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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 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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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 #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