The first week of the Electronic Village Online is in full swing! I’m co-moderating the session on teaching listening, and this week, under the guidance of Lizzie Pinard, we’ve started out with the topic of encouraging learner autonomy.
One great thing about online sessions like this one is that there are a lot of participants who share a wealth of tips about the activities and resources they use. From what I’ve read in our discussion threads, it seems that a lot of teachers encourage their learners to watch TED talks out of class, and the participants have suggested a variety of ideas for activities based on the talks.
What also often happens, however, is that the teacher recommends this resource but the learners don’t start using it – and the teacher kind of knows that they don’t, but they don’t even ask because that would be admitting failure (oh haven’t I been there a lot of times?) Below are my takeaways for how to avoid this problem and really help the learners start watching the talks out of class and get the most out of them
First of all, in her live session Lizzie offered some tips how to encourage the learners to start learning out of class in general:
- provide the learners with a concrete ‘menu’ of things they can do out of class (a handout), because otherwise the learners will feel overwhelmed with the variety of resources out there;
- educate the learners about the ways we learn languages (e.g. in class after we do a task, spend a few minutes discussing why it was done that way. One example is activating schemata before listening: the teacher could ask the learners to recall what the learners had done before listening, and then discuss how that task helped them to understand more). In general, the more insight the learners have into the way languages are learnt, the more responsibility they will be able to take and the more efficiently they will be able to spend their out-of-class English time. For the same reason, in the ‘menu’ mentioned above it’s important to provide the learners with concrete ideas for activities that they can do while watching the videos.
- make learner autonomy a social experience: if you have lessons twice a week, devote 5 minutes every week to discussing in small groups what the learners have done out of class. At the beginning, predictably, a lot of them will be saying, ‘nothing’, but that doesn’t mean that the autonomy scheme isn’t working – the most important thing is to persevere
So, if we get back to TED talks, this means that
- the learners need to try out a range of activities that they can use while watching TED talks;
- they need opportunities to reflect about the effectiveness of these activities for their language learning;
- they need the social experience of discussing the talks they’d watched out of class.
Below I outline ten ideas for tasks based on TED talks
- Mind map the talk
- Take notes using Cornell note-taking grid
- Evaluate your level using a CEFR descriptor
- Notice and learn key lexis in the talk
- Work on your fluency using the 4-3-2 technique
- Improve your listening and pronunciation by shadowing the speaker
- Practice listening intensively with TubeQuizard
- Analyze the speaker’s accent using TubeChop
- Explore the talks on learning languages
NB To make this list easier to use, I decided to outline sample procedures – they might be quite different from the procedures used by the teachers who suggested the activity.
Before I describe the ideas themselves, here are some tips that work with all these ideas:
- Introduce the activities over a period of time, one at a time
- Always model the activity in class before assigning it for homework
- After you model the activity get the learners to recall what they just did and discuss how this procedure helps them to learn the language. The more the learners understand about the way languages are learnt, the more responsibility they will be able to take for their learning.
- When you assign the activity for homework, provide the learners with written instructions (e.g. a handout or instructions posted in the learners’ online space).
- The easiest way to follow up on the activities done out of class is to get the learners to
(1) retell the talk they’d watched to a partner (if the activity involved producing notes, they can use their notes while they’re retelling) and
(2) get the learners to discuss what they felt while doing the activity and whether they feel it has learning value for them.
- When the learners have tried out quite a few activities, reduce the amount of scaffolding to encourage autonomy: let them choose for themselves which tasks they’re going to do while watching the talks (and maybe negotiate with the group how often they’re going to report back to the class, etc).
Mind map the talk
Svetlana Bogolepova from Russia asks her students to analyze the structure of the TED talks they’ve watched and create a mind map of the talk.
Choose a (short) TED talk.
Do a topic-related warmer, and then tell the learners that they’re going to watch and analyze the structure of the talk. Tell them a one-sentence summary (e.g. ‘In this talk the person speaks about his experience doing something new for 30 days’) and ask the learners to predict what sub-topics the speaker is going to mention, e.g. why he did this? what things did he do for 30 days?
The learners watch to check their predictions and then discuss in pairs. As a follow-up, the teacher boards their suggestions in the form of a mind map. The learners copy the mind map.
The learners watch again and add details to the mind map, compare their mind maps in pairs and report back to the whole class.
Finally, the learners
- recall the procedure of the task (predicting the content, watching the talk once to identify the main points and putting them in writing, watching the talk a second time to note down details)
- brainstorm the benefits of each step (e.g. predicting the content will allow you to ‘activate’ topic vocabulary).
A sample mind-map:
The learners find an interesting talk and create a mind map that reflects the structure of the talk.
Optionally, they upload a picture of the mind map to the group’s online space.
In pairs, the learners retell the content of the talk they’ve seen to a partner who hasn’t seen the talks (using their mind map), and discuss the talks.
Take notes using Cornell note-taking grid
This idea was shared by Jennifer Rueda from the United States. She gets her learners to reflect on the talks they watch by using the Cornell note-taking technique.
- Ask the learners how they usually take notes. How useful are their notes? Do they ever re-read them?
- Tell the learners that they’ll try a new method called Cornell note-taking. Elicit what they know already about the method. Then give them an article that explains the method, e.g. this one. Get the learners to read the article and, in pairs, (1) compare how they understood the article (2) brainstorm 2-4 advantages and 1-2 disadvantages of the system.
- Get the learners to draw the Cornell grid, watch a short TED talk and write their notes in the right-hand column. The learners compare in pairs and then fill out the rest of the grid. In new pairs, the learners compare their grids and discuss if they think this method is useful
At home (instructions for the learners):
Choose a TED talk, watch it and complete a Cornell grid.
[Optionally] upload a picture of their grid to the group’s online space
In pairs, the learners show each other their grids, briefly retell the summary of the article and discuss whether they would like to continue using this note-taking method.
Evaluate your level using a CEFR descriptor
Sidney Martin Mota from Tarragona offers a variety of listening tasks for his learners to do autonomously (suggesting they watch news and TV shows, as well as TED talks), and links each task to the appropriate CEFR descriptor for the learners’ target level, e.g. a B2 descriptor for TED talks will be ‘I can follow the essentials of lectures, talks and report and other forms of complex academic or professional presentation in my field’.
The learners watch the talk and rate their performance of the descriptor on the scale of 1 to 5.
- The learners briefly share what their talk was about,
- The learners report on how well they understood the talk
- The teacher elicits and boards what kinds of problems prevented the learners from understanding the talk (e.g. insufficient vocabulary, etc)
- In small groups, the learners discuss what activities they can do to work on overcoming the problems
Notice and learn key lexis in the talk
Pomilla Agarwal from India suggested a task in which the learners note down key expressions from the talk and then retell the talk using the expressions.
- Choose a short TED talk. Do a warmer, then set a gist task (e.g. the learners predict the content of the talk based on the title and then watch to check their predictions)
- Open the interactive transcript (either on TED or on Youtube). Choose a collocation that is key to the talk (e.g. ‘do a challenge’). Board the sentence containing the collocation with some parts of the expression gapped out. Ask the learners what’s in the gap, then play the line for the learners to check. Play the line a few more times for them to notice the pronunciation of the expression and practice saying it together with the speaker.
- Refer the learners to the transcript and ask them two find 5-10 more expressions that are key to the text. Monitor to encourage them to notice more than one word (e.g. if they choose a noun, prompt them to look for the verb that goes with the noun).
- Board the expressions that the learners have chosen. If there are too many, the learners choose which ones to wipe out.
- Find the expressions in the interactive transcript to analyze and copy pronunciation.
- Get the learners to summarize the talk using the expressions on the board (step 1: in writing; step 2: orally).
At home (instructions for the learners):
Find an interesting TED talk and watch it.
Look through the transcript and find 5-10 expressions that will help you summarize the talk. Try to look for multi-word expressions that you already understand but don’t use.
Use the interactive transcript to play the expressions; try to speak with the speaker to copy the pronunciation.
Practice giving a summary of the talk using the expressions.
The learners briefly report on the talk they’ve seen using the expressions they’ve chosen.
Work on your fluency using the 4-3-2 technique
In this task, the learners retell the talk 3 times, each time speaking faster (this is an activity that I really enjoyed doing with a group of teens).
At home (instructions for the student):
This task is a great way to work on your fluency.
- Find a TED talk that is interesting for you, watch it and take brief notes.
- Retell the talk in 4 minutes
- Check that you haven’t forgotten any important ideas by briefly looking through the transcript of the talk (alternatively, you could watch the talk one more time)
- Retell the talk one more time, this time in 3 minutes. You’re working on fluency, so your goal is to retell the talk as fully as possible, but speak faster than last time.
- Briefly look through the transcript again, and then retell the talk one more time, this time in 2 minutes. Again, your goal is to speak even faster than last time.
- [optionally] Record the final attempt and upload it to the group’s online space.
- In pairs, the learners retell the talk they’ve seen to their partner in 2 minutes. After that, allow a few more minutes to discuss the talks.
The learners watch the talks at home. After that, in class, they retell the talk they’d seen to a partner in 4 minutes. They change partners and retell it one more time in 3 minutes – don’t forget to explain the goal to them and stress that they need to speak faster. Finally, they retell the talk one more time to a new partner in two minutes.
Improve your listening and pronunciation by shadowing the speaker
This was the idea suggested by Lizzie that a lot of the session participants want to try out (especially since quite a few already have, successfully, either with their learners or as language learners).
In this (challenging) task the learners listen to an extract from the talk and simultaneously speak with the speaker, trying to copy their pronunciation. Read this post for the detailed procedure.
Practice listening intensively with TubeQuizard
At home (instructions for the learners, but first demonstrate the tool in class):
- Find a talk that has English subtitles on Youtube. The talks with subtitles are labelled ‘CC’.
To check that the talk has English subtitles, click on ‘More’ under the video, choose ‘Transcript’ and look for ‘English’ (not ‘English – Automatic captions’).
- Watch the first 2-3 minutes of the talk without the subtitles for general understanding to make sure the topic is interesting for you.
- Copy the Youtube URL of the talk. Go to http://www.tubequizard.com/add_quiz.php and insert the URL into the ‘Youtube video URL‘ field:
Choose and do at least do 3-5 quizzes. While you’re doing a quiz, do you notice any features of the pronunciation of the grammar structure in the gaps? (E.g. how is ‘was’ pronounced in past continuous phrases? What happens to the ‘-ed’ endings of verbs in past simple?)
Finally, watch the talk from the beginning to the end. (Click here to see the quizzes in the picture below.)
The learners retell the talk they’d watched to a partner and discuss the talk. They also share what grammar structures they listened to and what they noticed about the pronunciation of these structures.
Analyze the speaker’s accent using TubeChop
Maren Behrend from New Zealand gets her learners to improve their listening skills by transcribing a 30-60 second extract from the video and then using the transcript to check their work and analyze the speaker’s pronunciation, e.g. the weak sounds.
At home (instructions for the learners, but first model in class!)
- Choose a TED talk with subtitles (see screenshots above).
- Watch the first 1-3 minutes to make sure the video is interesting
- If you feel that you need training in understanding the speaker’s accent, transcribe 3-4 sentences and analyze the speaker’s pronunciation. This is easier to do if you can replay a very short extract from the video. In order to do that, copy Youtube URL of your video, go to TubeChop, insert the URL and click ‘chop it’. Choose a random 5-6 second extract from the video:
Listen to the extract. If you can understand every word, choose another extract. If you can’t understand every word, click ‘chop it’ and you’ll get to the following window where you can replay any part of your 5-6 second extract (click here to try an example)
Listen to the extract 4-10 times and write exactly what you hear. Go back to youtube, open the interactive transcript and find the extract in the transcript. With a different pen, copy the words that you didn’t catch.
Listen to the extract again on Tubechop and try to hear exactly how the speaker pronounces all words (to do that, replay individual words). Listen for
- the sounds that the speaker doesn’t pronounce
- the sounds that change from their dictionary form
- the sounds that the speaker adds
- the sounds that get attached to a different word
Mark these pronunciation features on your paper:
Repeat with 5-10 extracts, adding new words to the grid. Finally, watch the talk – after the work you’ve done, you should understand the speaker’s accent a lot better.
Explore the talks on learning languages
Anastasiia Gubarenko from Russia suggests to her learners that they watch videos that might actually help them turn into better learners (e.g. talks on how to become self-motivated)!
Also, the learners might benefit from watching the talks about strategies for learning languages autonomously.
- Get the learners to discuss their language learning biography so far. When were they learning a language the most effectively? How? What approaches to learning haven’t worked for them?
- Tell the learners that they’re going to watch TED talks made by people who know a lot of languages. Assign each learner one of these talks:
How to learn any language in six months | Chris Lonsdale | TEDxLingnanUniversity
5 techniques to speak any language | Sid Efromovich | TEDxUpperEastSide
Hacking language learning: Benny Lewis at TEDxWarsaw
The learners retell the talks in groups of three and compare:
- What ideas did all speakers mention?
- Did any of the speakers contradict each other?
The teacher elicits and boards the ideas. The learners discuss which ones they’d like to try out and how they’d like to try them out (e.g. what will be the completion criteria? what are the best ways to incorporate these ideas into your existing life style?)
This was an idea that Jenny Wright came up with: once the learners have been exposed to a range of strategies, they could negotiate which talk (or a different resource) they will all watch next week and/or which combination of activities they will do. I think this is a wonderful idea because this seems to be a very natural way to get the learners to talk about the educational value of the activities.
How about you – what are your favourite tasks to do with TED talks?