Using Google+ Communities with classes (2)

All of a sudden we are 5 weeks into term. This week, also known as 5+1 (so not to get it mixed up with teaching week 6, which is next week) is Learning Conversations week (the closest we get to half term, and only in the September term!) so it seemed a good time to take stock and see how things are going with Google Communities, following my introductory post from many moons ago.

Firstly, it must be said that the situation has changed since I wrote that first post: Now, all teachers are required to use GC instead of my Group on MOLE (the university brand of Blackboard VLE) because we had trouble setting up groups on MOLE at the start of this term. Nevertheless, I am carrying on with my original plan of reflecting and evaluation on my use of GC with my students because I think it is a valuable thing to do!

In order to evaluate effectively, I wanted to have the students’ perspective as well as my own, I posted a few evaluative questions in the discussion category of each of my classes’ GC page.

So, no science involved, no Likert scales, no anonymity, just some basic questions. (The third question was because I thought I might as well get their views on how the lessons are going so far at the same time!) I’m well aware of the limitations of this approach BUT then again I’m not planning to make any great claims based on the feedback I get and I’m not after sending a write-up to the ELTJ or anything like that either (would need all manner of ethical approval to do that!). I did try to frame the questions positively e.g. “What do you think would improve the way we use GC?” rather than “What don’t you like about GC?” so that the students wouldn’t feel like responding to the question wasn’t a form of criticism and therefore feel inhibited. An added benefit is that it pushes them to be constructive regarding future use rather than just say how they feel about the current use of it.

Before I go into the responses I’ve had from students, however, it would make sense to summarise how I’ve been using the GCs with them. I recently wrote about GCs for the British Council TeachingEnglish page (soon to be published) and the way I came up with for describing them in that post was “a one-stop shop for everything to do with their [students] AES classes” and that is basically what it has become:

Speaking Category extract

 

Writing Category extract

 

Vocabulary Category extract

 

Listening Category extract

I would say the main use I have made of it is to share materials relating to lessons, mostly in advance of the lessons – TedTalks, newspaper articles etc – but also useful websites and tools, for individual use or class use – AWL highlighter, Quizlet, Vocab.com etc. Finally, it is great for sharing editable links to Google Docs, which we use quite often in class for various writing tasks. Other than these key uses, I have also used it to raise students’ awareness of mental health issues and the mental health services offered to students by the university, during Mental Health Week here (which coincided with World Mental Health Day) and to raise their awareness of the students union and what it offers to them.

In terms of student feedback, they think it’s “convenient”, “easy to use” and they “enjoy using” it. They also mention the ability to comment on posts (not present with My Group on MOLE) and communicate outside of the classroom as well as in it. In terms of suggestions for improvement, one student said students should use it to interact more frequently but that it should be clear which posts are class content and which are sharing/interaction. A couple of students also said they’d like the Powerpoints used in class to be uploaded there. However, those are available on MOLE. The trouble, of course, is that in using GC rather than My Group (which is on MOLE), students are a lot more tuned into GC (which we use all the time) than MOLE. I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I suspect that be it academically or personally, if you have to use multiple platforms you tend to gravitate towards one, or some, more than others rather than using them all equally, particularly if time is very limited, as it is for busy students! (I could be wrong – if you know of any relevant studies let me know!) Unfortunately GC cannot fully replace MOLE as students need to learn how to use it in preparation for going to university here and they need to submit coursework assignments to Turnitin via MOLE. Perhaps, then I need to come up with ways to encourage them to go from one to the other and back, so they don’t forget about ‘the other’…

In terms of future use, I have set up a little experiment in that as part the of Learning Conversations that are taking place this week, we have to decide on Smart Actions that the students are supposed to carry out. E.g.

 

Go to Useful Websites on MOLE and explore the ‘Learning Vocabulary’ websites available. Tell your teacher which websites you visited and what you learnt from them by the final AES lesson of Week 6.

Some of them, like the above, lend themselves to posting on GC. In this way, not only do they tell me what they have learnt but also they share that learning with the rest of their classmates. So, in their learning conversations, whenever the Smart Action(s) were amenable to this plan, I have been encouraging students to use GC to communicate the outcome to me and share the learning with the rest of the class. We will see how it goes, if they do post their findings etc. Be interesting to see what happens! Another idea I’ve had is to do something along the lines of “academic words of the week”, where I provide a few choice academic words along with definitions, collocations, examples of use and a little activity that gives them a bit of practice using them, and get them to also make a Quizlet vocabulary set collaboratively (I have a Quizlet class set up for each class). Then perhaps after every couple of weeks we could do an in-class vocabulary review activity to see what they can remember.

Finally, it seems to me that Monday, being the first day of the second half of the term, is a crucial opportunity to build on student feedback by getting them to discuss ways in which we could use the GC for more interactive activities and find out what they’d be interested in having me share other than class-related materials and the occasional forays into awareness-raising that I have attempted. The key thing that I want them to take away is that I want the GC to work for them and that I am very much open to ideas from them as to how that should be, so that it becomes a collaborative venture rather than a teacher-dominated one.

We shall see what the next five weeks hold… Do you have any other ideas for how I could use GCs more effectively? Would love to hear them if you do!

 

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Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (3+4)

Time and workload have dictated that I combine two weekly scholarship sessions into one post, so this “double digest” is my write-up of sessions 3 and 4.

(For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please look here and for write-ups of previous scholarship circles, here

You might also be interested in session 1 and session 2 of this particular circle.)

Session 3

In session 3, we started by discussing the type of feedback we give students in their coursework. In CW1 (an essay outline), we give them structural feedback as well as pointing out where sources are insufficiently paraphrased, while in CW3 they get structural feedback and language feedback using the error correction code. We also talked more about direct feedback. We questioned where the line between direct feedback and collusion lies and decided that it’s ok to use teacher feedback to improve work but if they hired another tutor to correct their work, it would be collusion. We also came to the conclusion that direct feedback can be useful for certain things and that you could use it to scaffold learners e.g. in the first instance of the mistake, provide the correct form as a model; in the second instance of the mistake, provide the start of the correct form; in the third instance of the mistake, just highlight the type of mistake and let the learner correct it by themselves, using previous instances and feedback to help them. If there are any further instances of that mistake type, indicate to learners that they need to find and correct them.

We also talked more about this issue of correcting mistakes beyond those pointed out by the teacher i.e. proofreading work for more instances of the same mistake. In our experience, it frequently does not happen. In the masters research done by one of our number, the main reasons for that, given by the students when they were asked, were:

  • the belief that no comments = no mistakes
  • not knowing how to find/correct mistakes

However, with regards to the quick marks (i.e. error correction code on Turnitin), in terms of the students who participated in the study, 80-100% of quick marks resulted in successful revisions. Thus, on the whole, only when mistakes are pointed out are they are corrected, in general. This brought us back to the question of proofreading and learner training which we had touched on in previous sessions, identifying it as a definite need.

We acknowledged that we expect proofreading but that it doesn’t happen. This is partly because our learners are not used to it – they are used to having all errors pointed out to them. In some cases, as in one of the participants in the M.A. study, learners are not able to identify mistakes. In that case, the ideal situation would be helping those learners to find and correct the errors they ARE able to deal with it at their level. We decided that in order to help learners in both cases, more proofreading-related lessons are needed. They already have “Grammar Guru” which is an online interactive grammar tutoring tool, within which are activities that prompt proofreading for mistakes with the specific focus of a given tutorial e.g. articles.

However, the only time they do it with their own work is with CW3 and so we wondered if there would be scope for using work produced for writing exam practices as the basis for proofreading activities too.

We also looked at 2 tools for encouraging students to engage with their feedback:

1. A google form, adapted from something similar which is used at Nottingham Trent, that encourages students to find examples of particular mistakes in their text, correct them and make a note of the materials used in order to make that correction:

The idea is that students complete it between receiving their feedback and attending their tutorial, so that during the tutorial the tutor can, amongst other things, check their corrections and suggest alternative sources.

2. A form for students to complete that pushes them to reflect on their feedback:

As with the first one, this is intended to be completed between receiving the feedback on Turnitin and attending the tutorial, thus making the tutorial more effective than the common scenario where the student comes in not having even opened the feedback. We also wondered about the possibility of combining the two, so in other words combining focused error identification and correction with reflection on other aspects of the feedback.

Session 4

This week, in session 4, we mainly focused on the error correction code that we use. We looked at each symbol and accompanying notes, firstly deciding if it was a necessary one to keep and then refining it. The code, used on Turnitin, works as follows: We highlight mistakes and attach symbols to them. When the student subsequently looks at their text, they see the symbols and then when they click on the symbol, the accompanying notes appear. Our notes include, depending on the mistake, an explanation of the mistake, examples of incorrect use and corrected use, and links to sources that students can use to help them to learn more about the language point in question. Here is an example:

We paid particular attention to the clarity of the language used in the accompanying notes, getting rid of anything unnecessary e.g. modals, repetition etc, and the links provided to help students. The code also exists in GoogleDoc format so we all had Chromebooks out and were working on it collaboratively. There are a lot of symbols and there was plenty to say, so actually we only got as far as “C”!! (They are ordered alphabetically….!) This job will continue in the next session, which will be the week after next, as next week we have Learning Conversations which are off timetable so our availability is very different from normal.

I would be interested to hear what approaches you use where you work in terms of error correction, codes, proofreading training, pre-tutorial requirements, engaging learners with feedback and so on. Please do share any thoughts using the comments box below… 🙂

Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (2)

Before we had time to turn around twice, Tuesday rolled around again and with it our weekly scholarship circle meeting, with its name and focus of “Giving formative feedback on student writing” (For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please look here and for write-ups of previous scholarship circles, here and to see what we discussed last week – in session 1 of this circle –  here)

A week is a short turn around time but a number (9, in fact!) of eager beavers, who’d all managed to read the article “Sugaring the Pill: Praise and criticism in written feedback” by Fiona Hyland and Ken Hyland in Journal of Second Language Writing, turned up to discuss it and relate it to our context. The article is, in its own words, “a detailed text analysis of the written feedback given by two teachers to ESL students over a complete proficiency course”. The authors categorise all the feedback by function; namely, praise, criticism and suggestions and analyse it accordingly. It’s a very interesting and thought-provoking article. However, the purpose of this post is not to summarise it but rather our discussion which arose from it. This is not as easy a task as it might sound!

Praise

We started by talking about praise. Something we found interesting, in both the article and a similar piece of research done for a masters dissertation by one of our number, was that the students in these studies were able to identify when praise was insincere/formulaic/there for the sake of being there. (Here we are talking about the general comments at the end of a text rather than specific in-text comments.) Additionally, also in terms of general end-of-text comments, students who receive substantial formulaic praise may automatically mentally downgrade it, particularly if the balance of feedback overall is in favour of praise i.e. more positive comments than suggestions for improvement. In connection with this, students were also found not to believe the positive general comments if they did not reflect the in-text feedback, which being more directly connected to the text held more weight for them. Finally, both the article and the masters research highlighted the danger of the suggestions for improvement in a praise-criticism sandwich being ignored/missed by a student and the danger of hedged comments (e.g. using modals) being misunderstood.

Another aspect of feedback which it was thought might lead to misunderstanding is our feedback guidelines here at the college, which stipulate that in our general comments we should include 3 positive points and 3 areas to work on. We discussed the possibility that this might be (mis)interpreted by students to mean that the piece of writing was good and in need of improvement in equal measure when in fact that may not be the case. We also discussed the importance of framing the negative points as suggestions rather than criticism, as well as of avoiding hedging and the aforementioned dangers of miscommunication that may go with it:

Compare

“Your writing does not have enough linkers so it is confusing” (highlighting a negative)

with:

“You should include more linkers in your work to make it clearer” (making a suggestion for improvement)

This would, in turn, be easier to understand for a student than:

“I wonder if you could include more linkers in this paragraph? This might help the reader.” (hedged)

or:

“This is a good introduction with a clear thesis statement and scope, however, you need to look at coherence. Go back to …. and consider… . I think you could also benefit from having a look at…  …it is quite advanced but I think you are ready to take your AW to the next level!” (Praise-criticism sandwich: the student in question ignored all the suggestions because the teacher had said it was good so they didn’t feel the need to make any changes!) 

Of course, as discussed in the journal article, teachers do use phrases such as “I wonder if” and questions rather than direct instructions to avoid appropriation of the piece of work and also to avoid being overly authoritative, in order to meet what Hyland and Hyland describe as the “interpersonal goal” aspect of feedback (in contrast with pedagogic and informational goals).  Our conclusion, based on the masters findings, our experience and having read the journal article was that teachers possibly worry too much about being polite in the feedback, which ends up being confusing for the student more than anything else. As here:

When the message gets lost…

Still relating to praise, we agreed that it is most effective when specific i.e. directly highlights something in the text that the student is doing well, a view supported by the article and the masters research. Carrying this over to general end-of-text comments, we wondered if ‘repeating’ what you have said in specific in-text comments (which I admitted to doing quite a bit hence raising the issue), whether positive or negative, might actually be a way of reinforcing the importance of the in-text comments in question rather than being redundant or otherwise negative and making the general comments more personalised/less formulaic.

Finally, one issue I raised was that on Turnitin, if you have all the in-text comments (both positive and negative – “negative”, including suggestions for improvement not just criticisms obviously) in a single colour in terms of highlighting, a student might look at that and assume their essay was terrible because of the quantity of highlighting. I wondered if using different colours of highlighting for positive and negative would alleviate that situation. However, it was also put forward that it might be even worse if students knew that code and had very few things highlighted in the positive colour!

Improving feedback

As well as identifying the potential issues with praise discussed above, we also discussed possible solutions:

Reframing general comments

We agreed that:

  • short, personalised comments would be most useful, to avoid misunderstandings and identifiable insincerity. (Our comments bank – a google doc of generic comments – does not currently fit this bill.)
  • in Turnitin we could make more use of the “T” option (which is along side the QM and the comment bubble options and which most of us were unaware of!). This allows you to write directly on the text in ‘blue ink’ – might be more personalised/allow more flexibility than the general comments in the comments box. It might also allow for less in-text highlighting for comments bubbles.
  • having a “3 positive things and 3 ‘negative’/to improve” one size fits all guideline is problematic as students are all different (though if you have 60+ students’ work to look at in a short space of time, is carefully tailored, individualised feedback realistically feasible?)

Learner Training

We decided that learner training was crucial for enabling students to make full use of the feedback and therefore make doing it worth our time and theirs. Firstly, for in-text comments to be truly useful, it was suggested that we need to explicitly train students to look for further examples of the mistakes we highlight using the Quick Marks (i.e. error correction code) as otherwise they will correct what we highlight but they won’t automatically apply it to the rest of their text. Perhaps part of learner training would be to train them towards the point where they can do that without being continually prompted in comments or tutorials. We also considered the need for recognising and differentiating between “treatable” errors (e.g. articles – there are rules that can be followed) and “non-treatable” errors (e.g. word choice), and giving appropriate feedback. For non-treatable errors, direct feedback, i.e. giving students the correction, is better, while for treatable errors we can use indirect feedback, i.e. identifying the error and asking students to correct it themselves, using clues such as error correction coding. Currently, most of our feedback is indirect, so this is something we may need to reconsider.

Another aspect of learner training that we discussed was how to train learners to make the most of their very brief (10-15 minute) tutorials. For these tutorials to be truly beneficial, we agreed that it was imperative for students to look at their feedback BEFORE coming to the tutorial. In fact, they need not only to look at it but also to attempt to respond to it, so that during the tutorial the tutor can check their attempts and help them with the areas they were unable to address independently. We wondered about using a pre-tutorial sheet to encourage them to do this, something that in order to complete they need to engage with the feedback. A couple of teachers have already experimented with this kind of thing with encouraging results so it is worth looking into.

All in all, we managed to discuss a lot in an hour – or just over, as we lost track of time! (You know it’s a good scholarship circle when the participants just can’t drag themselves away at the end! I think the reason this scholarship circle is going so well is that it has a very specific focus and it is one that is equally important to all of us.)

Homework for next week: to read a chapter by Dana Ferris called “Does error feedback help student writers? New evidence on the short- and long-term effects of written error correction” in a book published by Cambridge University Press called Feedback in Second Language Writing (edited by the same Hylands who wrote last week’s article!) Just from the title I am very curious about what Ferris will say, but I won’t have time to find out till at least the weekend!

Feel free to join in the discussion by commenting on this post! 🙂

 

 

Using Google+ Communities with classes (1)

Have you used Google+ communities before in any capacity? I hadn’t until I and another ADoS colleague were asked to pilot it with our classes this term to see if it’s something we want to roll out for all teachers next term. As it is new to me, I have decided to blog periodically about it (probably this post as the initial setting up/first impressions/early days post, one or at most two posts during using it this term and a post at the end of term evaluating my use of it), primarily as means of reflecting on and developing my use but also as a means of memory outsourcing so that I can refer back to these posts when it comes time to give feedback about it!

In the past I have used other platforms with students e.g. Edmodo, Google Classroom, WordPress blogs and, more recently, MOLE which is the University’s branded Blackboard VLE. We still have MOLE (and will very much still be using it for lesson materials, assessment submission etc) but the Google Community is to replace the “My Group” folder we have on it, which was for sharing additional resources and information like tutorial timetables with students.

Setting up/first impressions:

A Google+ community is basically a.n.other social media platform. They can be public or private, you can ask to join existent public ones or create your own and invite people to join you. When setting up, you give it a name and boom it exists. You can then edit it to give it a tagline (if you want to), a ‘banner’ picture (I used a picture of Sheffield University for obvious reasons) and categories. The categories are used for organising posts. The category that it comes with is “Discussion”. To this, I have added a category for each of the four skills and a category for vocabulary. So far that is enough but later I can add more categories as the need arises (it’s a continuously editable set-up rather than a one-off fixed set-up).

To “register” students, you need to “invite” them. This can be done via a link or via Google+. As far as I can understand, you need to be registered to Google in some way in order to enjoy i.e. Google Plus/Gmail. Our students all have a university email address which is a Gmail account and can access G+, so that isn’t a problem for us. However, it is something to bear in mind for situations where students may use a range of email providers and may not be registered with any Google app/product. I have access to all my students’ university email addresses via our system, so I sent them an email inviting them to join, using a link generated by “invite a member” in the community I had set up for their class:

I sent it during the lesson just before I was going to introduce the G+ community, so that I could monitor while they joined and make sure everybody was able to do so etc. Prior to the lesson I added some content so that the students could immediately have a taste of how we would be using it, including a post with a question for them to answer by commenting on it (to highlight that it is their space as well as mine – supported by the set-up email that also encourages them to write a post of their own, which some of them did) and link to a TED talk that I was going to set for homework at the end of that lesson.

Other things I’ve posted so far are a link to a google doc that we will be using in class next week, a link to OALD and a link to some articles an another TED talk which I want them to read and watch in advance of one of next week’s lessons. I could have left them to post next week but I wanted it to not be empty when they registered, in the hopes that they will engage more if they immediately see the use/relevance of the platform. We shall see…

What I like about it so far (admittedly it’s early days, but…): 

  • It’s pretty! (I think so anyway…) I like that it looks nice, which is also helped by…
  • The ability to ‘categorise’ content so it is easier to direct students to it and if they want to go back to stuff, it’s much easier to be able to look by category rather than just a single stream of stuff.
  • It’s an easy way to share links to google docs for them to use in class for collaborative tasks (which we will do quite a bit of)
  • It’s easy to set up and ‘invite’ students
  • It’s easier to use than Blackboard, fewer steps to go through to share materials.

One thing I would like it to have that it doesn’t is the ability to schedule posts to appear at a given time in the future. I know Google Classroom has that function, amongst others, but, having used GC previously, I already prefer Google+ community otherwise. To deal with not being able to schedule posts, I have a sticky note on my computer desktop which is dedicated to reminders about when to post this, that or the other link or file. This is what it looks like so far:

Hopefully that will help me keep on top of things!

Looking ahead:

One thing I want to continue working on immediately is getting students to engage with the platform so that it can become more than just a repository for information and links. I’m thinking for starters a weekly discussion thread relating to something relevant to them and their lives as prospective Sheffield University students. Off the top of my head, I think it would be useful to raise awareness of the student mental health services at the university and the student union with all its clubs and societies and the library with all the services it offers. But also, discussions that capitalise on the range of nationalities represented (in one of my classes at least which is very multicultural). I think I also need to revisit the posts I wrote about using Edmodo, as some of the ideas there will be useable/adaptable too, even though the context of use is very different!

Overall, I think it has a lot of potential and I am looking forward to trying to tap into that this term. Watch this space!

 

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (5 and 6)

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

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

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

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

Session 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E.g.

  • happiness
  • carrot
  • books

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

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

Session 6

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

So, here are the ideas that were shared.

Find that person

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

Getting to know the teacher

Variation 1

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

Variation 2

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

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

Variation 3

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

Conversation starter

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

Shipwreck

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

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

Survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

1. Catch-all nouns and cohesion in pairs

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

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

For this activity you:

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

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

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

The benefits of this activity are:

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

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

2) Adapting a listening

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

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

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

3) Speed-reading relay

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

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

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

4) Variation on a debate theme

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

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

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

1. Task-based Evaluation (mine!)

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

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

2. Bringing evaluation into synthesis

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

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

3. Error correction scavenger hunt

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

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

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

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

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (2)

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

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

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

1) Synthesis Fishbowl *

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Nominalisation game

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

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

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

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

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