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)

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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…)

Article for Modern English Teacher: using Quizlet in teen classes

Here’s my article for the latest Modern English Teacher, April 2018. I did a bit of action research on using Quizlet in class, which I mentioned before in this post. Sorry about the graphs, Scribd makes them look a bit funny. The research was part of a Masters module in tech-assisted language learning through NILE ELT.

This article is copyright Pavilion Publishing.

You can find some tips for writing for ELT magazines in my post here.

DipTESOL: introduction to the phonemic chart

This is an introductory session on the phonemic chart for trainees taking the DipTESOL. I’ve designed this to supplement input given via distance learning courses, to be run in-house. It’s meant to help trainees give a basic explanation of the phonemic chart – something I was asked to do during my DipTESOL phonology interview.

The first question I was asked in my DipTESOL phonology interview was (along the lines of…):

Can you give me a brief description of the phonemic chart, and how it might benefit learners of English?

Gulp. Where do I start?

If I were a DipTESOL tutor the first thing I would do is get the chart into play. I think the phonology part of the course is what many trainees fear, so let’s nip that in the bud straight away… This session isn’t about jumping straight in and learning all the sounds, sound symbols, place and manner of articulation and all that scary stuff. It’s about exploring the idea of the chart and helping trainees become more confident discussing it rather than using it.

Disclaimer: my flipcharts don’t look good 😦

Session time: about an hour

I encountered the phonemic chart on my CELTA course, so I’m guessing others will have too. I’d guess also that many teachers know more about it that than they think, so let’s start with a discussion: (more…)

Book review: Her Own Worst Enemy

Alice Savage

The latest offering from Alphabet Publishing looks like a great resource for bringing drama into the language classroom. Her Own Worst Enemy is written by Alice Savage, a Professor of ESOL in Texas who has previous publications with Longman and OUP.

The book is based around a short one-act play. A complete curriculum is built around the play (pitched at ‘low intermediate to high intermediate’ level), including:

  • preparation tasks such as discussions, background reading, understanding pragmatics and attentive listening practice
  • the script itself along with post-reading discussion questions
  • a step-by-step production section which helps learners analyse the play, learn their lines, get into character, and develop pronunciation skills for their performance
  • post-performance tasks including debates, follow up tasks and resources for peer and teacher feedback

The play

The deal-breaker for me with a resource like this is whether the play is actually engaging. Can I see my learners getting into it? Here’s a blurb on the play from Alphabet Publishing:

Aida, a high-school student, wants to get a university degree in science. But her performance in a school play has caught the attention of the theatre director at a famous performing arts college. Which passion should she pursue, her love of science or her talent for acting?

Of course, such a topic won’t suit every context, but it’s definitely a topic that many teens and young adults will be able to relate to. My studious teen classes would certainly enjoy debating some of the issues that the characters face. In other contexts I’ve worked in, especially summer schools back in Europe and short courses with closed groups back in the UK, I can see this topic would be relevant and generate a lot of interest. (more…)

General ideas for teaching pronunciation

(This is a follow-up to my post on phonology-based activities. I’m sharing it now because some of our teachers are about to begin training for the Trinity DipTESOL. Phonology/pronunciation features quite a bit on that course, so I want to offer our teachers an ideas bank to help them explore this area in class)

Here are a load of random pronunciation activities to try out in class. These activities have pretty worked well for me with students aged 9-16. This is a work in progress! I’ll add more to this list when I get more time or try new things.

Note: there are not many activities here that focus on connected speech. That’s because most of my CS activities come from Marks and Bowen (2013) and I don’t want to do them a disservice by plagiarising their whole book! Buy it – it’s great!

If you find something useful then please share your own ideas in the comments! Sharing is caring 🙂

Use GIFs / images / actions

Use whatever you can to associate sounds with a particular object or action. If it’s /æ/ mime a cat, /ɪ/ then mime kicking a football. Keep it active. GIFs are pretty memorable too.

Mime games

The best thing about assigning actions to phonemes is miming games! Say, for example, you’ve taught certain sounds like /d/ (act like a dog), /b/ (throw a ball), /æ/ (act like a cat). You can play a ‘backs to the board game’ where each word includes only sounds that have been taught (bad, dad, etc). The students describing the words can’t say anything, they can only mime the action for the corresponding sounds. Great fun!

Fly swat games

You’ve introduced a set of phonemes. Display them on the board. Organise the class into teams, give each with a fly swat. They line up at the board. Say a word which includes one of the sounds (best to prepare a list of words beforehand). The first team to swat the correct sound wins a point.

Variations

Add more challenge. With the above sounds you can say either ‘vowel’ or ‘consonant’ before you say the word.

Example

Teacher says: ‘vowel, butter’. Students must swat /ʌ/

Teacher says: ‘consonant, butter’. Students must swat either /b/ or /t/, or both in order if you’re feeling particularly cruel. Some of my students go mad for this! (more…)