efl

Dip Tips: Phonology and you

I sometimes hear from DipTESOL trainees who are finding it hard to get to grips with phonology. Common problems include:

  • Arrgh! I just don’t know where to start with it? What should I learn about first?
  • It’s not the learning about phonology, it’s how to integrate it

A good way to approach either of these points is with a bit of reflection.

I did my Dip with TLI Europe, who were really good. Before we started the module(s) on phonology, our tutor sent us a few diagnostic/reflection questions. These helped us understand more about our current practice in this area, the needs of our learners, our attitudes to teaching pronunciation and our areas for development.

If you are mentoring a trainee I recommend going through some of these questions with them. These are mainly exploratory and designed to prompt discussion.

If you are a trainee then feel free to respond to any questions in the comments and I’ll offer some advice if needed/if I can! (more…)

#ObserveMe

I really like the #ObserveMe movement (see Robert Kaplinsky’s post here or the hashtag). However, I’m going to have to tweak things to make it work.

Gone are the days of LTC Eastbourne. My two years at that school were highly collaborative and peer observation was commonplace. It wasn’t an open doors policy, but a fair few teachers were happy for me to drop in and observe at short notice, some extending the open invitation (like Sketch who blogs here). There was a time at LTC (admittedly when I had more time myself) when I’d observe another teacher at least once, often twice a week. Teachers welcomed feedback but, unlike much of the #ObserveMe tweets I’ve seen, I was rarely directed to focus on a specific feature or skill – ‘i.e. how do I vary interaction patterns?/How can I do a better job of keeping learners engaged?’ etc.

The ‘free-for-all’ approach had its perks for me – I could focus on whatever I wanted. I often focused on how teachers gave instructions and also on the correction techniques they used – that’s really interesting to observe in a language classroom. Whiteboard work was also a favourite! For the teachers I observed, I guess the feedback topic was a lottery. It’s not the most effective/focused way of doing things but hey, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of observing experienced teachers. Post-observation feedback still led to some interesting discussions – it was sometimes just good to download about issues that emerged during the lesson!

Fast-forward three years and my experience of observations has changed a lot. My two observed lessons per year (one developmental, one evaluative) are thorough and quite stressful. They are fairly by the book (i.e. this book!) and my performance is now linked to my pay, so giving the observer what they want is the priority, rather than giving the learners what the need. Sniff. I’ve frequently been the observed teacher in my current job rather than the observer. In my first year I was observed either formally or through drop ins about 12 times (!) by line managers, trainers and sometimes sales staff getting to know the products. Most observations were top down, which is sad. The only teacher who asked to observe me (rather than a manager who told me they were observing) has moved on, and I’m really lacking someone to bounce ideas off and who I trust to offer objective and informative feedback.

I want to change this, and to do so I think I need to change our teachers’ perception of observations. Given the formality and rigidity of our current observations, my approach here is the opposite. Complete freedom – no guidance, no specific focus (which I would have liked for my own benefit), nothing but allowing other teachers to come in, observe and comment. Breaking the invisible barrier between colleagues and just getting the dialogue going. It doesn’t matter what about to begin with, just… tell me what you think of my teaching and we can take the discussion from there!

Here’s the poster I’ve put up on my door. I hope someone pops in. *Anyone but the boss, ANYONE BUT THE BOSS!*

Feature image: TonyCrabbe

Correcting pronunciation errors from Thai speakers of English

There are plenty of posts online explaining typical pronunciation errors from Thai speakers of English. Most seem accurate, and are a good starting point if you don’t have a copy of Swan’s Learner English to hand.

Knowing what the problems are and why learners might make them is very useful. However, I’ve found less info on how teachers actually address these errors in class. With this in mind, here are a few of my reflections on a handful of those errors – what I do that works ok, plus what I don’t do and why. I’m hoping that Mark over at TESOL Toolbox will write a follow-up post on this, and between us we’ll start getting a bit of an ideas bank together.

The missing S

Sammy the snake for correcting the missing /s/

Learners often omit the /s/ in plural forms or verbs in 3rd person, even when they know the grammar rules. I find myself eliciting things like ‘I work, you work, he/she….?’ on loop, although I reckon this is a fossilized error for a fair few of my learners…

Still, one thing has helped addressed this. I’ve found Herbert Puchta’s snake visual very useful in both adult and young learner classes. Board or display a visual somewhere of a colourful looking snake. Inform the learners that if you hear the ‘missing s’ error you’ll point to the snake. Do so as an on-the-spot correction as you monitor speaking activities. Make the snake a commonplace visual in lessons and learners will hopefully start to self-correct more.

Good for… YLs. Better once they start to point to the snake to peer-correct

Downside… Using the visual as a reference without reiterating the correct form can lead to exaggerated responses… ‘workssssssssssssssss’. Expect that!

(more…)

Developing into a materials writer

Here are a few general tips for skills to develop if you’d like to write for publishers or big teaching organisations.

This is not a ‘How to become….’ post. You can find good tips about how to actually get into materials writing here and here. Also there are more general tips here.

Making the transition…

Going from teaching to materials writing is just a mindset thing really. Teaching and writing require a lot of the same skills anyway (see below). If you write your own materials for class now and then, well that makes you a materials writer.

‘Yeah, but I’m not… you know… paid to… or a professional materials wri-‘

Ah come on! Let publishers be the judge of that. What’s the worst they’ll do? Tell you that you don’t have the right experience? You might get lucky – they might ask you to write a sample of work for them… who’s gonna feel like a writer then, hey? Hey?!

Dealing with feedback

You go all out to write an awesome, engaging text only to receive tonnes of negative feedback. Sometimes feedback is constructive, sometimes it’s really blunt. You certainly need to develop a thick skin. Also, don’t assume that feedback is always scathing. Once, I received feedback on a grammar task that simply read ‘Why have you chosen this task?’ You can take that a few ways:

  • What on Earth are you doing?
  • This is the wrong task, you should choose something else
  • What is your logic here? I’m genuinely interested… If you explain it I might see the value…

Some inferences are more positive than others. Go with the positive spin – not everyone is out to put you down!

Incidentally, some of the best feedback I’ve had on materials has also led to changes to my own lesson planning/teaching practice. Just because an editor is sitting in an office all day doesn’t mean they’re not a practitioner too. (more…)

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

Recent whiteboard work

I mentioned a few whiteboard tips this time last year. I should probably follow my own advice, because my recent whiteboard work has been a bit shoddy.

I’ve been taking some pictures of my recent boards. I won’t post them up in full – I’m embarrassed that I actually make quite a few spelling mistakes. I’m working on that.

Here’s a snippet of one though… this made me chuckle. It must have been an interesting gap year this student was having…

blog-2d

Haha!

Among the abundance of scribbles and poor organisation, I have come across a few useful things. Obviously, if you’re taking pictures of your own board then you consciously try to make things neat or clear – some of these are recent things I’ve tried out so do let me know if you think they’re a bit rubbish!

Marking opposites

I’m surprised I didn’t mention this in my first post. I do this quite a lot though.

blog-2f

blog-2e

I observed a teacher years ago who used that ‘not equal to’ sign to show opposites. I’m not sure it’s right but I’m now in the habit of doing it and students know what I mean!!!

Marking affixation

I normally do this to raise awareness of word building patterns. What do you think?

blog-2g

Drawings

I’m getting better. Paul Millard would be pleased.

blog-2h

Please share any tips you have, I’m always looking to improve my whiteboard work 🙂

For more tips, check out this awesome board from Anthony Ash.

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

Classroom games – Dobble!

Dobble is a great card game for quick thinking and bit of new vocabulary. I trialled it during a ‘fun and games’ social club last week and it went down well. Actually, the students enjoyed it so much that they invented their own variation of the rules!

The game looks like this:

blog2a

It’s just a load of cards. However, each card always shares a matching symbol with any other card. Here’s one way to set the game up (for 4 players). See if you can notice the matching symbol on each card:

blog-2b

There are plenty of ways to play the game, but all involve either trying to get the most cards or losing all of your cards. You must call out the matching symbol before you win (or give away) a card. Of course, a flaw in the game is that you could easily lie as it’s fast-paced, but who would do that…?!

Our social club is quite relaxed. The students just looked through the cards and identified symbols they couldn’t explain. I taught what was needed…

blog-2c

We played 3 or 4 variations of the game which were lots of fun, although the students kept ganging up on me! Then the group decided that they could think of some more interesting rules. These slowed the game down, but led to plenty more language use as first they had to explain the rules to me, then we needed some process language rather than just the name of each object:

A: Have you got a clover?

B: No, I haven’t…

 

A: I think you’ve got….

Etc

(pronunciation of weak forms and contractions was a good point to come from this)

Overall this was a fun game for the classroom, the students definitely got something out of it. There are 55 cards so you could easily break things up into smaller games between teams in a young learner class. It would be a good reward or break time game (if your students aren’t still glued to Pokemon Go).

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