Vocabulary Review Activity for Teenagers

Aim: 

Review previously met vocabulary in a fun, game-like way.

Materials: 

A pre-prepared slide with all the target vocabulary on it (and some red herrings as well, if you wish…) – see example below; fly swats or post-its or balls (I used fly swats in this case but no reason why the other methods can’t work! Balls might be quite challenging on the motor skills, of course due to the target size…); a set of cards with one piece of target vocabulary on each one.

Some vocabulary!

An example: Some L5a vocabulary!

This game is a cross between the board bashes I do with my Ms (10 to 12 year olds) on a regular basis, which is a case of I put a bunch of target vocabulary pictures on a slide, I say the word, they bash the word, or post-it the word or throw a ball at it, as the case may be, and the backs to the board game I often do with my L5a (upper int 13-15yr old) teens. It came about because I wanted to review vocabulary with afore-mentioned teens but change up the usual backs to the board with a bit of variety… 

Method

  • Put learners into teams
  • Invite one member of each team up to the board. Hand them a fly swat or post-it. (Or, get them to stand a bit away from the board and hand them a ball…)
  • One team picks a word card, looks at it, passes it to the next team to look at and so on. Once all teams know what the word is, they start to try and get their team mates at the board to guess the word, in usual backs to the board style (definitions, synonyms, banana sentences…).
  • Team members at the board swat, post-it or throw the ball at the word they think is the answer. (NB to avoid random bashing, stipulate that incorrect guesses lose points…)
  • First team member to swat, post-it or throw the ball at the correct word gains a point for their team.
  • Teams each send another person up to the board for round 2.
  • The game continues until the word cards are finished or until you feel enough time has been spent, whichever happens first!

It worked well, my teens got really in to it. Of course, as you can imagine, the losing points stipulation came about in reaction to the random board bashing issue! It takes a bit more preparation than usual backs to the board but it’s very quick, easy preparation really.

No reason why it couldn’t be used in adult classes as well, of course!

Enjoy!

Write-up of Andrew Walkley’s BELTA webinar: Language-focused teacher development

This afternoon, I have had the pleasure of attending a fantastic webinar presented by Andrew Walkley, one half of the popular Dellar-Walkley duo whose project Lexical Lab you might be aware of. 

Andrew delivering an awesome webinar!

Andrew delivering an awesome webinar!

The focus of the webinar was Language-focused teacher development, looking at the way we deal with vocabulary in class and what we need to be doing outside class in order for this to become more effective. I took notes as we went along, so here they are, slightly edited to make them more comprehensible…

  • First we were asked to put groups of four words into order of their frequency.
  • Then we were asked to make examples for a set of seven words and a structure (the past continuous).

Andrew went on to explain that within the CLT era, we have seen some particular types of approaches emerge, that are language rich and responsive – TBL, Lexical Approach, Dogme, Demand High…

  • In TBL, if there is breakdown in communication, this is where learning is supposed to happen, the teacher facilitating this learning.
  • In Dogme, maybe some further practice together will be done too.
  • With Demand High teaching (which concept he said sparked this talk), there was a complaint that a lot of teaching taking place where you move from task to task but without much actual teaching happening. The teacher needed to be stronger in saying ‘no, this is wrong’ or pushing individual students and teaching them in the moments where they are struggling. A lot of Scrivener’s solutions were technical, technique-type things, e.g. the teacher pretends not to understand what the student is saying, thereby forcing them to explain why what they were were saying was right.

That’s ok to a point, but Andrew felt that it wasn’t the real reason why the teaching wasn’t happening.  He has been interested in the Lexical Approach since its publication 20 years ago now, he has also been aware of the expectations of thinking about language and dealing with language that are advocated in LA are high. He recognises that it is difficult.

Andrew then introduced us to a book, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It deals with the difficulty for experts in employing their expertise. This is because of the need for fast, in the moment, spontaneous thinking, where rather than think clearly about certain aspects of thinking, we replace a kind of logical thought with heuristics i.e. a generalised idea of something.

This brought us back to the task we did at the start.

Andrew showed us the answers to the frequency question:

Screenshot of the answers to the frequency quiz

Screenshot of the answers to the frequency quiz

Then he asked whether the corpus frequency answer (biased towards written) is reflective of the bias in native speaker natural use? His feeling is that often we overestimate certain frequencies of words and underestimate others. In the spoken corpus, arise and beard come at a similar level. Many students are interested in academic and professional lives in English, where they may not be using the language all the time in the workplace or study in Britain etc, but the resources they use may be in English, so a word like ‘arise’ would have a higher frequency and value.

As for the activity of making examples: our tendency is to produce examples like the ones we produced, but sometimes these aren’t actually the most common uses or even the way we use the language. Of this type of example, they may be one in a thousand in the corpus. E.g. She is a Christian. So… how is Christian really used? Andrew confessed that he might struggle with some of these words, in terms of making examples. E.g. whereby, arise, in terms of. Some of these are more difficult to think of examples from. They don’t fit into that simple x is y pattern. They require more complex sentences:

Screenshot from the webinar

Screenshot of Andrew’s examples from the webinar

It’s difficult to think of these kind of examples on the spot, Andrew explained, the Daniel Kahneman book offering some very clear reasons as to why. This is to do with biases that overtake logical thought. Our tendency would be to put words like blonde, banana etc. higher up because we know we can think of examples for these more easily than arise or whereby. If we think about the number of different contexts that we use banana or arise, then it becomes clear that arise would occur in academic texts, meetings, and several more possible contexts than the word banana or beard. Similarly serious vs. fun, there are a wider number of things that can be serious than there are fun things. As I understood it, this is availability bias, one of three factors that affect our choice:

  • availability bias
  • representational bias
  • priming

Apparently words also have a representational bias, e.g. x is y, x does y, doctor has a white coat etc. So the examples and explanations that come to mind are often of that nature.

Finally, priming: In English language teaching, this is quite strong. E.g. I was having a bath when the phone rang.

  • Because of what we’ve learnt before and what we’ve seen in coursebooks before, we think of certain examples and contexts, and we don’t see the wider context we could use.
  • Sometimes when we are trying to hear what students are saying, and trying to correct them, often what we are primed to notice is basic grammar, typical grammar that we have taught before. So, we will commonly notice the present perfect used incorrectly or missed third person ‘s’ and these we look to correct.

Andrew explained that this is problematic in terms of these responsive methodologies. There is too big a cognitive load for any teacher trying to use these methods.

When you are in class, e.g. with TBL you are catering for individuals and have to do many things, which he went on to describe:

  • You have to hear the student first, which is already difficult possibility due to layout and noise levels.
  • You have to understand what they want to say/write, recognise the error/gap in their language, and give the ‘correct’ example (” because sometimes what we want to be doing is extend ss knowledge, e.g. where they use a particular word where another less frequent use works better)
  • You then have to explain or check why one is correct and the other isn’t, if we are talking in terms of TBL and Dogme, then extra examples of new language are necessary, and for Dogme also further ‘spontaneous’ practice.
  • Finally you need to remember it in order to revise and recycle it at a later date.

That’s a lot to expect. And multiplied by all individual students with individual needs. So, instead, Andrew said, we fall back on examples given before, or focus on relatively infrequent words and give simplified examples which don’t necessarily reflect enough of how those words are used. Yet if you are a believer in a more lexical approach to teaching, one of the most important things is giving good examples of how language is used.

So, this is the big issue with these methodologies. Ironically, often, somebody who doesn’t like coursebooks will give examples that have been seen in one before! Coursebook writers are similarly primed. You come up with examples which afterwards you think ‘what was I thinking? Nobody would ever say that!‘. If you believe that exemplifying natural use is important than you need to also think outside the class. Inside the class it is too difficult due to cognitive load. It may also be that to become a better non-course book user, we need to become better coursebook users and writers!

The more we focus on different words and how we might exemplify them and ask questions about them, and think about spontaneous practices for them, the more we will get better at doing it spontaneously. Kahen (of the above-mentioned book) suggests the example of chess players who basically learn lots and lots and lots of moves. It takes all those hours of practice in order to become spontaneous in the context of a chess match. We may not have so much time to prepare in our lives but it’s an ongoing process so if we work at it incrementally, we’ll get better at it.

In terms of training and development, however, most focus is grammatical, rather than lexis. Grammar rules into which we slot the words. Andrew doesn’t particularly agree with this. At this stage in the talk, he outlined some potential issues for teacher development:

  • In terms of the planning, on training courses and post-qualification, planning focuses on activities: thinking of activities to help practice bits of grammar or vocabulary in the course book. Whereas we should think a lot more about the lexis and the questions we are going to ask about it etc. in the planning.
  • Judgement of lessons in observations shouldn’t based on fulfilling aims as it goes agains the idea of being responsive to students. So we need to think about how we think about language AND expectations of what a good lesson is.
  • Teacher development tends to focus on learning new techniques. E.g. Demand High. Frustrating because it is more techniques, other ways of doing somehting. Wehreas I feel we need to focus more on actual language.

Andrew put forward some alternatives:

Frequency training

  • Macmillan dictionary: game to decide if it is three star, two star or one star words. (Different frequencies) Once you realise that something is frequent, thinking about why it’s frequent and as a consequence thinking about the kind of examples you might give to reflect that frequency.
  • The compleat lexical tutor: I missed this explanation!
  • Phrasal English.org: Uses the BNC. Put in a word or two, request exact word or same lemma. E.g. inc plural, past participle form included. Gives a rough count and a concordance. (Like wordandphrase.info, I think?)  May be skewed by names. E.g. Christian. But still gives an idea. You might just take this as a staffroom thing, e.g. reading something or taking a collocation. Have competitions who thinks something is more common than something else. E.g. ambitious plan vs ambitious scheme. Then find out. To help us think about frequencies.

Exploiting vocabulary exercises

Essentially a lot of vocabulary activities focus on single words. Increasingly, now, you also get collocation exercises, matching two words to make a collocation. You might even have whole sentence exercises e.g. gap fills, little dialogues matching question and response. We need to think about slightly different ways of using these.

  • In a single word exercise, we should think about what collocations to elicit from students about these words and questions to ask about the vocabulary. Not just meaning focused but usage focused.
  • With collocation exercises, now we need to think beyond the collocation and think about the collocates of the collocations e.g. example sentences and dialogues, or a story to tell?
  • And then if you think about the whole sentence exercises, ask questions to get students reuse grammar and chunks, and other vocabulary that isn’t the focus but can be exploited.

Take for e.g. a ‘Which is the odd one out?’ exercise

The temptation is to say the non-odd words out are the same. But are they? And what do the students get apart from adding re-? Instead think about how we can use these words more. What collocations can go with these words?

  • Is what we reconstruct the same as what we rebuild?
  • Is what we reconsider the same as what we reexamine?
  • E.g. we can rebuild a relationship but we don’t reconstruct or remake it. We reexamine the evidence but we don’t rethink the evidence. We might rewrite an essay but not reword it. We might reword something shorter like an answer. We remake a film but we don’t rebuild it.

These are the kinds of things we want to be able to tell our students. We need precise examples. Going back to supermarkets, we might overestimate its frequency, quite often we don’t say I’m going to the supermarket, we say I’m going to Tescos or Carrefour. Perhaps these are better examples for our students in some ways.

Take for e.g. a collocations exercise

We need to think about:

  • What works with these collocations e.g. swimming pool and swimming trunks. Fishing rod and fishing gear. After you have matched them up, possibly with a picture thrown in, what next? Need to know how to use them!
  • A second question you might ask is who would you say it to, when would you say it, why would you say it? Think of how they might work in a dialogue. Sometimes the compound gets split up. E.g. see you on the track in half an hour. (Running track) Or swimming pool. Let’s go swimming. Ok see you at the pool in 15 mins.

Andrew suggests that we need to spend more time thinking about this aspect of language rather than on activities, in our planning.

  • Think about the kind of questions we ask about vocabulary. Can we generate language around target words? E.g. What might you ask if someone is carrying a lot of gear? Can I help you? Oooh where are you off to?
The questions we could ask

Screenshot of the questions Andrew says we could ask

  • Thinking about these kind of questions on the spot is quite difficult, you need to think about them beforehand to be able to ask them on the spot.

More complex sentence examples show more of how language works, so students see more examples of grammar in use.

  • Rather than x is y. (She is a Christian vs As a Christian, I think we should look for non-violent solutions = As a x, I think we should y.
  • Who was the guy with the beard? I haven’t seen him before = who was the guy with…the blonde hair, sitting next to you… etc. I haven’t seen him before.
  • Through vocabulary, we can ask simple quick questions to review grammar. E.g. When the paramedics arrived, his heart had stopped beating but they got it going again and then rushed to the hospital. –> Draw attention to the past perfect, when you get something going again, why/where else do we rush to?
Things to think about

Screenshot of the questions that Andrew suggests we ask

There are lots of these kinds of patterns we could draw attention to, that are useful and interesting little patterns that students could use but don’t make it into coursebooks. You have to have thought about the example before, but once you have thought about it in planning before, in the context of a text or language focus etc. it makes it available to use spontaneously in response to students in the future.

Andrew then told us about one aspect of his and Hugh Dellar’s Lexical lab:  you can send in a completed exercise and Andrew/Hugh will suggest questions/chunks relating to it and invite suggestions from others too.

Other tips from Andrew:

  • Think about what the students might want to say in the speaking exercises you plan to set up. It may mean either doing the task yourself, or with a teacher partner, and seeing what comes up.
  • Get teachers to record their answers. Notice the language that is repeated or could be useful for the students to do the task. Often there is a disconnect between grammar practice and single word practice and the task we set which requires a more complex use of language and may include a variety of things we haven’t thought about.

Ongoing questions to ask to promote teacher development:

Questions to help us develop!

Questions that Andrew recommends asking to promote development!

The first two questions require genuine interaction in the classroom, where rich language can be found. The third is important as what is new? A new combination? New phrases around known words? Because often the grammar or word is known, but the language around it isn’t. The fourth encourages you to reflect on the questions you ask and improve them for next time. The last question is based on the idea that we do get better at dealing with language if we write material. Ideally do it with someone else, get someone else to look at it. This encourages you to be critical and think about language in use and how students might want to use it.

Being able to answer language questions and being able to ask questions about language in this way is not a natural thing but a little bit like relearning the language and a process that needs to be ongoing along with your students. You need to practice it.

Language-focused TD is like language learning: it never stops! 

Thinking about the wider context of language use. We need to think beyond the obvious. Maybe students won’t use the banana example because they go to the shops themselves and don’t have anyone to ask to buy bananas for them! Whereas the words we thought less common might have more possible contexts of use and so be more common than we thought.

In response to concerns that this approach may become too teacher-centred, Andrew responded: talking about language and giving examples is student centred, as it is what the students want to say and need to hear in order to be able to say them better. Teacher talk: needs to be for the students’ benefit. It is also important to use generative, slightly open questions. Students might make jokes in response to them. E.g. Why would you want to reconstruct someone’s face? Because they are plug-ugly vs. after an accident.

I found this webinar absolutely fascinating. It reminds me of my last observation where I think basically my DoS was recommending that I do this. I.e. that I plan my vocabulary focus more, because of it being difficult to respond effectively on the hoof, and I think the intention was in this vein. Having watched this webinar, I now have a much clearer idea of how to go about that than I did previously. Am looking forward to implementing this and gradually developing in this area. 

It was my first time to see Andrew speak and I have to admit to now very much looking forward to hopefully attending his talk at IATEFL! 

Thank you very much, Andrew, for a really valuable hour and a bit! And thank you, BELTA, for hosting him!

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

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

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

The Regular Version

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

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

The teacher also prepares a set of questions to ask.

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

My Version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is an example of a game in progress: 

Kaboom!

Kaboom!

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

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

Enjoy! 

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

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

60 seconds: a simple vocabulary review game

So, at our school, it’s that ‘nearly time for the final test’ kind of time, but as any self-respecting teacher will tell you, review (especially of the spaced variety) is an important part of language learning. So hopefully this activity will be useful to you, at whatever point in your courses you may be! The amount of preparation required for this game ranges from minimal to none…

Goal: 

Encourage active recall of previously studied vocabulary; push learners to think about the co-text of vocabulary not just the basic meaning.

Level: 

Pre-intermediate upwards. For lower levels, give them more time to come up with examples, and perhaps provide a sample example on the card to get them going. It kind of grades itself by the vocabulary used. Each level will be capable of putting different words into example sentences, each level’s sentences will vary in complexity.

Materials: 

Small pieces of paper, each with a piece of target vocabulary on one side. (You can prepare these yourself [minimal] or get your learners to do it in groups, which case you only need to provide paper! [none] )

Procedure:

  • Put learners into groups of four. Within the four, each learner has a partner and two opponents.
  • Give each group a set of cards (or if your students made the cards, get each group to swap their pack of cards with another group)
  • Each student takes it in turn to pick a card and think of example sentences into which that word could fit. They tell their group as many sentences as they can in sixty seconds, substituting ‘banana’ or similar for the target word.
  • If their partner guesses the word first, they as a pair get a point. If one of the other pair guess the word first, they as a pair get the point.
  • The game continues until you want to stop it or until all cards are finished.
  • If you use a vocabulary box/bag, you could get them to put the words that weren’t guessed into it, for future review. You could also play this game using vocabulary from the box/bag.

Benefits:

Learners, whether providing examples or guessing the target word, have to think about various aspects of the word in question, not only the meaning. I.e. They need to think about the word grammar, about collocates, about register etc. I think this makes it more useful than simply describing/defining the word.

Variations:

If the focus is something like word pairs (which I have needed to review with my Level 9/Upper Intermediate learners), you could provide only half of the word pair on the pieces of paper, so that the learner who is providing the example sentences has to recall what the full word pair is, as well as how to use it.

Enjoy!

60 seconds...starting now! Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial re-use with modification

60 seconds…starting now!              Image taken from en.wikipedia.org, licensed for commercial re-use with modification

Things I have learnt about Quizlet from Leo Sellivan’s Webinar!

IATEFL run regular webinars for English Language Teachers to participate in, fortunately for us, and this afternoon I was lucky enough to be able to spend an hour listening to Leo Selivan share his knowledge of the power of Quizlet. For those who don’t know, Quizlet is a website that enables you to create sets of flashcards, using words and/or images. I am a big fan of Quizlet, having used it for my own language learning, and have tried to help learners use it too, by creating self-access materials for them to use. Coincidentally, as the webinar started, I received notifications saying a learner of mine was adding a set to one of my Quizlet classes!

Here is what I have taken away today:

To help you navigate this blogpost, the structure of webinar went thus:

  • Key principles for learning vocabulary
  • Quizlet functions
  • Writing definitions
  • Tweaks and tips

Key points I took away:

  • Memorable and manageable is what vocabulary recording should be!
  • Disadvantages of lexical notebooks:

– Students’ reluctance to go back and add in new items to existing topics. (If organised by topic or key words)

– Students view it as time consuming, possibly waste of time and prefer to record vocabulary in a linear fashion rather than elaborating on existent entries.

– Students’ notes and your notes not in synch.

– The notebooks do not provide active recall practice (ARP is necessary to commit new vocab to long term memory): Students can see the words in front of them, so they don’t need to try and retrieve them. Whereas ARP aids memorisation process.

  • Research shows that incidental learning of vocabulary is not enough.

Learners need practice activities. (This is the principle I applied to my Italian learning by transferring language from sources e.g. books, audio books etc to Quizlet!)

Decontextualised vocabulary practice is perfectly justifiable and learners, especially adults, can learn vocabulary out of context. (Like I did with Quizlet and my Italian!)

– We need a combination of both contextualised and decontextualised practice and use.

– The Communicative Approach sees language as a tool but vocabulary experts today say that it is justified to treat vocabulary as an object of study, not just a tool for communication.

NB: Leo cited Laufer B (2005) – I think the title was Focus on form in second language vocabulary learning but check his reference slide to be sure – as the source for this information

To learn vocabulary we need frequent encounters with new items. 5-15.However vocabulary learning isn’t only increasing the size but also how well you can use the words that you know. E.g. depth as well as breadth. Depth is all about the how of the word rather than just the what.

Meaning is important but form is too. Students may think they know a word because it looks like they a word they know. E.g. adopt – adapt. This leads to over-estimation of vocabulary knowledge.

We should exploit L1. Especially in a monolingual setting.

– We should provide focused engagement with new language. Opportunities to manipulate, use it in different contexts etc.

Enter Quizlet!!! <drum roll!!!>

Functions: 

When you access the website, you are presented with the functions of: Flashcards, Learn, Speller, Scatter, Space Race and Test. 

However, Flashcards, Scatter, Speller, Learn, Space race, Test  is Leo’s suggestion of the order in which students should use the functions, as this represents easy to difficult, or receptive to productive with increasing challenge. (This I found particularly interesting, as I had never thought about it before, though in my own use of Quizlet have tended to go for the Learn function as it gave me the right level of challenge (also because I got used to using it on my iPad, in preference to the easier alternative of the matching mode), but once I was used to the language would use the test function and the space race function too, on my computer. I had never analysed my usage in this way before and now it makes more sense!)

  • You can create classes. Yup. But as a free user, can only have 8. If you want more, you can create folders.
  • It has as a mobile app, so you can practice on the go.

Writing Definitions:

  • Gapped definitions can be more useful for co-text, also more personalised as it is your example sentence.
  • Dictionary.com not useful for learners, as definition uses more complex language than the word being defined. Use good online dictionaries e.g. Cambridge, Macmillan, Longman dictionaries. Leo’s blog has a section called essential lexical tools, well worth checking out.

Don’t:

– define a word with its synonym: This gives the false impression that the words are interchangeable, whereas they collocate differently etc. E.g. What’s happened to you? Ok. What’s occurred to you? Not the same.

– rely on user generated content: you can add your own definitions, you can select from list of readymade definitions from other users, learners may not know the synonyms and they don’t work in the same way. Be careful, or becomes ‘usergenerated nonsense’

Bear in mind:

– 9 different aspects of knowing a word: spoken and written form, meaning, spelling, collocation, grammatical patterns, constraints e.g. appropriate in informal or formal context, connotation etc. Textbooks tend to only pay attention to form-meaning links, neglecting other aspects. In classroom interactions, teachers also tend to focus on teaching means rather than the other aspects of word knowledge: “The tip of the lexical iceberg” as Leo put it!

The collocation of a word may result in different translations in another language: E.g. heart conditions vs terms and conditions.

– Co-text is important for learning a word. NB: Context is the story or situation happening around a word whereas co-text is the words immediately surrounding the word e.g. have an accident or by accident. “The linguistic environment”.

Alternatives to definitions

(You can find Leo’s example flashcards to see that he practices what he preaches and have a play!)

  • Example sentence with a blank plus definition in brackets at the bottom. And word on other side.
  • Give example collocations
  • Multiple Prompts
  • Collocation chains e.g. lots of adjectives which collocate with the same word, being the target word. (works really well on Scatter)
  • Phrase and translation: perfectly acceptable and you can also negotiate the translation in class.
  • Phrase in a conversation: Provide phrases within a conversation, e.g. the phrase is taken out of a dialogue. But in learn mode, all that conversation is what you have type in in learn mode, so it is difficult. Less text is easier for the learn mode.
  • Word and collocate in co-text sentences with first letter clues. You can increase or decrease challenge in this way, e.g. by adding the last letter too, or not.

Useful to know:

  • “…” multiple dots indicate whether it is the first part or the latter part of the collocation, which is useful information when trying to access the correct answer in your brain! e.g. fallen into… …disrepair

In learn mode, do you have type in all those multiple dots. If learners type the answer correctly without multiple dots does that means Quizlet would reject the answer? Fortunately not!

  • What happens if you have a few instances of the same word, e.g. prepositions, when using scatter mode? You can use any instance of a word with any correct match. As long as it fits the sentence correctly it will be considered correct by clever Quizlet. (Good to know!)
  • You can bold certain items! When you enter the definition, you put stars on both sides of the word or group of words that you would like to bold. So, you can highlight dependent prepositions, for example. Or bold the gapped sentence and leave the definition normal.

Another tip Leo offered was to encourage students to take screen captures of their scores and times from their out of class study and compare in class!

Finally, I discovered that he introduces learners to Quizlet in a similar way to me, but including his special order of use of the functions (see above) that I will be bearing in mind from now on!

This was a fantastic webinar, which this post only gives the merest overview of, and I fully recommend accessing the recording on the IATEFL website if you can, or if/when Leo publishes his slides or any blog posts about it, visit his blog. Leo blogs at Leoxicon, which is well worth a visit, with plenty of quality content.

Thank you, Leo!

 

British Council Videos: ‘Teacher Talk’

One of the perks of being a British Council Associate is that as well as having had the opportunity to deliver a webinar (with another on the cards for next year!) I have also been able to participate in a project called ‘Teacher Talk‘. This is a series of videos edited by the British Council, which feature some of the BCAs talking about various ELT-related issues.

So far, you can watch short video clips about:

(Click on the title to be taken to the relevant video – I think there may be more forthcoming, but I can’t actually remember at this stage how many topics there were in all!)

I think part of the beauty of these clips is that they are so short – within a few minutes you can either pick up a few new ideas or remind yourself of things you knew but hadn’t been uppermost in your mind recently, becoming buried amongst the myriad other things that we, as teachers, have to juggle.

The other thing I like about them is that you hear a range of voices on a single subject, particularly as the British Council has edited the videos very cleverly, so that although they cut from one person to another, the flow of ideas is seamless and easy to follow.

From my own selfish developmental point of view, making the videos, which I sent to the British Council to be included in the editing process, encouraged me to reflect on and synthesise (very succinctly by my standards – the videos had to be fairly brief!)  my views on these various important elements of ELT. Watching the videos now, months down the line, it encourages me to question whether I practice what I (and the others in the video clips) ‘preach’ and how I could try and do so more effectively.

All in all, a very rewarding project to have been part of. Thank you, British Council, for this fantastic opportunity! 🙂

Learning Contracts and Language Learning (part 3): another month of outcomes

On the 4th June this year, a day after I arrived back in the UK from la bella Sicilia, I considered the potential utility of learning contracts and then proceeded to make myself one, with the vague goal of maintaining my Italian while in a non-Italian-speaking environment. A month later, on the 4th July, I posted my first update. Time has done that speeding by thing again, and the day has come, 4th August, for update number 2!

The main theme of update number 1 was discovery. I had discovered how the activities I do link in with one another, I learnt more about various language learning activities e.g. dictations, I realised how difficult in some ways, and how easy in other ways, it is to stick to a learning contract. In my post, I explored all these discoveries and how I could apply them in my teaching. Since then, I’ve also written blog posts about it, for example one about graded readers and one about text-mining, as well as the one on dictations which I had already produced by the time of my last update.

This month, my main theme is development. Both linguistic development and contract development (albeit only mentally – I haven’t physically made any changes to my contract but mentally I have added a few activities).

Have I kept to my contract?

Yes! I haven’t missed a single day. NB: this does not mean I have heaps of spare time. (Il da fare non manca mai, davvero!) As well as working full time, I’ve also visited people overnight in other towns, graduated and in so doing spent time with the family, prepared for an online conference and so the list goes on. It just means I’m practising what I preached to my learners for the whole of last academic year: Anything is better than nothing. Use the time you do have rather than waiting for time you will never have. Be it listening to ten minutes of audiobook over breakfast, watching 20mins of a film over dinner, doing a few rounds of Quizlet on the bus on the way into town when going to the supermarket, or a few go’s of Scrabble, the ten and twenty minutes grabbed here and there all add up. On any given day, I manage to do a variety of activities.

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

A reminder of my learning contract!

What has changed?

In my last post, I explained that I tended to do more than the contract stipulates, as the contract stipulates minimums. In addition to what’s listed, I now:

  • regularly use an app. for learning verb conjugations. Some things just need be memorised and verb-endings are one of them! The app is a fun way of drilling my verbs. It gives me a verb and tells me how I should conjugate it. E.g. riuscire, third person singular, present subjunctive. If I get it right, I get a green “correct” stamp. If I get it wrong, I get a red “incorrect” stamp and the correction. I’ve noticed that sometimes I just don’t pay enough attention. It asks me for 3rd person plural present subjunctive and I gaily key in 3rd person singular conditional or something. (It often seems to be subjunctive and conditional that I mix up in this way! Am improving though...)The app records running statistics, e.g. how many verbs I’ve got right out of the total number of verbs I’ve attempted (yep, that’s right 608 so far!), and then also breaks that down into different verb types (-are, -ire, -ere; regular/irregular, tenses). I’ve now got the total overall percentage to 62%. I have to admit, breaking into the 60’s was very exciting after spending rather a while languishing in the high 50’s!

    When I first downloaded the complete app (at a whopping £1.69), I got over-excited and ticked all the different tenses. Then I realised that wasn’t going to work and got rid of the absolute past and subjunctive pluperfect (less urgent to learn!!) amongst others. Hence the 2/5 statistic for it! Further down the list (not seen in this pic) can be found conditionals and subjunctives…  I’m a lot more rubbish at past participles than I had realised before using this app. I’m not too bad at imperfect, and obviously present is easiest…

Yay! 62%!

Yay! 62%!

  • regularly play scrabble – both the real live version (minus the board with my own special rules and scoring!) and the app version. I enjoy this, I drill myself stupid trying to think of all the words I know and working out which I can make with my letters!
    Bumper-scrabble!

    Bumper-scrabble!

    Scrabble App! (Rex verbi)

    Scrabble App! (Rex verbi)

  • have broken down “extensive listening” into smaller components. In any given day, I aim to listen to some audiobook, watch some news and watch some of a DVD. I’ve become more aware of the value of variety and push myself to ensure I get it! I’ve also downloaded a free RAI app, to get 24hr news-on-tap in Italian:
RAI: News on tap!

RAI: News on tap!

  • have broken down “extensive reading” into smaller components. In any given day I try to read some authentic Italian i.e. original language Italian book as well as all the translations of more familiar things that I’m chowing my way through. Again, for the sake of variety. But also because I think it’s important to experience original language texts.
  • play Storyonics in Italian! 🙂 Storyonics is a storytelling card game. There is a pack of cards, each of which has 4 pictures on it. You pick a card and incorporate either all the pictures, or the picture ringed by the colour you’ve chosen, into your story. This morning I worked my way through the purple-ringed pictures and had lots of fun! I also recorded myself doing so. This is so that over time I can make comparisons between earlier and later recordings, and also go back and try to correct any errors I might notice.
Storyonics!

Storyonics!

  • make fewer new sets on Quizlet but on the other hand I have been adding to existent sets. I now have 7 sets on Quizlet. What I also now find useful is gathering examples related to a language point I’ve struggled with e.g. personal pronouns and learning those. The idea is that if I have learnt a few correct examples, when I’m not sure, I can mentally compare between what I’m trying to say and the examples and try to work out if I’ve got it right or not. So far so good!
My Quizlet sets!

My Quizlet sets!

  • have started doing my weekly reflections in Italian! I thought I had better since I always expect my learners to reflect in English…!  I write a reflection once a week, looking back over the week and what I’ve achieved, what I’ve noticed etc. I was doing them in English, of course, but two weeks ago I did my first one in Italian. I’ve done one more since and plan to continue with this.
  • have become vegan and done most of my learning about that in Italian – using Italian websites, watching documentaries in Italian, cooking recipes that are in Italian… E.g this frittata:
Vegan cooking in Italian!

Vegan cooking in Italian!

What progress have I made?

Lots.

  • My listening is heaps better than it was. I can understand most of what I listen to, without exaggeration. Recently I particularly enjoyed watching Life is Beautiful in original Italian with no subtitles and being able to understand most of it. I’m also currently working my through a 7ish hour audiobook of The Secret Garden in Italian (done 4hrs15mins so far!), which I’m loving. I find the news the hardest in terms of understanding, I probably only understand about 80% of it. Il Giardino Segreto, I understand about 90%. My DVDs also about 90%. I miss the odd word, essentially. I put this down to a combination of working on decoding skills through intensive listening activities such as dictations, using my graded reader as a listening activity etc. and lots of extensive listening. I did a listening test on an Italian learning website. I managed 93% on the advanced test. Not saying it was an especially valid test, and I don’t think I am an advanced listener by any means, but it still made me feel rather chuffed! 🙂 I was also chuffed to do the second part of the gatto e topo intermediate dictation recently, as in part 1 I got about 27 mistakes, whereas in part 2 I only had 9 mistakes. I don’t really know how good I am in the great scheme of things, but I do know I’ve improved substantially, so I’m satisfied!
Il giardino segreto!

Il giardino segreto!

  • I can write at greater length, expressing myself more easily and quickly. I now have 15 posts on my little Italian learning blog.
  • When recording myself speaking, I notice that I hesitate less than I used to now. I.e. I have longer runs of fluid speech before pausing for thought. Pauses are becoming more in line with thought groups rather than language lack. There are still some of the latter, naturally, but fewer than there were.
  • My productive vocabulary continues to grow. Interplay between Quizlet, my extensive reading/listening and chats on Facebook has helped in this department. Text-mining has become a regular feature of my learning.
  • I’m a lot more organised than I was in the first month. I know exactly what activities I want to do when, depending on what time I have available. I’ve got my resources organised so that I can maximise on any train journeys. I’ve even organised my iPad:
All organised!

All organised!

  • I can think in Italian rather than thinking in English and translating into Italian. Not all the time, but I have enough language that I’m comfortable doing to be able to do it a fair bit.
  • Still getting to grips with the magnetic poetry (which was on the to-do list for I made in my last post, for this month!), but I can report that I have found a new way of using it, which involves choosing 5 or 6 words at random, with my eyes closed, then using those as the basis for production (a story, a poem, whatever).

What have I learnt about language learning?

  • Sometimes success can be demotivating!! Counterintuitive but true. One of those ‘things clicking into place and an improvement jump’ moments seemed to be followed by ‘mmmm can’t be bothered to study…‘ (I just wanted to read and listen extensively instead!) But I got back on track pretty quickly, thanks to my contract, so that was alright. So perhaps another role they can play, then, is in ensuring that you don’t get complacent!
  • Variety really is the spice of life. My success in this learning malarkey is, I believe, largely down to the variety of activities that I do on a regular basis. Lots of input, lots of output, varied use of language.
  • Listening skills can be developed autonomously if you combine work on decoding skills with extensive listening. I have lots of ideas for active autonomous listening that I look forward to passing on to my students.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition! It really does help for some things. Apps like Quizlet and my conjugations app make it fairly palatable too.
  • Being organised helps! In the first month I lost a few days due to lack of it. This month, no.
  • Perseverance is key: doing a variety of activities for a few days and then kicking back and relaxing the rest of the time won’t make much difference. Doing a variety of activities every day for a month, and nearly every day for two months, really does!
  • Having somebody to talk to in the language (even if by “talk to” we mean on Facebook messenger!) really helps. Having that opportunity to use the language and get feedback (in terms of how the conversation goes, not necessarily error correction, though I enjoy that too when it arises!).
  • Speaking skills can be developed autonomously. Using voice-recording tools, telling stories doing storyonics, anything that encourages language production contributes positively, I think. Of course there is nothing like speaking to another human being and generally learners (who aren’t on holiday) do at least get that opportunity on a regular basis. Outside class-time, the activities alluded to above can also be useful.
  • For every little moment where you notice improvement, there a hundred where it seems like it’s never going to happen and you have to push through all of them!  Remembering those occasional ‘break-through’ moments, and knowing that the only way to get one again is to keep working, and sticking to the damn contract, are all useful in these circumstances.

What comes next?

  • Work, work and more work! I have under two months before I will be back in Sicily. I have to make the most of that time. My major motivation has become that I want to go back to Palermo and be able to talk with the Italians I know in Italian. And I want to be able to do so without making an utter d*** of myself in the process! I know I’ll make mistakes and I’ll continue to have moments where my tongue gets in knots and I feel like I’m back at A1 level again, but if they can become fewer and further between, those moments, then so much the better!
  • I want to sort out my pronouns, my prepositions and my conjugations. I want that percentage on my conjugation app to get up to 80% by the end of my next month. Pronouns I’m beginning to get my head around but need to spend more time looking at. On the other hand, I think prepositions will always be a work in progress…
  • I want to be able to understand more of the news bulletins that I watch. I want to be able to understand as much of the news as I do of other things that I watch/listen to. So that means more intensive listening work, as well as continuing to listen extensively.
  • I want to continue to develop my productive vocabulary. The current method (extensive reading/listening, FB chats, text mining, Quizlet), is working, so I will stick with it, but more so!
  • When I get back to Palermo, I want to apply everything I’ve learnt about learning autonomously to my learner autonomy projects and help my learners benefit from it all.

As for my research questions:

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 19.43.10

A reminder of my ‘research questions’

  • So far, the LC has helped keep me motivated for two months. Obviously this still doesn’t yet count as “a longer period”, so the jury is still out!
  • For two months, yes. Plus, plus! It’s made a big difference so far, in terms of making me do a variety of activities and discover links between them, then add to the variety according to what I’ve learnt. I think they are a powerful autonomous learning tool.

Let me know if you use learning contracts with your learners – I’d love to hear about it! In turn, once I’m back in Sicilia, and apply everything I’ve learnt in my quest to help my learners become more autonomous, I’ll report back from time to time too. 

As for my own learning, the next report is due on the 4th September. As I finish my full-time summer job on the 5th, I rather suspect that there will be a slight (day or two!) delay for that one…!