teacher development

Supporting young learners

Young learner classes at our school are mostly organised by age. This means there can be quite a range of abilities, and differentiation* is an important part of planning.  I generally find that our materials can be a bit on the tough side for my class, so I’m used to providing more support rather than extension tasks.

Here’s an example of how I supported my young learners in class last week. We were studying celebrations. I produced lots of short reading texts about different festivals/events and displayed these around the room. I’d made a couple of words in each text bold. Students did a vocabulary matching task, here’s part of it…

support

Note the HELP box. If students felt they needed more help they could move the box. There was a clue underneath telling them which text the word appeared in (e.g. ‘Text A’). This meant their choice was narrowed down to two words. (more…)

Workstations for reviews (young learners)

I saw my boss use a simple workstation activity during a peer observation. It was a really good way to prepare students for their final task. I often include a quick 10-15 minute workstation activity in my YL classes now. Here’s an example from the other day.

The task was for my teens to produce a doctor/patient dialogue. During the lesson we reviewed vocabulary for illnesses, listened to a model conversation, identified important language (e.g. giving advice), and so on. As a pre-task students worked in groups of 4 and completed a short review task at various stations around the room:

workstation1

At station 1 students listed target language or other useful phrases that might help them when writing their dialogues.

workstation2

At station 2 students reviewed a dialogue from the lesson. They put the dialogue in the correct order and practiced reading it (text from Beyond A2+ published by Macmillan).

workstation3

Note: thanks to Rabia Ahmad who pointed out the spelling error in the above dialogue!

At station 3 students practised saying chunks of language, with a focus on how they sound in connected speech. During the activities this was the station I monitored as students required clear modelling of each phrase. On reflection, using a pronunciation task at one of the stations was problematic (classroom management-wise) but still useful.

At station 4 (the interactive whiteboard) students reviewed useful vocabulary by playing a game on Quizlet.

I could have used various different tasks during the workstations. The review game proved to be a bit of a distraction on a couple of occasions, but it was a fun feature to include. The activity at station 1 was probably the most useful as students had some good ideas to refer to while creating their dialogues.

Learning points

  • During the CELTA YL extension course we had an input session on workstations. Most of the workstation tasks seemed much longer or more substantial. However, there’s no reason why workstations can’t just be a short and snappy way to review learning and provide a change in classroom dynamic.

If you want to try something like this…

  • If you use the same set up then make sure each task is ‘stand-alone’. You can’t have one task as a prerequisite for another in the way I’ve arranged it here, but you could make some tweaks if you want that to happen.

Feature image: Puzzle by Davo Sime from the Noun Project

Highlighting success criteria to young learners

This post explains simple coding you could use to help learners notice key features of a model text. I know this type of stuff is common in primary schools, so I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s just not something I’ve come across much in an EFL context, so thought I’d share what I tried last week.

A few months ago I set my YLs the task of writing a film review. In building up to the task we’d highlighted key features of film reviews, looked at text layout, covered useful language to include, etc. Post-task, the learners completed a self- and peer-assessment sheet like this:

assessment

It’s fine. I mean, it did the job. However, using a tick sheet was limited as it wasn’t clear that learners really understood each category! I should have got them to note down examples of each category from their partner’s text, that would prove they understood.

Last week’s task was to create a poster for a fundraising concert. During the prep students consolidated their knowledge of some key features to include in their own poster by annotating the model in their workbooks:

assessment1

This is not everything that they needed to include, but it’s a start…

They ended up with a model text looking like this:

assessment2

text copyright British Council

When the students completed their own posters I got them to do a similar process – annotate their own work. I still used a checklist, but this time they highlighted where these features appear in their own text – or their classmates did so as peer correction.

This doesn’t have to be done as colour coding – it could be as symbols, numbers, etc. If learners are really precious about their work you could just use post-its or something.

In an EFL context, this makes it really clear to me that learners know what to include in a text and that they understand new terms that we’ve covered. I only see my classes once a week, but I think they’ll remember this task and it can be used effectively in future lessons. Well, I hope so!

Do you use any techniques like this? Please comment and share your own ideas.

Feature image by Alina Oleynik from the Noun Project

Experimenting with ‘the Inner Workbench’

Great post this – think I’ll try out some activities related to the ‘inner voice’…

Jamie Clayton's ELT blog

In Meaningful Action, Underhill explains his concept of the Inner Workbench: the place in our mind where we hear and manipulate inner speech. Putting learners in touch with this place as they convert thoughts to speech, getting them to feel and describe what happens there, may create a memorable experience of speaking for them and a deeper understanding of what learners do in order to speak.

I wrote the instructions on the board:img20161103210552

It’s a simple little activity as you can see. We went through the steps with 5 phrases for agreeing / disagreeing in conversation, I tried to listen for changes in their pronunciation – not easy. I recorded it,listened back and had some questions:

  1. How much time should pass in between each stage? I think it’s easy to move on too quickly.
  2. What can we do after step 4? I wasn’t really sure what to do in class…

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Planning tasks for young learners

To an experienced YL teacher this post is just stating the obvious. To me it’s not, because I’m new to teaching primary aged learners.

I’ve got in the habit of tweaking almost every activity to try and make it fun. I enjoy getting my planning hat on and making things more engaging for YLs. Things like the spelling races and the travel quiz I spoke about last week are the recent additions to my toolkit.

Things to consider

A few general tips for tweaking tasks to make them more YL friendly:

  • How do things look? Changing fonts, adding images, colour… these can all make your activities look more engaging
  • Can I make my tasks more ‘multisensory’? Sorry, I’m not buying into the VAK neuromyth with this! I’m just suggesting that varying tasks in general can lead to more interest and engagement
  • How long are my activities? Short activities are better. I try and keep most stages under 10 minutes, but of course it depends what you’re doing!
  • Where does the activity fit in the lesson? What comes before and after it? It’s good to have a balance of ‘stirrers’ (get students up and active) and ‘settlers’ (calm down, focus, etc)
  • Can I add an element of competition? I guess this depends on whether you want to… My students respond well to competition. I like that a competition element often promotes teamwork and collaboration, but students do come to expect a game element a bit too much sometimes…
  • Do I need to differentiate the task? You probably will, so how can you make sure that you meet the individual needs of each learner?

Se at TalkTEFL is a brilliant teacher of young learners. I know he has tonnes of posts lined up on YLs, so I’ll leave this topic to the expert. However, I will share one example of a tweak I tried which has gone down well:

Hiding words for matching tasks. Instead of giving learners a set of words and meanings for a vocab matching tasks, I just hide the target words around the room. Everywhere – stuck on the projector, on the underside of skirting boards, in the middle of the dictionary… They have to find the words and write them (correctly) in their books before I give them the meanings to match. They go MAD for this for some reason!

Feature image: valeriabfranca.com

I’m writing a series of short posts in response to Martin Sketchley’s blog challenge. You can view his new blog here.

Encouraging autonomy in teen classes

You might not need to encourage your students to take control of their learning. I do. My teens aren’t used to working independently or undertaking tasks without the teacher directing proceedings.

Our current topic is health and fitness. I found this great information booklet online entitled ‘Take charge of your health’, which was aimed specifically at teens. It looks like this, and you can access it here.

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Booklet produced NIDDK

My teens had studied this type of stuff in their mainstream schools. I knew there would be a lot of transferable language, so I felt they were ready to try a different approach to the lesson… (more…)

Teaching for Success online conference

Oh look, Se at TalkTEFL has been taking the Mickey out of our ‘Quality Circle’…

Sarah Smith and I will be chatting about our teacher-led development group (‘The Quircle’) at the British Council Teaching for Success online conference. We’re on the action research discussion panel on Wednesday 5th Oct. Come and share your ideas with us!

If you want to know about our group but can’t attend the webinar, check out the latest issue (106) of English Teaching Professional.