Making The Most of Conferences

IATEFL Banner

It is that time of year where a vast group of English teachers venture to the UK to continue their professional development for the IATEFL Conference. This year it was held at Glasgow. I believe it was five years ago, in 2012, when I went to the IATEFL Conference in Glasgow to give my talk based upon my research for my MA in Dogme ELT. You can read more about my dissertation and research in this post.

Anyhow, attending conferences can be overwhelming, challenging and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. This post looks at the best ways to make the most out of conferences and how to make the most of your time.

1. Before The Conference

It is best to start your planning early. Look at what talks will be of interest of you. For example, if you are very enthusiastic about phonology, then it makes sense to attend talks about this area. However, if you do not know too much about teaching teenagers and you are curious, then go ahead and attend a talk about this. So before the conference, decide on talks you would like to attend and talks which would not be of interest, yet be open and pursue areas of teaching which could develop you professionally whether they are of interest or not.

2. Speak To Others

One very important thing to do before, during and after the conference is to chat with other attendees. It may initially appear quite difficult to speak with other attendees during a conference but it is really a great chance to network and to share your experiences with other professionals. You will also meet a range of people from different backgrounds who may have some ideas to help with your own professional background and, if you are anything like me, you can also feel a new sense of enthusiasm after speaking with other teachers with refreshing ideas just by chatting to other attendees.

3. Notes & Handouts

It can rather overwhelming going to more than four or five talks in a day, with difficulty remembering who said what and what was learnt. One thing I try to do to help me remember is taking session is to make notes about it, take handouts and, if possible, ask for a copy of the presentation – don’t forget to say “thank you”. Most speakers (myself included) now are happy to share their talks and workshops online for other professionals to refer to when needed. I feel that there is a lot to be learnt from conferences but it can be a minefield remembering what was learnt so try to organise handouts and notes accordingly.

4. Feedback

Our school has a policy for those teachers who have attended conferences and this is to offer a feedback session to all other teachers. It can be really useful to consolidate what was learnt during the conference and to reiterate what was mentioned during particular talks and workshops attended. It helps reinforce professional development and fosters an open environment for all teachers and staff.

5. Write About The Talk

When I first started going to ELT-related conferences, I found it beneficial to write about the talks that I had attended and the general overview of the conference. Many bloggers such as Sandy Millin and Peter Clements have written various posts about the IATEFL 2017 Conference in Glasgow. Again, blogging about conferences and talks will lead to other bloggers reading your posts, will remind you of what you watched and your experiences as well as connect with other bloggers who are also interested about the particular conference or attending that conference.

6. One Final Note

You are attending a conference to interact and learn more about the subject, so I would recommend to put your phone on ‘Airplane’ mode. You can use it to take photos but don’t lose yourself in your phone with emails or on social media. It can become a distraction and you are likely to come across as unapproachable. Speak to other attendees and see what you can do. Finally, enjoy your time at the conference and have fun!

Why Should Teachers Blog?

The-Beginners-Guide-to-Blogging

Last week, I was inducting some new teachers into our school: preparing them for their teaching career for the year ahead. We looked at various areas about teaching: classroom management, get to know you activities, games in the classroom, etc. The final area we looked at was about continuing professional development (CPD). We looked at formal and peer observations, attending workshops, contributing to workshops as well as blogging. All teachers with varying years of experience, including a teacher who had just completed her CELTA (or equivalent), had only come across the mainstream websites related to English language teaching (TEFL.com, Dave’s ESL Cafe or Teaching English) yet had not really considered blogging a tool for CPD.

What is a blog?

A blog is a website which is updated frequently and resembles a journal or diary. Most ELT bloggers used their personal website to reflect on teaching, suggest lesson ideas and activities, develop teacher networking, create a professional portfolio of achievements as well as to promote their own services either as an online English teacher or as a freelance teacher trainer.

Why should teachers have a blog?

Nowadays, people use their own blogs to write about experiences and opinions on a range of topics and interests. So a blog can be a personal space for teachers to share their ideas of teaching and to better reflect on what could be improved in the classroom. However, I have now found that initially it was a lot easier to draft up some ideas of posts about varying lesson ideas yet after more and more recognition, I have noticed that I now only want to write a post which is going to be recognised or bring in the number of visitors to my blog. Nevertheless, teachers can use a blog to connect with teachers, not just within the staffroom, and are not constrained by a physical location. Therefore, blogging teachers can communicate and share ideas, experiences and reflect on teaching and the overall profession with those that are based somewhere else in the world. Coupled with the fact that blogs encourage readers to leave comments or likes as well as offer tools to subscribe for future posts, promotes self-support.

What should I blog about?

When I started blogging, all I wanting to do was to create a diary of my teaching and to develop my written ability as I had decided to undertake an MA in English Language Teaching at the time. My very first blog post was just about a quote that I heard about language learning and I connected it to my teaching in such a somewhat cringy fashion. I deleted this blog post some years later, unable to really appreciate something that I first posted but it gave me direction and I suppose that if I had never really started blogging, this website would not be around now. After reading other blogs and deciding on a suitable focus, I have found the best areas to focus on:

  • The Top 10 Ways To …: This type of post allows me to think about an area of teaching and think of my favourite ten things associated with it. You can combine this with something associated with lesson planning, project work, pairing students, etc. You are not constrained by a topic but with a title such as “The Top 10 Ways To Get Students Working” will really grab the reader’s attention and offers practical ways for readers to incorporate ideas into the classroom.
  • How To Teach …: If you are struggling on one area of teaching, you can think about writing a blog post about. Again, similar to the idea above, you are not constrained by any particular idea. So if you are struggling with young learners in the classroom, why not read up a little bit more about it, plan a lesson, reflect and then write your post on “How To Teach With Young Learners”?
  • Teaching … In 5 Easy Steps: Do you want to think about the best way to teach a particular skill such as listening or reading as well as a specific grammar point? Then the best post would be to demonstrate your own ideas about this. You may get a reader thinking about something related and will thank you for your insight or you may get another reader who could offer a different idea about this and give you some further inspiration.
  • The Book Review: This is a solid blog post. If you buy a book or you read one in your staffroom, why not review it on your blog? It is simply and easy. You never know, you may get some publishers wanting you to review a new book or coursebook and you might be lucky enough to sent a free review copy. But don’t forget, it’s important to honour that support by publishers by posting up a book review.
  • The Lesson Plan: One of the popular posts that I seem to have on my website, and I really should tidy it up a bit more so that they are a bit more accessible to readers, are those of lesson plans. You can write up your own lesson plan with all the staging, materials and handouts included or attached/embedded to the post. Some teachers have devoted an entire website to lesson plans and lesson ideas. This is a great way to develop your own resources and to get feedback from other teachers who try it out for you. A real learning curve for materials development. Some publishing house may snap your ideas up and incorporate them into a new coursebook and ask for your help by finishing a chapter or the entire coursebook.
  • Learning English: As you can focus your entire blog to English language teachers, you can also dedicate part of your blog/website to English language learners. You can have a very simple lesson and include some tasks or self-study components for your own learners to supplement their own learning from the classroom but share it with the rest of the English learners in the world.

So you can see from the above six ideas that you are not really limited by anything apart from your own imagination. You can use some of the tried and tested ideas above to write your very personalised ideas and reflections about English teaching. In a future blog post, I shall look at what platforms available for blogging and things to consider when setting up your very own blog. I hope you have enjoyed this post, as it is slightly different to my normal blog posts, and let me know your own experiences of blogging. Anyhow, what ideas do you have when blogging? Why do you blog? What are the best areas to consider when blogging?

Teaching Ideas for Word Stress

pronunciation-practice-activities
Pronunciation Practice Activities” by Martin Hewings

So the past few months, I have been focusing more and more on pronunciation for all levels of learners, no matter whether they are young learners or adult learners of English. Anyhow, I tried out a new lesson idea today which was partly inspired from the wonderful book, “Pronunciation Practice Activities“, written by Martin Hewings. I would recommend any teacher worth their salt to purchase this book, as it offers some great pronunciation lesson ideas which could be incorporated into class immediately.

Most teachers would identify word stress with the teaching of new vocabulary or as a technique to support pronunciation for problematic lexical items. This is all well and good but it reminds me of a teacher reacting to issues rather than proactively focusing on areas of language learning. Personally, if a teacher is able to develop a lesson based around pronunciation and developing learners’ awareness of pronunciation, so much the better. There is by no means anything wrong by reacting to pronunciation issues as they arise but I think it would be a nice change of focus when we remind learners that there are some basic principles that they can learn no matter how large or small the lexical item. Nevertheless, lets look at one lesson idea which is published in “Pronunciation Practice Activities“.

The key aim for the lesson it to identify words by their stress patterns and I first introduced this by writing the following on the whiteboard:

  • photograph (Ooo)
  • photography (oOoo)

I asked learners to tell me how many syllables there were in each word and I broke it down by underlining each syllable. Afterwards, I drew small circles above each to illustrate the syllable and then I elicited from students the stress location within the word, rubbed out the corresponding small circle and replaced it with a large circle – look at the stress patterns in brackets next to the words.

The next stage of the lesson was to draw a person, and I named this lady Sarah. I told the students that she travels a lot for business and that she has been several countries over the past few months on business. I wrote up a list of countries in random order on the whiteboard: Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Venezuela. I told students that they need to determine which countries she visited in order by matching it with the corresponding stress pattern. I then drew stress patterns numbered 1-8:

  1. Oo
  2. ooOo
  3. oOoo
  4. oO
  5. O
  6. ooO
  7. Ooo
  8. oOo

I put students into pairs and asked them to match the words to the stress patterns. I monitored the learners and afterwards elicited from the groups each country from 1-8. As I mentioned before, it was the first time that I tried this activity. It worked really well and the students enjoyed the change of pace.

stress-patterns
What words related to ‘countries’ or ‘jobs’ could you write in the table?

As an extension, I decided to draw up a table on the whiteboard, asked learners to work again in pairs and write down some country names within the table (see the image of the table above). I elicited different country names and expected word stress patterns from the class and we all were drilling the pronunciation of country names. As a final activity, we looked at jobs and using the same word stress patterns. It was successful and the learners left the class with a smile on their face.

Finally, I had this idea which I will use in the very future: you could create a flashcard activity whereby students have to match vocabulary with the corresponding stress patterns such as with a flashcard game (pelmanism), calling out a word and having the stress patterns up on the whiteboard and students run up to the whiteboard and then try to grab it before the other team or just using different stress pattern cards and you call out a topic and go round the class, eliciting vocabulary related to the corresponding stress pattern. I could record a future lesson using some of these ideas, so you get a better idea on how you could use these ideas in a future lesson. Food for thought, hey?

Anyhow, over to you now! How do you incorporate word stress in the classroom? Do you have any favourite activities? How do you get learners more aware of word stress?

Real English Lesson: Functional Language

I recorded this lesson at my work of a fellow teacher preparing learners with functional language for debates and expressing points of view. It was a great lesson and I was so grateful being able to observe and record such a valuable lesson. I now thought that I will share this lesson with you all to see how my colleague is able to engage, motivate and support learners during a lesson. Enjoy!

Edit: One reader requested the handout which was used during the lesson. This can be viewed below.

"How Filming Lessons Could Completely Change Professional Development": Modern English Teacher

The latest article published in Modern English Teacher focuses more on the latest filming that I have focused more in the past few months. Have a read to find out a bit more how teachers could film their classes for their own personal CPD as well as sharing ideas with out English teaching professionals from around the world.

Perhaps I should focus on a future article about how to edit and upload a video to a website which promotes video sharing such as YouTube. For example, I have to spend hours editing the video, rendering it, upload it to YouTube and then finally add effects and thumbnails. It takes a lot longer than you think but it is rewarding to see so many people deciding on watching some of the videos.

Have you ever recorded your lessons? What would you do with the material? Would you be happy to share your class with the world?

"50 Activities for the First Day of School": Book Review

It is the first time that I have attempted to do a book review via video before and I decided the lucky book would be “50 Activities for the First Day of School” by Walton Burns. Watch the video below to find out more about the book and whether it would be useful for teachers.

Again, please let me know what book reviews I should do in the future. Again, a huge thanks to everyone who has been supporting my YouTube Channel – I now have over 42,000 minutes of watch time and over 12,000 views on my Channel. So a huge thank you to everyone.

The Ultimate Way to Get Students Debating

Last Friday, I was fortunate enough to observe one of my colleagues teach her Intermediate class with no material what so ever. She told me that she was going to get her students debating in class. I have always had difficulty getting my students to communicate and I thought it would be a great chance to see how another senior teacher encourages learners to communicate and debate naturally. It was the first time that I had been able to take away some ideas for teaching for next time. What made it even more valuable was that I recorded the lesson with my video camera – with her consent.

What I really found useful was the fact that the teacher did not use any worksheets or handouts and used all the students in class to elicit possible pros and cons for the debate. Here are the stages for preparing learners to debate and follow a similar lesson structure.

  1. Elicit possible statements for agreeing and disagreeing
  2. Board up these statements on one side of the whiteboard
  3. Choose a topic and divide the class in half
  4. One half of the class think of positives of the topic and the other half think of negatives
  5. Pair a student who focuses on positives with a student who focuses on negatives
  6. Get the learners to use the functional language on the whiteboard
  7. Monitor for feedback at the end of the lesson and prompt learners to use the functional language
  8. Stop the debate and then get students to decide who in their group won the debate and why
  9. Repeat the debate again but with a different topic and pair different students together
  10. Provide feedback and end the class

This is a great activity for Pre-Intermediate learners and above. Try it out next time and see whether you got your students speaking. A huge thank you to Lisa for allowing me to record her lesson.