Valentine’s Day Lesson Idea/plan + materials

For once in my life, I decided to break with tradition and actually do a Valentine’s Day lesson. Turned out to be quite good fun with my Upper Intermediate teens during their last lesson before Valentine’s Day…

Image from wikicommons.org licensed for commercial reuse with modification

Image from wikicommons.org licensed for commercial reuse with modification

This lesson includes a prediction quiz, a video clip, a short philosophical reading, a discussion and some project work. Materials used are all linked to at the end of this post.

  • Brief lead-in: Show slide with a Valentine’s Day picture and a picture of marmite. Ask students what these have in common. (Love it or hate it…) Which camp are they in? Why? (NB: you may want to show a quick clip of a marmite advertisement – I would if I did this lesson again! Unless students are familiar with marmite…)
  • Prediction quiz: In pairs/small groups, students complete the quiz about Valentine’s Day with their predictions.
  • Video clip: Students watch/listen and check their predictions, noting correct answers where necessary.
Click on this picture to be taken to the video clip!

Click on this picture to be taken to the video clip!

  • Check: Students check what they understood in pairs/small groups.
  • Discuss: Students discuss if they are surprised by any of the statistics and why/why not.
  • Discuss: In new groupings, students discuss the two philosophical questions that lead in to the reading.
  • Read: Students read the short text and compare the writer’s views with their ideas from the discussion.
  • Discuss: Students discuss the gist and opinion questions at the end of the text.
  • Produce: Having learnt all about Valentine’s Day, the students, as campaigners, now create their own holiday. (Who is it in honour of? Why? How is it celebrated? Encourage them to make it as zany as possible. Encourage them to incorporate the statistical language from the video clip [in the case of my teens, this recycles the statistical language they met last term]). Students should present their holiday in a poster (for my students I prompted them to use the persuasive language we’d looked at in a previous lesson, so some more review), to convince the government to give everybody a national holiday for it. I also warned them that I (the government) would be asking a few questions following the presentation, which they duly prepared for.

My teens got really in to the final production stage, getting into role as petitioners for their holiday, and they even took a photo of their finished poster afterwards! 🙂

Here are the materials I used:

And here is the holiday that won!

The 'Government' says, "Yes, please!" ;-)

The ‘Government’ says, “Yes, please!” 😉

If you use this lesson with your classes, I hope  you enjoy it! Let me know how it goes by posting in the comments… 🙂

Kaboom! The Explosive Team Review Game (With an added twist…)

I am sure most of you are already familiar with the review game of Kaboom (also known variously as Tornado, Earthquake, and any other non-context-sensitive natural disaster). In this post, I am going to share the adaptations, or tweaks, that I’ve made to it in order to:

  • cut down on preparation time
  • make it more student-centred
  • make it more challenging

The Regular Version

In the regular version, prior to heading to class, the teacher pre-prepares a grid (size decided at discretion – depends how long you want the game to take!). The grid is made of squares, to each of which is allocated one of the following:

  • A question mark – signifies, funnily enough, a question.
  • A flashing B – signifies a bonus (which means 50 free points to the recipient team)
  • The arrows of change – two arrows one above the other, each pointing in opposite directions, signifies the team changes points, either with the other team, or if more than two teams, the chosen team (which is going to be the team with the most points!)
  • A bomb – signifies an explosion of points, leaving the recipient team with zero.

The teacher also prepares a set of questions to ask.

Once in the classroom, the teacher draws a blank version of the grid on the board, with letter and number coordinates. Teams take turns to pick a square and answer a question/receive a bonus/change scores/lose all their points, depending on the square. The game continues till all squares have been revealed. The winners are the team with the highest score.

My Version

Well, it’s the same as the above version, except:

  • The teacher doesn’t prepare a grid before going to class: the teacher draws the empty grid on the board (sized at discretion) and makes up the square contents as he/she goes along. And when the kids accuse you of making it up as you go along, wow them with your amazing memory skills… 😉

This way, you save on preparation time (big deal, it’s pretty minimal, but why not!) AND you get to ham up the drama, orchestrating the changes and explosions etc. to keep it as exciting as possible.

  • The teacher doesn’t prepare a set of questions before going to class: instead, when a question square is selected, the opposing team must come up with the question. How? By working together, looking through their coursebooks/notes and coming up with one.

This way, you save on preparation time AND you wind up with a bunch of teenagers avidly looking through their books/notes either in order to make up a question or preparing themselves to be asked. Encourage them to be crafty: the harder the questions, the less likely the other team is to get points. They try really hard to come up with tricky questions and do a lot of reviewing in the process, with lots of whispered discussions regarding vocabulary definitions and grammar points, and how to make them as difficult as possible. The game becomes less teacher-centred too.

  • The teacher breaks down the question squares in to ? (free question), ?G (grammar-related question) and ?V (vocabulary-related question)

This is so that the students don’t get stuck in a question-type rut. It also serves, in this way, to up the challenge level. If your class were still not coming up with enough variety of questions, then you could throw in a few ?T (teacher-generated questions) as well! This would also enable you to draw attention to a particular language point/piece of vocabulary that you wanted to review, without having to prepare all the questions/make the game entirely teacher-centred.

Here is an example of a game in progress: 

Kaboom!

Kaboom!

This was with my upper intermediate teenagers class. They are a small class (currently) and so only two teams were necessary. Being quite high-level, they were doing well with regards to question variety so I hadn’t inflicted any ?T squares at this point. Here, you can see the different types of question squares, the bonus squares, the arrows of change and the bomb squares.

All in all, Kaboom! is a great review game. It’s easy to tweak the amount of challenge according to the level of your learners, and children, teenagers and adults all get caught up in the excitement. Finally, I may be biased, but I think it’s even better with my tweaks! 😉

Enjoy! 

An added twist! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

An added twist! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

Christmas Fun!

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

1. Christmas Play!

How the Elves saved Christmas

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

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

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

Elf hat

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

m2

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

2. A letter of complaint to Santa

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

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

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

3. Christmas Debate

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

🙂

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

2 simple ideas for adapting your course book

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

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

1)

Course book activity:

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

My adaptation:

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

Benefits:

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

2. 

Course book activity:

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

My adaptation:

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

Benefits:

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

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

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

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

Autonomous learning (5): Games learners can play (autonomously)!

This is the fifth in a series of posts whose goal is to explore ways of helping learners develop their language skills autonomously. The first two posts are specific to listening. The first post, which focuses on perception of connected speech can be read here , the second post on dictations as an autonomous learning tool here. The third was on the topic of “text mining” and can be read here while the fourth post was on using Graded Readers as a means of autonomous language and skill development. This post expands the series even further (!) to look at games as an autonomous learning tool. 

Games are widely used in the language classroom – as warmers, as stirrers, as lead-ins, as a means of practice, as review…and so the list goes on. This post looks at games as an autonomous learning tool:

  • What games can learners play on their own?
  • What games can learners play collaboratively via platforms such as Edmodo, Blogs or Wikis?
  • What games can learners play on other websites?
  • What value do these games have?

These are based on activities I’ve done with learners and activities I’ve done/am doing as a learner (of Italian). None of them are sufficient on their own, of course, but I believe each of them could become one of the many little pieces that make up the mosaic of language learning.

What games can learners play on their own?

Games are not the first thing to come to mind when you think about learning on your own. However, there is plenty of fun to be had in autonomous learning. Here are a few ideas:

Scrabble

Alone? Why not!

  • Get hold of a cheap scrabble set (I picked up a set of magnetic letters for about £6 on Amazon recently) or any game that constitutes a set of letters (e.g. Bananagrams) and play! Even if, like me,  you don’t have the scrabble board, as long as you assign each letter a score, you can create your own scoring system. You can also combine sets of letters and make a bumper game…
Bumper-scrabble!

Bumper-scrabble!

  • Get hold of an app! There are lots of free or extremely cheap word-game apps available. I picked up one with multiple dictionaries so that I can play in Italian. It’s nice to have a board and to have the scoring done for you, but on the other hand you can’t randomly decide that you’re going to work with 10 letters rather than 7 to give more scope for word-creation! NB: yes, you may need to be Player 1 AND Player 2… Some apps offer a solitary option, others not!
Scrabble App! (Rex verbi)

Scrabble App! (Rex verbi)

Benefits:

  • Trying to make words out of any given set of letters has you drilling yourself for every piece of vocabulary you know!
  • More time spent focusing on the target language – and every little helps…
  • Fun! = An extra thing to do using the target language that doesn’t seem like “study”.
  • Sometimes you make a word that you remember exists but can’t remember the meaning – then you look up the word and remind yourself of the meaning. This helps take the word from that borderline between recognition and production closer to production.

 Magnetic Poetry

  • Get hold of a set! There’s nothing quite like sticking alllll the magnets onto your fridge…then wondering what to do with them next. Seeing how many words/stems you know is a good start. Categorising them comes next. Into words types. Into ‘words I recognise’ and ‘words I use’…then try to use the ones you only recognise so that you can move them over. Make sentences. Make poetry. Make anything you feel like… 🙂
I particularly enjoyed classifying All The Words...well, nearly all!

I particularly enjoyed classifying All The Words…well, nearly all!

  • Use it online: Here learners (of English) can play with magnetic poetry pieces for free online. With 6 kits to choose from, there’s no shortage of words! Learners of Italian have to satisfy themselves with the real life version. Ah well! 🙂
Screenshot from Magnetic Poetry Online (http://magneticpoetry.com/pages/play-online)

Screenshot from Magnetic Poetry Online (http://magneticpoetry.com/pages/play-online)

Benefits:

  • Trying to make phrases or sentences out of the various words/stems has you drilling yourself for every piece of language/possible combinations of language that you know!
  • More time spent focusing on the target language – and every little helps…
  • Fun! = An extra thing to do using the target language that doesn’t seem like “study”.
  • Creativity that sidesteps the blank page syndrome: Having a load of words to start with, and making a game out of using them, makes production less daunting.

Storyonics

  • Get hold of a set: Storyonics is essentially a pack of cards, each of which has 4 pictures on it. Each picture is surrounded by a different coloured rectangle. But the same 4 colours per card are used throughout the pack. The game is to make a story using the pictures on the cards. You can use all the pictures on each card, or for the quick version each player chooses a colour and only has to incorporate the pictures ringed with that colour into the story. As an autonomous game, you can pick a colour (or two!), or try to use all the pictures, to make a story. You could record yourself re-telling the story, with the cards laid out in order as a prompt. You could attempt to upgrade your language in the re-telling: use more complex language, use more features of spoken narrative etc. Over time, you could compare your attempts and progress.
Storyonics!

Storyonics!

  • Make a set!: It’s a simple concept. And with resources like ELTpics, making your own needn’t be too difficult. Learners could make a couple of ‘cards’ each and share them in an Edmodo group or other collaborative tool e.g. Google docs, thereby jointly producing a pack. Learners could then compare the stories they come up with…

Benefits:

  • Stimulant for language production: This game acts as a stimulant for extended language production. Telling stories in another language is challenging but rewarding. Difficult at first, practice makes, well, not perfect but certainly for an improvement!
  • Potential for language upgrading: Retelling a story and recording oneself doing it (which is very easy with technology these days) provides an opportunity for language upgrade.

Bingo

  • Make a Bingo card: use recently learnt language, focus on a particular element of language, etc. Watch or listen to something suitable. (E.g. an action film might not be the best thing if your Bingo card is full of news vocabulary…) Tick off any of the language that you hear.

Benefits:

  • Active listening vs. passive listening: You may not hear all your chunks but you can be sure it’s going to make you listen to whatever it is you are watching/listening to super-carefully!
  • Simple, straightforward and free: All you need is a pen and a piece of paper, as well as whatever it is that you are going to watch.

Quizlet

  • Create sets of flashcards and play games with them online or on your mobile phone/tablet. It could be words and definitions, it could be phrases, it could be language you have picked up from reading/listening that you want to be able to use productively as well as recognise, it could be language based on a particular point (for me, recently, such a point was personal pronouns!) …

Benefits:

  • Fun: Quizlet is a fun way to study vocabulary. (As with anything else, as the sole means of learning, it is insufficient, but as part of a varied diet, it’s very valuable…)
  • Recycling: Learning vocabulary requires repetition and exposure to that language in context. Drilling yourself on Quizlet keeps it fresh in your mind so that you can look out for it while reading or listening extensively.

For more about Quizlet and how to use it, see this post.

My Quizlet Sets!

My Quizlet Sets!

Shadow-reading

  • Acquire an audiobook with accompanying text. E.g. a graded reader. For more challenge, go authentic! Play the audio and attempt to shadow read. How many sentences can you keep up for?

Benefits:

  • Helps make you more aware of different pronunciation features and sound-spelling relationships. I recently discovered that I had been pronouncing (Italian) third person plurals completely wrongly without realising it. This activity helped me to discover that on my own.
  • Helps to develop your sense of rhythm of the language.
  • Gives you experience of producing language at speed, physically.
  • Fun! Often ends up with a bit of a tongue twist. But over time, the tongue twist happens later and later.

What games can learners play if they have access to classmates via tools like Edmodo?

There are lots of things that classes of learners can do outside of class, if they are using a tool like Edmodo  as part of their course. Here are a few:

Out of context

  • A learner picks a word or phrase out of something they have been reading or listening to and posts it on Edmodo.
  • Other learners try to put it back into context – turning it into a sentence, a question, a couple of sentences, seeing who can get closest to the original.
  • The original poster can help by giving clues. E.g. the number of people involved, the mood, the location etc.

Picture stories

  • A learner opens the story by posting an opening sentence or two, then linking to or copying in a picture.
  • The next learner must continue the story with a sentence or two, somehow incorporating the picture into their continuation and then link to another picture.
  • And so the process continues, with learners adding text and pictures to the thread.
  • The end product is an illustrated story.

Define me, describe me

  • For inspiration a learner can gather a bunch of random objects or find several pictures with lots of things in them, online.
  • The learner sets a timer for one or two minutes and defines or describes(orally) as many things as possible, recording him/herself doing so.
  • Next, the learner posts the recording on Edmodo. Other learners should try to guess what the things are.
  • Over time, learners can look back at their own recordings and see if they can improve the definitions/descriptions or correct any errors, and compare earlier and later recordings to identify progress.

Picture dictation

  • A learner writes directions to draw something, without identifying what it is, for other learners to follow.
  • The other learners attempt to follow the directions and post their drawings in response to the original poster, together with guesses as to what they have drawn.
  • The original learner looks at what is produced and may or may not wish to refine their directions…

Benefits:

I am grouping the benefits for these collaborative activities, as there is plenty of overlap.

  • Development of spoken and written fluency, through extensive use of language.
  • Encouragement for learners to think about/in the target language.
  • Encouragement for learners to use language more between classes.
  • Motivation for learners, as studying becomes a bit more fun and language production isn’t threatening.
  • Language play: playing with language can help give learners more ownership over the language as they manipulate it in different ways.
  • Of course, as with all the other activities in this post, any given activity is insufficient on its own but as part of a varied died of activities, the end result is increased input and output of the target language.

Scaffolding

Many of these activities are based on activities commonly used in class. Using classroom counterparts and encouraging learners to try out the activities at home, perhaps through getting them to make a learning contract with an ongoing cycle of experimentation and discussion, learners may be more likely to do these kinds of activities unprompted in their own time, thus supporting their in-class learning.

Conclusion

Games can form a valuable part of a varied diet of language learning activities. There are games that don’t require the presence of other people and other games that can be realised via tools like Edmodo which enable learners to connect with each other outside class time. Providing adequate scaffolding is important in order to get learners using these types of activities independently, to support their language learning.

If you have ideas for other games learners could play on their own or collaboratively via tools like Edmodo, please comment and let me know about them! 

Autonomous learning (4) – Graded Readers

This is the fourth in a series of posts whose goal is to explore ways of helping learners develop their language skills autonomously. The first two posts are specific to listening. The first post, which focuses on perception of connected speech can be read here , the second post on dictations as an autonomous learning tool here and the third on “text mining” can be read here.  The first two posts focus on listening, the third on autonomous use of reading and listening texts, and, in keeping with my expansion of the series focus, this post is focusing on graded readers as means of autonomous learning – language development and skill development

What?

 Graded readers are books that are written in the target language, graded to suit learners of that language rather than being geared towards native speakers of that language. They exist for a range of levels, generally corresponding to those within the Common European Framework of Languages. Graded readers often (but don’t always) contain activities related to the text, either dispersed throughout the text or gathered at the end of the book.

A variety of well-known publishers have published collections of graded readers, information about which can be found on their websites. Here are some links to the graded reader sections of some of the publishers that do graded readers:

 Choosing a Graded Reader

As the list of links above might suggest, there is no shortage of choice where graded readers are concerned. Of course each publisher produces one or more different types of graded reader. Graded readers can be:

  • a text, graded to a particular level.
  • a text and an audio disc recording of the text.
  • a text, an audio recording of the text and questions/activities that accompany the text.
  • an e-book, with above-mentioned features integrated.
  • probably other versions exist as well…!

I recently discovered that graded readers do not only exist in English for learners of English but in other languages for learners of those languages. Including Italian! The main focus for this post will be book-plus-audio graded readers, based on my recent experience of working my way through Villa dei Mughetti, published by Black Cat.

Screenshot from Blackcat-cideb website

Screenshot from Blackcat-cideb website

Having worked my way through a graded reader, I now feel a lot better placed to help my learners get the most out of theirs, where before I tended to leave them to it, within the remit of my reading project.

In terms of choosing a graded reader, availability will be the major factor. When I bought my graded reader, in Palermo, it was the only one they had in Italian! I would recommend choosing one that comes with an audio recording, if possible, as this is a very valuable additional resource. Fortunately for me, Black Cat readers generally seem to come with accompanying cd.

Getting Started

My top tips for getting started with a graded reader would be:

  • Locate the answer key for the accompanying activities (if you have a version with activities!): with some, that’s as easy as checking the back of the book and finding that they are there. With Villa dei Mughetti I had to go to the Black Cat website, register as a teacher and then I was able to download them. Not the easiest, and if students are expecting the usual back-of-the-book scenario, they may be a bit perplexed and therefore a bit of help might not go amiss!
  • Decide how to begin: Think about your goals in using the reader and the different approaches you could take (dependent on what kind of graded reader you have chosen). Decide which approach(es) you want to try.

Different Approaches

Here are some approaches a learner could use:

  1. Read through the text without looking at the questions.
  2. Read the text and answer the questions/do the activities as you go along.
  3. Listen to the complete audio cd without looking at the questions or text.
  4. Listen to/read a section first, then read it/listen to it, then answer questions as you go along.
  5. Listen to a section first, then answer questions, then read it to check.
  6. Listen and read simultaneously, the whole text, without looking at any questions.
  7. Listen and read simultaneously, answering the questions as you go

A learner might use the same approach throughout or vary the approach from chapter to chapter. As mentioned above, learners’ goals will/should influence the choice of approach. For example, my dominant approach was to listen to a chapter, do the activities, read to check, then mark the score-able activities using the answer key. I.e. (5) above. My goal was to work intensively on my listening.

Here is how I perceive the above activities could match to different goals:

  1. Extensive reading
  2. Intensive reading/language work
  3. Extensive listening
  4. Supported intensive listening/reading (depending which you are stronger at and which you are weaker at, the other supports it)/language work
  5. Intensive listening/language work
  6. Sound-spelling awareness/pronunciation
  7. Sound-spelling awareness/pronunciation, plus comprehension/language work.

It could be useful to discuss different approaches with learners, to raise awareness of how different approaches map to different learning goals. Encourage them to experiment with different approaches and report back to their peers, so that they are encouraged to reflect on their experience of trying the various approaches – they could initially all experiment with the same approach and then compare notes, even if they were all using different graded readers (provided the graded readers all had the same resources e.g. audio and activities), and then move on to deciding which they prefer, or they could all experiment with whichever approach they wanted to and report back on whatever they have done. They could also group themselves according to what approach they wanted to try.

This experimentation and discussion would fit in quite nicely with both my Experimentation with English and Reading Project approaches. As mentioned in those projects, it needn’t be very time-consuming in class.

Graded Reader Activities

In Villa dei Mughetti, there was a chunk of activities at the end of each chapter. Each chunk included a mixture of score-able and un-score-able activities.

There were:

  • Comprehension activities: T/F; Y/N; ordering events; matching utterances and characters etc.
  • Language focus activities: grammar explanation plus practice activity, vocabulary activities e.g. matching pictures and words, a crossword, matching words and definitions etc.
  • Productive skills-focused activities: each chunk of activities had both a writing activity and a speaking activity.

Comprehension activities

These are straightforward and can be done as a reading exercise or a listening exercise. If learners choose to listen and answer the questions, as I did, it would be useful to encourage them to use the text as a transcript to identify why they make any mistakes. Of course this would be easier for them to do if you have done with them in class before, in your listening lessons.

Language focus activities

Vocabulary: learners need to be selective in deciding what to do with the vocabulary that the activities encourage them to focus on. Is it vocabulary they want to actually learn? It won’t necessarily be – some of the vocabulary in Villa dei Mughetti was very random and I wouldn’t choose to focus on it sufficiently for it become part of my productive linguistic resources (e.g. names of flowers whose names I don’t even know in English – I’m happy for the flowers to be pretty, I’m happy enough to learn what the names are in Italian, but I’m really not fussed about *learning* all their Italian names.)

So, if the vocabulary isn’t useful, that’s fine, do the activities and move on. However, if is vocabulary that learners want to learn, then they  need to do something with it beyond the activities in the book. For example, input it into Quizlet and use the various study and game modes; try to use it in the writing activities etc.

Grammar: This (at least in Villa dei Mughetti) is generally based on language/examples from the text. If a learner is familiar with the grammar and gets all the questions in the practice activity right, great. Move on but don’t forget to look out for more examples, in context, in the ensuing text and in other texts that you encounter. However, if there are a few mistakes, it could be worth using a website or book with grammar explanations and activities, to try and clarify any misunderstanding. Once it’s under control, at least on a declarative level, it’s even more important to look out for further examples of it in context – in future chapters and other texts (written or spoken). In this way, the grammar activities become diagnostic, either confirming what you are familiar with or acting as a springboard to working on what you are less familiar with.

Productive skills focus activities

These activities, at least in Villa dei Mughetti, are the un-score-able ones. I’m of the opinion that self-study material doesn’t have to be score-able to be useful, so I am glad these activities feature in my current preferred graded reader series!

In order to get the most out of them, it is useful to have tools to use alongside them: i.e. a blog for the writing and a voice-recording tool (e.g. Audioboo, Audacity, a mobile phone, vocaroo etc, for the speaking. That way, you can collect your writing activities on your blog, and accumulate a series of voice recordings too. If using a website to record your voice, you can usually link to the recording in your blog, or if you make files on your computer, this can usually be uploaded. Evernote could be used in a similar way.

This enables progress to be charted. You could also encourage learners to share blog links with each other, and compare their production. Or, if you use Edmodo with them, they could post things on it instead of creating blogs etc. Of course a class blog could be used too. Once learners have reached the end of the graded reader, they could go back through their recorded written and spoken activities, to see if they can identify progress and identify/correct any errors.

Some of the activities might seem a bit lame (in my limited experience) but they may be able to be combined, with a bit of imagination. Thus, as you might have picked up on, I don’t think it’s necessary to complete the productive activities before moving on to the next chapter. As long as you are doing the activities regularly, then it just becomes a matter of how it best fits the time frame you have available. Writing a text takes longer than answering a few T/F questions, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop doing the T/F questions until you have time to do a longer activity.

Other Activities

Graded Readers can yield activities beyond those contained in the book (if it’s the type of reader with activities):

  • Dictations: A great additional use for the accompanying audio disc. Dictations may not immediately come to mind as a potential activity but actually it works well, as the language is graded to the reader’s level and it tends to be read clearly. Of course it won’t be a dictation speed or with built in pauses, but as one has control of the recording, one can repeat a short passage (a minute at most) multiple times and see how many times it takes to get everything done. If the activity is repeated at regular intervals, comparisons regarding number of times necessary can enable progress to be tracked. Comparison with the transcript, as with standard dictations, can indicate weaknesses in decoding skills.
  • Writing/speaking: As mentioned, those in the book may not seem the most exciting, but the concept is sound. So, if a group of students are using the same graded reader, then get them to come up with alternative ideas for productive activities, that they actually want to do. You as the teacher could collect these and over time build up a collection of supplementary materials to share with future students. If your school has a library of graded readers, copies of those materials could live with the collection of readers.Students may be concerned about lack of feedback with the productive activities, so it may be useful to explain that a) it’s still a useful activity even without feedback, as it helps the development of fluency (of writing or of speaking) and b) it’s also useful to go back over the texts produced (written or spoken) and see if any mistakes can be identified, especially as time passes and language level (hopefully) consolidates.
  • Gapping the text: A bit more work is involved with this activity, but it should be worth it. Learners type up a small portion of the text. (A similar length to that used for the dictation) and then gap some words. This could be words that they struggled to hear/decode the first time round (to facilitate this, after they listen to a chapter, do exercises and read to check, they could also check if they read anything different from what they had heard. Alternatively, listening first and then listening/reading simultaneously to compare). It could be chunks relating to the language/grammar point in that chapter, or a previous chapter. It could be any chunks that they understand but wouldn’t produce unprompted, that they think might be useful to activate. (See my post on text mining for more information about this approach.) Students then leave the reproduced, gapped text aside for a while. Later, they come back to it to play the audio and attempt to fill in the gaps. (NB: If you think this would be too easy, I can only say that I have done something similar with dictations: I’ve listened, made mistakes, identified mistakes through transcript comparison, marked mistakes but not corrected them, left it aside for awhile, come back to it and tried to listen and correct the mistakes – now gaps where something is wrong – and struggled! Generally I’ve been able to correct some and still failed on some, even though I’ve seen the correct answer previously.)

Is it extensive reading?

Some might argue that with all the activities breaking the text into small portions, reading graded readers doesn’t count as “proper” extensive reading. However, I would say that:

  • a graded reader can still be used for extensive reading/listening if the text is heard/read through first time round without using the activities. Or, after the activities have all been done, one could read/listen through the whole text without stopping for activities, enjoying a greater understanding of the text.
  • a graded reader is a beneficial learning resource that can be used as well as more traditional texts. E.g. I read other things to read extensively and use my graded readers mainly for intensive listening. As with anything, alone it might be insufficient but as part of a varied diet of activities, including extensive reading/listening without activities, it can be very valuable.

So, I don’t think it’s such an important issue to worry about. As long as students are aware of different ways of using their graded readers, of how these ways map to different learning goals, which may change as they progress through their graded reader, and, finally, of the benefits and limitations of graded readers as learning resource, then they can use their graded readers as suits their purpose and get as much out of them as possible.

Conclusion

Graded readers are a rich resource of learning, perfect for autonomous study. This is particularly true if you have access to an audio recording as well. A wide range of approaches can be used with a graded reader, depending on learning aims. There is also potential for a students to do further activities not stipulated by the graded reader, and create supplementary materials for use with them. Both the process of creation and the use of these can be another valuable part of the process of using a graded reader. Some teacher guidance could be helpful in enabling learners to make the most of their graded reader, through a cycle of experimentation and metacognitive discussion. This could be achieved without the graded readers necessarily becoming a teacher-led/controlled activity.

I’ve really enjoyed using my graded reader in Italian and look forward to using more! (And, I confess, I do still have a couple of productive activities to do – one of which is next on my agenda for this afternoon!) I also look forward to being able to help my learners get more out of their graded readers when I re-launch my reading project at IHPA in October! 🙂

If you have any more ideas for helping learners use graded readers more effectively as an autonomous learning tool, please share them by commenting on this post. 

Autonomous skill development (3) – text mining

This is the third in a series of posts whose goal is to explore ways of helping learners develop their language skills autonomously. The first two posts are specific to listening. The first post, which focuses on perception of connected speech can be read here and the second post on dictations as an autonomous learning tool here . This post doesn’t focus specifically on listening skill development but I have decided to include it in this series as it focuses on an autonomous learning activity. So I hereby declare the series focus expanded! 

The inspiration for this post is in part my own language learning and in part a workshop I attended this afternoon on developing speaking fluency. Text mining was one of the techniques mentioned, in terms of being a way of supporting learners to complete speaking tasks more successfully. As I understand it, learners use a text that has previously been exploited for listening/reading and highlight language that they do understand but wouldn’t use themselves unprompted. The idea is that they can then carry the language over for use in a speaking task on a similar topic. Beautifully simple. It was one of several techniques for lessening cognitive load and enabling learners to use more complex language. And, I imagine (and as was suggested), motivating for learners to be focusing on the language that they do “know” in a text, rather than only the language they aren’t familiar with, which is usually the case. I gather the idea, as explained to us today, originally came from this talk by Joan Saslow at IATEFL in 2013

So that was the workshop. What excited me is that “text mining” is something I have been doing myself, autonomously, on a regular basis this summer, in my Italian learning. Only, I hadn’t given it a label, it was just something I do and have found a lot of value in, particularly because of what I’ve done with the language mined post-mining. So the focus of this post isn’t on text mining as a means of working on spoken fluency in the classroom, but on text mining as an autonomous activity for bridging the gap between receptive and productive skills.

Aims:

  • Develop productive language resources
  • Expand vocabulary
  • Develop language awareness

Materials/tools:

  • Texts! Of any description – the more varied, the better.
  • Quizlet
  • A blog or similar

Procedure:

  • Encourage learners to read and listen extensively (for a start!). Ideally a range of texts – authentic original, authentic translations (i.e. books translated from another language into the target language, not for a language learning audience) graded readers, non-fiction, written, audio of whatever description, the more varied the better. (I’m currently actively in the middle of two books (one original Italian, one translation into Italian), two audiobooks (both translations into Italian), a science-y/technology magazine  (authentic Italian) and a graded reader (Italian for learners!), currently! As well as the inevitable dvd.)
  • Get them to highlight language that they understand but don’t produce, that could be useful for them to produce. (So that they don’t just highlight everything. Part of the trick is being selective. And how you select obviously depends on purpose, amongst other things. I don’t have a specific purpose for learning Italian but I select chunks because I can imagine myself wanting to express that meaning when I converse in Italian once I’m back in Sicily. I also select chunks if they include a structure or language point that I’ve come across and started learning about – so for example the subjunctive or use of prepositions. Of course when purpose is considered in this way, then it will probably vary from reading/listening occasion to reading/listening occasion. E.g. I won’t always be on the look out for prepositional phrases but for a spell I might be. Then I’ll move on to a new focus.)
  • Obviously if that was it, it would be a bit useless. A sort of “ah that’s a nice chunk…ok, bye bye chunk.” The trick is recycling. And lots of it. Of course seeing it used (or if not specifically it then a variation of it – that often happens) in further reading/listening is great – but if you’ve forgotten about it you might not notice it and you are also unlikely to produce it. In order to avoid this, I like to use Quizlet. I input the chunks – so already that makes me focus on them some more – and then I use the learn mode (generally on my iPad because I prefer the mobile app learn mode to the website learn mode) to help me memorise them a bit. That way, I’m more likely to remember them when I come across them again. And I do! Come across them again, that is.
  • Still not enough. Further steps much depend on the chunk. I have variously  i) tried to manipulate it if it is not a fixed chunk (could I make it refer to another time frame? could I make it stronger or weaker? how formal is it? what is a more/less formal way of expressing that? could I change the context of use/topic?) ii) tried to use in the little blog posts I write on my Italian post iii) tried to use in conversation – currently limited to Facebook chatting but once I’m back in Sicily…! iv) used it while talking to myself. And I really do think talking to yourself in the target language has value. It may mean you are crazy, I don’t know, but it’s a great way to experiment with language in a very non-threatening way. Doesn’t even have to be aloud, can be internally, in your head. I usually do it aloud when I’m cycling to and from work! I do it internally at various other times. v) used it during my weekly self-recording speaking sessions. vi) tried to use all my linguistic resources, including those acquired in this way, in my solitaire “scrabble” games. Over time, I become aware that these chunks, that I wouldn’t have produced before, have made their way into my active productive language resources.

So, it’s pretty simple really! But the keys are:

*The* keys! :-) Image taken from Google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

*The* keys! 🙂 Image taken from Google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

  • Variety of activities – for genuine recycling. And I think language learning contracts may play an important role in this: I didn’t do a wide variety of learning activities regularly until I made myself a contract, and it is only through making myself (initially) follow that contract that I discovered how useful variety is. They started off as discrete individual activities on a list, but by doing them and learning more about them and how to benefit as much as possible from the interplay between them, they have now become a sort of language learning web, catching new language for me. I think in terms of scaffolding learners, then my Experimenting with English project (or anything along similar lines) could be helpful too.
A web for catching language! image from commons.wikimedia.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification.

A web for catching language! image from commons.wikimedia.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification.

  • Being on the look out for “your” language. So that when you hear or see it, you get that little glow of recognition.
  • Being willing to talk to yourself and experiment with the language that way. And talk to others too, when the opportunity arises.
  • Some memorisation. (It’s useful! Insufficient on its own but valuable as a component of a larger approach)
  • Being selective – or you highlight the whole book/article/whatever. And I think this would be the most difficult thing for learners. However, perhaps this is another facet of the activity as described in the opening to this blog post, as a classroom activity for scaffolding speaking. Perhaps it can be used as a way of helping learners become better able to use it as an autonomous learning activity. I.e. get them to discuss what chunks they’ve chosen and why. How could those chunks be useful?
  • Having time off: I still do a lot of “just” reading. I’m not reading to stop every ten seconds to highlight. If a chunk really stands out, I’ll grab it. But because of how this seems to work, even when I’m “off” – I’m still very tuned in to noticing any language I’ve grabbed previously. But I don’t transfer it to Quizlet immediately necessarily. Sometimes I do –  if it’s a – to me – particularly yummy piece of language and my computer is to hand. But often I let a handful “build up” and then transfer them over and start working on them. So, it’s not intrusive to the reading.

I think on it as a sort of “active” reading/listening – rather than just letting it all wash over me, in the hopes that some might stick, I’m actually doing something to start making it stick.

Does it work?

For me, yes. Absolutely. My productive language resources have increased a lot since I started my language learning contract (i.e. doing a variety of activities including text mining) My receptive skills have improved too, but I think this approach has helped the gap between my receptive and productive skills to not widen in the process. “Process” is perhaps the key word. This is more of an on-going process than an activity, really. More of a mindset that I’ve developed, which I think is useful for approaching language learning.

For other learners? Further research is needed!  I shall be experimenting come October… Meanwhile, try it out with your learners and let me know!

Learning Contracts and Language Learning (part 2): how I’ve used one and what I’ve learnt (other than a lot of Italian!)

On the 4th June this year, a day after I arrived back in the UK from la bella Sicilia, I considered the potential utility of learning contracts and then proceeded to make myself one, with the vague goal of maintaining my Italian while in a non-Italian-speaking environment:

This is my learning contract, dutifully copied and pasted into Evernote.

This is my learning contract, dutifully copied and pasted into Evernote!

And here are the research questions that I also had in mind when I made it:

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 19.43.10

I wondered…

I also promised an update regarding my use of my learning contract, and its effect on my learning, one month on. And here we are, one month on! That was quick. I am happy to say that learning Italian has become a regular feature in my days and weeks, despite the last two being swamped by induction into a new job and first week doing said job.

But the big question is…

Have I managed to keep to my contract?

Pretty well, yes!

There were two days in the first week where I didn’t manage to do my extensive listening, because I wasn’t organised and I was on the move. (By lack of organisation, I mean I hadn’t got as far as putting something in Italian on either my iPod or iPad, so couldn’t listen on the train, which was the only free time I had on those days.) Apart from that, I have mostly stuck to it. The first week was the most difficult because I spent several days not quite getting on with it. I was on the move, so even the easy bits like extensive listening weren’t easy logistically, and as for the rest, basically there were all these activities many of which I wasn’t in the habit of doing, and I just wasn’t sure which to start with. However, as the week wore on, I decided I had better pull my finger out and managed to do everything on my contract just in time. The second week and onwards, I’ve got stuck in right from day 1 of the week, and have managed to fulfil the contract with time and activities to spare. Except for Saturday 28th June, when I was at a conference and the train ride was spent finishing preparations for that, and on a bit of extensive reading, and the rest of the day was full of conferencing and catching up with one of my friends from my M.A. course who was also attending. Extensive listening fell by the wayside again! (Even though I had Harry Potter e la Pietra Filosofale on my iPad! If only the journey had been half an hour longer…)

Harry Potter is good for journeys - as long as there isn't a conference I haven't prepared fully for at the other end of the journey...

Harry Potter is good for journeys – as long as there isn’t a conference I haven’t prepared fully for at the other end of the journey…

I would give myself 97% success rate of sticking to the contract. (My maths isn’t great but there were lots of successful days and only three non-successful days.) Also, with regards to extensive listening and reading, on the majority of days I have done more than then stipulated 20 mins a day.

What difference has it made to my learning?

  • It’s pushed me to do a variety of activities which I wouldn’t otherwise be doing: and, in doing this variety of activities, over time, I’ve noticed how they can feed into each other and used this to my benefit. [And this is exactly what my Experimenting with English project is based on: encouraging learners to do a variety of out-of-class activities through scaffolding experimentation!]
  • It’s enabled me to do a lot of language recycling: I’ve noticed that language I pick up in a given activity (e.g. doing dictations) I sometimes meet in my input activities (e.g. extensive reading/listening) or I’m able to use productively (e.g. writing my blog or chatting on Facebook messenger)
  • It’s motivated me: If I didn’t need to do all those activities each week, I wouldn’t be waking up extra early to get something done before going to work, for a start! And I’d probably just be drifting along reading and listening a bit. Also, the noticing (bullet 1) has become another motivating factor – I love it when something I’ve learned from one activity crops up in another!
  • My  productive vocabulary is growing: for starters, I take language from input-based activities and use it, rather than just recognising it ad nauseum. Quizlet has become my friend, I put a lot of language into it and use it to drill myself. But I particularly like the mobile app, which I use on my iPad, and specifically within that, the learn function. It gives me a prompt and I have to type in the Italian. If I get it right, I get a green tick and it goes to learnt, but I have to get it right a few times before it goes to mastered. If I get it wrong, it highlights the mistakes and then corrects them. I like that because it makes the errors vs the correct version really visual. Eventually they all transfer to mastered and you get a percentage score based on your accuracy during the process. I have scored 100%…once! The increase in my productive vocabulary has helped me feel more confident in my speaking and writing. (Speaking in terms of chatting on FB messenger and in terms of recording myself speaking. I also chatter away to myself in Italian while cycling to and from work each day – but perhaps I shouldn’t be admitting to that! :-p ) I use Quizlet a lot more often than once a week now (most days in fact!) and have 6 sets so far:
My Quizlet Sets!

My Quizlet Sets!

  •  It’s given me a sense of control over my learning: I chose the activities, and how I fit them into my week is flexible. I think a week is a useful unit. It means you can have slightly more and less productive days, though by the nature of my contract some stuff needs to be done every day, as long as within a week you do everything you stipulated in the learning contract. The quantity of stuff encourages piecemeal chipping away at it. Also, by keeping a record of what I do each day, I know exactly where I am with my list and what I still need to do in any given week. I manage my study time accordingly.
  • It’s give me a framework for my learning, yet it is flexible: Since starting with my LC, I have experimented with activities not on the list too. For example, a trip to Foyles bookshop resulted in the purchase of a set of Italian Magnetic Poetry, which has taken up residence on my fridge. The first thing I did was classify them all into (from left to right) adjective stems, noun stems, verb stems, conjugated verbs, verb/other endings (I started out just with “verbs” but there were too many!), prepositions, articles, pronouns, adverbs, question words, conjunctions, and expressions/negatives. There were also a few I didn’t know what to do with (the column starting celeste) and the cluster I wasn’t sure of the meaning of (to the right). They were all mixed up on sheets that I had to break into individual words. This classification activity was very satisfying:
I particularly enjoyed classifying All The Words...well, nearly all!

I particularly enjoyed classifying All The Words…well, nearly all!

I have also used them to try and make actual sentences:

fridgemagnetsinuse

How many mistakes can you spot? :-p

I haven’t used them as much as I would have liked though. One of my goals for the next month is to experiment with them and try to find different ways of using them.

Buying this set of magnets got me thinking about word games in general, and that started a little trend. First I got out my bananagrams game and did some solitaire criss-crosses:

My first attempt!

My first attempt!

There is a cluster of useless letters to the right, which I had to remove, and then two letters I was unable to use. The canny amongst you will notice there are 2 “z”‘s there: that was a mistake – first I thought there was only one “z” as per Scrabble and thought there weren’t any words with only one “z” (I could only think of double “z” examples) and by the time the second one emerged I had forgotten about the first. In the second game, I managed to use up all but one letter:

Only one left out!

Only one left out! Although looking at the picture now, why didn’t I just make “tu” using the “t” in “ripete”?! I didn’t suss the whole “z” thing till game 3…

I didn’t complete these games in one go, of course. I just added a word here and there when I came up to my room (where the table is). My justification for these little forays: It’s all incidental use of language. I thought about Italian and Italian words slightly more than I otherwise would have done: couldn’t hurt. Also had me drilling myself with all the words I could think of, trying to find one which would match whichever letters I had at the time! And finally, it’s FUN! 🙂

I also picked up a very cheap set of Scrabble Fridge magnets. Now, there’s no room on my fridge (for obvious reasons) but that hasn’t stopped me using them to a play a very odd version of Scrabble:

Strange Scrabble

Strange Scrabble

It was fun to introduce scoring into the equation, however strangely the scoring worked. Of course, now I have a hankering to play real Italian Scrabble with an Italian Scrabble set and ideally an Italian opponent! 🙂

  • I’ve discovered more about how the activities I do can be useful. A good example of this is dictations: dictations are back in fashion these days, various versions (e.g. running, shouting etc. dictations) are popular in the classroom, and some websites offer learners the opportunity to use them outside the classroom too. I hadn’t thought about dictations as an autonomous listening development tool, but through using them myself, I have understood more about their potential, which resulted in this blog post. This is something I will be able to pass on to my learners.
A dictation: If you want to know what all the highlighting and colours are all about, click on the picture...

A dictation of mine: If you want to know what all the highlighting and colours are all about, click on the picture…

What have I learnt so far?

  • Variety is great: Doing a variety of activities increases exposure to language, productive use of language and recycling of language in different contexts. This can’t be a bad thing.
  • Regularity is great: Working with the unit of a week, and having a fairly lengthy list of activities, study periods need to be regular for me to get through it all. Little and often has worked well. (With the odd longer session thrown in on the rare occasions where time has permitted!)
  • Record-keeping is key: It’s so much easier to operate when you know what you’ve done and what you want to do within a given time-frame. Having a record of activities done (and lengths of time where relevant) is also motivating, as the list grows.
  • Reflection is satisfying: I did a written reflection each week, looking back on the week and what I’d achieved as well as how I felt about my progress. It’s very satisfying to reach reflection day each week and look back on a week full of activities and the new relationships emerging between said activities.
  • Activities don’t have to involve “meaningful use of language” to be meaningful and valuable: As long as there is variety and within that variety there are activities which do involve meaningful use of language, other activities e.g. Quizlet and dictations etc. have their place too. Both, for example, have improved my spelling! Quizlet has improved my recall, dictations have improved my decoding skills.
  • How activities interact is also key: Within a variety of activities, it’s helpful if you can link them together, and thus wind up doing a lot of language recycling. E.g. picking up a phrase through a dictation activity and then using it in a Facebook chat.
  • Real communication is hugely motivating: I’ve enjoyed several chats on Facebook, with an Italian IHPA colleague of mine. Chatting with C. has given me the opportunity to experiment with the language that I’ve picked up through other activities and get feedback on what I produce. It’s also been a lot of fun, nice to keep in touch, and the source of a lot of learning. As I said, I’ve taken language from other activities to the chats, but also vice versa – e.g. recording what I thought were “good” phrases on Quizlet and using it to learn them. I’m particularly lucky because she uses a range of error correction techniques, and for the majority of the time these a) make me think and b) don’t disrupt the flow on the conversation.

Goals for next month:

  • Continue following the LC!! It’s working so far, can it work for another month or will I lose interest?
  • Experiment with the magnetic poetry and figure out how to make it work for me.
  • Investigate Italian corpora/concordancing tools (they must exist!) and find one that works for me: when I learn new words, I often think it would be really useful to have an Italian version of www.wordandphrase.info to generate a bunch of examples of that word/chunk in use, so that I can see how it used, rather than only knowing what it means and say one example of use.

Conclusions thus far:

  • My first research question remains unanswered: a longer period needs to pass before I’ll know whether the LC has helped me maintain motivation over a longer period!
  • My second research question seems to have been answered positively thus far: Yes, I have managed to do what is on my LC and then some, and yes it has definitely made a difference!
  • For the naysayers: You could argue that the motivation is also coming from the fact that I really want this LC to work. But, on a daily basis, that isn’t what is motivating me – my motivation is mostly from enjoying the mixture of activities and using the language (which I love!), and from the satisfaction of doing what is on the LC and producing my lengthy record of things I have done, which lives in Evernote and is growing into a source of lovely smugness :-p :
The smugness of doing... ;-)

The smugness of doing.. 😉 [an extract from Evernote]

  • Overhauling my Experimenting with English project: Well, I was going to do this anyway, but now I have a bunch of activities that I’m very keen to add to the handout as well as more ideas for how to use it with learners! But that will have to wait until September when I’m back at good ol’ IHPA! (Meanwhile, I’m experimenting with applying my understanding and experience of learner autonomy development to a very different context: Sheffield University summer pre-sessional course, but that’s a whole nother blog post…)

Next update due: 5th August 2014: I shall report back on all my goals and progress with my LC then.

Meanwhile, have I convinced you to try using learning contracts/the concept of pushing experimentation with a variety of activities, either for your own language learning or with your learners? If so, let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post! I would also be interested to hear anybody’s thoughts on what I’ve been up to so far, whether or not you plan to try anything I’ve mentioned… 🙂

My top 10 resources for learning about and teaching pronunciation

Pronunciation has been referred to as “the CINDERELLA of language teaching in that it has been neglected, and become disconnected from other language learning activities” (Underhill, 2010). Yet, it is known to exercise an important influence on all four  language skills, not only speaking: when we read, we “sub-vocalise” words, or hear them in our mind;  when we listen, our awareness of pronunciation will affect what we are able to hear and how the sounds we hear are represented in our mind. When  we write, knowledge of sound-spelling relationships comes into play, as we hear the words internally first. (Hancock, 2013; Underhill, 2010). This all-encompassing element of teaching is the focus of the latest post in my “ELT Top 10’s” series. 

So here we are:

My top 10 resources to help you get Cinderella to that ball! (Click on any picture to be taken directly to the corresponding resource.)

BOOKS:

 

1. Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill

Screenshot from Amazon

Screenshot from Amazon

This book is fantastic. I came to it with nearly zero knowledge of phonology and little idea of how to teach pronunciation effectively. It revolutionised my approach to teaching pronunciation and reading it marked the beginning of an interest in this element of teaching that continues into the present. It’s written in a way that makes it accessible to anybody, regardless of knowledge level. It is a guided discovery to phonology and pronunciation, and contains a great number of activities that you can do alone to enhance your own understanding, or with your learners to help them develop theirs. There is also a “classroom toolkit” of further activities designed for classroom use. A word to the wise, though, don’t read it in public: it will get you making noises and faces that you may not necessarily want to share with the general public! 😉

2. Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca by Robin Walker

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 08.11.04

Screenshot from Amazon

This book recognises that pronunciation is no longer connected only with native speaker speech and sounds. English has become a globalised language, a lingua franca, and in many contexts learners will use it with fellow non-native speakers rather than native speakers. Have you ever wondered about the practical applications of Jennifer Jenkins’ lingua franca core? Do you know about English as a lingua franca but struggle to see how to apply this in the classroom? Then this book is for you. It also comes with an accompanying audio CD of sample speech from 15 ELF speakers, which you can put to various uses, helped by the book.

3. Pronunciation Games by Mark Hancock

Screenshot from Amazon

Screenshot from Amazon

A collection of games for teaching different aspects of pronunciation, this book is a must-have for any staffroom. The games are divided into three sections: 1. Syllables and stress; 2. Sound awareness; 3. Connected speech. Each game comes with complete instructions and photocopiable materials for you to take into class with you. Why not play the games with a colleague before using them with your students, so that you know what to expect? This book is completely different from Sound Foundations, being materials rather than theory-based, but both remind us that pronunciation need not be dry and dull, and provide us with a way to make it stimulating and engaging.

ONLINE RESOURCES AND ASSOCIATIONS

 

4. The Adrian Underhill online bundle!

 

a. Sounds: the pronunciation app

Screenshot from the Macmillan Sounds app website

Screenshot of the Macmillan Sounds app website

An ELTon award winner in 2012, this wonderful app is aimed at learners of English but can be equally as useful for teachers. You can hear the sounds on the chart, example words with those sounds in them, record&play back your own pronunciation, practice your phonemic spelling (great if you don’t know phonemic script and have embarked on a Delta!) and use a variety of quiz modes to test yourself on what you’ve learnt. It also comes with extra materials such as lesson plans and tips from the brilliant Mr Underhill, himself. (Can be used on both Apple and Android operating systems. Free version with fewer features, paid version at £3.99)

b. Adrian’s Pron Chart Blog

Screenshot of Adrian Underhill's pron chart blog

Screenshot of Adrian Underhill’s pron chart blog

So you’ve discovered the wonderful pron. chart and now you want to know what to do with it, how to use it with your learners and generally find out more about the marvellous world of pronunciation. This blog would be a good place to start. Here, you can learn all about how to integrate the chart into your lessons and how best to help your learners get their mouths around pronunciation. (Free resource)

c. A youtube video of an Adrian Underhill pronunciation workshop

Screenshot of Adrian's workshop youtube clip

Screenshot of Adrian’s workshop youtube clip

…And if you want to see it all in action, in the flesh, have a watch of this great youtube clip, in which Adrian demonstrates a range of techniques for making pronunciation more physical and visible for learners – and teachers! (Free resource!)

 5. ELF Pronunciation

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 09.10.54

Screenshot of the ELF Pronunciation blog

This blog is maintained by Katy Simpson and Laura Patsko – two teachers with an interest in teaching pronunciation to learners who need English as a lingua franca, who won’t be speaking to native speakers in the majority of their interactions. They have come together to create this fantastic resource for other teachers. From non-native speaker models to adaptations of well-known games for learners (so that the games become more ELF-friendly) to information about resources such as BBC Voices, and more, this blog has something for everybody. It’s full of practical, helpful information and materials for taking ELF pronunciation into your classroom, and it’s free! Can’t say fairer than that.

6.  English Communication Global

Screenshot: English Communication Global blog site

Screenshot of English Communication Global 

This is Robin Walker’s site. On it you can find a mixture of great resources e.g. articles, links to books that may be of interest, materials, blog posts – so it is not just the services offered, although these may be of interest to you too e.g. coaching for presentation-giving and INSET training workshops. Well worth having a look!

7. Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

Screenshot of Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

Screenshot of Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

This website is maintained by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald, successful speakers and materials writers, and is a pronunciation treasure trove of quality content. You can find talks, materials, activities, blog posts, articles and more, all related to pronunciation and related issues. And, it’s free! So what are you waiting for? Get discovering and experimenting!

8. Teaching English British Council

Screenshot of TEBC Pronunciation Articles page

Screenshot of TEBC Pronunciation Articles page

The Teaching English British Council website has a collection of articles relating to pronunciation that would be worth reading if you want to extend your knowledge and understanding in this area. All freely available! If you are interested in English as a Global language, due to the effect this has on pronunciation teaching and, indeed, all other areas of teaching, then don’t forget to have a look also in the research publications section, where you can find The future of English as well as other publications, all freely available to download.

Screenshot of The British Council phonemic chart

Screenshot of The British Council phonemic chart

Another interactive phonemic chart, this time by The British Council and freely available to use online, in addition to being downloadable as an app.

9. IATEFL Pron. SIG

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG's website

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG’s website

If you are interested in pronunciation, you might like to think about joining IATEFL’s Pron. SIG. This would connect you with like-minded individuals and entitle you to receive Pron SIG newsletters too. Like other IATEFL SIGs, you can expect webinars and pre-conference events around your area of interest.

The Pron. SIG also have a Facebook page which you can “like” for free:

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG Facebook Page

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG Facebook Page

Again, this is a great way to connect with others who have a keen interest in all things pronunciation-related and keep up with any new developments in this area of teaching.

10. Online learner dictionaries

 

Screenshot of Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary

Screenshot of Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

 

Screenshot of Macmillan Online Dictionary

Screenshot of Macmillan Online Dictionary

 

Screenshot of Cambridge Learner's Dictionary

Screenshot of Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary

And finally, let’s not forget the venerable online dictionary. These days, online learner dictionaries, such as those pictured above, are very complex affairs, dealing with the wide range of crucial elements that are involved in “knowing” a word. One very useful element within these dictionaries is the combination of the phonemic spelling provided with each word, with the sound file. So you can see the phonemic script and listen to a recording of the pronunciation. Both of these are usually given in both British English and American English versions. 

As usual, there is no doubt that I have inadvertently omitted some quality resources from this list – so if you have a burning desire to have something (a book, an article, an online resource) added to this collection, please do comment below! 🙂 

References:

Hancock, M. and McDonald, A. (2013)  Adrian Underhill on pronunciation as the Cinderella of ELT published on their blog.

Underhill, A. (2010) Pronunciation – the poor relation? Teaching English British Council website

 

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

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

Little things...

Little things…

little things...

Little things…

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

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

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

ceri pic 1

my little purple notebook – © Ceri Jones

One little thing …

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

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

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

Here are a few examples:

Post-its in action

Post-its in action – © Ceri Jones

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

ceri pic3-2

post-its and question words – © Ceri Jones

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

Ceri pic 4

question words in context – © Ceri Jones

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

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

Thank you, Ceri!

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

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