ELT Traveller box

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


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Exam classes: 5 tips for effective study skills

Image from The language clinic

Exam classes are often different from regular school classes. High school students usually follow a separate after-school course to get ready for the exam (PET, FCE, CAE). This means that sometimes they only attend some lessons with the teacher, but not enough to get them to the required level for the exam. So they will have to work a lot at home. There are many quite good self-preparation coursebooks around and a lot of free on-line resources – so students do not have problems with materials.

But how effective are their study skills?

Here is a list of five tips I give to my FCE students:

1. Understand the requirements of the course and the exam. Once this is done, try to plan and organise your tasks according to them.

2. Time management: try to figure out how much time you have to prepare for the exam, write down a timetable and stick to it. Try to be flexible and re-arrange it if necessary. Don’t get distracted or frustrated, start with smaller task. you don’t necessarily have to start from paper 1, task 1.

3. Be patient, learning takes time so review what you’ve learnt regularly (GW can help you on this, see point 5).

4. Discuss and understand the feedback you get from the teacher. Be receptive and use it to manage your study plan. Focus more on your weaknesses.

5. Work in a small group (3-4 people), compare, share, practice tasks and results.

Good luck!


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Digital storytelling tools for young learners #2: Google Search Stories

One of my students’ favourite storytelling tools of the year is Google Search Stories. This is a very simple free tool that allows you to create stories based on your google search. The video lasts about 30 seconds, and you can also add background music.
You need to have a google account to create one, and this can be an issue for some students who do not have one. I’ve created a private class channel on youtube so to use it without asking students to sign up for a new account.

There are many ways to use google search stories.

Introduce yourself: it is an easy way to give a very short presentation about yourself. The video below is my 3-2-1 introduction for EVO Digital Storytelling course.

Biography: it can be interesting to get students present a short biography of a famous character. Here is an example on Gandhi.

Interesting classroom uses of the tool can be:
– documenting a part of a research on a particular kind of music
– creating a story using famous quotes
– writing a short poem
– presenting an event (ex. The Academy awards)

The tool is very easy to use, but here is a tutorial you can show to students.


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Teacher Development – 12 things I learned in 2012

It’s time to wrap up the year. This is only a short post about 12 precious things I got to know this year. They are useful for me, I hope they can be so for other teachers as well.

12

1. Keep being a lifelong learner > I started the year with a great news, I passed Delta Module 2! Studying for the complete diploma is really changing the way I teach. More important it is an excellent way to reflect on what we teach. So keep studying!

2. Join free online courses for teachers > This year I experienced my first online course.  I joined a couple of EVO sessions in January. I took part in the Young learners and teenagers SIG course and the Digital storytelling for kids one. It was a great experience, I learned a lot about webtools, I had the chance to listen to and even chat with great ELT speakers, and I met a lot of nice teachers around the globe.

3. Integrate technology in the classroom > I started to use free webtools with my students regularly. We realized a series of cool projects from storytelling to interactive presentations and short class videos. I enjoy being an #edtech teacher! 🙂

4. Read ELT blogs > I discovered so many interesting ELT blogs about every aspect of teaching English. This year I started to be an avid reader of them. I regularly read interesting posts from famous ELT authors and publishers to a variety of ESL teachers. It’s a great help for everyday lessons, but also a rich methodology support.

5. Join online webinars > there are a series of free webinars for teachers held all around the web. I enjoy following the British Council Teaching English, or MacMillan Interactive series.

6. Write, and don’t be afraid! > The biggest challenge of the year was becoming a real ELT writer.  Early in March I had the chance to write a proposal and contribute to a couple of publications for the Italian market. I’ll soon be the author of three ELT books on skills! I can’t really say how I feel about this, but I learned to face challenges and never step back.

7. Love linguistics > I admit I have always been a linguistics lover, a kind of little nerd. Not so proud about this, but this year I realized how important some theoretical linguistics aspects can be in supporting everyday teaching. Knowing what’s behind, can be the key to understanding language acquisition.

8. Sharing is caring > Best lesson ever! In 2012 I have started sharing. Ideas, lesson plans, fears and successes. I analyzed how isolating and a bit selfish our job can be, and I realized the power of being part of a community of professionals that enjoy sharing just because they care.

9. Start blogging > I thought it was the time to start writing and sharing all the things I got in my “teacher box”. Blogging helps me reflecting on practices and experiences, it is a great chance to fix and share all the good (sometimes bad) things a teacher lives.

10. Start building a PLN > I joined Twitter more than a year ago. I think it is one of the most powerful tools for building your PLN (Personal Learning Network).

11. Participate in #eltchat  > Every Wednesday I enjoy following the chat on Twitter, often without really contributing to it, I’m still too shy! But it’s  a great way to learn and discuss key ELT topics.

12. Introduce literature to YLs > I would say this is one of the last things I learned in 2012. Literature to pre-teens has always scared me, but in the last part of the year I started integrated it in my lessons. Still testing different approaches. But authentic texts such as Lewis, Stevenson, Shakespeare are now part of my regular teaching.

I’ll take away these 12 gems with me in 2013.

Happy New Year!

holiday 2013


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Reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: a visual approach

After “unpacking” the introduction of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I needed to find the right approach to make the book easily readable to students. I didn’t want it to become a boring reading lesson, so I thought about a visual approach to literature.

I believe there is a strong connection between the use of visuals and language learning. It is also true that everybody, from children to adults, can see the world in a different way. It means that perception plays a key role in learning.

Some students have a strong ability to recognize a structure  or a situation from a picture, others need time to understand the input. In any case the advantages of using visuals in the language teenage classroom are many:

  • Skills – Visuals help students to predict, infer, deduce and analyze a text.
  • Production – they serve as stimulus for language production (speaking or writing)
  • Testing – Visuals can be used for examination purposes: checking of understanding, mapping what has been read, organize a text visually. Remember and reinforce vocabulary.
  • Follow up – Pictures can be developed into a text and a text can be developed into illustrations or graphic visuals.

The approach I took to analyze the book goes in three different directions. I used pictures and illustrations to:

  1. Predict the story, elicit vocabulary – Students work on pictures, no text provided.
  2. Support the text – Students read the text and have some pictures and illustrations to support understanding, they infer the meaning.
  3. Check understanding – follow up activities. Only text provided to students, they draw a picture or a graphic to reproduce the text.

The lesson

Chapter 1 – Lucy looks into the wardrobe

Chapter 2 – What Lucy found there

Step 1 – I provided students with a set of random pictures that could help them to predict as much information as they can on the setting, the time, the main characters of the story. This could be done as GW (group work) or PW (pair work).

At the end of the activity they filled a table with key information and vocabulary. Then we listened and read part of the chapter.

Step 2 – We read the second part of the chapter, a second set of pictures was provided to students. They had to put them in the correct order, only after reading.

Step 3 – Chapter 2. Once setting, time and characters were clear,  I moved to the next chapter. This time we read the text with no visual support, only at the end students were asked to draw a storyboard or a mind map of the chapter.

Follow up – As a follow up activity they had to retell the story supported by the visuals provided. They could record it, or create a video story.

Useful tools

There are a series of free web tools that can help and support the activities described above

  • For the pictures – (I used creative commons)

Photoree (search pictures by license)

#Eltpics on Flickr

Wylio

  • For storyboards, mind maps, info-graphics

Animoto – Create video stories

Glogster EDU – Create your glogster with video, images, text, music etc.

Bubbl – brainstorm and mind map online

Piktochart – nice app for info-graphics

  • Audio tools for speaking activities

Vocaroo – simple audio recorder, can email, download or embed the file.

Voicethread – create a slideshow with audio comments.

Further reading

Very interesting article on the role of visuals in language learning.

Elt newsletter – Visuals and Language Learning: Is there a Connection? by Christine Canning-Wilson


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Teaching literature to teens – “Unpacking” C.S. Lewis

A few days ago I watched this video of Scott Thornbury in response to the question: “What do you mean by ‘unpacking a text’?”

He said a text has many layers, like onions. Teachers should unpeel the onion to get students’ engagement. Coursebooks usually don’t do it (so true!).

The same week I was going to introduce my 12-year old students (CEFR A1-A2) to English literature. A quite tough work, especially because I decided to only use authentic texts.

Since they love fantasy novels, I started with “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis.

My “onion” was the Introduction to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

That’s the way I’ve “unpacked” it.

Lewis.001

I first read the text twice and answered general vocabulary questions, mainly giving students synonyms rather than a translation into their L1.

  • Analysing the surface

I put three questions on the board, I did this activity as pair work:

1. What kind of text is this?

2. What’s the purpose of the text?

3. What’s the relationship between the reader and the writer?

  1. It was quite clear it was a letter, or kind of, written a long time ago.
  2. The purpose of the text is to introduce a story.
  3. As for the relationship, here it is clearly stated at the end of the text, the writer is positioning him as the Godfather.

Many other questions came up at this point: who is Lucy? what story is he talking about? when did he write this?

We were easily moving to the next step 😉

  • Analysing the schema of the narrative

To get further into the text I used multiple choice questions.

What happens?

  1. Lewis wrote the story but Lucy didn’t like it.
  2. Lewis published the story when Lucy was too old.

Why?

Are fairy tales only for young people?

At this point I highlighted meaningful sentences to lead them to the correct answer.

  • Analysing some language features

There are many language features to analyse here. I focused on the past simple (regular and irregular) and the use of adverbs.

There are also:

– adjectives to describe people and feelings

– expressions of modality

Having noticed all this students got quite curious about what’s next. What kind of book did Lewis write to Lucy? Why?

  • Follow up

Once they have knowledge of the text they can move to other kinds of skills work. Interesting writing activities could be:

– Write your own introduction to a story you liked.

– Imagine you are Lucy, write your letter back to your Godfather to thank him.

Next step: Chapter One – Lucy looks into the wardrobe 🙂


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Surprise in the ELT classroom: an inspiring #ELTChat

Last night I took part in #ELTChat . It’s always very motivating to read and contribute to each other’s reflections and teaching ideas. After all I first got the idea of blogging right from one #eltchat on twitter. I would definitely add it as “must have” in a teacher development plan :-).

The topic of this week was Bringing the surprise element into your lesson, you can read the transcript here.

You’ll get several ideas on how to surprise your students either you teach university students, BE, one-to-one or teenagers, like I do.

In the chat @SueAnnan mentioned the book 52 by The Round  (authors Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings). I love it. Today I was reflecting about it and I thought how helpful a book like this can be for teachers, especially teenager teachers.  They can surprise their audience in a very reflective way.

I start thinking I should give my students a “subversive” lesson once a week. 🙂 I’ve only tried (and sometimes adapted) only a few of the activities in the book so far.

There are many  ideas in the book, from poetry to justice. Lesson 8 Dress is part of the book sample (you can download it here) and one of my favourite. I’ve recently tried it.

The lesson – #8 Dress

I came to class dressed very elegant (as I was going to a wedding), quite unusual for me, and I tried not to laugh looking at my students’ faces. I started the lesson as usual and for the first 5 minutes nothing really happened. They were expecting me to work on past simple, and I was starting to do so when a shy student from the first raw asked about my skirt. “Why are you wearing such a nice and elegant skirt to come to school?” It was clear she didn’t approve that :-). Teenagers can be very straightforward sometimes! I wrote why on the board, and asked the student to repeat the question to the class. The conversation magically started. The very good thing was that I was playing the role of the moderator. I divided the class into groups and asked them to figure out how to dress in specific occasions and why. A lot of new vocabulary items came out.

When the bell rung, a girl said “But teacher, we didn’t even take a pen!”

That was the point…and they got it!

In the following lessons I focused on consolidation activities. It was easy, they remembered most of the things we discussed.

Teachers often complain about how difficult is to manage teenagers with no written support. Several questions keep rolling through my mind:

Do teenagers need minimal inputs to develop critical thinking? Should teachers start thinking out of the box and support them?