Training: Improve your whiteboard work

I’ve written a training session about whiteboard work designed for our CELTA level teachers. After the last round of teacher observations we established that boarding new/emergent vocabulary was an area for development. This session includes some tips to help teachers develop their technique. It’s primarily aimed a less-experienced teachers – I remember this topic being covered on the CELTA but it’s something that’s easy to let slip (in my opinion!).

What you need for the session:

Each pair/group of teachers will need to work with a whiteboard. It is possible to get 3 standalone whiteboards in our classrooms, but that might not be practical for you. Alternatives might be using mini-whiteboards (if big enough) or A3 paper. The paper might be a nice record for after the session. Teachers will also need a set of coloured whiteboard pens (coloured pens if using paper). Two or three colours should be enough.

The flipchart slides need a projector/IWB.

 

STAGE 1 – Lead in

The section starts with a chat about teachers’ current practice…

  1. How would you rate your board work skills?
  2. What are you good/bad at?
  3. What are you like at boarding emergent language?
  4. What information might you add to the board when you teach a new word?

The next stage is sort of diagnostic, done as a game. Teachers work in pairs/threes. A ‘new word’ is displayed on the flipchart. Teachers write this on their board and display any info related to the word that they think is useful/necessary for the learners.

Allow 1 minute then move the box on the flipchart to remove an example of how the word could be displayed on the board.

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Review: Veslio video lessons

I do love a good video-based lesson. Jamie Keddie at lessonstream does them really well. Kieran Donaghy’s lessons on Film English are good for focusing on certain themes. Vocabulary in Chunks and AllatC are two great blogs sharing video lesson ideas – the latter isn’t updated much now though. There are lot more video related content around (like the ISL Collective video quizzes or the listening tasks on TubeQuizard), but there’s always room for more.

Veslio offers ‘modern English language lesson plans based on real-world videos for teachers with teenage or adult students’. Nik Peachey recently endorsed it on his LinkedIn feed so I blagged a promo code off the creators to check it out.

Layout and feel

The layout is very slick – it’s easy to navigate and they’ve kept it simple. It has a very professional feel to it – I like the way that the lesson plans for each lesson have been embedded into a viewer, so you can get a good idea of what’s on offer. Throughout using the site I only came across one tech issue, which was with a YouTube video which wasn’t embedded due to copyright, but this was a one-off. (more…)

Evidence and (my lack of) accountability

Last ramble before I’m back to sharing lesson ideas.

I’ve been re-reading Russ Mayne’s blog on evidence based ELT. I remember being quite into it in the lead up to my diploma and agreed with (what I saw as) his main message. We can’t rely solely on our own reflections or those of so-called experts to validate the methods/approaches we use. We need more objective evidence. If there isn’t any then we should be skeptical, and if there is evidence (e.g. from research) then we should ensure that it is reliable.

Perhaps one reason I like Mayne’s stance is because I used to be more science-focused. My MSc was in cognitive psychology and I was working on experiments with large quantitative data sets. I chose that path mainly because my BA involved a lot of qualitative research which I found was often subjective or too easy to manipulate. I felt with quantitative data things were more objective and trustworthy – providing that I didn’t do something calamitous to my SPSS/Excel spreadsheets, which I often did!

The main effect my studies had on me was that I came to question everything. The trouble was, questioning everything didn’t seem to work well in teaching. By questioning everything, I essentially had faith in nothing. When I started out there wasn’t really one teaching method I truly believed in. Coupled with that, I was genuinely a crap teacher, so not only did I lack faith in the methods I was using, I was ridiculously hesitant and lacking in confidence. Jeez, my poor DOS back then. I must have been a nightmare. (more…)

Acoustic blur, soundshapes, speech streams

I’ve been thinking about an interaction I had in class last week. I’ve transcribed it roughly below. For a bit of context, the language point was going to for future plans, and the language had been presented through a listening. This was a controlled practice stage.

Here’s how things played out (well, with real student names obviously!)…

Student A : (quite slowly) What are you going to do after class?

Student B : (quite carefully) I’m going to meet my friends

Me: OK, cool. That’s fine…. *thinks*. OK, Student A – woye.gunne.doowaf.teclass?

Student A: Er…I’m going to eat

Me: weye.gunneet?

Student A: Sorry?

Me: weye.gunneet?

Student A: I don’t… understand

Me: That’s ok. What might I ask you? You said that you’re going to eat…

Student A: Maybe… where?

Me: weye.guneet?

Student A: Oh! Where are you going to eat?

Me: weye.guneet?

Student A: Maybe… Sizzler

Me: Nice. Good steak. (To Student B) Ask me.

Student B: What are you going to /

Me: woye.gunne.doowaf.teclass?

Student B: *laughs* woye…gunnerrr

Me: it’s OK. Try this instead: watcher

Student B: watcher

Me: watcher.gunner

Etc…

I find myself doing things like this more and more in class. I mean, if you were to pick this interaction apart, it’s not particularly good teaching to be fair. The whole interaction is staggered and unnatural, I’m modelling pronunciation with simple repetition, I’m leading the exchanges here too. But hey, I’m being honest about what happens in my class sometimes, I’m not gonna lie. (more…)

Subject knowledge, jargon, learners

This is a post aimed at candidates about to take a diploma course, but is still relevant to all. It also loosely connects to Sandy’s recent post about mistakes you’ve made in class (click here).

There’s a good line in the introduction of Dalton and Seidlhofer’s book, Pronunciation (1994):

‘What teachers need to know is not necessarily what learners need to learn.’

This should be a motto for diploma trainees. It’s far too easy to get bound up in terminology and jargon, or simply so interested in it, that lessons can become very technical and not learner-friendly. What’s more, just because you’ve covered something in an input session on the course, that doesn’t mean you should rush straight into the classroom and try it out. It might not suit your context.

While I was studying for my DipTESOL I fell into a couple of traps related to my classroom practice.

The smug teacher

Looking back, some of the corrections I used to make were cringe-worthy. I can’t remember saying this, but knowing me I probably did…

‘Hmmm, actually I think you’ll find that’s a phrasal-prepositional verb’

No, I couldn’t have. Surely…

The yawn marathon

You suddenly know all the usage rules for the definite, indefinite and zero articles. Like, ALL of them, including every possible country/group of countries that begin with the word ‘The’. Your learners definitely need to know all of these right now! I advise scheduling about 40 mins for a teacher input stage to cover EVERY rule. Just you talking. To complete beginners.

Jargony McJargonface

Progressive and regressive assimilation? Juncture and catenation? Epenthesis? All pretty cool words/phrases if you’re into phonology, and also really good things to chuck into a) something like a phonology interview on your course if they’re relevant, b) conversations with other teachers to make you sound smart. But the learners? Well, teach those terms if you want – I prefer to teach the concepts when relevant and just refer to them in a simpler way. Back in my diploma days though, well…

And you’ve done that because…?

Colleague: What are you teaching today, Pete?

Pete: I’m veering away from the syllabus a bit. I’m gonna teach some binominals

Colleague: Bi…? I can’t remember what they…

Pete: Just, you know, two or more words, linked by a conjunction. Usually fixed. ‘sick and tired, ‘pros and cons’, stuff like that

Colleague: Oh yeah. Cool. So, why?

Pete: What do you mean?

Colleague: Why? I mean… are they relevant to anything you’ve covered recently? Or… I mean, are the phrases connected in any way or something? Or…

Pete: Look, I learnt about them on my course. If I don’t teach them, I’ll probably forget what they are

Colleague: OK… Pete, look. Your students are taking their IELTS exam in 3 days, so maybe you should…

Pete: Teach them about binominals. The speaking examiner will love it.

 

I’ve already dealt with questions from new trainees related to the situations above. Here are examples…

…..

In my language analysis I have referred to the word ‘There’ in the structure ‘There is/are..’ as being a dummy subject, and mentioned (as Parrott does) that this is a type of existential clause. Should I tell my learners this?

…..

I recently learnt that verbs can be transitive/intransitive/ditransitive/copula/etc. Should I tell my learners about this every time I teach a new verb?

…..

I write words in phonemic script on the board, but learners can’t read it. Should I teach the script to them in the few hours we have together each week?

 

My answer is pretty much the same every time:

How do you think your learners would react?

Sure, developing subject knowledge is an important, and necessary, part of the course. You need a pretty good level of subject knowledge to pass the exam and interview, plus you will need to show you understand what you’re teaching through a language analysis (like the ones on the CELTA). But ultimately, you’re learning all this to improve your practice, which you’re doing in order to benefit your learners. Don’t do what I did by letting all this new knowledge go to your head. Always keep your learners in mind. Teach what is relevant, when it is relevant, and in a way that is relevant to them. As always, right?

Aside from that, make sure you bank all this new jargon for a years’ time. They’ll be a whole new set of trainees by then, and it’s great fun to scare them with terms like ‘regressive assimilation’.

(Feature image: Shutterstock)

1000 words on… Correcting spoken errors

This is an interesting topic I’ve been revisiting this week. I wrote about it during my diploma (see here) and I like how relevant and applicable this topic is to my classroom practice.

Lyster and Ranta (1997) suggest that there are six common correction techniques used by teachers. That is, when they are correcting spoken errors. These techniques are:

Technique Description Example
Explicit correction clearly indicating that the learner’s utterance is wrong and correcting them. Student: *He’s a sinGER  

Teacher: No, it’s SINGer. He’s a SINGer.

Recast not directly indicating that the learner was incorrect, but reformulating the error to provide correction. Student: *I go to London yesterday

Teacher: Ah, you went to London yesterday

Student: … er, yeah.

Clarification The teacher indicates that the learner’s utterance was incorrect in some way through phrases like ‘sorry?’, ‘What was that?’ etc. This prompts learner to reformulate Student: *I don’t do many mistakes

Teacher: Sorry?

Student: I don’t do…

Teacher: Huh? What was that?

Student: Make! I don’t make many mistakes

Metalinguistic clues Without providing the correct form, the teacher asks questions or provides comments

related to the formation of the learner’s utterance

Student: *He work in an office most days

Teacher: Is that the correct form of the verb? Do we say ‘He work?’

Elicitation Teacher elicits correct form from learner As with above example, something like…

 Teacher: I work, you work, he/she ….?

Student: works

Repetition Teacher repeats the error, using voice/intonation etc to show that an error has been made and prompt reformulation Student: *He not like football

Teacher: He NOT like football?

Student: doesn’t! He doesn’t

Note: some of my descriptions above are from a great overview from Tedick and de Gortari (1998). More on that in a sec… (more…)

I clearly love coursebooks

I always feel embarrassed when I speak up for coursebooks. I think I’m supposed to hate them. Everybody else seems to, so I guess that’s the right thing to do. According to Steve Brown’s latest post (well worth a read), even coursebook writers themselves are getting bold enough to criticise the practices of big publishers. Steve reckons that, in the grand scheme of things, such criticism is pointless. I say that the writers should keep doing it. The more they bite the hand that feeds, the more likely that publishers get annoyed and look for writers elsewhere. I’d love to get a message in my LinkedIn mailbox one day that reads: (more…)