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.

 

 

Here’s a quick activity that might be great for the festive season. It comes from a lecture by Matt Abrahams, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who teaches strategic communication.

In this activity, the learners work in pairs. They give each other imaginary boxes with gifts. They don’t say what’s in the box. The person who got the gift ‘opens’ the box, looks inside and says what they see. They should say the first thing that comes to mind. Then the gift giver should improvise to explain why they thought the gift receiver needed this gift.

This is the video extract in which Matt Abrahams explains the activity: (26:00 till 29:00)

You could get your learners to watch the video or, if you’re pressed for time or if your learners would find a three minute authentic extract difficult to follow, explain the activity yourself.

I’ve also written an editable worksheet to go with the activity and a Slideshare pdf document if you don’t have Microsoft Word:

 

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!

Hello everyone!

This Saturday I’m doing a workshop for IATEFL BESIG on using YouTube as a corpus of spoken English. 

Below is the abstract – if the topic seems interesting, you’re very welcome to take part! You’ll find the link to access the workshop on the BESIG website here.

besig-workshop

Abstract. YouTube is a vast source of subtitled spoken English ranging from general to business to ESP, and it has long been an extremely valuable source of authentic video in the business English classroom. Moreover, as technology develops, there appear new ways of using this resource for language learning, and so its pedagogic value keeps growing.

In particular, recently there have started to appear tools that, to a certain extent, allow to access YouTube as a corpus, i.e. find examples of use of specific lexical expressions and grammar. In this workshop I will overview some of these tools and then look more closely at http://tubequizard.com, a free corpus tool and quiz maker. We will look at a variety of classroom activities and teaching techniques that this technology has made possible, concentrating on two areas:

(1) exploring lexis, grammar and discourse in business-related and specialist channels, and
(2) finding, analyzing and exploiting subtitled authentic models in the business English classroom.

In this post I’m sharing with you TubeQuizarda new free Youtube-based service that makes it possible to (1) find Youtube videos that contain a large number of examples of target grammar and vocabulary and (2) automatically create listening quizzes that allow learners to practice catching this language in authentic speech. It also features a collection of over 80 ready-made Grammar for listeners and Pronunciation for listeners quizzes.

I’ll also

  • briefly explain the rationale behind the service and explain why I think listening practice belongs in grammar lessons
  • explain how to look for videos using the service and share some tips how to consistently incorporate receptive grammar practice into your course
  • share six key questions that I ask myself when deciding if a video that I found through this service will provide good input for my learners.

What are listening decoding skills and what do they have to do with grammar?

So to start with, if the term ‘listening decoding skills’ doesn’t sound familiar, here’s a quick recap. Listen to this short extract from an interview with Daniel Radcliffe (2 min 16 seconds to 2 min 39 seconds) and notice the way the words highlighted in the transcript are pronounced:

I’d rather know eight reason why you’re a terrible boyfriend.
Okay, I can do…
We don’t have to do eight.
I was going to say eight is like… I want to give myself somewhere to go in the public’s
estimation like… I can come up with a few.

You could notice that can was pronounced very close to /kn/, was to /wz/ and don’t lost the /t/ at the end. According to research, these and other features or real life pronunciation (very weak pronunciation of the schwa in functional words, the loss of /t/ at the end of a word, etc) tend to make it very difficult for the learners to catch –decode – the words that contain them. I myself discovered well past reaching C2 level of English that what I wasn’t catching in British and American series were very ‘basic’ words like ‘cn’ (can) and ‘thz’ (there’s), ‘ut’ (out) and ‘dosy’ (does he). What is more, not only are these features challenging, they’re extremely frequent – for example, it is difficult to think of a grammar topic at A2 – B2 levels that isn’t associated with one of these features. For instance, regular verbs in 2nd and 3rd form lose ‘-ed’ ending, past continuous contains weakly pronounced ‘was’ and ‘were’, and so on and so forth.

How to make sure the learners can catch these words despite their pronunciation? Awareness raising is one important step, but it’s not enough because decoding these pronunciation features in real time is a skill that needs to be practiced. The books on teaching listening (notably, Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field and the Real Lives Real Listening series by Sheila Thorn) make a strong point that learners need intensive decoding practice, i.e. short exercises during which they transcribe decontextualized phrases that contain the same feature. My own and my learners’ experience convinced me that intensive practice is indeed extremely efficient – the learners report that they feel progress after decoding about a dozen instances.

This is why I feel rather strongly that whenever we cover a grammar feature with my learners, I really ought to give them a chance to listen to this grammar feature in authentic speech, focus on the way it’s pronounced and then practice decoding this feature.

Basic functionality of TubeQuizard

Now, what material can I use to give my learners listening decoding exercises targeting features of grammar? John Field recommends simply reading out sentences for the learners to transcribe, but that doesn’t really work with my learners because they generally understand my accent too well. Also, the coursebooks that I use don’t feature any listening decoding tasks (although there’s at least one coursebook that does – check out Nagivate!) This is why about three years ago I started creating intensive listening decoding quizzes from scratch using free audio editing tools like Audacity to locate and cut out 2-5 second extracts with target language. As you can imagine, those first listening decoding exercises took me ages to create.

Around that time Kirill Sukhomlin, a software developer at my company, offered to help me automate this work. What followed was almost three years of collaboration that resulted in a service that we dubbed TubeQuizard. Below is a video demonstrating its basic functionality: looking for words and expressions in Youtube subs. You’ll notice that our service is similar in concept to a variety of other services out there:

  • Ted Corpus Search engine, which searches for words and expressions in TED videos (both on TED.com and on TED youtube channel);
  • YouGlish, which searches for words and expressions in Youtube subs;
  • PlayPhrase.me, which  searches for words and expressions in popular TV series.

What I am lacking in all those services is the ability to exploit them for listening work by looking more than one word / expression at a time and creating listening gap-fills.

So as you will see in the video, TubeQuizard allows one to look for and play

  • individual words, e.g. someone saying awesome
  • expressions, e.g. I’m not sure 
  • alternatives, e.g. someone saying awesome or amazing
  • any word using * as a wildcard, e.g. a * of will return a whole range of expressions, like ‘a lot of‘, ‘a bit of‘, etc.

You can also tick the ‘Create a quiz’ box to generate a listening gap-fill that will look something like this:

a-_-of

Looking for examples of grammar structures using TubeQuizard

Combining alternatives and wildcards one can find a variety of grammar structures. For example, the following search will return lots of examples of questions in present simple: (do|does) (you|they|I|he|she|it|we) (want|mean|know|think). However, in my experience new users find it quite difficult to formulate such searches, so we’ve been working on filters – click on ‘Grammar filters’ under the search field to pick a grammar structure you’d like to find. Just like in the example above with present simple questions, we use lists of top frequency vocabulary for the filters, so the resulting quizzes can be meaningfully attempted even by lower level learners (I normally start at A2).

filters

Incorporating focus on decoding grammar into your teaching using TubeQuizard

So now that I can look for examples of grammar features, what can I do with them? I think there are at least three options:

Option 1.

Supplement regular video-based activities (e.g. video-based discussions) with a focus on decoding skills (either in class or done for homework). In order to make this easier to do, we’ve created a feature that can be accessed under the Train with your video tab. If you have a subtitled Youtube video, insert a URL and we’ll automatically run it through all our filters and generate the quizzes for you. I always check one of the quizzes to make sure that the subs are in sync with the video. Below is a video that demonstrate this functionality – you can check out these quizzes here.

Just in case you don’t know how to look for subtitled videos on Youtube: run your search, then click on ‘Filters’ right above your search results, choose ‘Subtitles/CC’.

subtitled-videos

Option 2.

Provide the learners with fully decontextualized practice of target grammar – i.e. during a lesson on, say, past simple, get the learners to spend around five minutes doing a video-based gapfill without working with the videos in any other way. It’s true that one has to think twice before doing decontextualized work, but I think there’s a case for using this type of exercise provided that it’s kept brief and provided that the teacher uses it to encourage the learners to notice the features of pronunciation associated with the grammar structure – in this case, elision of the /d/ and /t/ sounds at the end of the verbs.

Option 3.

Find a video that contains a lot of instances of target grammar and build a whole lesson around the video. This is the most time-consuming option and it’s rather tricky because, as Chris Jones rightfully pointed out on twitter, a random video would not always engage the learners.

To make it less time-consuming to find the right video, we’ve implemented a few filters, accessible under the channel tub. You can specify the topic, e.g. Business / Entertainment / Films (trailers) / News, etc. You can also look for short videos and specify a minimum number of instances of the grammar structure in the video. For example, in the screen cast below I’m looking for videos that

  • contain at least five instances of modals (can|could|should|must) * and
  • are no longer than 3 minutes

Some key lessons I’ve learnt about choosing the videos and working them

A while ago I posted a lesson plan based around the video that I found in the screen cast above. I think it took me less than 5 minutes to find the video – although creating the lesson plan itself was a lot more time-consuming. The lesson was based on the following video of a speaker talking about the features of his favourite mobile browser. It went really well with my learners (and the follow-up which allowed them to talk about technology that they can’t stand worked even better :)).

Generally, I’ve been using a lot of video-based activities lately, now that I can easily find video snippets that exemplify the language that I want to target. Below are six key questions that I ask myself when planning a video-based lesson.

1. Does the video that I’ve found provide a useful model for a task? In other words, are the speakers doing something that my learners might want to do?

The video above was a useful model for my learners who sometimes need to explain why they like / chose to use a certain technology.

2. Would the challenge presented by the video lie in the features of pronunciation or in the language used in the video? In other words, would the learners have trouble reading the transcript?

If the video contains too much vocabulary and grammar structures above the learners’ level, it won’t be appropriate. Unfortunately, with lower levels this eliminates most Educational videos.

3. Is the speakers’ accent clear enough for my learners to cope with it?

This is based entirely on intuition and experience. As a rough pointer, in my experience Pre-Intermediate learners need a video like the one above: one speaker talking extremely clearly, preferably filmed in a studio. B1-B1+ learners will need something a bit less well-articulated, but still something that generally sounds very clear to me, like this video. I feel that the majority of talks on channels like Talks at Google and TED Talks fall under this category. For levels B2 and higher, it actually becomes rather difficult to find videos that will be challenging for them to transcribe because most talks and interviews are too clear. The video in this post and this interview with Elon Musk are good examples of the level that was right for my B2 – C1 students. Also, the videos in the Entertainment and Films categories tend to be quite challenging.

4. Is the grammar feature that I want to explore through the video essential for the task that is suggested by the video?

For the video in the example above, the answer was yes, modals are key to talking about the features of the browser.

5. What other language features in the video are key to the task?

The video above contains a lot of expressions for listing – key to enumerating a number features, so we focused on this language too.

6. What scaffolding will the learners need?

Here are my top tips here.

First, the beginning of the video is crucial. Often that’s where the speakers set the context and explain what the video is about, and if the learners don’t get these few sentences, they will be lost and won’t cope with the gist task. Unfortunately, the first sentences are also the most challenging, because the learners haven’t got used to the speaker’s accent yet. Possible task types:

  • give the learners the print-out of the first few sentences with gaps, to listen and fill in before watching the video
  • scramble the sentences – the learners unscramble and then listen and check. To make it less challenging, don’t scramble into individual words – keep chunks, e.g. 
    hi / one of the / I’m / my name is Leland / user experience designers on Android
  • get the learners to transcribe the sentence

Second, what comprehension tasks can I give to the learners? I normally try to replicate the real life experience – i.e. I don’t give the learners any questions in advance. Instead, they watch the beginning, predict what they will see and then check their predictions.

Third, what scaffolding do they need with the meaning, form and pronunciation of target grammar? I won’t go into meaning and form here, but I’d like to comment on pronunciation. As I pointed out before, I feel that these authentic videos provide me with a crucial opportunity to get the learners to notice what sounds are missing from the natural pronunciation of target grammar and train catching them in real life. On the other hand, I’ve observed a good number of lessons and I notice that a lot of teachers tend to scrap pronunciation work altogether. So my top tip is to make sure that there is focus on pronunciation, and also that the learners do a listening decoding quiz during which they tell you what target language sounds like in authentic speech. I also focus on pronunciation of any other useful language that we explore. In this lesson, we were looking at expressions for listing, like one of the things I like / another thing I like / the last thing I like this language naturally prompted focus on sentence stress.

———–

Phew, I wonder if this was the longest post on this blog? I do hope that other teachers and learners of English find this service useful. Let me know what you think I myself can play with it for hours on end and have learnt an incredible lot about English discourse, the use of lexis, pronunciation and what not. And I can’t express how grateful I am to Kirill who has invested hundreds of hours of his free time into creating this tool.

I might write more posts about how I’ve been using the service in the next few weeks. I’ll also be doing a workshop for IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group on 10 December about the ways I’ve used it with Business English learners. If you’re interested, you’re very welcome to join!

The second pre-conference event at the BESIG annual conference 2016 was on Creating excellent ELT materials. In this session five experienced ELT authors who have written teacher training modules published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer gave 15 minute workshops related the topics of the modules they’d written. This was a whirl of brilliance: a fast-paced but at the same time very hands-on session packed to the brim with invaluable insight.

Below are my notes from the mini-workshop on How to write writing activities by Rachael Roberts, who has also written a book with the same title: 

410sqwgzol

Rachael started by pointing out that writing activities are often left out or ‘done for homework’. In one-to-one context writing is also ‘weird’ because it’s silent. But increasingly more and more communication is done through writing, and so Rachael is passionate about teaching writing.

Sometimes when the learners are set a writing task, they aren’t given any support and so they have to ‘take a plunge’. In contrast, Rachael is going to focus on how to make the task manageable, i.e. scaffold the learners.

To break down the writing task, we need to think about the ‘ingredients’ of a piece of writing and

  • select which ingredients are key for the task;
  • decide in which order to approach them.

Key ingredients

Example: for a letter of application key ingredients would be the register and set phrases. If, on the other hand, you’re writing a report, it’s extremely important to think about the organization.

img_1054

Regarding lexis, there might be two ‘kinds’ of vocabulary that are key to the task:

  1. language to help organize the text and
  2. topic-related language.

For (1) the best thing to do is to have a model. Possible scaffolding: highlight the key expressions in the model and set the task for the learners to sort the expressions.

For (2), Rachael looks at samples of texts on the topic and puts them into a word cloud. This might reveal some vocabulary that isn’t obviously associated with the topic E.g. in this example you see that climate change is related to migration and crisis.

img_1056

Logical order

To help us explore the typical order of a writing lesson, Rachael invited us to order the following stages of writing an essay:

img_1057

Here is the ‘key’ – a layout of a writing lesson:

  • Tasks to activate schemata and, possibly, introduce some language
  • Read a model essay.
  • Start analyzing the essay: identify the thesis statement; identify the topic sentences;
  • Focus on grammar: identify the passive statements (focus on grammar after focus on meaning and context); practice passives (rewrite a set of sentences, using passives where appropriate);
  • Do the actual writing: the plan, a draft, check against a checklist and revise the draft.

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It seems that in this session Rachael has achieved the impossible and distilled the nuts and bolts of teaching writing to a fifteen minute workshop that included a practical element. An extremely useful, clear and concise framework to keep to hand.

As I mentioned above, this workshop was based on a module that Rachael wrote for ELT Teacher 2 Writer. It’s now also a chapter in a print book, which was great news for me, because I vastly prefer hard copies to ebooks – so I grabbed the book the moment it came out. I’ve just finished reading the chapter written by Rachael, and I really really enjoyed it.

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In the book, it’s a 38 page chapter (in other words, quite manageable for even a very busy teacher), and just like the workshop that Rachael gave, it’s an extremely clear, concise and hands-on take on creating writing activities. About a quarter of the module is devoted to an overview of activities and task types that might be used to help learners with the different ‘key ingredients’ of a writing task. Rachael also touches on the practical consideration of

  • how to choose which approach to teaching writing to use
  • how to analyze and write model texts
  • the ways writing for digital might be different from writing traditional activities, and more.

She mentions a lot of pitfalls to avoid, and also includes over a dozen practical tasks for the reader that really help process the ideas in the text. All in all, I can recommend this module not only to teachers who actually create writing materials, but also to anyone who teaches writing and wants to gain deeper understanding of how coursebook materials on writing work. 

The second pre-conference event at the BESIG annual conference 2016 was on Creating excellent ELT materials. In this session five experienced ELT authors who have written teacher training modules published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer gave 15 minute workshops related the topics of the modules they’d written. This was a whirl of brilliance: a fast-paced but at the same time very hands-on session packed to the brim with invaluable insight. Below are my notes from the first of those mini workshops. It was delivered by Evan Frendo and focused on one of the topics that he addressed in his book on writing corporate training materials: 

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Evan started his workshop by looking as some of the reason that might motivate a company / training department to commission in-house materials:

  • current materials are inadequate
  • company enters a new market / launches a product with specific language needs
  • a request from in-company language trainers
  • feedback on current materials from learners might trigger a request for company-specific materials
  • it can be as simple as a new HR manager
  • or you sell them the idea

Next he shared two examples of timelines for material writing projects that he’d done, the first one for a ‘traditional’ set of materials and the second one for an e-learning course (his e-learning courses are show-cased here):

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Next Evan asked us to imagine we are sitting down for an initial meeting with your potential client. What do you want on the agenda? Here are his points that he recommended discussing:

  • Objectives: what do they want out of the project? Often this is not done well and this is revealed half way through the project.
  • Approach: are you going to adhere to the approach they want or will you try and insist on your approach?
  • What human resources do you need? Who is the team on your and their side.
  • Timelines: milestones, etc.
  • Risk management. ‘What happens if’-type questions. Rarely done well – but up to a third of projects might not see the end due to force major factors like the change of company management, acquisitions, etc.
  • Communication with stakeholders: face to face? online? Evan recommends doing at least a couple of face to face meetings to build rapport and relationships – if things start to go wrong, it’s the relationship that was forged during those meeting that will help you to weather the storm.
  • What are the constraints? What happens when there are changes – and there are going to be changes?
  • Access to places and people: you do need a corpus. Unless this is put this down in writing, you’re unlikely to get this access.

I found this mini session very interesting and informative. I’m currently enjoying the security of writing materials for a company where I’m employed full time, and the reality of writing in this setting is obviously a lot less harsh than writing as a freelancer. So I can see how I might start taking some things for granted and so, when I venture ‘out there’, it will be all too easy for me to overlook some crucial things that need to be discussed. For instance, I would never expect up to a third of projects to never see completion. So for me Evan’s checklist of things that need to be discussed at the start of the project is simply invaluable, and so are the other tips he gave, e.g. how to actually land a project. But the real gem of the session for me was the two project timelines that Evan shared. I’ve never participated in creating an e-learning course, and it was very interesting to sneak a peek at a real project with its stages and the associated timelines.

Also, as Evan’s session was related to his book ‘How to write corporate training materials’, I just have to mention that I can’t recommend this book enough. In this book he offers a very clear framework for creating a company-specific course and liberally supports it with examples from his own experience and from research (I particularly enjoyed the case studies at the end of the book).  This title was an invaluable resource for my Delta Module 3. It’s also short, which means it’s an ideal starting point for someone who teaches general or exam English but is thinking of venturing into business English, so I’ve been recommending it to my friends who’re thinking of taking that step. 

I love mind mapping, so I couldn’t wait to hear what Ron has to share with us! Here are the notes from his workshop.

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The work is based on eight years on research into mind-mapping and how they influence second language learning. The focus is on B1-B2-C1 Business English classroom.

Ron Morrain maintains that, if we are to be great teachers, we need to (1) attempt to integrate the 4 Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity, (2)  Task-based Language Teaching and (3) understand Project-based learning.

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Ron starts a lot of his classes immediately with a mind-map to win the learners over – in his experience, using them half-way won’t work. Here are some mindmaps that his learners do – notice two things:

  • They’re based around questions, e.g. What do I expect from this course? It’s crucial to find out the learners’ expectations and beliefs from the outset.
  • His mind maps have this ‘personal touch’ – they don’t have the feel that they were ‘produced in a Word document’. He draws them on A3 paper and laminates them.
  • All of his bubbles are always numbered (to guide the learners / see the structure and logic – see also examples below.

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In Ron’s school, they make no paper copies. In class, he passes his laminated copy around the class, the learners are responsible for getting a record – taking a picture, and then they navigate through the mind map using their own technology: tablets or smart phones, which makes it a ‘living object’ that they know where to find after the lesson. Also, it is the students who share the picture of the  their electronic management system and it is their pictures that Ron uses when he projects them. Basically, this is part of

Another example, at the beginning of the course: these are the speaking topics that we’ll be dealing it:
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Here are the writing topics:
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Ron mostly uses mind maps to guide the learners to produce a product (and the product will always be based on a skill) – below is an mind map that guides the learners to produce a 200 word restaurant review that’s going to be posted online.

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Again, notice how numbers highlight the structure of the review. The questions in the bubble prompt the learners to start researching on the internet (which takes care of input) – putting the learners in control of their learning. The learners must be result-oriented, and it is the them who choose what they’re going to read.

We moved on to discuss the ‘how’ of using the mind maps based on this mind map:

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First, how does the use of mind maps encourages the use of the 4Cs and a range of other questions.

E.g. to introduce Critical Thinking he introduces bubble #4: thinking critically about their area.

What happens afterwards? The learners’ product is assessed (and all teachers in Ron’s school are paid to become examiners so that they’re skilled as assessing learning).
When the mind map is used for speaking (e.g. CV mind-map below, where the learners present themselves for their partner): they have to listen pro-actively and take notes. When he asks them, ‘Did your partner make any mistakes’? they can’t answer ‘I don’t know’.

More examples – there are more business-oriented.

Product for the mind map below: a presentation, leading to writing (a 200 word essay). Again, notice how the questions prompt the learners to go out, do their research and take their learning in their hands.

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The company profile – the product here is not only a presentation but a Pecha Cucha. There are 10 bubbles, and they are only allowed 3 minutes to present their company. This is a great challenge for the learners and they love it.

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So, to round up, here are some of the reasons to use this approach.

Mind-mapping

  • reduces text-heavy materials
  • promotes storytelling as the people are going to be talking about themselves
  • promotes online learning
  • removes ‘talk and chalk’
  • incorporated different teaching approaches, e.g. TBL
  • a wonderful way to elicit target language in a natural way

One participant (Kirsten Waechter’s) take-away: I should learn to trust my learners more and ‘let go’.

You can find an example of a lesson plan that uses a mind map that Ron created for Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat.

And there’s a new title coming!

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I was blown away by this session. I am an avid mind-mapper already, but as they say, the devil is in the detail, and what I particularly liked was the look and feel of Ron’s maps – amazing! – and his ‘demand high’ attitude and determination to really push his learners to go and grab responsibility of their teaching. I find this to be one of the biggest challenges – and necessities – working in company, and it’s great to see a very consistent approach to driving learner autonomous work. And of course I loved the amazing mind maps that he created and shared. Can’t wait for the book to come out! 

Here are my notes from one more talk at the BESIG 2016 annual conference. Akos Gerold and Justine Arena were focusing on CBI, the type of job interview that they’ve been helping clients with.

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At the beginning the audience brainstormed some traditional interview questions:

  • Tell us about your weakness
  • If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Most of them have been around for a long time and the answers to them might not be that informative because they can be rehearsed and, what’s more important, it’s pretty easy to simply say what the interviewer wants to hear rather than the truth. Also, they do not measure how well the interviewee will do specific tasks. As an alternative, HRs have come up with CPI – competency-based interview.

What is CBI and what is the difference between CBI questions and traditional interviews?

CBI interview is about learning about the past to predict the future. Focusing on the situations that the applicant found themselves in that are similar to the situations in which they’re expected to perform. As they focus on situations and behavior that the applicants displayed, they’re also called situation interviews or behaviour interviews.

In contrast, in the ‘traditional’ interviews the aim is to form a general picture and the panel is trying to establish if the applicant meets a set of criteria.

Typical CBI questions:

Situation

  • Describe a specific situation when you..
  • Tell us about a time when you…
  • In the past, have you ever…

Action

  • What did you do?
  • how did you approach it? what was you role?

Outcome

  • What was the outcome?
  • What did you learn?
  • Have you applied what you learned?

Example

Competency: communicating with impact.
Achievement oriented question: Describe a situation in the past when you were able to persuade someone who was difficult to persuade to agree with you way of thinking on a substantive issue.
Adversity oriented question
Describe a situation in the past when you were not able to persuade someone who was difficult to persuade to agree with you way of thinking on a substantive issue.

How they are conducted:

Part 1: Traditional-type questions: tell me about yourself; why did you apply for this job – to build towards CBI questions and to put the applicants at ease.
Part 2: CBI questions – the same for each applicant, to be able to compare the answers across all applicants.

Preparation: questions

If you’re preparing a client – how do you know which questions they will be asked?

Job description >> isolate key tasks of the job and core values of the company >> turn them into open-ended CBI questions.

Example. Client: regional manger, apple customer experience
Primary responsibility: developing and maintaining a group
Some of the possible tasks and the corresponding CBI questions:

  • coaching them to overcome challenges and difficulties >> Tell us about a time when you coached a team to overcome challenges and difficulties?
  • dealing with interpersonal issues >> Describe a situation when you had to help a team deal with interpersonal issues?
  • building team atmosphere >> Have you ever built team atmosphere?
  • motivating team members >> Tell us about a situation when you had to motivate team members.

But note that we also need to balance achievement oriented and adversity oriented questions.

Preparation: answers

  • Come up with situations from your past that best exemplify your competences – you don’t want to think about that under the pressure during the interview.
  • Apply STAR motel (situation / task / action / result)
  • Even if the question sounds like a closed question, it’s a trick – they still expect an extended answer.

I found this a very useful session. The type of interview that Justine and Akos talked about resembles quite closely the soft-skill part of the interview that some of my learners need to pass, and it is very nice to have a very clear framework for preparing towards this type of interview. I think I’ll be referring both my colleagues and people who need to prepare for the interview to this write-up.