Lesson idea: present perfect time markers

activity from Gateway (Macmillan)

Here are a few fun activities for practising time markers used with the present perfect. There’s a review of these markers in a B1 level teen coursebook we’re using (Gateway, Macmillan). I found the meaning/rule activity in the book useful, but the practice tasks following it were a bit boring so I made up a few more.

Time markers practised: already, for, just, never, since, yet

BEEP game

  1. Students write one sentence for each time marker. They should personalise this.

e.g.

I’ve never been to Laos

I haven’t done my homework yet

Etc

  1. Students self-correct / peer-correct sentences with a partner. You could draw attention to possible errors (e.g. are the time markers in the right place?) or typical errors you know your learners make (e.g. *I’ve never been yet), just for a bit of direction
  2. Students change partners. They keep their sentences a secret. They read each sentence to their partner, but replace the time expression with the sound ‘BEEP’. Their partner guesses the missing word by repeating the complete sentence, like this….

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Book review: Successful Group Work

Alphabet Publishing must have been feeling generous! Not only did they send me Classroom Community Builders (Burns), but I also received a copy of Successful Group Work by Patrice Palmer. This book hasn’t been out long, so it’s the perfect time for a review!

Successful Group Work is a short book of 13 activities for teaching teamwork skills. Palmer begins by writing about some benefits of group work in the EFL classroom, such as increased student talk time and the chance to negotiate meaning. She highlights, however, that to ensure group work is effective learners first need to be aware of what makes it a success – that’s where teambuilding skills come in. Activities in the book are designed as a ‘complete course’, helping students identify and develop the necessary teamwork skills in order to succeed in group projects.

In defining ‘teamwork skills’, Palmer refers to a list compiled by the Conference Board of Canada, clearly stating how each of the activities in the book focus on these various skills. Some examples include:

  • Recognising and respecting diversity
  • Contributing to a team
  • Understanding and working within the dynamics of a group
  • Planning, designing or carrying out a task

There are some good tips in the introduction about setting clear expectations and post-task reflection. (more…)

Book review: Classroom Community Builders

I’ve just received a copy of the latest book from Alphabet Publishing. Walton Burns is following up last year’s ’50 Activities for the First Day of School’ with a new cookbook of ideas for building a classroom community.

Burns states this book is a natural continuation to his previous offering, which was a compendium of icebreaking activities. Having considered the role of icebreakers more, he reflects that these types of activity aren’t always used effectively in lessons. Many icebreakers encourage teamwork, and are best used when they are a) relevant to the content of the class, and b) give learners the feeling of accomplishment. With this in mind, he offers a range of activities that go beyond simple rapport builders – aiming instead to build a culture of collaboration and community from day one.

The book is organised in four sections:

  • Set Your Expectations
  • Working Together
  • Getting To Know You
  • Getting to Know Your Teacher

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Review: British Council apps for learning English

Students often ask me if I know any good websites and apps for learning English. There are a fair few websites I recommend, and this list is always growing (note: the latest edition is TubeQuizard). Apps though? Er…

Feeling ignorant, and especially ignorant when it comes to the British Council’s own products, I’ve spent this week downloading our apps and testing them out. Honestly, some are great. Some are a bit limited or a bit outdated, but I’ve certainly found some gems. Here’s my take on the best and the rest.

Disclaimer: all views are my own. All screen shots from my phone are (I guess) copyright British Council.

The young learner apps from the British Council are by far the most engaging, as you might expect!

Learning Time with Timmy

Cost: £2.99, or £6.99 for Timmy 1, 2 and 3

This is a really fun app for very young learners. Timmy the Sheep guides learners through three different games to help them learn basic vocabulary (transport, objects, animals, etc) and numbers. With each complete level they unlock a sticker or a short video clip.

This is the ‘put stuff in a box’ game. There’s also a ‘pop the balloon’ one and a ‘find something in the mud/under the leaves’ one! Overall, loads of swiping, pressing, dragging, etc. Very interactive, as you’d expect for VYLs. Also it’s visually great. My favourite feature is the sticker boards. You can decorate various scenes with the stickers you win.

The app in a few words: Well worth the money

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More creative displays and success criteria

We’ve been doing a module on travel. Last week, students wrote about their most memorable trip. Here’s the latest (sunny) display. I need to mount this on some nice coloured card and frame it a bit better, but I was really impressed by the students’ work!


Actually, it’s not the displays that I was most impressed with. I’ve been working on some of the techniques for highlighting success criteria that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. I’ve also taken on board some of Kirsten Anne’s ideas from last month’s post on writing codes.

One of the displays includes a key which explains various content / language points students had to use in their writing:

Students used the symbols to highlight where they used each language point in their writing:

(note: I still need to correct a few things!)

I know, this isn’t exactly rocket science. I’ve seen Kirsten Anne marking books for her primary classes and these techniques are pretty standard. Still, it’s a great way for learners to show they understand the target language and can use it effectively. It makes my marking a lot easier too!

Click here for another example of a creative display.

Writing pronunciation activities – 5 things to consider

I’ve written quite a few pronunciation activities this year for a regional product (Asia). Here are a few random thoughts on the process…

Pronunciation for… what?

As Laura Patsko mentions in this interesting Pedagogy Pop-up, pronunciation is important for all skills, not just speaking.

A lot of the pronunciation stages in our materials focus on connected speech. The aim of these activities (IMO) is more to help learners decode natural speech rather than to produce a certain pronunciation feature accurately themselves. Of course, it would be nice if they could do both…

If the purpose of a pronunciation activity isn’t clearly communicated to teachers (and to learners) then this could lead to either having the wrong expectations. There is always a production element in our pronunciation activities, but accurate production of a certain feature might not be the primary aim of an activity.

What problems do the learners have?

This year I’ve been writing a regional product. I’ve taught in 3 of the 15 or so countries where the materials are used. I’ve found it’s pretty tough to address the needs of every learner with a regional product. Resources like Swan’s Learner English have been really useful for understanding common pronunciation problems faced by learners across a region. It’s always worth asking other teachers too – I’m pretty sure that our teachers have taught across the whole region between them.

Of course, it’s worth asking the learners themselves what difficulties they have, but there are practical issues. It might be hard to do this across a whole region, plus they might not actually know what they have difficulties with! (more…)

Coursebook activities and SLA theory – do they match?

According to Tomlinson (2013:12-15), ‘it is generally accepted that [Second Language Acquisition] is facilitated by:

  • a rich and meaningful exposure to language in use
  • affective and cognitive engagement
  • making use of mental resources typically used in L1 communication
  • noticing how the L2 is used
  • giving opportunities for contextualised and purposeful communication in the L2
  • being encouraged to interact
  • being allowed to focus on meaning’

Plus, Tomlinson cites research that suggests language learning is facilitated by motivation, having individual needs catered for, making use of non-linguistic communication and being relaxed (among other things). (more…)