ESL

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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Evaluating course books – checklists

I’m currently studying a module in Materials Development through NILE online. It’s a really worthwhile course so far!

Unit two talked about evaluating materials, specifically course books. We were introduced to a range of checklists that could be used for evaluating a course book, and discussed the pros and cons of each. I can’t imagine everyone would find this topic interesting, but it was really topical for me – in the same week I was given a checklist to evaluate our new course book for teen classes. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on our own evaluation process and suggest some changes if necessary…

What makes a good checklist?

We looked at about six different checklists that were listed in McGrath (2002). In some of my jobs I’ve completed evaluations like this one from Harmer (1991:281) (more…)

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).

Link to Dobble on Amazon – no, I’m not on commission!

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

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.

Grammar review using drawings

This was a good idea I came across Bucksmore summer school. A review for various tenses/structures.

Give students a piece of paper. Get them to split it into 4 squares.

In each of the squares they draw one of the following:

  • Something you’ve done
  • Something you were doing this time last year
  • Something you will have done by the year 2050
  • What you will be doing in the year 2050

They choose the squares for each drawing at random.

Go over the structures if you need to…

You’ve + V3

This time last year you were  + Ving

By 2050 you will have + V3

In 2050 you’ll be + Ving

Students look at each other’s pictures and use the phrases to guess what each drawing shows.

Tweak the above examples to include structures you want to review.

Good fun. The drawing bit doesn’t have to take too long, I mean look how bad mine are!

Level? This activity was used at Upper-Int level. It was actually a warmer just to review these structures. Copyright Bucksmore I guess!

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

30 tips for developing teachers

Some teachers have clear direction when it comes to development. Others, like me, have always been a little bit lost. I found that once I finished my initial teacher training there wasn’t much support or guidance when it came to improving my skills, subject knowledge or knowledge of the industry. There was the odd teacher training session or peer observation, plus the occasional chat with a colleague, but for the most part I just had to get on with things. So, I did.

Taking control of your own development is the best thing you can do. Moreover, it’s easier than you think – it just takes a bit of interest and a bit of drive. Here’s a list of ideas to get you started. They’re mostly aimed at teachers fresh off a CELTA looking for inspiration, but some will be useful whatever your experience.

Note: Sketch (ELTexperiences) wrote a couple of similar posts on this when we were working together, so click here and here to see his ideas.

Documenting your progress

It’s said that for development to be successful it needs to be documented. Try these things to help:

  1. Keep a teaching journal

Record your thoughts and reflections on lessons – things that went well, things that didn’t, things to improve on, useful things you’ve read, self-evaluation tasks you’ve tried, etc. It will be a good thing to look back on, and might help you gather your thoughts.

  1. Start a blog

A ‘web log’ – it can be like a journal/diary anyway. The difference is that other people can see it. You can get feedback from others, useful tips and ideas. I started this one on wordpress.com. It only took me 10 minutes to set up and it’s free. I’ve motivated my colleague to do the same so you can see one that’s just starting out here. Please comment and keep him reflecting 🙂

  1. Add teacher development aims to your plans

This is a practical tip for lesson evaluation. At the end of a lesson, write down two things that went well, and two you could have improved on. Our CELTA YLX tutor called these ‘Glows and Grows’. Try and work on the points to improve in the next lesson. Writing these down somewhere is a great way to evaluate your progress. If you’re me, it’s also a great way to notice how many times you’ve had to focus on GIVING BETTER INSTRUCTIONS! AAARGH! (note: had a formal obs yesterday – guess what came up?!).

A framework of reference

  1. British Council Continuing Professional Development Framework

It’s useful to have a bit of guidance when it comes to professional development. Download this free document from the British Council. It’s a CPD framework highlighting various stages of development and key professional practices. It might help you recognise the areas you need to focus on. (more…)

Using story cubes

I bought these story cubes a few months ago, and I’ve tried them out a few times this term. They are basically dice with pictures onstorycubes1 them, so it’s really up to you how you use them. You can find a few ideas on the story cubes site, which include some demonstrations.

These are a pretty good tool to have in the classroom, and it wouldn’t be too hard to make your own (they can be a bit costly if you want a few sets). I find with my EFL classes that there’s rarely time for storytelling lessons, which is a shame as these cubes would be a great resource. However, I’ve tried to integrate these into lessons, with varied success. As you’d expect, the cubes mainly help students generate ideas for certain tasks. They’ve worked best with my teens.

Note: If you know about the specific sets of cubes then I’ve got ‘voyages’, ‘actions’ and the standard set.

Grammar tasks

A few weeks ago we did a review of using articles (a fairly common error for Thai learners) which was based on Jim Scrivener’s activities in Teaching English Grammar. The basis of this was creating a short story (about 5-8 lines). Student’s had to use articles correctly for new/known information. They then cut their story up line by line and gave this to another group to put in the correct order. The cubes helped with ideas and made the stories fun for other students to read. This also meant lots of emergent language. (more…)