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

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

Student-generated card game!

 

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

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

Level:

Pre-intermediate (but adaptable)

Preparation:

None!

Materials:

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

Procedure:

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

Benefits:

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

Ideas for adaptation:

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 20.47.59

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the handouts:

This one is for learners who use Edmodo

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

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

My comments about the handouts: future directions

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

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

 

 

Verb patterns, curiosity and pre-intermediate learners

This is an activity I did with my pre-intermediate learners today, to give them extra opportunity to use the verb patterns that we had looked at in their previous lesson, in a more personalised way. It doesn’t require much preparation, as it mostly draws on learner-generated content – as well as their natural curiosity! What it does require is lots of use of the verb patterns in question, including questions and, potentially, third-person structures.

Time:

+- 40 minutes (could have run for longer but 40 minutes was sufficient)

Materials:

One teacher-made model:

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.58.03

image of “me” taken from openclipart.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification; bubbles from powerpoint shapes!

One learner handout:

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.58.13

Here is the power point that I made with both (so that the teacher one can be adapted and projected/printed, while the learner one can be printed…)

 Language focus:

Verb patterns – specifically:

  • I want to – infinitive
  • I’d love to – infinitive
  • I enjoy – verb-ing
  • I’m fed up with – verb-ing
  • I hope to – infinitive
  • I’m thinking of – verb-ing
  • I’m looking forward to -verb-ing. 

[although adaptable to whichever verb patterns you’ve been looking at which can be personalised…]

 Procedure:

  • Elicit the target verb patterns (that you have looked at in the previous lesson) and board them (if using projection, then in an area of the the board that is not used by the projector screen!) in categories according to pattern.
  • Either project, or hand out printouts of, your teacher model.
  • Put the learners in pairs and get them to look at the model.
  • Tell them these are your answers to the sentence stems given by the verb patterns.
  • Get them to ask you questions in order to guess which stem/pattern each answer/thought cloud corresponds with. (The answers are bare infinitives so there are no linguistic clues and learners have to put the answers into the correct form according to the verb pattern).
  • Encourage them to find out more about the answer once they have guessed correctly:

E.g. :

Learners: Do you enjoy speaking Italian?

Teacher: Yes but there’s something I enjoy more! Guess again!

Learners: Do you enjoy going horse-riding?

Teacher: Yes, I do! Very much!

Learners: Do you do it here? Where do you go? etc

  • Once they have finished guessing and quizzing you, hand out the blank student handout for learners to complete with their own ideas.
  • Put them in pairs (get them to work with a new partner)
  • Ask them to take turns asking questions (and finding out more about their partner’s thought clouds once they have guessed correctly) until they have correctly guessed all of the clouds.
  • Monitor and collect feedback for a delayed feedback slot.

Optional extra:

  • Regroup the learners so that each new group consists of either person A or person B of each of the AB pairs from the previous activity.
  • Ask learners to tell their new group what they’ve learnt about their partner, using the verb patterns.

(I did this with one of my pre-int classes today – the one that had already had progress test feedback because they’d done their tests promptly, and therefore didn’t need class time allocating to that today – following the delayed feedback slot from part one of the activity, and it gave them a chance to act on the feedback I’d given.)

My IH Journal column no.2: learner autonomy and metacognition

My IH Journal (International House Journal) tagline is as follows:

“To celebrate my 30th birthday (18/06/2013), I made an attempt to identify 30 things that I’d incorporated into my professional practice over the preceding year. 30 is quite a large number, but having spent an academic year at Leeds Metropolitan University learning vast amounts while tackling the Delta integrated into an M.A. ELT, I thought I should be able to pinpoint any number of things and by doing so, it would reinforce them in my mind as well has creating a record to look back on. Despite the final length of that blog post, each of the 30 items was only briefly treated. In this column, I revisit that blog post, selecting items and expanding on them.”

For my second column, which recently appeared in issue 36 (Spring 2014), I focused on learner autonomy and metacognition. As I get lots of searches relating to metacognition leading to my blog, I thought I would post a link to this column for any who are interested in this area and that of learner autonomy.

The contents page shows the wide variety of articles and columns that IH Journal has to offer – something for everybody to read, so why not have a look?

Enjoy! 🙂

Review board-game for advanced level learners

I used this simple board game that I made, with my advanced level learners, to do some post-progress test review with them. It worked well, so I thought I would share it here for anybody else who might like to use it. It took an hour for three learners (my 50% attendance rate for today’s class!) to play the game together.

It covers the following areas:

  • Compound nouns from phrasal verbs
  • Language for adding emphasis
  • Inversion
  • Passive distancing
  • Responding to news

It is based on Units 5 + 6 of New Headway Advanced 

Instructions:

  • Put learners in groups of three.
  • Each learner needs a coin/counter and one coin is needed for use by all – to determine the number of squares a player should move forward.
  • All learners should put their coins on square 1 – “Go!
  • Tell learners to take it in turns to toss the central coin. If it lands with the “heads” side facing up, then they should move forward one space. If it lands with the “tails” side facing up, then they should move forward two spaces. If a square has already been landed on and the question answered correctly, that square becomes a “dead” square. Exceptions to this are those squares which require creativity! 🙂 In the case of a “dead” square, the learner would move to the next “live square” beyond it.
  • Each time they land on a square, they must follow the instructions in that square. If they answer incorrectly, they must go back to the square they were in prior to tossing the coin.
  • For the squares that require learners to take a longer speaking turn, to discuss a topic/tell a story, monitor and collect feedback to do a delayed feedback phase with the class at the end of the game.
  • For the other squares, monitor and settle any disputes that may arise!

Have fun! 🙂

Innovation in education: looking for learning (British Council Associate blog post 3)

For my third blog post as a British Council Associate, I chose the topic of innovation in education.

This was the brief:

As learning technologies become more and more ubiquitous in our teaching, how can we ensure that pedagogy is at the centre of what we do to increase learning? What tools do you incorporate into your teaching and how do you ensure they help learning?

I shared the approach I use to ensure that the tools I use help learning, and to ensure that pedagogy remains central, using Edmodo and Wordandphrase.info as examples.

To read my blog post, please follow this link.

To see other blog posts I’ve written for the British Council, please follow this link. (Topics so far are: “Course books in the classroom: friend or foe?” and “How does blogging help you to be a better teacher?”)

Thank you, British Council Teaching English, for letting me post alongside some really great bloggers.

Holidays, a song (“Brighton in the Rain”) and the good ol’ present perfect!

I first learnt about “Brighton in the Rain”, by Robert Campbell and Jonathan Dykes, from my CELTA tutor at Sheffield University, many moons ago.

When I first used this song, I struggled to find a recording – lots of googling led me to a discussion thread/feed where it had been mentioned and emailing the person who mentioned it finally scored me a copy. (Thank you, whoever you are! I can’t remember your name or where I found that obscure thread, but it was good to get my hands on the song at last!) Of course, nowadays it’s freely available on youtube.com and various other websites – like so much else.

Anyway, faced with a grammar-heavy few pages of course book (present perfect central!), I dug it out – the first time in a while! – and used it with my pre-intermediate students to lighten it up for them a little. Topic-wise, it feeds nicely in to what comes next in the book, which is travelling-related (and a heap more present perfect information!).

Here is what I did with it:

Time: 

1hr 20 minutes

Materials: 

a recording of the song (now available here); cut-up lyrics; a handout of the complete song lyrics; this powerpoint (shared here minus the photos I used, as those were copyrighted – but all you need to do is a Google images search for pictures of Brighton in the rain and a picture of Brighton on a map !); this handout (based on the powerpoint – for the learners to have a take-away record); this empty rubric, which is based on the song.

Focus: 

Review of the present perfect for life experiences, use with “ever“/”never“/”always“/”only“, asking and answering questions using the form, using the form to discuss their own experiences; listening, speaking, writing.

Procedure:

Listening

  • Put learners in pairs/small groups and give them these questions to discuss:
  1. Tell your partner about some of the places where you have been on holiday.

  2. Do you usually go somewhere different or do you go back to the same place every year?

  3. What are the pros and cons of going to the same place every year and going to a different place every year?

  • Do a quick whole class feedback phase.
  • Show learners the pictures of Brighton, in the rain, ask if they can guess where it is (Brighton) and then what the pictures have in common (it’s raining!).
  • Ask learners if they have ever been to/heard of Brighton before. (If they haven’t, would they like to go?)
  • Play the recording of the song (if using the version I linked to, don’t show the learners the video; hide it and get them to listen only) and have learners listen for the answers to these two questions:
  1. Does the singer visit different places every year? (No!)

  2. Where has he been? (Only Brighton and the Isle of Mann! – but of course the learners will hear lots of places that he hasn’t been to…)

  • Give learners the cut-up lyrics (I like to make the lyrics a large font size and get learners to work together, using the floor space, to do this activity – but I’ve only done it with small classes!) and have them listen and put them in the correct order. (This worked really nicely today, the learners were very in to it. I paused the recording periodically to give them time to catch up and fed in some prompting questions to get them using linguistic and logical skills.)
  • Play the song again and get learners to sing along! (Mine were silly-dancing too!)
  • Put learners in pairs or small groups to discuss the following questions: (This we did briefly as a whole class, because we were a small group anyway, while still stood up around the lyrics – it was more of a quick chat!)
  1. Do you think the singer is happy? (No!)
  2. How do his travel experiences compare with yours?
  3. Have you ever done any of the things that he hasn’t done? Which?
  4. Would you like to do any of the things he hasn’t done? Which? Why?
Brighton_Pier,_East_Sussex_-_geograph.org.uk_-_707356

Brighton in the rain! (image taken from advanced Google images search, licensed for commercial reuse with modification, from commons.wikimedia.org)

Language focus

  • Keep learners in pairs/smalls groups (you could change groupings if you want to), give them each a copy of the full song, and get them to look at and discuss the present perfect form and meaning focus questions:
  1. What tense do we use to talk about life experiences?

  2. How do we form it? (positive sentence, negative sentence, question, short answers)

  3. Do we know when the experience happened?

  4. Does it matter when the experience happened?

  • Do a whole class feedback phase and then move onto the next questions:
  1. Look at these lines from the song. What do the words in bold mean? How would you translate them into your language?

– I’ve never been to Athens and I’ve never been to Rome.

– I’ve only seen the pyramids in picture books at home.

– I’ve always spent my holidays in Brighton, in the rain!

  1. Look at these questions based on the song. What do the words in bold mean? (This should be “2” but WordPress won’t let it be!)

– Have you ever been to Athens?

– Have you ever been to Rome?

  • Check their answers in a whole class phase, and give them time/space to ask any questions, and then let them move on to the next activity: in their pairs, they should make, ask and answer some more questions like the above examples, based on ideas from the song.

Speaking and Writing

  • Put learners in pairs. Give each learner a copy of the blank rubric of the song.
  • Get them to interview their partner about his or her life experiences, and complete the blank rubric using their partner’s answers. (You could do an initial brainstorming stage for possible topic areas/questions to ask, to help get learners’ creative juices flowing! It also really helps to demonstrate this activity with one of the learners before setting them off.) Encourage learners to ask interesting questions.*
  • Put learners in groups so that the above-mentioned pairs are split up. Ask them to take it in turns to tell their group about their partner, using the rubric (they will need to convert the sentences into the third person for this). Their group should ask, say, five questions about each person, which the learner whose partner it is should note down.
  • Put learners back in their original pairs and let them find out the answers to their group’s questions.
  • Regroup them into the same groups as above, for them to give their group the answers to their questions.

*Variation

If you run out of time (cough cough!) around the stage I marked with an asterisk, I recommend getting the learners to finish completing the rubric as their partner (so, as they have begun via interview but by guessing the information about their partners rather than doing it through questioning). At the beginning of next lesson, I plan to get them back in the same pairs again to see how near or far they were with their guesses!

Possible homework/follow-up

(If you use Edmodo) Get learners to write a few sentences about their experiences (encourage them to use experiences they have not yet discussed…) and send them directly to you (using that function on Edmodo!) and then you post all of their experiences onto the class page. They should then read and guess which experiences go with which classmates!

Thoughts:

I think this lesson worked well, to give the learners a bit of extra time to get their mouths and minds around the present perfect. In the book, a lot of information comes at them in a short space of time – for, since, ever, never, contrasting with past simple and so on, so this broke it up a bit and gave them extra opportunities to hear it used and use it themselves – as well as being a bit of fun to break up a very grammar-heavy unit a bit! 🙂

 

Consolidating narrative tenses: a storytelling lesson/lesson series idea

Level: Pre-intermediate but adaptable to higher levels by increasing the demands imposed in the collaborative writing stage.

Time: +/- 45mins (but time increases with class-size)

Materials: A story told in a series of pictures, all cut up. (E.g. a comic book story – blank out the dialogue, or leave it in to add reading to the skills used in this sequence; but such stories exist in ELT books too e.g. Straight Forward Teachers Resource Book Communicative Activity 2D – of which this activity sequence is an adaptation and extension. Alternatively, if you are of an artistic bent, create your own picture story!)

Focus: Narrative tenses (past simple and past continuous); question formation (the bane of a pre-intermediate learner’s life!); speaking; writing; listening.

This worked well with both my pre-intermediate classes yesterday, so I thought I’d share it here…

  • Stick cut-up pictures on the walls around the room in random order.
  • When you’re ready to start the activity, draw attention to the pictures. Tell learners the protagonist names and explain that the pictures tell a story about them.
  • Put learners in pairs (and one group of three if an uneven number, or groups of three if a larger class/you’re worried about time). Tell them to walk around, look at the pictures and decide what the story is: they can carry a notebook to make brief notes but at this point the focus is on speaking, brainstorming and logical deduction. There should be a lot of moving about to-ing and fro-ing between pictures, as they try to pick out the story.
  • When they have decided what the story is and have the key points established, they can sit down again. (They can always jump up for another look subsequently if needed!)

Now it is time for some collaborative writing:

  • In their pairs/groups, learners need to build their notes up into a story. Challenge them to use past simple/past continuous and linkers (when/while/because) – so that the story is not just a series of simple sentences and the target structures are used. For higher levels, require use of other tenses and encourage them to use as great a range of vocabulary as they can.
  • Feed in any vocabulary learners need (this gives them practice in verbal circumlocution too – e.g. “how do you say when you like someone very much in the first time of look at them?” [answer: it was love at first sight] ). This stage involves a lot of discussion, as the learners decide/agree on how to formulate their story. 

Finally, some storytelling and listening

  • When a pair/group of learners have finished writing their story, ask them to write three questions that are answered in their story. (You could stipulate that at least one question should use the past continuous.) If a pair/group hasn’t made much use of the past continuous, get them to look again and see if they can change that.
  • Now each pair/group takes a turn to tell the rest of their class the three questions they have decided on (the teacher can either have checked and corrected, where necessary, prior to this, or do the checking/correcting at this point, asking the rest of the class for help) and then tell their story. (Encourage learners to tell the story expressively,with lots of drama!) Classmates listen and answer the questions. The teacher listens and makes notes on language use and pronunciation for delayed feedback.
  • After a pair/group has finished telling their story, the rest of the class provides the answers to their questions. The teacher can then give feedback by writing up phrases to be corrected on the board (or, if available, using a good old OHP, having written language for focus directly onto a transparency! An I-pad/projector could fulfil the same function if you are a techie) and eliciting the corrections. Don’t forget to give positive feedback as well – pay attention to good use of language e.g. adverbs, dramatic language, good use of past simple/past continuous and linkers, and, of course, the content and coherence of the story.

(Of course, as the learners are reading a written story, this activity is not focused on the sub-skills of spoken storytelling, for either storyteller or listener. However, gaining better control over the past simple and past continuous will be a useful base for learners to approach an activity with such a focus e.g. the follow-up activity below…)

A homework/follow up activity sequence idea:

  • Get them to go away and prepare a story about something that happened to them (you could use the same past time point as you used for the picture story) – it can be real or invented.
  • They should come to the next lesson prepared to tell their story to a small group. Encourage them not to write it, but just to make notes. 
  • In the next lesson, get learners to tell their stories. You could these as the basis for a lesson on spoken story-telling skills, enabling learners to upgrade their stories by focusing on structure of spoken narrative and associated language/evaluative language/listener responses etc.

*******************

(For example: A sequence for focusing on structural language: 

  1. Give learners a spoken storytelling frame, with chunks of language for introducing different parts of a story.
  2. Ask them to listen to a recording of a story, which uses some of these chunks of language and identify which chunks are used.
  3. Get them to upgrade their story using the frame, deciding which chunks of language to use at each step.
  4. Ask them to re-tell their upgraded stories to different partners, decreasing the time they have for each telling.)

*******************

  • Then, for the next piece of homework,  ask learners to write their stories up (encourage use of a computer), using linkers to encourage the complex sentences that are typical of writing but not speaking, and bring these (i.e. a print-out/i-pad/laptop) to a subsequent lesson. (Having done the initial collaborative writing activity, this should be less daunting for them!) If learners are bored of their stories, let them choose a classmate’s story to write up instead! (It doesn’t matter if two learners have written up the same story, in fact it could yield some interesting comparisons in the peer-editing phase of this sequence…)
  • Use the pieces of writing as the basis for a peer editing activity, where they work on upgrading each others’ stories. They could then implement peer edits and upload the final version on a class blog or Edmodo

I hope you enjoy using these activities with your learners – do pop back and let me know how it went, if you can find the time! 🙂

1280px-Stipula_fountain_pen

Picture taken from Google advanced image search, licensed for commercial reuse with modification, source – http://commons.wikimedia.org

Helping language learners become language researchers (part 3): concordance activity outcomes

In the first post of this series, I described the potential power of Wordandphrase.info and offered some materials I had made to introduce my students to the site. I also identified the possible issues around getting learners to use this site independently and wondered about helping them do so by bringing the site into the classroom through concordance activities based on information from it.

My second post described the first three activities that I created and did with my advanced and upper intermediate learners subsequently. 

Since then, both groups of learners have done a task for homework: the upper intermediate learners completed the task started in class while the advanced learners did a separate task. For each group the scaffolding process was different. This post discusses the process used for each group and the subsequent outcomes, as well as lessons learnt from this.

Advanced learners:

We did two concordance activities in class before they had to do any independent homework using the site. The first activity encouraged them to use concordance lines to discover the error in a sentence one of them had written, while the second looked at information taken from the website with regards to three words – concordance lines and frequency information – and required the learners to guess which word each set of information corresponded to. (NB: They had met the vocabulary prior to this!)

The homework I gave them was to use wordandphrase.info to find out about three more words from the same list of vocabulary that had been thrown at them at the end of unit 5 in Headway advanced and come to the next lesson ready to share what they had discovered. We shared out the words so there was no duplication of information.

Last night we met again and it was time to discuss the homework. I had anticipated that some of them wouldn’t have done the homework and that there may have been problems using the site (despite having the materials – those I shared in the first post of this series – to help them) but, in fact, all of the learners turned up with information they had found out and printouts from the site (some learners had printed directly, others had created a new document using information copied and pasted from the “print screen” page, to be more selective about what they printed). They each took a turn to tell their classmates and me about the three words they had explored.

Once that was finished, I asked them how they had found the activity and another interesting discussion ensued. They had found it very interesting but a couple mentioned that while the site was very interesting, it was also very time-consuming because it has so much information. Another learner very cleverly pointed out that if you had a purpose/goal in mind, and kept that as your focus, then it’s much less time-consuming (which is perhaps true of using the internet in general, as was also discussed: a digital literacy skill). She loves the site and intends to keep using it. None of them were scared or put off or scarred for life in any way – so that’s good! 😉

This made me think back to the first post I wrote about wordandphrase.info, when I mentioned my Leeds Met course-mate’s materials that had been written to help learners use the site with a specific purpose (to choose which vocabulary to learn from texts): in that post, I wondered if her materials would be more effective than my more general “how to use the website” ones. The answer arrived at from the above discussion would seem to be “yes“. However, there may be an argument for letting learners come to that conclusion themselves, as happened here. Perhaps starting from the more general, learning what the website is capable of, realising that using it without a goal equals spending a lot of/too much time and then building up a bank of purposes may help learners more in terms of independent usage, especially in terms of being able to add to that bank of purposes independently beyond the end of the course.

Outcomes: I’m very proud of my learners and feel that they are making steps towards independent use of the site. Next steps will involve getting them to use it to help them edit pieces of their writing and exploring other purposes with them, so that they start building up that bank of purposes to use it for.

Upper-intermediate learners

With these guys, it’s less of a success story (so far!) but a lot learnt (by me) as a result. We did a “find the missing word” concordance activity (again, based on previously met vocabulary) in class, but didn’t have time to complete it, so the questions regarding the patterns in the concordances became homework. What I should have done is left it when we ran out of time, and come back to it at the start of the next lesson. At the time, I thought it would be interesting to see what they could do.

The problem was, as we hadn’t done a similar activity before, they didn’t understand what was expected of them and answered the questions according to their intuition rather than by using the concordance lines. So the rubrics weren’t clear enough and my instructions weren’t either! (Though some of them had understood, so perhaps it was just last-thing-on-a-Tuesday-night syndrome for the rest! They are busy bees and last lesson finishes soon before 9, so it makes for a long day) Of course, had we done a similar activity before, fully in class, then they would have understood what was expected. Compare this with the advanced learners, with whom I did 2 activities in class before expecting any independent work.

Outcomes: 

My next step is to do some more in-class activities, to help the learners understand what is required, and develop the necessary skills, then try again with getting them to do the activities independently and using the site. I will then apply what I’ve learnt from my advanced gang and help them to build up a bank of purposes to use the site for. (I’m also going to edit that activity *again* to try and make the tasks clearer…!) My upper intermediate learners are interested but confused, as far as wordandphrase.info and related activities go. But I’ve got time to remedy it…

What I have learnt from both of these experiences?

  • Adequate scaffolding is crucial for independent success – whether with these activities or using the website. I unwittingly experimented with both approaches – both adequate and inadequate scaffolding!
  • Expecting too much too soon is counter-productive. On the other hand, when properly scaffolded, the learners can use this site really successfully.
  • Just because I understand what is required, doesn’t mean it’s going to be clear to my learners. They haven’t come across concordance-based activities or a tool like wordandphrase.info before. Rubrics, rubrics, rubrics!

Conclusion:

I’m really enjoying this project and it’s still early days – looking forward to seeing what I can do with it in the fullness of time (read: during the rest of the course). I think I’m also learning about as much as my learners are – there’s a lot to learn! 🙂  Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes too… 😉

Helping language learners become language researchers: wordandphrase.info (part 2: 3 activities)

In the first post of this series, I described the potential power of Wordandphrase.info and offered some materials I had made to introduce my students to the site. I also identified the possible issues around getting learners to use this site independently and wondered about helping them do so by bringing the site into the classroom through concordance activities based on information from it.

This post describes the first three activities that I’ve created and done with my advanced and upper intermediate learners since then. 

1) Finding the mistake

In this activity, which I did with my advanced learners on Monday evening, the starting point was a sentence taken from a learner’s homework, which had been posted on the class blog. It was a common mistake: misuse of “despite“.

  • First, learners were asked to look at the sentence and try to identify the mistake.
  • Next, their attention was focused on some concordance lines taken from Wordandphrase.info via screen-shot (to preserve the colour-coding), which they used to identify which word types can follow despite and then to make a word profile for “despite“.
  • Finally, they were redirected back to the original sentence and asked to reformulate it correctly, using the information they had gleaned from the concordance.

The learners were engaged, there was lots of discussion and they had a clearer picture of the use of “despite” by the end of it. Initially they worked in pairs, and then we discussed it as a class. The whole activity took about 15 minutes.

Here is the activity: Concordance activity for “despite”

2) Finding the missing word

This activity, which I did with my upper intermediate learners, was based on vocabulary they had met in a previous lesson. I selected two compounds – a compound noun and a compound adjective – from that set of vocabulary and prepared a set of concordance lines (again, screenshots from wordandphrase.info, to preserve the colour-coding) for each. I blanked out the compound (using tip-ex!) in each concordance.

  • First they had to look at the concordance lines and identify what the compound was.
  • Then, for each compound, learners had to answer questions which focussed them on what words can be used with it.

They worked in pairs. We did it towards the end of the lesson, and by the end of the lesson most of them had identified the compounds (following much discussion). I asked them to answer the questions about the collocations for homework, so that in the next lesson they could discuss their answers together. As with the advanced group, this gang were also engaged by the activity. With both groups, they seemed to welcome the challenge of solving this “puzzle”.

Here is the handout I made for this activity: Compound adj & noun concordance activity.

NB: As mentioned, I did the blanking of the focus word manually, so in this document they are not blanked out.

TIP: Make sure that the learners know that each concordance is for one word only, so that they don’t try and find a different word for every space… I have now updated the materials to make this clearer!! 🙂

3) Finding the missing word and guessing the frequencies

This was my second foray into concordance activities with my advanced class.

  • This time, I used two nouns, from a page of vocabulary in their course book, again preparing concordance lines using screen-shots from wordandphrase.info.
  • As with the upper intermediate class, the activity involved using these concordance lines to identify which noun had been blanked out and then focusing on adjective-noun and verb-noun collocations. (There were no questions on this page, other than “What is the missing noun?”, but we discussed the patterns anyway. If you think your learners need more scaffolding, you could always add questions, as I did with my upper intermediate learners.)

My goal here was to try and extend the vocabulary presented horizontally, as in the book it was very much a vertical list (of nouns for emotions).

In addition to focusing on concordance lines, I did screenshots of the frequency information of each word that had been the focus of the concordances, both in terms of the top 3000 words and in terms of different registers, all of which wordandphrase.info provides very visually.

  • The learners had to guess which selected word matched which frequency information (two were >3000 and one was 501-3000, so it was a case of deciding which they thought was the most commonly used)
  • Next, we looked at the frequency information, with regards to the different registers, for each word. The learners guessed which word the first two sets of frequency information referred to.
  • Then before I revealed the final set of frequency information, they made predictions about the frequency for each register – rough predictions, focusing on the size of the bars in comparison to one another, rather than on numbers.
  • Finally, we discussed intuition with regards to frequency vs actual use, and intuition with regards to structures and collocations vs actual use.

Doing both activities took about 15 minutes or so. After each activity, 1 and 2, I asked them what they thought the purpose of the activity was, to encourage them to link this work with using the website and developing their noticing skills so that they are able to use it better. I thought being explicitly aware of this might help their confidence when it comes to using the website independently. We shall see…

Here are the materials I used: Missing nouns conc. lines and Frequency info activity

NB: As above, blanking out of nouns done manually (and in the case of part 2 of the activity, not at all because the printer failed so I used the projector and got the learners to look away while I got the relevant part of the activity on the screen and hid the word with my finger!), so no words blanked out in the .pdfs.

Common themes

What I’m trying to do with all of these activities is introduce the power of Wordandphrase.info to the learners and help them develop the mindset and noticing skills necessary for successful independent use of it.

  • The activities all encouraged learners to focus on patterns and word usage, which information can be found on wordandphrase.info, and of course the final activity brought frequency information into the mix.
  • Working in pairs, and then discussing as a class, scaffolds the process by allowing learners to collaborate and combine their powers of noticing.
  • In the case of the upper intermediates, letting the learners finish the activity for homework encourages some independent effort, which was scaffolded by the in-class pair work preceding the homework task and developed by the in-class pair work done in the subsequent class.
  • For the advanced class, following the second activity, I set them the task of each finding out about 3 of the words we had focused on in that lesson: to look for patterns of use and find out frequency information. At the beginning of next lesson, they will share their findings, perhaps encouraging prediction prior to sharing.

Time issue:

It is quite time-consuming producing the activities. However, the way I see it, these can be built up into a bank, so in future, one would have plenty of such activities to draw on, whether to use as they stand, or to adapt to different learners.

What next:

I want to continue integrating these little concordancing activities and introduce activities that require learners to go away and use the website, coming back to class to share what they have discovered. Hopefully the self-access materials I made will help them be able to do this from the technical point of view, and the activities done in class will help them be able to do this because they will have had practice in noticing patterns and interpreting the information provided by the site.

I’ll continue to share the little activities I make, both for use in class and for the using-the-website homework, periodically… 🙂 And in the next post in this mini-series, I’ll probably discuss how the learners (the upper ints and the advanced) got on with their respective homework and how the subsequent in-class discussions went.

NB: I am new to this data-driven learning malarkey, and using wordandphrase.info with learners, so it’s all very experimental. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on it!! 🙂