ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

Month: September 2012

“Found Objects” by Luke Meddings: British Council Seminar

Found Objects” Luke Meddings

On Tuesday 18 September, I had the opportunity to travel up to London and attend Luke Meddings’ talk at the British Council, as part of the new Seminars between 2012 to 2013, at Spring Gardens.  Luke Meddings’ talk was titled “Found Objects” and the blurb on the British Council Seminars’ poster is in the image on the left.  Each attendee was greeted by a large brown sugar cube on their chair and prior to the start of the talk I mingled with other attendees and picked up some materials (posters and DVDs), journals and pamphlets.  At the first British Council Seminar for this academic year, I bumped into to some familiar faces such as Sandy, Mike, Phil, Ela and Sue to name just a few.

What’s a sugar cube sitting here for?

The seminar started with Luke Meddings getting attendees to guess why there was a large brown sugar cube on their chair and eliciting responses, as one would if they were in the classroom.  Some of the suggestions included collocations such as “like it or lump it”, “sugar lump” or a “spoon full of sugar”.  Some other ideas why the sugar cube was present on attendees’ seats included the purpose of a reservation, so we could feed a horse (if one were to attend the seminar), or memories about being fed a sugar lump.  Essentially, the seminar was about using objects to prompt authentic interaction and conversation and it gets the outside world into the classroom.  Meddings then decided to break down the acronyms of each letter from “Found Objects” to look at various activities or ideas to consider when bringing objects inside the classroom and he related this to the second key tenet of Dogme ELT, a focus on ‘materials-light‘.  One question that I was wondering was, is there a difference between materials and objects?


F is for Found:

Meddings shared that as teachers, we never seem to switch off from the classroom.  We are constantly thinking about what materials to incorporate in classes, how to teach particular groups and what activities we should focus on.  Meddings suggested that we should go about looking for objects which we could bring into the classroom when outside.  If we find something, we could take a photo of it and share the image with learners: “the more ideas that you can come up with, the more stimuli that we can collect”.  However, we should, as teachers, should constantly think of new and inventive ways to develop conversation and, as Meddings puts it, “bringing the class alive”.  He suggested that finding objects to bring into the classroom (or pictures of these objects) comes from searching or looking actively.

ELT Pics © 2012

O is for Objects:

Meddings then looked at Objects and what constituted an object and whether a digital image or artefact is suitable for bringing into the classroom.  He then progressed to showing an image of a photo trapped under a bin with the photo being a recycling plant.  It was quite surreal to have a picture of a bin and a photo stuck under the bin of a recycling plant.  This in itself prompted quite some chatter amongst the attendees and then Meddings proclaimed that “not everything can be imported into the classroom”.  This moved on to the using of unusual and not so common images of objects in the classroom.  Essentially, the using of pictures and photographs is not so new and ELT Pics are available for teachers to share and develop photographs for the classroom.  One final picture that Meddings showed to attendees was the image of poppies.  This moved on to the next point about using objects.

U is for Using:

He gave attendees a few minutes to share their ideas and thoughts about poppies.  Some of the suggestions for the classroom included: getting learners to develop the life cycle of the poppy, the use of poppy seeds as drugs as well as one idea which I suggested getting young learners to paint poppy seeds for Christmas decorations in the classroom.  Meddings highlighted that usual objects which are found around the house or outside could be used in the classroom to creative degree.

N is for Narrative:

Meddings demonstrating the creative use of cardboard.
Just as objects can prompt authentic interaction and conversation, these objects could also prompt some form of narrative.  Narrative tenses offer learners the opportunity to use most tenses and we can focus on areas linked with lesson aims.  Meddings showed a picture of a bunch of flowers stuck between a fence and again offered attendees a few minutes to discuss amongst themselves how these flowers got there as well as who left them and why.  The ambiguity of pictures offers some form of springboard for creativity: writing a story based upon the picture, discussing ideas about objects in photographs, getting learners to recreate a story from multiple pictures, etc.  None of these ideas are new but it was a nice reminder how the simple things developed in the classroom could prompt authentic conversation and interaction.
You know you want to spend, spend, spend.

D is for Direction:

As mentioned before, objects could be used as a springboard to develop conversation.  Obviously, for most teachers they are expected to use a coursebook but there is nothing wrong with using objects and pictures to bring the coursebook alive.  Meddings suggested using a pyramid discussion when incorporating objects in the classroom: it offers some resemblance of direction and relation to the coursebook but allows opportunity for teachers to develop the direction expected by learners.  Furthermore, Meddings suggested that objects that are brought in could motivate learners and prompt them to develop conversation.  The next image that Meddings showed was a picture of a gift card from TK Maxx and on the gift card, there was some interesting language related to consumerism and purchasing that thing you have always wanted.  For example, if there is a topic about shopping and consumerism in the coursebook, teachers could always bring in an object related to shopping (a gift card in this case) and use this during the lesson.  It was a wonderful example about creatively using a coursebook but also balancing more opportunities to explore emergent language.


The remaining part of the seminar focused on the second word: Objects and this again was broken down into acronyms.  However, to avoid repetition the acronyms have been dropped and a summary of the remaining seminar is below.
The British Council podium in Spring Gardens
One obvious advantage about getting learners, as well as yourself, to bring in personal possessions into class offers ownership to objects.  Learners are able to relate to objects and share their stories about them.  For example, this week I was teaching a group of 4 learners and I got them all to bring in a personal possession that is important to them.  One Spanish learner brought in a guitar pluck and a music concert pamphlet.  He then told the rest of us how important it was to him.  He was given a guitar pluck whilst he was playing his bass guitar during the concert on the pamphlet by a fellow musician and the guitar pluck had the name of a famous band in Spain.  It was a very interesting story and the rest of the class learnt more about this learner.  Essentially, as Meddings suggested, the personalisation in the classroom provide learners to own the language as well as just the object.  Meddings then returned back to the use of images in the classroom.  He showed a picture of a wonderful building, some lovely trees, etc and then he got attendees to consider what was right behind of the photographer.  Some of the suggestions were lovely and again this linked to the previous areas highlighted during the seminar.  In the end, Meddings showed the actual scene and it was unexpected: it was a picture of a building being rebuilt with cement mixes, builders, etc.  Obviously, this generated a lot of chatter amongst the attendees.  Again, this is a similar activity that I have seen mentioned in various books about the use of images as well as with ELT Pics and it was a wonderful reminder about the simplicity of images and using various images juxtaposed to reconstruct a scene, story, etc.  The remaining areas of the seminar looked at the use of objects by getting learners to express themselves using images creatively.  This was obviously repeated before but was an important area to consider.  Meddings demonstrated this by a story about his daughter using some cardboard packaging to recreate a scene: being used as an accordion, a skirt or a punchbag.  Again, Meddings suggested that we should share with other teachers the materials and objects that we use during lessons.  We could find some wonderful objects that could be used in the class by the sharing of materials with our fellow teachers.  Meddings suggested taking some of the objects from teachers and trying it out in our own lessons and then as a post reflection, share our experiences with other teachers that have also used the objects in the classroom.  Finally, Meddings recommended that teachers should use objects that prompt conversation and natural talking in the classroom and it doesn’t need to be fully loaded with various tasks.  Essentially, a ‘less-is-more’ approach to teaching could improve learner-to-learner, as well as learner-to-teacher or vice versa, interaction and as a quote from Meddings, he recommended that “you don’t find something no where but you find it somewhere”.
Martin Sketchley (left) and Luke Meddings (right)
This week, I have brought in an object to class for my adult conversation class.   There are some wonderful ideas that Meddings recommended during the seminar and I look forward to watching it again on the Teaching English website.  I would recommend other teachers to try out some of the ideas that Meddings recommends to develop their own understanding of Dogme ELT.  Again, as I have always recommended, it is always best to follow a balanced approach to teaching: balancing between more eclectic and humanistic forms of teaching as well as more structured forms.  The use of objects and images does offer teachers the opportunity to develop a ‘tool-box’ so that Dogme ELT can be developed in the classroom.
I am looking forward to seeing Luke Meddings at the BELTE Conference on 20 October 2012 where he is focusing more on Dogme ELT.

The video of the British Council Seminars is available now to watch below:

You can also read up on the Teaching English website about the seminar also.

The Balanced Approach: Can It Be Personalised?

Incorporating Dogme ELT, Martin Sketchley © 2012

What is the ‘balanced approach‘ I hear you ask.  Well the ‘balanced approach‘ was a philosophy of teaching that I proposed after research and writing up my dissertation on Dogme ELT for my MA at the University of Sussex.  This approach to teaching suggested that the best method of incorporating Dogme ELT was including an eclectic range of modern teaching methods combined with more traditional structured forms teaching method.  However, I haven’t fully explored or really considered what a ‘balanced approach‘ is.

Within my dissertation I considered a “Balanced Approach to teaching would offer EFL teachers the best of both worlds: the prospect of structured lessons or the opportunity to incorporate more exploratory or experimental teaching techniques, dependent upon classroom expectations” (page 55-56).  Essentially, this form of teaching would incorporate a range of methods or techniques which is dependent upon classroom dynamics, as well as learner expectation and previous experience of language learning.  Nevertheless, I am starting to question whether the above statement is really what I expect from a ‘balanced approach’.  Since the previous ELTChat discussion on more experimental forms of teaching methods such as the Silent Way, TPR or Suggestopedia, I was chatting to other teachers about ‘striking a balance‘ between structured and experimental forms of teaching through personal choice and adapting them towards your teaching. Here are some quotes from the discussion:

As Jenny Ankenbauer suggests, a ‘balanced approach‘ might be considered vague with teachers being given the opportunity to claim their progress within teaching via this approach.  Furthermore, due to the ambiguity of a ‘balanced approach‘, teachers may hide behind their claim.  Granted, the approach to balance in the classroom is vague and is not without contention with other teachers.  However, the suggestion to incorporate a method that is both immediate and personal to all parties in the classroom (both teacher and students in this case) is something that should be developed by all teachers.  Rachael Roberts looks at personalising the ‘balanced approach‘ below.

Rachael considers that a approach which is personally developed, which I guess is reactive and student centred, is appropriate but this ‘personal approach‘ should be developed through informed decision making.  Essentially, teachers should be striving to develop an approach that is both conducive for language learning while at the same time supports learner expectation.  This key point of ‘learner expectation’ is something that Marjorie Rosenberg considers.
Marjorie considers that there is no one best method for all students or classes.  Much of this has to do with learner expectation, the culture of learning as well as the perceived role of the teacher in the classroom.  What Marjorie suggests from her own personal experience is to take the best out of all methods/approaches and adapting them appropriately for the classroom.  During the ELTChat discussion, it was mentioned that ‘cherry picking’ methods or approaches were seen as best practice and would also provide a personal lesson for learners.
Suzanne Guerrero also echoed Marjorie.  Suzanne suggested that a teacher could ‘assimilate the principles’ and then ‘adapt them’ to different teaching contexts.  It appears that most teachers which participated during the ELTChat developed a ‘personal approach’ to teaching and it was also seen as best practice.  This approach is available for teachers to develop as they see fit and can personalise their own teaching.  It is related to the whole context and principle of humanising the classroom.  From reviewing the latest ELTChat, I can see that a ‘balanced approach‘ is both limited in its focus: for example it either considers a structured form, less structured form or a combination of both forms of teaching in the classroom.  It does not really consider the teacher, the learners, the context or culture of learning and the perceived role of the teacher.  However developing and adapting lessons on a personal level is more open for teachers to develop as they see appropriate.  However, I would consider this a ‘bespoke approach‘.
A ‘bespoke approach‘ to teaching would provide a different experience to any learner (or teacher).  As teachers we are always striving to develop a curriculum which accommodates all forms of learners (or teachers).  I remember teaching two different groups but at the same level but present at different times. The first group was very active in class whilst the second group was quite passive.  Thus, I tried to stimulate the second group more using different techniques than I would with the first.  Essentially, I was offering a bespoke English course for learners: accommodating learner requests, expectations and experience of language learning.  I believe a ‘bespoke approach‘ would offer more opportunity for teachers to customise their lesson based on a number of factors, using appropriate teaching techniques as well as making informed decisions for learners, lessons, etc.
Nevertheless, do you think there is a difference between a ‘balanced approach’, a ‘personal approach’ and a ‘bespoke approach’?  As teachers, are we spreading ourselves too thin when trying to incorporate various different teaching techniques or methods?
As ever, please leave your comments below.

Using Smartphones During Classes: Lesson Ideas

ELT Pics – Technology © 2011

I don’t know about you but a lot of my learners have a smartphone with a camera attached to it.  More often than not, they have their heads down in their laps looking at their phones or updating their Facebook status instead of focusing during the lesson and completing various tasks.  This got me thinking about how us teachers could incorporate smartphones into lessons and I prepared some lesson ideas.  Anyhow, I suppose we are constantly fighting to engage learners in the lesson and getting them to complete tasks.  One tenet of Dogme ELT is to include the resources that learners bring into the lesson and if learners (both young or adult) have a smartphone on their possession, how can we exploit this piece of technology.  Here are some of the ideas that I have used in class before:

  1. Picture Hunt – get learners to complete various tasks by using the camera (if one is attached to the smartphone) to take photos of different things.  I have included some material below for those that are interested in this activity.  Basically, students have to take a photo of something circular, something that is red, etc.  It develops the learner’s attention to detail and improves focusing during activities.
  2. Role Scene Pictures – another activity for learners to exploit the use of the camera.  Learners take photos of particular scenes (once they have completed a story brainstorming session in class) and then have to produce the story using a set number of images.  Students could then email you the pictures for you to print out and then they can produce a storyboard which can then be presented in class.  A variation of this activity is to get learners to create the same storyboard by using a listening/reading activity from a coursebook as the basis of the story.  It provides some structure if learners have difficulty to creatively produce a story.
  3. Mini WebQuest – the most popular form of researching is through the use of an internet quest.  Learners traditionally use computers or laptops to find answers to particular questions or support their writing.  Obviously, learners that have a connection to a wifi (if one is available in your school) could use the internet to find answers to particular quizzes (such as the cultural quizzes that I posted last week – British Culture & About the Queen).  A variation of this activity is whereby learners take photos of the QR Codes spread around the classroom to find out the answers of particular questions.
  4. Creating and Writing a Blog – smartphone technology these days offer people to write blogposts on the go.  If you school has a blog, you could get learners to write up a blog post.  It could supplement some form of speaking, listening or reading (What do you do in your free time?, Describe your family, etc).  Learners then work in pairs to type up their blog post and then you could (if you have an IWB or projector) show each of the blog posts to elicit feedback or error correction.  A variation of this activity could include using Google Docs as this is now available for iPads or iPhones.  You could create a Google Docs account for learners to logon, complete their writing so that it is then available for printing and error correction the following lesson.
  5. My Music – you could get learners to describe what music they listen to on their smartphone to partners and compare different styles of music.  It should generate a lot of discussion and a lot of language for scaffolding.  Learners are keen to play music on their smartphones to the class.  You could exploit this by creating a music quiz (learners have to write down the name of the artist, the song and the year it was released (bonus points for this one)).
  6. My Pictures – as with the above activity, you could get learners to share their pictures either on their mobile phone or from a social networking site such as Facebook.  If learners are willing, they could show pictures of family, their hometown, friends, etc should these be available on their phone or their social networking site.
  7. Classroom Text Messages – this activity could introduce learners to text message language in English. I know in Korean that there are a lot of characters used to express emotion.  In English we use acronyms so this could be introduced at the beginning of the lesson.  The next activity learners complete is for students to share their mobile phone numbers with each other and send each other a text message.  Put the students’ phone numbers on the board and they can create a message to share with each other.  Give the learners space and this will develop naturally.  It will provide learners the opportunity to practice writing short messages in English and responding to them.
There is a template lesson activity for the Picture Hunt activity below.  I hope it is useful.
What do you think about the use of smartphones in the classroom?  How have you used smartphones in lessons before?  Do you have another activity that has worked well in the past which you would like to share?

As ever, please share your ideas, experiences or opinions below in the comments.

Some links as suggested in the comments:

Google QR Reader

This Year’s BELTE – 20 October 2012

Study Group © 2012

Study Group are re-organising the BELTE (Brighton English Language Training Event) for 20 October 2012 with some very well known guests and speakers such as Luke Meddings, Hugh Dellar, as well as Martin Parrott to name just a few.  This training event, which is entirely free for attendees, takes place the entire day between 10am and 5:30pm.  It is a wonderful opportunity for teachers wishing to attend workshops and talks provided very experienced teacher trainers or well respected individuals in the ELT profession.  All participants will receive a certificate of attendance to include in their professional portfolio.  Last year, certificates were either emailed or posted.

I have attended the previous two conferences (2010 and 2011) and each time I was incredibly surprised by the number of teachers attending as well as those big names in ELT giving talks.  I am looking forward to attending another talk on Dogme ELT by Luke Meddings and I am unsure whether to attend a talk by Hugh Dellar or Martin Parrott.  Nonetheless, the conference schedule is available online and is quoted below.


‘Producing and Using Authentic Listening Materials’Ian Badger [Harper Collins]Ian travels widely as a consultant and trainer for international companies helping to improve the effectiveness of their communications. He spends a lot of his time running face-to-face training in Finland, France, Germany and Russia. A previous director of studies and a teacher trainer who regularly presents at international conferences, he has authored: ‘English for Business: Listening’ (ELTons 2012 nominee) and ‘English for Life: Listening’ [Harper Collins] co-authored ‘English for Business Life’ (Heinle/Cengage) and ‘Everyday Business English’ and ‘Everyday Business Writing’ (Pearson).
An interactive session in which we will explore ways of producing and then using authentic listening materials for our learners to help them cope with the challenges they meet in their everyday life, studies and work. We will compare these ‘tailored’ materials with published listening materials and discuss our experiences of working with authentic and also ‘scripted’ material including unfamiliar accents, grammatically ‘incorrect’ and not conforming to standard patterns of usage learned. 

‘What Happens When we Unplug?’Luke Meddings [Delta Publishing]Luke was a co-founder of the dogme in ELT movement with Scott Thornbury. Their book, Teaching Unplugged, [Delta] 2009 and won a British Council ELTon award for Innovation in 2010. In 2011 he co-founded the round, an independent e-publishing collective, with Lindsay Clandfield. Their first book, 52: a year of subversive activity for the ELT classroom was published in 2012.
Unplugged teaching focuses less on a ‘top-down’ approach to teaching based on published materials, and more on working bottom-up from the lives and language of the people in the room. This interactive session uses hands-on activities, role play and classroom feedback to explore the theory and practice of Dogme ELT. 

‘The Power of the Image’Paul Dummett [Cengage Learning]Paul is a teacher/writer based in Oxford whose early career includes being DoS and course designer at Godmer House School. His interest in Business English led him to focus on task-based teaching and ESP. He delivers courses to professionals and has authored skills, business and General English titles, including Life [Cengage Learning].
We live in an age where images play an increasingly important part in everyday communication. This talk explores the relation of image to other forms of communication and explores ways in which we can use photographs in class-based teaching. Many of the examples are taken from National Geographic content and photographs from Life. 

‘3Fs-Foster Fluency Faster’Paul Seligson [Richmond ELT]Paul has been ‘TEFLing’ worldwide for over 30 years and is well-known for lively, highly practical training. A CELTA assessor, publications include English File [OUP], and from Richmond ELT, Helping Students to Speak, Kid’s Web 1-5 and Essential English 1-5; a shorter new course for young adults. He works freelance from Brazil.
Highly practical, focusing on ‘teachering’ [well-established teacher tactics which look pedagogically good but are often dinosaurian, limiting and hindering fluency especially at lower levels] this lively talk offers simple pragmatic alternatives including defining fluency, strategies, eliciting, L1 use, ‘syllabus reduction’ to make space for fluency, recording vocabulary, reading aloud, transcript analysis, correction and a 30-point check list. 

‘Inspired Courses with Online Resources’Peter Newman [Macmillan English Campus]Peter, a member of the Macmillan English Campus team, spent a number of years as an ELT teacher in France and Spain before going to work in the lifelong learning unit of the European Commission.
Online resources are all well and good, but can they tie in with what you actually teach in class-and with minimal effort? This session will look at options for combining online resources for both learners and teachers to give your classes an edge, inspire your students and make your life easier. 

‘EAP Grammar: Moving the Focus from Tense to Syntax’Terry Phillips [Garnet Education]Terry has been in ELT for more than 30 years as a school owner, manager and consultant, training teachers and management in more than 20 countries. A well-respected speaker on the ELT circuit, he has published, with his wife, more than 150 books including University Skills in English, Progressive Skills and The i-test [Garnet].
Tense choice is a key area of complexity in everyday language use in English. But EAP teaching requires changing the main focus onto syntactic structures such as the complex noun phrase. This session will show how teachers can both use existing skills and develop new skills to teach EAP grammar effectively. 


‘The Challenge of Chunks’Frances Eales [Pearson]*Frances is a teacher and DELTA trainer who has taught in the UK and many other countries. She was a writer on the Cutting Edge series and has recently written three levels of Speakout, a course developed in conjunction with the BBC. She has a particular interest in developing speaking and listening skills, in task-based learning and the use of authentic video in class. She currently lives and works near Brighton.
As teachers, we are generally confident about teaching individual words and probably also two-word collocations. But what about longer fixed and semi-fixed phrases of the kind that are highlighted in course books as ‘useful language’ or ‘key phrases’ or ‘functional phrases’? We know that such phrases can make a huge difference to learners’ fluency in speaking but how do we encourage learners to use them appropriately and accurately? This workshop adopts a ‘back to basics’ approach to offer some enjoyable, practical ideas for focusing on phrases. 

‘Translation: Tackling the Taboo’Hugh Dellar [Cengage Learning]*Hugh is a teacher at the University of Westminster and has been teaching since 1993, mainly in London but for three years in Indonesia. He gives TT and development talks globally. He is co-author of the Innovations series and co-wrote the recent Outcomes series [Cengage]
For too long, translation has been taboo in many classrooms. This blanket ban stems from both native speaker dominance and a failure to appreciate the many benefits translation can offer, resulting in a de-skilling of teachers-particularly non-natives. In this taboo-busting talk, I will explore the uses [and of course, abuses] of L1 use in class. 

‘Getting the Most out of Mental Imagery in the EFL Classroom’Jack Scholes [Helbling Languages]*Jack has a first degree in German and Russian, a PGC in Education and EFL, and is also a Licensed Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, having studied under Dr. Richard Bandler, the co-inventor of NLP.
With over 40 years’ experience in ELT, around the world including in England, Germany, Nepal, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, He is now a freelance trainer, ELT specialist, and author of 12 books including The Coconut Sellers in the Helbling Readers Series.
Mental imagery is one of the most powerful, effective and necessary tools for teachers. This talk will explore new ways to enliven and enrich your classroom with motivating activities using mental imagery that help your students learn more effectively, enhance their motivation and strengthen self-concept.   

‘Top Tips for Success with IELTS Teaching and Learning’ Louisa Dunne [IELTS]Working for the British Council in France, Louisa provides academic support and advice to English teachers in HE and secondary institutions who are preparing learners for a variety of tests. She has had many years’ experience teaching all ages and levels in a variety of educational contexts. Also a Cambridge examiner, she has worked for the BC in various locations [e.g. Egypt, Nepal, Japan and Portugal before France].
Discussing their own experiences of preparing students for IELTS, participants will look at common pitfalls for candidates taking language tests and how these could be avoided. We will also consider the possible challenges faced when preparing students for IELTS; Louisa offers some useful tips and presents some online resources for IELTS. 

‘Grammar, Correctness and Language Evolution: What not to Teach’Martin Parrott [CUP]*Martin began teaching English in mainstream comprehensives and at the Lycee Francais Charles de Gaulle in London after many years working in ELT [International House, BBC, Universities of London and Bristol]. Now freelance, he maintains an interest in grammar, teacher education and educational management. Grammar for English Language Teachers [CUP] win the Duke of Edinburgh English Speaking Union prize 2000; the second edition was released in 2010.
What is ‘Standard English’? How is English changing? This talk looks at what should or should not be included in classroom materials and in reference materials for learners and teachers. You will be invited to study and comment on examples of language use and I will be honest about decisions I have made. 

13.00 Lunch break: snacks available 

14.00 BELTE EXPERTS: Q/A panel in Main Hall
Hugh Dellar chairs a panel of Terry Philips, Martin Parrott, Jack Scholes, Frances Eales and Rachael Roberts answering your ELT questions in a knowledgeable, but entertaining way. 


‘Stifling the Grammar Yawn’Diana Hall and Mark Foley [Pearson Education]Diane has been working in ELT for over 25 years as teacher, trainer, writer, editor and publisher. With an MA in Applied Linguistics, she is currently an Associate Lecturer at the Open University.
Mark has also been in ELT for a similar period, teaching, training examining and materials writing in the UK and Spain. They have co-authored MyGrammarLab and New Total English plus many other titles for Pearson.
Why do many students find grammar boring? In this workshop, we will look at making grammar-learning more interesting, challenging and effective, using examples from MyGrammarLab which combines book-based and on-line materials. Additionally, we will look at how new technology can help keep track of student progress. 

‘Spelling Myths and Enchantments’Johanna Stirling [The Spelling Blog]Johanna is a freelance ELT consultant who works as a teacher/trainer at Norwich Institute of Language Education [NILE] and authors, edits and presents for CUP. Having recently written Teaching Spelling to English Learners she runs the Spelling Blog and may be addressed as ‘The Spelling Queen’.
Get ready to challenge some myths about English spelling and the way we teach it. Open your mind to new skills and arts that can transform weak spellers of all ages into better spellers. Watch boring mechanical practice go up in puffs of smoke as new and enchanting techniques and activities appear before our eyes. Motivating magic that all teachers can perform! 

‘How can Assessment Support Learning? A Learner Oriented Approach’Lee Knapp [Cambridge esol]Lee, a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, is Development Manager UK for Cambridge esol exams. With an MA in Applied Linguistics, he has been involved in ELT since the early ’70s: teaching in the German state sector, management training and consultancy in the Gulf and, in the UK, organisational development roles in FE, the private language-school and financial services sectors. He is the co-author of Write for Business [Longman].
This talk summarises and locates Learning Oriented Assessment [LOA] within the assessment landscape. LOA brings together notions of summative and formative assessment with learning located at the heart of the process. We will explore how assessment data can be used to profile and monitor learner progress, inform teacher decision-making and enable learners to engage in focused self-study. 

‘Language, Motivation and Opportunity’Martyn Clarke [OUP]Martyn has taught English at all levels for over twenty years in more than fifteen countries, from one-to-one to classes of eighty. He has written course books, designed teacher development programmes, run webinars and is fascinated by the way people learn: academically, professionally and personally and how they can be supported at individual, local and systemic levels.
Communicative language teaching needs to be precisely that-communicative. But, encouraging learners to speak can be a challenge. This practical session explores the elements of language support, motivation and opportunity and their impact on creating an environment in which learners feel comfortable speaking. We will be analysing a variety of activities both teacher-produced and published [OUP English File 3rd edition]. 

’12-14 Minutes of IELTS Speaking hell?’Rachael Roberts [Macmillan Education]Rachael now spends most of her time writing, most recently the CD ROM and practice tests for Ready for IELTS, as well as IELTS Foundation Second Edition [Macmillan]. She also works in the UK as an examiner, teacher and teacher-trainer and has extensive experience abroad, resulting in her interest in producing materials for IELTS, particularly at lower levels.
Many students seem to find the Speaking exam the most challenging part of IELTS. As an examiner, it is very obvious which students have been well prepared (or not!) In this session, we will look at practical activities and techniques to help students develop their awareness of typical discourse patterns and language needed in the three stages and become more confident and fluent speakers.

Keep an eye on tweets with the hashtag #BELTE for further information.  Last year, there were some special prizes for the first 200 teachers that arrived at the BELTE Conference, so get in early to possibly claim a prize (if they are doing the same thing as last year).  I look forward to seeing my network in Brighton in October.

What talks would you like to attend?  What talks would you like to see in next years BELTE?  Did you attend last year’s BELTE 2011?  If so, what did you think of it?

Answer in the comment section below.

Puns and Riddles in the Classroom: Lesson Ideas

Yesterday, I blogged about using some quizzes in the classroom to raise learner awareness about British Culture.  In fact, quizzes and questionnaires could be used for a variety of different roles.  Today I would like to focus on the use of humour and riddles in the classroom to improve learner perspective whilst learning a foreign language.  Humour can play an important role in the classroom, particularly when interacting with learners.  It maintains and improves rapport, develops motivation as well as lowers the learner’s affective filter.

The first activity today includes getting learners to guess the answers to the following questions in the embedded document.  These questions were inspired by the Internet TESL Journal and their emphasis on jokes and riddles.  Anyhow, the learners are handed the following handout and they then have to think of suitable answers to the questions.  Get learners into pairs and working together.  Once learners have finished, you could get them to compare their answers to the rest of the class and then they have to work together to complete a comprehensive answer list.

The next part of the lesson involves handing out the answers in the form of a Wordle (look at the wordle image above), and getting the learners to link questions with answers, as well as check their own answers.  When I tried this lesson out with my learners, they were very receptive and they worked together and came up with pretty good answers (some correct and some worthy).

One final activity that you could include in the classroom could include dictating the following puns, students write out each joke and get raise learner awareness of double meanings.  The following jokes are some suggestions, with some more available in “Memory Activities in Language Learning” by Bilbrough (p.175):

  1. Two aerials got married.  The wedding was pretty bad, but the reception was great.
  2. One thousand pairs of underpants have been stolen.  The police are making a brief enquiry.
  3. Did you hear about the man who lost the whole left side of his body?  He’s all right now.
  4. What is the prisoner’s favourite punctuation mark?  The full stop – it marks the end of his sentence.
  5. The police have caught two men drinking battery acid.  They will soon be charged.
  6. Why did the man give up tap dancing?  Because he kept falling in the sink.
  7. Did you hear about the fire on the campsite?  The heat was in tents.
  8. Why is it a problem if you get sick at the airport?  It could be a terminal illness.
With my experience of teaching South Koreans, jokes seem to be rather a selective subject and some of the puns or jokes might not work with each class.  Nevertheless, how do you use jokes in the classroom?  Do you try to get learners to create their own jokes?  Are jokes an important part of English culture?  Can jokes be told across cultures?

Culture in the Classroom: Lesson Ideas

This is another blog post which is essentially an extension from the “A In The Life Of The Queen Lesson Plan“, which I posted up on ELT Experiences a number of days ago.  Personally, it is quite challenging to develop cultural awareness in the language classroom and anyway to improve learners’ knowledge of the UK it always a positive.  Some activities could include using a range of authentic British Newspapers (it is always better to have a selection of newspapers, rather than just one so learners are exposed to a range of lexis for the same story), incorporating music, videos or quizzes.  Personally, I enjoy the use of quizzes in the classroom and it is a wonderful activity if used as a web quest.

During the last week with my Young Adults at the British Council Bucharest, I decided to get learners more aware of British Culture through the use of a quiz, whereby they could search for answers on the iPads (lucky if your institution has them for use in class).  The quiz that I used included the following:

British Culture – Quiz

Students were keen to complete this activity and were happy to look on their iPhones or the iPads to find out the answers.  It really exposed the learners to British Culture.  The next part of the lesson focused on the learners trying to find out about their own culture and whilst working in pairs, would have to write up their own questions (practices question forms) and make a note of the answers on a separate piece of paper.  So I used the following template:

British Culture Student Questions

The final activity, once learners created their own questions, was that learners handed their own worksheet to another group and would then have to search for the answers.  This type of lesson developed learner autonomy and was incredibly engaging.  I hope you have a chance to develop this idea in your classroom and please let me know how it went.

For further ideas about developing culture in the classroom, I would recommend the following book:

How do you incorporate culture in the classroom?  What is the most difficult aspect of teaching culture?  What books do you recommend for teaching culture in the classroom?  What sort of activities do you encourage for learners to share about their culture?

September Teacher Interview – Vicky Loras

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview Vicky Loras for my first ever monthly Teacher Interview.  I decided to interview teachers so that readers would be able to find out a bit more about real teachers around the world.  Vicky Loras is a prominent blogger and user of Twitter.  You can find her on Twitter @VickyLoras.

Vicky Loras, born in the beautiful city of Toronto, Canada, teaches English language and literature to students of all ages.  She has been teaching English for a total of almost fourteen years. For ten years, Vicky and her sisters (Eugenia and Christine) owned an English Language School in Greece, The Loras English Academy, but she has now moved with her eldest sister to Switzerland.  She writes a blog on education at http://vickyloras.wordpress.com

So, without further ado let’s start the interview.

  1. Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into teaching.
I was born in Toronto, Canada to Greek parents who moved to Canada when they were very young. I have two sisters, one older, one younger than me and we are all ELT teachers! We had an English language school in Greece for ten years (I have been teaching for a total of almost fourteen) – the Loras English Academy. I was very sad that the school had to close down – but I have been living in Switzerland for three years now and I love it!
I got into teaching by accident, actually ; ) As long as I remember myself, I wanted to be a lawyer – I watched all the series with courtrooms and lawyers and imitated them, learned legal language by heart and pretended to defend my clients and yell “Objection, your honour!” in my bedroom. When the time came for me to do my university entrance exams, I did really well but missed Law School for 0.3% of a point. I was heart-broken. My grades allowed me to pass in the Department of Englsih Language and Literature – I was not so excited at first, but I fell in love with it later on and I have never looked back!
  1. You have a BA in English Language and Literature.  How did this degree prepare you to become a language teacher?
Even though my love for literature is tremendous, most of the courses I chose were in Language and Linguistics. I learned a great deal from fascinating professors. We had the great chance to have teaching practice twice while we were in university. I loved that experience and it played a big role later on, as the things I was afraid of were nothing to worry about, and the weaknesses I found I worked on to improve.
  1. You used to own a language school in Greece with your sisters.  Tell me a bit more about this.

As I mentioned before, we opened the Loras English Academy and it was only me and my eldest sister Gina at the beginning, with a big office split between us and 23 students. We worked seven days a week, from 12 to 15 hours a day – we shared sandwiches, made coffee for each other and helped each other out as much as we could. We were even our own secretary, accountant, cook, typist, everything! Then our students started to multiply, so we needed more teachers…and rooms! Our youngest sister Christine came aboard, and then more and more… at the time we closed it (the eldest and I would move to Switzerland), we had thirteen more teachers and 203 students of all ages. Gina’s husband was given a permanent position in Switzerland so she had to move there with her children. We had to close down the school, as the accountant told us it would be difficult for Gina to be the manager from far away…it was one of the most difficult decisions ever. But it had to happen and sometimes good things come to an end. I also decided to move to Switzerland, as the educational system is excellent. I am happy here.

  1. What’s the most memorable thing that has occurred in the classroom?

Lots of things…small and bigger things – a dyslexic child realising how well he is doing, that his eyes light up and fills with motivation! An adult who has come to class without any knowledge in English, being able to communicate with foreign colleagues later on. A little boy asked me once: “When do we finish our lesson?” “In ten minutes – are you tired, S?” I asked him. “No, I want it to finish, so I can hug you!” he said. It totally captured my heart!

One event I remember, not related to education, was a strong earthquake we had once – no damages, but it really shook the place. I had three children in my group at that time and they all knew the drill – they immediately dove under the table with me and we all held hands. That was one of the moments that I realised how much we are attached to our students and, no exaggeration, we are their parents for that short time they are in class.

  1. You are now based in Switzerland.  How does this country compare to teaching in Greece?

It is much different, regarding my teaching style first of all. The students want and demand (in a nice way) a direct correction of their mistakes, even if that means interrupting their train of thought – I used to correct on the spot in Greece too, but sometimes left it for after they finished so as not to cut them off or discourage them by correcting them constantly. Here I teach mainly adults and they really want correction all the time, if possible. I found it hard at first – now I am doing better, I think!

  1. How would you go about promoting autonomous learning with your learners?

I share experiences of my learning with them. I am learning German at the moment (self-taught for now) so I tell them what works for me, what motivates me and so on. They like that. I also inform them about any new technological developments that they can use when they are not in class and they find it fun. They even find tools I have never heard of, so I am learning alongside them as well!

  1. One of your main educational interests includes diversity and culture.  How would you go about incorporating culture and diversity in the classroom?

I have pictures and posters in my classes of people from all over the world, their lives and culture. The children bring in things from their own cultures as well and so do my adults. We have Martin Luther King Day in January and I talk about him even to the youngest ones. They understand a lot and they really start to think. Children have the loveliness to embrace all people and differences, which we say is beautiful!

  1. Do you have any plans to continue professional development?

Yes – apart from going to workshops, conferences and seminars, I am going to apply for a MA in Linguistics this year at the University of Berne – I hope I am accepted! I am looking forward to returning to school very much. I love learning and I think this will give me a lot of new experiences.

  1. Finally, what advice would you give another teacher that has just started teaching?

I would advise them to trust their hearts and not to worry if something goes wrong in class. It can happen no matter how many years you teach and it can be a great learning experience for the teachers first of all and for the students as well. These moments are a good opportunity for us to reflect and try out new things. In addition, I would advise new teachers to do their own thing and not be worried about leaning on the coursebook in every step – it is a wonderful tool, but as I learned when I was a student teacher, it is okay not to start right away with page 148 if something else comes up and the students are still learning. Last but not least, to continue learning – with other teachers at conferences and workshops and also on social media – they have totally transformed me as an educator, even eleven years after I started my teaching career. I have used Twitter and other platforms and have learned and continue learning a great deal.

Thank you Vicky for your invaluable contribution and insight into teaching.  Best of luck for the future.  If anyone would like to be interviewed with next month, please contact me.

Drilling and Repetition Workshop by Jeremy Harmer

Starting the workshop on drilling and repetition

Yesterday, I was kindly offered the chance to attend the 2012 National Conference for English Language Teachers at the Rin Grand Hotel in Bucharest and given an invite for the conference by the British Council Bucharest.  Some prominent names in English Language Teaching gave a range of talks about various areas of language learning and teaching.  The first talk that I decided to attend was Jeremy Harmer’s talk on drilling: “Drilling equals repetition equals practice? Saying the same things creatively“.

The talk started with Jeremy’s reference towards audiolinguilism and the ‘Army Method‘ of language learning and teaching.  This method was predictably used within the military to develop and “produce military personnel with conversational proficiency in the target language” (Griffiths and Parr, 2001 p.247).  The army method relied heavily on continuous drilling and repetition, as an alternative to the traditional focus of grammar translation.  These days drilling and repetition which forms habits and the methodology was to drive out possible mistakes (Harmer, 2007 p.64).  Nevertheless, Jeremy looked at drilling and repetition in the classroom and connected continuous repetition with repeating various scales in music.  Jeremy is well known for his teacher training workshops, teacher methodology books as well as for his experience of playing music (the day before I went to conference, Jeremy provided some musical accompaniment on Friday evening).  In fact this was the second talk given by Jeremy that I attended, where he connected music to language learning.

Various speakers at the International Conference

Anyhow, Jeremy again focused on the methodological premise of audiolinguilism with the continuous repetition of practice and drilling when learning to play a musical instrument.  Personally, with my wife, whilst waiting for me to return back to the UK, decided to knit a scarf.  She started knitting my winter scarf and by the time she got to the end, she had forgotten how to finish the end of the scarf – as the last time she knitted was when she was pregnant around nine years ago.  However, my wife went to the kitchen to make a coffee and think about trying to finish the scarf and thought about going on the internet to find out more about this.  She came back to the lounge, sat down and started to finish the scarf.  My wife said to me, “My hands remembered what to do”.  Jeremy’s example, as well as the personal example, in essence is related to audiolinguilism and when learners try to acquire English, drilling supports learners to memorise lexical chunks and set phrases.

Next, Jeremy referred to his blog and a particular post: “To drill or not to drill; that is the question. Now repeat” and then looked at comments posted in reply to his musings of drilling and audiolinguilism.  Some of the comments that he highlighted in reference to drilling and audiolinguilism included those from TeachersReflect: “I must say it has worked very well because it has helped them to see that they can actually speak full sentences“, LouiseAlix: “Carolyn Graham’s jazz chants work particularly well with primary EFL learners and help with learning chunks, pronunciation and intonation” as well as reference to other comments either positive or negative.  His talk then progressed to the linking of thespians and their continuous drilling of scripts and repeating their performance and referred to the play that he linked in his blog.  There was also a reference to Scott Thornbury’s blog post on “R is for Repetition“.

It is “drill time” with Jeremy Harmer

The next part of the workshop provided attendees the opportunity to put theory into practice.  Jeremy first demonstrated the traditional form of drilling with an old fashioned listening with focus on stimulus-response drilling.  Attendees had to reformulate two sentences into one, for example: “He can’t drive” and “He is too young” – “He is too young to drive” or something similar to this.  This provided attendees the opportunity to link theory with practice.  Jeremy then moved on to other activities that could be included various young learner and adult classes.  Some of the more memorable activities included creating a list of possible answers to the question “How was the movie?”, such as:

a. It was great!
b. It was absolutely fantastic
c. …
h. I have never been so bored in all my life!

Instead of Jeremy actually answering the question above with the legible words, he replaced utterances with “doo”.  So for example, we asked “How was the movie?” and he replied “Do do dodo doo doo do do do doo” (I have never been so bored in all my life!) and attendees had to guess the correct utterance.  This is a wonderful activity that I have never included in lessons before and plan to use this activity to focus on stress and pronunciation.  Other activities included “Shouting Dictation” whereby students do the drilling to each other, as well as dialogue build-ups where Jeremy again referred to the start of the workshop and the link to a theatre play that he went to see.

The final activity that attendees were involved in included trying to remember a poem and was related to the dialogue build-ups, whereby the final word from each line of dialogue is removed and learners build up their memory and are able to (once all but the initial word of the text is removed) repeat the entire dialogue.  We looked at a poem called “Days” by Philip Larkin and attendees were able to recite the poem once word-by-word was removed.  At that point, it was the end of the very engaging and interesting workshop on drilling and repetition.

So how do you use drilling in class?  Do you focus solely on drilling or do you prefer to incorporate it during one stage of a lesson?  What are your favourite activities for drilling?  Which learners do you focus drilling with: young learners or adults?

Suggested Reading
Griffiths, C. and Parr, J. M. (2001) Language-learning strategies: theory and perception, ELT Journal Volume 55/3 (247-254).  Oxford: Oxford University Press
Harmer, J. (2007) The Practice of English Language Teaching.  Harlow: Pearson Education Limited
Richards, J. C. and Rodgers, T. S. (2001) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching Second Edition.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Thornbury, S. (2006) An A-Z of ELT: A dictionary of terms and concepts used in English Language Teaching.  Oxford: Macmillan

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