ELT Traveller box

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


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Using Wordle to teach phrasal verbs (my guest post on itslearning)

I recently had the pleasure to write a guest post for the itslearning website. I shared a few ideas about why teaching phrasal verbs is crucial also for elementary learners and how this can be fun and motivating by using Wordle.

You can read the complete post here.

Phrasals2_question

 


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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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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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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.