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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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?


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My first Edublog Award nominations

Right a few days ago I was thinking I haven’t posted in a long while, mainly due to life and work projects. Too many things going around, I didn’t really have time to sit and write a post. Things are slowing down now, so I’ll soon share some great professional experiences and reflections from the last few months.

The reason I’m writing this post is quite simple: the Edublog Award nominations.

There is a large number of sites, people, blogs that have had an enormous value on my professional development, especially in the last year. I thought they deserve to be nominated…(too bad, I can only give one name for each category).

So, here are my first Edublog Award nominations:

Best Individual blog   chiasuanchong

Best Teacher Blog    Cool Cat Teacher

Best EdTech blog   Ozge Karaoglu’s blog

Best Individual Tweeter @AnaCristinaPrts            

Best Twitter Hashtag  #ELTchat

Best Free Web Tool Vocaroo

Best Social Network    Twitter

Best Mobile App     Dropbox

Good luck!


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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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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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Reflections on classroom management

If you teach young learners and teenagers, you’ve probably considered to attend a classroom management workshop at least once in you career. So, a few weeks ago I had mine :-).  I think many practical aspects of this workshop will be very useful.

I really appreciated the overview on the wide range of meanings of “Classroom management” and I loved the “deal with people” approach, being a teacher means manage things and manage people at the same time.

But overall there are two main topics that particularly captured my attention and that I will always bring with me in the future.

One is the focus on the different learning styles. I like the idea that we deal with them in our everyday classes and we should be able to give our students proper activities. Creating the conditions to make pupils able to express themselves is interesting and motivating.

The second topic is the idea that there will always be good and bad moments and that we should always continue to learn from each situation. The balance of uptime and downtime and the learning-to-learn message helps me to do this job with the right approach. I am now looking at it with both enthusiasm and criticism, fully aware I am a long-life learner.

I have also made myself a summary of the six key points I should consider in managing a class:

  1. My role: knowing myself and my students; always be ready and aware of my abilities; do not stop self-development.
  2. My class: remember the main rules on grouping and seating; create a positive and purposeful atmosphere.
  3. My activities: setting up, giving instructions, managing time and space, how to end an activity.
  4. My authority: gathering and holding attention, decide who does what, getting someone to do something.
  5. Deal with critical moments: starting and finishing the lesson, dealing with unexpected problems, deal with difficult students, managing difficult behaviour in the classroom.
  6. Tools and techniques: using the board and  classroom equipment.

…and why do I teach?

Today I have many reasons that commit me to this job. Teaching is facing a new challenge everyday; it means being part of students’ development, acting as crucial and significant support.

When I think about me in a classroom, I have clear ideas about the climate I am seeking to set up. I always try to work hard to have a purposeful, positive and cooperative atmosphere in class. I think it is crucial for a teacher to be able to create a positive relationship and a positive learning atmosphere. After all, the way I will relate to my learners will have a significant impact in the lesson. At any classroom moment, I know there will be a range of possible situations to handle.

Respect – In any kind of environment showing respect to people is a building block for a cooperative and purposeful relationship. Especially in a teaching environment I find respect is a positive and non-judgmental regard for the student. My personal way to show students that I really trust them goes through responsibilities. At first, I focus on the more difficult pupils in the class and I give them small responsibilities to work on (i.e. small organizational work for the following lesson). The idea is to make them aware of their own possibilities; I would like them to develop self-confidence. I believe that a class where students feel that the teacher trust them is a more collaborative class.

Students’ opinions should be always taken into consideration; they should be an active part of the class. A teacher should never forget that her/his role is to make pupils able to work in a cooperative environment; to think that their personal contributions will help to reach the entire class goal. This is why I love role plays and group works: students have the chance to develop both personal and teamwork skills.

At the end of the day, I like being authentic and finding my personal approach to create empathy with the students. Probably having a good ability in setting a purposeful and happy climate is not everything, but it is a positive start.