Posts Tagged ‘authentic materials’

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.
6050220330_0426b6cb14_b

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. 

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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!

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?

 

Ever since I read the great Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field, the book on developing listening skills, I became quite passionate about the need to consistently help learners cope with high frequency grammar structures in authentic speech, incorporating authentic listening work into grammar work. In the previous lesson on this blog the focus was on the way modals are pronounced.

In this new video-based lesson based on an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio, the learners practice their speaking, grammar for story-telling and again practice listening decoding, focusing on target grammar.

More specifically, the learners

  • [listening: gist] listen to scary stories that happened to Leonardo Dicaprio;
  • [grammar] explore the ways Present Perfect, Past Simple and Continuous are used in stories (Present Perfect typically comes at the beginning of the story to describe or ask about general life experience; Past Simple is used to describe a sequence of events; Past Continuous, for background information);
  • [listening: decoding skills] notice the way these tenses sound in authentic speech (some sounds get dropped from the verbs and linkers, which might make this grammar problematic for listeners);
  • [speaking] tell each other stories about the scariest/funniest/saddest things that have happened to them;
  • [spoken grammar, optional] explore using Present Simple/Continuous in stories to achieve a dramatic effect and using ‘He goes’ to report what someone said.

Videos used in the lesson:

Story 1 (Tasks 1 – 8)

Story 2 (Optional task 10)

Level: Intermediate/Upper-Intermediate (B1/B2)

Time: 90-120 minutes

Materials:

  • an editable Microsoft Word worksheet (docx). If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download the .pdf file from Slideshare:
  • [for listening decoding work] A power point presentation (zip) where the words problematic for listeners are isolated, so that the learners can really hear what sounds are dropped. To play the audios, unpack the archive.

 

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One of the questions that my learners (who are IT people) are very likely to be asked during interviews and promotion reviews is ‘Tell us about your favourite technology’. But, whatever their profession, Business English learners need to learn to speak fluently and persuasively when presenting the advantages of products, tools and options.

Here’s a ‘geeky’ lesson plan in which the learners

  • watch a video of a developer talking about the features of his favourite browser (activities: gist listening, listening decoding skills)
  • analyze linkers used for listing ideas
  • briefly revise modal verbs (could, (don’t) have to)
  • talk about their favourite tools, apps and technologies

It worked very well with my learners, who spent more than fifteen minutes discussing the relative merits of file managers and development environments. For learners who are less geeky, I included a range of other websites and apps to talk about, e.g. social networks, messengers and and to-do list apps.

Level: Intermediate (B1)

Time: 90 minutes

Materials: an editable Microsoft Word worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you could download the .pdf file from Slideshare:

Today I’m sharing a lesson based on four video snippets with Google employees describing their career paths and how they got to Google. Although this topic is covered extensively in every Business English course, I wanted to give my group (which is a very strong Pre-Intermediate group about to finish the course) exposure to authentic speech, and this material seemed both interesting linguistically and not too challenging. The learners revise past simple and present perfect (time adverbials used with those tenses), practice listening decoding skills (listening to verbs in past simple and present perfect), focus on vocabulary to talk about educational background and career paths, and finish the lesson by speaking about their own career paths.

I must admit I was very unsure that the learners would cope well with the listening tasks, because my previous attempts to introduce (tiny bits of) authentic listening in that group had caused a lot of frustration. But this time they did all right. Apart from Task 2, all they needed to do was to discriminate between Past Simple and Present Perfect – the ‘secret reason’ for the task was to get them to notice how Past Simple is pronounced (very often it sounds very close to Present Simple, as the ending /t/ is barely pronounced, which might be confusing for the learners). NB For the tasks in which the students listen to sentences one by one to check their answers, it’s better to open the videos on youtube and use the interactive transcript feature to replay sentences.

One thing that I noticed while working on this worksheet that I had never noticed before was that speakers tend to use vague language with periods of time (‘a little over a year ago’, ‘for about four and a half years’, ‘for a bit’ – other examples that didn’t make it into the worksheet were ‘for quite a number of years’, ‘for close to six years’). This definitely sounds a lot more natural, but I’d never thought to teach this little trick to my students who were preparing for exams.

Anyway, here’s the worksheet – let me know if you use it or if you see how it could be improved.

career-247299_1280

Level: Intermediate (B1)
Time: 90 minutes
Materials: a worksheet (feel free to edit and adapt).

If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download a .pdf file from Slideshare:

Extract 1:

Extract 2:

Extract 3:

Extract 4:

NB These videos come from Google Developers Youtube channel.

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In this post I’m sharing a video-based lesson on Performance reviews that I taught today. It’s based on a fragment from a QA session by career analyst Dan Pink, who you might have heard of, as his TED talk on The puzzle of motivation features among top 10 most watched TED talks.

Levels: B1+ up to B2

Length: 90 minutes

Activities: the s/s watch an authentic video on alternatives to traditional performance reviews, develop their listening skills by focusing on features of connected speech, learn vocabulary from the video and finish the lesson with a discussion

Materials: an editable worksheet. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can download a .pdf from Slideshare:


Features of connected speech

In one of the listening activities in this lesson the learners transcribe several sentences from  the video. Here are some common English words and expressions that my students found problematic, due to the fact that they sound quite different from their dictionary form.

Overview:

  1. Elision of /ʊ/ from the diphthong //  (e.g. ‘out’ and ‘how’ sound more like ‘ut’ and ‘har’)
  2. Weak form of ‘are you’ and ‘you are’ (you are /ju ɑː/ -> /jə /)
  3. Elision of ‘t’ and ‘d’ the end of words (either disappear e.g. don’t_ask, or get replaced with a glottal stop, as the air isn’t released, e.g. it)
  4. Frequent chunks: at_the/at the end of the month; and_then
  5. r_vowel linking (e.g. more_among)

Board

1. Elision of /ʊ/ from /aʊ/

set out /ˈaʊt/ your goals

set out /ˈaʊt/

set them out /ˈaʊt/

of how /ˈhaʊ/ you’re doing

how /ˈhaʊ/ you’re

maybe think about /ə.baʊt/ this

2. Weak form of ‘are you’ and ‘you are’

you are /ju ɑː/ >> /jə /

of how you’re /jə / doing

are you /ə ju/ > /(ə)jə/

where are you /weər(ə)/ making progress

are you making

where are you /weər(ə)/ falling behind

3. Elision of /d/ /t/ (or replacement with glottal stop)

and_meet monthly

and say

Elision of /t/ in negative forms: question that we don’t ask

don’t ask

that

Elision of /t/ in negative forms: I didn’t quite make those

but I’ll have it with a peer

have it with

4. Frequent chunks (at_the, and_then, etc)

At_the beginning of a/the month

and_then at_the end_of_a month

and_then

5 r_vowel

more_among /mɔː.ˈmʌŋ /

or I /ɔː ˈraɪ / will have it with two peers

or I /ɔː ˈraɪ /


More about teaching listening on this blog:

My presentation at IATEFL 2015 (my top teaching tips for teaching listening decoding skills) / A post with screen shots explaining how to use interactive transcripts on youtube and Aegisub to teach decoding skills / Listening lessons (American and Australian accents)

Here’s another simple activity for practicing small talk. The students watch a video in which a communication coach recommends asking more concrete questions that invite people to tell stories and then go on to do just that – tell short simple stories.

Levels: B1+-B2 Time: 45-60 mins Procedure:

  1. Brainstorm 6 places where you students might make small talk in the next several weeks (e.g. ”in the office kitchen’, ‘over lunch’, ‘on a business trip’, ‘when someone visits their office’, ‘at the beginning of a skype meeting’, etc).
  2. For each location brainstorm 2-3 ‘small talk’ questions that they might ask.
  3. [Listening] Tell the students that they’re going to watch a 2 minute video with communication advice. Play the first sentence and check the meaning of ‘Curiosity’. Then play the rest of the video: the s/s watch for gist, share what they caught in pairs and what they’re still not sure about. Elicit questions from the s/s about the bits they didn’t understand (e.g. ‘What did he say about the bus?’). Play the video again, stopping after every 20-30 seconds for the students to summarize the points (it’s better to use the interactive transcript on youtube for this activity; if you don’t know how to do this, you’ll find instructions in this post – scroll till you see screenshots of youtube).
  4. Get the students to transcribe the three questions that the speaker gave to exemplify his point: 32:05 What do you think about San Francisco these days? (this question is too abstract) 32:14 What’s your morning like? What’s your morning routine? 32:39 How did you get to this party tonight?
  5. Get the students to reformulate some of the questions that they brainstormed during Stage 2 (or add some more).
  6. Finally, in new pairs, the students roleplay conversations (a pair rolls a dice to determine which of the six locations to pick, role-plays a three-minute conversation, then one of the students in each pair stands up and moves to another student).

For a quick related filler, in a later lesson, it might be useful to revisit the natural responses to ‘How are you?’ (a question that doesn’t imply any news sharing) and the alternatives that actually do invite the listener to share (e.g. ‘What have you been up to lately?’):

  1. Write ‘How are you?’ on the board. Elicit and board (1) alternative ways to greet and (2) possible responses. Next, ask what questions could be asked to invite the person you’re talking to to share news.
  2. Play the video. The s/s note down an alternative to ‘How are you?’, two responses that people give and the two questions used to elicit longer responses. (Replay them using the interactive transcript on youtube if needed).
    0:34 Jarek, how are you doing today?
    0:36 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: Doing good. How are you?
    0:37 JJ BEHRENS: Pretty good.
    0:37 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: So you’ve been quite busy lately. I haven’t seen you around. What have you been up to, JJ?
    0:42 JJ BEHRENS: Well, I was talking to my wife. And she says, you’re not a real developer. You just play one on TV. And so I figured I should do something about that. And so I started releasing the backlog of Open Source projects that I have.
    0:55 JAREK WILKIEWICZ: Cool. So tell me more. What have you released lately?
    0:57 JJ BEHRENS: So I released three projects….
  3. The s/s mingle and chat, sharing their news and practicing the new alternatives and responses to ‘How are you?’ and the question ‘What have you been up to?’

This post is different from what I normally do, because it’s a variation of a lesson that has already been posted to this blog.

A couple of months ago I posted a lesson on Keeping a conversation going. The lesson was part of a short course for IT professionals on entertaining a customer and it worked really well helping the learners to come up with ideas while making small talk and raised their awareness of strategies for active listening (body language, backchanneling, reformulation and so on). One problem was that the video used in the lesson was very technical, so it wasn’t really suitable for learners outside the world of IT. It was also very short and featured only a very limited range of examples. As a result, my students were still struggling with the pronunciation of backchannels by the end of the lesson, ‘overpronouncing’ them. This week I needed to teach that topic again, so I adapted the worksheet, using a video that can be interesting for non-IT people, and is packed to the brim with examples for the learners to analyze.

I’m very sorry for the overlap, but it seems like I still find spoken language, and ‘active listenership’ in particular, too much of a teaching challenge to let it go. This feature of language has always been challenging for my students, and at the moment I don’t have on my shelf any resource books on speaking based on authentic listening extracts, or at least recordings that don’t scream ‘recording studio’. For instance, there’s the fantastic Handbook of Spoken Grammar, but the audios there don’t sound that natural. (I’m sure there must be some great resource packs, and I know there have been some great coursebooks like Touchstone, but I’m limited to BE coursebooks, so I would be very grateful for pointers to resource books or materials that can be used stand-alone).

Just two years ago, when I was doing my Delta Module 2, I was craving to at least get some transcripts of authentic, unscripted interaction, and so I was buying up books that contained transcripts of authentic interviews (Exploring Spoken English, one amazing book where those transcripts are also painstakingly analyzed, can be bought second hand for a penny – and amazon also allows one to flip through its pages).  Now, just two years later, there’s no need to buy up books to get transcripts: hundreds of hours of transcribed interviews are available on Youtube, mostly on Google channels. So for now I’m creating my own materials, for what they’re worth.


Levels: B1/B2
Length: 90 minutes
Materials/equipment:

  • an editable Worksheet
  • a projector or a laptop to show the video
  • a deck of cards (if you don’t have cards, print them out and cut them up from the last page of the worksheet)

If you don’t have Microsoft Word, download the .pdf from Slideshare:

The video:

The extracts for the speech analysis task (Task 6):

Extract 1 (11:23-11:46). Small ‘I’m listening’ words:

BRIAN GRADY: And you know, we don’t try to be pushy, but, you know, we want to expose and make things easier for people to do. [Sure, sure] Made With Android is about finding people outside of Google, doing things that nobody expected them to do with a phone. [Right] And.. so we found out that there’s a lot of people– there’s a community out there. People that, because of the extensibility of the Android operating system, [Sure. Sure.] are able to make incredible…

Extract 2 (11:46 – 11:50). Echoing.

applications that do crazy things, like

LAURENCE MORONEY: Like flying a weather balloon.

BRIAN GRADY: Flying a weather balloon, or opening

Extract  3 (11:48 – 12:01). Small ‘I’m listening’ words, echoing, reformulating and building on what the speaker said

BRIAN GRADY: Flying a weather balloon, or opening your apartment door when you’re at the top of the stairs and your bags are full of groceries. [Yeah!] I don’t know how you do that. Your hands are full of– but anyway. There’s things like that.

LAURENCE MORONEY: The things that people will think of that we can’t think of, right?

Extract 4 (12:38 – 13:07) Small ‘I’m listening’ words, reformulating and building on what the speaker said

BRIAN GRADY: Yes. We want non-commercial applications that are about fun, [OK] or hobby lifestyle kind of stuff, [Right] new connecting new things that people hadn’t connected. We want it to be an open source project. [Right] And we want to be able to, not only entertain people and inspire people with the video, but also provide them with the code, [OK] the applications, and maybe they’ll go out and do something else with it.

LAURENCE MORONEY: So somebody can pick this and run with it for themselves. [Yeah] Like I could actually go and get a weather balloon myself, now, and start doing what these folks do.

Extract 5 (13:07 – 13:17). Small ‘I’m listening’ words, echoing key words, short emotional comment (It’s cool), laughter.

BRIAN GRADY: You go to casadeballoon dot club, [OK] which is this group’s website.

LAURENCE MORONEY: I love the ‘dot club.’

BRIAN GRADY: Dot club. [It’s cool] I like the ‘casadeballon’. [laughter] But anyway,

Extract 6 (13:46 – 13:50) Emphatic agreement.

LAURENCE MORONEY:  I guess, the more exotic the locale, the better?

BRIAN GRADY: Absolutely.

Extract 7 (13:56 – 13:59) Echoing, emphatic agreement.

LAURENCE MORONEY: OK. I’m more a Tahiti guy myself.
BRIAN GRADY: Tahiti?
LAURENCE MORONEY: Yeah, …
BRIAN GRADY: Well, I hear

Acknowledgement. The role play for Task 2 was suggested by my colleague Anastasiya Chernetskaya – thank you Anastasiya, it’s simply ideal here!