ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

By - Martin Sketchley

A Teacher’s Toolkit for Young Learners

I would like to wish all my readers a wonderful Christmas and all the best for the New Year.  It is a wonderful time to end the year with an article which was published in the IATEFL Young Learner SIG Magazine with regards to preparing a toolkit to assist in the delivery of language lessons for young and adolescent learners.  This is embedded below.  Should you wish to receive a copy, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Just a little bit of news: I am heading out to South Korea with family for two weeks and I will be providing some more information about my travels during the fortnight away.  Should anyone wish to meet me from this part of the world, again contact me and I would be happy to meet some of my readers.

By - Martin Sketchley

Book Review: “Language Learning with Technology”

It was great news to hear that “Language Learning with Technology” (Stanley 2013) was nominated and consequently won the Duke of Edinburgh English Speaking Union English Language Book Awards.  A big congratulations to Graham for his continued effort with technology and language learning, I have always enjoyed reading his contributions to this field and was first introduced when I read “Digital Play” (Mayer & Stanley 2011).  Nevertheless, my latest book review is published in IATEFL Voices (please see below). This book is particularly invaluable for teachers who would like to gain more confidence when incorporating technology in the classroom and I would highly recommend language teachers and schools to consider getting it.

By - Martin Sketchley

Christmas Teacher Interview: Hugh Dellar

Hugh Dellar photoIt has been a wonderful year here at ELT Experiences and what better way to celebrate Christmas, than a special interview with a highly recognised teacher, author and fellow blogger: Hugh Dellar.  I first met Hugh at a BELTE Conference in Brighton a number of years ago and where he was giving a talk on the use of translation in language teaching.  It was a very engaging discussion with some practical ideas to incorporate inside the classroom – some of which I have used in the classroom.  If you look at some of the more recently published material authored by Dellar, you will see his influence of translation and language learning within some chapters of “Outcomes“.  Anyhow, this month’s teacher interview is with Hugh Dellar.  Let’s start!

Hugh Dellar is a teacher and teacher trainer at University of Westminster, London. He has been teaching since 1993, predominantly in London, but spent three years in Jakarta, Indonesia. He gives teacher training and development talks all over the world. He is the co-author of the Outcomes and Innovations series, both published by National Geographic Learning, as well as the online teacher development course, Teaching Lexically. Along with Andrew Walkley, he is also the co-author of a forthcoming methodology book, due to be published by Delta Publishing in 2014. He blogs regularly at www.hughdellar.wordpress.com, is on facebook at: www.facebook.com/hughdellarandrewwalkley and is also part of the team behind the ongoing Exploring Frequent Words in English series on YouTube.

  • Could you tell our readers how you got into English teaching?

It was a lucky accident, to be honest. I did English Literature at university and graduated in 1991. I was singing in a band at the time and we were making just about enough money to scrape by on, though I was also doing all manner of temping work (building sites, factory work, all sorts). My band died a death in early 1992 (though we’re now playing together again after a twenty-year hiatus!) and I was sort of drifting around wondering what on earth happened next. I decided that I’d like to get out of London and go see the world, so I got a job in a pub, worked six days a week, twelve hours a day and saved up a few grand, planning to go off round the globe. After six months of doing this, an old mate of mine who I knew from being around the music scene in my teens arrived back in London for a week and we went out for a drink. He had traded in working in Our Price music stores for the life of a peripatetic EFL teacher and had been off in Iran, Ethiopia and Indonesia. He asked me what my plans were, and after I explained the plan, he suggested teaching. I said I hated teachers and he retorted that this was the best possible reason for becoming one! Sold on this twisted logic, I enrolled for a one-month CELTA course at Westminster College and in April 1993 entered our noble profession.

  • What advice would you give to teachers who would like to travel and work abroad?

If you want to do it, go do it would be my basic advice! You’ll have an amazing time, though it may also sometimes be hard and full of steep learning curves, both in professional and personal terms, and it’ll change you in all manner of positive ways. I literally picked a country I knew almost nothing about before I went there – Indonesia – and hopped on a plane and turned up. In retrospect, I’m not sure this was the best way of doing it, and I guess doing a little bit of research in advance (much easier now than it was then, of course!) both about the city / country you want to go to and also about the school would be sensible. What else? Get networked in before you leave. Find out about local teaching organisations. Add local teachers on Facebook if you can. Find other local like-minded people. But if you’re a young teacher and web-savvy, you probably know all that already. Read as much as you can in advance, ground yourself in the core literature of the field, but then just GO! Be prepared for all manner of madness: you will meet weird characters, you may well be faced with odd moral quandaries, you may go off the rails on occasion – and you’ll certainly know people who do; you may find your teaching situation less than perfect sometimes, but you’ll have the chance to learn a new language – seize this! You’ll have the chance to learn more about another country and culture and you’ll learn huge amounts about yourself. I envy those yet to experience the great rush of it all!

  • There are assumed differences between English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English Language Teaching (ELT). Would you be able to explain the differences between EAP and ELT that you have experienced?

Having taught both, I often think the differences are overemphasised personally. I guess the big difference is that there still tends to be a greater focus on skills in a broad sense within EAP: referencing and quoting skills, note-taking skills, summarising skills, argument and discourse structuring skills, and so on. I don’t see these skills as existing outside of language, and simply see these as areas that can be explored and explained in conjunction with a focus on the language that might best help students realise these skills. EAP practitioners can sometimes be fairly dismissive of EFL, seeing it as simply trivial chat about hobbies and food, but at heart both areas are – or should be – about the development of language. I worry a lot about the new generation of kids coming into British universities who’ve basically not learned any General EFL, but have been obsessively groomed towards getting IELTS 6.0 and entry onto a foundation course. They arrive being able to churn out weird variations on basic templates, but totally lacking the kind of social, everyday language they’ll need to survive during their time abroad, let alone to socialise and make friends. Personally, I think it’d be good if EFL incorporated slightly more of a focus on academic language, and if EAP recognised that students don’t only need to perform academically, but also have to live! I’d also like to see an end to the nonsense of ‘teaching critical thinking skills’ that you sometimes get in EAP. I find this whole discourse often tends towards a kind of anti-Asian racism and is predicated on very dubious claims. If you want to raise awareness of discourse features and genre norms, fine, but let’s be honest and make it clear that this is all we’re doing! In my experience, a lot of my Chinese students have proved quite capable of having some very critical thoughts about some of the critical thinking exercises they’ve been asked to do over the years!

  • What makes the perfect learner?

Didn’t they tell you? Only the Buddha is perfect! I don’t believe in the perfect anything, so I’m the wrong person for this question. I think any learner can become a better learner, though, and that teachers have a real role to play in fostering this. Students need to accept responsibility for revising and recycling what they study in class and need to have good ways of doing this, whether that be using vocabulary cards or apps that help with this or whatever. Teachers need to advise them on how best to do this and to have their own opinions about how best to revise – as well as to test and recycle in class as much as possible. Students need to understand that language is more than single words and grammar structures; they need to be adept at recognising words that go together and they need to have a system for noticing and recording new items they meet. They need – perhaps above all – to read as much as possible, ideally books which are graded and written for learners at their level. They need to practise speaking when they can, they need to not worry too much about making mistakes and they need to be good at focusing and prioritising their time. Oh, and they need to be be aware of the fact that it’s a long, long road and that they will almost certainly never get to the end of it. And, as I said, we need to guide them through all this, advise on how best to study outside of class, warn off certain habits and encourage others.

  • With a recognition that English is used as a Lingua Franca between different L2 users, is there a growing responsibility for teachers to better equip language learners being able to translate or interpret?

I think teachers have a basic responsibility to foster linguistic awareness and this inevitably impacts on how students view translation. Students will inevitably translate from L1 into English, and most students come with an assumption that a word in L1 equals a word in L2, which any teacher worth their salt knows is rubbish. We need to constantly make students aware of collocations, chunks, fixed expressions and the like, and to use translation of whole sentences from English to L1 and then – crucially – back into English – as a way of making students more aware of the way the patterns in different language differ. This is something I’ve blogged about a bit myself and something we’ve tried to encourage in OUTCOMES as well. Ultimately, though, we also need to recognise that if students don’t know the most normal, natural way of expressing an idea then they’ll be forced to fall back on translating word by word from L1. In short, the best way we can help students translate better is to teach more common and useful language.

  • What is your opinion of standardisation and assessment in language education?

I’m a big fan of the Cambridge suite of exams. I think that if someone has passed FCE, say, or CPE, they’ve clearly attained a certain level of competence and have been benchmarked in an appropriate way. I like the fact these exams are tests of whole language: basically, the more language a candidate knows, the better they will probably do. They’re NOT tests of discrete grammar items or single words. I’m happy that they’re still the main way we assess and define competence at the moment, though I note that Pearson are gearing up for an assault on these exams as they launch their own alternatives, which they’re branding as the only real exams calibrated against the CEFR.

In terms of classroom levels, I think the way most published materials has been measured against the CEFR has been very cynical and all too often has little to do with what the CEFR actually says about outcomes and desirable goals. I understand why this happens, but don’t think it’s something teachers should be uncritical of. I also think the CEFR in itself is problematic in a world in which we tend to think of levels as things that can be packaged up and sold as fixed-hour courses that students can move through, as some levels of the CEFR clearly require more time than others, whilst something like C2 remains essentially unobtainable even for many natives!

  • In your opinion, what is your favourite method of teaching?

Given that my co-author Andrew and I have a book coming out soon on Delta Publishing with this title, I’d have to say Lexical teaching, obviously! However, I’m old enough to know that there are many routes to the same destination and certainly don’t believe I have a monopoly on truth. In the end, I am in favour of any teaching that provides an input-rich environment for students; that has a principled approach with regard to what input is chosen, when – and why; that engages the whole person and allows space for learners to express their own thoughts, feelings, and ideas; that develops linguistic awareness; that recycles and revises input; that doesn’t posit structural grammar as the be-all-and-end-all of language learning; and that brings the world to the class, and encourages students to see how what they’re learning is connected to the wider world. Do all of this and you’re almost certainly teaching well.

  • What advice would you give to language teachers keen to get involved in EAP?

Same advice as I’d give to anyone who’s keen to do anything, really: if you want to do something, go do it and see how you get on! If you’ve only ever done EFL, it’s always good to branch out and try other areas of language teaching, whether that be IELTS classes, ERAP, Business English, other ESPs or whatever. EAP is a growth area as British universities increasingly turn to overseas students. We’ve ended up with a situation in the Uk where not enough home students can afford to go to university any more and foreign students are being targeted to fill that gap. Given this, EAP experience makes you more employable and more likely to find a permanent and relatively well-paid post if you’re looking to settle back in the UK.

  • What is your opinion of technology in the language classroom? (Is it really a benefit for the teacher and/or learner or is it a glorified toy?)

That’s a big question – and not an easy one to answer. I suppose my main concerns about the use of technology in class are (a) that it’s often used simply for the sake of being seen to be using technologies. I think actually things like the British Council inspection criteria exacerbate this as they sometimes lead to comments on how little technology they saw in use, with the implication being that this is a bad thing. Conversely, it also suggests that technology in and of itself is somehow inherently good. As such, it’s not great surprise that many lessons that do integrate tech do so for such spurious reasons as ‘students expect to find technology integrated’ or ‘they all live watching YouTube, so I thought I’d use a YouTube clip. This often leads to (b) lessons without a clear language focus or without a clear sense of how the input delivered via technology helps students achieve particular pre-defined outcomes and (c) courses as a whole losing coherence and becoming little more than strings of bitty, unconnected self-made one-off lessons.  That said, outside of the use of YouTube, the occasional PowerPoint and some centres enforcing IWB use, I’m not convinced that most teachers do actually use that much new tech in class.  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it increasingly hard to keep up with what’s out there and I worry that the time teachers have available to focus on and learn more about the basic core of what language teaching is about – the teaching of language – is increasingly being eaten into by a voracious hi-tech industry keen fir teachers to opt in and thus boost their profits.  Having said all of that, though, I think there can obviously be some benefits to the utilisation of tech tools, but only really if their use is based on and informed by greater principles of language and learning. The main area I see tech as benefiting is the world of homework. There are some really great and useful things you can do with a simple user-friendly site like Vocaroo, for example, and just being able to email while classes links to articles or videos connected to stuff that came up during a particular lesson is wonderful.  So to finish by returning to the question: I’d say it can sadly all too often be the latter, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as its use is principled, it can also be the former, though this may have particular pertinence to out of class study.

  • Finally, what teacher-related New Year resolutions have you set yourself for 2014?

Blimey! Not sure I’ve planned that far ahead yet. I guess in teaching terms, it’ll be to get a bit better at using phonetic symbols a bit more consistently as part of my boardwork – it’s been a weak spot for way too many years. I also aim to keep up with the tech stuff that’s coming out, as best I can, and to see what might actually really be useful as opposed to simply hyped!

In writing terms, we’re working on a second edition of OUTCOMES, and also on a methodology book called TEACHING LEXICALLY. We’re also involved in the design of a new app as well, but more on that once it’s ready.

By - Martin Sketchley

Lesson Plan: Reality TV Shows (Reading Relay)

Smart TV
Watching smart is easier now with the Internet

If you are anything like me, I love to get my fix of reality TV shows in the UK – “Strictly Come Dine With Me”, “I’m A Celebrity” or, I hasten to add, “X Factor”.  This got me thinking about a lesson plan to prepare for my Pre-Intermediate learners and I decided to share my lesson with my readers.  The lesson is aimed for a good Pre-Intermediate group of older teenager or adult learners and it fits nicely with a lesson related to television viewing habits or alike.  Coincidentally, we were focusing on television and there is a good reading activity in Straightforward Pre-Intermediate on Chapter 9.  Anyhow, more about the lesson.

By - Martin Sketchley

Dogme One-to-One: “Weekend Plans”

Teaching one-to-oneThis afternoon, I was planning to teach a pair of learners (one female Brazilian and a male Spanish learner) for an hour and a half.  The coursebook for this afternoon class that I decided to refer to as “Outcomes Intermediate” and decided to start a new chapter for a new week.  The teacher from the previous week had got up to Unit 9, so it made sense to start on Unit 10.  Chapter 10 is called “Going Out” and as you can guess is all about making plans, giving directions and talking about the previous night, so the plan for the lesson was to talk about the previous weekend with the students: what they did, where they went, etc.  However, one of the students did not turn up and I was left with a learner who I had not taught only once before – the male adult learner.

When I entered the classroom, we both said hello to each other and we sat down.  I started the conversation naturally by asking the learner what he had got up to over the weekend.  He told me for some extended period of time that he had been to London and visit all the sights and sounds of the city.  During the five minutes, I was making notes to scaffold language, improve pronunciation issues or correct any errors.  For the next few minutes, we looked at some language to improve the learner’s fluency and I made some notes of popular tourist sights in London.  After the discussion of the weekend, the conversation naturally turned to speaking about plans for this coming weekend.  Again the learner was keen to head back to London again and I made a mental note of this, so that I could exploit this in due course.

Before the lesson, I printed out a webpage from Trip Advisor about my local area, Eastbourne, so that we could discuss this.  We looked at some of the recommendations and spoke about whether the student had visited any of the attractions. Funnily enough, the learner hadn’t visited any of the attractions so, on the spot, I asked the learner to think about where he may decide to visit in the future over a weekend.  He was quite keen to visit the Cuckmere River, which is between Eastbourne and Brighton, as well as Rottingdean, which is very close to Brighton.  This point during the interaction led me to mention to the student that I used to visit Rottingdean every week to play at a jazz workshop and the conversation took another lead.  The student then spoke about the concerts he had been to in the past and how he spent sometime in London shopping for CDs and bought various “compact discs” of “Pink Floyd” and another rock group which I forget.  The conversation then went back to concerts in Madrid and other places in Spain.  So, I decided to see where this conversation would lead and mentioned the best places in London to see a concert – the O2 Arena or The Royal Albert Hall.  I mentioned to the learner that my very first concert I went to was in Huddlesfield to see “The Eagles”.  The learner shared his experiences and we scaffolded some music related language (band leader, guitarist, etc).

Nearer the last 30 minutes of the lesson, I finally got to the coursebook and we started the unit.  We looked at vocabulary related to artists, museums, and music – determine the odd one out activity – and then we looked at question and answer links.  The learner managed to complete the activity.  We decided to pass the discussion activity due to the extensive conversation which took place earlier so we decided to agree some homework for the week.  We both jotted down some ideas and I reminded myself what the learner had mentioned nearer the start of the lesson, that he was planning to visit London this coming weekend.  So, I told the learner to visit the Trip Advisor website and plan their own weekend using this site.  The learner agreed and then I said, to enhance this try to write down your plans by hand or computer and then give it to me in a few days.  Again the learner agreed.  The learner then said that he wanted to present his “Weekend Plans” to practice his speaking activity.  I said that this was a wonderful idea.  We packed our things up and I finally asked the learner whether they would like to focus more on the coursebook, do much of the same today or do something different the following day.  The student said that he was happy to practice speaking and was content with his grammar but would also like to focus on listening and he tried to explain a Spanish joke in English and wrote down it on the whiteboard: “I have a brick in my ear“.  I am incredibly pleased the learner was keen to share some humour but I would have taught him the expression “speaking to a brick wall“, but I had no time left – something to consider for tomorrow.

It seems to me that Dogme-esque moments are more common and practical when teaching one-to-one and teachers are able to react, focus on a point or save for a later time.  I found myself during the lesson noting down language, sharing experiences, grasping threads of conversation to exploit and scaffolding language on the whiteboard.  It was wonderful experience and it was so nice to be able to guide the conversation where I wanted it to go.  I have been thinking more and more about recording my classroom interaction with the learners to share with readers and perhaps see the moments that I am able to exploit situations so that the teaching can be guided down to another area.  What do you think?  Would you like to see more language teaching clips on ELT Experiences?  Have you ever recorded your learners with a video recorder?  Would you give me any advice?

By - Martin Sketchley

English UK Annual Teachers’ Conference: Handouts

This is a blog post for complementary material to accompany the talk given at the English UK Annual Teachers’ Conference in London on 9 November 2013.  I have included a PDF of my handout, a slideshow of my presentation as well as a YouTube tutorial about using Google Drive for online research in ELT.  I hope this is useful and thanks for either attending my talk or reviewing the material on this topic.

By - Martin Sketchley

November Teacher Interview: Anthony Ash

Anthony Ash

It has been a wonderful year so far at ELT Experiences with the addition of two new authors and the number of teacher interviews providing such a unique and interesting spin on English Language Teaching throughout the world.  This month we have a special interview from a teacher who is based in Poland.  Anthony Ash (@Ashowski) read German and Spanish at Northumbria University and graduated in the summer of 2010. He did his CELTA at IH Wroclaw. His first teaching job was in Dresden, Germany, where he worked for one year. He then worked for 2 years in Poznan, Poland, while completing his MA in English Linguistics. He is currently working as the Senior Teacher at IH Torun, Poland.

  • Could you please tell our readers know how you got into English teaching.

During my school days, we were often encouraged to consider our future. I always saw myself going into teaching, namely state school teaching. I even did work experience and practicals in British state schools. However, as I reached the mid-point of my degree, I felt the time had come to take a gap year. One day, I found myself in Madrid and decided to stay but I quickly realised my money wouldn’t last forever. Suddenly, it dawned on me to offer English lessons. From there on in I was hooked…

  • What advice would you give teachers who are planning to teach in Poland?

My main advice depends on why you’ve gone into teaching. If you teach because you need money while travelling, you’ll do fine in Poland. However, if you’re  serious about ELT, then you have two choices. You could find an IATEFL-approved school which will encourage your continued professional development. Alternatively, you could end up at a ‘mickey-mouse’ school where the word CELTA means nothing, however, you can still continue your professional development by reflecting on your lessons, your teaching, and doing a little reading.

  • Could you tell us about a lesson that didnt work or failed with learners?  What did you learn from this experience?

I’ve had many lessons or parts of lessons which haven’t worked as I expected. Although it hurts initially as you see it failing before your eyes, I must admit these situations are a blessing in disguise, as they quickly show you how to do things differently next time. For example, I once put together an activity which was designed to get my teenagers talking about their written work. I put 10 strips of paper around the room with sentences from their written work. In pairs, they were to walk around the room, write down the original and discuss how to improve it. What they actually did was walk around the room individually, write down all the originals, sit down at their seats, chose which they thought were wrong and correct them individually and then peer-check. Not at all what I wanted. Why didn’t it work? My instructions were not clear and I didn’t model the task.

  • Tell us about a learner who has inspired you.

I walked into a marketing business in Poznan. It was the first day of the course. All the learners were very enthusiastic, apart from one, who approached me and said in Polish that they hadn’t even studied English before and won’t be any good in class. She made the biggest effort during the course and I stood in awe at watching her go from False beginner to Intermediate in 6 months. She was a contentious learner, forcing herself to learn outside the classroom. Her determination was simply inspiring.

  • Do you have any plans for 2014?

I’ll continue working at IH Torun for the rest of the school year and then I’ll go on holiday – the plan is to tour Italy for 2 weeks with my best friend. I’ll spend most of the summer of 2014 teaching English for Academic Purposes at Newcastle University.

I would like to do the IH Young Learners Certificate in September 2014 and then go off to do DELTA Module 2 – I’ve just begun DELTA Module 1 this year. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit that into teaching but there’s a DELTA course at IH Buenos Aires I’d like to attend. Maybe 2014/2015 will see me flying off to another continent?

  • How would you describe the role of the teacher and learner outside of the classroom?

Outside the classroom I don’t think there is much connection between the teacher and the learner – we’re not their friends – however, I think the teacher is someone who should be helping learners to become more independent learners outside the classroom.

  • Do you feel there is more pressure these days with learners having to perform in reference to modern communicative approaches to teaching?

Absolutely! When we look back at previous methods and approaches, such as the Direct Method or the Grammar-Translation method, learners were very passive in lessons. It’s unfortunate that such methods continue to be used in the 21st century around the world. Even in Poland I have spoken to learners (quite recently) who had attended courses which were so Teacher-Centered that the learners didn’t even have to say a word in the lessons!

  • What are your opinions of video in the language classroom?

I am very supportive of using technology in the classroom in general – I often use my iPad when presenting new images to my Young Learners and I sometimes let them play language games on it when they have finished early. I think video, unlike an iPad, is much more universally applicable – there isn’t a learner out there who is afraid of videos. I think it’s important when planning lessons to consider the ‘fun factor’ – learning doesn’t have to be a contentious effort, we can learn just as well (if not better) unconsciously, applying language while having fun. Videos can do precisely that – learners become engaged in the content of the video while unwittingly practising their language.

  • What advice would you give to budding language teachers on the CELTA Course?

CELTA is the hard part – it’s all down hill when you finish! CELTA for me was incredibly difficult, full of long nights working on plans and assignments. Full-time teaching isn’t at all like that, it’s a pleasure and great fun.

  • Finally, does a messy board equal a messy teacher?

It depends really. You could have a messy board and a well-organised teacher. Vice-versa is also possible. However, what is probably more realistic is that all teacher sometimes have messy/chaotic work and other times not – it depends on the lesson.

By - Martin Sketchley

Halloween is Coming: Arts and Craft

My best attempt at drawing a scary skeleton
My best attempt at drawing a scary skeleton

It was wonderful reading Sean and Sarah’s blog post on “Halloween is Coming“.  They posted some wonderful pictures of their young learners getting into the spirit of Halloween – definitely worth visiting their blog to see how they are settling into Korea and their regular posts of their classroom activities.  The activities that I really enjoyed seeing is getting the learners to create their own Halloween Pumpkins as well as their own personalised scary masks.

I believe arts and craft is a very under-respected activity in the classroom, possibly because the students are not necessarily taught any language points.  This in itself is a very prescriptive view of language teaching, whereby teachers are expected to deliver language points.  However, it is a nice refreshing change to focus on the soft skills in the classroom – getting learners to improve their cutting, sticking or colouring skills.  Whenever I have incorporated any form of arts, craft or project work in the classroom, learners revert to their L1.  This is another contention among language teachers, as students should be speaking English at least 100% of the time.  However, when you listen to what the learners are saying, they are negotiating the task set, exploring ideas or developing opinion.  It is not necessarily off-task and they are coordinating the activity to work better as a team.  However, there are better ways to develop project work in the classroom to ensure some vocabulary or language is acquired during the lesson.

One activity that I enjoy including during the task is to play background music related to the theme.  For example, the theme of Halloween is quite prominent at the moment so I like to include a Halloween song which I will be drilling or have drilled with students during the day.  The LearnEnglish for Kids website has some wonderful songs such as the Scary Skeleton Song (refer to the link).  When I was teaching a group of Colombian young learners last week, we drilled the song altogether and taught them vocabulary of the body.  I drew a skeleton on the whiteboard and got learners to name parts of the body.  The next lesson, I played the Skeleton Song as background music and put it on repeat.  The students were quietly singing to the song – they looked very relaxed – as they focused on writing a Halloween Party Invitation.

Another activity which could be developed after the arts and craft is a presentation.  For example, Sean and Sarah got their learners to create their own pumpkins.  You could extend the activity by getting learners to write a diary entry of their pumpkin, name their pumpkin, present their pumpkin person to class or create an acrostic poem.  An acrostic poem is where you get the letters of a word and then write extra words so “Pumpkin” could turn into:

  • P: piles of candy
  • U: under the bed
  • M: make for a delicious snack
  • P: people
  • K: know
  • I:   it’s been Halloween because
  • N: no one is without candy

Further information about acrostic poems are available from readwritethink.org.  Nevertheless, for any success with arts and craft, it is very important to prepare for the activities.  Get stocked up on glue, make sure you have enough scissors, get the coloured card or paper and get the coloured pencils or crayons ready.  As with anything, preparation is key and it is important that the young learners feel that they have the resources available to successfully complete their project.  It will motivate them and ensure that they are enthusiastic.

So, how do you supplement arts, craft and project work with a language focus?  How often do you do any form of art, craft or project work with young learners?  Does your school keep a stock of handy pencils, scissors, etc in the young learner classroom or do you have to buy this?  What are you doing for Halloween?

By - Martin Sketchley

Student Feedback: A Trivial or Important Issue?

Michael Griffin recently wrote a wonderful post on the usefulness of anonymous feedback (Why I (often) prefer non-anonymous feedback) and it got me thinking about whether feedback can be useful for teachers or is it that sort of data that senior management/teachers decide to look at.

In my opinion, I think it would be nice to give students the choice whether they put their name down or not on a feedback form rather than being too prescriptive. It is accepted in our profession that students are from various backgrounds and it would be considered unacceptable to be too prescriptive as there are various cultures which don’t mind being transparent while other cultures prefer to be more anonymous.  In our school, where we have continuous rolling courses during the year, we decide to undertake first week feedback forms, which I believe is crucial to see what is working and what isn’t, as well as end of course feedback.

Obviously, it is nice to keep the feedback – I prefer the term ‘feedback’ to the term ‘evaluation’ as it seems if you are ‘evaluating’ you are testing to see if something is done correctly – as transparent and suitable as possible. The most useful questions to ask for the first week are:

  • Are you learning?
  • Do you enjoy your classes? If not, why?
  • What would you prefer to focus on? (speaking, listening, etc)

The feedback from this would indicate how to deliver future classes, so don’t leave it too late. It is nice to act on feedback and with a principled approach. This leads me on to my final point. It is good that teachers are receiving feedback but if you are just doing feedback for the sake of it, it will be worthless. It is important for teachers to react to feedback rather than confirming what they already know, such as “I am a good teacher” or “That was a good course/lesson and students agree with me!“.

  • Are there any patterns to the feedback? (particular students preferring a different learning style)
  • Why do learners like or dislike particular tasks?
  • Can you be open with the learners so that you are able to deliver a bespoke course?
  • What would I do differently with the information that I have now?

So again, feedback is useful if teachers or management are able to see the woods from the trees and are able to familiarise themselves with what is important.  Nevertheless, feedback can be a useful tool but there are advantages to other schemes of feedback in the form of buzz or pop-in observations.  This could complement feedback forms and also give teachers an opportunity to seek advice or support from more experienced teachers or senior management.

How do you receive feedback about your lessons?  What do you students think about feedback?  What sort of student expectations are there with feedback or teaching?  Do students expect teachers to deliver a course as the teacher is the teacher and the student is the student?