Posts Tagged ‘listening’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Watching short clips for fun

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

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

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

2. Using songs

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

Some ideas for tasks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

E.g. with the following video the learners could

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

4. Micro listening: focus on grammar

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Vox pop videos for word hunt or micro listening

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

I’ve found several sources of such videos:

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

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

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

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

6. Watching the video without the sound

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Authentic listening (and speaking) out of class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here’s a quick (8 minutes to be exact) video tutorial on how to use Aegisub to work on listening decoding skills. I created this tutorial for our EVO session on teaching listening, but decided to post it here on my blog too, because, although I’ve already mentioned this tool in a couple of posts, I have a feeling that a demonstration might be worth a dozen screenshots.

In the tutorial I mentioned that you need a video and subtitles stored locally on your computer. I used a video and subs downloaded from MIT OpenCourseWare. Another way to get a video with subtitles is to choose a subtitled YouTube video and download the video and the subs using http://keepvid.com/.

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

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

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

tal_2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications for listening instruction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications for listening instruction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications for listening instruction:

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

Lesson plan (spans two lessons).

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

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

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

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

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

evosession

The topics we’re going to cover are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you at EVO 2017!

A lot of posts on this blog are listening lessons and worksheets. In this post I wanted to share a story that is related to listening, but doesn’t involve teaching any decoding skills, or actually any language teaching at all.

A while ago I was teaching an A2 group of IT professionals. One of the learners had just joined a project with a British customer, and the customer was visiting the office, giving several hours’ worth of presentations every day. We’d done a couple of lessons on authentic listening with that group, but of course the task of following several hours of presentations every day would be exceptionally challenging at A2 level and I seriously doubted that the learner would cope.

At one point I met him in the corridor and asked how he was doing. He beamed and said, ‘Thanks! It worked!’ At first I was at a complete loss what he meant, but then I remembered that I’d met him a couple of days before and he’d complained that he was getting extremely tired in those meetings and couldn’t follow at all after about 30 minutes. This was only to be expected of course, but I thought of some finger fitness exercises that I had used in order to relax while I was preparing for my Delta exam, and so I showed them to my learner on the off chance that they would help.

And apparently they did help. Actually, it’s pretty obvious that for that learner the 2 minutes that he spent learning those exercises were a lot more useful than the two 90-minute lessons on authentic listening that he’d had, and I don’t quite know what to make of this fact. I’ve taught a few courses devoted exclusively to listening, and among all the decoding and meaning-building work it had never occurred to me to teach my learners anything of the sort, although I know that a lot of them have to listen in on long meetings and that they must get extremely tired. It’s almost like, no matter how principled the approach and how comprehensive the syllabus, there will always be a gaping hole in it which I might only notice by chance. Also, one of the reasons I avoid showing these finger fitness exercises to my learners is that I fear to be thought a complete freak. I guess at least this problem is now solved, as next time I teach a group, I could simply tell them this story and let them decide for themselves if they’d like to try out ‘the freaky finger yoga’ or not..

 

I’ve posted quite a few listening lessons on this blog, and up to now they were all worksheets meant to be used by a teacher in class. This time I’m sharing an online self-study lesson, for B1 level and higher, that allows learners to explore the features of connected speech and train listening decoding at their own pace. The lesson is based on a snippet from an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, an American journalist, at Toronto Public Library.

Lesson_gladwell

The web tool that I used to build this lesson is still in a bit of experimental stage (e.g. unfortunately right now you can’t save or print out your answers, and there might be other minor snags). Still, I hope that it will be useful for learners who need to train themselves to understand fast authentic speech.

If you try the lesson, I’d be very grateful for your feedback.

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: