Experiences for English Language Teaching

Month: June 2013

British Council Colombia: Summer Trip to the UK

Sarah Reid at Lake Louise in Canada
I can’t wait to share such an exciting guest post from a teacher who I used to work with at LTC Eastbourne.  She decided to bring her students from her British Council teaching centre over to the UK.  This is a quick guest post detailing how Sarah got on during preparation and developing an overseas trip for Colombian language learners.
Sarah Reid is a Senior Teacher of Teacher Training and Professional Development at British Council Mexico. Sarah has been teaching for more than 15 years in a range of teaching contexts and has just finished her two-year British Council post in Bogota, Colombia. She is currently studying a Masters in Professional Development of Language Teaching. 

It was about a year ago when one of my students asked me, ‘Why can’t we go to the UK with you?’ and I didn’t really have a good answer at the time. But, as I thought more about it, I thought why not? 

British Council Spring Gardens

The Senior classes I teach at the British Council, Bogota, Colombia are the best part of my teaching week. The students are between 15 – 18 years old and I have been teaching them for nearly two years. I’ve seen them become young adults and we have built a good relationship over the years due to their enthusiasm for absolutely anything British and that I enjoy listening to their ideas and dreams to see the UK. We’ve studied a lot of British literature together including, Roald Dahl’s short stories, Sherlock Holmes and George Orwell and completed projects on British music, art, sport and fashion. They have a real passion for anything with a Union Jack or the Royal Family on it and it was definitely time for them to experience it first hand.  

The plans for the trip grew. Suddenly at Christmas time I found myself booking their flights and we started applying for their visa papers. I won’t lie, it has been a lot of hard work coordinating everything and planning what I hoped would be a fun and educational trip. Each week the work was paid off by the fact that the students would come to class and count down how many ‘sleeps’ they had until we went to the UK, and from the second we got to the airport they were really excited by everything. 

Students phoning home

We’ve had a lot of firsts: the first time we cleared Colombian airspace, the first time we flew over the coast of France and we were in Europe, the first time they heard an English accent on the P.A. in Heathrow, the first time they saw a driver on the right hand-side of a car, the first time they met their English families, saw the school, got a pound coin, realised it would be light until late, saw the beach, tried to speak to an English teenager, saw Big Ben, made a friend with an international student from the school and the list goes on. 

Our very first view of London was quite unforgettable. As we flew into the City, it was a beautiful blue-skied summer’s night and we were in a holding pattern circling low over the Thames for about twenty minutes. We had an amazing close up tour of London from the skies and we saw everything from Wembley Stadium to the Olympic Park, to Parliament. These students have been dreaming about this moment for a long time and there were tears on the plane as we landed.  

My own personal favourite moments have been hearing them use new language that I know they’ve learnt from host brothers and sisters, or listening to their conversations about the differences between Colombia and England.  I love that they are making adult observations about their experiences and they can express that one of the most important things they have learnt is that they can communicate with everyone in English not just native English speakers. In fact meeting new friends and noticing differences in how they speak English has really improved their own pronunciation as they have become more aware of common mistakes they make with particular English sounds.

In London, at the British Council ‘English Effect’ exhibition, they were asked to write what they thought was important about learning English: the only boy in the group wrote that he has learnt it is possible to fall in love with a language as it reveals a lot about the culture of the country. What a wonderful thing to say about a language!

LTC Eastbourne

All of us agree that our favourite afternoon activity has been to go into a local primary school and teach Year 6 children how to dance Salsa. The children were all between ten and eleven years old and my Colombian teenagers were really brave to get up and present information about Colombia in English to the whole year group as well as spend the afternoon teaching dance in English. We face-painted nearly two hundred and fifty kids with the Colombian flags and the children shared what they knew of Spanish. We have lots of smiley pictures and I’ve got a sneaky feeling I’ve got a few budding teachers on my hands with my students.

What’s been eye opening? I think that the students have been amazingly articulate in explaining how great an impression that the sense of freedom they have here in England has left on them. This is the first time in their lives in which they have been given a house key and told they can walk home safely or be out alone after sunset. At first they didn’t trust the quiet streets and sleepy suburbs, but now this newly found independence will be the hardest thing to leave behind. 

Two weeks really won’t be long enough, as there is still so much more to show them. London was quite a magical experience being able to see and touch the things we have talked about in class for so long and at one point in Covent Garden one student pointed out that we were standing on the cobbled streets we had tried to describe in a creative writing exercise last year. 

The English Effect at the British Council

With only one more week to go our days are jammed-packed with activities and new experiences for them. The students have all started to make plans to study in the UK or come back to meet their host families again. They are already using Facebook to keep in touch with the new friends from Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Korea that they have met in school. I’m so pleased for them that everything has worked out well and they’ve achieved their ambition of coming to the UK. Through the whole trip too, I’ve been reminded at how fantastic England looks in the sunshine and what a really special country we have and should be very proud of. It will be difficult for them to leave and I expect a lot of tears on Sunday morning, but without a doubt they will all come back for more.

Thank you Sarah for sharing your experiences of developing, organising and providing an overseas trip for your Colombian language learners and I hope they really enjoyed their few precious weeks in the UK.  Do you have any questions for Sarah?  Have you organised an overseas trip to the UK?  If you have, what did you learn from that experience?  Are you currently organising an overseas trip and need some advice?  As ever, post in the comments section.

Drilling and Repetition in the ELT Classroom

Circle Drilling in action at the BC Bucharest

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

Silent Dialogues

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

Circle Drilling

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

Emotional Drilling

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

Volume Controlled Drills

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

Drilling Through Music

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

“Getting off the Intermediate Plateau”: ELT Chat Summary

Picture tweeted by @AlexandraKouk
ELT Chat Summary: Part 1
A few weeks ago, 22 May 2013, ELT Chat discussed the topic about all things related to teaching the Intermediate learner.  However, this day was special as both the 1pm and 9pm (GMT) focused solely on the issue of an Intermediate Plateau.  It was the first time that I had discovered an ELT Chat discussion on Twitter focus on a particular topic for the whole day.  This blog post will summarise the two discussions which occurred during this day and provides some practical advice for teachers facing Intermediate learners who reach that lack of motivation, conviction and interest in their language learning.
@Marisa_C started the discussion off by welcoming everyone to the “#ELTChat on intermediate learners stuck on the famous plateau” .  However, what could be defined as an Intermediate Learner and how do they get stuck, feeling like they just aren’t making any progress?  Most people decided to answer this question by sharing their ideas about the length of period a student may study for until the ‘famous plateau’ emerges.  Some suggestions included:

“I’ve had students in Korea that would love to be intermediate plateau or not after 15 years of study” – @michaelegriffin

“For me, my sts reached that intermediate plateau after about 3 years of English (about 320 hours)” – @OUPELTGlobal

“In Greece they may have studied for anything between 4-6 yrs – not good huh? but kids” – @Marisa_C

It was clear that the majority of learners, who had been studying English for any great length of period, would ultimately face a ‘plateau’ of some sorts.  Some tweets suggested that this was a natural part of learning, while others viewed a ‘plateau’ not dependent upon the length a learner had studied English:

“Perhaps what defines the plateau feeling can’t be measured in language skills proficiency or years but in lack of progress” – @AlexandraKouk

“Right or wrong, I’ve always thought of the plateau as sts needing to USE the English they’ve learned and not being able to” – @OUPELTGlobal

“the sense that you’ve ‘done it all’ is what can be so frustrating – maybe it’s about starting to see patterns and make connections” – @KatySDavies

It was very clear that there was some connection that the feeling of a ‘plateau’ or being ‘stuck-in-a-rut’ was natural and was related to the feeling of ‘lacking any progress’, ‘not applying knowledge’ or ‘completing everything in class but unable to communicate outside the class’.  Therefore, what is the best way of dealing with the possibility of an intermediate plateau?  There were a number of suggestions:

“They need to improve independent learning skills and not only English lang skills.” – @andrea_rivett

“Interdisciplinary as a key to get off the plateau? Must use the language to learn some other subject.” – @touqo

“but sometimes Ss are mistaken about the cause of some of their issues and also a big part of the job is managing expectations” – @KatySDavies

“students need to see practical relevance of language to their lives in order to progress – if not, they stay in the same place” – @pjgallantry

“Needs to be more focus not just on using authentic materials but how language is used authentically” – @KatySDavies

From some of the tweets during the discussion that much of the way to deal with a plateau is to develop independent learning skills, using and monitoring language in ‘real-life’ circumstances, developing a focus away from the ‘grammar delivery’ of coursebooks and bringing in the ‘real-world’, as well as an element of authenticity, into the classroom.  There was a focus on Task-Based Learning (TBL) for the curbing of possible plateaus and as @AlexandraKouk mentioned, “using more TBL or project work may help ss realise how much they can do with the lang they’ve got”.  An interesting observation was made by @pjgallantry in reference to extensive reading: “from my experience, students who do more reading on their free time seem to make far greater strides”.
There was growing emphasis on the use of ‘learner diaries’, which could also include the use of portfolios, to develop and raise student awareness of language learning and the noting of learning from their day-to-day activities.  It is self-evident, these days in the classroom, that there is greater effort for those learners, at an intermediate level of English (or any other level to be honest), which are expected to have developed more autonomous learning skills.  Yet, many teachers expect most of their learners to be able to acquire the functions of autonomous learning in a more automatic fashion.  At our language school, there is a specific day of the week where adult learners focus on particular study skills: using a dictionary, noticing more authentic material (photos, pamphlets, etc) to bring into class, how to note down newly acquired vocabulary, etc.  This is really aimed for learners at any level and to encourage more autonomous learning and developing language development portfolios which can be reviewed or amended whenever necessary as well as focus on learner training.  These study skills activities were further considered important during the ELT Chat discussion with many contributors detailing examples of suitable study skill focus:

“A typical trait of good lang learners is that they like to use diagrams etc to organise their learning” – @Marisa_C

“developing skills like guessing the meaning of words from context important to give them confidence to read more alone” – @KatySDavies

Nearer the end of the first ELT Chat discussion of the day, some points were raised that learners had to notice their progress and a good indication included:
  • a student wiki page;
  • developing student portfolios (online or offline);
  • moving away from the coursebook towards more reactionary teaching with the focus on the learners (I think Dogme was mentioned once during the discussion); and
  • negotiating around the syllabus and content (getting the learners more involved in the) with the coursebook.

By this time, the ELT Chat had finished.  Many contributors had a break from the discussion, later to return and contribute towards the evening discussion

ELT Chat Summary: Part 2
The second part of the ELT Chat on plateaus started promptly at 21:00 (GMT) with a definition of a ‘plateau’ as being “working hard but not getting anywhere” (@Marisa_C) while another suggested there was more to this than previously explained such as “the feeling that you’re not getting anywhere. It may not be true, but it feels like it” (@theteacherjames).  @sandymillindid mention that some of the learners that she encounters don’t seem to get out of this plateau and the exposure to language in the UK “hasn’t helped some of them leave the plateau! … fear of natives?”.  There were some other examples about what could cause plateaus with learners from various contributors which included:

“Maybe the problem then is how stds are measuring their progress?” – @mattellman

“Being stuck in the same level for ages can make SS really lose motivation, despite their progress” – @sandymillin

“As they progress, it becomes much harder for them to notice real improvements.” – @theteacherjames

With the three above tweets, each contributor suggested that there needs to be some evidence of ‘progress’.  Yet, determining progress and getting learners more aware of progress was mentioned in the earlier discussion. @leoselivan mentioned that progress should not be just ‘vertical’ (from Intermediate to Upper Intermediate) but should also be more ‘horizontal’.  For example, recycling and reviewing language and areas of study as well as visualising learner aims and objectives for their future.  There was also mention of the Common European Framework (known as the CEF or CEFR) in determining levels and progress with the ‘can-do’ statements.  However, with the CEF/CEFR, the distinction between B1 (Intermediate) and B2 (Upper Intermediate) levels can be regarded as “an impossible gap to bridge” (@leoselivan).  I suppose an intermediate level could be “such a broad term that students get lost there and some start to give up” and getting learners “involved in the aims of the course … could motivate them” (@MichaelaCarey).  Naturally, there is the paradigm between following a framework as endorsed by the British Council compared to reactive, reflective and independent methods of teaching which could be more beneficial for learners.
Nearer the ‘30 minute-mark’ of the discussion, contributors started sharing important ideas which could move learners beyond the intermediate plateau.  Although mentioned briefly during the earlier ELT Chat discussion, some new ideas cropped up:

“Fellow students are an important factor in motivation, not just the teacher.  Students need good classmates to help them progress” – @mattellman

“Use their [student’s] own writing activities [at the beginning] … and them ask them to improve it at the end [of the course].  Compare the difference” – @theteacherjames

It is evident that there appears to be a distinction between authentic interaction and the distant placed from the classroom.  @sandymillin mentioned that her learners feel unmotivated when they are interacting with ‘real people in the street’ and are unable understand due to their accent.  So the question remains, is there a greater divide between the CEF/CEFR on their ‘can-do’ statements and language skills (pronunciation, listening, etc)?  Despite the improvements of syllabus design with the CEF/CEFR, there is still a widening bridge between language production and language skills.  Much of what determines the ‘intermediate plateau’ is determined from language production and perhaps as educators, we should start to consider the use of supplementing coursebooks with study skills, language skills, or learner training through the use of appropriate methodology and approaches in language teaching.
Various links were recommended during the day of the ELT Chat discussion and these included the following:

June Teacher Interview: Cindy Chasseloup

This month, we have a special teacher interview arranged and conducted with the help of Mary Glasgow Magazines.  So a big thank you to their team for interviewing Cindy Chasseloup who has been a state English teacher in France for a number of years.  Cindy has a number of years experience as a teacher (as well as a language learner) in various countries such as the UK, Canada and is currently resident in France.  It is such a wonderful opportunity to interview a non-native English teacher and I hope to interview more NNETs in the future – so if you would like to be interviewed please drop me an email.  Nevertheless, let’s start with interview with Cindy.

Tell me how you got into teaching.

Being a teacher was the dream career I had in mind since I was a teenager. At school I had a yearning for languages and it was only after my graduation in college that I decided to be an English teacher. To be really sure that I was made for teaching, I spent a year as a French assistant in a school in Basingstoke, England. That experience helped me understand that I was not keen on teaching according to mainstream teaching methods. I enjoyed being creative and genuine when preparing lessons. It helped me being and remaining enthusiastic and cheerful when sharing them with pupils. On the other hand, I realised that I did not really like being taught what to do since it felt like I had to conform to something that did not belong to me! I felt it was difficult to motivate pupils when you did not give yourself body and soul in what you were doing.  When I came back from England, I decided I needed more time to explore the English language so I passed my master LLCE degree. Then, I went through the French competitive exam for teacher called CAPES that I passed. Yet, instead of being a trainee teacher the next school year, I postponed it and applied to be a French assistant in Canada. That teaching experience was completely different since I was teaching students at UVIC university and was given complete credit for the preparation and planning of my lessons. At the university, my supervisor gave me the possibility to use all the rhetoric and didactic methods I had learnt while preparing the CAPES exam. That experience helped me understand that each learner is different and needs to gain self-confidence thanks to a teacher who is reliable and trustworthy. In the end, I came back to France and after a year spent as a trainee teacher in a high school, my career as an English teacher in secondary schools started off.


Could you tell our readers about France and potential teaching opportunities?

In France there are drawbacks but also advantages when you’re a state teacher.  Let’s start with the drawbacks:

  • You cannot pick the school and place where you’d like to teach! If you’re lucky enough you will remain in your hometown or province but most of the time you’re too young and do not have the necessary points required to be allotted in a very popular area and school. In the end you usually end up hundred of miles away from home for a few years!
  • You cannot pick the grades you will teach. Most of the time, when you start your career, it will be in a secondary school. Usually, only experienced teachers have access to high schools.

Now, the advantages: 

  • You have a general and national curriculum to follow but you are free to use whatever material you feel like having. You have a freewill and even if we have some recommendations to use some educational methods rather than others, you are still able to decide what you will do in your class.
  • The headmaster gives you an administrative mark but it is your academic supervisor that will assess your educational skills when S/he visits your class once every 7/10 years.
  • You do not have to use a textbook, every other materials are welcomed as far as your lessons make sense and are educational.
  • You can also do some cross-curricular activities with teachers from other subjects and realise some wonderful projects. Team work is highly beneficial but you are not bound to do any if you don’t feel like it.

You are using magazines instead of a textbook.  Could you tell our readers more about this?

  • It is true that I’m not into textbooks. I’d rather use other resources, such as Mary Glasgow Magazines which are very attractive for teenagers since they are colourful and deal with the youngster interests. I would use some articles as a support to the sequence (for example POP STAR sequence, we started the first lesson with an article ‘stress on stage’ which helped the students understand the topic and the goal of the sequence).
  • Sometimes I ask them to read some articles during the holidays and do the games as a way to revise their lessons.
  • I can also ask them to read an article so as to debate in class and it leads to a communicational project. For my beginners, I sometimes ask them to read the articles and I myself prepare a questionnaire to check their understanding. It is perfect for the revisions. There is another thing I like doing with my students. I ask them to choose an interview in Mary Glasgow magazines and to write another interview themselves. It is very funny! They get to present celebrities and people they like.
  • Some other time in class, it is an efficient manner to make them more aware of some cultural and historical notions while playing rapidity games with the articles captions or headlines.
  • The variety of the topics and the various activities offered in these magazines really suit me. It gives me the opportunity to include them in some educational projects and to explore different teaching paths. I like the idea of getting the pupils to achieve something at the end of a sequence. (through acting/cooking/drawing/making things/ interviewing..)

How do you prepare your lessons when you use magazines in the classroom?

What is important for me is to know in advance what it is coming up. The digital previews sent by Mary Glasgow are very useful for that. I can prepare my lessons according to the subjects, which are coming soon. For example, this time I have chosen to work about pop stars. I introduced the theme through an article in Team called ‘Stress on stage’. They had to write about how they would feel on stage. After that, I asked them if they knew any ‘talent shows’. For my beginners, I am going to use the article about pack lunches. It is ideal for my theme about food. I am also going to complete my lessons with some activities. I saw that there were more things on the website. 

What are your favourite subjects?

I love teaching about sports and this year, I am spoiled! My intermediates are very sporty and are loving the magazines too! Earlier this year, there was an article about Andy Murray who was talking about his problems before the Olympic games. I asked my students to imagine which kind of advices they would give him. They get to use the structure “should” and other modal verbs. It was a perfect exercise for them and a lot of fun for everybody. I also got to introduce the structure like “If I were…, I would..”. It worked very well. The subjects about internet and technologies are very appealing to them as well. I wish I could teach more about Australia or New Zealand but I sometimes miss some materials about those countries. I love the news articles at the beginning of Mary Glasgow magazines. They are always very updated. It is very quick for me to get them talk about those for some prompt discussions at the beginning of the lesson. They don’t realize how much they learn vocabulary from those. I also love the cultural articles. It is hard to believe but some did not know that there were red buses in London. Some themes are coming back every year but it is actually good for them as reminders. They are very excited when they can say “Oh Madame, we have already seen this last year…”

What is the most memorable thing that has occurred during your teaching career within the classroom?

It was on my first day of teaching! At that time I was a trainee teacher. Due to my experience with the Canadian education system, I was not aware that French kids would really be hostile to English and teachers in general. On my first lesson I suddenly realised that students were not going to be standard pupils that would kindly do and listen to what I would tell them to. That first hour of teaching was really chaotic; students were chatting, doing whatever they wanted to do, the lesson was so noisy that I ended up with a major headache! I felt bullied! I was so disappointed and wanted to give up teaching after all! It was so far from what expected, I did not manage to get them to learn and do anything I had prepared for them! The bright side of that memorable moment was that I became aware of the fact that you had to make students want to learn, listen and speak and do English. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to achieve this! Hopefully, I had a wonderful tutor who made me understand the reasons of the students behaviour. He helped me get that mutual respect and discipline are essential when it comes to teaching. Standard students may exist but they are blended up with others in heterogeneous classes. The challenge is to captivate each individual in the class so as to get them work as a team that will be willing to communicate and learn together in English.  Since then while preparing lessons, I always keep in mind that each pupil is different and that learning difficulties should not prevent students from enjoying learning a Language. 

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