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…)
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…)
I picked up some interesting throw-outs from the British Council library here in Thailand. I’ve been flicking through Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language by Christine Nuttall (1996) this week. It’s clear, well-organised and has lots of practical activities for teachers to help them understand the skills or strategies they are teaching learners. But there’s something else you can’t miss in the book, especially in Chapter 1 – the illustrations.
This is a great illustration of a passive reader (see paragraph below image). For some reason it seems to induce post-nasal drip whenever I see it… (more…)
I’ve been using Quizlet in class for a while. This term I’m getting to grips with it a bit more as part of a project for my MA.
Quizlet is a site which allows you to create your own online flashcards and games all for free. It’s really easy to pick up for both teachers and learners. Here’s what learners can do with it:
Flashcards – Learners can revise words from a lesson using digital flashcards made by the teacher. Flashcards can be words + meanings or words + images. You could also make question and answer cards. Students could also make their own flashcards if they want.
Learn – Read the meaning/look at the image and type the correct word
Spell – Type the target word you hear
Test – An auto-generated mix of written, multiple choice, and true and false questions based on the vocabulary set
Match/Gravity – a couple of games using the vocab set. Match works well on an interactive whiteboard
Live – play a live game with multiple participants
Images in ELT coursebooks are often ambiguous. What might seem a fairly obvious depiction of an act or concept to us may be perceived as something completely different to our learners.
In an interesting, small-scale study, Hewings (1991) asked a group of Vietnamese learners in England to interpret various illustrations found in Elementary level coursebooks. For most of the images correct interpretation would require some culturally-specific knowledge, and written text around the images was removed so the learners weren’t given any support.
Hewings found many types of image were interpreted differently from what was intended. One example was with illustrations portraying people in certain roles, where learners failed to recognise certain stereotypes (e.g. rich/poor). He found, understandably, that culturally-specific job roles (e.g. a priest) were misinterpreted, as were situational images.
Maps like this room plan were also confused…
taken from Hewings (1991)
Some learners thought this was a view of a house from top to bottom rather than a floor plan from above. Symbolic representations like thought bubbles were also misinterpreted, and images like the ones below were seen as something different – the first image being a children’s slide, a reception desk, and ‘information’.
taken from Hewings (1991)
Interpretation of graphs also seemed an issue, particularly dealing with keys.
Hewings made some clear points in conclusion (mostly quotes here):
‘we inevitably see illustrations from a culturally based viewpoint…’
We assume that everyone perceives images in the same way
‘We assume that students have the necessary skills to make sense of information presented in the form other than a text’
Interpretations are unpredictable
Images are a chance to make learners aware of visual representations of a cultural group/target language
In Developing Materials for Language Teaching (2013) Tomlinson introduces a text-driven approach to materials development. He goes into quite a bit of detail regarding text selection, offers a suggested framework for the approach and provides a practical example (pages 99-114). I won’t attempt to summarise, I’ll just say read the chapter! It was the most useful and applicable reading I undertook on my recent MA course.
We had to plan a lesson using the text-driven approach for a unit assignment. I chose to use my favourite poem as the text – Blessing by Imtiaz Dharker. Here’s a nice dramatization of it (I think originally BBC):
“The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled.― Paulo Freire