ELT Traveller box

about teaching English to young learners, web tools and iPad teaching


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Learning Styles and Young Learners

I’ve finally discovered my own learning styles.

multipleintelligences.001

It seems like I’m a linguistic-interpersonal learner. I knew that, no surprise! I’ve always been one of those learners interested and focused on speaking and writing. I love reading aloud activities, love communicating through language. I’m sure I would have loved having role-plays in my English classes, but unfortunately I’ve never done one in my high-school. Now I feel I can understand what and why was happening in my classes. We mainly worked alone, no group works, always focused on self-study and individual tasks. My teacher was probably a solitary (interpersonal) learner. That is good, but is it correct to plan and teach according to our learning styles?

The 7Styles of Learning Source: Edudemic

Over the last few years the terms learning styles have been used many times in any classroom management course. The message should be: the more you know your students’ learning styles the better your activity planning will be. Not as simple as it looks, but crucial. Knowing the learning styles we like and which we tend to avoid can increase the effectiveness of our learning, and if we want our students to learn more effectively we should look for different activities which might suit different learning styles.

Let’s find out how they learn

I teach teens and pre-teens, here are a few steps I would follow with any new class:

  • Step 1: ask your students to complete a learning styles questionnaire. Here is a link from the Birmingham Grid for Learning.
  • Step 2 : check with students by proposing a series of activities good for each different learning style. Observe your students, take notes of how they react to each activity and see if they match with your questionnaire.

For a list of sample activities for the most common learning styles look at this infographic:

Source: studentaffairsenews.com

ACTIVITIES

I’ve also found these Five Multiple Intelligences Activities by Puchta and Rinvolucri very useful.

  • Step 3: the school year is quite long, so try to remember the most successful activities for each class and get them to know they all have similar and different learning styles. You can group students according to them, or better let them work with classmates with different learning styles.

Use your results as a precious resource, but do not over trust them, in my experience, teenagers easily change their mood. Always consider that they can still act as different learners.


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Teaching listening to teenage learners #3

Approaches and activities

Black and White by @sandymillin (from #eltpics)

As outlined in the previous post, the context where prediction activities take place plays a key role. To address this issue, I would first introduce a classroom listening habit  in order to create a friendly atmosphere.Then I would gradually introduce different activities to enhance the students’ consciousness of prediction in order to form a natural and effective listening routine.

I would recommend approaching listening tasks using a direct approach. Thornbury and Slide (2006) states that the direct approach ‘involves understanding and planning a conversation programme around the specific microskills, strategies, and processes that are involved in fluent conversation’. This approach stresses the importance of listening to and ‘having conversations’, but it also presupposes the need of a ‘form-focused, instructional stage at some point in the lesson cycle’ (2006: 275). On the other hand, the indirect approach involves acquiring conversational competence through simply doing conversation. I believe listening and speaking skills are strictly related and the approach to teaching them should be linked.

From my experience, learners need to be trained on ‘having conversations’, which means they should be able to identify key strategies and forms that could help them while listening to and performing conversations. Continue reading


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Teaching listening to teenage learners #2

Possible issues

Image

Thinking hard by @kevchanwow (from @eltpics)

In the previous post I described top down processing (TDP) to listening and, predicting content in particular. This analysis raises several possible issues for learners. Lack of knowledge of the language makes TDP based on knowledge of the world even more important as a compensation strategy. Therefore skills like identifying topic from key words, and inferring the meaning of unknown words become even more important than they are for native speakers. Learners often feel frustrated when listening to spoken interaction. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Predicting the grammar structure of spoken discourse raises many issues for learners. In my experience pre-intermediate and elementary learners have difficulty with moment-to-moment lexical grammatical encoding at clause level. This tends to interfere with the discourse level (McCarthy, 1991). Learners may resist using TDP strategies even when those are available to them. As Field (2008) suggests, less skilled listeners should often rely on context to understand meaning because they find it easier than decoding language word by word. Continue reading


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Teaching listening to teenage learners #1

Using top down strategies

The more you can predict, the easier it becomes to understand” (Lingzhu, 2003).

Shadows - by @eltpics

Much of my teaching has been with Italian teenage elementary learners (CEFR A1-A2) in quite large classes (around 30 pupils). Because of the number of students the situation has not always been simple for listening activities and most of my learners often complain about how frustrating listening can be. One of them has recently made the following comment: “ When I listen to a story in Italian I’m able to understand everything before the end, when I listen to it in English I feel I don’t understand anything!”. I then asked him: “How do you listen in Italian?” All the class reacted with a choral “I don’t know!”. Younger teenage elementary learners often completely avoid the role of context and co-text in L2 even if they unconsciously use them in L1. This was the principle motivation behind my choice to investigate how to train elementary learners to predict in listening class. This is the first of a series of articles about the analysis of top down/bottom up strategies when listening, the issues for learners, and some suggestions for teaching.

Top-down and Bottom-up processing

According to Richards (2008) two different kinds of processes are involved in understanding spoken discourse. These are often referred to as bottom-up and top-down processing. Both processing are applicable to reading and listening.

Bottom-up processing (BUP) refers to the use of the listener’s linguistic competence. Therefore, the direction of bottom-up processing is from language to meaning.

Top-down processing (TDP), on the other hand, refers to “the use of background knowledge in understanding the meaning of a message” (Richards, 2008:7). Background knowledge refers to the knowledge of the world that the listener has developed in his/her life. It may be previous knowledge about the topic, situational knowledge, or knowledge stored in long-term memory about the events and the links between them (Richards, 1990). Richards refers to this background knowledge as schemata and scripts that a listener activates to understand a text. Top-down processing consequently goes from meaning to language.

In order to have successful comprehension both bottom-up and top-down processing are needed. According to Richards (1990) bottom-up processing alone is often not sufficient for comprehension, so the listener should be able to make proper use of top-down processing.

I will now focus on some approaches to the teaching of top-down processing and predicting content in particular, therefore bottom-up processing will not be further discussed.

Top-down processing: subskills

As stated above, in using prior knowledge about people and events comprehension proceeds from the top down. Examples of top-down processing subskills include:

  • assigning places, persons, or things to categories;
  • inferring cause-and-effect relationships;
  • anticipating outcomes
  • inferring the topic of a discourse
  • inferring the sequence between events

(Richards, 1990:52)

A good strategic listener is usually able to select and plan which subskills will activate in a particular situation. I have noticed that in second language learning top-down processing ability in listening is not very well developed. In this respect I believe the ability to predict content plays a key role.

Predicting content: context and co-text 

According to Goh (1998), predicting enables the listener to anticipate the next part of a text, such as a word, a phrase or an idea. Therefore, the process of prediction involves listeners in selecting useful information from their own general experience and knowledge in order to identify text content (Lingzhu, 2003). Continue reading


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Using webquests in teenage classes

There are two motivations behind my choice of presenting for the first time a WebQuest to one of my school classes.

> I sometimes feel frustrated about how fast teens change and how fast their approach to learning English can change. I strongly believe that the proper use of technology in the language classroom could be a great help to keep learners motivated and focused on the topic.
> In addition to this, the school where I work has just implemented a new linguistic lab with Internet access and a new teaching software (NetSupport School) able to manage students’ computers and works.

Using technology: advantages and disadvantages

  • Motivation: The use of technology in language teaching offers a lot of opportunities both for teachers and learners. One of the main advantages is that it can be strongly motivating, especially for young learners. The benefit of using a language game, for example, is that while enjoying the task learners recycle vocabulary. Most learners simply use the computer for their everyday tasks so, using it as a tool for learning, it is just a way to perceive it as natural.

Moreover, using technology in the language classroom provides learners with interactive exercises that appeal them. A web-based grammar exercise is more immediate and interesting for them than a paper-based one. Learners usually get instant feedback on their work and this stimulates them to re-try. (Sharma and Barret, 2008)

  • Updated materials: I believe the most interesting advantage of using technology in the language classroom is the sense of up-to-date that authentic current materials can offer e.g. Using a listening activity with the latest news on Steve Jobs death. This can support and enrich the traditional paper based material. (Sharma and Barret, 2008)

However, there are some concerns on the use of technology in the classroom, most of them are related to the use of standard gap-fill, true-false, mix-and-match grammar activities. As Sharma and Barret argue “the traditional role of computers in grammar has been disparagingly called ‘drill and kill’” (Sharma and Barret, 2008:12). Because these activities are perceived as boring. In addition some teachers still do not trust technology and believe it is not completely reliable, particularly in terms of contents.

Clearly there are opportunities and concerns about using technology in the language classroom, but it seems to me that some learning environments (young learners, Business English) cannot avoid using it as long as the role of the teacher and the role of technology are well balanced.

What’s a WebQuest?

I have decided to focus on one of the various aspects of technology in the classroom: WebQuest. The reason behind it is strictly linked to the nature of WebQuest: they are motivating, and they increase various learners’ skills.
A WebQuest can be defined as an interactive learning exercise in which students have to use several Internet resources (Fernàndez, 2007)

Bernie Dodge, in the WebQuest Page, states that “WebQuests are designed to use learners’ time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it”.
According to March (1998), the use of WebQuests:
Increases student motivation.
Students face an authentic task and work with real resources.
Develops students ́ thinking skills.
Fosters cooperative learning (Fernàndez, 2007).

Dudeney & Hockey (2007) list a series of important reasons for using WebQuests in the language classroom, including:
They are an easy way for teachers to begin to incorporate the Internet into the language classroom, on both a short-term and long-term basis – no specialist technical knowledge is needed either to produce or use them.

Very often, they are group activities so they lead to communication and the sharing of knowledge – two principal goals of language teaching itself.

They can be used simply as a linguistic tool, but can also be interdisciplinary, they can be used in CLIL projects on various subjects.

They encourage critical thinking skills, including: comparing, classifying, inducing, deducing, analysing errors, constructing support, abstraction, analysing perspectives, etc. Learners are not able to simply regurgitate information they find, but are guided towards a transformation of that information to do a given task.

They can be both motivating and authentic tasks and encourage learners to view the activities they are doing as something ‘real’ or ‘useful’. This inevitably leads to more effort, greater concentration and a real interest in task achievement.

Dudeney (2000) also states the importance of planning and structuring an Internet class. This should be well-planned as any other class. Teachers have to read through the materials, check the links in advance and give learners the right level of challenge.

The lesson: New York City WebQuest

The lesson focused on New York City. I chose to talk about it because of the growing interest of the students towards the U.S.A.

All materials used were taken from Onestopenglish

I was happy with the students’ involvement, most of them were particularly engaged.

Group work: I think students particularly enjoyed working in groups and it was useful to have them focus on different questions or topics at the same time. They definitely improve their attitude to pair-working and group-working and this contributed to the outcome of the lesson.

Try it out!

Bibliography and Further Reading

Dudeney G. (2000). The Internet and the Language Classroom. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Dudeney G., Hockey, N. (2007) How to Teach with Technology. 1st ed. Pearson – Longman

Fernandez, M.V. (2007) ‘WebQuests: how do students approach their integration in the foreign language classroom?’. The Journal of Teaching English with Technology (TEwT), 2007. Retrieved 20th October 2011 from http://www.tewtjournal.org/VOL%207/ISSUE%202/WEBQUESTS.pdf

March,T. (1998) “Why WebQuests? An introduction.” seen on August 2011 http://tommarch.com/writings/intro_wq.php

Sharma P., Barrett B. (2007) Blended Learning. 1st ed. Oxford: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Check also this presentation from Paul Maglione (co-founder of English Attack) on Learner Motivation in the Age of the Digital Native.


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Multi-word verbs and young learners

“Without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed” (Wilkins cited in Thornbury, 2002:13)

(Last year for one of my DELTA assignments I focused on teaching multi-words verbs to young learners, which I think is an important area to reflect and investigate on)

Seven years ago I started teaching English to elementary young learners and one year later also to intermediate young learners preparing for the FCE. Although they are very close in terms of age, their approach to learning vocabulary, especially multi-word verbs (MWVs), is completely different. Younger teenage elementary learners are more curious and enthusiastic towards them, while intermediate students are almost scared.

I have recently asked to both groups why they simply like or don’t like them and the results showed that the elementary group likes multi-word verbs  just because they study them very rarely and when it happens they have the feeling they are using “real” English, while the intermediate group hate multi-word verbs because there are just too many of them.

I have therefore decided to focus on multi-word verbs for elementary learners. First to meet the needs of my students, and secondly because I think it would be challenging and, in a sense, innovating as teacher.

Here is the complete paper: