Motivating Language Learners

A few weeks ago, I decided to write up a post about drills in the classroom but I find myself deciding to write a topic which I have experienced first hand: motivating learners.  Last month, I wrote about dealing with the Intermediate Plateau as part of an ELTChat Summary and came across some wonderful ideas.  There were some great ideas in the previous blog post which were put forward but I would recommend that you have a read of this summary.  Hopefully, there are some crossovers between ELTChat Summary and this blog post.

When I first started teaching young learners, I found it quite challenging to motivate this learners.  I learnt a great deal after a number of weeks and learnt the “hard way” what worked and what wasn’t so successful.  I realised that young learners enjoyed any form of competitive lesson with a game as a last activity.  A lot of this is transferable to selected adult learners but I found that adult learners were more serious and were paying for a course and expected something greater than games or activities.  Nevertheless, I guess we have to determine what is meant by “demotivated learners”.

Demotivated Learners

Any form of demotivation in the classroom could be contagious and could get everyone down (the teacher included).  Some learners may direct their lack of motivation to the teacher but as educators we have to understand that language learners have a life outside of the classroom and may bring along ‘baggage’ to the lesson.  This could affect the “affective filter” by causing a screen against comprehensible input within the lesson and could then become quite problematic in future lessons.  This ‘high’ affective filter could transfer between the various language learners within the classroom, so in essence you have to win the “hearts and minds” of the learners so that it encourages an improved learning environment.  Demotivation is usually the main obstacle for learning in the classroom and it is doubly difficult when combining young learners (who have been carted off to the local language school or sent to a summer school – usually enforced by their parents).  Adult language learners are usually encouraged to undertake English courses so that they are able to get that promotion, receive that highly prized certificate or required to take a course as part of their national service.  The more experience gained, the more we become accustomed to delivering language lessons with various activities to ‘spice up’ the lessons, supplement the coursebook or improve overall fluency and communication.  Yet, we often forget that each of the learners have aims which are overlooked and we do not take advantage of these opportunities to deliver and create bespoke language lessons over the period of time.  This lack of humanising any short-term or longer-term course will always cause boredom and ultimately demotivate the learner.  We have all seen teachers walk into lessons armed with numerous handouts to supplement the coursebook each and everyday.  A few days or weeks later, the said teacher starts to wonder why the learners appear demotivated.  So, what is the best way to motivate and inspire interest in lessons?

Motivating Learners

  1. The first piece of advice which I would recommend to motivate and inspire learners would be to identify aims and objectives with all new students (or those that have joined the class from another).  The identifying of the aims and objectives would improve the overall learning environment and (if you react to research undertaken with the learners) it should make the whole process of developing a curriculum easier.  Take the time to develop a weekly lesson plan to cover topics, themes, grammar or vocabulary as highlighted by the learners in the aims/objectives survey.  The learners would feel happier that you are reacting to their input and they would also appreciate your support as they would judge to have some control in the content of their course.
  2. If you have quite a bit you would like to cover during the week, you could get learners to vote on the following day’s lesson – this is related to the previous piece of advice.  Essentially, learners have the opportunity to develop autonomous learning techniques through this process of voting on their lessons.
  3. If you are teaching young learners and you would like to add a bit of a competition to the lesson of the day or the entire course, you could nominate learner roles in the classroom (Worksheet Leader, Teaching Assistant, etc).  Learners would feel as if they are responsible for various tasks or roles in the classroom.  The teacher will have to maintain consistency, then the young learners will fall into their nominated roles at ease provided that expectations are explicitly mentioned.  If you wish to develop this further, you could get learners to create their own role badges, team names, chants, etc to supplement the nominated roles.  You could hand out nominated roles in secret sealed envelopes to jazz it up a bit.  All this assists in the cohesion of group work in the classroom and improves motivation.
  4. Create a class blog for learners to view and correct their own work (either written or recorded audio).  This will personalise the lesson and bring activities outside the classroom.  Comments added to the blog will encourage more student-to-student interaction on a virtual level and motivate learners to discuss ideas or provide feedback during lessons.  Any activities which some form of outside activity can motivate learners and are widely respected by the learners.  For example, when learners return to their home country (if they are attending a school abroad) or complete a course, they will be able to review activities and vocabulary that emerged during lessons.
  5. If you are teaching young learners who naturally have a short attention span and lose interest every few minutes, try to plan five minute activities every to ensure learners don’t lose interest, get bored and lose that invaluable motivation.  The organising of short activities is meant to keep the learners on their toes and keep them busy: learners will not have a chance to get bored and distract the others in the classroom.  Teaching young learners learn by doing so try to incorporate various songs, chants or drama in the classroom.  This will interest the learners and keep motivation bubbling away.  You will naturally have various individuals who would wish to show their singing, chanting or drama skills off to the class so let them and give them a badge or reward them with a silly certificate: “Best Worst Dancer”, “Ear Piercing Singer”, etc.  I would finally recommend preparing silly certificates or rewards based upon student input in the lesson.  It would liven up the lesson and keep learners happy.
ClassDojo © 2013

Online Tools

I have come across ClassDojo and have decided to use it for future young learner lessons.  The young learners will find the whole class report online software very easy to view and it can be developed to be incorporated in the lessons.  Furthermore, there is an iPhone/Android App which could be synced to ClassDojo so that teachers are able to award student input and effort in the lesson.  The rewards can be awarded at the end of or during a lesson.  If you are lucky enough to have an IWB in your classroom, you could show the “Whole Class” review and learners will be able to get a quick idea how to improve their behaviour and will motivate learners during the lessons.  Obviously, ClassDojo could be developed for adult learners but I guess the older learners will lose interest in the tool quicker than young learners.  Finally, as you are able to edit the rewards and punishments, you could rename rewards to “Good Effort”, “Great Motivation”, “Fantastic Participation”, etc while punishments could be renamed to “Poor Concentration”, “No English”, etc.  The fact that you could customise the friendly monsters can really develop learner interest in the whole online software and personalise the behavioural software for the students.

ClassBadges © 2013

Another activity you could develop in the lesson is to award badges for work and activities completed during the lesson.  There is a really good online tool that you could use to develop interest in this with ClassBadges.  With ClassBadges, you will be able to create your own badges for your learners, customise classes and student access or develop group-to-group interest in lessons.  By the end of the course, learners will have gained a number of different badges from their teacher and will be able to logon to their account and show their parents (if they are young learners) or reflect on how they received particular badges.  Like any online tool, I would recommend any teacher keen to learn more about the resources available to spend a bit of time learning more about the functions of the website, how to manage classes as well as inviting learners to the website so that they can access their own awarded badges.  If you are not so keen on the whole online activity of awarding badges, you could create a range of certificates to hand out in particular lessons.  You could stick up certificates on one side of the classroom and learners could be quite proud to show off their class-created certificates.

Final Thoughts

Do you have any activities to improve motivation in the classroom?  What do you do differently to spice up lessons?  Do you have activities up your sleeve so that you can engage learners quickly and effectively?  As ever, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Drilling and Repetition in the ELT Classroom

Circle Drilling in action at the BC Bucharest

Since starting my teaching career in Korea, I was introduced to the importance of drills in the classroom to introduce vocabulary and develop pronunciation based on various drills.  We all know the nominated drilling, choral drills or substitutional drills but how else could drills be livened up a bit more?  Recently, I thought of the following activities to jazz up the use drills in the classroom.

Silent Dialogues

This is by far my favourite activity with young learners or adults.  What you need to do is prepare a dialogue or think of a situation that you wish to cover in the classroom (at the post office, booking cinema tickets, etc) and think through a functional dialogue between two people.  You start the activity by speaking silently and overacting body language or simulating sounds using your mouth.  This will get learners to try to decode what is being said (silently) and focus on pronunciation and vowel sounds based upon the varying positions of the mouth.  You encourage learners with thumbs up during the process and then get learners to re-do the dialogue in pairs or groups.  This activity will develop learner memorisation, focus on pronunciation as well as provide a lively and interactive element to any possible drill.

Circle Drilling

I came across this activity during the TYLEC Course in use during an input session on drilling for young learners.  It is a very engaging activity and I would recommend any YL teacher to incorporate this during lessons.  Prior to the lesson, ensure you have prepared flashcards or vocabulary cards for this activity.  You get learners to sit in a closed circle with the teacher at the front (preferably with the IWB or whiteboard behind you).  You show one flashcard/word card and then tell the class the key vocabulary.  Next, you pass the card to the student on your right and get that learner to say the vocabulary and then you continue with the student passing the card around the circle of students.  Once you have gone through a number of flashcards/word cards, you then start to speed up the process and hand out the cards to the students on your right as well as your left and put on the pressure for learners to receive a card (from either their left or right) and then have to say the key vocabulary.  It is quite a lively activity which is sure to get YLs jumping around and engaged in the lesson.

Emotional Drilling

For this activity, you need to prepare two separate groups of flashcards: one with key vocabulary and the other with pictures of emotions (happy, sad, bored, etc).  You drill vocabulary as normal (either choral or nominated) and then you have to combine emotion flashcards with vocabulary and learners have to say the word in the relevant emotion.  You could either get this completed in a competitive format by getting learners standing up and then nominating learners to say the corresponding word in the correct emotion.  If pronounced incorrectly, then the learner sits down.  The winner is the remaining person standing.

Volume Controlled Drills

This was an activity inspired from a teacher that I work with at LTC Eastbourne.  I was observing his class and he was doing some drilling with his young learners but used various volumes to get vocabulary pronounced correctly.  He started off quite quiet and then built up to an ear-shattering volume.  It was very interesting to observe and very interesting to see how the learners were motivated by this activity.  This activity can be incorporated into any type of drills with young learners or adults.

Drilling Through Music

The last activity which could be considered is drilling through music.  This is an activity which can be watched via the TeachingEnglish website and something Rachael Lawson developed with her Asian learners.  I really enjoy incorporating songs and chants into the classroom particularly to introduce and drill vocabulary.
What do you think are your favourite activities when it comes to pronunciation and drilling?  Do you think there is a time and place for drilling?  Would you drill with higher levelled learners or more with lower levelled learners?  Why is this the case?

Using Prezi in Talks and Workshops

I have been invited for a talk on Wednesday 12 December for the postgraduate students on the MA ELT course about Dogme ELT.  It is an honour to be asked up to give a talk on this subject.  Furthermore, it is the first time that I am going to be trying to Prezi in the classroom instead of carrying around my MacBook Air and all the paraphernalia to give a talk.  Fortunately, the computers at the University of Sussex are all connected to the internet and I will be able to use Prezi (fingers crossed).  The Prezi for this talk can be viewed below.

On the off chance that the Prezi talk fails, I have a backup on my external hard-drive with a copy with PowerPoint.

The handout for this talk (available for attendees) is embedded below.  Feel free to contact me should you wish for a copy to be emailed.

Incorporating Dogme ELT in the Classroom Handout

Anyhow, has anyone else used Prezi for a presentation before?  What do you think are the benefits or disadvantages of using cloud presentation software?  Have you tried the iPad or iPhone Prezi app before to present before?

So many questions and please leave your thoughts or reflections below in the comments section.  🙂

Using SoundCloud for the Classroom

As an update from yesterday, our class focused on job interviews and using dialogues in the classroom. I decided during the lesson to record the learners whilst they were participating in a spontaneous role-play so that I could listen to individual learners and provide some opportunity for self-correction tomorrow, as well as an opportunity for them to download at their pleasure.  I must thank my adult learners for allowing me to share these recordings with my readers.  Without their support, I would not be able to share this with you.

Nevertheless, I decided to use Garageband on my MacBook to record the learners and then export to an m4a format.  This was then uploaded to SoundCloud.  It is the first time that I have used SoundCloud and I think it is a wonderful tool which could be exploited for inside and outside the classroom.  It is very simple to register and you are able to sync up Facebook with SoundCloud.  I have always listening to some of the uploads on SoundCloud due to the potential to leave comments on the audio.  It is great.  If you are able to get students to leave comments with each other, then there is the potential for more awareness raising activities outside the classroom.

Anyhow, please feel free to leave comments on the audio below.

What are your ideas about using SoundCloud with the classroom?  Have you ever used SoundCloud to record or upload a full lesson?  What are the potential advantages or disadvantages of SoundCloud?  If you have any feedback, please leave your feedback below.

Job Interviews: A Student’s Guide (Part 1)

It had to happen one day, my students were looking for work yesterday.  In a way, it is a good opportunity for my adult learners to develop those all important life skills, albeit during a lesson.  Yes, we were covering the topic of employment and job interviews during the lesson and the learners were keen to share their experiences of work, interviews and career expectations.  We initially looked at particular vocabulary and collocations associated with work and applying for a job: write up a CV, go for an interview, get promoted, work freelance, etc.  Once a lot of collocations and phrases were written up on the whiteboard, I got the learners to try to put them in chronological order.  This got them thinking and associating the vocabulary to specific periods during employment.  After a brief discussion about the order of vocabulary and phrases highlighted above, I got the learners into pairs and asked them to think about questions that are asked during job interviews.  The learners came up with some pretty impressive questions.  These included: “Tell me about yourself.“, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” as well as “Why do you want to work for us?“.

To consolidate question forms and recycle some vocabulary above, I handed out a worksheet with some of the most common job interview questions.  The learners had to re-order the jumbled question forms and then ask each other questions as if one learner was the interviewer whilst the other learner was the job applicant.  It worked quite well and focused on suitable/appropriate answers for job interviews which were then scaffolded and corrected.  After some discussion about good and bad interviews, the lesson was over.  In essence this lesson was materials-light and the learners were very keen to incorporate new phrases into their mini role-play.

Tomorrow, I am focusing on a more structured role-play which recycles the vocabulary and question forms from yesterday.  It is wonderful that the learners are so keen to develop invaluable skills such as learning more about interview questions and providing suitable answers.  Over the course of the week, I will create and upload more material associated with job hunting and applying for work.  Anyhow, today I have uploaded some of the material that I have used today and the material that I plan to use tomorrow.  The more structured role-play offers learners the opportunity to develop more drama in the classroom, recording the dialogue for future listening lessons or develop more automaticity.  If anyone is willing to record the dialogue with other teachers, please let me know as I would be keen to update the write up more lesson materials with authentic listening activities which have been created with the support of my readers.  Again, if you are interested in developing classroom material, please contact me.

Job Interview Questions and Answers

Job Interview Role Play Dialogue

The Use of Video in the Classroom

Last Friday, I decided to use a video in the classroom for the first time in a long time.  I have often found the use of videos quite a difficult task in itself.  It is rather difficult trying to use videos for language points or for more focused tasks.  Nonetheless, I decided to show “Love Actually”, a video set during Christmas with a wide range of actors and actresses, and had set some tasks for my Young Adults to complete during the watching of the movie.  The movie itself was quite long, about 2 hours in length with some great scenes which reflected the spirit of Christmas.

The initial task that I set the learners at the beginning of the class was to complete a gapfill exercise.  The first two scenes include a scene at what is assumed Heathrow Airport and then the second scene is in a music studio with Rock & Roll Legend, Billy Mack.  Get the learners to complete the handout below by themselves, before pairing them up to check their answers and finally eliciting the correct answers.

Love Actually – Intro Scenes

The second task that I set for learners was for them to complete a character matching exercise: match the character and their job/occupation.  Before watching the movie, we studied up on various occupations (housekeeper, housemaid, etc) and then I handed out a matching worksheet after the initial activity for learners to complete (which is below).  As there were a number of different characters/names, it was difficult work for students to learn about them and their occupations.  The learners were listening intensively to the dialogue and for any clues.  To check that they were listening with the first activity, I elicited the name of the Rock & Roll Legend (Billy Mack) and then told learners that they had to complete the rest of the matching activity whilst they watched the rest of the movie.

Love Actually – Characters

At one scene in the movie, where Mark and Juliet meet to discuss about a video from a wedding (about the first two minutes of the scene with the YouTube video below), I paused the movie and elicited their names.  I then went on to say that they are going to watch the next scene with Mark and Juliet with no sound and they have to predict/guess what they are saying.  I handed out a blank script and the learners will have to complete the script to the best of their ability.  It was mentioned that it made no difference whether they attempted to complete it and was wrong as it was all good practice.  I played the video and I was acting as a human remote control and learners were telling me: “pause”, “rewind”, “fast forward”, etc.  The scene was played a number of times until learners were happy to complete the activity and then act the scene out.  There was a lot of laughing and the students really got into the scene.

Love Actually – Script Juliet and Mark

Next, I played the scene with the sound off and then just the subtitles so that they could see what things were similar or different to their script.  We then played the video with the sound on and the subtitles off.  It was a wonderful activity and were quite responsive.  In the second lesson of the week, we continued with the movie and watched the ending.  I handed out a worksheet for learners to complete and it was a character summarisation.  Learners had to choose one character from the movie and write about him/her.  Luckily, all learners chose someone different and they had a look on Wikipedia or other websites to learn a bit more about their chosen character.  Fortunately, they decided not to plagiarise from Wikipedia and their writing was commendable.

Love Actually – About a Character

As I mentioned earlier in the blog post, it was the first time that I had used a movie in class to any success and the learners were quite responsive to this.  The was an opportunity for creative writing, writing about people, as well as an opportunity to act a scene out (although I have one boy and seven girls: some of the girls were quite happy to go Shakespeare and pretend to be Mark).  Anyhow, have you used videos in class before?  What activities do you include when showing a video in class?  Do you try to focus on the grammatical aspects of English when showing a video?  Do you have any advice for me when I show videos in class in the future?  It would be wonderful to hear from my readers so that I could consider them in the future.

Teaching Articles to Teenagers and Adult Learners

I have developed a lesson plan for the teaching of articles for teenagers and adult learners.  I should really thank a fellow colleague that I work with at the British Council Bucharest for inspiring me to use Mr Bean videos for the teaching of various grammar or topic areas.  It was a wonderful suggestion, and since returning to the UK (albeit for a short period) I have tried to develop material for different areas of grammar and topics.  The best thing about Mr Bean videos are the various situations that Rowan Atkinson decides to include with the character as well as being known by many international learners around the world.  Anyhow, here is the lesson plan for incorporating the teaching of articles in the classroom.

First of all, you could introduce the topic of articles (a, an, the, -) to learners via the PowerPoint file (available to download via Scribd) and is available to view below.
The Use of Articles

After looking at the grammar, tell learners that they will be watching a Mr Bean video where he prepares to meet the Queen.  Tell learners that they need to make a note of what he does to prepare the meeting of the Queen.  The video is available to watch on YouTube here:

Handout the worksheet (once the video has finished) and get learners to transcribe their notes on the handout.  It is probably best to either cut the worksheet in half or get learners to fold it over (so they don’t see the reading (which will have the answers to the previous activity).  Once learners have been given an opportunity to share their answers and the teacher provides some scaffolding for language that has emerged from the video, you can move on to the next part of the worksheet whereby learners need to choose the correct article.
Mr Bean Meets the Queen – Articles

There is also a Wordle in PDF format that is available to hand out to learners at the end of the session for them to review or analyse the use of articles in English.  I tried this lesson out with different abilities of learners and they were really focused (especially one group that has difficulty focusing during the class).  I hope that you make use of this but all credit should go to one colleague at the British Council in Bucharest that help me develop this further.
Articles Wordle