Ever since I started giving CELTA Technology input sessions about two years ago, I’ve  invariably mentioned to the trainees how to look for videos with high-quality subtitles on YouTube (answer: add ‘, cc’ to the search, e.g. ‘unboxing & comparison, cc‘) and how to check if the video you want to use contains good subs or auto-generated subs (answer: open the transcript by clicking on the sign under the video and check if it says ‘English auto-generated’ – if it doesn’t, it was uploaded by a human being. Sometimes the video has both auto-generated subs and good subs, in which case you’ll be able to switch to the good transcript. After that you can copy it by dragging your mouse over it while holding the left button – the way you’d do that with any text on the internet).

subsHowever, what I didn’t realize was that, even if the video only had auto-generated subs, I’d still be able to use the transcripts with my learners. I’ve always assumed that auto-generated transcripts were so inaccurate that it would take ages to edit them – too much hassle! But then a couple of months ago I was looking for a perfect phone comparison video to explore expressions for comparison with my group. I found a great video that contained lots of very useful language and, although it was quite long (nine minutes), I wanted the transcript so badly that I was prepared to spend hours weeding mistakes out of the auto-generated subs.

Only it didn’t take me an hour – it actually took me about 10 minutes. 

Let me walk through what I did:

First, I copied the auto-generated transcript and pasted it into oTranscribe.com, a nifty free web-service for transcribing audios and videos:

oTranscribe

Then I clicked on the ‘Choose YouTube video’ button and provided the link to my video. After that the service goes into the editing mode, allowing you to control the video using the keybord, which makes editing extremely easy: press F1 to rewind the last few seconds, F2 to skip a few seconds, ESC to pause the video/start it again (and when you start it, it automatically rewinds a couple of seconds, which is extremely handy).

oTranscribe1

When I started correcting the transcript, I was amazed to find that the transcript was actually pretty accurate. The fact that oTranscribe is so easy to use and that the automatically generated subs were quite accurate, I was able to edit the transcripts in one listen, occasionally stopping/rewinding here and there, and the whole process took me only a few minutes longer than the actual video duration. Amazing!

Let me know if you try this!

Best wishes,
Olya

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In the school where I work, apart from the usual CPD options (workshops, lesson observations etc) there’s a mentoring scheme – I mentor half of our team, meeting with my colleagues regularly and discussing the issues they’d like to talk about and the steps they could take to explore techniques and issues relevant to them. At the moment I’m going on an extended leave and we’re planning to replace part of that scheme for some time with peer coaching, which is why I’ve been looking for resources on options for effective peer collaboration. There’s already a write-up on this blog of a very interesting IATEFL talk on peer coaching from three years ago (by Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell), and this post is a write-up of another talk, by Ana Garcia-Stone, from this year’s IATEFL (the video is available here).

Talk title: Teacher agency: empowering teachers through self-directed peer observations

Presenter: Ana Garcia-Stone, @AMGS1958

Contact details

Description: This talk describes a peer observation project carried out by two colleagues, done over a year, experimenting with three different types of observation. This process empowered both teachers and the observations revealed different dimensions of agency.

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Ana Garcia-Stone, a teacher and teacher trainer with over 25 years’ experience, felt stuck in a rut with her development and she didn’t know how to go forward. At one point, at an IATEFL conference, she was talking about that with Tessa Woodward, who suggested working with a less experienced colleague. Ana Garcia-Stone thought it was a good idea and she approached Kat Scuba, a colleague who’d been with her centre for about a year – someone who didn’t know much about her and her teacher training reputation, and who reminded her of her younger less experienced self.

Before starting the project:

They carried out the project without any ‘agenda’  – they just wanted to see what would emerge out of observations.

Before they started the project, they agreed that what they discussed would be confidential, so that they would be able to expose their weaknesses and grow:

Quote (trust)

The project. What they did: 

Here are the peer observation ideas that they tried out:

Unseen observation

In this ‘observation’ type you meet, discuss your class and what you’re going to do, go off and teach your class on your own, and then we get together afterwards and discuss how you feel that class went.

Reflection:

The two teachers had very different goals here. Ana Garcia-Stone’s partner, Kat Scuba, decided to use this opportunity to support her with teaching a group of young (four year old) learners, as this was the first time she was teaching a group of that age. She arrived at the meetings with pages after pages of notes and ideas, and the upshot of the experience was that she developed a framework for teaching that age group in the coming year.

Ana chose a different focus: a strong task-based approach, and she found that this experiment encouraged her to break out of the routine you fall into when you’ve got a lot of experience, and get back into lesson planning – her lesson plans got longer and longer and longer and she was thoroughly enjoying it.

In terms of the observation itself, a positive aspect was that, this being an ‘unseen’ observation, they only had to please themselves – thus avoiding the situation when you feel you have to ‘plan for the observer’. In the post-lesson observations, there again was no stakes – as there was trust between the participants and they felt free to discuss what had or hadn’t gone well.

Outcome: both participants found this experience extremely rewarding and they learnt a surprising amount from this type of observation.

I plan for my class, you teach my class, I observe

Ana and Kat met before and after the class to discuss that lesson.

Reflection: This mode may make you more aware of your planning – although Ana Garcia-Stone found that she only saw the weaknesses and strengths that she was aware of anyway. One interesting thing that happened was that this highlighted how you need to ‘start planning from your students’, as your know your students, but this is not always explicit in the plan. When she was observing, Ana Garcia-Stone saw things that were absent from the plan (e.g. you need to check this thing with Z. as he tends to get these things wrong or it might be better to separate these two students as they tend to distract each other). Her partner, Kat, found it difficult to teach her plan, because she didn’t understand the transitions and found them awkward/didn’t quite understand the logic of the lesson, even though they’d discussed this before the class. This highlighted the fact that transitions are things that are very automated and we tend not to write them out in the plan.

Ana taught Kat’s class – a C2 class of learners preparing for CPE. Kat’s approach to teaching this level was very different from what Ana normally does at C2 level. Ana normally introduces loads and loads of vocabulary, whereas Kat’s class was planned around a series of flipcharts, without heavy lexical input, and Ana felt that the learners were learning equally as effectively. So for Ana, the experience of teaching with those materials raised questions about her belief about the importance of teaching vocabulary at higher levels and whether what she was doing was useful. As a result, Ana went on to do some research about teaching vocabulary to higher level learners, she ran a community of practice around it, and she learnt a lot and changed the way she presented vocabulary to higher level learners. For her, this experience was very valuable.

I video your class, you watch on your own, you choose what to discuss, we discuss it

Reflection: The participants felt that, although they were both comfortable with one another and with one another’s classes, videotaping the classes was intrusive for both the teacher and the students, (the teachers felt nervous, the learners, who were twelve year old played up).

Neither of them felt they got anything particularly useful out of the experience – they felt they needed a task focusing on something visible, e.g. teacher-student interaction, the way the furniture is organized, transitions, etc.

The only outcome was that Kat felt that her classroom was ‘two-dimensional’ and she wanted to investigate making it ‘three-dimensional’.

Evaluation

Did the experiment foster agency?

The definitions of agency that Ana Garcia-Stone focused on at the beginning of the talk:

Agency.png

They were able to act (as in their centre they don’t have to ask for permission to carry out a project like that), and they were able to affect change in their classroom, but not beyond their classroom. The result of engaging in this kind of project is that the responsibility for one’s professional development shifts from ‘others’ to the teacher.

Also, in the words of Simon Borg, teachers will only change if their teaching beliefs are brought to the surface and their teaching beliefs change – this is what development is, and Ana felt that this was what happened with one of her teaching beliefs.

Evaluation quotes

Considerations:

  • What teachers want to focus on might be at odds with the aims of the institution (e.g. what if the institution wants the teachers to use more IT but the teachers don’t want to explore that?)
  • In the institution there might be some systems of accountability, e.g. a performance management system – so how do you account for this learning to someone who wasn’t there? I feel that I learnt and I can write a report on what I learnt, but that might not be enough for my manager at my institution.
  • Time constraints – e.g. does the timetable allow to observe each other’s classes?

References:

References

All in all, the experiment was definitely worth doing for a year, and both the participants miss it – maybe not the peer observations per se but the communication.

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I’ve been thinking of engaging in a peer coaching scheme ever since attending the talk by Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell that I mentioned at the beginning of the post – haven’t been able to do this, mostly because I’ve been finding it difficult to find time for things, what with being a new parent, juggling family and a heavy workload for the past two years. 

However, I really hope to get the chance to do that in the next academic year, and what I found especially valuable about Ana Garcia-Stone’s talk was specific ideas for things to try out and examples of specific takeaways, which gave me a better insight into what kind of things might emerge out of a project like this one. 

I hope that my team, who I’ve written the talk up for, will also find this talk inspiring and useful. 

EVO 2018

Dear readers of this blog,

I’m happy to let you know that this year we’re running the Electronic Village Online session on Teaching listening one more time.

WHAT IS TEACHING LISTENING EVO?
This is a free five-week professional development session for English teachers, during which the participants will design, try out and discuss listening activities informed by research. The session is part of this year’s Electronic Village Online.

WHAT MATERIAL WILL BE COVERED?
The session will focus on the following topics:

  • Encouraging autonomous listening out of class (with a live session with Lizzie Pinard)
  • Traditional listening lesson framework: Dos and Don’ts (a live session with Elena Wilkinson)
  • Critical thinking and high order thinking (HOT) listening tasks (a live session with Jennie Wright)
  • Beyond the comprehension approach: decoding skills (a live session with Richard Cauldwell)
  • Practical activities for teaching listening decoding skills (my live session)

IS IT ANY GOOD?
We ran this session last year and this was an incredible experience. We had a vibrant community of more than fifty English teachers sharing their teaching ideas and favourite listening resources, and we received very positive feedback from the participants, who rated the session at 5.0 out of 5.0.

You can read more about our syllabus and this year’s list of moderators here: https://goo.gl/6WXsnR

HOW TO REGISTER?
The registration is now open and the first live session is scheduled for coming Sunday (14 January) at 16.00 GMT.

To register for the session, create an account at schoology.com. After that, open Courses, click on Join and use this access code:
PQMXT-959H4

If you wish to share and discuss ideas and resources on teaching listening on social media, you could also join our Facebook group.

Email me at olyaelt@gmail.com if you have any questions about the session or have issues signing up.

PS do check out the other 13 free EVO sessions on topics ranging from Classroom Research to Business English to CLIL to Mother Tongue Use in the EFL Classroom to Teaching Pronunciation Differently, and a lot more!

One of the things we do for professional development in the school where I work are so-called ‘experimentation cycles’, where the team chooses a topic, we pool resources (books, resource packs and blog posts with all sorts of activities on the topic), after which everyone who is interested in the topic picks a few activities and tries them out in class. Finally, we organize a workshop to share the activities we liked.

This post is a summary of one of these workshops, which was focused on Vocabulary revision activities. As I mentioned above, the activities mostly came from books and the Internet, and I’m sure you’ll see here quite a few ideas that you’ve tried too – so if you have a variation that you love, could you share it?

‘Vocabulary revision’ is a very broad term and activities could be very different in terms of what the learners need to do with the words:

  • am I given something or do I need to retrieve something from memory?
  • am I given / need to retrieve the meaning or the word itself?
  • how many times?

Based on these questions, the activities here can be roughly categorized (with some overlap) into four groups (ordered according to how cognitively demanding they are):

  1. recalling the meaning of an item
  2. recalling the item (to be more exact, these are mostly pairwork activities in which one person recalls the meaning of the item and explains the item and/or uses it in an isolated sentence and the second person recalls the item) 
  3. recalling and using multi-word items
  4. using lexis in extended speech


Recalling the meaning of an item

Test-teach-test

Elena Wilkinson shared an activity in which the learners review lexical items learned previously and sort them into three categories: I know, I’m not sure that I know, I have no idea. They then discuss the words in pairs, with people who know words explaining them to those who are not sure / have no idea. The pairs then get combined into groups of four and so on. A variation is to do this activity with the lexical items on slips of paper.

test-teach-test

Source: Elena Wilkinson

Vocabulary auction

In this activity the learners review a list of words and expressions and discuss what they mean (a variation: they come up with a definition and an example sentence). Depending on how certain they are, they place a bet on each definition – the bets should add up to $1200.

Once that’s done, the whole class goes through the list word by word. For each word, the team that placed the highest bet explains the word. If the definition is correct, they gain their bet. If it’s wrong, they lose their bet and the chance to define the word is given to a team with the second highest bet. However, if this second team gets the definition correct, it gains the amount the first team bet (e.g. if Team A bet $150 on a word and got the meaning incorrect, Team B, which bet $100 and explained the meaning correctly, will get $150, not $100).

Auction

Source: Olga Akimkina

I think this game could work especially well with easily confused words, false friends and lexical mistakes commonly made by the learners in the group.

Recalling the item

Memo (tried out by Olga Akimkina)

In this simple activity the learners look at a list of words/expressions on the board for 30 seconds. Then the list gets erased and the learners try to recall as many expressions as they can (for one minute). They check in pairs – the pair that has recalled the most words is the winner.

Tip. Explain to the learners that they’ll need to recall the words before you display them.

Vocabulary die (tried out by Olga Akimkina and Irina Dubovitskaya)

Picture1

For this activity you need a set of vocabulary to revise for each pair/small group of learners and a die with tasks (you can create your own dice using this free dice maker). Alternatively, use standard dice and write the tasks on the board (1 = give definition; 2 = draw it, etc).

Tip. Both teachers who tried out this activity found that it worked quite well with ‘concrete’ verbs (see sample images produced by the learners below), but didn’t really work with more abstract concepts like ‘stagnation’.

Pictures

Source: Olga Akimkina

Crosswords

Polina Safronova shared a nice crossword maker that automatically creates half-crosswords for pairwork guessing games. In this type of crossword student A’s version contains only the horizontal words, while student B’s version contains only the vertical words. The students need to complete their crosswords by listening to their partner’s explanations.

The tool requires registration. Once you’ve registered, the process of creating a crossword is very simple: choose Pairwork crossword and tick I want to make my own:

interface

Type your words (for some reason the words without clues didn’t show up in the crossword, so I simply typed dots for clues) and click ‘Make my crossword‘:
editingHere’s what the resulting crosswords look like – you can print it into a pdf document in order to keep the worksheet for future use:

 

 

 

Banana

In this guessing game (tried out by Evgenia Antonova and Irina Dubovitskaya) the learners pick a slip with a word and say an example sentence, substituting ‘banana’ for the target word. Here are some examples:

banana

Source: Evgeniya Antonova

Walk and swap

This is a variation of the Banana activity which requires only one set of cards for the group and allows the learners to stretch their legs. At the beginning each learner is given one or two cards with words. They get up and mingle to play banana. Each time someone guesses a word on their card, they give the card to that person. The aim of the activity is to swap cards as many times as possible.

Hot Seat

Another well-known simple activity that requires no preparation at all is Hot Seat. The class is split into two teams. Two learners (one from each team) sit with their back to the board. The teacher boards a word. The team explain the word to the person on the chair – the first team to guess gets a point.

Tying out of class revision with classroom activities

One thing that has really grown on me in the past couple of years is using Quizlet for vocabulary learning and revision. Quizlet is a free web service that allows you to create sets of flash cards and then share them with the learners by link. The learners can play a number of games with the flash cards (moreover, if they install the mobile app, they’ll be able to access them even when they’re offline).

The beauty of it is that the site also allows you to print out two-sided cards based on the sets that the learners worked with for homework. For example, here’s a worksheet generated from this set. This makes it possible to play a whole range of games in class based on exact same cards that the learners studied at home, without any extra preparation apart from cutting up the cards and printing the game boards. For a set of game templates that could be used with any set of cards, see this post (where you’ll find nice tic tac toe templates, dots and boxes, variations of snakes and ladders, battleship, blockbusters, Game of the Goose and a few other templates).

Revising multi-word items

Collocation cards

One really simple way to revise collocations is to prepare a set two-sided cards: a word on one card and 3-5 collocations taken from the collocations dictionary on the second side. Each turn, a learner takes a card, looks at the collocations and guess the word. Again, these cards can be prepared using Quizlet – in fact, see here for more examples of Quizlet sets that help learners practice collocations (created by Leo Selivan).

collocation cards

Source: Olga Akimkina

Tic tac toe

Another activity is to put gapped multi-word items on a Tic Tac Toe grid. The goal might be simply to recall the expression or to use it in a sentence to say a truthful fact or opinion.

Tips. If you’d like the learners to be able to check their answers, provide them with empty grids and two-sided cards. A no-cut alternative is to do the activity in groups of three, with one learner checking the players’ answers using a cheat sheet.

Tic tac toe

Source: Olga Lifshits

Discussion gapfills 

Another suggestion, also shared by Olga Lifshits, was to provide the learners with a gapfill in which each sentence is a question. Gapfills can be done with any vocabulary, but they work particularly well with multi-word items where only part of the item is gapped out.

After the learners do the gapfill, they pick 3-5 questions they’d like to discuss with their partner – this won’t necessarily make them use target lexical items in speech, but it will help them to process their meaning more deeply.

Here’s a sample set of questions:

Gapfill

Source: Olga Lifshits

Pelmanism

Pelmanism is a game that allows one to revise two-part expressions (e.g. two-word collocations such as ‘meet + the deadline’, dependent prepositions, such as ‘interested + in’, two-word compound nouns, such as traffic lights, and so on).

Prepare a set of cards for each pair of learners (each expression should be split across two cards). The players spread the cards on the board, blank sides up. Each turn one player turns over two cards – if they form an expression, the player keeps the cards. If the cards belong to different expressions, the player puts them back.

Pelmanism

Compound nouns (pelmanism). Source: Olga Lifshits

A lot of teachers avoid this game because it seems too time-consuming and because it focuses only on form without any emphasis on the meaning of the expressions. Here are a couple of modifications that may make it less time-consuming and more useful in terms of language practice:

  • each turn, a player turns over one card – if they can remember the whole expression, they’re allowed to look for the second card (or, to keep the element of chance, they are allowed to turn over, say, up to seven cards);
  • each time a player finds an expression, they need to either use it in a sentence (again, telling a true fact or stating an opinion) or ask their partner a question that contains the expression.

Domino

Another activity that allows one to practice two-part multi-word items is dominoes, which can easily be created in a Word document (see a sample Word table below). The players work in pairs or small groups. The learners need to arrange the dominoes on the desk in such a way that they form a circle.

Again, Dominoes is primarily a form-focused activity, but it can be adapted to focus on meaning by asking the learners to make a statement or ask their group a question with an expression each time put two dominoes together..

Dominoes

Collocation dominoes. Source: Olga Lifshits

Using lexis in extended speech

For all activities in this category you need a set of vocabulary cards to revise – these can be prepared by the teacher or pooled by the learners – simply give them 5 minutes to flip their notebooks and coursebooks and put on cards any words and expressions they’d like to start using but haven’t started using yet.

Guess my word

Prepare a set of discussion questions and a set of cards for each pair / small group. Each turn, one learner picks a vocabulary card and a discussion question. Their objective is to talk for a minute about the question and to use the word on their card at some point. The objective of their partner / group is to guess which word was on the card.

A by-product of this activity is that it encourages the learners to use more ‘interesting’ vocabulary, so that the ‘fancy’ word on their card isn’t too obvious. Another reason I liked this activity is that it can be used when each person has their individual set of cards (e.g. I used it with a group of teens who did out-of-class reading and accumulated their own vocabulary sets based on the books they were reading).

Picture-based story (tried out by Evgenia Antonova)

Prepare a set of target expressions, a picture and an opening line of a story (here’s a nice ‘first line generator’). Learners work in pairs or groups of three. Each team picks about 7 cards with vocabulary and a picture. They have about 10 minutes to create a story based on their pictures that uses the words they picked. Here are sample materials that were used with a group of advanced learners (but the activity worked equally well with a pre-intermediate group):

Picture based story

Pictures1

Source: Evgenia Antonova

Gotcha!

The learners work in pairs. One person picks a slip with a word. They ask their partner a question trying to get them to use the word in the answer. The important thing is that their conversation should be as natural as possible: they shouldn’t give the definition or reply with just one word.

Here are some examples of questions that the learners asked to elicit vocabulary items:

Gotcha

Source: Evgenia Antonova

4-3-2 Speed dating 

This is an activity that I actually learned only today from Julia Galichanina, another colleague of mine, and I really look forward to trying it out.

Part 1. Give the learners a list of expressions and a list of categories (e.g. ‘Hobbies’, ‘Things I do every day’, ‘Things that aren’t related to work’, etc). Get the learners to decide which words could relate to which category (e.g. ‘occasionally’ could work everywhere, but ‘golf’ is more like a hobby)/ After that, each learner writes several sentences related to each category using target lexis.

Part 2. Split the group into interviewers and interviewees. The learners stand in two circles, with the interviewers in the inner circle.

  • During the first round (4 minutes) interviewers ask one interviewee any questions related to the categories, and the interviewees need to reply using as many target expressions as possible. The interviewers tick the expressions that the interviewee used. Conduct quick group feedback asking which expressions were used.
  • The learners go to the next partner and repeat the procedure in 3 minutes.
  • Finally, with a new partner, an interviewee gives a monologue summarizing their answers to the two interviewees questions.
  • The interviewers and interviewees swap roles and the 4-3-2 cycle is repeated.

Improv

Finally, here is another nice activity which was shared by Christina Rebuffet-Broadus at her conference workshop at IATEFL Poland:


Going through my notes from the workshop while writing this post, I realized that while I learned a few very useful activities that have since become my favourites, I completely forgot about some of the others. In particular, I’ll definitely be trying out picture-based stories and vocabulary dice.

Are there any great vocabulary revision activities that you’d add to this list?

A couple of weeks ago Irina Dubovitskaya, a colleague of mine at EPAM Systems, told me about an activity that worked really well with her students. I loved the idea behind this activity and asked Irina to write a guest post about it. The activity is highly adaptable, very personalized and uses a very simple, visually appealing tool that the learners can access from their own devices. See for yourself:

Irina Dubovitskaya

Irina Dubovitskaya

Level: B1+
Target structure: hypothetical conditional (conditional II)
Activity type: pre-class task (for homework) + warm-up

If it weren’t for Russell Stannard’s webinar “Key tools for quick collaboration between students” (an LPM’s Globinar organized by Jürgen Wagner), I would probably have never learnt about AnswerGarden, a convenient “feedback + word cloud” tool that can be used in teaching English. “Plant a question and invite participants to your AnswerGarden. Their answers will instantly form a growing word cloud!” says the promo, not mentioning that the growing word cloud can then blossom into a very engaging communicative task.

I decided to use the tool to prepare a warm-up activity focused on drilling Conditional II with my B1+ group of adult learners.  The objective of the task was to engage them in a discussion and encourage using Conditional II as much as possible. Here’s what I did.

Before class:

1. Think of a question.
In order to revise Conditional II I prepared two questions:

  • “What would you change about your working conditions?”;
  • “If you had more spare time, how would you spend it?”.

2. Get answers from participants.

As there are four students in my class (2m/2f) I paired them up and gave each team one question. To share the question with the students, I opened AnswerGarden, clicked on ‘Create an AnswerGarden’ at the top of the page and inserted my question.  This created a  link to a dynamically updated word cloud that I could send to my students – here’s what it looked like for them:

ag1

3. Print the word cloud.
Ss’ answers formed word clouds that I corrected and printed.

NB. I decided to set this idea generation stage for homework as my students sometimes have problem with what can be called “spontaneous imagination” in class. However, the whole activity can also be done in class, provided that the students have some technology to access the internet, to type their answers. Also, since each cloud has a unique URL, instead of printing the clouds you can simply share the links.

In class:

Warm-up. Part 1.
In class, I handed out the word clouds. Each group received their partners’ clouds. The first task was to reconstruct the original question. The only requirement should be met – the question should be formulated using Conditional II. It took the Ss about 3 minutes to guess the initial questions.

ag3ag2
Warm-up. Part 2. 

Then the Students were asked to discuss the answers and decide which of their classmates gave them. As the groups were gender equal (a male and a female), they relied not only on the facts they knew about their classmates, but also on some gender stereotypes that proved to be totally misleading. In order to check their guesses, the Ss had to ask another team questions using the second conditional:
“Ilya, would you add more monitors?”
“Maria, would you get married if you had more free time?”
Surprisingly, it was Andrey who would get married and Olya who would add more monitors. 🙂

Reflection

I really liked the task because of its power to generate an engaging discussion. Not only did my students use Conditional II every now and then, but also they extended both their answers and questions to get more information about their classmates and to get to know each other a bit better.

Dorothy Zemach gave a very useful practical workshop on using song to a packed room at the NATE conference in Moscow, Russia. Here are my notes from her workshop. 

Abstract: This practical workshop gives examples of activities you can do with songs – far more than just removing some words for students to write in. We’l also discuss how to select songs and which ones work best to teach and practice English. And of course we’ll listen to real music!

The handout for this workshop will be available at Dorothy’s website http://wayzgoosepress.com/freebies next week.

What are some reasons to use songs in the classroom?

  • Students like this – this is a good reason and not the only reason.
  • When looking for songs, the question ‘why questions do my students like?’ is not the main for Dorothy. She wants to find songs that will help with vocabulary, grammar and, most of all, pronunciation (because features of connected speech in slow songs are a lot easier to hear than in conversation).

Challenges associated with using songs:

  • Some songs contain bad grammar – which makes them bad teaching material
  • Bad/explicit vocabulary – also makes the song impossible to use in context
  • Lyrics that you find online are often incorrect and you have to double-check
  • Difficult to find songs for a particular language point.
    Where can you find suitable songs? Save all links – over the years Dorothy has collected a collection of songs that are good for present perfect / two-part verbs / etc.

Dorothy encourages teachers to buy copies of songs we use in class, as it’s only fair to pay the people who created your materials!

Next Dorothy Zemach showed activities that she’d used with five songs.

Tom’s Diner Suzanne Vega

This is a very clear song that can be used with A2 learners.

Stage 1 Read and understand and answer these questions just from listening – to give the learners a sense of achievement.

IMG_0404

Stage 2 Students are given gapped lyrics, in which  all present continuous verbs have been taken out.

IMG_0411

Tips: 

  • The gaps are too close so Dorothy warns the students in advance that while they’re writing one verb they’re likely to miss the next one. She says that she’ll stop after each verse and play it again.
  • The verbs straightening / hitching are likely to be problematic, so Dorothy will pre-teaches them in advance. In a practicing activity that is well designed the students are able to get almost everything right.

Stage 3 Listen again without looking at the lyrics and raise your hand each time you hear present continuous (this does challenge the students because some words, like ‘morning’ sound like verbs, which means they have to process what they’re listening to.

I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash; On the Rocks
Language point: weather vocabulary

This song has a lot of weather vocabulary. You can see the procedure in the handout – notice that in Task 4 the students talk about what it means because it’s a metaphor.

For lower level students the challenge is that their language level is low but they’re still adults and they have complex ideas. So it’s important for them to sometimes get the chance to talk about complex issues.

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Interestingly, in Libia when Dorothy asked ‘what do heavy cloud mean’, the learners said ‘happiness’ – because it hardly ever rains there and they pray for rain! But this prompted discussion of connotations in western countries – important, e.g. for understanding of films (when we see dark cloud, this might signal that something terrible is going to happen – if you can’t interpret that, you will have trouble understanding the film).

As you listen to this song, notice that the singer sings so slowly that it’s easy to hear the phonemic features, e.g.  what happens with sound /k/ in ‘dark cloud’ .

Working with a song, you’ll probably need to play it several times. When lots of people have covered a song, why not play different versions? If the versions are slightly different, this gives the learners another reason what to listen for.

 

Nothing (Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians) 
Language point:  ‘nothing / something / everything.

 

Stage 1. The students are given gapped lyrics to listen and fill in.

Stage 2. Dorothy asks the learners to explain why the singer is singing ‘Don’t tell me nothing’ – is that bad grammar? No, because actually she’s singing ‘Don’t tell me ‘nothing” – what she’s saying it ‘talk to me’. When low level learners work that out, they feel that they understand the hidden meaning and feel intelligent.

Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin
Discussion point: family/culture

Stage 1: discussion.

Worksheet design: notice how pre-listening section starts with some very easy to answer questions, followed by questions that require more thought.

Stage 2: students listen and read at the same time – if there’s any vocabulary or anything else you don’t understand, underline it.

This normally arises some cultural questions related to:

  • Cat’s in the Cradle, a children string game,
  • Little boy blue, a line from a nursery rhyme
  • The man in the moon – this is what little kids are told (as the spots on the mood resemble a face)
  • a silver spoon – the traditional gift for a newborn baby

So these are all things that people heard in the childhood and so they evoke nostalgia.

Stage 3: Discussion

Is this a terrible father? Should he not pay his bills?
Why did he not call? (When this song was written, phone calls were very expensive)
What can you do to have close feeling with your family, given that you have a limited amount of time?
These are the topics that everyone can relate to.

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Exposé – I’ll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me

Language point: two/three-part verbs; phonology (intrusive /w/ in between vowels, e.g. go_w_away, go_w_on – which is very difficult to hear in conversation, but a lot easier to hear when sang slowly.

Worksheet design: for students, Dorothy will normally provide the expressions in a box, for them to listen and choose.

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I hope you dance by Lee Ann Womack
Dorothy Zemach uses this song with more advanced students

Stage 1: Listen (not watch) and decide: what’s the relationship between the singer and the person that she’s singing to?

 

Stage 2: As it’s quite metaphorical, Dorothy provides the lyrics, gets through them line by line and elicits what is implied in each line.

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Stage 3: Focus on language (language of imperatives..)

Stage 4; Writing assignment: the learners write their own letter to someone they care about (if they can, they can write a poem). They need to do that using the same grammar points (imperatives / I hope you [verb]). Here’s how Dorothy scaffolds this task:

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I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop. For me it was very interesting to look at some specific examples how Dorothy Zemach has used songs in class, and I’d really like to try some of these songs and activities in class.

I also really liked the way Dorothy shared practical advice on material writing (e.g. on ordering discussion questions) simply by commenting on the design of the worksheets.

The thing I enjoyed the most was the post-listening activities – the way Dorothy encourages the learners to explore metaphors and culture. I especially loved the post-listening activity that she designed for the last song – I know that I’d love to be in that class. 

I teach Business English students at the moment and I hardly ever use songs with my BE learners – I came away from this workshop inspired to keep an eye out for songs suitable for my context and to use them a lot more in class.  

Lindsay Warwick gave a great talk on activities that encourage learners to engage more with reading texts and make them more active and critical readers. Here are my notes. 

Abstract Academic reading requires a while new set of skills that even learners with excellent English need help with. Not only do they need to understand the ideas in a text, they also need to be able to question those ideas and critique them. In this talk, I will suggest practical ways to help learners develop these skills in order to make them more active and critical readers.

Lindsay Warwick shared some ideas for before reading, while reading and post-reading activities that encourage the learners to engage with the text more. These ideas are summarized on this slide:

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Pre-reading

Lindsay encourages her learners to predict the content of the article, based on headings, subheadings, the visuals and so on. She also sometimes gives them a reason for predicting, e.g. Imagine that you need to write an essay on this topic. Will this article be useful/relevant? 

She also uses Padlet to get the learners to share their prediction – one of the benefits is that the quieter students share their ideas with the whole class.

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Questions

According to research, teachers ask on average 300 questions a day. But how many questions do students ask? Lindsay Warwick encourages the learners to ask questions, based on the predictions they made, and also gives them a table that encourages them to continue with this as they read:

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Highlighting

Another way to engage deeper with the text is to highlight key ideas.

Lindsay recommends Scrible – a tool that allows you to annotate any article online.

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Post-reading activities

Drawing connections:

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Lindsay also gets her students to put on the skeptic hat and respond to texts with ‘yeah, but’. She scaffolds them with giving them questions to consider:

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Reading critically

Lindsay uses the Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site to introduce the idea that not all sources can be trusted. This particular site is more ‘tricky’ than most ‘fake news sites’ because it’s very difficult to spot that it’s fake.

Another activity she does is ask the learners which of these ideas they believe:

If they believe some of them, she gets them to go and prove them. This activity encourages them to critically assess sources of information.

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I can remember several occasions when my learners were able to answer every single question on a reading passage but the first one, because the answer to the first question was in the title of the article, which they had skipped. I find the skills that Lindsay were talking about quite difficult to teach, and I really liked the practical ideas that she shared and in particular the way she scaffolds her learners, providing them with a table or questions to structure their thinking. Regarding the tools she recommended, I haven’t tried Padlet with my learners but I’ve tried Scrible and it was a very satisfying experience – I wrote a post about it some time ago. I also loved the myth busting activity – I tried working with similar myths with my teenage students and it was a lot of fun, and I’d love to get the chance to use this particular activity. 

To sum up, although I haven’t taught reading for a while, much of what Lindsay said reminded me of some of the struggles that I’ve faced, and I really liked the activities that Lindsay suggested and I hope to get the chance to try them. 

 

David Evans gave a great keynote at the NATE conference in Moscow yesterday, in which he suggested that teaching has a lot in common with public speaking, overview research into what makes TED speakers good communicators, and suggested ideas how teachers can benefit from this research. He is an absolutely amazing speaker who got the audience roar with laughter and no talk summary can do his talk justice, but still here are my notes. 

Abstract Public speakers and teachers have much in common. The both need to be able to command attention and engage with an audience, while putting their points across in a simple and compelling way. But the real key to success in both fields is to remember that it’s not just what you say, but the ways that you say it. So, in this keynote talk David Evans draws on research into what makes a successful TED speaker and applies those lessons to the classroom. He will discuss the importance of body language and talk about how we can control it. He will suggest ways of using voice and gesture more effectively, as well as proposing some ideas for overcoming nerves and boosting confidence. He will also draw on exmples from the courses Keynote and 21st Century Reading, both produced by National Geographic Learning in association with TED talks.

David Evans started by making a point that TED talks are wonderful examples of communication and a lot of research has been done on what makes TED speakers fantastic communicators. In his keynote talk, David Evans wants to explore some of these insights and how they can be applied to teaching.

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He started out with told a story that exemplifies that it’s not what you say – it’s the way that you say it.  In this story high school girls were making a mess in the restroom by applying lipstick and leaving lipstick marks on the mirror. The school headmistress addressed the girls twice ordering them to stop, but this didn’t work. Then she showed them how the mirrors were cleaned with the water from the toilets, and not a single lipstick mark appeared on the mirrors again.

The way that we say things is incredibly important. And yet as teachers we often spend a lot of time thinking about the content of what you’re going to talk about, but spend far less time thinking how we’re going to say that.

Here are aspects that are very important to the impression we make on our audience, whether we are giving a talk or a lesson:

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First impressions

First impressions are important. And they’re important not only the first time. Every time you walk into the classroom, you’re making an important first impression: the learners assess what mood you’re in today and what to expect from you and the lesson today. It is possible to change a first impressions, but it’s really difficult.

How long to you have to make a first impression? Researchers into TED talks discovered that people have the same opinion 7 seconds into the talk as they have at the end of the talk. If at the beginning of the lesson you appear unprepared and students think, ‘What an idiot’, it’s going to be difficult to turn this into a good lesson!

Factors important in terms of creating first impressions?

Body language 

Posture. To control the class and command the room you need to make yourself appear big i.e. standing up straight, using your voice properly, breathing correctly. If we appear small, we look submissive and like we don’t want to be in control.

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Controlling the space that we have. If you’re too still, you will appear boring. But fidgeting is distracting too – this is bad too, so balance is important.

Facial expressions are extremely important because of so-called mirror neurons because the people listening to us subconsciously ‘recreate’ our facial expressions.

Here’s a 3 minute extract from David’s talk in which he demonstrated what effect our facial expressions make on the people listening to us:

Then David showed this video which exemplifies that to an extent, we listen with our eyes:

Smile

David maintains that we love Mona Lisa because she’s smiling and that’s unusual in a work of art. One reason for the absence of smiling is that models were encouraged not to smile: in the past, when people smiled and you could see their teeth, which were either missing or black! As teachers, we might tend to think that teaching is ‘a serious business’ and we’re not in class to smile. The TED research discovered that the more the presenter smiles, the more intelligent they think the presenter is. So if you want your class to think you’re clever, smile at them!

Voice

The voice is extremely important.
Correct posture makes sure we breathe properly, which is important for our voice. Another thing to think about is resonance. You need to get resonance using the whole front part of your body. You need to feel your voice in your chest, not only throat and/or face. Another important factor is variety – according TED research, particularly in terms of establishing the speaker’s charisma. British people use enormous variety – the pitch goes up and down and slow and fast. Russians, for instance, sound ‘on a level’.

A few TED talks that David recommended:

  • The Hidden Power of Smiling (Ron Gutman)
  • The Neurons That Shaped Civilisation (Vilayanur Ramachandran)
  • How to speak so that people want to listen.
  • Your body may shape who you are by Amy Cuddy

Amy Cuddy says don’t look protective (placing your hand on your face/neck), avoid hand-hiding, etc. However, this is not the most important. Our body language can change our brains: the way we stand or sit changes the way our brains work. When we stand in a dominant way, testosterone is released into your brain. These hormones stay in your brain for quite a while – and you can change them by the way you position your body.

If you you have a class that you dread, David Evans recommends that you find a free classroom,  stand there in a ‘wonder woman’ for two minutes and in the few seconds of your lessons your students will know not to mess with you. Your colleagues will think that you’re absolutely mad, but you’re an English teacher, so they know that already.

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As I mentioned at the beginning, this was a great and inspiring talk, and I actually enjoyed this talk exploring research into TED even more than the actual TED talks, which says something! The talk was filmed and apparently the recording will be available to NATE members. 

Abstract: This informative and entertaining presentation will use activities, stories and videos to explore the qualities of great teachers, Robert’s unusual personal and professional experiences as an English language instructor, and the important things he has learned to make the classroom a better learning environment for students.

At the beginning of his talk Robert asked the audience the following question:

What makes a teacher great?

Robert then shared a few quotes from a book by Joseph P. Batory, Philadelphia Public Schools Superintendent (retired), which he finds very enlightening:

Great teachers are somehow able to effect positive change in all students who come to them, no matter what problems or lack of skills they bring with them.

Great teachers foster growth and inspire self-confidence in the students who have been written off, the ones no one else wants

Great teachers don’t squash dreams, they build them!

We also watched a video that teachers wrote to themselves on their first day teaching:

Robert went on to share his own teaching story:

He didn’t like school, especially high school. He hated his English grammar and literature classes the most – later he realized that that was because of the way they were taught. He never EVER considered teaching as a career. His first love is weather, and his first degree was in meteorology. Before teaching he worked as a scientist on a tiny island in Polynesia in a facility that destroys WWII weapons.

Then he came to Japan and there he was told, ‘You’re perfect to be a English teacher because you speak English AND you’re an America’. There wasn’t even an interview.

In 1995 Robert quit his job and moved to Miami, where hardly anyone spoke English but everyone needed to learn it. He volunteered at a farm workers’ migrant camp, where he taught basic literacy and numeracy – he was using their L1 (French and Spanish). He enjoyed that so much that he decided to get some formal training and applied to a master’s degree program.

He was told:

You don’t have the right background in linguistics, language education, or even English, but we’ll let you in as a probationary student. You have one semester to prove yourself.’

He applied to teach in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, one of the larges, most diverse and poorest school districts in the USA – again, on probation! He had one semester to prove himself and he needed a plan. He asked his students: who are your best teachers and why? He visited those teachers and asked to observe them teaching (and when they asked ‘why me’, he said, ‘because the students told me you’re the best’. And then he asked asked them, ‘why did you do that? He videotaped himself and discovered that he was standing in one particular zone of the class and tended to focus on the students at the front of the class. He also read Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classrooms by Richards & Lockhart and answered every single reflective question there.

At the end of that semester he handed all of that in – the journals, the videos and what students thought about him.

The reply he got was very moving:.

 

Reading that, he realized that his only resource he’d drawn on to get there wasn’t even part of his MA programme – and this is a source that he has never underestimated ever since. 

Over time, his role changed significantly:

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And here are some key things that he learned on the way:

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outside the box

In terms of the essay contests, first there was low uptake and little excitement, but an idea that really worked was to publish the essays they produced – having your abstract published in a book that you can show when you go home provided extra motivation.

Robert finished his talk with another inspirational video:

Finally, he asked us to reflect on a few things throughout the conference:

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This was a talk that really put me in a contemplative mood and inspired me to think more about what I’ve learnt over the years. I think his experience of learning from great teachers and from the learners is very inspiring – I agree that this is invaluable resource, but Robert’s experience inspires to dip into it even more. 

After Robert’s talk, Svetlana Ter-Minasova made a comment that, for her, the key for teaching is love: love for the subject and love for the students. When he talks about teaching, Robert’s love shines through. 

NATE Conference 2017

Posted: May 18, 2017 in Conferences

I’m very excited and honoured to be the conference blogger at the XXIII National Association of Teachers of English Russia annual conference. Expect lots of conference reports from me in early June!

If you can make it to Moscow in June, the program features a fantastic line-up of speakers and it’s not too late to register.

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