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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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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Storytelling tools for ESL students #1 Storybird

I believe storytelling is a very powerful teaching resource for young learners. They feel comfortable with it, and when they read or listen to a story they stop caring about “understanding every single word” of it. Very often they let the story flow, and enjoy themselves.

Teachers are used to work on storytelling activities to engage their learners. This is definitely true also for me, but what is the balance among different skills activities?

I used to focus more on receptive skills – listening and reading tasks usually followed by comprehension activities or semi-controlled practice (complete the sentence, re-write it etc.). To be honest, I was quite afraid of using free-production writing task with young elementary learners. Then I thought it was time to change, and I started using Storybird with my classes.

Storybird is an amazing creative writing tool. Students can create their own art-inspired stories, collaborate and give feedback on other’s stories.

It is free, and it gives teachers the chance to sign up for a teacher account and manage students without emails. You can create assignments, and even build your class library.

How to use it in class –   Younger teens

  • Start reading a classic book, or part of it, in class. I use graded readers (A1/A2) of famous stories like The Wizard of Oz, Alice adventures in Wonderland etc. This will take around 6-8 lessons, and it will give students a model story. At this point it is useful to focus on character’s descriptions, setting, time, organisation of events.
  •       When the book is over, ask students to write/tell/present a summary of the story based only on pictures. Find pictures on the web, mix them and then distribute them to the class, each group can work on a different part of the   story.
  • It’s time for a Storybird! Put students in pairs, set up a class on your teacher profile and give them an assignment. You can specify the number of pages, grammar tenses, specific functions you want students to use etc. At the end they can publish their stories on the site and/or buy them.

You can even have a Book Club Ceremony 🙂

Enjoy!