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


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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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Comics in ELT: Have fun!

When I was younger I used to read detective comics called Julia, it was a quite popular monthly publication in Italy so many of my friends were also reading it, and we were having fun sharing ideas and comments on the character, sequence of events etc.  In January I attended a brilliant EVO session on Storytelling for young learners. Surprisingly, one of our tasks was to explore and use some tools to create comics. What a great task! I immediately got the inspiration to use it class, it was a success.

Why comics?

Comics have always been a lot of fun for young learners and teenagers, the use of pictures and the clear context help them to practically visualise a situation. Creating a comic they develop the ability to plan a sequence of events, and to set a suitable context.

What tools?

There are many interesting comic creation tools. Here is a short list of the once I have used so far, but there are many more to try!

 Stripgenerator: It’s easy to use and doesn’t require a registration for students.

Bubblr: you can create comic strips with Flickr pictures and add bubbles!

ToonDoo: you can create your comic book and even upload and modify pictures for your comics.

Make beliefs comix: create your comic, easily select emotions, objects, baloons and panel prompts.

Classroom ideas!

Participating in the EVO session and following Janet Bianchini’s Scoop, I got many practical classroom ideas. Here are the most popular among my teenage students.

Practising new grammar structures > I have used comic strips to practice and improve the ability to ask questions.

I first gave students the structure of the strip (example: 4 pictures, 2 characters in each picture). Then I asked them to write at least 4 questions and answers at the Present Simple.

Imaginary interview > I asked students to write an imaginary interview to an imaginary character. We had an initial brainstorming on the character (age, appearance, skills, job, personality). Once students got the idea they planned and then wrote their interviews.

Practising vocabulary > Students were asked to create a comic strip using the words given or a specific context.

Storytelling > Students write comic strips based on personal anecdotes.

Comic strips are also very good for teachers to create interesting handouts for boring grammar rules 🙂

Further reading: Doing some research on this field, I found this very interesting presentation by S. Hendy.

Tap into the world of comics

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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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Teaching younger teenage learners to express likes and wants

This is an article from one of my first DELTA assignments:

At the beginning of each school year teaching to younger teenage learners inevitably requires me to understand and follow up their immediate needs. In the last three years learning how to express likes and wants has been one of these. I would say this is the most popular topic among my learners. Being aware of it provides them with motivation to speak and express their own ideas about free-time, sports, foods etc.

I have recently realised that teaching  to express likes and desires at A1-A2 levels is not so simple and immediate. Often learners get confused by the choice of the correct verb and form. Therefore I think the topic should be addresses with a more selective and systematic approach that could solve the issue of how and what to teach to younger teenage elementary learners to help them to express likes and wants. 

Language Analysis

a) Expressing likes and dislikes: gerund and infinitive constructions  

In English the idea of expressing likes and dislikes is strictly linked to the choice between gerund and infinitive constructions.

Carter and McCarthy (2006) list a number of common verbs normally only followed by the -ing form as opposed to the infinitive.

I fancy doing some evening classes. (not > I fancy to do some evening classes)

Some of those verbs are used to express likes (adore, appreciate and enjoy) and some others to express dislike (loathe, dislike, can’t stand, mind)

I enjoy living alone

Cats dislike getting their fur wet (MacMillan Dictionary for Advanced Learners, 2007:422)

According to the KET (Key English Test) Vocabulary List (Cambridge ESOL, 2009), the verbs adore, appreciate and loathe are not usually taught at A2 level. Therefore they will not be considered further here.

These verbs can also be followed by a noun phrase object.

I dislike people telling me what to think (Swan, 2005)

Hate, like, love and prefer can be followed either by -ing or infinitive, as well as by a noun phrase object . Carter and McCarthy (2006) provide a clear general distinction between the two uses, arguing that -ing “emphasizes the action or event in itself, while the infinitive places the emphasis more on the results of the action or event. The -ing form often implies enjoyment (or lack of it), and the infinitive is often used for expressing preferences” (Carter and McCarthy, 2006:515):

I really like my teacher and I like my class. I like being in year five. (emphasis on the process itself and enjoyment of it)

I like home-made soup. I like to make a panful and then it lasts me a couple of days. (emphasis more on result and the habit or preference)

Similarly, Swan (2005) thinks that both infinitives and -ing forms can often be used without a great difference of meaning.

I hate working/to work at weekends.

but Like + infinitive is used to talk about choices and habits.

I like climbing/to climb mountains (= I enjoy climbing)

When I pour tea I like to pour the milk in first (= I choose to, it’s my habit)

Can this idea be simplified for elementary learners?

Svartvik and Leech (2002) point to a more general approach arguing that the infinitive clause expresses an “idea”, while the -ing clause expresses a “fact”. Interestingly they also add that in some contexts, the infinitive clause may have neutral (non factual or hypothetical) meaning:

He likes me to work late ( “…and that’s why I do it” ; …”but I never do it”)

He likes me working late (“…and that’s why I do it”)

As noticed above the choice between infinitive and gerund does not generally change the meaning. Continue reading