with each number. So 989 would be sit seat sit. The students have to write down your phone number by deciding which word you have said and writing down the corresponding number. They can then do it in pairs. This gives them practice in both recognition and production of the minimal pairs.
  4. Do a speaking ladder at the start of the lesson based on the lesson content: It takes some time to do it, but the benefits range from giving the students (who have very long days at the college) an energy-levels boost, get them mingling, get them thinking/speaking in English and make them focus (as it generates a lot of noise, they have to listen very carefully to concentrate on “their noise”). It also gives them some bonus fluency practice.
  5. (This one was mine!) A warmer for a nominalisation lesson: Make a grid of academic verbs, one verb per square. Put students in groups of three and give each group a grid, counters and dice (they can use a phone app and the change in their pockets if needs be!). The aim of the game is to “collect” as many squares as possible by turning the verbs into nouns. To do this, students roll the dice and move their counter the corresponding number of moves. If their square has not been claimed, they can claim it by giving the correct noun form. If they are correct, they draw their symbol on that square. They can move in any direction that gets them to an empty square (backwards, forwards, diagonally, vertically etc) in any combination. They continue until all squares have been claimed or the teacher calls a halt. The winner has the greatest number of squares when the game stops. You can then get the students to group the nouns they have made according to the different suffixes used to create nouns and then try to think of any more verbs–>nouns they know that work in the same way.
  6. Academic style: When the activity requires students to edit sentences to make them more academic, here is a fun way to do it in groups. Write each sentence at the top of a blank piece of paper and make sure you have enough for each student in each group to have a different sentence. They write their edited sentence at the bottom of the sheet and fold it over to hide it. They then pass their paper to one student and take a sheet from another. Repeat this until all the students have written their edited version on each of the sentences going round in their group. At the end, as a group, they can look at all the different versions and collaborate to make a final “best version”, combining their ideas, and write that best version in their folder.
  7. Working with a text: take out ten key words, do a few rounds of backs to the board; once all words have been guessed and are on the board, get students to use them to predict the possible content of the text.
  8. Summary-writing tasks: get students to record it rather than write it for a change! Put them in pairs and give them time to make notes, discuss what they want to say and decide who will say what, then get them to record that. They can send you the recordings to listen to and give some feedback on.

The hour went by very quickly, it has to be said. Looking forward to more next Friday! 🙂 (I am planning to share the ideas here regularly but marking 30×3000 word essays [in chunks of 1 and 2000 words] is likely to get in the way somewhat! Hopefully I will catch up eventually though. )

 

2017 (Or, how to set better goals!)

Happy new year, everybody! The first 10 days of 2017 seem to have flown by. For my first post this year, I’m going to write about resolutions and effective goal-setting.

On Sunday I delivered a workshop as part of the Teaching Listening course that forms part of this year’s EVO.

(To quote EVO and explain what it is:  Every year in January and February, the Electronic Village Online (a project of TESOL’s Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section) brings together English language educators from around the world to engage in free, collaborative, online professional development sessions. Last year, we had over 8,165 participants in 14 sessions.)

My session focused on helping learners become more autonomous listeners and the main task the participants will do this week is to set up an out-of-class listening scheme to use with their learners; considering, amongst other things, about what they want the learners to do, how they will introduce the different elements to the learners, how they will help learners to maintain their motivation. Of course, within my session, within the discussion on motivation, I talked about the importance of goal-setting and the features of an effective goal according to Dornyei and Ushioda (2012). Here is my slide which summarises these:

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I always make New Year’s Resolutions. There is something magical about the beginning of a new year, and the potential it holds, that gets me really excited and I enjoy making my resolutions as a way of sizing up that potential and giving it some form. Usually, however, my resolutions are a bit fluffy and I forget about them fairly soon afterwards. This year, in order to help myself not to forget about them, I have copied them into a sticky note on my desktop so that I am reminded every day of the things that I set out to do. I also tried to make them more specific than usual, so that I can actually tell not only when I have achieved them but measure my progress along the way. It must have been preparing for the EVO workshop that subconsciously made me apply Dornyei and Ushioda’s (2012) principles for effective goals to my resolutions for 2017!

In the interests of gaining (extra) and maintaining motivation on the languages and ELT front, I’m going to communicate my resolutions relating to these areas here. Rather than just a list of goals, I am going walk you through the mental process I went through in making them, shaping them from a vague initial idea into something more specific, tangible and therefore achievable.

  • Learn Arabic. I started learning Arabic last year in around October, as I was going to be volunteering at a secondary academy here in Sheffield, working with a number of learners whose first language was Arabic. That fell through (2016 was one of those years?) and after an initial burst of enthusiasm, the Arabic fell to the wayside too. End of story? Evidently not. I didn’t stop wanting to learn Arabic but the related work situation had demotivated me somewhat so mentally it became easier to ignore both. 2017 seemed like the perfect way to reinvigorate it. First I reflected on why I want to learn some Arabic. Initially, it was instrumental motivation (the work situation). Theoretically, that is still potentially the case as ELT in the UK can often involve working with Arabic L1 students. But that vague possibility won’t in itself be enough to motivate me to study Arabic every day. What about enjoyment? Well, I enjoy learning languages (hence currently studying 11 of them, including Arabic) but why Arabic? I think it appeals because it is (to me) so different. It has an alphabet that doesn’t look like anything to me. Just as English has an alphabet that doesn’t look like anything to Arabic L1 speakers when they first encounter it. I am interested in the process of learning a language with a different alphabet. So, going back to my “Learn Arabic” goal, being as I am not a genius I am not going master Arabic in one year, not even nearly. So if I left my goal at that, I would be setting myself up for failure. I need to make it more realistic. How can I do that? Make it more specific. So my goal became: “Learn to read the Arabic alphabet and speak/write some basic words and phrases.” That seems entirely more realistic, it reflects my motivation for studying, progress will be measurable (by way of the number of letters and eventually words I can recognise and produce – which, by the way, there are more than you might think as they change a little depending on whether they are at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a word!), it is challenging (did you read what I just wrote in the last set of brackets?!). My completion date is 31/12/2017 but I do of course plan to monitor and decide if the goal should be developed before then. It will depend on my progress: there is room for extension!
  • Continue with other languages. Of course. That would be French, Italian, Spanish, German, Polish, Romanian, Indonesian, Mandarin. Plus the newly added Dutch and Swedish. But for this resolution to make sense, what exactly am I going to do with them? What counts as “continue with”? I need some parameters. For the first five, this means Memrise plus as much reading, listening, speaking and writing as possible. I’ve found someone with whom I will be able to practice my Italian and French, possibly also some Spanish, and as for Polish there is always my sister’s husband to practice with, when I visit them. I’ve catalogued all my DVDs so that although I don’t have the cases for most of them, I know easily what I’ve got and what language(s) I can play them in. For the second five, I’m going to focus on Memrise and shift into using them when I’ve got a bit more vocabulary. (The cool thing is Polish used to be in that category but now it’s in the “I need to use it” category – that’s progress! The other cool thing is that in the series episode I was watching with my housemate today, there was a bit of Mandarin with English subtitles and I heard and understood three words without the subtitles! For me and Mandarin, that is exciting, believe me!) I have ear-marked particular courses on Memrise that I want to complete and obviously goal way-points will be in evident in the number of words/phrases learnt, number of days in a row studying consistently (or “streak” as they call it – for Polish currently 113!) and how well I do when reviewing stuff.
    This was a motivating way-point!

    This was a motivating way-point!

    As with Arabic, I will monitor my progress and adapt the goal/resolution as necessary. For example to make it include having a pop at watching or listening to something in one of the 5 ‘weak’ languages (or 6, counting Arabic!) if/when I feel it would be worth a go.

  • Do lots of CPD. Do not we all start our year with this resolution? And perhaps renew it if academic year and calendar year don’t coincide (i.e. northern hemisphere), or when feeling inspired at the beginning of a new term. At the moment, for me, this is a tricky one. The only work I’ve got at the moment is a bit of private tuition. I had been all excited about volunteering in an EAL setting but that fell through (as mentioned above – and don’t get me started on academy management organisational skills…) which was a bit of a bump to the motivation. Currently I am also tutoring on the EVO course, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, but that is obviously a very short term thing. An interesting one, though, as it combines my interest in teaching listening and my interest in tutoring teachers! So, it would be easy to let CPD slip. In order to avoid that, I need some specific goals, rather than the nebulous ‘do some CPD’. I will be doing two sessions on the Leeds Beckett M.A. ELT Multimedia and Independent Learning module again this semester and I hope also to deliver a version of my IATEFL talk at the ELTC (I do it free of charge in exchange for the opportunity to work on my workshop delivery skills!). IATEFL itself is another focal point for me, in terms of workshops, as, hopefully, will be doing another British Council TeachingEnglish – related webinar. Additionally, each week I want to watch at least one webinar and read something ELT-related. Finally, as my pet project, I want to make some EAP-related materials in advance of the pre-sessional summer school period. As a specific starting point, I want to make some materials to help students become better able to synthesise sources effectively (this inspired by memories of my colleagues and I feverishly looking for any such resources last summer and not finding quite what we were after!). This will require looking again at the demands/criteria that we were trying to help the students to meet, as these would be similar this year at ISS or, if it turns out that way, other pre-sessional courses, reading relevant chapters from EAP Essentials and other such EAP teaching bibles (de Chazal’s comes to mind, though I forget its name!) and of course the actual materials creation and subsequent editing. Keeping with the weekly timeframe, I will expect myself to make tangible progress each week, which I will monitor via a log.

When I went through the mental thought processes described above, I wasn’t doing it with Dornyei and Ushioda’s (2012) principles in mind, but it’s clear that subconsciously they had an influence. And so I should think, the amount of time I’ve devoted to studying motivation, within learner autonomy, and trying to get students started on their autonomous learning pathways! I think as teachers, if we are able to apply what we want students to do to our own learning (of languages, of teaching) and have a clear idea of how to get ourselves from A to B (A being hazy ideas of goals, B being effective goals), we will be better able to help our learners go through that process themselves in the context of their language learning (if they want to then apply it to their New Year’s Resolutions and other aspects of their life, that is up to them!) with the idea that they leave our classroom better able to map and follow their learning goals. There is no one size fits all goal solution but we can help students become better able to set, and by extension meet, their own objectives more effectively.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Do share them in the comments – remember, communicating goals increases the motivation to achieve them! 😉

I hope 2017 is a fulfilling, successful and peaceful year for you all.

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References

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