IATEFL 2015: Structured Reading Tasks for Using Authentic Materials to Teach Academic Skills – Dr Barbara Howarth

Another academic session! 

Barbara Howarth is from Glasgow International College in Scotland. The approach she is talking about originates from Edward de Chazal. She works in a pathway college – students there are aiming to get into university, they aren’t there yet. This could be pre-masters programmes, science and engineering students. They teach a range of academic skills.

In the “research project” module (a min. of 5.5 IELTS score in reading  and IELTS 5.5), students get 20 weeks and they are aiming towards writing a research project based on secondary research. 10-15 students per group. Materials are provided. Within these are a number of authentic texts. The overall approach is a task-based approach and reading is integrated into this. The form of assessment is an 8000 word written report and a poster presentation. The students choose their own topic.

(So this is similar to what the Uni Sheffield students I teach have to do, except my students get about 8 teaching weeks to produce a 2000 word written project based on secondary research. They also give an oral presentation on the same project.)

A 12-step approach 

<For a list of all the steps see handout page 1>

The rationale is to grade the tasks and present them in a logical order, so that students are taken naturally through the reading process. Work with these tasks repeatedly so that a level of automaticity is developed.

Step 1:  Bibliographical details identification

It’s very important that students have bibliographical details for any text they are working with. So getting them to highlight the relevant information is a straight-forward task to start with. However, issues can emerge, such as lack of issue number on the front page, but if you look in a database, you can find the issue number. To deal with this, use follow up homework tasks to get the students into the library and databases to find such information.

Steps 2 and 3 (see the handout)

Step 4: Labelling abstracts.

Starting to think about information and what type of information is in this text. One element is the abstract/summary, another element is the analysis. This might involve the results but for these to make sense, you need to understand the aims. They need to be interpreted, so you need to draw conclusions i.e. evaluate the findings. So the task at this stage is for students to label an abstract. Show them a model first. Things that aren’t straightforward for students: The aim sits within the method. Sometimes its difficult for the students to label up the aims.

Up to this stage, we have mainly been previewing the text – bibliographical details, what kind of information is in there, how it is structured. Basic things but things that are necessary in order for the students to approach meaning.

Step 5 (see handout)

Step 6 Meaning

The aim of the task is to write a summary. The abstract is a summary, yes, but what is the point of the whole paper? The main point will correspond to the aims of the paper. The main points are determined by these. In the example paper, there are two aims – to analyse the carbon sequestration and to simulate the potential carbon sinks. Important for students to identify these and break them down. Getting them to copy bits of information encourages them away from the laptop. In this case, the aims. Anything they copy should be denoted by quotation marks and include a citation. So this gives them the main information with other distractions removed. The example summary is a two-sentence summary reflecting the two main aims. Insisting on reduction of number of words encourages paraphrasing.

Step 7 and 8 (See handout)

Step 9 Language

Language is a means of expressing meaning. So the language that you choose to look at arises from the steps that have preceded. E.g. in this case, the language of analysis, relating to the informational elements in question. This task is a categorisation task – identifying topic-related vocabulary (e.g. carbon sequestration, forestation) and vocabulary related to analysis (e.g. rate, applied to, empirical growth curves) Then divide the vocabulary up into word type. Follow up work could involve the Oxford Dictionary of Academic English. All the words identified are present. Underlined words are head words. Red words are on the AWL (Coxhead 2000)

Step 10: Critical thinking and evaluation

After dealing with meaning and language, students are in a position to start engaging with slightly more higher order cognitive tasks. E.g. discussion questions. Students need to learn that they need to justify their opinions. Another task is to look at conclusions and relate them to the results, and realise that they contain an element of evaluative judgement.

What Barbara has seen

Students go from the state of being buried in their laptops and make a transition into being really thoughtful readers. That change may be brought about by giving the students a structured step by step that they can use, working from simple to more complex tasks necessary in academia. The magic moment for Barbara is when she hands out a reading text and students automatically start to apply the process – e.g. highlighting the bibliographical information.

There will be a link to the handout here (once I have photographed and uploaded it!)

An interesting session! And a reminder that I STILL need to get round to reading de Chazal’s book that has been sitting on my kindle since last year… 

reading glasses pixabay

Let’s read! Image taken from Pixabay.

 

IATEFL 2015 “EAP writing: teaching strategies for effective paraphrasing” – Tina Kuzic

My first non-plenary talk for the main IATEFL conference (plenty of PCE talks yesterday!) and it’s about EAP. Hopefully it will help me to help my students this summer…

Why paraphrasing?

Because it is such an important part of academic writing. Writing in general is the most challenging thing to teach nowadays, especially with learners who are part of the digital generation, and especially in terms of motivation. For academic integrity, paraphrasing is key.

Tina’s courses

EGAP and ESAP (for psychology) both are in-sessional and obligatory. The average level is B2 when it comes to speaking. However, for writing, the level is a bit lower; especially for formal writing. At secondary school, students only write essays so they don’t get any training in formal writing. The focus of Tina’s courses is study skills, strategies for reading, writing for academic purposes.

Plagiarism, and preventing it, is very important and one of the tasks that we as EAP teachers have to address. Students are often not aware that they have plagiarised, they lack training in this context.

Task 1

For the introductory class, Tina refers to students’ previous knowledge – what they think or know about a given thing. Start with a set of questions.

So, for paraphrasing:

  • what is a paraphrase?
  • what does paraphrasing involve?
  • do we paraphrase in every day life?
  • why is paraphrasing important for students at university?

Extension: defining terms such as quoting, citing, summarising, referencing

Students may not be familiar with all the terminology.

You could also start with a conversation, a paraphrased conversation, a written summary paragraph of it and get them to notice the differences. Or, give them a quote and a paraphrase, get them to identify the differences.

image2

Task 2: Identifying paraphrasing strategies

An original and a paraphrased sentence is given to the students and they are given time to read each. Students asked to find examples of the rewriting and asked what happens in terms of grammar and vocabulary. Once more familiar, they could look at paragraphs, as per the task we were given.

  • The first sentence is a summary of the main idea of the text, used as a topic sentence.
  • Move from paraphrasing details to summarising main ideas.
  • Use different parts of speech
  • Use different structures e.g. active vs passive
  • Synonyms
  • changing the subject
  • moving parts of sentences
  • combining short sentences
  • dividing long sentences
  • synthesising sources

Paraphrasing uses a mixture of these.

Provide students with a list of these strategies, then go back to the sentence/paragraph and look for the strategies not previously identified.

Task 3:

Give them one original paragraph and a few sample paraphrases of the paragraph. Read them and identify whether they are acceptable or not. Why/why not? (Using sample students’ writing – from beginning to end of a semester)

Paraphrases!

Paraphrases!

Paraphrase 1

  • Following the same pattern as the paragraph e.g. take the first sentence and change it slightly, then the second etc. is not acceptable
  • The main idea has been lost.
  • Too many identical chunks of language copied from the paragraph. Too much is directly lifted.

Paraphrase 2

  • A key term is ‘psychology’ for example – you can’t paraphrase it. But if it isn’t the keyword, you have to change it somehow. Or e.g. non-verbal behaviour, in this case.
  • Not plagiarised but not accurate either. Original: it may be that… Paraphrase: “it is assumed that…” not the same meaning. Need to keep the original message.
  • This person also follows the same pattern of the paragraph.
  • Parts of this have been paraphrased successfully but not acceptable over all.

Paraphrase 3

  • Acceptable

Paraphrase 4

  • The sentence lengths are too short.
  • Coherence and cohesion are also part of paraphrasing.
  • The language is not hedged enough.
  • Informality can be a problem.

Something to consider: What about where the source is acknowledged? At the end. But where does it start? We need to introduce also reporting verbs.

Task 4

  • Introducing paraphrases and quotes
  • The importance of reporting verbs
  • Tentativeness
  • Tenses

Start with a few sentences always with “write” e.g. the author wrote etc, ask ss to read the sentences, identify the verbs and think of other verbs that could be used instead of “wrote”/”has written”. There are many verbs we can use, some stronger, some more tentative.

Give ss sentences with such verbs used and get them to identify these and the tense. I.e. present simple. -> Present simple for current relevance. -> Referring to specific research may be past simple tense.

Get ss to match reporting verbs with their meaning. E.g. argue isn’t about fighting but about putting forward reasoning for your ideas.

Give ss sentences and get them to identify which reporting verbs could be used with each one. (E.g. no. 3 – Seal presents, Seal describes etc.)

Encourage students to use more tentative verbs e.g. challenges/questions/disagrees vs accuses/attacks/dismisses

image3

Task 5

Get students to write an acceptable paraphrase!

Encourage students to use mind-maps to organise the information visually. For identifying the key terms. From this they think about the who, what, why, make notes. They then use this when they write their paraphrase. So that they are not looking at the original and thus are not tempted to lift too much/pattern it the same way etc.

Great workshop – really useful for ideas for how to work with my ss on their paraphrasing over the summer. A most excellent start to the main conference, for me. 🙂

 

Teaching Academic Listening (and transferral to the General English classroom!)

This summer, I worked on a pre-sessional course for the very first time…

At Sheffield University, as well as teaching your tutor group writing skills and guiding them through the process of producing an extended written project, each teacher is responsible for teaching one of the other skills (reading, speaking or listening) to their own and a further two groups. For me, that skill was listening, 8 weeks of academic listening. And it was really interesting!

In this post, I’m going to share some of what I’ve done with my students and some of what I’ve learnt in the process. I also want to reflect on what might be transferable back to the general English classroom at International House, Palermo – rather imminently! (This post has been a few weeks in the pipelines!)

The 8 week listening thread of the pre-sessional course at Sheffield University was based on OUP EAP upper intermediate/B2 (de Chazal & McCarter, 2012) The listening skills development in this course book, to me, seems very strongly rooted in strategy development: students are equipped with strategies to use in order to help themselves listen more effectively to academic texts e.g lectures. Generic elements and functional language are teased out and students’ awareness raised, combined with scaffolded practice opportunities. This scaffolding is evident within units and across the book as a whole, where a gradual decrease can be identified, as students are expected to listen increasingly more independently.

This in mind, was all I had to do turn up and open to page x? Possibly not! In any case, having read a lot about teaching listening (e.g.Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action  Vandergrift and Goh 2012), much of which seemed applicable to academic listening, and adding to this what I had gleaned from the induction week as well as the relevant chapter in EAP Essentials (Alexander, Argent and Spencer, 2008), I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with the listening skills thread:

  1. Include (systematically, with gradually decreasing scaffolding) review activities at the start of the class and reflective activities at the end. (3hr lessons lend themselves to this approach beautifully!)
  2. Avoid the scenario of students meeting a new strategy and then consigning it to the dusty depths of a folder, never to be used again.
  3. Enable students to track their progress/development and recognise an accumulation of strategies being at their disposal. Not only this but also encourage *regular use* of them.
  4. Linked to all of the above, help the students become more independent listeners.

How did I do this?

  • Long-term planning

I made a hand-out to accompany each class, based on the activities in the course-book. Each handout guided the learners through the lesson from reflection to main content to review, also highlighting any new strategies introduced, and I made several weeks’ worth in advance. The main reason for this was time-management, trying to free up time for intensive marking periods and planned absences (graduation, wedding). However, I noticed that it really helped the coherence, especially as I had Vandergrift and Goh (2012) in mind, in terms of systematically reducing scaffolding and guiding learners towards independence in planning, monitoring and evaluating their strategy use. There was clear progression, explicit progression, from one class to the next.

Result: 

Increased coherence, making the content more useful for students.

I had the ss fill in a feedback form at the end of the class - 4 questions, no numbers, to encourage reflection  (for them) and to gain an insight into their thoughts (for me).

I had the ss fill in a feedback form at the end of the class – 4 questions, no numbers, to encourage reflection (for them) and to gain an insight into their thoughts (for me).

Out of 36 responses, one was withholding judgement until he/she knew whether he/she had passed the USEPT exam (the university entrance proficiency test), one thought it was partly useful but felt we talked too much, and the rest were “yes”‘s.

Transferability: 

It’s different in a General English environment, as courses tend to be organised around grammar structures. However, what I want to try and do this year at IH Palermo is help students see how they are building on what they have learnt and be more systematic in how I approach my lessons in terms of review and reflection. Of course, being 1hr20 minute lessons rather than 3hr lessons limits the amount of time available for this. Nevertheless, working with the time available, a similar ratio could usefully be applied.

  • Strategy tables

Strategy tables kept and updated by the students over the duration of the course.

Strategy tables kept and updated by the students over the duration of the course.

I made these between week 2 and week three of the course, following the blank stares that emerged in the initial review section of week 2. The idea was to help students build up a reference/resource, where at a glance they can see what strategies they have learnt and how to use them. This means they should be more likely to use them independently, rather than systematically forget about them, as new strategies are encountered. I completed the first strategy as an example, gave the students a little bit of time at the end of the class in week three to start updating them (so as to ensure they knew what they were doing) and then sent them off under instructions to bring their tables up to date. An important thing that emerged from this was the fact that it was not an instant success. The following week, not all students had updated their tables. However, by bringing it back into the classroom each week at the beginning of the lesson (students would compare their tables), an expectation of autonomy was created. In due course, all the students did live up to that expectation. This coincides with the recognition of the value of what they are doing and the behaviour becomes truly independent rather than purely response to expectation.

Result: 

Students finished the course with a record of what they had learnt, a resource to take away, and a more independent approach to their listening skills development. Out of 36 responses, 35 were “yes” and one was “no”, who thought that there were too many strategies to juggle. This student hadn’t yet reached the point of being able to select strategies independently. With 8 weeks of teaching, expecting all students to reach that point may be a little over-ambitious. Many students commented that the strategy tables were useful for reviewing what had been learnt in previous lessons and made remembering the strategies and how to use them easier. I was particularly pleased with comments that cropped up regarding the utility of the strategy table beyond the end of the course. If learners can see how something is going to be useful to them long-term, they are likely to invest more in using it, and be more independent in their use of it.

Comments on the strategy table.

Comments on the strategy table.

Comments on the strategy table (2)

Comments on the strategy table (2)

 

Comments on the strategy table (3)

Comments on the strategy table (3)

 

 Transferability:

I think use of a strategy table would transfer nicely to exam preparation classes, where exam strategies are key to success. It could also potentially be useful in terms of accumulating a record of learning strategies met and experimented with, or resources. In the past, I have given learners a handout with different resources for them to try. I wonder if getting them to create this handout themselves, collaboratively perhaps, might be even more effective…

  • Listening logs

Listening log in action!

Listening log in action!

These were made and introduced alongside the strategy tables. The idea was not by own but based on what I’ve learnt by reading about teaching listening. I adapted it to this context. As with the strategy tables, I started the learners off with an example. The goals were to encourage independent listening, to help learners develop metacognitive awareness and to avoid the scenario (much bemoaned by listening teachers) of the question “What have you listened to since the last lesson? Which strategies have you practiced?” being met with blank stares. Again, as with the strategy tables, learners compared their logs at the beginning of each lesson.

Result:

Some students thought the log could be improved by including space for their actual note-taking. Others thought it wasn’t for them. Those that used it, however, did find it useful, as a means of structuring and tracking their out-of-class listening and tracking their progress.

Listening log comments (1)

Listening log comments (1)

Listening log comments (2)

Listening log comments (2)

Listening log comments (3)

Listening log comments (3)

Listening log comments (4)

Listening log comments (4)

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 20.39.30

Listening log comments (5)

Transferability: 

As I have learnt through my own language learning this summer, as well as through these students’ experiences, logging is an incredibly useful thing to do. I think it is very transferable to the General English classroom. Students can log their out-of-class study and in the process create a record of their efforts, achievements and progress. Personally speaking, I’ve found it a useful way of maintaining motivation. I think learning logs could be also usefully used in conjunction with something like a learning contract. I think it needs careful thought though, as to how valuable it’s going to be. For example with these students, it wasn’t just what they did that they recorded, but how they went about it (in terms of strategy choice) and reflections on that experience.

  • Reprocessing information/strategies

As well as using listening logs and strategy tables with the students, I also used classroom activities to encourage them to reprocess what they were learning and really internalise it. For example, mingles in which the students played strategy guessing games or simply recalled as many strategies (and what they involve) as they could in a given time frame, swapping partners frequently and repeating (generally also collecting and taking with them information/ideas from their various partners – enabling them to benefit from a collective understanding of what they were learning).

Another effective activity was getting students, in groups to create mind-maps of the strategies, which they then presented to their classmates:

Mind-maps (1)

Mind-maps (1)

IMG_0674

Mind-maps (2)

IMG_0673

Mind-maps (3)

Result:

This encouraged deeper processing both of what the strategies involved and how they relate to each other as well as to the task at hand. We did the activity in a lesson subsequent to one in which the focus of the lecture extract was on categorisation (e.g. Aristotle’s classification of the world) and using diagrams in note-taking, so this task also developed that theme by requiring students to categorise the strategies and present their ideas visually.

Transferability: 

Activities like this obviously have great transferability potential, and,  as well as encouraging deeper processing of lesson content, give students opportunity to use language meaningfully and benefit from each others’ knowledge and understanding.

  • Systematic introduction of out-of-class listening resources 

At the end of each class, I gave students a new resource to try (e.g. Oxford University podcasts, UCL lunchtime lectures etc.) and at the beginning of the next class, they had to report back to their classmates regarding what they had done with the resource and an evaluation of it. This was done in conjunction with using the listening logs described above. Again, uptake wasn’t instantaneous, but perseverance meant students did use the resources in due course – and develop their listening.

This was a more directed version of my Experimentation with English project. It seemed logical as EAP is more directed too: goals are very specific, and specific needs relating to these require specific resources. I think there is something to be said for for introducing resources piece-meal, in terms of not overwhelming students. Having said that, my students at IH loved the handout with all the different resources.

Transferability:

I wonder about using this approach in conjunction with my EE project. So, as well as giving learners the resource, going through a more directed process so that all the learners end up trying at least some of the resources. Then, those who are more independent will inevitably try more besides, but perhaps the gap between the more and less independent might be lessened by the extra direction.  I think this could also be transferable to exam preparation classes, in terms of encouraging students to use different exam preparation resources to prepare, and sharing what they learn with each other.

Conclusions:

It was a very interesting summer, and, I am happy to say, my three groups performed very strongly overall in the listening component of the listening proficiency/entrance exam. Importantly, they also felt they had made progress, thanks to the concrete means of measuring it (e.g. strategy tables and listening logs), which helped maintain motivation and encourage a feeling of all the hard work they were putting in being worthwhile. Equally importantly, they were equipped to continue to develop their skills independently and apply what they had learnt in the new context. (Encouraged by frequent pushing from me to reflect on the relevance of what we were doing to what they would be doing in the future – i.e. their university courses!).

I now look forward to trying to transfer what I have learnt to my current context and help my new students to be develop as effectively as possible over the short duration that they are studying with me.

 

 

EAP-inspired #1: ‘Send a messenger!’ – a technique to get ideas flowing round the classroom

This is the first of what might turn into a handful of posts inspired by working at Sheffield University on a 10 week pre-sessional programme this summer. Through these posts, I want to identify what I can take away from EAP back into General English in the autumn. The ‘Send a messenger!’ technique is one for starters. 

This technique is an alternative way to encourage idea sharing without the need to regroup everybody. I started doing this in my pre-sessional classes in an attempt to address an issue that came out of my formal observation: the need to overcome the limitations of the room and vary interaction patterns. Despite teaching small groups of students, I teach in three different lecture theatres of varying size. Rows of fixed seating presents an interesting conundrum for a teacher who is used to more typical purpose-built language learning classrooms. One of the ways I have overcome it is as follows:

I use ‘Send a Messenger’ to allow my students to benefit from the ideas generated by all the other groups in the classroom, in order to further develop their own, while negating ‘faff time’ that accompanies too much moving around, especially in fixed-seating, where everything is quite awkward!

It’s as simple as this:

  • Learners work in groups on a task. (In fixed lecture theatre seating, a pair talks to the pair behind them etc.)
  • Once they have had time to work on the task, the teacher tells the class that each group is allowed to ‘send a messenger’ to another group to gather more ideas/information relating to the task. A buzz generally goes round the room!
  • The chosen ‘messengers’ move groups and speak to the group they’ve moved to, noting down what they discover. The remaining group members are left with the job of sharing the ideas they’d generated prior to the messengers being sent.
  • Once the ‘messengers’ have spent a short time with each of the other groups, they return to their group and relay what they’ve learnt.
  • Original groups then use the newly gathered information/ideas, in addition to what they had to start with, in order to complete the task.

Benefits:

  • It is a quick and easy way of enabling a class to share ideas with minimal disruption.
  • It changes the pace/flow of the class, as there is movement and new groupings involved, so energy levels go up a bit. (Which is handy in a tiring pre-sessional!)
  • It doesn’t require A LOT of moving around (as with numbering learners off and putting them into new groups) so it is less time-consuming/faffy.
  • Learners like to know what the other groups have thought of and incorporate it into their own work.
  • It allows the class to collaborate and benefit from each others’ strengths (and minimise weaknesses).

I’ve done it at the ideas generation stage, at the task-checking stage and any time in between where it’s seemed like the learners could do with some extra inspiration.

Enjoy!

 

Messenger pigeons? Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

Messenger pigeons?  Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

My top 10(+!) EAP resources

Now that I am (temporarily) teaching EAP (English for Academic Purposes), I thought I would combine my Top 10’s in ELT idea with my useful EAP resources idea… Here is a list of great resources for EAP teachers and their students. As with all the Top 10 (+) lists, feel free to comment and suggest additional resources – new ideas always welcome!

Books

 EAP Essentials – by Olwyn Alexander, Sue Argent and Jenifer Spence.

EAP Essentials - essential in name, essential in nature...

EAP Essentials – essential in name, essential in nature… – screenshot from Amazon

This is a really useful book for anyone in EAP, whether new to it (as I am) or experienced (is my hunch) – it is a very interesting read, treating all aspects of EAP in great detail. It includes tasks throughout, which make you read actively, and a CD with lots of sample EAP materials on it. The materials are cross-referenced to in the text, and exemplify the authors’ perspectives on effective EAP teaching. The lucky teachers on the Sheffield Uni pre-sessional induction were given a free copy before Jenifer Spence proceeded to teach us how to teach EAP! I couldn’t benefit from this freebie, however, as I had already bought my own copy (last year), to try and learn a bit about EAP before applying for jobs…

English for Academic Purposes – by Edward de Chazal

Another comprehensive tome...

Another comprehensive tome… – screenshot from Amazon

This comprehensive take on EAP has the added benefit of being available in electronic form. (Generally a good thing if you are in the habit of moving from one part of the world to another on a regular basis!) It deals with the history of EAP, methodology, language, criticality, skills and more.

Online Resources

 The Oxford University Press ELT Blog

Screen Shot 2014-07-13 at 20.56.34

OUP ELT EAP (!) – a screenshot of the search result page

On the OUP ELT blog, you can find a number of blog posts that are EAP-related. Click on the picture to be taken to the results of a search for these posts.

 Lexico Blog

Lexicoblog - a screenshot of the homepage

Lexicoblog – a screenshot of the homepage

I first came across Julie Moore rather recently – at IATEFL, where I attended her brilliant talk . Since then, I’ve also discovered this blog of hers, which is full of high quality posts. Can be relied upon for good food for thought if you are EAP-oriented, or if you just like reading interesting things! In her blog, you can also find some information about the e-book she made for Teacher to Writer, How to write EAP materials. Which is another great resource for the list:

How to write EAP Materials

Screenshot from Julie's post about this wonderful book that she produced.

Screenshot from Julie’s post about this wonderful book that she produced.

Writing materials is something we all do a bit of, even if it’s just for us to use with our own students. This little book is a great way to improve what you create and learn more about EAP in the process! Highly recommended.

EAP Infographics

Screenshot of EAP Infographics

Screenshot of EAP Infographics

EAP Infographics is a project in progress by Adam Simpson, and an ingenious way of presenting EAP language and functions visually. Adam also gives you a run down on the what and how of making and using infographics here . Whether you use Adam’s visuals or start making your own, your students may well find the visuals helpful as a means of making the language and functions clearer and more memorable. They may serve to clear up doubts that learners have regarding meaning and usage too.

Wordandphrase.info 

A screenshot of Wordandphrase.info/academic

A screenshot of Wordandphrase.info/academic

This is a fantastic tool. It is an interface for corpus analysis, which enables the user to generate definitions, synonyms, collocates and concordance lines. There is a special academic section of the site, pictured above, which is where you want to direct EAP students to, rather than the general part of the site. This tool is helpful in pushing learners to become more autonomous, as you can deal with vocabulary-related questions by directing them to explore a word or chunk using this tool, rather than relying on you. If they use a word or chunk wrongly in their writing, you can also direct them to look at it using this tool and try to correct their mistakes independently. Hopefully this approach also makes the correct version more memorable, as more processing would go into the process of correction. Learners may need some guidance initially, as concordance lines can be a bit daunting. The great thing about the concordance lines generated by this site is that they are colour coded by word type, which makes picking out patterns that much easier.

Google docs

Screenshot of my Google drive!

Screenshot of (my) Google drive!

Of course Google docs is not aimed at EAP teachers and learners. It is aimed at and accessible to everybody. If you haven’t got a gmail account, why not make a dummy account so that you as a teacher have access to this valuable tool? Many universities give staff gmail university email accounts, so you might get one that way too! Google docs is a collaborative tool. It allows multiple users to edit documents simultaneously. It also includes a chat function and a commenting function. The combination of multiple editing and chat function means that it is ideal for group projects and the commenting function makes feedback very easy. I’ve used it a lot in my EAP writing classes recently – in class, students work in pairs or groups to do activities (e.g. write an introduction, write a paraphrase etc.), compare their output with the rest of the class and I comment on their output too. The end result is a collection of e.g. paraphrases commented on by the teacher, which can then be a resource for students to come back to, if they are struggling with the element in question. I get them to submit their homework this way too, so that it, too, can be compared and become a class resource. Students can learn from their own and each other’s mistakes. And, of course, unlike the usual scraps of paper that students seem to produce when they have to write anything down, or the haphazard notebook full of anything and everything, documents in google docs are easy to come back to and look at beyond the time of production.

Academic Vocabulary 

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 19.39.47

Screenshot of Academic Vocabulary

The University of Nottingham have made this brilliant website based on Avril Coxhead’s Academic Wordlist, which resulted from research she did into vocabulary used in an academic context. Nottingham Uni have developed a collection of tools that make the list even more helpful. For example, you can paste in a text and the site will highlight all the academic words. You can also gap those words out to create an activity for students to do. You could for example do this with a transcript from a lecture: get learners to listen and complete the gaps, thus focusing them on the academic vocabulary. Students could use this tool autonomously too, to help them build up a bank of academic words collected through looking at texts or simply by using the lists and sublists, as well as associated concordance activities.

Using English for Academic Purposes: A guide for students in higher education

Screenshot of Using English for Academic Purposes: a guide for students in higher education

Screenshot of Using English for Academic Purposes: a guide for students in higher education

This comprehensive website could be of use to the teacher who is new to EAP and wants to learn more about it (ahem!) as much as for the students it is directed at. Why not divide up the site between your group of students, and get groups of them to explore each section of it. Give groups a little time to discuss what they found, then regroup the groups to present to each other about their section of the website. The next homework could be to try a different part of the website, based on needs, weaknesses and\or interests.

Useful EAP-related resources

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Screenshot of my ‘Useful EAP resources’ post

And finally, I am including this post, even though it’s number 11,  because in it are gathered a whole lot more links to EAP-related resources, that I started collecting over a year ago now, to help me find out more about EAP because I knew I wanted to work in a university this summer! 🙂 Happily for me, I made it! Currently working at Sheffield University and loving it. (Though it’s the reason why this blog has been so quiet! Turns out pre-sessionals are all-consuming for the most part! 😉 )

I hope you find these resources useful and please do comment with further resources to add to the list! I would love to know about them! 🙂

 

Julie Moore: How do Engineers say that? Encouraging academic independence in ELT (Session 1)

This is my first academic English session for the conference! I had intended to attend more, but as I have mentioned in previous posts, the best-laid plans of mice, men and conference participants… It is also the first talk of the day for the ESP SIG Day. We are shown the timetable and I realise I may  be back in this room again after the coffee break! That’ll save getting lost… 😉 Apparently they are also being recorded…

How do Engineers say that? Encouraging academic independence in ELT

Julie starts with thank-you’s and asking the audience to complete the feedback form at the end, and introduces herself.

She is going to talk to us about dealing with mixed-discipline classes and how to encourages students to be more independent. She asked us who are practising EAP teachers and most hands went up except mine – yet! She also asked about management roles and materials developers. Still not me… 😉 She acknowledges that we all want to get different things out of the day. (For me? to learn more about EAP!) She compares us to a mixed-discipline EAP class – going on to different things, with different objectives. The teacher/presenter has to (try to) keep all happy.

She shows us a wordle (word cloud) of the different subject areas of students on her courses. Some are more heavily represented than others, but there is a huge range. The course coordinator often doesn’t know till the last minute who will turn up. Institutional constraints mean they can’t be split up but must be taught in the same class, all with different needs, wanting to learn different things.

Principle no 1:

Identify key, transferable academic principles, features, skills and language: things that will be useful in any discipline. What will be useful to all of my students?

Principle no 2:

Give the students a clear rationale: explain to the students why you have chosen these things and why they are useful. This is a step that often gets missed out but is very important, as students may  not see the relevance. Materials writers should make it clear to teachers and students, teachers to their students.

Principle no 3:

Encourage students to apply general classroom ideas to their own discipline via independent study. We will see an example of how we can encourage students to do this.

E.g. 1 OUP Advanced writing module: A sequence of tasks leading to a writing task

Looking at the task of writing a critical response. Traditionally we teach essays, and essays do come up across discipline, but less common in hard sciences, but the other genre that occurs across disciplines is a critical response/critique/review. When Julie thinks of a critique she thinks of English literature, but students can critique all kinds of things, especially at advanced levels.

This activity presents students with examples (five in the book, three shown on screen), short examples of critique writing from different disciplines. Students asked to think about which discipline they are studying, topics discussed and stances taken. Within the examples, some of the language is in bold.

The first example is a science-y kind of subject. The review is a bit critical, a bit supportive – “significant uses”  but them it expresses limitations “not entirely consistent”: so this is getting students to think about how we evaluate.

So students start to see here that this style of writing occurs across disciplines. This is the very first task. You are showing them upfront that this something that all disciplines need to do. All the examples won’t be directly relevant to the student, but they can see the relevance of the activity. So this is an example of engaging the students upfront.

Identifying skills and features

Julie shows us a lesson sequence, with task headings that are focused on transferable features/skills rather than topics. This draws out skills and language, and how to use abstracts for writing and research. This may be from looking at examples not related to their discipline but then the final task is an independent research project where they are encouraged to find examples related to their discipline and focus on those abstracts. Which features studied in the lesson occur in the abstract and identify the language for describing aims.

But will they really do it? Maybe some of the conscientious ones. But the others won’t bother. Julie says that the important thing is to require students to report back. “Next class bring back what you have found, so you can report back” – that stops it being a throwaway task. (This fits right in with my thoughts/feelings/approaches re autonomy!) 

In a class of 14 students in Julie’s class, there were a total of 23 abstracts, ranging from law, business, electronic engineering, film studies, TESOL – quite a range. What they found was 12 used personal pronouns “I” and “We” – interesting as we often tell students not be personal but in this context, talking about aims, it IS common: important for reading and writing as well. 10 examples of reference to the text itself – “this article” and “this paper”. They also found some verbs for describing aims, some overlapping with what had been discussed in the above sequence from OUP and some new. E.g. examine, discuss, analyse etc

It got the students thinking about similarities and differences between theirs and other disciplines. With all these tasks, the discussion is more important than anything else, giving students time to explore their own discipline in relation to others, giving them the skills to start doing this themselves: transferable skills, helping them to move towards a more autonomous position. You help them develop the skills to explore and analyse for themselves.

(I love this!! So inline with my beliefs!)  

Five minutes for questions: (paraphrased…)

Q Are your students mostly post-graduate students? A lot of my students probably wouldn’t have that sense of their own discipline. 

A: The book we were working on was for Advanced level, so aimed more at post-grad students. You could do it a little bit. One of the reasons we focused on abstracts is that they are freely available, so even if they aren’t attached to a uni yet and don’t have access, then it’s still possible for them to start to explore a little bit. They can still explore texts from their own area.

Q: Presumably you as the teacher could bring in a pile of abstracts to help them, as they may not have the skills to find these themselves. 

A: Yes, you could absolutely.

Q: I was just reflecting on what you were saying about throw-away tasks – I think I’m guilty of this – I think a lot of that comes from nervousness thinking that we need to know about all the disciplines. I’d get nervous that I’d get all these abstracts back the next time and none of them would fit together etc. Any advice for setting up that second task?

A: I think for me it’s just about having confidence in what you do know and being perfectly happy to admit what you don’t know. E.g. this law student who brought in bizarre abstracts that I didn’t understand because of the legal language. All I could say to him was “that’s interesting” but other law students had brought more conventional ones and we explored the reason behind the differences and we came to the conclusion that it was a specific journal with a specific style. Release control, not worry too much and be able to admit that you don’t know. I don’t think you always have to have an answer. You just deal with the things you can deal with.

Audience member comment: Students enjoy explaining at a higher level what they know to students from a different background, when you put them in groups to discuss.

Students are a wonderful resource!

 

 

Helping language learners become language researchers: wordandphrase.info (part 1)

What is wordandphrase.info?

Wordandphrase.info is a brilliant website. Essentially, it is a user-friendly interface for analysing a corpus. (For those of you who haven’t come across this term as yet, a corpus is a collection of texts stored electronically.) In this case, it is the COCA (Corpus Of Contemporary American English) corpus, a 450 million word corpus. It is the largest corpus that is freely available, was collected between 1990 and 2012 and contains texts from spoken, newspaper, fiction and academic registers.

Due to its user-friendliness (colour-coding for different parts of speech in the examples, colour-coding for frequency in text analysed etc.), wordandphrase.info seems ideal for use with students, a tool that could help them become more independent, by providing a means of discovering how language is used, that doesn’t rely on the teacher.

It provides information like:

  • frequency of word or phrase use (within the top 500 most-used words, 501-3000, 3000+)
  • frequency of word or phrase use within particular genres (spoken, newspapers, fiction, academic)
  • definitions, synonyms and collocates (for which it also provides frequency information, making it a very powerful collocational thesaurus, for phrases as well as words)

It allows you to:

  • input (type in or copy and paste) a paragraph of text and see at a glance (through colour-coding) how frequent words are.
  • search for a phrase from that inputted text, by clicking on the component words and generate examples of that chunk of language in use.
  • look at a list of colour-coded examples and identify, at a glance, what types of words are used before and after the word in focus (nouns? adjectives? adverbs? prepositions?), with a rough indication of frequency (in terms of how much highlighting of a particular colour you can see in comparison to another) too.

All in all, it enables you to gain a  better idea of the meaning and use of a word or phrase, as well as its potential alternatives.

However, when learners first meet it, it might seem daunting:

  • When you search commonly used words or phrases, large numbers of examples may be generated: this may be confusing for learners, especially as the examples are portions of sentences (x number of words around the word being analysed) rather than complete sentences, and are devoid of context.
  • Before the colour-coding for parts of speech can help you, you need to understand what it means!
  • There is a lot of information on the page – it can be difficult to know where to start.

How can we use this website with learners?

This is something I am still exploring. I think it has massive power but the limitations need managing carefully so that they don’t put students off.

I have already created some self-access materials (inspired by a course mate of mine – see below for more details) which guide learners through using the site, through a series of tasks, and help them to discover what they can do with it. My learners (of various levels) have used these materials and many were able to complete the tasks without too much difficulty. Some learners independently shared information they found via using the site, using our class blog. However, for the most part it “gathered dust”. 

While my materials address the “how” (at a basic level – there is more that the website can do, that I am still finding out!), they don’t help learners become better at identifying the patterns that are present in the examples generated. Perhaps in order for learners to use wordandphrase.info successfully and really harness its power, in-class scaffolding is needed, in the form of using concordances with learners, getting them to produce word profiles and generally developing their noticing skills. Of course, as teachers we are always trying to help learners develop better noticing skills, but we usually work with texts, complete with some kind of context, rather than with sentence fragments devoid of context. Transferring these noticing skills, then, may not be achieved automatically.

One of my aims in the next couple of months is to create some activities using concordances and other information from Wordandphrase.info and use them with my learners, to give them more scaffolding, and help them to develop their use of the site independently, as language researchers. I hope to integrate it so that learners use it to find out  more about the vocabulary we meet in class, as well as encourage them to apply it to language they meet out of class. What I create and how I get on with this project will form part 2 (and onwards?!) of this series of posts.

Here are the materials I have made:

Wordandphrase.info self access  – a guided discovery tour of the website, with an answer key at the end. If you aren’t familiar with the site, these might be as useful for you as for your learners?! 🙂

These materials were inspired by a course mate of mine at Leeds Met , Jane Templeton, who made some guided discovery materials to help learners use wordandphrase.info  to choose mid-frequency vocabulary from texts they encountered, as these mid-range words provide a useful learning focus, and to find out more about their choices. I wanted to use wordandphrase.com with my learners too, but wanted a more general purpose intro to the features of the site, rather than geared towards that particular purpose.  So it was I made my materials, with the example word “outfit” – which may seem a rather random choice! – taken from the page of compounds learners meet in Headway Advanced Unit 6. Though, one might well question whether guiding learners towards a particular purpose, as in Jane’s materials, might be more useful than my vaguer, more general approach… <answers on a postcard!>

How can this website help *you*, the teacher?

Wordandphrase.info enables you to:

  • copy and paste in a text that you want to use with your learners and see at a glance what percentage of high frequency (top 0-500), mid-frequency (500-3000) and low-frequency (outside the top 3000) words are present in your text and so an indication of what difficulties it is likely to present to your learners.
  • You could use this information to guide you in decisions regarding what words to pre-teach, what scaffolding your learners might need when they meet this text, or perhaps what words to adjust to more frequently used synonyms (something else the site can help you find, as it provides both synonyms and frequency information, as well as examples of use, if you are unsure whether you have found the right alternative) if you feel that would be more appropriate, depending on your goals in using the text and the level of your learners.

Conclusion:

Wordandphrase.info is a site with a lot of potential for language learners and teachers alike. I’m still learning how to use it and finding ways to tap that potential. Please let me know how you get on with using the materials I have uploaded here, and the website, whether yourself, or on behalf of your learners – I would be very interested to hear! I would also be interested to hear any ideas, you have and try out, for integrating use of Wordandphrase.info, in any context, and how it has benefited your learners.

Useful EAP-related resources

This annotated collection of resources is for anyone with an interest in EAP, including people like me who want to learn more about it. There’s lots of stuff out there, some of which I have found, so I thought I would gather it all into one place for convenience. If you know of any other resources, which are not included here (and I am sure there will be plenty!), please do comment on this post with a link to the resource and a short description of what it contains, so I can add it to this list – such contributions would be much appreciated!

Blogs

This blog goes with the #eapchat hashtag on Twitter, which was founded by Tyson Seburn (@seburnt). Discussions are had on the first and third Mondays of every month, at 9 a.m. and 3p.m. EST. In between these times, plenty of interesting links appear in the hash stream.

This blog’s tagline is “Polemical. Questioning, debating and exploring issues in EAP” – says it all really! A lot of interesting stuff related to EAP there to get your teeth into.

This blog describes itself as “The diary of an EAP practitioner on a journey to self-educate”  – and the author has been in EAP since 2009. An interesting mixture of things EAP-related to read.

This blog carries some useful posts for people who are trying to get work in EAP – and of course the website itself is where a lot of universities advertise their jobs. The blog describes itself thus: “This blog covers a wide range of topics within English for Academic Purposes (EAP) including English language learning and teaching (ELT) and English for specific purposes (ESP).

Ana Christina’s blog has a page devoted to EAP-related links, including links aimed at students, and lots of other interesting stuff to look at besides.

A blog with reflections on EAP, kept by Steve Kirk – some really interesting stuff, well worth a visit.

Individual Blog Posts

This blog post contains some useful tips for academic listening preparation.

Adam Simpson’s blog post investigates what we should be asking ourselves when we teach EAP.

This blog post looks at the role of humour in university learning. Can students be trained to laugh? Read on and find out…

Websites

“A global forum for EAP Professionals” , BALEAP offers institutional and individual memberships which entitles you to a bunch of interesting stuff (I’m about to join, actually!). They also run various conferences and events.

This is a collection of links to various EAP resources, curated by @PatrickAndrews, including blogs, websites, articles and newspaper articles. Lots to explore!

This is a bibliography related to learner corpora and forms part of a website belonging to the Centre for English Corpus Linguistics. The list and the site itself look to be very useful.

This Scoopit page, curated by Steve Kirk, contains a variety of informative resources for EAP Practitioners. Lots of interesting stuff to go at here!