Thursday, 22 December 2011

Technology without technology

I've been meaning to put together a session on this for a while but haven't had chance to here are 4 or 5 ideas that I have put in other sessions that I would put in this session.

We all know that technology is THE buzz word in teaching at the moment. We are told that not using technology means we are not allowing our students to reach their full potential. Which is frustrating because the classrooms I have used recently do not have the equipment to allow me to incorporate technology into my teaching.
But that does not stop me ... so here are my ideas.
1. Text speak. All our students use mobile phones so how can we get mobile phone language or text speak into the lessons?
After a reading or listening put some sentences on the board written in text speak - ask the students to work out which character from the story wrote them. Then ask them to rewrite the text speak into proper English.
Some examples of text speak can be found here.
Alternatively give the students each a character from the reading or listening and ask them to write some texts as that character. Put the texts on the walls and allow the other students to read them and say which character wrote them.
2. Facebook.
In an early lesson in the year ask the students to make a Facebook page on a piece of paper. They can add a photo or draw themselves, they can add some status updates and write who their friends are.
Pin these up on the wall. Encourage students during future lessons to write up dates on their posters, to change their pictures and encourage them to comment on other peoples updates etc. (Thanks to Travis Rout for this idea.)
Facebook Roleplay
A lot of course books have photo stories, Project 3rd Edition levels 3 and 4 for example. This is a listening Roleplay using the idea of Facebook updates.
Ask the students if they use Facebook and what they write in the updates. Give each student a role from the listening. (it helps if there are 4 or 5 people in the listening).
Play a part of the listening and stop it. Ask the students to go into character and write a Facebook update for that character based on what they have heard. Then ask them to look at each other's and comment.
Then play the next part of the listening, and repeat.
(If the student's role has not appeared in the listening, ask them to imagine what that person is up to.)

Twitter - 140 character or fewer (A character is a letter a number punctuation and gaps.)
Twitter summaries
after a reading or listening ask the students to summarise the text in 140 characters or fewer.
I often make a grid of 140 squares for them to do this. I find it really fixes the mind and gets them to concentrate on clarity of message.

Writing Brainstorm.
If you have a writing task in your course book ask students to answer it in a twitter style 140 characters or fewer.
Then ask them to swap and read each others and reply in 140 characters etc.
At the end put them on the wall and allow everyone to read each other's.
What you have effectively done is a brainstorming activity, the students have new ideas to write about, have shared ideas in a fun way.

These are just a few of my ideas ... I will add more here as I think of them.
Please try them out and let me know how they go.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Integrated Skills Integrated Learning

We as teachers often say, Oh I am doing a reading lesson today. This makes it sound like, the skills, reading , listening, speaking and writing are discrete items that do not link with each other. But we all know that these skills are interlinked and reliant on each other. As I type this handout, I am also reading my notes. When I delivered the session I was speaking and listening to your input, reading my notes and making my own notes, engaging all four skills.

Just consider what skills we use when we do the following –

  • open a bank account
  • go to a supermarket
  • go to a lecture
  • read a novel

Why do we teach the skills?

When I used to train completely new teachers I was asked this quite often, the question would be surely people can already read, write, listen and speak in their own language, why do we need to reteach these skills. The problem is that transferring the skills from L1 to a foreign language is often not a natural thing to do. In our own language we don’t worry if we don’t understand a word or miss something someone said, we can piece together the meaning but in a foreign language we become more obsessed with understanding every word or getting a sentence exactly right.

In class then we should be concerned about the process of developing the skills as much as the final product. Learning a language is like doing a jigsaw, putting together a picture in a holistic way rather than building the picture like a brick wall in a linear way. Exposing students to reading and listening texts will allow them to put together that picture for themselves.

English is more than an academic subject, it is a real life tool, so students need to see it as such and be exposed to it in meaningful and communicative ways. We also want out students to develop their critical thinking skills, moving from understanding and remembering to analysing and applying their knowledge.

Of course the skills can be broken down into sub-skills. these are some of them .

Top down processing – bringing your own knowledge and expectations to a text to help get meaning.
Bottom up processing – using the words and structure to decipher meaning.
Editing – reading and analysis what you have written or spoken in order to improve the message.
Circumlocution – the ability to talk around the subject if you don’t have the ability to say exactly what you mean.
Skimming – reading a text without understanding every word to try to get the general meaning or gist.
Scanning – looking at text for key information, the way one might read a pizza menu.
Summarising – reporting what you have read or heard to others in either written form on spoken form.
Negotiating meaning – being able to ask questions to find out what the speaker or writer means, and being able to ask questions to ensure the listener, reader has understood.
Structuring – knowing about the structure of different genres of writing or spoken text.

Stress and rhythm – a listening and speaking skills, hearing, understanding and producing the punctuation of spoken text.

How can we help?

The instructions we give are incredibly important, if we tell students why we are doing something, how we want them to do it, why we want them o do it in that way, etc then they will develop the skills they have in L1.

Letting students know that reading and listening are natural ways of acquiring language and just because the isn’t a grammar focus doesn’t mean they mean they are not learning is worthwhile.

Encouraging students to speak or write with confidence, not being afraid of making mistakes can also help students to develop their English skills.

Giving students a realistic, communicative, reason to speak, read, write, listen can help them feel the activity is worthwhile.

So teaching the skills allows for natural, communicative input that helps students develop their language knowledge and their linguistic and communicative competence.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Culture Vulture

There is a debate as to whether culture has a role in the English Language classroom.

If we are teaching English as an international language, a lingua franca, then we do not need to learn about the culture of the target language community , the UK / the USA, as the real target language community is the world.

However, so much of the language comes out of the culture that developed it, so in a way the two are intrinsically linked. Also looking at culture gives us interesting topics to contextualise the language in.

I have 7 reasons for including culture in my lessons. They are:

Usage – so much of English has connotational nuances or subtle formality shifts that an understanding of the culture that developed the language helps with an understanding of the meanings.

Holistic Learning – some students love to study grammar rules and construct sentences using them. Some like to see the language being used in context, in meaningful situations. Learning about culture contextualises the language. It means that students can use other knowledge not just the knowledge of English.

Extended Skills work – learning about culture helps us to focus on reading writing listening and speaking skills in the language classroom. These skills are essential life skills that are not automatically transferred from L1 to a foreign language.

Understanding – if we want students to study outside the classroom we might ask them to read or watch films / tv programmes, listen to songs etc in English. These will have cultural references that students need to be aware of.

Travel – if students want to travel to English speaking countries they need to be aware of the customs and cultures of those countries.

Critical Thinking – discussing cultural differences , comparing your own culture to different cultures ca help students develop their reasoning skills and help them move beyond the remembering and understanding stages of Bloom’s taxonomy.

How to teach culture

If you take my reasons and shuffle them around you will find they spell culture.

So another acrostic can you think of reasons how to teach culture using letters from culture.



These were some of the ideas you came up with around the country.

Course book, comparison cinema. computers card, cds, cartoons customs, creativity, communication
Understanding. unabridged books
Listening, literature., learning., language
Tales, text. teacher, technology, traditions travelling tastes textbook
Universal unique information usage useful knowledge
Reading, riddles, radio role-play realia, rumour and gossip, religion
Entertainment, extracts, etiquette

And some others that didn’t quite fit:


yoU tube

An acrostic is one way to teach culture. In the session we also looked at the traps formal / polite language sometimes has.

We used the mind map and sounds to help brainstorm ideas before a reading or listening and we used a joke to get students thinking of the language.

So what do you think? Does Culture have a role to play in the ELT classroom. Leave your comments below.

Making the most of Project - Serbia December 2011

Making the most of your course book.
Course books are only as good as the teachers who use them and the students who study from them. A good course book should be part of the teaching process but should not dominate it. As my friend Matt Barnard told me, you teach the students not the course book.
Below are some ways to adapt and use the course book to bring variety to your lessons.
Put the students into small groups, give them a list of words and ask them to put them into categories. You can tell the groups or ask them to come up with them. You can have words from one lexical set or different lexical sets.
Random Associations
Put two lists of words on the board from two different lexical sets. Ask students to make associations between words from each set.
Back to the boards
One student sees a word the other doesn’t. Then –
- the students who sees the words describes it so the other one can guess.
- the student who sees the word draws it so the other one can guess.
- the student who sees the word acts it so the other one can guess.
- the student who doesn’t sees the word asks yes or no questions to try to guess the word.
Dictate a text at a normal speed, (don’t slow down). Students write down the key words. Ask them to compare and then read text again, students again write down key words. Students then work in groups to rewrite the text trying to get the same meaning.
Simple use the questions to encourage students to predict the answers before they read.
Twitter Summary
Ask students to write a summary of the text in 140 characters or fewer. A character = a letter, a number, a punctuation mark or a space.
Ask students to write a Epitaphs (a rhyming tribute to a dead person) of one of the characters in the story.
Here lies the body of Jonothan Blake, he stepped on the gas instead of the break.
Here lies the body of the king of rock and roll, all those burgers took their toll.
Grab game
Students have words from the listening on the desks in front of them, as they listen they try to grab the words they hear. The one with the most is the winner. (repeat it immediately for more fun).
Song to Project
Use any some, ask the students to imagine who the band are, what they look like, how they feel etc etc. You can then ask them to make a project around the band they create.
Singing in Rounds
Reuse a song by getting students to sing in rounds, e.g. one group starting, the next starting after the first two lines etc.

I asked the participants in Novi Sad to write the Epitaphs, the Twitter Summary or the Dictogloss for homework, if you did please leave your attempts here.
Feel free to leave comments to let me know how the activities worked with your class.