tefl

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 Some are a bit limited or a bit outdated, but I’ve certainly found some gems.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…)

Funny ELT illustrations

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…)

Flappy Drills – ‘Class, say after me…’

In this latest guest post, CELTA Trainer Nicky Salmon offers some tips for drilling pronunciation.

I watch a lot of teachers doing drills to focus on pronunciation.

Picture yourself drilling the following-

Teacher: OK class, listen….vegetable, vegetable

Students: Vegetable

Teacher: Vegetable

Students : Vegetable

Many teachers manage the turn taking (model, repeat, model, repeat) quite successfully but sadly forget to make it clear WHAT feature they want students to hear/identify and so repeat.

For example, with VEGETABLE,

-how many syllables are pronounced and which is stressed?

-are all the vowels full or is there a schwa sound in there somewhere?

If the teacher forgets to make it clear in some way what the features are, then this is a FLAPPY DRILL.

There are many times when we need to focus our students on making the sounds of the new language we are teaching them.

  • Maybe a consonant cluster in a new piece of vocabulary, for example, /br/ or /rts/.
  • Maybe the  schwa /ə/ sound or an unexpected pronunciation that doesn’t seem to mirror the spelling, for example, the varieties for the written ‘ea’,
  • Maybe the word has two or more syllables and the stress need to be identified.
  • Maybe the stress in a sentence is linked to the meaning or the intonation pattern is clearly linked to the feeling or attitude of the speaker.

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