ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

Month: November 2012

Bringing The Surprise Element into Your Lesson: An #ELTChat Summary

Surprise! It’s me!

For teachers of English, we are constantly reviewing approaches and techniques as an alternative to commonly predicted forms of teaching and we sometimes have to incorporate more experimental styles of language education.  With this in mind, ELTChat focused on the incorporation and element of surprise in the classroom, on Wednesday 28 November, at 9pm GMT.  The chat offered participants the opportunity to share tips and techniques to develop for potential future classroom use.

Just a few words to say thank you to Marisa for allowing me the opportunity to write up my very first ELTChat summary on my blog.  It was very interesting to read the transcript and read the progress of the discussion.

Why Use Surprise in the Classroom?

As professionals we must question why surprise should be used during lessons.  This was answered early on in the discussion by some of the following:
  • SueAnnan: I think surprise stops the lessons becoming humdrum.
  • AnnLoseva: Unexpected turns of the lesson keep students wide-awake and it’s fun and refreshing!
  • AntoniaClare: I think surprise keeps students awake, alert, engaged, therefore ready to learn.
  • MarjorieRosenbe: Adding surprise elements wakes everyone up.  Students don’t learn if they are asleep.
  • pjgallantry: I feel novelty and surprise aid memorisation, but students then still to work on consolidation.
Wordle of the latest ELTChat © 2012

Based upon the above reactions from regular ELTChatterers, it was noted that surprise would stop possible lessons becoming boring with improved motivation which would alert and engage learners.  However, theteacherjames tweeted: “I’m struggling to see much benefit to surprising students.  Isn’t there also something to be said for reliability?“.  James has a point with reference to reliability and predictability but many others saw the potential of developing some form unpredictability in the classroom.  Nevertheless, what tips and suggestions were recommended during the discussion?  Read further for some very interesting and engaging ideas to implement surprise in the classroom.

Surprising Tips and Techniques

During the ELTChat discussion, there many ideas and tips exchanged for incorporating some element of surprise in the classroom with Vicky Loras quick off the mark with the first idea shared:
  • VickyLoras: I like scenarios with students.  For example, I come in knocking on the door and pretend I am a colleague/problem – they love it!
It is welcoming to note some exploitation of scenarios being suggested by Vicky and this one area of teaching that is not really developed.  It engages learners and, as Marjorie mentioned above, wakes them up as well.  This idea was followed by lauraahaha.
  • Lauraahaha: Sometimes a nice surprise is to take the students outside the classroom (where possible).
Other ideas included:
  • AntoniaclareI like to use stories or anecdotes with a twist, in fact I think every text / lesson needs a new angle to keep sts (and Ts) interest.
  • MarjorieRosenbeWe draw lines on board and guess whose is longest, etc. Then I pull out tape measure-sts love this.
  • pjgallantrywhich is a more memorable example of past continuous: I was having a bath when the phone rang, or I was talking to my friend when the cat exploded?
  • KerrCarolyn: I love circular writing. Great collective activity. Prepares for real life. Few reports in business are work of just one
  • eltknowledgeHas any1 mentioned the ‘silent conversation’ yet? Walk in2 class and not say a word and write the instructions on the board. Shocks sts!
  • miss_TrikaSometimes I surprise my sts bytaking them to the garden and they love it.
  • LauraahahaI like exploiting things that surprise even ME (e.g. strange laugh from class next door, colleague entering our room by mistake)
Some of the ideas suggested included changing the actual classroom dynamics to enable some element of surprise during lessons.  This was first suggested by KerrCarolyn by an example from a lesson which noticed was ‘dragging’ so she took out all chairs from the classroom.  Others suggested additional ideas such as:
  • SueAnnanI also move the tables around sometimes to make new groupings.
  • leoselivannew seating arrangements certainly break a routine and adds a surprise element.
  • pjgallantryanother way to shake things up is how you make groups – e.g. say apple, banana, orange etc and tell ss to become bunches of fruit!
  • AntoniaclareI like using an empty chair and sts need to introduce me to the ‘character’ they invent, he gets a name, life etc
In reference to Hartle requesting some ideas for teaching an academic writing class who are taught on a Friday evening and lack any form of motivation.  One of the ideas included:
  • AntoniaclareAcademic writing? get sts writing sentences or paragraphs on posters on the walls as they walk around, filling in sections
Additional ideas that prompted surprise which were suggested included the use of teacher silence in the classroom, bringing in food (particularly chocolate) to develop chatter and surprise, the use of jokes and humour, as well as games to develop motivation in various lesson activities.

Surprising Links

Throughout the discussion, there were recommendations to a variety of online and offline resources.  These included:

The sharing of a YouTube video (see the above video embedded) was used to illustrate the key concept of surprising situations that could arise from various activities.  It is a wonderful video with lauraahaha and antoniaclare recommending the using of stories which contained a twist to add elements of surprise within the classroom.

Further Surprising Reading

Additional reading that could be used to develop techniques to improve surprise or spontaneity in the classroom could include the following.

      “CLIL Activities” by Liz Dale and Rosie Tanner

      CLIL Activities” is written by Liz Dale and Rosie Tanner and published under the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series by Cambridge University Press.  If you have taught young learners, you have probably heard a buzz word ‘CLIL’ bounding the teachers’ room.  However, what is ‘CLIL’ and what does it actually mean?  It is defined as Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and the European Commission defines it as the “teaching a curricular subject through the medium of a language other than that normally used”.  Here you can see the relationship between language learning through education and young learners.  However, one should question whether there is a place for CLIL in an adult language learning setting.  Nevertheless, “CLIL Activities” is intended for subject teachers who teach their subjects through English, language educators working within a bilingual context, or those that are training to become subject teachers or language educators in a bilingual context (p.1).  The book is just over 280 pages and split into three sections.  Part 1 (Background to CLIL) includes a comprehensive background to CLIL, Part 2 (Subject pages) focuses on subject matter with CLIL and Part 3 (Practical activities), which offers practical activities, is split into six chapters which include the following: Activating, Guiding understanding, Focus on language, Focus on speaking, Focus on writing, and Assessment, review and feedback.  The book attempts to consider the benefits of a ‘multi-faceted’ approach with the teaching of CLIL.  These benefits are also echoed on the European Commission’s website which are illustrated below.

      European Commission: CLIL’s Benefits (2012)
      The main emphasis of CLIL is that it immerses language learners with particular subject knowledge and this in itself motivates learners.  Thereby, language educators are teaching through a language rather than in another language which assists learners acquiring “both language and content as they learn a school subject” (Dale and Tanner 2012 p.5).  However, one criticism of CLIL is that learners are only learning how to communicate in English through a course subject and their are other stakeholders in education who appear to suggest that it may hinder the learners’ first language as well as perhaps jeopardising their language status inside or outside the classroom (International CLIL Research Journal 2010 p.47).  Nevertheless, “CLIL Activities” attempts to introduce newly qualified or more experienced teachers who have little practical or background  experience with a CLIL-based classroom with the publication of this book.

      Part 1: Background to CLIL

      The first section to the book, “CLIL Activities”, introduces the reader to the whole subject of CLIL with the authors considering the benefits, challenges and suitability of CLIL in the classroom as well as comparing CLIL with content-based language teaching (CBLT) and immersion.  As noted before (and also highlighted above), the benefits of CLIL include aspects of motivation with CLIL, development of language production and meaningful communicative ability, as well as learning the culture of a subject (Dale and Tanner 2012 p.11-13).  One of the first activities, which is accessible with an attached and highly invaluable CD, is a questionnaire, which could be incorporated into CLIL-based workshops or Teacher Training Sessions, and develops the noticing and awareness-raising of CLIL in the language classroom.   Other aspects to the background of CLIL include the use of scaffolding learner produced language, the relationship with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (henceforth CEFR) as well as the rubric that might be created to assess learning from the classroom.

      Part 2: Subject pages

      The second section illustrated attempts to answer the most common question facing English language teachers: What subjects could I teach with CLIL?  “CLIL Activities” breaks down particular subjects which could adopt a CLIL approach: Art, design and technology, Economics and business studies, Geography, History, Information and communication technology (ICT), Maths, Music and drama, Physical education (PE), as well as Science.  Essentially, throughout Part 2 there is a “collection of subject-specific pages” (p.41) and offer examples of CLIL material with each of the nine subjects above.  The authors also consider potential challenges facing CLIL learners with “subject-specific” lessons that are then incorporated in the classroom.  These include affective, emotional, as well as cultural implications and are covered with further explanation.  The first “subject-specific” example (which is arranged alphabetically) is based on Art, design and technology and offers readers the opportunity to see ‘CLIL in action’ which is broken down into how language is used in the subject.  Furthermore, there is a sample text and is broken down into different grammar functions.  The third part in the ‘subject-specific’ section refers to the CEFR level and is split into the differing productions of English which is related to possible aims.  The second part of the book, is wonderful and can be referred to by potential CLIL subject teachers and also could support the development of a CLIL curriculum by potential schools.

      Part 3: Practical activities

      The final part of “CLIL Activities” offers readers the opportunity to incorporate ‘CLIL-related’ activities by using the accompanying CDs with the book.  The activities are split into six sub-chapters and are named: Activating, Guiding understanding, Focus on language, Focus on speaking, Focus on writing and Assessment, review and feedback.  The first sub-chapter (Activating) aims to initiate learner interest in “subject-specific” activities.  For example, the first CLIL activity aims learners to complete sentences from prompts and it is quite entertaining to view some of the suggested activities which could be developed for variation of CLIL subjects.  The second sub-chapter (Guiding understanding) and a wonderful example of a related lesson suggested by the authors include the use of an “Interactive PowerPoint®” lesson.  It advises teachers to prepare different images referenced to specific subjects and teacher created questions which correspond to the images.  An example is provided in the book with in reference to Geography: Who is affected by logging?  What does deforestation mean for the world climate? (p.126-127).  The third sub-chapter (Focus on language), aims to develop as well as differentiate learner awareness of CLIL-related vocabulary with a wonderful example suggested with the first activity (a differentiation between Academic Word List and General Vocabulary: happen/occur, main/major, etc).  The authors recommend an Academic Word List from the University of Nottingham and is a wonderful resource for future reference and the development of similar word lists.  The fourth sub-chapter (Focus on speaking) is predictably related to prompting CLIL learners to develop their speaking skills with fourteen suggested activities.  Any teacher which adopts a ‘conversation-driven’ approach, a continuing complication is prompting learners to authentically converse in English with other learners as well as with the teacher in the classroom.  The fourteen suggested lesson ideas in “CLIL Activities” offers teachers additional ideas to essentially get learners speaking with different prompts used such as questionnaires, debates, etc.  The fifth sub-chapter (Focus on writing) develops ideas on CLIL-based writing through the use of fourteen suggested lesson ideas.  Many of the ideas suggested by the authors include class magazines, posters, as well as framing and using prompts to develop writing.  The final sub-chapter (Assessment, review and feedback) obviously provides CLIL teachers the opportunity to continuously assess learner progress with different lesson templates, the use of learner-centred correction, as well as developing learner awareness of language and commonly produced mistakes by using of jigsaw activities.  Within the appendix the authors offer additional reference to the CEFR as well as additional resources for reading related to CLIL.  There are lesson plans and notes related to CLIL material which are accessible via the BBC Skillswise website. There are also a range of different reading suggested by Dale and Tanner in appendix.


      In conclusion, the book is a lovely introduction to CLIL and the background reading offers budding teachers the opportunity to develop further understanding so that one could create a CLIL-related curriculum for their language institutes.  “CLIL Activities” could be used to teach CLIL-type lessons but additional resources and materials would be recommended to create more dynamic and engaging lessons, such as the use of English based school materials and books.  It is a challenging and time consuming process to create CLIL material for language institutes, as having developed a lesson related to British Culture (art, history, the Royal Family, etc) but the book’s authors develop ideas and tips to assist with the creation of materials and lesson activities.  Therefore, this book should be accessible in the Teachers’ Room and I would recommend those teachers (native and non-native), who are teaching in a public or private language school context, to refer to this book to develop ideas and techniques to essentially teach language through the use of a subject.  Finally, it is great to see an accompanying CD included with “CLIL Activities” which can be used for a variety of operating systems such as Windows® and Mac®.

      Additional Resources

      CEFR (2012) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, [Online], Available: http://www.examenglish.com/CEFR/cefr.php (22 Nov 2012)
      Coyle, D., Hood, P. and Marsh, D. (2010) “CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
      Dale, L. and Tanner, R. (2012) “CLIL Activities” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
      Deller, S. and Price, C. (2007) “Teaching Other Subjects Through English” Oxford: Oxford University Press.
      European Commission Languages (2012) Content and Language Integrated Learning, [Online], Available: http://ec.europa.eu/languages/language-teaching/content-and-language-integrated-learning_en.htm (22 Nov 2012).
      Yassin, S. M., Tek, O. E., Alimon, H., Baharom, S. and Ying, L. Y. (2010) “Teaching Science Through English: Engaging Pupils Cognitively” International CLIL Research Journal, Vol. 1 No. 3 (2010), [Online], Available: http://www.icrj.eu/13/article5.html (22 Nov 2012).

      “Classroom Management Techniques” by Jim Scrivener

      Written by Jim Scrivener, who has authored other popular ELT titles such as “Learning Teaching” and “Teaching English Grammar”, “Classroom Management Techniques” is one of the latest from the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series.  The book itself is over 300 pages and is divided into seven chapters related to English language teaching with each chapter focusing on individual aspects of teaching: The classroom, The teacher, The learners, Key teacher interventions, Facilitating interaction, Establishing and maintaining appropriate behaviour and Lessons.  The book is intended for teachers of varying experiences, native as well as non-native teachers, those that are teaching young learners as well as adults, those teaching monolingual or multilingual classes as well as those teachers that are experienced or newly qualified.  Scrivener (2012) highlights that the book is expected to be referred rather than “to read from cover to cover” (p.4) but there are numerous cross-references where the reader can read more about particular areas in another chapter and this in itself suggests that some thought has gone into the structure of the book.  Nevertheless, the first chapter focuses on the setting of the classroom.

      The classroom

      The first chapter looks at the space where most teaching and learning takes place where there are various suggestions to best organise and exploit its potential.  There are nine suggestions that prompt thought and reflection on the organisation of the classroom with thought on classroom layouts, setting up the classroom with seating and tables for specific activities as well as varying the position of the teacher in the classroom.  Each of the nine ideas suggested for reflection are ideally written with an aim, brief background reading and questions for reflection.  Furthermore, the pictures within the chapter are invaluable to capture an essence for organising the classroom and offer practical ideas for readers.  For example, the differing seating arrangement is accompanied by a picture.  Scrivener also offers techniques to develop awareness of the classroom with ideas such as putting yourself in the shoes of the learners as well as organising the decoration of the classroom.

      The teacher

      The following chapter focuses on the teacher and, as above, tries to develop reader awareness of the subject, offers practical ideas to develop for lessons and questions educator behaviour.  Within this chapter, there are ten units, with the first units setting the scene with an example of developing authenticity.  Other aspects introduced within the chapter include establishing rapport, listening to learner production of language as well as gestures and facial expressions, which, as in the previous chapter, offers some wonderful illustrations of possible expressions which could be incorporated in the classroom.  Personally I was able to develop some expressions and incorporate these in lessons with some success.

      The learners

      If you are like me when teaching a new class, I find myself with butterflies in my stomach, worrying how the learners will develop as well as whether I will get on well with the learners.  Scrivener attempts to defuse potential problems arising when teaching a new class within chapter three, with some techniques to develop greater learner and teacher (and vice versa) rapport such as strategies to learn names (with some wonderful suggestions such as name cards, developing learner posters or learner profiles on the internet as well as creating a room map to name just a few), get to know you (GTKY) activities, as well as teaching mixed-levels.  As with the other chapters, there are questions for teachers to reflect upon as well as some wonderful illustrations.  Finally, there is some explanation of learner style and Scrivener questions the suitability of stereotyping with learners with the thought provoking read within the chapter.

      Key teacher interventions

      The following chapter, which is related to teacher authenticity (introduced and related to chapter one), attempts to develop reader awareness of possible teacher intervention within the classroom.  Scrivener describes teacher interventions as those things in which the teacher does or say particular things (p.119).  The chapter is supported by fourteen units which develops awareness of potentially positive interventions and include various tips such as being supportive, giving instructions, elicitation techniques as well as checking understanding and potential learning.  Within this chapter, there are limited illustrations and the reader can notice that the majority of the suggestions are more thought provoking.  However, I should mention that the ideas put forward are not solely theoretical but they also balance practical ideas as well.  I find this chapter is more suited for experienced teachers and provides continual reflection and there are some practical ideas that I will be incorporating in future language lessons.

      Facilitating interaction

      Transactional functions of language includes the execution and delivery of predicted language within particular circumstances: booking a ticket at the cinema, posting a letter at the Post Office, ordering a train ticket, etc.  The language which is expected by both parties in these situations are used to transact particular functions, for example: “Can I a first class stamp?”, “Two adults for the seven o’clock showing of Skyfall”, “A return to London please”, etc.  Obviously, interaction is unpredictable and develops greater fluency in English and it is always challenging for any teacher to develop a learner’s confidence in interaction.  However, Scrivener dedicates fourteen units towards ideas to incorporate in the language classroom.  These units include ideas such as creating the right conditions learner to learner (as well as learner to teacher) interaction, using cues to prompt language production.  researching interaction during the lesson, training learners to listen to each other as well as ideas to assist the quieter learners to interact in pairs or groups.  The chapter develops interest for those teachers that are interested in a ‘conversation-driven’ approach to language acquisition and Dogme ELT, and I am keen to incorporate some interactional ideas in future lessons.  The final unit in this chapter, Scrivener develops ideas to improve interaction outside of the classroom and I am keen to see more development in this area as learners have continuous access to the internet through using smartphones or tablets.

      Establishing and maintaining appropriate behaviour

      Chapter six, which is rather smaller compared to the other chapters with only three units, seeks to support teachers within a secondary school context but much of the ideas can be developed and incorporated in other classroom contexts such as young learners and teenagers.  Some of the techniques include rewarding positive behaviour, dealing with small disruptions as well as dealing with more severe disruptions.  Nevertheless, Scrivener highlights an interesting point about ex-army personnel retraining to become teachers so as to instill discipline within the classroom.  Obviously, it is also highlighted that being a teacher is very different to being in the Armed Forces.  Having served three years in the Royal Air Force, I personally find it difficult to incorporate any training techniques acquired form my time in the forces and I would rather not shout or bully learners into good behaviour.  However, Scrivener does highlight various levels of poor behaviour such as coming late to class, cheating in tests or missing school without permission and offers some ideas to incorporate in such situations.  I believe that this section is highly recommended for any director of studies or other managers in the language school.


      The final chapter Scrivener decides to analyse lessons and it is split into ten other units.  Each unit focus on individual stages of a lesson with the first unit predictably looking at starting lessons.  Other units include the use of the board, timing and pace within the classroom, preparing improved handouts as well as low-tech resources.  I am very interested in the use of low-tech resources in the classroom due to the emphasis of a ‘materials-light’ focus with Dogme ELT and this particular unit would be invaluable for any budding or practicing dogmeticians.  However, much of this information can be read in reference towards other books dedicated to lesson planning, staging and the delivery of lessons.  For example, some of the ideas suggested for the use of technology in the classroom include the organisation of the computer(s) in the classroom into particular areas: islands, standard computer rows, computers around the edge of the classroom, etc.  Much of this can be read in greater detail with other books dedicated to technology in the classroom.  Notwithstanding, the illustrations within this chapter are invaluable for the reader and offer some further ideas on how to develop the lesson and classroom.


      In conclusion, the book is a wonderful complement to the already large collection of English language teaching books.  It is practical and encourages readers to develop greater understanding of classroom management techniques through the viewing of many different aspects: the learners, the teacher, the classroom, etc.  One thing that is sorely missed is an accompanying CD which could have been included with the book.  The CD could have included teacher or student handouts from the book which would have supplemented the various chapters.  For example, with each of the units a corresponding PDF worksheet could have been created, such as a worksheet that supports the analysis of learner interaction or name card templates.  However, the book is highly regarded and should be in available in any school library so that teachers are able to improve their knowledge of classroom management through the numerous techniques.

      Teaching in ESOL: Encouraging Talk

      ESOL Curriculum Framework © 2012

      Reading Carol Goodey’s blog post, “Encouraging talk, encouraging learning“, resonated similarities with my personal experiences of teaching ESOL as well as organising and delivering teacher training workshops for ESOL volunteer teachers.  Essentially, the training that was delivered for the ESOL Charity focused on Dogme ELT and was held in two locations: one in Eastbourne and one in St Leonards.  During my first year of teaching ESOL for the charity, I found myself stripping back all the materials, removing the coursebook and reacting to the learners during the course of the lesson.  It was much a learning curve for me as well as for the learners.  The learners were used to popping into class, being ‘spoon-fed‘ lexical and grammatical chunks (as much in a way as a ‘coffee-fix‘ is important for budding coffee drinkers), tested and being expected to complete various activities from the workbook.  I must mention that I have no qualms with coursebooks per se, they are invaluable and provide newly qualified teachers the structure and direction that both learners and educators expect.  However, if decisions based upon language teaching are directed by the coursebook then perhaps teachers have their priorities askew.  From practical experience, as well as supporting research, I have come to the assertion that language teaching should arise from learner aims and expectations rather than coursebook aims and expectations.  This is the basis of the ESOL Curriculum Framework and the image to the left (which was also included in Carol Goodey’s blog post) is a wonderful example of decisions arising from the learners rather than from teachers.

      Nonetheless, I remember fondly coming into class one Saturday afternoon and asking the learners (the majority whom were absolute beginners) how they were.  They just sat there unable to respond, staring and at that point I literally threw the coursebook out of the room and we looked at various responses to this question.  I separated the board into two halves: one for positive responses the other for negative responses.  We boarded various ideas and put these phrases up on the board.  With various responses boarded, we recast and recycle the language within the classroom with various drills that even Jeremy Harmer would be proud of.  The language was immediate to the learners’ needs and provided support to the much requested answer to the “How are you?” question.  The small group of learners were enthusiastic and keen to practice asking and answering each other so they were paired up and got some language practice.  The pace of the class was very slow but it was incredibly rewarding to see learners walk out of the classroom with a smile on their faces and returning the following week able to answer a familiar question.  It motivated the learners and demonstrated that they were able to achieve.  I should mention that some of the ESOL learners are immigrants and asylum seekers with little to no previous educational experience with very minimal knowledge of English.  Some of the learners are unable to write their name and teachers have to be very very patient.  There is one phrase that comes to mind when teaching absolute beginners in an ESOL setting: “Quality not quantity”.

      I have taught in various settings and the natural response to teaching in a new environment is to return to the familiar: use materials, CDs, worksheets, etc and teach the book rather than the learners.  I will hold my hand up and say that I have returned to the familiar when teaching learners for the first time.  However, some of the best lessons that I have delivered have been developed from more reactive lessons with that ‘magic moment‘.  Furthermore, the majority of quality lessons have focused less on the materials and more on the learner with the teacher bringing language learning to life for learners present.  I have seen some teachers in various organisations walk into a classroom and deliver a lesson with huge amounts of worksheets and handouts.  It is fascinating to see that some teachers may feel a sense of awkwardness by walking into the class without any materials and are essentially returning to the familiar and delivering lessons which are monitored by the quantity of materials, handouts and worksheets rather than the delivery of quality lessons.  It is awkward changing the boundaries of familiarity and pushing towards more eclectic forms of teaching, with change being challenged inside or outside the classroom by any stakeholder.

      Finally, I love some of the suggestions by Carol in her blog post and I would also recommend teachers (who are willing to experiment in an unplugged way) to use pictures, objects as well as various props to prompt natural learner speaking.  It is always difficult to encourage natural learner interaction and I have noticed that (as with teachers unwilling to change or return to the familiar) learners have difficulty or are unwilling to develop their language production in a natural and supportive manner.  The language produced is commendable but natural language is really regarded as the aims of language teaching.  I love to bring in Post-It © notes to class so learners are able to write down a word they have learnt recently or stick them on articles that they are reading to indicate preference.  You can get different colours and get learners into teams by the use of differing colours of Post-It © notes.  Obviously, with the teaching ESOL it is always important to bring in objects (as Luke Meddings refers to some material) which are important to learner aims and objectives.  For example, the teacher could bring in a train timetable, a voucher or poster about the library with a special event.  Not only does it make the language learner more aware of language around their town but it also provides some opportunity for teachers to use authentic objects/materials from around town.

      Job Interviews: A Student’s Guide (Part 2)

      Earlier this week, I was teaching about work and interviews, which was posted previously.  For lesson material and ideas, please view “Job Interviews: A Student’s Guide (Part 1)“.  The previous lesson, looked at interviews and provided a good sample of a job interview.  We also looked possible questions and developed answers for this.  I also uploaded (with the learners’ permission) a spontaneous role-play dialogue between learners with the use of SoundCloud yesterday.  It was a good opportunity for learners to access their speaking and re-listen to this again.

      Anyhow, today we looked CVs and the art of writing a good CV.  We started the lesson by reviewing which sections were included in a CV.  Some sections included: Personal Details, Qualifications, Experience as well as Interests and Hobbies.  These were elicited and boarded up, with language scaffolded such as reference letter, a referee, supporting an application, etc.  We also explored briefly language associated with describing qualifications: MA, undergraduate degree, college (or high school), etc.  The learners were making notes and writing down all the language, which was about to be put to good use.

      The next part of the lesson, learners were handed out the CV Template (see below) and they were advised that they were going to ask each other questions associated with the CV and then write their partner’s answer.  Thereby learners in essence were writing their partners CV.  Overall, I found the learners were able to develop invaluable skills in the classroom as well as practice question and answer forms.  I always find it useful to highlight language appropriate for reiterating and checking spelling: “How do you spell …?” and wrote this on the whiteboard.

      ELT Experiences – Curriculum Vitae Template

      I never got round to showing a video related to job interviews but I was thinking about how not to do a job interview and the great Monty Python sketch was something that I was really considering but perhaps this would be developed for future business related classes.

      As always, please leave a comment below and share your ideas or experiences of teaching CV related lessons.

      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

      Using Dictionaries During Classes: Lesson Ideas

      Statue Reading © ELT Pics

      As a continuation of the “Using Series” with my previous focus with the use of smartphones in the classroom in September, I am writing an update with the use of dictionaries during lessons.  Last week, I was teaching a group of Intermediate level learners and I walked in the classroom with Post-It notes and two dictionaries and had a successful lesson.  With this in mind, I would like to share classroom activities for developing dictionary use in the classroom (either monolingual or bilingual dictionaries).  Please find below ten dictionary activities that could be incorporated at various times during lessons.  These have been developed from classroom experience and learner interest in the various activities.

      1. Vocabulary Review Quiz
        • It is the end of the week and you have to review vocabulary with the learners that has either emerged or been explicitly introduced during classroom interaction or other parts during a lesson.  So how can you use the dictionary to review vocabulary at the end of the week?  Well, one activity that I developed last week was by getting individual learners to write out ten new words that they encountered during the previous lessons.  Once learners completed this, I split the class into two groups and get them to share their words with their team. The next stage was to choose a final list of ten words and then find their corresponding definitions in their dictionary which was provided earlier.  Next learners had to try to make five true and five false definitions either by choosing the in/correct definition or creating their own definition.  They then wrote one word on each provided Post-It note and then handed their Post-It note to the other team.  The team then chose a word and then the other team had to read out their either true or false definition and then word-choosing team had to decide whether the definition was true to false (in a similar way that Grammar Auction is held).  I was keeping a score of the results on the board and continued this until the vocabulary was complete and the winning team were those that predicted the most correct true or false definitions.  It was a great one hour activity and requires minimal preparation and is completely student centred.
      2. Dictionary Speed Reading
        • If you have a reading from an article, report, etc and you are always getting learners asking “What does    x    mean?”, then you probably resort to demonstrating this or eliciting from other learners in the classroom.  However, have you considered keeping a dictionary in the corner of the classroom?  You could get learners to run to it if they have a question about particular words or phrases, read the definition and then run back to their desk and then they have to say the definition as best as they can remember.  It will improve student-to-student support and autonomy and create an environment conducive for self-guided/directed learning.
      3. What’s The Sound?
        • Imagine you are planning a typical PPP style lesson and you would like to introduce vocabulary in a new and creative manner.  It would add a little difference to the usual matching the word to the definition style of activity.  With this, you have the phonemic spelling of words either written up on the whiteboard or handed out to groups of learners.  Students have to try to decode the phonemic spelling and try to write out the actual word and then find the definition in the dictionary.  It would give learners the opportunity to check their predictions with the dictionary whilst also finding out the definition.  It is a different way of doing the same thing but again with the use of dictionaries in the classroom.  You could either make it more competitive by adding a timer to the activity or splitting learners into groups and the first one to write out the actual word and corresponding definition is the winner.
      4. What’s The Word?
        • This activity is a combination of two activities above.  If you are at the end of the week or are presenting new vocabulary, then you could give learners a group of words or get learners to select a number of words in two groups.  Next learners have to find the definition and write it out in their vocabulary.  Make sure each group has different sets of words or this won’t work.  Next learners read out their definition and the other group will have to write out their predicted answer.  Give a point to each team for every correct answer.  The team with the most points is the winner.  At the end of the activity any words suggested which are incorrect could be reviewed or written on the whiteboard.
      5. Family Words
        • One thing to consider about the use of vocabulary is the use of collocations, prefixes or suffixes.  If you have a good Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, then you will be able to find some examples of collocations and suffixes.  If you are introducing vocabulary to learners but you feel they could find some use with regards to creating a word-tree, get students to find collocations or examples of suffixes.  Learners record these in their vocabulary notebook or worksheet.
      6. Dictionary Matching Race
        • This is an activity which is loosely related to the first as well as the fourth above.  In this activity, you split learners into two teams.  One group of learners have a word each, while one group of learners have a definition each.  The learners then keep their words or definitions secret but they are allowed to use the dictionary to find out which student they match with (word -> definition and vice versa).  Learners can consult the dictionary whenever necessary and again it will prompt learners to try to describe their vocabulary/phrase.
      7. What’s That In Your Language?
        • There are some learners that have a bilingual dictionary and they are very popular.  Even today when I was teaching an FCE class, one of the students whipped out an electronic dictionary to help with the writing.  However, as with any activity: there is a time and place for bilingual dictionaries.  One popular activity (if you are teaching closed groups: only one nationality in a school) is to get learners to translate vocabulary or phrases into their L1 and then translate it back.  First you could get learners to write out the vocabulary in their L1 on to Post-It notes which could be stuck up on the board or on a wall.  After a few days have passed, get the Post-It notes back and get learners to translate the L1 vocabulary back into English.  They could either use a dictionary or you could check their memory.  If they have difficulties, put learners into groups to help each other more autonomously.
      8. How Many Are There?
        • If you are teaching learners new vocabulary they need to be aware of the various word groups such as verbs, adjectives, nouns, adverbs, etc.  You could create a small template worksheet along with the key vocabulary with various questions about this.  For example, there could be questions such as “How many verbs are there?”, “How many adjectives?”, etc.  It is the aim for learners to find the answer to this (as well as write the definitions on the worksheet) with the use of the dictionary to help.
      9. Passing The Time
        • If you are dealing with irregular verbs, learners will need to know the Present, Past and Past Participle forms.  Learners will need a verb table for this activity with gaps between Present, Past and Past Participle verb forms with gaps in between.  Next, you handout the worksheet and learners have to (within groups) try to find out the remaining verb forms which are missing on each row.  For example, if you have three columns for all verb forms but only the Past Participle verb form, then learners will need to find the remaining verbs from the dictionary (as well as the definition which could be translated).  Students complete the activity and then compare their answers with the other learners in the classroom and then the teacher will elicit answers from the rest of the class.
      10. Opposites Attract
        • As above, the students will need a worksheet with one list of adjectives or verbs on one side and groups of learners need to find the corresponding antonym.  Students use the dictionary and then use it to try to find the antonym and then check within the dictionary with the definition for this suggestion and it encourages learners to use the dictionary more creatively.  It will also encourage learner awareness of dictionary use inside the classroom and hopefully provide learners with the foundation of dictionary usage outside the classroom.  Again, this type of activity could also be used for synonyms with a table completion exercise.
      The ten activities suggested above are provided to encourage learner confidence with the use of a dictionary and hopefully provide the foundation for more dictionary usage outside the classroom.  If you have any favourite dictionary activities, as ever please share these in the comments below.
      Some dictionaries that I recommend learners or teachers to get hold of include the following:

      English UK 2012: Annual Teachers’ Conference

      The Shard reaching into the clouds.

      On Saturday, I travelled up to London for the 2012 English UK Annual Teachers’ Conference and was fortunate to give a talk on my favourite subject … Dogme ELT.  I met up with a colleague, from my school, on the train but had to get up very early.  Around 5am to be honest.  Anyhow, we arrived at the venue on time for the registration and collected our badges.  At the venue (nearby Borough), we were greeted with juice, coffee, croissants, pain au chocolat as well as a range of other goodies and a good chance for a rather needed breakfast.

      Before the first plenary, I was able to meet with some of the publishers and was able to say hello to a few familiar faces.  I had an hour so managed to sit down somewhere for a bite to eat, a coffee and a chance to catch prepare my final things for my talk.  I met Tom from English UK who helped show me the presentation equipment for my talk and I was able to go through my talk one last time.  Of course I had some butterflies in my stomach but wasn’t overly nervous and was looking forward to my talk.

      Anyhow, the Opening Plenary was by none other than Jeremy Harmer (who I last met at Bucharest at an ELT talk).  He decided to go through the Opening Plenary with no overhead slides, no videos or any images – it was decidedly refreshing.  Jeremy developed six questions for his talk and provided the attendees the opportunity to offer their insight and experience.  Some of the questions focused on issues such as the use of IT, CLIL, as well as language testing.   After his talk, we were guided back into the main hall and was given the opportunity to collect some more coffee and biscuits before the key talks for the conference started.

      The first talk I attended was by Josh Round about “Putting the C and P into CPD“.  He delivered a very interesting presentation through the use of Prezi.  Personally, I am keen to learn a bit more about cloud presentation software available on the internet and I have much to learn about Prezi.  Anyhow, Josh looked at activities available for teachers to continue CPD, the role CPD could play in future job prospects as well as developing an effective CPD programme in a language school.  There was also reference towards Twitter and role it has played in language teaching or the sharing of ideas or teaching experiences.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend any talks during second session as I had my talk.  For those that missed my talk, I have attached a copy of my slides and eHandout below.

      English UK 2012: Balancing Dogme ELT in the Classroom

      English UK 2012: eHandout

      The final talk that I attended was by Nick Robinson about the opportunities available for budding ELT Authors. He gave a first-hand account of being an author and the expectation for those that were keen to get in this field.  Nick was able to refer to his personal experience and the majority of attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions or share personal experiences.  During the talk, I was introduced to the Pomodero Technique for completing various tasks (something that I haven’t heard before and something that I will definitely include in future tasks when writing).

      Nick talks about the act of using a cat as a writer.

      Nearer the end, Nick echoed something that Josh mentioned during his talk earlier that any teachers that were keen to get noticed needed to demonstrate potential.  Nick mentioned that teachers needed to demonstrate potential through the use of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) with Twitter, blogging, the creation and sharing of material and some other areas.  When I was on the MA course at Sussex Uni, one of the students had co-authored a coursebook for Cambridge University Press.  She gave a talk about becoming an author and much of what she mentioned was echoed in Nick’s talk.  As in both talks (at English UK and at the University of Sussex), I found myself being referred to as a case-in-point (blogging, Twitter, etc) – get yourself noticed through your blog, market yourself and create a following.  It was great to meet Nick in person, having been following him on Twitter for quite a while.  I also hope to meet Nick at future conferences in the near future.

      Chia starts the Closing Plenary.

      That was the end of the Conference today and I was looking forward to attending Chia’s Closing Plenary.  I haven’t attended a talk or plenary held by Chia and was keen to see her in action (so to speak).  She started the talk by introducing herself and her ideas about language teaching.  She was incredibly energetic during the plenary and her presentation was visually engaging: videos, pictures, etc.

      Chia covered all ELT theories in her talk (which was a first for any plenary or talk that I had attended) and the attendees had the opportunity to guess or predict theories that were presented.  Chia successfully incorporated some highly amusing videos with her talk to show the use of particular language theories and methods.  One of the most amusing videos that was shown during the talk is below.

      Chia and Jeremy after the Q&A Session.

      Finally, Jeremy and Chia finished off the conference with a Q&A Session.  Some of the attendees were offered to the opportunity to answer questions from the attendees, which they handled superbly.  There were various questions about CLIL, Dogme ELT, the focus between teaching methodology versus learning methodology (which I attempted to ask), as well as a range of other points.  There were some interesting debates developing but the Q&A Session finished and attendees were guided to the main hall for drinks and a good chin-wag.

      I was able to meet other attendees over a few beers and ended up having a conversation with three other attendees about Dogme ELT and my proposed “Balanced Approach” which developed further for my talk.  It was a wonderful opportunity to share experiences and insights into language learning with other likeminded individuals and I would highly recommend other teachers to attend the English UK  Conference next year.

      November Teacher Interview – Bren Brennan

      It is wonderful to showcase this month’s teacher interview is with Bren Brennan.  I am hoping to develop an interview (or a day in the life of) with a teacher next month.  If there are any teachers who wish to share their experiences or contribute with an interview, please get in touch.  I am looking for less well-known teachers who have recently started their career.

      Nevertheless, Bren initially trained at SGI and joined the staff in 2005. Since late 2006, he has been teaching abroad. He completed the DipTESOL with SGI in 2012. He regularly writes for students and teachers on the SGI blogs. Recently, Bren gave his first conference talk at IATEFL-Hu.

      Let’s get started!

      • Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into teaching.

      I got into teaching to supplement my income as a musician. I also planned to move to Spain with my girlfriend and did the Trinity Cert TESOL with SGI. I really enjoyed the course and was hired by SGI immediately on finishing and have been with them ever since in various classroom/online guises.

      • You appear to have extensive experience in ELT in various countries.  What advice would you give new EFL teachers when moving to a new country?

      I taught for 3 years both in Budapest and Berlin and I’ve been in Spain for nearly a year now. 

      • Update your CV and print out several copies – email is fine for applications but it seems that walking around and appearing in a school at the right time is much more effective at securing a job.
      • Get a good map of the city – Google maps is fine, but you probably won’t have a smartphone local SIM to begin with so it will be VERY expensive to consult the internet for finding a school or in-company teaching job. Be prepared to travel around to in-company courses. However, you may be lucky and get a school where all the courses are held there.
      • Say ‘yes’ to everything to begin with: I’ve had loads of follow-on amazing things happening by taking seemingly “bad” courses (in terms of location/time/students). You also have to get your ‘foot in the door’ with schools by showing you are enthusiastic and willing!

      • You have been blogging on the SGI website.  Describe to our readers what are the benefits to blogging?

      I write almost daily blogs for students www.stgeorges.co.uk/blog (an article/video/audio with some kind of vocabulary/grammar focus) which in turn results in:

      You become much quicker at making lesson content.
      Your lesson content becomes more varied and dynamic.
      By being more internet involved/savvy, you become part of a global PLN where you can easily access myriad resources that are great for lesson resources.
      You become aware of classroom technology that can spice up your lessons and motivate your students.

      I also write for newbie teachers at http://www.tesoltraining.co.uk/blog/

      Making lesson plans keeps me permanently searching for new ideas for classroom content, which I hope benefits my students, as I use those lesson plans for some of my classes too.  Dishing out advice on basics like error correction, grouping students etc keeps me in touch with good fundamentals.  Every article I write, be it lesson plans or whatever, is a process of reflection on teaching practices, which surely has to be a good thing in terms of self-improvement as a teacher.

      • You have been involved in writing up a blog for students.  What difficulties have you faced when developing and organising learners to read your student blog?

      Making people aware of it! It’s fine getting my own students involved and they seem to genuinely enjoy the content. The problem is getting “the world” to notice!  🙂

      Other teachers seem reluctant to pass on the message. I don’t know why – perhaps they just can’t be bothered to spend some extra time out of the classroom looking at my materials and maybe they think it is just something i do as a hobby. When they have used a particular blog post (e.g. How to pronounce -ed endings) after I have given them a specific recommendation due to a staffroom request, they have reported that it was great content.

      I won’t lie – it’s difficult getting more viewers who don’t know me personally as a teacher.

      With my own students though, they have no problem in accessing and reading blogs and then we use that knowledge in subsequent lessons. However, with commenting it’s a case of ‘You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” – students are quite timid with leaving comments.

      • How would you go about incorporating technology within the curriculum of an English course?

      It would be very high up on the list! Unless there was a specific reason why technology must not be included (e.g. I taught several courses in Germany with pensioners that were very old-school and didn’t use email or even know what google was! Also you may be in a country where students have no access to technology) then technology should be key to your lesson content in my opinion.

      I would incorporate authentic videos and audio into all parts of the syllabus/every lesson.

      If in an environment of all students having access to the internet, I would also use technology heavily for homework tasks in a ‘connected classroom” manner.

      Paper-based classes seem a bit old-hat to me and there are so many fantastic online tools to use and abuse, I think that a modern teacher has to be utilise new software to make lessons interesting, relevant and motivating. It’s 2013 soon – gotta be tech savvy.

      • What’s the most memorable or unexpected thing that has occurred in the classroom?

      There have been many, many great moments. If I was forced to choose one, I would probably say it was the court case lesson. With a small group of 20-something Upper Int students in London, I made a lesson where all students had a role within a court case (judge, defendant, lawyers etc). They went for it like crazy! Lawyers were pacing up and down and using accusatory language (just like in the movies), defendants got agitated and defensive, the judge was pontificating. The entire class played their roles out in an incredible way and they were clearly loving it. I wish I had filmed it!

      • Please describe any future plans or aims you wish to achieve in the next twelve months.

      I made my conference speaking debut at IATEFL-Hu in October. I would like to attempt more of that.  I have lots of plans to expand the learning resources on my school blogs and need to implement those – with a bit of help from some developers whose IT knowledge is greatly needed! 🙂

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

      Incorporate as much as you can from your initial teacher training – it’s all good stuff.
      Be honest – if  a student asks a grammar question that you don’t know the answer to, say so. Say you can’t think of a good example off the top of your head and you’ll look it up and get back to them in the next lesson – and make sure you do!

      Don’t overplan – tendency is to stay up all night planning lessons and worrying. Have some faith in yourself and your students. Plan a good outline but leave space within it for those magic moments in class. Don’t try to control every second of every lesson. Students need space to be able to attempt some new language – give them that time and space. You can hold a conversation, can’t you? Leave time for students to attempt normal conversation with you (however, that doesn’t mean just chat aimlessly!).

      Avoid the “What did you do at the weekend?” question! As soon as you say this, the students take in dip in motivation and energy. More often than not, the students have sat in more English lessons than you have and have experienced this question from lots of “traveller teachers” who didn’t know how to teach and this was their go-to starter for aimless chatting with no relevant learner outcomes.  Put yourself in the learners’ shoes as much as possible. What is their knowledge gap that you need to help them with?

      Get students to do some work! Make sure they note down all new vocab in every lesson – maybe set up monthly testing on that new vocab (if their learner style suits that). As a newbie, I started out writing down all the vocab at the end of every lesson and it took me a while to realise that I was the only one doing it! I was recycling the vocab over the next lesson/s and throughout the year, but actually it was more effective when the students wrote down the vocab themselves and started recycling it on their own. Get the students to take ownership of the language.

      Enjoy it. Enjoy the cultural differences. Have a positive attitude. Millions of people sitting in offices would love to have the variety of your day, so don’t focus too much on the low pay!

      Thanks so much Bren for your contribution and if any of the readers have a question towards Bren, as always please leave a comment below.

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