Mental Health in ELT – the discussion continues…

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about mental health in ELT, sharing links to various newspaper articles that point to an increase in mental health problems within education in general, among both teachers and students, and sharing my own experience of poor mental health in the workplace. I am pleased to now share with you all the good news that the topic of mental health, which we can all agree is a very important one, will be the focus of at least one session at IATEFL.

Phil Longwell will be doing a talk about mental health, part of which will draw on the results of a survey that he has published in order to collect qualitative data relating to this subject. It would be great if as many people as possible complete the survey, as this would provide an interesting insight into the state of mental health of teachers in various ELT contexts. I encourage you all to complete the survey and look forward to hearing about the insights gained when I attend Phil’s talk next year.

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IATEFL Webinar – “Research is for teachers? You must be joking!”

I have a geeky liking for research so my interest was piqued by the title of this IATEFL webinar by Richard Smith of Warwick University, so I decided to attend. It was an interesting way to spend an hour on a grey Saturday British winter’s afternoon. Here is what I managed to catch with my ears and fingers: 

Richard aims to offer positive solutions to the research – teaching gap. He wants to advance the claim that there can be research for ELT Practitioners but we need to rethink how we think about research in some ways. He wants to focus on teacher research.

Background:

There have been articles recently and last year in the ELT journal stating that research is largely irrelevant to teachers. Richard did a poll for what we think from strongly agree to strongly disagree 1-5. It can’t be denied that there are many teachers that would agree with this. R isn’t going to go over all the arguments in the articles by Medgyes and Maley. Teachers say researchers just talk to one another, research isn’t accessible to teachers, we have to pay for access to them and even then they are written in a language we can’t understand, while researchers say they need to be precise, use a precise language, hedge, show the complexity of issues. The argument can go back and forth, with quite a lot of heat. If you look at the articles to Medgyes and Maley, you will see there some good responses, some supportive and some against.

Richard thinks there is a lot of truth in the idea that a lot of research is not so relevant to teachers but there are some quite bad stereotypes regarding what research is, imagining it as positivistic and experimental, but also imagining that researchers are very far from teachers. Smith sees himself as a teacher, a teacher educator and a researcher, and this is how he has always seen his role. He feels that in his work he relates what he is doing to how he was as a teacher and how he is now as a teacher, and that other researchers do too. He thinks we need to find a middle way where we are not stereotyping or dichotomising researching and teaching.

He did a poll regarding “not all applied linguistic educational research is relevant to teachers”. Which was mostly agreed with. He said that suggests that some research IS and shifted the focus to that more positive direction. He showed us this:

In this book, Palmer was trying to set up something like applied linguistics, a research field of study that would help teachers to found their teaching or base their teaching on firmer foundations. In the book is a lot of complex jargon but also it’s an explicit attempt to link science and language teaching. 1917 is considered the beginning of a scientific period in language teaching that went for at least 50-60 years, and you could argue still continues now. How can we improve language teaching through reference to background disciplines? A past example is the audio-lingual period, based on ideas that linguistics can provide answers to language teaching in a very direct way. There were also things going on before Palmer:

Non-native speakers in France wanted to use phonetics, something from linguistics, in the classroom, as something helpful for language teaching. The indispensable foundation for language teaching according to Henry Sweet.

According to Palmer, we don’t lack method, we lack the basis for the  method. He wasn’t a dogmatic methodologist, he believed that we needed research to have a rational basis for decisions regarding what is good in different contexts. For different kinds of classes or students. Prabhu, in India, has said the same thing – that there is no one best method, we need different ways of teaching to meet different needs. However, this has not always been the case, there have been plenty of people with attachment to one particular method or another, in a quite dogmatic way. Palmer says we don’t just take from background disciplines, we have to as practitioners confirm and justify these principles by putting them to the test of actual and continual practice. As a teacher, in Belgium, he explored the possibilities of various methods, one after another, adopting and discarding one or another as the result of research and experience. He was an action researcher. In 1922 he went to Japan and founded the Institute for Research in English Teaching.

This institute involved many Japanese school and university teachers and was like a teacher association. There were annual conferences. They issued “The Bulletin”. He also put out books e.g. English through actions.

It was just one way. There were different ways, and the idea was for the teachers to pick and choose.

Michael West was another person who worked in a similar way, in Bangladesh, producing especially reading materials. He and Palmer were both active in the development of extensive reading, and reading material for teaching a foreign language language e.g. graded readers. Palmer’s materials influenced Hornby’s approach (situational language teaching).

<My internet died briefly at this point so some more information along this vein is missing. I pick up with the return of my internet below:>

1970s – there was a golden age of good links between theory and practice, in terms of applied linguistics in the UK. This was when communicative language teaching was developed. Smith says it was perhaps unfair of Maley to say there was nothing coming from research to teaching. There was a lot of good linkage but nevertheless there is a perception that the two sides have grown apart again. The ‘problems’ regarding English language teaching are now ‘bigger and wider’, maybe?

Smith says we can try to change the situation and this is the focus for the next part of the talk. He talks about a project that started in 2009, whereby British council recognised that real world concerns of practitioners not being addressed by research. So, they wanted to do a survey of ELT research. They were keen for the project to look for research that is relevant to English teachers. ELT research was defined as:

He did this with Sheila Rixon. They were interested themselves, as they didn’t know what research was going on that wold be relevant to teachers. The answer was, more than you might expect. The project has now finished, so the database is no longer updated but at the time a lot of research was going on around testing, much by Cambridge Assessment/CRELLA. There was also a lot of research being done by publishers to find out more about materials and target markets, but that isn’t published research. There was not much research into English for young learners. Which is a paradox as it is the most widely taught across the world. There was also not a lot of research into language teaching in developing countries except by visiting PhD students. Finally, there was also not a lot of teacher research published.

Positive ways for bridging the gap that Smith has seen:

  • TESOLacademic has recorded keynote speeches and made them freely available.
  • ELT research bites (E.g. Language Teaching in the past)
  • Blogs e.g. by Scott Thornbury, Geoff Jordan who mediate between research and teachers, making it more accessible.
  • There are also an increasing number of open access journals/articles/chapters.

However, there is a perception that research is still very much removed from teachers.

Smith argues that we should take the idea of ELT research further. Define it more strongly as research for ELT practitioners. He thinks it has started to happen in some ways. British council has started some research awards:

He puts forward something that sounds good in theory:

And says he has seen it in practice. E.g. researcher/teacher collaboration. Allan Waters was very keen on this idea. It doesn’t go on as much as it should but there are some positive examples. University/training college partnerships and teacher association research are other possible contexts for this. Encouraging teacher research is another form of this reconceptualisation of research.

Teacher research is:

In the context of these debates, teacher research has come up to some extent but could be addressed more. It’s quite common for teachers to say they don’t have time, researchers may look down on it. Smith doesn’t want to go into that today. Instead, he wants to share some of his own experience in introducing teachers to teacher research. He has come to see it as a useful and important way to address and solve (to some extent) problems. We need to address the images that teachers may have about research not being for them but for scientists, involving a lot of reading and report writing. We need more appropriate definitions, images and models of research.

Here are defintions that he has used with teachers:

If we use definitions like this, we can start to show teachers that research is something they carry out in their everyday lives.

This is something Smith does in his teaching fairly often:

Do we think it is research, he asks. Data is collected. Categorising is analysis of data. It’s useful for him. Does research have to be shared widely? Not necessarily? It’s also feasible for teachers to do.

Research is exploration, he puts forward. Feasible for teachers even in difficult circumstances. With a group of teachers he went through the following process: What are the problems? Turn the problems into questions. Try to answer the questions. Go away and try out some of the ideas put forward in the answers.

Exploratory action research – The Champion Teachers project in Chile. This was a more gentle introduction to action research, ensuring that the action would come from the exploration of the context. He didn’t have time to talk us through the example but you can read about it in British Council open access book about exploratory action research.

If you are interested in this topic and want to know more:

  • In January/February there is an Electronic Village online where there will be aClassroom-based research for professional development. The link to it is on the page of links here. It is free and gives you guidance on doing classroom based research. They will have 25 voluntary mentors. It takes place over five weeks from January to February.
  • There is also a Facebook group for Teacher research.
  • There is the Research SIG.

Here are some useful links that were shared in the “Links” part of the webinar platform by various people:

From the Q and A at the end:

Coming up with questions related to the situation – what is bothering you? Un-peeling the onion of the situation. Asking yourself questions and then finding the answers by collecting and analysing data. (Exploratory) Then you plan some change, try the change and analyse what happens (action research).

If it is so close to practice and what we do anyway, then why call it research? Is the word research itself the problem?

It does have the connotation of being far from teachers, reflected in the arguments that go on, Smith has been arguing that it shouldn’t be seen in that way. Research can be an empowering form of inquiry into what goes on in the classroom. ELT research can include teacher research and university researchers who work with the concerns of teachers, with a coming together in the middle. This goes back to the collaborations that he spoke of earlier. We should aim to find the middle ground.

If you attended (or are Richard!) and think I got anything down wrong, do let me know so I can edit it! Thank you Richard and IATEFL for a great webinar. 

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!

IELTS swap-shop at the ELTC

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

There are a number of us teaching IELTS afternoon classes at the ELTC this term, so I thought it would be a good idea for us to share ideas to use in IELTS classes. With the help of the TD team at the ELTC, this was duly organised and took place on Wednesday 11th October. I kicked off by sharing a couple of my go-to activities and then everybody else followed suit.

I also promised to provide a written record of the workshop, for everybody to use as reference. Therefore, this post is a write-up of all the ideas that emerged, both for my colleagues to refer back to and for anyone else out there blessed with IELTS classes to dip into, divided up by skill to make it more user friendly.

Writing

1.

I’ll start with mine! Nothing spectacular but it worked well with my group…

Aim:

To encourage students to look at their feedback carefully rather than burying it in their bags never to be seen again. To create the need for students to ask when they don’t understand an element of the feedback (rather than ignoring it), hopefully rendering future feedback, presented similarly, more useful.

Procedure:

After writing feedback on a set of Part 1 or Part 2s, as part of the marking process, T makes a checklist based on common errors the students have made. Save this for later.

In class, group students in 3s or 4s, hand out the pieces of writing and have them look at their feedback. They should use the feedback to make a group checklist of things to remember next time they do a similar piece of writing. (To do this successfully, they need to understand their feedback. T monitors and provides further explanation when needed.) When students have finished, regroup them so that each new group contains one student from each of the previous groups. They should compare their checklists and add any extra items. T hands out the pre-prepared checklist for students to compare with their own (or in my case, as marking time was short and I hadn’t quite got round to typing up the checklist, I put it on Google classroom the next morning for the students to access at home!).

2.

Aim:

Familiarise students with the writing marking criteria and help them become better aware of their strengths and weaknesses in relation to these.

Procedure:

Give students a handout with some sample feedback comments together with the marking criteria headings (see example below). In groups, students look at the sample comments and decide together which of the criteria they affect.

They can then look at a piece of writing you have given them feedback on and categorise your comments in a similar way. In doing this, they can see which criteria they have most/least positive/negative feedback within and thereby see where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

3.

Aim:

Encourage students to focus on paragraph construction/organisation.

Procedure:

Put students in groups and give them a part 2 question to brainstorm ideas for. Give each person in the group a topic sentence for a possible paragraph for that essay question. They add the next sentence and pass it on. This continues for a few sentences until the paragraph is complete. In order to add their sentence, the students have to read the paragraph carefully and understand where it is going. They will also have to look at the language used carefully, in order to use rich lexical chains rather than repeating a particular word over and over across sentences.

Once the activity is finished, stick the paragraphs up around the room then get students to walk round in pairs to look at and analyse them. (You can give them/elicit a checklist of things to look for). On the basis of this, they decide which paragraph is best and why. You could then ask them to look at a paragraph of their own from a previously marked piece of writing and analyse it in a similar fashion.

4.

Aim: 

Get students using chart/graph language for part 1 and give students practice in understanding what is happening in such visuals.

Procedure:

Students draw a chart or graph but don’t label it. T redistributes the charts so that each student has another student’s chart or graph. They they then have to analyse it, decide what is going on and create the labels. The charts/graphs are redistributed again and this time students have to pick out 3 features and write about them in part 1 fashion. Once finished, the charts/graphs and accompanying paragraphs can be stuck on the wall for students to walk round, analyse (elicit what criteria they should use first, of course) and rank.

Speaking

For speaking, I brought along a print out of my Part 2 Speaking Game , which aims to encourage students to speak for a full two minutes, and my colleagues brought the following:

1. 

Aim:

Develop fluency and use of vocabulary (using the game “Just a minute”)

Procedure: 

Give the students this handout/similar to familiarise students with the game and elicit the rules:

Once they have understood the goal and rules, brainstorm a list of IELTS-style topics. The students then use these to play “Just a minute”. The repetition factor applies only to content words/ideas.

Variation:

Rather than having students interrupt the speaker for the repetition/hesitation, the speaker is encouraged to speak for a minute uninterrupted and, at the end of the game, the other two students in the group score him/her based on how much/little repetition/hesitation there was.

2. 

Aim:

Work on expanding responses to IELTS speaking questions

Procedure:

Brainstorm and write on the board as many IELTS topics as your class can think of between them. Students then mingle, find a partner and ask that partner a question about one of the topics on the board. The response should be well-developed but the student who asked the question should also ask follow-up questions to encourage further expansion. Before they start, tell students that they will have to report back a few interesting things they find out, to encourage them to listen carefully too. You might also like to model expansion, to give students a clear target. T monitors and does delayed feedback on the end, commenting on expansion, use of vocabulary etc not just grammatical errors.

3.

Aim:

Develop fluency in speaking

Procedure:

Prepare sets of cards, with one IELTS speaking topic per card. Students pick a card and have to speak about the topic for a minute. Then next time, they have to speak for a minute and a half. Then two minutes. This helps them to build up the length of time they can speak for. The topics can be broad e.g. “holidays” or you can make it harder by making the topic more specific or restricting the time frame.

4.

Aim:

Work on planning/preparation for speaking part 2

Procedure: 

For homework, students choose an image that relates in some way to whichever topic you have been looking at in class. They should also prepare some notes that will help them speak about that image. Restrict the size of the paper they can use, to something of the size that they will get for an IELTS part 2 speaking exam task. In class, everybody uploads their pictures to Google classroom, in order to project them for everybody to see, and then students take it in turns to stand up at the front of the class, and use their notes to speak about the image.

I then made the suggestion that students organise their speaking part 2 note paper as follows:

The idea is that in the pressure of the moment, when they glance down at their notes while speaking, it will be easier for them to keep track of whether they  have spoken about all the required elements. Credit to my ex-DOS Jonny Ingham, an IELTS speaking examiner,  from whom I got this idea while teaching IELTS at IHPA! He said the students who use the note-making time effectively always out-perform those who don’t, as the response tends to be better organised and clearer.)

Reading/Listening/Vocabulary

1.

Aim:

Develop the skill of matching paragraphs to headings.

Procedure:

Give each pair of students one paragraph between 2 from an IELTS reading text. (Depending on how big your class is and how many paragraphs the text has, you may have more than one pair with the same paragraph. This doesn’t matter.) Students look at their paragraph, discuss it together, and write down a few key words that sum it up. Only once they have done this do you then distribute a list of the headings, one of which belongs to their paragraph. Using their key words, and looking again at their paragraph, they decide which heading is theirs. They must agree and be able to prove their answer to the class i.e. be able to explain how the heading corresponds with the content/vocabulary of their paragraph.

Variation:

Instead of giving students a paragraph, give out just the topic sentences of each of the paragraphs and the list of headings. Again, they must work together and decide which heading goes with the topic sentence they have by noticing how the words in the topic sentence correspond (positively or negatively) to the words in the headings.

2. 

Aim: 

Encourage students to identify the wrong answers in a reading or listening, as a way to help them identify the right answer.

Procedure:

Students work together to look at a multiple choice question/it’s possible answers and see which wrong answers they can identify by using the text. “It can’t be c) because it says x while in the text it says y” With listening, this can be done whole class by (re)playing short sections of text in order for students to focus on one question at a time.

Variation: Before playing a listening text, have students look at the questions/possible answers and have them discuss what they would expect to hear if each of the choices were the correct answer. They should think about different ways of expressing the answers.

3.

Aim:

Expand students’ vocabulary

Procedure:

Every time you use a text in class, follow up reading skills work by getting students to call out any words they found difficult and boarding them. They then need to do some word work – find synonyms and opposites, word families, useful expressions etc. Get them to keep a notebook where they can group vocabulary by topic.

Variation:

After looking at a text, tell students that they need to know all the vocabulary in it as you will test them on a random selection of words from it in the next lesson. If they don’t know any words in it, they will need to go away, find out what the words mean and learn them.

4. 

Aim: 

Develop students’ awareness of collocation

Procedure:

Before a listening lesson, look at the transcript of the listening text and pick out up to eight good collocations (you don’t want to overdo it!). After students have done the listening exercises that go with the text, dictate the first half of each collocation for students to write down. Play the listening again and students should listen in order to write down the second half of each collocation. Once they have got them all, get students to use the collocations by making sentences/asking and answering questions etc. Draw attention to any cases where they should be avoided in writing (e.g. if they are too informal).

Resource recommendations

Two particular books were mentioned as go-to books:

1. 

IELTS Resource Pack 

Has lots of useful speaking (also a good resource simply of [almost] endless speaking topics if you are at a loss) and lots writing activities that encourage interaction.

I would have mentioned it if one of my colleagues hadn’t. One of my favourite activities involves students looking at two part 2 essays, both of which contain a mixture of good and bad sentences, and identifying which are the good so that they finish with one good part 2 essay. There are also some good part 1 writing activities.

2.

IELTS Testbuilder

This has good explanations for reading texts regarding why certain answers are wrong, why the correct answers are correct etc.

Final tips…

1.

With the map questions in listening, take advantage of the box sizes – a big square won’t be a little cafe, a tiny square won’t be a shopping centre etc.

2.

Don’t forget task repetition: using speed dating/speaking ladders can facilitate task repetition within speaking activities, which will have a positive effect on fluency and complexity.

3. 

I will cheekily add: Don’t forget my Useful links for IELTS post for a wealth of IELTS-related links, and my Top 10 resources for teaching IELTS  might be of interest too.

I hope this post is useful to some of you. Do any of you have any go-to activities or resources for IELTS? If yes, please do share them by using the comments box below this post.  🙂 

(To my colleagues: if I have missed anything or got anything wrong, please let me know and I’ll make changes accordingly. Scribbling things down and then subsequently trying to decipher them may not be the most reliable method but it was all I had!)

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!