reviews

Book review: Stories Without End

Alphabet Publishing recently sent me a copy of Stories Without End by Taylor Sapp. Here’s a review and a bit about how I used the book…

The book

Stories Without End is a collection of 24 open-ended stories for use in the classroom. The texts, usually no more than three A4 pages in length, come with reading and discussion activities and possible project work for extension.

General format

Each text usually includes…

  • ‘Before You Read’ – usually orientation questions, sometimes prediction
  • ‘Vocabulary’ – a matching task to pre-teach vocab. This appears before the text but I guess you don’t have to use it as a pre-teach. Up to you.
  • ‘After You Read’ – usually discussion questions encouraging personal response
  • ‘Projects’ – possible extension tasks

There are a few supplementary resources provided for these tasks at the back of the book.

The stories

There are two types of stories in the book. ‘Short Takes’ are texts under 500 words, and ‘Mid-Length Stories’ are between 500-2000 words.

Things I like about the stories

I like the fact that most texts in this book don’t seem to be graded. I spend a lot of my time as a materials writer grading texts, and at times this takes away the richness, perhaps authenticity too. I see why the writer has opted to provide pre-teaching tasks as the language can be challenging at times (milquetoast was a new word for me!). Sure, there can be benefits to simplifying a text, but it’s nice to be presented with a resource that provides texts as intended.

The text topics overall are interesting and useful. In my context, I’d say about half of them would ‘work’ – by that I mean engage my students, prompt discussion and have relevance. This book has arrived just at the right time for me, with our school promoting a ‘Reading Challenge’ this term. I know some of my students shy away from this initiative each year – the aim is to read 1-4 books across term. That’s ambitious for my students, and these short-stories will be more accessible. (more…)

Review: ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback

Lesson observations – where to start?! Jeanette Barsdell, the author of ELT Lesson Observation and Feedback Handbook, was thrown in at the deep end and expected to observe a teacher on her first day as a DOS. Despite being terrified, she got some great advice, hit the ground running and developed into a competent observer. She’s written a guidance book for anyone who observes or intends to observe ELT teachers, and overall is a great resource.

Overview

Barsdell explains that the book will help you with (quote):

  • managing and setting up observations
  • decoding a lesson plan to understand and improve practice
  • understanding from teaching practice a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses
  • stating strengths and areas to work on in a constructive way
  • being comfortable giving face-to-face and written feedback.

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Review: Great Writing

A couple of months ago we ran a two-week ‘Grammar and Writing’ course for teens (aged 14+). I was scheduled to teach these classes but, to be honest, the prospect didn’t fill me with excitement. I enjoy teaching teens in general, but it can be a real chore to motivate them at times. I couldn’t see developing writing skills being that inspiring, and grammar wasn’t exactly going to get them rocking up ten minutes before class in anticipation either.

Well, that was off the mark. There were only 6 students but they were pretty much engaged throughout the two weeks. They produced some excellent work and in a short time I honestly felt like they’d made quite a bit of progress. It’s so nice to actually see improvement in my context – with just two hours a week for each class you never really know what your real impact is. In this case, it seems tangible, and I think the coursebook played a role in that.

Overview

Great Writing 2 from National Geographic Learning is a densely packed 300 pages of introductory material on paragraph writing. It’s actually Book 3 of 6, in a series that covers the basics of sentence construction, spelling and composition, then moves on to paragraphs and a focus on constructing essays.

GW2 is aimed at intermediate level students. In the introduction (to the fourth edition) the authors state that ‘the language level is controlled as much as possible so that dedicated upper beginners and weak advanced students may also benefit from the instruction’. I wouldn’t exactly agree that the resource is accessible for a broad range of levels, more intermediate plus.

There are various vocab and grammar-related activities throughout the resource but the focus is very much on composition. It’s estimated that, depending on the amount of study outside class, the materials could stretch from 60-80 classroom hours. With deviations, additional grammar reviews where needed, more personalisation where necessary and ample time for freer practice (plus peer/self-editing), the book could be the main resource for a course of around 100 hours.

Contents of a unit

The general components for most units include…

Orientation to the writing focus – these are just as useful for teachers as they are for learners. Whatever the writing focus of a unit, this is made clear and fairly student-friendly explanations are provided (for intermediate level). Some of these are great as they make it easy to establish a success criteria for each skill – the list format of some mean they are a ready-made success checklist.

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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…)

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…)

Global Digital Citizen Foundation

I came across this great site after they linked to an old blog post of mine. What a stroke of luck!

According to the site, Global Digital Citizen Foundation is a ‘non-profit organisation dedicated to cultivating responsible, ethical, global citizens for a digital world’. They work with educators around the world to help develop modern learning environments, with a focus on helping learners develop autonomy and skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking. You can read more here.

The site had loads of really good downloadable resources, most of which are free (you do need to log in though). I’ve downloaded a critical thinking workbook and ideas for project-based learning, both of which are really useful. Selected resources available include ‘Medial Tools for Teachers’ (full of tips for great free media sites), classroom motivational posters, guides to using social media in class and much more. They also have a blog and post frequently.

According to the ‘Who we are’ section of the site, one of the driving forces behind the project is Andrew Churches. He has a blog that is also worth looking at – especially for the useful downloads related to Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.

Let me know what you think of the sites!

Images copyright Global Digital Citizen Foundation

App review: ELSA Speak

Let it gooooo, let it gooooo!

Now that’s out of my system, here’s a review of ELSA Speak. It’s an app that teaches you to ‘pronounce English like an American through real-world conversations’. It’s a great use of AI in language learning – it really is amazing what some of these apps can do now!

With ELSA Speak you can work through a wide range of activities which mainly focus on the individual sounds of English. Most activities involve recording yourself saying a word or phrase. The phrases are topic related (introductions, family, business, food and drink, etc) so not only can you improve your pronunciation, you can also learn phrases that are relevant to your own context.

You can choose the skill (sounds) you’re interested in. A bulk of the activities involve recording phrases like the one above. (more…)