Archive for the ‘ELT methodology’ Category

This is one more post in my series of posts about the EVO 2017 session on teaching listening. In this post I want to summarize one more issue that was raised during the session: the use of authentic materials with lower levels.

Below you’ll find some of the ideas and experiences that the teachers participating in the session shared:

  1. Watching short clips for fun
  2. Using songs
  3. Grading the task by using the material as a warmer or a lead in
  4. Micro listening: focus on grammar
  5. Vox pop videos for word hunt or micro listening
  6. Watching the video without the sound
  7. Some thoughts on the role of assessment and a case study: following a news story
  8. Authentic listening (and speaking) out of class

But first, let’s look at some pros and cons of using authentic materials with lower levels.

A lot of the session participants voiced concerns about using authentic materials with lower level learners, such as:

  • it takes a lot of time to find extracts that lower level learners would have any chance of coping with;
  • even with these extracts, the learners are often frustrated that they don’t understand much;
  • one often hears ‘grade the task not the text’. But what are some examples of graded tasks? And won’t it happen that we’ve graded the task, but the learners fail their ‘inner task’ of understanding more or less everything, and still feel frustrated?

So do lower level learners need to work with authentic materials at all? Here are some reasons why they do:

  • the learners might be exposed to authentic materials outside class (especially in ESL / business Engish settings, but also on the Internet and while they travel) – they need to prepare for that in the safe classroom environment;
  • coping in some way with authentic materials gives tremendous sense of achievement to lower level students
  • using authentic materials in class will give the learners the courage to try to ‘get out there’ and start practicing out of class, which is great for language acquisition. This will be especially useful if we discuss with the learners specific ideas where they might find suitable materials and what they could do with them.
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Image source: flickr.com/photos/wolfgangkihnle/6050220330

So what are some sources of lower level materials, and how can we use them in class? 

1. Watching short clips for fun

Oksana Kirsanova, an English teacher from Russia, encourages her learners simply to watch very simple funny videos like the one below.

The video could be shown in class or shared with the learners to watch at home. The learners watch for enjoyment – Oksana sets no task. If the video contains a lot of dialogue, she finds a version with Russian subs.

This is a very simple way to introduce the learners to authentic materials. You probably know a lot of good videos already (who hasn’t shown Eleven of  We’re sinking at some point in class?) but it’s worth building a bigger collection and showing/sharing the videos regularly throughout the course. One good source of such videos is funny commercials. There are lots of compilations on YouTube – if only some commercials in a compilation are appropriate, use TubeChop.com to isolate and share only those bits you want to share (here’s an example of a clips isolated with TubeChop).

2. Using songs

This can be extremely motivating for learners, especially teens (but not only)! There are lots of songs that are suitable for lower levels because the pronunciation is very clear. Again, it’s worth building up a collection to use throughout the course (or Google some ready-made collections, like this one). There are two challenges: doable tasks and finding songs that are relevant for the learners.

Some ideas for tasks:

Svetlana Bogolepova (Russia) got her learners to listen to Yesterday by Beatles and clap every time they heard the word ‘yesterday’ – which is a very simple activity that encourages the learners to notice the words they know in songs. I think this kind of activity could be a great lead-in (or warmer / filler) to some topics dealt with at Elementary level (e.g. adverbs of time or past simple).

We got more examples of tasks to be used with songs from this article by Nik Peachey on A framework on planning a listening skills lesson (scroll to ‘Applying the framework to a song’). Some of the tasks that Nik offers are:

  • listening to the song and deciding if it’s happy or sad;
  • listening and ordering jumbled up lyrics;
  • listening and correcting mistakes in a summary of the song pre-written by a teacher.

Regarding the question of finding relevant songs, I’d predict this would be a real issue with teens, who might not be very motivated by having to listen to, say, Abba! I think the best idea with learners who feel strongly about this is to involve them in creating/maintaining a list of songs with clear pronunciation. The learners could be encouraged to maintain a Padlet.com board like this one curated by Teaching English – British Council.

3. Grading the task by using the material as a warmer or a lead in

One of the concerns that the participants of the EVO raised was that the learners are bound to understand little in authentic materials, which will frustrate them. One way to help learners feel more OK with the fact that they don’t understand everything is to use the material not as the main listening text in the lesson, but as a warmer, setting a task that the learners could cope with.

E.g. with the following video the learners could

  • watch the video and guess the topic of the lesson (food)
  • watch the video and note down all foods they could see
  • a word hunt activity: watch the video and note down all food-related vocabulary they heard someone say

4. Micro listening: focus on grammar

This is something I love doing with my lower level students: using video compilations that show lots of examples of just one grammar point, like this one:

I normally do this as a part of a grammar lesson, asking the learners to fill the gaps the transcript:

 1. Spider-Man ________ hero.
2. ______ ready? ______ born ready.
3. A hundred years ago, ______ one and a half billion people on Earth.
4. Exactly! ______ a worker, but now _______  war hero!
5. Oh, right! _______ my sister.
6. But ______ young and proud!

You’ll find the end of this exercise and a lot more links to such videos in this blog post.

A big issue is that these videos come with hard-coded subs. I dealt with this simply by dragging some kind of window, e.g. an open notepad document, over the subs area.

Another issue that one session participant raised was that these extracts are decontextualized. I think that that’s not much of a problem, because the visual element is so rich it provides micro context – notice how the feeling that one gets watching these videos is very different from if you were listening to the extracts.

5. Vox pop videos for word hunt or micro listening

Another source of videos that are ideal for word hunt or micro listening, because they naturally provide multiple examples of the same language feature, are so called vox pop videos (videos in which people in the street get asked the same question – normally there are two or three questions per video).

I’ve found several sources of such videos:

  • Speakout video podcasts for all levels, including Starter and Elementary, freely available on their site. For example, the learners could watch the following video and note down all family vocabulary they can hear (word hunt) or count the number of times the word ‘my’ is used (this could lead to a micro ‘pronunciation for listeners’ activity, as ‘my’ is often pronounced as ‘mu’):
  • Real English videos uses the same idea. E.g. in this video people in the streets say how old they are – the learners could listen and note down the numbers they hear
  • Vox Pop International, an authentic YouTube channel, also contains some videos suitable for lower levels. E.g. watching this video the learners could note down all adverbs of frequency they hear:
  • If you are subscribed to onestopenglish, they recently created Live from London, a great collection of such videos with worksheets and transcripts. Here’s a sample video, with ideas how it can be used with Pre-Intermediate learners and higher.

If you want to try how listening to such videos feels, why not try this video in Mandarin Chinese shared by Curt Ford, another EVO participant:

What I like about vox pop videos is that they’re so adaptable to a range of activities: while they could easily be used for a quick micro-listening activity or a ‘word hunt’ warmer as described above, they could also be used in the traditional gist – details – follow-up lesson shape:

  • Stage 1: the teacher board the two or three questions asked in the video on the board, uses tubechop to play the corresponding two or three extracts in which people answer the questions, the learners watch and match the extracts to the questions (Variation for a higher level group: the learners watch and guess the questions).
  • Stage 2: the learners do a micro-listening (fill in gaps focusing on one grammar feature) or a word hunt activity.
  • Stage 3: the questions are used for a speaking activity (either in pairs or mingling).

6. Watching the video without the sound

Heather McKay shared an activity that helps the learners to draw on the paralinguistic features in the clip (body language, context, facial expressions, etc). Before watching the clip with the sound, she plays it several times without the sound, for the learners to draft the dialogue/share their predictions with each other.

Here’s a sample clip she has used this approach with:

A useful source of such clips is Claudio Azevedo’s web sites/blogs: http://moviesegmentstoassessgrammargoals.blogspot.com/

7. Some thoughts on the role of assessment and a case study: following a news story

Two session participants, Tanja Debevc and Keith Murdiff, reported on their experience of what happens when authentic materials become part of the end-of-course exam. They have experienced a real positive backwash, as both the teachers and the learners want to target the type of material that the learners will be assessed with. A big challenge is, of course, designing graded exam tasks that the learners would cope with. Tanja shared a link to a book which features exam tasks for lower levels based on authentic materials.

What is more, their experience shows that the learners cope with a lot more than we assume they might cope with. In particular, Keith prepares his learners for an exam in which they need to follow a news story. This is why one of the tasks he sets to his learners is to choose a news story and listen to all news they can find related to the story (online and on the radio) over a period of time. Keith’s experience is that the learners have a lot of context (as he puts it, context is king), the learners are able to cope with, benefit from and enjoy difficult listening texts and discern a lot of detail. The learners are provided with a worksheet that focuses on story-key vocabulary, main actors and their role in the story, predictions on how the story will develop and a summary of the news. The learners use this framework to follow up on their listening in class, sharing with other class members.

8. Authentic listening (and speaking) out of class

I think that the idea for getting the learners to follow a news story outlined above exemplifies two key ingredients for encouraging listening to authentic materials out or class: the learners need specific ideas what to listen/watch and they need very specific tasks to do while they listen.

Recently I attended a webinar on encouraging learner autonomy by David Nunan in which he shared a number of case studies from a book they’d published a year ago. One of the stories he shared really brought home for me how important it is for the learners to be helped both with the ideas what to listen to and the tasks – I want to share it here albeit this story goes beyond the topics of listening and using authentic materials with lower levels. 

In one of the case studies presented by Nunan Mark Cadd, a researcher, was looking into the problem that many students who come back from a summer abroad don’t seem to have improved their language skills that much. The reason is often that they tended to spend time with other students studying a language but they weren’t interacting with the target community.

So he set up a program in which the learners were required, through 12 contact tasks, to interact with local residents and report her reflection back to the teachers.

Sample task
Task
: attend a festival or another public event celebrated in the culture. Speak with at least two members of the culture who are present. Choose two who are quite different, e.g. young vs old, male vs female, etc. Ask why the event is important.

Reflection: Which festival, fair, public event etc did you investigate? What is its history? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you notice any difference between your style of communication and theirs? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?

Reflection needed to be posted to a website available to the teacher and other students.

Cadd found that the fact that they were required to do these tasks was initially challenging and scary for the learners, but over time they found that their anxiety lowered and their confidence, fluency and cultural sensitivity improved. Furthermore, they were able to make connections between what they learned in the classroom and the language they were using out of the classroom.

This story made me think of my recent week-long visit to Germany: I love the language but I didn’t practice it at all. I thought how much easier it would be for me to strike up conversations and take advantage of the language environment if I was on a mission to collect evidence for a project – this would not only give me ideas what to look out for and what to talk about, but also serve as a passable conversation starter, and I would feel a lot less self conscious about asking people questions. I think this idea could and should be applied to the wider issue of scaffolding the learners’ interaction with the target culture, whether they live in a country where their target language is spoken, or interact with the culture on the Internet.

If you’d like to provide your learners with a ‘menu’ of resources they could explore out of class, you could find some useful links on this list that the participants of the EVO session complied – but we didn’t work on a menu of autonomous activities.

All in all, I’m extremely grateful to the participants of the #listeningEVO for the wealth of ideas they’ve shared on this topic. There’s everything here I could wish for: from really simple activities to help introduce authentic materials and build the learners’ confidence, to evidence that it’s possible to plunge the learners at the deep end, provided they get scaffolding and that the institution supports this with higher level decisions such as the contents of the exams. Lots to think about and try out in class. 

The first week of the Electronic Village Online is in full swing! I’m co-moderating the session on teaching listening, and this week, under the guidance of Lizzie Pinard, we’ve started out with the topic of encouraging learner autonomy.

One great thing about online sessions like this one is that there are a lot of participants who share a wealth of tips about the activities and resources they use. From what I’ve read in our discussion threads, it seems that a lot of teachers encourage their learners to watch TED talks out of class, and the participants have suggested a variety of ideas for activities based on the talks.

What also often happens, however, is that the teacher recommends this resource but the learners don’t start using it – and the teacher kind of knows that they don’t, but they don’t even ask because that would be admitting failure (oh haven’t I been there a lot of times?) Below are my takeaways for how to avoid this problem and really help the learners start watching the talks out of class and get the most out of them

First of all, in her live session Lizzie offered some tips how to encourage the learners to start learning out of class in general:

  • provide the learners with a concrete ‘menu’ of things they can do out of class (a handout), because otherwise the learners will feel overwhelmed with the variety of resources out there;
  • educate the learners about the ways we learn languages (e.g. in class after we do a task, spend a few minutes discussing why it was done that way. One example is activating schemata before listening: the teacher could ask the learners to recall what the learners had done before listening, and then discuss how that task helped them to understand more). In general, the more insight the learners have into the way languages are learnt, the  more responsibility they will be able to take and the more efficiently they will be able to spend their out-of-class English time. For the same reason, in the ‘menu’ mentioned above it’s important to provide the learners with concrete ideas for activities that they can do while watching  the videos.
  • make learner autonomy a social experience: if you have lessons twice a week, devote 5 minutes every week to discussing in small groups what the learners have done out of class. At the beginning, predictably, a lot of them will be saying, ‘nothing’, but that doesn’t mean that the autonomy scheme isn’t working – the most important thing is to persevere

So, if we get back to TED talks, this means that

  • the learners need to try out a range of activities that they can use while watching TED talks;
  • they need opportunities to reflect about the effectiveness of these activities for their language learning;
  • they need the social experience of discussing the talks they’d watched out of class.

Below I outline ten ideas for tasks based on TED talks

  • Mind map the talk
  • Take notes using Cornell note-taking grid
  • Evaluate your level using a CEFR descriptor
  • Notice and learn key lexis in the talk
  • Work on your fluency using the 4-3-2 technique
  • Improve your listening and pronunciation by shadowing the speaker
  • Practice listening intensively with TubeQuizard
  • Analyze the speaker’s accent using TubeChop
  • Explore the talks on learning languages
  • Negotiate!

image-1

NB To make this list easier to use, I decided to outline sample procedures – they might be quite different from the procedures used by the teachers who suggested the activity.

Before I describe the ideas themselves, here are some tips that work with all these ideas:

  • Introduce the activities over a period of time, one at a time
  • Always model the activity in class before assigning it for homework
  • After you model the activity get the learners to recall what they just did and discuss how this procedure helps them to learn the language. The more the learners understand about the way languages are learnt, the more responsibility they will be able to take for their learning.
  • When you assign the activity for homework, provide the learners with written instructions (e.g. a handout or instructions posted in the learners’ online space).
  • The easiest way to follow up on the activities done out of class is to get the learners to
    (1) retell the talk they’d watched to a partner (if the activity involved producing notes, they can use their notes while they’re retelling) and
    (2) get the learners to discuss what they felt while doing the activity and whether they feel it has learning value for them.
  • When the learners have tried out quite a few activities, reduce the amount of scaffolding to encourage autonomy: let them choose for themselves which tasks they’re going to do while watching the talks (and maybe negotiate with the group how often they’re going to report back to the class, etc).

Mind map the talk

Svetlana Bogolepova from Russia asks her students to analyze the structure of the TED talks they’ve watched and create a mind map of the talk.

Intro lesson:

Choose a (short) TED talk.

Do a topic-related warmer, and then tell the learners that they’re going to watch and analyze the structure of the talk. Tell them a one-sentence summary (e.g. ‘In this talk the person speaks about his experience doing something new for 30 days’) and ask the learners to predict what sub-topics the speaker is going to mention, e.g. why he did this? what things did he do for 30 days? 

The learners watch to check their predictions and then discuss in pairs. As a follow-up, the teacher boards their suggestions in the form of a mind map. The learners copy the mind map.

The learners watch again and add details to the mind map, compare their mind maps in pairs and report back to the whole class.

Finally, the learners

  • recall the procedure of the task (predicting the content, watching the talk once to identify the main points and putting them in writing, watching the talk a second time to note down details)
  • brainstorm the benefits of each step (e.g. predicting the content will allow you to ‘activate’ topic vocabulary).

A sample mind-map:

mindmap

At home

The learners find an interesting talk and create a mind map that reflects the structure of the talk.
Optionally, they upload a picture of the mind map to the group’s online space.

Follow-up

In pairs, the learners retell the content of the talk they’ve seen to a partner who hasn’t seen the talks (using their mind map), and discuss the talks.

Take notes using Cornell note-taking grid

This idea was shared by Jennifer Rueda from the United States. She gets her learners to reflect on the talks they watch by using the Cornell note-taking technique.

Intro lesson

  • Ask the learners how they usually take notes. How useful are their notes? Do they ever re-read them?
  • Tell the learners that they’ll try a new method called Cornell note-taking. Elicit what they know already about the method. Then give them an article that explains the method, e.g. this one. Get the learners to read the article and, in pairs, (1) compare how they understood the article (2) brainstorm 2-4 advantages and 1-2 disadvantages of the system.
  • Get the learners to draw the Cornell grid, watch a short TED talk and write their notes in the right-hand column. The learners compare in pairs and then fill out the rest of the grid. In new pairs, the learners compare their grids and discuss if they think this method is useful

At home (instructions for the learners):

Choose a TED talk, watch it and complete a Cornell grid.
[Optionally] upload a picture of their grid to the group’s online space

Follow-up lesson

In pairs, the learners show each other their grids, briefly retell the summary of the article and discuss whether they would like to continue using this note-taking method.

Evaluate your level using a CEFR descriptor

Sidney Martin Mota from Tarragona offers a variety of listening tasks for his learners to do autonomously (suggesting they watch news and TV shows, as well as TED talks), and links each task to the appropriate CEFR descriptor for the learners’ target level, e.g. a B2 descriptor for TED talks will be ‘I can follow the essentials of lectures, talks and report and other forms of complex academic or professional presentation in my field’.

At home 

The learners watch the talk and rate their performance of the descriptor on the scale of 1 to 5.

Follow-up lesson

  • The learners briefly share what their talk was about,
  • The learners report on how well they understood the talk
  • The teacher elicits and boards what kinds of problems prevented the learners from understanding the talk (e.g. insufficient vocabulary, etc)
  • In small groups, the learners discuss what activities they can do to work on overcoming the problems

Notice and learn key lexis in the talk

Pomilla Agarwal from India suggested a task in which the learners note down key expressions from the talk and then retell the talk using the expressions.

Intro lesson

  • Choose a short TED talk. Do a warmer, then set a gist task (e.g. the learners predict the content of the talk based on the title and then watch to check their predictions)
  • Open the interactive transcript (either on TED or on Youtube). Choose a collocation that is key to the talk (e.g. ‘do a challenge’). Board the sentence containing the collocation with some parts of the expression gapped out. Ask the learners what’s in the gap, then play the line for the learners to check. Play the line a few more times for them to notice the pronunciation of the expression and practice saying it together with the speaker.
    transcript
  • Refer the learners to the transcript and ask them two find 5-10 more expressions that are key to the text. Monitor to encourage them to notice more than one word (e.g. if they choose a noun, prompt them to look for the verb that goes with the noun).
  • Board the expressions that the learners have chosen. If there are too many, the learners choose which ones to wipe out.
  • Find the expressions in the interactive transcript to analyze and copy pronunciation.
  • Get the learners to summarize the talk using the expressions on the board (step 1: in writing; step 2: orally).

At home (instructions for the learners):

Find an interesting TED talk and watch it.
Look through the transcript and find 5-10 expressions that will help you summarize the talk. Try to look for multi-word expressions that you already understand but don’t use.
Use the interactive transcript to play the expressions; try to speak with the speaker to copy the pronunciation.
Practice giving a summary of the talk using the expressions.

Follow-up lesson 

The learners briefly report on the talk they’ve seen using the expressions they’ve chosen.

Work on your fluency using the 4-3-2 technique

In this task, the learners retell the talk 3 times, each time speaking faster (this is an activity that I really enjoyed doing with a group of teens).

At home (instructions for the student):

This task is a great way to work on your fluency. 

  • Find a TED talk that is interesting for you, watch it and take brief notes.
  • Retell the talk in 4 minutes
  • Check that you haven’t forgotten any important ideas by briefly looking through the transcript of the talk (alternatively, you could watch the talk one more time)
  • Retell the talk one more time, this time in 3 minutes. You’re working on fluency, so your goal is to retell the talk as fully as possible, but speak faster than last time.
  • Briefly look through the transcript again, and then retell the talk one more time, this time in 2 minutes. Again, your goal is to speak even faster than last time.
  • [optionally] Record the final attempt and upload it to the group’s online space.

Follow-up lesson:

  • In pairs, the learners retell the talk they’ve seen to their partner in 2 minutes. After that, allow a few more minutes to discuss the talks.

Classroom alternative: 

The learners watch the talks at home. After that, in class, they retell the talk they’d seen to a partner in 4 minutes. They change partners and retell it one more time in 3 minutes – don’t forget to explain the goal to them and stress that they need to speak faster. Finally, they retell the talk one more time to a new partner in two minutes.

Improve your listening and pronunciation by shadowing the speaker

This was the idea suggested by Lizzie that a lot of the session participants want to try out (especially since quite a few already have, successfully, either with their learners or as language learners).

In this (challenging) task the learners listen to an extract from the talk and simultaneously speak with the speaker, trying to copy their pronunciation. Read this post for the detailed procedure.

Practice listening intensively with TubeQuizard

At home (instructions for the learners, but first demonstrate the tool in class):

  • Find a talk that has English subtitles on Youtube. The talks with subtitles are labelled ‘CC’.
    ted_subs_1
    To check that the talk has English subtitles, click on ‘More’ under the video, choose ‘Transcript’ and look for ‘English’ (not ‘English – Automatic captions’).
    ted_subs_2
  • Watch the first 2-3 minutes of the talk without the subtitles for general understanding to make sure the topic is interesting for you.
  • Copy the Youtube URL of the talk. Go to http://www.tubequizard.com/add_quiz.php and insert the URL into the ‘Youtube video URL‘ field:
    tq_1
    Choose and do at least do 3-5 quizzes. While you’re doing a quiz, do you notice any features of the pronunciation of the grammar structure in the gaps? (E.g. how is ‘was’ pronounced in past continuous phrases? What happens to the ‘-ed’ endings of verbs in past simple?)
    Finally, watch the talk from the beginning to the end. (Click here to see the quizzes in the picture below.)

kr_tubequizard

ted_gapfill

Follow-up lesson

The learners retell the talk they’d watched to a partner and discuss the talk. They also share what grammar structures they listened to and what they noticed about the pronunciation of these structures.

Analyze the speaker’s accent using TubeChop

Maren Behrend from New Zealand gets her learners to improve their listening skills by transcribing a 30-60 second extract from the video and then using the transcript to check their work and analyze the speaker’s pronunciation, e.g. the weak sounds.

At home (instructions for the learners, but first model in class!)

  • Choose a TED talk with subtitles (see screenshots above).
  • Watch the first 1-3 minutes to make sure the video is interesting
  • If you feel that you need training in understanding the speaker’s accent, transcribe 3-4 sentences and analyze the speaker’s pronunciation. This is easier to do if you can replay a very short extract from the video. In order to do that, copy Youtube URL of your video, go to TubeChop, insert the URL and click  ‘chop it’. Choose a random 5-6 second extract from the video:

tubechop_1

Listen to the extract. If you can understand every word, choose another extract. If you can’t understand every word, click ‘chop it’ and you’ll get to the following window where you can replay any part of your 5-6 second extract (click here to try an example)

tubechop_3

Listen to the extract 4-10 times and write exactly what you hear. Go back to youtube, open the interactive transcript and find the extract in the transcript. With a different pen, copy the words that you didn’t catch.

Listen to the extract again on Tubechop and try to hear exactly how the speaker pronounces all words (to do that, replay individual words). Listen for

  • the sounds that the speaker doesn’t pronounce
  • the sounds that change from their dictionary form
  • the sounds that the speaker adds
  • the sounds that get attached to a different word

Mark these pronunciation features on your paper:

tubechop_4

Finally, put the words that you mark onto this grid (click here for a .pdf version or here for an editable .docx version of the grid):

grid_1

Repeat with 5-10 extracts, adding new words to the grid. Finally, watch the talk – after the work you’ve done, you should understand the speaker’s accent a lot better.

Explore the talks on learning languages

Anastasiia Gubarenko from Russia suggests to her learners that they watch videos that might actually help them turn into better learners (e.g. talks on how to become self-motivated)!

Also, the learners might benefit from watching the talks about strategies for learning languages autonomously.

Intro lesson:

Follow-up lesson
The learners retell the talks in groups of three and compare:

  • What ideas did all speakers mention?
  • Did any of the speakers contradict each other?

The teacher elicits and boards the ideas. The learners discuss which ones they’d like to try out and how they’d like to try them out (e.g. what will be the completion criteria? what are the best ways to incorporate these ideas into your existing life style?)

Negotivate!

This was an idea that Jenny Wright came up with: once the learners have been exposed to a range of strategies, they could negotiate which talk  (or a different resource) they will all watch next week and/or which combination of activities they will do. I think this is a wonderful idea because this seems to be a very natural way to get the learners to talk about the educational value of the activities.

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How about you – what are your favourite tasks to do with TED talks?

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that for those of my listening lessons in which the learners focus on decoding skills (i.e. transcribe part of the text and then actively analyze the speakers’ actual pronunciation), I vastly prefer to work with video and subs stored locally on my computer, because this allows me to use Aegisub to replay any word or phrase I wish. In my experience, hearing words in isolation makes it significantly easier for the learners to hear their actual pronunciation – the weak forms, elision, catenation and all the other features of connected speech.

I’ve just learned that This American Life, one of my favourite radio shows, has implemented a similar feature on their site.

If you click on ‘CUT THIS’, this opens up the transcript, where you can select any portion of the text and play it with word precision. tal_1

tal_2

The transcript is also searchable and long, so for instance if the learners couldn’t catch ‘used to’ from the first listen, there are eight more examples in this transcript alone for them to listen to and train catching (I normally turn this into a separate activity that follows the diagnostic transcription activity).

Not only this, they’ve also made it possible to share the snippet on social media or even to download it perfectly legally, e.g. if you want to create a listening gapfill (like this really nice listening discrimination activity by Anthony Schmidt).

And the best bit is that the listening material itself on This American Life is usually amazing – great human interest stories that a lot of teachers use anyway regardless of technology. Can’t wait to show this to my learners!

In a few days’ time, we’re starting an Electronic Village Online session on teaching listening. The session syllabus was heavily influenced by the following three articles:

Nunan, D. (2002). Listening in Language Learning. In Richards, J. and Renandya, W. (eds.) Methodology in Language Learning. An Anthology of Current Practice. Cambridge University Press.

Field, J. (2002). The Changing Face of Listening. In Richards, J. and Renandya, W. (eds.) Methodology in Language Learning. An Anthology of Current Practice. Cambridge University Press.

Hill, D. and Tomlinson, B. (2003). Coursebook Listening Activities. In Tomlinson, B. (ed.) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. Bloomsbury.  

Over the past few years I’ve been finding that I’m re-reading these three articles again and again. I’ve decided to collate the ideas and suggestions for classroom tasks and approaches that are offered in these three articles in one post. There are very few additions of my own, and they are in grey italics.

First of all, why teach listening? Here are the aims that Nunan, Field, Hill and Tomlinson mention:

  1. To provide input for the learner, as listening is necessary for language acquisition.
  2. To help the learners cope with the listening that is similar to the listening they will experience outside of class.
  3. To develop the learners’ awareness of the processes underlying their learning, so that they will be able to take greater and greater responsibility for that learning.

Collated below are some of the implications of these aims on listening instruction that the authors mention. The authors don’t suggest that we replace all our listening with these activity types – only that these activities are necessary.

  1. To provide input for the learner, as listening is necessary for language acquisition.

Language acquisition is maximized when the input is cognitively and/or affectively engaging and when the tasks promote multidimensional representations of the text – visualizing, inner speech, making connections to already known and affective response (Hill and Tomlinson, 2003).

Implications for listening instruction:

  1. What to listen to? To facilitate language acquisition, we need to use sources of input that have relevance to the learner, and which have affeсtive appeal and have the potential to engage the learner both cognitively and emotively. The learners need to have some control over the content of the lesson, and bring something to the task.
  2. Who to listen to? Not only coursebook CDs: other learners talking about something engaging (e.g. telling jokes/anecdotes), the teacher, guest speakers (e.g. other teachers, learners from other classes, invited speakers – in person or over phone/skype, etc) and materials chosen by the learners.
  3. What tasks facilitate intake of language from listening texts?  Tasks that don’t encourage concentration on ‘micro-features’ of the text (e.g. not comprehension questions focusing on specific details). The tasks that involve the learner in the listening event either as an interactant of a listener with a need or purpose. Tasks that to help the learners use mental processes that go beyond simply decoding and understanding what was said: imagining visually what we heard; using inner speech to repeat some of what we hear; connecting what we hear to our lives and to our knowledge of the word; responding affectively to what we hear.

Sample task 1 (Nunan): The learners listen to someone describing his/her work, and then collaborate to create a set of questions for interviewing this person.

The idea to interview a ‘mystery guest’ reminds me of a Facebook post I recently saw: a friend of mine had organized a Skype event for his secondary school students with students from Norway. One of his students got particularly excited by the event and said that, before this event, foreign people for her were very much like ‘aliens’.

Sample task 2 (Hill, Tomlinson): the learners listen to a story and retell the story to someone who hasn’t listened to it. This task is especially good for lower levels, because it focuses on what the learners did catch, and thus builds listening confidence.

The task in which different learners listen to different texts is called jigsaw listening. One very simple to use source of material for such tasks is Youtube videos that offer lists, e.g. ‘Top 10 places to see before they disappear‘ or a number or tips, e.g. ‘3 Tough Job Interview Questions And Answers’). A sample lesson might go like this: after a warmer, the learners listen to the beginning of the video for gist, to understand the overall topic, e.g. that they’re going to focus on tough interview questions. They they try to guess the content of the video, e.g. what questions the speakers will be talking about. They then split into three groups and each group listens to the answer to one question on their own devices, e.g. mobile phones – if necessary, replaying the bits of the video (in order to make sure that the learners listen to exactly the portion of the video they’re supposed to, use TubeChop.com). Finally, in new groups of three (one learner from each group), they share the tips they listened to, and discuss whether they agree with them.

Sample task 3: a teacher’s story. This was an approach a groupmate of mine Cecilia Lemos tried for her Delta Module 2 Listening LSA. The teacher tells a real story that happened to him/her. The learners compare what they understood in pairs, and then ask the teacher to repeat the parts they missed and/or to expand on some part of the story.

Sample task 4:  I tried to encourage visual imagination using the following activity. First, I asked the learners to imagine a rose and share what their rose looked like. Then they nominated a few more objects, imagined them and shared the visual details in pairs. After that, we listened to a story (e.g. this story from StoryCorps) – first for gist, and then line by line. After hearing each line the learners shared not only what they caught, but also the visual details of how they saw the scene in their inner eye. 

  1. Help the learners cope with the listening that are similar to the listening they will experience outside of class.

Listening outside of class is listening to authentic materials – that is, materials that haven’t been graded to the learners’ level and in which they can’t be expected to understand everything. Moreover, most authentic materials are unscripted (i.e. the speakers speak spontaneously), and such speech is normally more difficult phonologically than scripted materials found in most coursebooks.

Implications for listening instruction:

What to listen to? The learners, even at lower levels, need to listen to authentic materials at least occasionally

The learners also need to listen to the type of input they’re likely to listen to outside (e.g. being taught to do something they need/want to do; listening for information, e.g. weather forecasts; listening to radio/TV for enjoyment).

Finally, they also need to do some listening interactively (e.g. teaching somebody else to do something and listening to their questions and requests for clarification; taking part in discussions with friends about topics that interest them, etc).

What tasks help the learners cope with authentic materials?
Principle #1: grade the task, not the listening text.  
Principle #2: the goal is not for the learners to arrive at ‘correct answers’, but to (1) equip the learners with listening strategies, and (2) to diagnose the source of listening difficulties in order to do remedial practice.

Sample task 1 (Field, focus: an authentic level activity for lower levels – an example of grading the task not the text). The learners listen to a recording of a real-life conversation between a fruit vendor and a customer. The task is to write down the vegetables mentioned.

Sample task 2 (Field; focus: listening strategies). The learners listen and write down the words they understand. They form and discuss inferences, listen again and revise their inferences, and then check them against what the speaker says next. This procedure reflects the effective L2 listening strategy (less effective L2 learners might see the need to guess something as a failure, or might not be accustomed to revising their inferences).

Sample task 3 (Field; focus: phonetic features of the target language which are likely to cause decoding problems for L2 listening). The teacher plays a sentence from the listening text, for the learners to transcribe. The teacher and the learners analyze which words are difficult for the learners to catch, e.g. weak forms (/wəz/ for ‘was’, /tə/ for ‘to’). Later he/she plays a series of very short extracts that all contain the problematic feature, for the learners to transcribe. The learners write them down, compare their understanding and then listen again. The discussion phase is necessary to make listening a less isolating and more interactive activity.

Sample task 4 (Nunan; focus: learning to listen interactively): The teacher takes a coursebook monologue and edits out one side of the conversation. The learners listen and write the second side of the conversation. After this, they compare the resulting conversations in pairs.

  1. Develop learners’ awareness of the processes underlying their learning, so that they will be able to take greater and greater responsibility for that learning (Nunan).

Implications for listening instruction:

To take an active part in their learning, first of all, the learners need to be aware of the instructional goals. Secondly, they need to be taught and learn to flexibly adopt a variety of listening strategies.

In real life we normally have some idea what we’ll hear about – so when they listen in class, the learners need to prepare for listening tasks (e.g. be given the topic and predict what they’ll hear, to activate schemata and raise motivation to listen).

In real life we also very rarely listen to ‘understand everything’. We might be listening for enjoyment with no task (although we might choose to retell the most interesting bits to a friend). We might listen selectively, assessing if the extract is interesting or relevant, and ‘zooming in’ and ‘out’, i.e. listening to more relevant parts a lot more attentively. Changing ‘the mode’ of listening is a separate skill that needs to be practiced. 

Suggestion 1 (Hill, Tomlinson): the learners analyze what they do when listening experientially (e.g. to television) in the L1. They’re then encouraged to try listening in the same ways when experiential listening is appropriate in the L2.

Suggestion 2 (Nunan): get the learners to listen to the same text several time, each time with a different (increasingly difficult) task. E.g. they listen to a news broadcast reporting a series of international events. Task 1: gist (identify the countries). Task 2: match the places with the list of events. Task 3: listen for detail, discriminating between specific aspects of the event, or comparing the radio broadcast with newspaper accounts of the same events and noting factual differences or the differences of emphasis.

_______________

Finally, here’s a sample lesson plan that I find very inspiring. The plan comes from the article by David A. Hill and Brian Tomlinson and it incorporates work on all three aims listed above: it encourages the learners to concentrate on their feelings in relation to the text, use visual imagination and provide a lot of the content themselves; it incorporates the use of authentic materials; finally, it includes a focus on listening strategies. 

Lesson plan (spans two lessons).

In the first lesson the learners are told that they’re going to plan their visit to a country. They look at some photos and then listen to information about the country, deciding what they find interesting and what they want to do. They mingle to find people who want to do similar things and work together to plan their visit, listen to the extract again and revise their plans. For homework, they imagine their trip to the country – some things went very differently from the information in the listening extract!

In lesson 2, in the same groups they tell each other about their imagined trips and prepare a presentation about their trips and all the problems they encountered. After listening to each other’s presentations, the learners listen one more time to the extract and spot all the ‘wrong’ information. In new groups, they write a better script with information about the country and record a new extract. They listen to each other’s extracts, give each other constructive criticism and scores out of 20 and determine a winner.

Finally, the learners go mentally through both lessons, reflect on all kinds of listening skills they needed to use in the activities. The skills are boarded, after which each group focuses on one skill to prepare a presentation: describe the skill, give examples of when it’s useful and give advice on how to develop and use the skill. Finally, the learners give the group a listening task which involves using the skill.

Have you ever heard of EVO (Electronic Village Online)? These are five-week free professional development sessions that take place at the beginning of every year.

This year I’m extremely excited to invite you to an EVO session on Teaching listening that was developed by Lizzie Pinard, Elena Wilkinson, Jennie Wright, Sheila Thorn, Richard Cauldwell, Richard Chinn, Marina Kladova and me.

evosession

The topics we’re going to cover are:

  • encouraging autonomous listening out of class
  • the structure and the dos and don’ts of a traditional listening lesson
  • beyond the comprehension approach: critical thinking and high order thinking (HOT) listening tasks
  • classroom activities and tech tools for teaching listening decoding skills

This is going to be an very practical session and every week the participants will get the chance to

  • share and discuss their experience and tips teaching a particular aspect of listening with English teachers from around the world,
  • read articles and watch videos on the week’s topic and
  • design a listening activity informed by research, try it out and get feedback from other participants and session moderators.

Over the course of five weeks, the participants will also expand their knowledge of online resources and tech tools for teaching listening.

To read more about our syllabus, the team of moderators and for the information how to enrol, visit this page. If you’d like to connect and discuss teaching listening matters with other session participants on Facebook, feel free to join our group.

Also, check out the remaining 15 exciting EVO sessions on a variety of topics, including using QR Codes in ESL/EFL classes, experiential learning for teacher trainers, using technology for Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), teaching English to young learners, using Minecraft to teach English, conducting classroom-based research, teaching pronunciation differently, and more. 

Hope to see you at EVO 2017!

Hey all,

I’m preparing a session on using technology in ELT and I wanted to ask my fellow English teachers what technology you use on a daily basis. The variety of tools and services out there is absolutely daunting, and I wonder which ones you find useful across a broad range of topics, levels, groups and learners, and which resources you often recommend to your learners.

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Here’s my current list of top tools:

  • A file sharing  service (I use dropbox) to share all kinds of files with the learners. I have a dedicated folder for every group and basically upload everything that we’ve used (audios, videos, presentations, the documents that were created in class and so on) to that folder for them to access at home or on the go (all documents are automatically synchronized and accessible from any device anywhere). The learners occasionally upload there their homework, e.g. audio recordings.
  • A way to share links and get in touch with the learners out of class. I teach in company, so I use instant messaging, since all my learners have Skype accounts. So I create a Skype chat for every group – it’s used to remind the learners of the homework, share useful links related to the topic of the lesson, and so on. The learners use it to ask occasional questions, post their writing homework there before class, so I can print it out and come to the next class with marked assignments. As an alternative with teens, I used social media (when I was teaching groups in which all learners had an account) – this did wonders to their motivation to do writing assignments. Not sure what I’d use with learners who don’t all have accounts on the same service.
  • Microsoft Excel to maintain a log of learners’ emerging language / language feedback and to generate revision cards.
  • Google image search to look for pictures. Occasionally, Windows Snipping tool to instantly copy those images. Microsoft Power Point to show those images in class.
  • Youtube videos. My own tool Hydra to look for youtube videos with target topics / grammar / lexis (unfortunately, it’s not working properlyl at the moment) and as a corpus of spoken English when questions about usage arise in class.
  • Online dictionaries, especially Oxford Learners’ Dictionaries to help write definitions for worksheets. A collocations dictionary to check my own writing and to show the learners how their word choices could be improved.
  • A laptop to have access to all of that in class.
  • My wordpress and twitter feeds and especially Teaching English – British Council web page to get new teaching ideas.

When I was teaching teens, I also used to use

(This is all that came to mind, but if I think of more, I’ll update the post.)

So, could you possibly share your favourite tools that you would recommend to teachers who are starting out?

This blog has been quiet for a while, because life really got in the way.

I spent the bulk of spring finishing my Delta Module 3 assignment (the mammoth of a text had over 200 pages of appendices by the time I sent it off to Cambridge), and then three weeks ago I had a wonderful baby daughter, who’s been amusing and occupying me ever since.

This post is a bit of a diary entry, actually. Normally I don’t create any materials when I’m not teaching, but this post will be an exception. Right now I’m doing an iTDi course on Creating ELT Materials with Katherine Bilsborough. It’s been a very enjoyable experience so far (and a nice change from the stress and toll of Delta), and I thought I’d make a note of some of the things that I’ve learnt on the course and post some of my assignments here.

My biggest takeaway from the first life session was the idea to bring together the materials writing principles that I adhere to and use this list as a checklist to proofread the worksheets that I create. When I started writing down the principles, they were an incoherent mess, but after a while some logic emerged:

Autenticity
Materials should

  • have clear aims that are authentic (real-world outcomes that the learners desire to achieve);
  • focus on language points/sub-skills that are key to achieving the aims (as opposed to ‘shoe-horning’ pre-chosen language points with no regard for discourse). To achieve that, they should be informed by insight into language in authentic use, e.g. be researched through a corpus or use authentic texts, and insight into performance of competent speakers);
  • stimulate genuine communication/authentic use of language, empowering the learners to get across the meanings they want to get across and, more generally, achieve the outcomes they want to achieve.

Methodology
Materials should

  • be informed by insight into language acquisition;
  • cater for the learners’ learning needs (e.g. stimulate and sustain interest, stimulate motivation e.g. by providing the learners with the opportunity to notice the gap between their performance and target performance; be cognitively engaging; elicit emotional response; be aesthetically pleasing; build the learners’ confidence; promote learner autonomy);
  • provide the learners with sufficient support through a well-designed sequence of tasks, e.g. focusing on Meaning/Form/Pronunciation of language or targeting specific sub-skills (this also means that they should not be overloaded: LESS is MORE);
  • provide opportunities for feedback.

The assignment for the first week was to create a worksheet based on a very short authentic text. I chose this 40-second video:

Lesson Overview
Level: B1

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-fjYeUHGLw (from Google Developers Youtube channel);
Learner type: Business English or General English/Teens.
Time: 60-75 minutes 
Lesson aim: the learners will improve their ability to understand a British accent and get practice talking about what they love about their job and/or hobby.

The course has a thriving Google Plus community where course participants share their material writing assignments, leave feedback and share tips, and for me this has been a great opportunity to hear suggestions how to improve the listening worksheets that I have been creating – something that has never really happened with materials posted on this blog – and I found the feedback from the course participants and Katherine immensely valuable.

Here’s the summary of the feedback that I got so far:

  • For key elements of the lesson, don’t rely on the Teacher’s notes and the teacher. Most of my lesson plans have an element of decoding work, but up to now I never actually wrote any information about the features of connected speech in the worksheet explicitly, leaving it for the teacher to cover. This is bound to be confusing for the learners, so in this worksheet I summarized the key points in an information box.
  • Teacher’s notes: first, explore teacher’s books and look for good instructions to steal. Second, choose a style of presentation and stick to it, e.g. how will the Keys be highlighted? Will I use bullet points or paragraphs of text to present longer procedures? Third, use simpler language both in the teacher’s notes and in the instructions (one way to do that is to run them through a vocabulary profiler, aiming for A2 vocabulary).

So, here’s the resulting worksheet. I would be thrilled to hear any other tips how it could be improved. Any thoughts?

 

feedback-520527_1280

Every teacher has their own favourite activities and methods, and the thing that I’m very passionate about is language feedback (or ’emerging language’, as it is sometimes called): capturing what the students say, upgrading it, and revising it extensively (I guess up to 20-30% of most of my classes are spent working with the language earlier ‘captured’ during the students’ production). I’m a big fan of the posts about error correction by Jonny Ingham (e.g. this one and this one) in which he shares his highly visual way in which he approaches feedback. But I personally do it slightly differently, using a few software tools.

A couple of months ago I learnt from this post of Tekhnologic how to consistently approach revising a database of questions in a fun way that involves no extra effort in terms of lesson preparation, using an Excel template that produces revision games. I wrote a post about the template, but what I’ve since found talking to colleagues was that most of them prefer to hear about the template and the games from me, and see an example of how to use it, and not read an email or a post. So yesterday, after I actually chatted about it three times with three different people, I got the idea to record a video showing how to work with the template and how I personally approach feedback. I’m not sure it wasn’t a disastrous idea, but it has been made, so here it comes!

Part 1 (~15 mins) basically just summarizes the previous post (how to produce cards for games using the Excel template, how to import flashcard sets from quizlet, and the rules of the games themselves).

Part 2 (~15 mins) is about my way of dealing with feedback consistently (I show what my feedback database looks like, how I share it with the students using cloud storage, and how I approach revision). My routine is pretty basic. I think some people will recognize what they are doing, and probably others will think it won’t work because it’s boring. Regarding this second point, it seems that at least my learners (adult Business English students) find it not boring but predictable (which is good) and, going by the surveys that I conducted, most of them see this work as the most valuable element of the course.

If you watch the video, let me know what you’d do differently and why, and how you personally approach this issue in class.

I’m enjoying a Saturday lie-in with Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice by Ivor Timmis, a great new book which arrived in my mail just yesterday. It made me think of a quick exercise that can be used as a follow-up to any reading or listening activity. 2015-07-18 17.52.12It’s really simple, but since it takes a bit of technology to create it quickly, I thought I’d write a quick post.

The book overviews the insights into language achieved by corpus linguistics and discusses their implications for the ELT classroom. I’m currently reading the chapter called Corpus research and grammar, and one of the main topics of the chapter is to what extent the frequency of a linguistic feature should influence the amount of time devoted to teaching that feature. The author gives a number of very interesting examples of frequent features that tend to be underrepresented, over-represented or misrepresented in coursebooks (examples include ‘though’, which is often used in speaking to signal soft disagreement, and conditionals, which more often than not do not fall under ‘the zero, first, second and third’ two-part conditional structures, which most coursebooks almost exclusively focus on).

One striking fact mentioned in this chapter comes from an article by Biber and Reppern. Apparently, just 12 lexical verbs (say, get, go, know, think, see, make, come, take, want, give, and mean) account for 45% of lexical verbs used in conversation. Biber and Reppern suggest that, since they are so frequently used in speech, these verbs require more attention in class than they currently do, judging by the coursebooks that they reviewed, and that these verbs should be used more to exemplify various grammar structures.

I’m thinking of giving my students an occasional gap-fill exercise based on the reading and listening texts that we are working on, with these verbs gapped out (their frequency is said to be higher in conversation than fiction, news and academic texts, so probably the task will work best with listening transcripts and informal writing, e.g. forum posts).

Finding and replacing the various forms of these verbs could be time-consuming, but there are tools in which one can make such a gap-fill exercise in one click. The first one is a free nifty little text editor called Notepad++.

notepadThe trick is that the editor uses so-called ‘regular expressions’ to allow you to search for more than one expression at once. So, if you open your text file in Notepad++ and type in (some|any) in the search box, you’ll see all occurrences of both words in your file and will be able to replace them with gaps in one click. The following search will find all verb forms of the 12 verbs mentioned above:

\b(say|said|get|got|go(e)?|went|gone|know|knew|known|think|thought|see|saw|seen|mak(e)?|made|com(e)?|came|tak(e)?|took|taken|want|giv(e)?|gave|given|mean|meant)(ed|ing|s)?\b

(If you want to know why this expression matches all forms of those verbs, scroll to the bottom of the post).

Here’s how to create a gap-fill using Notepad++ in a bit more detail:

  1. Insert your text into Notepad++, select the text (on my system, by pressing CTRL+A),  and open the search window by pressing CTRL+H.
  2. In the search window, click the ‘Mark’ tab. Ensure that Search mode is set to ‘Regular expressions’ and that the ‘in selection’ check box is checked. Insert this into the ‘Find what’ box:

    \b(say|said|get|got|go(e)?|went|gone|know|knew|known|think|thought|see|saw|seen|mak(e)?|made|com(e)?|came|tak(e)?|took|taken|want|giv(e)?|gave|given|mean|meant)(ed|ing|s)?\b
    Click ‘Mark all’ to highlight all occurrences of these words, so that you can look through them and check how many there are and how they’re used, and that nothing unrelated was accidentally found. In the example below there are 14 matches.

  3. Go to the ‘Replace’ tab, type in ‘________’ into the ‘Replace with’ box and click ‘Replace all’.
    Replace_Youtube
  4. Finally, insert the gap-filled text alongside the initial text into a word document. Voilà!

As an alternative to installing Notepad++, use the web-based Find and Replace tool – thanks to Mura Nava for the heads up! It’s even quicker and you don’t have to install it on your computer (one possible drawback is that you can’t highlight and check what you’re going to replace).

Find-and-Replace

I’ve tried this activity with a few transcripts from youtube, and I found it doable and enjoyable. I think I want to try to use it on a regular basis with my Upper-Intermediate students, encouraging them to note down interesting chunks with those verbs.

Let me know what you think.

References

Biber, D. and Reppern, R. (2002) What does frequency have to do with grammar teaching? Studies in Second Language Acquisition 24/2: 199-208

Timmis, I. (2015) Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice. Routledge

A bit on regular expressions

If you want to create your own regular expression searches, you might like to figure out how the one in this post works.

  • | stands for ‘or’. So (say|said) will return all present/past/past participle forms of ‘say’.
  • ? stands for ‘this part is optional’. So, (say|said)(s|ing)? will return all the forms from the previous example, plus ‘says’, ‘saying’, ‘saids’, and ‘saiding’. Only the first two words exist, but that doesn’t matter.
  • Some instances might be ‘false positives’. For example, ‘essays’ contains ‘say’, but that’s clearly not what we need. So, we need a way to show the tool that we’re only looking for full words. This is done by wrapping the search expression into ‘\b’ tags (they stand for ‘word boundary’).

So, in order to find all verb forms, I list all present and irregular forms, separating them by ‘or’, add possible endings (ed|ing|s)?, account for the fact that (e) will disappear before ing (hence, mak(e)?) and add \b at the beginning and the end:

\b(say|said|get|got|go(e)?|went|gone|know|knew|known|think|thought|see|saw|seen|mak(e)?|made|com(e)?|came|tak(e)?|took|taken|want|giv(e)?|gave|given|mean|meant)(ed|ing|s)?\b

What I want to share in this post happened quite a while ago. It wasn’t anything new in terms of teaching methodology and I’m sure a lot of people reading this post will recognize what they do in the classroom. But nevertheless, the experience keeps popping up in my head and I wanted to share it, because it was one of the most positive experiences in my early years of teaching.

This happened when I was teaching in a secondary school. At some point, when my first ever group reached strong B1 level, I bought lots of graded readers, brought the better half of my personal library of English books to the school and launched an extensive reading programme, asking the students to read graded readers and unabridged books three or four times a year. As a follow-up to each round of reading, we did various activities, ranging from book fairs to informal chats, but one thing that stayed the same was that I asked the students to give the book they’d read a rating and write a short review. Another thing that stayed the same was that the majority of students hated writing those reviews.

I was taking British Council Learning Technologies for the Classroom course at the time, and so we started experimenting with some (pretty basic) technology and ended up with an approach to writing which was a whole lot more enjoyable and productive.

keyboard-621831_1280

1. Creating the sense of audience
The first step was to migrate all writing to the class group on a social network. Instead of asking the students to hand in the reviews in handwritten form, I started creating a dedicated thread where all reviews were to be posted before the deadline (the evening before a lesson). This gave the students a sense of audience and made the activity a lot more authentic. We used a social media site (a Russian analogue of Facebook) because all students had accounts there, but as far as I know, many teachers use other free alternatives, e.g.

2. Immediate feedback
Since I now got all the reviews before the lesson, I could print them out, mark them in the morning, and then in class the students worked in pairs to edit their contributions on the group page. Apart from the satisfaction of getting feedback immediately after submitting their piece of writing, there were a number of added benefits:

  • This gave the students a good reason to submit their work on time, and in general the proportion of students who did writing assignments increased as a result. Also, in my experience with teens, the very fact that everyone in the group can see who has submitted homework encourages students to do it.
  • Since I was working with a print-out, I felt at liberty to mark the students’ work more extensively without the fear of ruining it – I now not only used error correction codes to hint at mistakes, but also highlighted all nice turns of phrase that I liked in the students’ writing – so the feedback they received looked a lot more positive.
  • Editing itself became a lot easier – no need to rewrite anything and there were no teacher’s comments in the final draft.

3. Autonomous vocabulary learning

One more important tweak was using amazon reviews as a source of language. We did this using scrible – a wonderful tool that allows the user to save any html page to an online library and then annotate it, changing font sizes, highlighting and adding notes:

A typical assignment looked like this:

_) read a book and give it a rating
a) find a book in a similar genre (google ‘top detective novels’, for instance)
b) read reviews on amazon that give that book the same rating
c) highlight relevant expressions with scrible, _save the page_ and create a permalink to share it
d) write your review using these expressions and _underscoring_ them. Post the review along with the permalink here.

In general, amazon reviews are very well written and are a pleasure to read, and the whole group ended up hunting down some great expressions. Those students who chose to use those expressions (around 75%) were able to use them very aptly in their writing. Here are a couple of samples of my students’ work (big thanks to Ivan Syrovoiskii and Danila Borovkov for allowing me to share them here):

The annotated page: http://scrible.com/s/kx9yM
The review:

On the prowl for something interesting, I happened on Bram Stocker’s Dracula. And when I took an abridged book I actually expected that it wouldl be shortened and generally quite tame in comparison to the original. But what struck me was how they’d oversimplified the whole plot.
I guess almost everyone basicly knows the story – it starts with Jonathan Harker’s arrival to the castle of Count Dracula, the very powerful vampire who’s intimidating the whole of Transylvania. But this edition was so shortened that the whole story of how Jonathan, Arthur and Professor Van Helsing struggled to locate and destroy their nemesis turned just in several pages and the life of vampires which original plot concerns – into several plotlines written in simple English.
In general, I want to say that while I was reading this book I was imbued with the notion that I’m reading just a summary of the original Dracula. On reflection, I reckon I need to add that it might be good as a book for studying English, and it should be treated just as a textbook, without looking at plot.
My overall impression is that if you want to read something interesting – read the original book or don’t read Dracula at all – but don’t bother with abridged books, especially with intermediate level.

The annotated page: http://scrible.com/s/kxpyM
The review:

First of all I have to thank Graham Poll for sharing “Seeing Red” with us. It’s very interesting and a times funny read for people who know something about football and you just can’t put it down.
Every day there are some news about players and managers in the media, but nothing about referees. “Seeing Red” allows you to look behind the scenes of refereeing and to look inside the game.This book shows how young boy, linesman in his father’s match, became the best, world popular referee. I’m sure you will find out something new about referees’ regime, training and how refereeing affects privacy. It also includes many details about famous football players and managers, such as John Terry or David Beckhem or David Moyes. With this book you can participate in famous football matches in many tournaments like World Cup, Premier League or Champions League. After reading I understand how much pressure referees are under, how difficult this thankless but absolutely necessary job is and I have gained a whole bunch of respect for them.

Later on we used all the scrible pages produced by the students to analyze the overall structure of a typical review and put together a google document with useful expressions for talking about characters, plot, the author and so on (a great thing about google documents is that a lot of people can edit the same document simultaneously, so the students worked in pairs, each pair researching a particular aspect of essay writing across everybody’s scribble pages).

While I’m at it, here are some ideas what other genres this approach could be used for:

Closing remarks 

As I said at the beginning of this post, a lot of what we ended up doing is standard practice in many language teaching classrooms. However, I still really wanted to share the experience, because for me and my class those tweaks made a lot of difference at the time. They transformed writing assignments from a frustrating chore that the students used to moan about to something that felt good and was a lot more authentic and enjoyable.

And on that note, I must ask: What were some rewarding, happy experiences in your early years of teaching? 

Thanks for reading!